In the Spring of 2018, SV Linden, a beautiful wooden schooner journeyed from Denmark to Svalbard in the Arctic North to begin her ‘summer job’ in the icy fjords of the Spitsbergen archipelago. She’d barely been moored in Longyearbyen for more than a few days before her first guests boarded the wooden sail ship, ready for an adventure. I was among the lucky few on this particular sailing, the first of many in Svalbard. During the summer months SV Linden will be journeying into the fjords, past glaciers and mountains on micro expeditions and charters of between 2 and 7 nights in duration. On board the maiden Svalbard cruise my aim was to learn the ropes (quite literally) and to get a taste of the SV Linden experience. I came away feeling a part of what will become an ongoing liveaboard community bound by great hospitality, incredible sustainability and amazing adventure.
Many small ship expedition cruises in Svalbard attempt the circumnavigation route over 10-14 days if weather conditions permit. But very few, if any, offer a small ship experience on a more limited time frame in the region. SV Linden offers just that. Each expedition over the coming weeks and months will be different - exploring its own unique route governed by the winds, seas and ice of Spitsbergen. Our three day cruise was the first chapter of SV Linden’s Svalbard story and we were lucky on so many levels. The weather treated us well. Our cruise out of Adventfjorden and into Icefjorden was calm and relaxing. But first we were invited to help hoist the sails which Captain led us through if we wanted to join in. There was no compulsion to do so, although when Captain asked me to help with the bowhead, I had no idea that a couple minutes later I’d be inching sideways along a steel rope 30 feet above the icy fjord to help with the ropes. Captain Rasmus was a cool and reassuring leader who gave me the confidence to see to the ropes and not panic!
Ropes done, the sails were up and we glided into the fjord watching the view as it unfolded around us: snow covered mountains and deep blue waters, illuminated by the 24 hour daylight. At the beginning of the cruise we were introduced to our crew, mainly from Denmark and Norway who were approachable folk who made the experience so unique and memorable. So many questions were asked and at no point did we feel in the way or out of our depth. Quite the opposite - we were treated as welcome guests and supported if we wanted to help out. Chef Dennis emerged from the galley with his bell signalling dinner time. In the lead up to this moment, wafts of home-cooked food graced the deck making us all hungry. When we stepped inside the dining area, we were delighted by what we saw - a feast of homebaked breads, and curry. It was a wonderful meal and we were never hungry again on board the ship as Dennis kept us all fed and watered with his delicious and creative meals prepared in the smallest of spaces.
Along with Mette, our expedition leader, Dennis introduced us to the incredible project that SV Linden was embarking on which is her indoor botanical garden. In the dining room sits a vegetable plot and herb garden, filled with pots of flavoursome herbs and edible flowers, all of which feature on the menu. The garden not only aims to provide the kitchen with some wonderful fresh ingredients, but also to raise awareness of sustainable food sources in remote places. Added to this Mette will be foraging the Svalbard landscapes and seas for sustainable food such as plankton, herbs and other edible Arctic treats - all with the governor's permission to do so. They’ll also be fermenting and pickling to bring a host of flavours on board and to provide all-important remedies for sickness at sea (side note: thank you to Dennis for the cup of bitter herb tea on day three when I was feeling a little sea sick for an hour or two).
On board, life is relaxed and easy-going. Books are available to browse and binoculars are never far from hand should a wildlife sighting be possible. Mette’s knowledge and experience of wildlife and nature is invaluable. She provides a wealth of background information and knows how and where to spot wildlife without causing any disturbance to the animals. We made several landings by zodiac throughout the trip. Mette led a snow shoe walk on shore which included a chance to lie in the snow in silence for a minute or two (as an Arctic fox scuttled past). The Arctic silence helped put us in the right frame of mind for wildlife watching - i.e. keep quiet! This proved indispensable the following day when we arrived to the Forlandet island where we were lucky enough to view a walrus colony slumbering on the beach. After anchoring for a short while, we landed on shore and slowly crept up the beach to get a closer look at the 50 or 60 walrus that were there and swimming in the water. We kept silent and every now and then could hear their calls. It was an amazing experience which I'll never forget.
During the expedition, we also learnt about Svalbard’s rich bird life and watched the bird cliffs at Alkepynten through binoculars. We spotted beluga whales in the fjord and seals in the sea, but no polar bears this time round for us. Our last day included a landing at Isfjord Radio, a boutique hotel where a five course Nordic menu was served before the chance for a sauna and Arctic beer. Just a week later a polar bear arrived to the hotel and made itself at home in the pantry. It must have known that good food resides there.
It was a sad farewell at the end of the voyage - some nice friends made. It was incredible to experience Linden at the start of her Arctic journey. Magnetic North has chartered the ship for one group this summer and will be sending a honeymoon couple on a short expedition as part of their longer Norwegian adventure. If you’d like to find out more about SV Linden or join a summer expedition, you can read more about the itinerary here and get in touch with us for available dates.