Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Smeerenburg on Spitzbergen

Map picture

Note: This was written on June 21, 2012, but not sent until now because we did not have satellite coverage for the remainder of our voyage.

I need to do a quick lesson on geography in this part of the world. Svalbard is the name given to an archipelago in the Arctic, constituting the northernmost part of Norway. Located north of mainland Europe, it is about midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole. Within this chain of Islands, Spitsbergen is the largest, and we will spend much of our time in this area exploring Spitsbergen. When I left for this trip, I was under the impression that we would actually go as far north as the Arctic Ice Cap, but that is no longer correct. In the not too distant past, the Arctic Ice Cap reached all the way to Svalbard, and in fact, our ship was not able to circumnavigate the island of Spitzbergen. Today, however, the Ice Cap has retreated north to such an extent, that if we wanted to actually reach the edge, our ship would have to sail at maximum speed for a full day to get there – even then there would be nothing see. Afterwards we would require another full day to return to Svalbard. For this reason, the Explorer now spends its time here in the far north exploring the area for Polar Bears and Walruses, and visiting some of the historical ruins left by the early settlers.

This brings me to Smeerenburg. It was the main base of operation for the Dutch whaling trade in the 1600’s. Whales would be brought here for processing, and at one time, Smeerenburg had as many as eight companies that maintained bases here. We were set to anchor off this area around 8am. The ruins are located along a sandy shore surrounded by a beautiful sound. You might be interested to know that the difference between a “fjord” and a “sound” is that with a fjord, there is only one way in and out. A sound on the other hand, has at least two separate entrances. The main entrance into the Smeeerenburg Sound is quite narrow and is surrounded on all sides by magnificent glaciers. Barentsburg, Svalbard, NorwayIf the conditions early in the morning made getting up worthwhile, then we were promised a wake up announcement around 6am. So when the loud speakers started blaring at 6 am, we were told to dress quickly and come on deck for an absolutely beautiful sight. All around the ship you could hear people quickly throwing on clothes, grabbing cameras and making their way up to the observation deck. Everyone looked as if they had just rolled out of bed which is in fact what just happened. I was one of the first to arrive; however, before I could take too many pictures, a fellow passenger spotted a polar bear on a small island in the middle of the narrow channel. All interest in the scenery immediately evaporated, and an announcement was made that the Captain was turning the ship around, and would anchor in a safe location. In the meantime, the Expedition Team was preparing the Zodiacs with the intention of taking us as close to the island as possible.

Suddenly the Captain himself came on to announce that a pair of Walrus were frolicking just off the bow of the ship. Sooo, everyone stops running for their cabins, and instead runs back upstairs to see if they can catch a picture of a walrus. Barentsburg, Svalbard, NorwayI quickly got several good pictures before heading down to our cabin to change.

Now remember, everyone had just rolled out of bed and thrown on clothes to take some quick pictures on deck. Getting dressed to go out in the Zodiac was an entirely different issue. It meant taking off everything that we had just put on, and dressing in an entirely different set of clothes. It happened that we were in the first group to leave the ship, and moving as fast as we could, it was all we could do to get ready. The temperature outside was hovering around freezing, and the winds were quite high already, thereby guaranteeing a wet and cold ride. The corridors of the ship looked as if a Chinese fire drill had been called. From where the ship was anchored, the bear could barely be seen as a tiny white dot moving around the small barren island. Approaching the island, the winds calmed down because we were on the leeward side. But, wouldn’t you know, just as we approached the bear decided to climb over the top and go down the other side, so off we roared in pursuit. This meant, however, that we were going right into the wind and the ocean swells, which meant that the ride was like a rollercoaster. All four Zodiacs in our group managed to get quite close to the bear, which appeared to not even be aware of our presence. Barentsburg, Svalbard, NorwayThe only problem for those of us who wanted a good picture was that we were on a moving platform that was at times doing its best to literally throw us out of the little boat. By the time it was all over, the bear crossed back to the other side, and we dutifully followed, and in the end, I took somewhere close to 400 pictures, and my camera and everything I had was soaking wet with seawater – BUT-I had a big smile on my face – I had seen a real polar bear in its natural environment, and in all those pictures, there were a few that were really good.Barentsburg, Svalbard, Norway

During lunch, the Captain returned to our original plan of anchoring off the historic ruins at Smeerenburg in order that we could all go ashore in the afternoon. Upon reaching the site where he would normally drop anchor, he found strong winds and equally strong currents such that the anchor would not “hold.” Rather than giving up on a landing, the Captain, instead, decided on another cleaver strategy. Remember I explained that a “Sound” has more than one entrance. Indeed, Smeerenburg has three different ways to enter the Sound. The Captain set out at high speed to circle round the coast to the North, and to enter the Sound from a different direction. He hoped that this would allow him to anchor in a narrow part of the Sound which was protected on both sides by high mountains, and thus provide us with a good anchorage. What a ride is all I can say. When we left the Sound the winds outside the sheltered area quickly rose to over 70 mph, and the seas were equally rough. This wind was coming directly from our side, and it caused the ship to move forward with a list. In other words, we were tilted on our side by as much as 20 degrees at times. It made walking comical, and caused several things around the ship to fall and break, but by the end of lunch, we were safely anchored off Smeerenburg, and set to go ashore to explore. The only problem was that even in our sheltered area, the winds were 30 gusting to 40 mph, which meant that we were in for not only a rough and wet ride, but also a very cold afternoon out on the fully exposed beach.

The precautions taken by the ship for our safety ashore were impressive. If you will remember, we are in an area where the polar bear is king, and potentially a very dangerous animal to people. Before we went ashore, the ship sent out a party of six guards to insure our safety. Each of these six were armed and on sentry duty against any curious bears. Three of the guards were positioned around our perimeter on shore, and three were located in Zodiacs which surround our position on the beach. They were on the lookout for any bears that might approach us from the water. Each group was accompanied by two members of the ship’s Expedition Team, and one of them was armed with a pistol as a last resort should the need arise. If a bear did appear, the first order of business would be to evacuate us from the area as quickly as possible. Only in the direst of circumstances would a bear be shot, because among other things, the consequences of shooting a polar bear in Norway are greater than shooting a person we have been told.

Lisa was not feeling well this afternoon, and so I went by myself. There was really not much to see. After all, we are talking about some ruins from the 1600’s that have been exposed to some of the most severe weather on our planet. So in the end, I can say I was there, and as predicted, by the time I returned, everything I had was wet and cold with only a few pictures to show for the effort.

At this point, I have no idea where the ship is headed for tomorrow. In this part of the world, schedules are based on current conditions. Each evening we have a “destination briefing,” and so in about an hour I will learn about our upcoming plans.

There is no question we are having a good time. It is unbelievable that on our first day really exploring the Arctic, we spotted both a walrus and a polar bear. It cannot get much better.

I hope everyone is doing fine. .


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talk About Remote: Jan Mayen Island

Map picture

If you were to draw a line from the northern coast of Iceland to the most northern area in Norway, Svalbard, about a third of the way along that line you would run into an extremely remote Island named Jan Mayen. Indeed it is safe to say that it is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world! Still, that is where we visited yesterday, and it was a fascinating experience.

Let me paint the picture of “remote inhabited island.” The land is nothing more than a 55 km long lump of volcanic rock, smack dab in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. At one end is the 8,000 ft. high Beerenberg volcano and at the other are the remains of a now extinct volcano. The two ends of the island are connected by a narrow isthmus. The island has absolutely no exploitable resources outside the fishing rights in its surrounding waters, and it has no ports or harbors, and only a few offshore anchorages.

It is a part of Norway, and is home to both a radio communications station and a meteorological station. During the summer, perhaps as many as 18 people are in residence, while in the winter when the research peaks, it may be home to a maximum of 80 personnel. It is visited by a supply ship only once per year, and then during the summer only. There is a newly constructed gravel runway, and weather permitting, it receives four flights per year. As for visitors, the base commander stated that the island will be visited by four ships this summer, two of which are private yachts, and two of which are expedition ships of which our ship is one. So, as you can see, I do think the word “remote” is truly applicable.

Before arriving at Jan Mayen, everyone on board had to undergo a Bio Security Check to insure that our clothing and shoes would not be bringing any unwanted guests, such as bugs and seeds, to the island. We were told that landings are far from assured because of the weather. The island has only 25 days of sunshine in a year, while the rest of the time it is covered with a dense low overcast of clouds. As we approached the island, in the early hours of the morning, it was indeed gray and cloudy. The outside temperature was a little below freezing; however, the ocean was calm and the winds gentle. Our little scout crew left the ship shortly after we dropped anchor, and about an hour later, word came back that a landing would be possible, and so excitement immediately peaked as we all rushed to figure out how to dress for such cold and for our first “wet” landing.

The passengers are divided into four groups for landings, and on this occasion, our group was to be the last to go ashore. As it turned out our waiting proved to be a good thing. To the amazement of everyone, the sky started to clear; slowly at first and then very quickly a hole opened in the fog revealing a starkly beautiful landscape. According to our experts, a small opening had appeared in the overhanging clouds which allowed a little sun to reach the blackened hillsides. As the hills heated, a draft of rising air was created which created an outflow boundary that pushed the fog back from the island. They said that if we could see a satellite picture of the area, it would be covered by low clouds with the exception of this giant hole over Jan Mayen. If the sun became covered again, or as the sun went lower in the sky, the island would eventually lose its heat, and the fog bank would once again envelope the island. So, not only were we greeted with a beautiful sunny day, but by the time it came for us to depart, the Jan Mayen Island, NorwayBeerenberg volcano itself became visible, and that is an extremely rare event.

We came ashore at a beautiful black sandy beach which had a rather steep drop-off into the surf. Jan Mayen Island, NorwayAs our Zodiac approached, it turned around and approached the shore backwards and 4 members of the Expedition Staff in wet suits, waded out in chest deep water to pull the little craft up to the beach. Even at that, the surf threw the little craft around. The idea was that each of us in turn, would pivot on the side of the craft and then “time” when to put our feet down as the tide was going out, and then run quickly before the tide once again came in. Of course, I missed the timing, and the tide caught up with me sending water over the top of my waterproof boots. Jan Mayen Island, NorwaySo from the beginning, I was walking in waterlogged socks, which were going “squish, squish” with every step. In any event, I slogged, and others walked up a hill to the main camp at the top. There we were greeted by the base commander, who presented a short history of the island and set out a few guidelines for our visit. From there we were free to explore on our own.Jan Mayen Island, Norway

A small group of people set out on a very steep trail that a member of the expedition had marked earlier which climbed to the top of the mountain ridge. Another small group set out on a hike to the isthmus area, a walk of several miles. The majority of us walked quite some distance in order to photograph two unique icons of the island. Jan Mayen Island, NorwayThe first was a traditional large post with signs attached showing the direction and distance to different locations around the world. The other icon was a road sign that I will not even attempt to describe – let me just say that if you are interested, I suggest you look at my pictures. Jan Mayen Island, NorwayWhile walking I noted that each and every vehicle we came across, had the name of a woman lavishly painted along the doors on each side of the vehicle. I saw what appeared to be one private car, and it too was “named.” So I guess if you said “I’m going to take Sally for a ride” that everyone knew what you meant! Once again back on our ship, we set off to the North, and were quickly enveloped in fog, as was predicted.

I just checked our TV, and noted that we are located at 74 degrees of North latitude, so we are clearly within the Arctic Circle. As a reminder of something we all learned in school, but have probably lost somewhere in our memories, allow me to define the Arctic and Antarctic Circles of Latitude. When we look at a map of the earth, where it is shown as a globe with the North Pole at the top, then we all know that the ring of Latitude around the center is called the equator, and that this mark is defined as zero degrees of latitude. As you move away from the equator, then successive rings of latitude are defined as being so many degrees of latitude north or south of the equator; so for example Kansas City, if my memory serves me, is approximately 48 degrees north of the equator. If you go all the way to the North or South poles, then they are located at 90 degrees north or south respectively from the equator. Now two more pieces to complete this picture; on our map, let’s draw a line from the north to the south, thus representing the central axis of the earth; if we rotate our earth map clockwise 23.5 degrees, then we are placing our earth image in the correct orientation as to how the earth is aligned with the sun. So finally, let’s draw a line of latitude that is 23.5 degrees below the north and south poles. That would mark latitude of (90-23.5) 66.5 degrees. Therefore we will define the Arctic Circle as being at 66.5 degrees north, and the Antarctic Circle as being at 66.5 degrees south. This is significant because within those latitudes, the sun never sets for six months, followed by six months without the sun.

We crossed the Arctic Circle two days ago, and so are now considered as being
“in the Arctic.” Eventually I believe we will travel all the way to 80 degrees of North Latitude.

I hope this did not confuse everyone, and yes, I know that there are different ways in which to define “the Arctic” however using latitudes is the easiest. Take care, and I will try to write again, although we are now getting far enough north that I understand that is not a given.


Sunday, June 17, 2012

What A Wonderful World It Is


We have begun the third and final segment of this cruise experience, and in so doing, I thought I might take a moment to focus more on what we are experiencing as opposed to reciting a litany of what we are doing.

Our journey around the Island Nation of Iceland will have taken us from the Southeastern shores, completely around the island in a clockwise circle to the upper Northeast corner before we turn North in our journey to the Arctic region. Iceland is an incredibly beautiful country, although it is very sparsely populated. I was interested to learn that the population of the entire country is only 320,000, and of that, some 220,000 people live in, and around, the capital of Reykjavik. The remainder of the country appears to live mostly around the coast in small villages and farms. By way of example, after leaving Reykjavik, we stopped at the city of Grundarfjordur, IcelandGrundarfjorder, which is home to some 900 people, and today we are putting shore on Virgur Island, Vigur Island, Icelandwhich is home to a single family of ten people.

Something that has absolutely amazed me are the sea birds. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have seen millions of sea birds, of all different species. It seems as if every cliff along the sea is home to thousands of nesting pairs, and the skies are swarming with flying birds as is the ocean itself. When I think about it, I must admit that I cannot recall a single ocean or sea in which I have cruised in which I did not see many birds on the water. Even in the most remote places of the world, there are always birds at sea. For the longest time I always assumed that in seeing birds we must be reasonably close to land, but now I learn that is not the case. Most sea birds spend their entire lives floating on the ocean, only returning to land to mate and raise their young.

Let me share just one example that was discussed last night during our lecture, the beautiful Arctic Tern. Vigur Island, IcelandThis incredibly beautiful bird, once raised, will spend roughly the first seven years of its live at sea. It takes an immature bird approximately that long to mature, at which point, it will return to exactly where it was born to find a mate and to rear its newborn, before once again returning to the sea. The Arctic Tern has a lifespan of roughly 30 years, and it has been proven that young and immature birds will leave the Arctic in the summer and fly all the way to Antarctica for the winter. If you think about that for a moment, it is an unbelievable feat for a small bird which weighs only 120 grams. Terns are very territorial and also very aggressive towards intruders. I did not mention it, but the other day when we were visiting the glacial lake, I walked away for some distance from the group, and noticed that there were thousands of these beautiful birds all around in the grass. At one point, a tern swooped down around me, which I thought was neat, and so I readied my camera to see if I could get a picture of a flying bird. I walked on a little further, and the next thing I knew, I had a sky full of birds, all squawking loudly and swooping lower and lower over my head until they started hitting my head as they dove. I, of course, quickly left the area, and they immediately left me alone. Without knowing it, I had gotten too close to their nesting area, and they were not shy about letting me know that!

The way in which I keep Iceland and Greenland apart in my mind is with the silly phrase “Iceland is green, and Greenland is ice.” That is not too say that Iceland does not have glaciers, because of course it does, but it also has large areas of green grazing lands. Like the Faroe Islands, however, the island is almost devoid of trees. Here again the early inhabitants cut the forests for fuel and building supplies, and today the only trees in sight are those which have been intentionally introduced in an effort to re-populate the landscape.

Another point that is unique about Iceland is that almost all of its heating and electrical needs are met by the use of geothermal energy. Iceland is a very large series of volcanic islands, and there is a great deal of geothermal activity taking place on a constant basis. Engineers have learned how to supply water into the heated ground, and then to claim the boiling water coming back to use in powering electrical generators, and also to heat their buildings.

Finally, I need to comment about Latitudes for those of you who are following us on a map. When we travelled south to Antarctica, the most southern latitude that our vessel was allowed to reach was 65 degrees. To travel past that point required a vessel with an ice hardened hull. At that latitude, we were surrounded by glaciers on all sides, and the outside temperatures were hovering around freezing, even though it was the height of their summer. By contrast, Reykjavik was already at 65 degrees of north latitude, and we will be going north from there. I have heard that we will go up to as much as 80 degrees north. Of course, while I have not mentioned it before, at these latitudes we are experiencing very long days. I do not have it right in front of me, but I believe the sun actually “sets” for roughly 3 hours each evening, but it is never so low that the sky becomes dark. So, it is always light outside at this time of the year. I understand as we go north, we will reach a point where the sun never sets at this time of year, but conversely during the winter, these latitudes experience 24 hours of darkness.

In summary I would call this an extremely beautiful part of the world. If I had the ability and time to rent a car and drive all around the island (which many people do), I believe it would be a wonderful experience, and I would have so many pictures that I would probably never get them organized.

So, the first day of this, our third cruise segment, started in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. The crew and staff of the vessel were all involved in “turn around” activities, in which they say “goodbye” to roughly 100 people and then prepare to welcome aboard 120 new guests. For the group termed “in transit,” the ship offered the twelve of us a four hour city tour. I really do not have much to tell about Reykjavik. It is home to most of the population of the country, and is a modern city. Our tour was a standard city tour – we saw the old parts of town, went to an overlook, drove through the city center, and stopped at the National Museum. Reykjavik, IcelandOn a sidelight, we did stop to see the small home called “Hofdi house” which was the venue for the landmark meeting in 1986 between President Reagan and General Secretary Gorbachev, which many historians regard as marking “the end of the Cold war.”

On a sad note, the company has suspended the “open Bridge” policy which had been in existence since the ship was introduced four years ago. It is “sad” because our room is right next to the Bridge, and I have really enjoyed going onto the Bridge to observe our arrivals and departures. Oh well, nothing stays the same!

Yesterday, Thursday June 14th, the ship docked at the small town of Grundarfjorour, which is situated on a large peninsula in the west of Iceland. The peninsula is dominated by the Snaefellsjokull Glacier, and the entire area is designated as one of the country’s four National Parks. Grundarfjordur, IcelandWe spent the entire day driving completely around the Glacier. It was an absolutely beautiful day with only a few clouds in the sky. When the sun was out, it was so warm in fact, that I went without my jacket much of the time. From a narrative point of view, there is not much to write about. The bus went from viewpoint to viewpoint, and aside from some beautiful pictures nothing of any note occurred.

So we come to today, Friday June 15th. The ship in the early morning hours traveled up the Isafjaroardjup Fjord, in the West of Iceland. Deep in the Fjord is the charming island of Vigur, which has been home to the same family for generations and is today home to only ten people. The Zodiac ride into the village was over 1nm, and it was a little chilly. By the time we reached the island however, I was pulling off my sweater and eventually my jacket, too. It was a bright sunny day and the sky was a brilliant blue. We were given a 90 minute walk around the island, which is home to millions of nesting birds. Most prevalent were the Arctic Terns, but we saw Puffins, all kinds of ducks, Vigur Island, Icelandand birds I did not even recognize. As we walked, each of us was given a stick to carry which had a blue banner attached on the top, somewhat like a flag. We were to hold these above our heads because we would be crossing the breeding ground of the terns, and as I learned the hard way the other day they can be quite aggressive. The purpose of the stick is not to harm or to hit the bird, but the tern will dive on the highest point. So if we carry the banner above our heads, the terns will dive on the banner and not on our heads; it worked, by golly! It was a fun walk, and at the end, the locals had put up picnic tables where they had coffee and tea and inside some cakes. We went to sit down and relax, and who should already be seated enjoying the sunny day – the Captain, of course. I tell you, this man is everywhere. I had noted shortly after we landed that the entire end of the fjord through which we had entered was completely closed off by a low lying fog bank. One of the team leaders commented that it had formed this morning right after we set down our anchor, and it seemed to be slowly moving in our direction. While we were having coffee, I noticed the Captain take a call, and within seconds, he ran off and took his own Zodiac back to the ship at high speed. Curious, I thought.

Anyway, I was talking to one of the local family members and commented that I guessed they did not have many visitors in a year. Her reply blew me away; she said that last summer they had over 5,000 people come to the island because it is so famous. Each visitor must pay a fee to land so it provides much needed income to the family.

Lisa and I decided to head back to the ship early, and as we got to the jetty, we could see that the fog had suddenly moved much closer, and was filling in the surrounding valley. On the back of the Zodiacs there was a long pole at the end of which was something that looked like a lantern. When I asked what it was, I was told that it was a radar reflector. The fog was moving much more quickly than anticipated and as a precaution, each Zodiac was equipped with a reflector, thus allowing the ship to see them if necessary. We are now safely back onboard, and I can see that they are rounding up the remaining passengers and bringing them back to the ship early as a safety precaution.

This afternoon we have lectures as we cruise towards our last stop in Hjusavik, Iceland. However, everything changed, when during our evening briefing for tomorrow Humpback whales were spotted just a mile from the ship. Everyone left the briefing and quickly grabbed coats and cameras and headed for the open deck, as the Captain turned the ship to intercept the whales. Shortly after we once again got near the herd, a giant humpback jumped clear out of the water in the type of display I have only seen on television. Of course most of us did not have our cameras at the ready yet, so it is a memory we have to take home in our minds, however, over the next hour I got many photographs of the family and several of the giant tails as they slipped back into the water. Yipee!Arctic Area

Our final day in Iceland was on the northern coast, and our ship docked at the small town of Husavik. Husavik Area, IcelandI was certain that I had been to the north coast before, but I did not recognize the town of Husavik, and so I assumed we were in a different region – an assumption that later proved to be false. Virtually all of the passengers, box lunches in hand, set out on a 9 hour tour of this beautiful area. I learned from our guide something that should have been obvious to me before; namely that the entire population of Iceland lives in coastal areas. The center of the country is uninhabitable and constitutes the largest “deserted” region in all of Europe. We drove, and we drove, and we drove some more, with just occasional stops for a photograph. For the first two hours of our drive I did not see a single vehicle on the road with the exception of one of our buses in front of us. Eventually, we turned onto gravel roads, and most of the day from that point forward was spent bouncing along the back roads of northern Iceland until our return to the ship at 5pm.

Our first stop was to take a picture of the deserted coastline. Our second stop allowed us to walk deep into a volcanic canyon. At our third stop, we saw yet another volcanic canyon, but this time it had a small lake on the bottom. Here we got to eat our box lunches and had time to take a short walk. One problem with walking however; in this part of the world they do not have mosquitoes, but what they do have are little green flies, by the millions at times. They do not bite, but they hover and then swarm in huge black clouds, entering every opening available. They got in our ears, eyes, nostrils and down in our clothes. In short a beautiful picnic lunch in the woods quickly became a box lunch in the bus with the doors closed!

From this point forward the stops looked familiar, and I suddenly realized that I had been here before, but had docked at another nearby town, Akurey. In fact we started to meet other tour buses that had come from ships in that port. I was certain of this fact when we visited Dettifoss Falls, Husavik Area, Icelandthe most powerful waterfall in Europe. It was a very steep walk down to where the Falls could be viewed, and you’ll be proud of me, both in the fact that I made the descent, and in the fact that I used my stick. Just to prove to everyone I was there, I asked the ship’s photographer to use my camera and take my picture at the bottom.

Our next stop was in an area of geothermal activity. The landscape was composed of sulphur pits and boiling mud pools, Husavik Area, Icelandmuch like you would see in Yellowstone. Nearby was a geothermal swimming pool, which is a very popular local attraction.

This trip has been billed as the “Expedition of Fire and Ice,” and nowhere was that more on display than yesterday’s visit to the north of Iceland. As we left the ship early in the morning, it was overcast, cold, with a very strong wind. The Captain advised that we should all take our heavy clothing. By the time we stopped for lunch, the sun was out and the winds were gone. Until the bugs arrived people were sitting on park benches without any jackets and taking in the sun. Within an hour after leaving that park, we were driving through sleet, which later turned to hail and finally to snow. Reaching the geothermal pools, the sky was partly sunny again, but on our way to the ship, we encountered snow and hail once again while we watched the mountain tops take on a fresh covering of new snow. By the time we reached the ship, the sun was again out, the winds were calm, and we left behind a perplexing landscape indeed of “fire and ice.”

We are now sailing northeast and have already reached 68 degrees North. We will be at sea for two days before again reaching land.

Before moving on, I do have two quick stories to share. When our guide learned that we had seen a humpback whale actually jump out of the ocean and roll over to land on its back, she was dumbfounded. She said that was a rare event that in all her years she had never seen. So, I guess, we were really lucky. But get this; some people opted to skip the 9 hour tour, and instead they took a 4 hour local whale watching cruise offered by the ship. Talk about having a lucky day, they not only got to see Orca and Humpback whales, but they actually got to see a Blue Whale, the largest mammal ever to live on the earth. Today it is estimated that there are no more than 3,000 of them surviving, so that sighting one was a real experience.

I hope everyone is well. I have gotten all my pictures for the second cruise uploaded, and starting with Reykjavik, all new pictures will go into a folder labeled Arctic Explorer 3. And yes, someone did point out to me that I had been spelling Arctic incorrectly – well, nobody is perfect.


Friday, June 15, 2012

Welcome To Iceland—Fell Again!!!

Map picture

Lisa and I had been to Iceland on previous voyages, but I have to tell you that in the last two days, we have seen parts of this beautiful country that we never even knew existed. In the process, we have taken a boat ride on the largest glacial lake in the world, held and tasted 1,000 year old glacial ice, seen some amazing glaciers, and just when we thought it could not get any better, today we saw a large puffin colony, navigated into an incredibly small harbor nearly closed by a lava flow, then we visited an area where over half of the village was lost to lava, and finally, as if we needed anything else, we saw Orca whales, and followed them for some time, getting some good photographs in the process. Wow, and then some!

Let me back up and start from the beginning. Our first landfall in Iceland was at the small remote fishing village of Hofn on the Southeast coast. Indeed, I would venture a guess that the entire town of Hofn was composed of no more than 50 buildings, but as we drove for almost two hours east of the town, we saw along the way many large farmsteads with the farms usually built into clusters of perhaps 3 to 5 large family homes. The population of this small community overall is listed at being 1,641.

The reason for visiting this area was to see the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajokull. The glacier is the largest in Iceland, and covers 8% of the country. The views along our ride were magnificent, and while it was not a sunny day there were holes in the clouds which allowed the sun to hit the ice from time to time and to produce a breathtaking panorama.Hofn, Lake Jokulsarlon, Iceland Our first stop was at Jokulsarlon, the large glacial lagoon created by the icecap. Here we boarded “Ducks,” which are large boats on wheels. Once everyone was safely seated, the Duck drove into the lake, where it then became a small boat which then cruises the lake.Hofn, Lake Jokulsarlon, Iceland We actually got to touch some of the large ice blocks, and at one point the boat stops in order that our guide could chop off a large piece to show us. Afterwards, he broke the ice into small pieces and then passed them around so that we each could touch 1,000 year old frozen water. It would make a great ice cube for my Johnnie Walker!

From the glacial lake, we stopped by a local farm that had just recently opened a hotel and restaurant; here we took a break and had a traditional Icelandic lunch. Hofn, IcelandWell, I enjoyed the break, but even though I tried, I could not eat what was offered – and I might add, many of our group felt the same.

After lunch, I decided to go see if there were some great photographic spots, so I walked out the back door and down three steps to a landing and “BOOM!” I fell on my new camera’s lens, my knee, and my right shoulder. The landing had a step-down that had blended into each other so I had not seen it. There I was again sprawled-out on the ground, and I could not get up! The only person to see me like this was Lisa, who just happened to be coming out another door. Lucky for me she could help me get up! Perhaps I should carry that walking stick all the time. Finally we all got back on the bus and drove into a mountain viewpoint that offered spectacular vistas – so, what a way to end an 8 hour day of adventure.

Today dawned bright and sunny which was a wonderful contrast to the almost constant overcast that has plagued us for so many days. I had heard that our arrival was quite difficult and a “must see” if you were willing to get up early. So, I arrived on the bridge, just as the pilot was boarding the ship. Vestmannaeyjar, IcelandWe were going to enter the perfectly formed natural harbor that exists on the island of Heimaey. The island is spotted with volcanoes, and indeed in 1973, a violent eruption occurred that eventually led to the population on the island being evacuated. Over half of the small town was buried under tons of ash, in much the same manner as in Pompeii, but more importantly the huge lave flows threatened to completely close the harbor entrance which would have doomed the island economically. An international effort was undertaken to save the harbor by spraying large amounts of cold water onto the molten lava in an attempt to stop it from flowing over the harbor entrance. The effort was successful; however, it has made the entrance into the harbor quite a challenge. Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland

It was fascinating to see how our little ship just barely made it through the harbor channel while on both sides of the ship we had towering cliffs. Once in the harbor itself, our ship had to turn around, and I have no doubt that we must be the largest vessel that could be allowed, because it was nip and tuck to perform the maneuver, and to dock safely. Of course, I have come to expect that our Captain makes even the most difficult situation look easy, and this morning was no exception. Once docked, we set out on a three hour tour of the island, which in the bright sunlight offered some very pretty scenery. The island is home to some 4,500 people. We stopped first and briefly at a cliff-side where young islanders are taught the tradition of rope swinging along the cliff. A young high school student was on the cliff to demonstrate for us. Next, we entered a gigantic valley where there are ruins of an old farmhouse dating back to 650AD. Vestmannaeyjar, IcelandOf course the valley is also home to a large amphitheater where islanders come once a year for a music festival and celebration. It is also home to an 18 hole golf course. We made some additional stops at various viewpoints, including one where we all walked for some distance to the cliff edge in order to see thousands of puffins nesting on the nearby Cliffside. Finally we toured the new part of the island created by the volcano of 1973, and saw first-hand how the islanders worked to reclaim their city from the mountain of ash that had descended on it. The results are nothing short of miraculous.

We boarded our ship in a rush for an early departure which would allow us to cruise around the newly created island of Surtsey. Born in 1963 by another volcanic eruption out at sea, the island today is off limits to everyone except authorized researchers. In fact our ship was not allowed to approach closer than one mile to the island, in order to protect this fragile environment. Near Vestmannaeyjar, IcelandSurtsey offers a unique opportunity for scientists to learn how newly formed and completely barren land eventually becomes home to plants, insects and animals, all of which have managed to show up on the island already. We were to sail completely around the island when suddenly the loudspeakers throughout the ship announced that a family of Orca whales had been spotted in front of the vessel, and that the Captain was turning our ship to intercept them. Indeed, the Captain did a great job, and we were able to observe these creatures for almost 30 minutes before they disappeared. It was a male and female, accompanied by a much smaller animal, which we assume was the young member of the family. Near Vestmannaeyjar, IcelandInitially they put on quite a show, at one point even jumping into the air. However, by the time I got to the upper deck they were just moving along. In any case, I shot over 700 pictures today between the puffins and whales, and so the posting of the blog and pictures will obviously take a little more time. Near Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland

Tonight marks the end of the second cruise of our three cruise odyssey. Tomorrow the ship docks in the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik. Those of us who are continuing on are taking a 4 hour city tour while the crew conducts a “turn around.”

Since our next cruise will be headed north, we have been alerted to the fact that eventually we will not have internet service, so if you do not hear from me for a while, do not be concerned.

I hope everyone is well;


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Exploring The Faroe Islands

Map picture

Departing the Shetland Islands on June 7th, we headed northwest towards our next destination, the Faroe Islands.

The Vikings established their parliament on these islands in 850CE, and made the village of Torshavn its capital, where it has remained so ever since. The name “Torshavn” actually means Thor’s Harbor. Today the Faroe Islands are a self-governing entity of Denmark, and Danish is the official language along with the island’s own Faroese Language. English is widely spoken however.

Our ship docked in the harbor at Torshavn, and we had a four hour tour in the afternoon around the city and its surroundings. Torshavn, Faroe IslandsThe day was overcast, with the temperature hovering around 45F, however, as is common in this part of the world, the winds were strong and constant at 30 to 40mph, which to us made it seem very, very cold, but to the locals it was just a normal day. Our bus tour started with a brief drive around the city, and then we went into the countryside, eventually ending up at the small village of Kirkjubour. Kirkjubour, Faroe IslandsThis was once the residence of the Bishop of the Faroes, and today is home to the oldest structures in the Faroes, as well as being home to one of the oldest churches in the world (according to our guide anyway). Kirkjubour, Faroe IslandsHe seemed to think that everything in the Faroes was “the oldest” if you get my drift. Afterwards, we returned to town and saw Fort Skansin which was first built in 1580, and was last used during World War II as headquarters for the British Royal Navy Command.

Departing late in the evening, we had a slow sail to one of the 18 islands in the Faroe Archipelago, Mykines. Mykines, Faroe IslandsThe population of the island has steadily declined, until today there are only 11 permanent residents. The island is home to a large collection of sea birds. Two different hikes were offered, one lasting four hours out to the lighthouse at the end of the island, and the other into the small remains of the village. Each of the walks was described as moderate to difficult and being narrow and steep. So we wisely selected the third option which was a 90 minute Zodiac ride around the cliffs and seashore. It was a beautiful, but very cold ride. Everyone was glad to be back onboard at the end of the day, as we set off towards Iceland.

Today we are enroute, and thus have a “day at sea.” Lisa and I are both well and enjoying ourselves greatly.


Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ever So Slowly Northward


Orkney and Shetland Islands

After departing the island of St. Kilda, our ship traveled clockwise in a Northeastward circle to the northern most islands of the United Kingdom, the Orkney Islands followed by the Shetland Islands.

Our ship docked around noon at the city of Stromness in the Orkneys. The ship offered a wonderful 3.5 hour tour to visit the famous Ring of Brodgar, a ceremonial stone ring dating from 2700 BC, followed by a visit to Skara Brae, an excavated village dating back 5,000 years. Lisa and I had seen both sites on a previous trip to Stromness, and so we decided to spend some time exploring the little town.Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland I might also mention that Lisa insisted that I had not bought the correct walking shoes for this trip, and that was one of the reasons why I had so much trouble the other day. You will be proud of me; I once again started in telling her that there was no way we were going to find what I needed in a little town of 2,000 people, much less in my size, and then I caught myself. This is the same argument I have used several times before when I needed something, and each and every time I was wrong. So this time I caught myself, and we had a good laugh before setting off to see what we could find. Lisa walks directly across the street to the first little shop selling fishing tackle to see if they can direct us. Out she comes, pointing to the store two doors down. We go into the smallest little shop you can imagine which has almost no space to move. Yes, over in one corner they had a few shoes, but not what I wanted. Not to be deterred Lisa plows in, and the next thing I know, I am sitting in a chair surrounded by seven different types of styles which are exactly what I was looking for, and everyone was my size. I don’t know where they found these in this tiny little ship, but the husband and wife flitted around like little birds reaching up, reaching below, digging behind, and suddenly there I was surrounded by choices. I selected one, and when I went to pay, the price was a little less than I would have expected to pay at home. All I can say is that it was an amazing experience, yet again.

We wandered around the little town getting some great pictures. Stromness, Orkney Islands, ScotlandWhen we left the ship, I was walking around with no jacket under a sunny sky, but as the afternoon wore on, the sky turned dark and threating, the wind had picked up, and it became very, very cold, so we hurried back to the ship.Stromness, Orkney Islands, Scotland That evening the ship hosted a special dinner in honor of the Queens’s Diamond Jubilee and the Captain led us all in a toast to “God Save The Queen.”

The next morning we approached the southern tip of the Shetland Islands, in particular, we were hoping to make a landing on Fair Isle. Our arrival was to be somewhat of an event for the roughly 70 permanent residents of the island, ending with a tea with the islanders at the community hall. Sadly, the weather conditions were not conducive to our making a safe landing, and we had to sail on by to our next destination, Mousa Island.

In spite of the strong winds, the Captain was able to maneuver the ship into a small cove where we had enough shelter to safely go ashore on our Zodiacs. Mousa, Shetland, ScotlandThe rolling and rocky landscape of Mousa is dominated by the best preserved 2,000 year old Iron Age broch in the world. Mousa, Shetland, ScotlandNow I don’t know about you, but prior to today, I had never even heard of a “broch,” much less seen one. So that we are all on the same page, allow me to explain that a broch is a large circular stone tower built around the beginning of the Christian era. They are found exclusively in the Northern part of Scotland, in the Hebrides and on the Orkney islands. This particular broch on Mousa is so well preserved, that it still retains its interior stone staircase to the top levels, and we were allowed to climb the narrow stairs at our own risk. I did not do so, but many people did. It is important to understand that these structures are constructed solely from native stones which are carefully fitted together such that no mortar or other material is used in the construction. As our trip progressed over the next day, we saw several more examples of a broch, but none even came close to being as impressive as the one on Mousa.

Departing Mousa, we headed to the largest city in the Shetlands, Lerwick, where the ship was set to dock and spend the evening. Having canceled our landing at Fair Isle, we arrived early only to find the dock occupied. Therefore the ship dropped anchor and ran a Zodiac shuttle for anyone wishing to go ashore. Lisa and I would have done so except for the fact that the outside temperature was down to 45 degrees, the sky a dark overcast, and the winds were steady at 20 gusting to 30 mph. So we had a nice afternoon at leisure and time to prepare for the next day’s adventure.

Lerwick, Shetland, ScotlandToday we set out from Lerwick for a four hour tour around the Shetland mainland, and a stop at Jarlshof, an extraordinary archaeological site. Before discussing Jarlshof, let me say that I saw and learned several interesting things about the Shetlands. Originally these islands belonged to Norway, and many of those early influences still exist both in the language and the architecture of the island. In 1460 the Norwegian King ceded the Shetlands to Scotland as part of the dowry for his daughter who was marrying a Scottish Lord. The next thing that is obvious to everyone is that there are no trees or even shrubs on the islands. These plants grew at one time, but early settlers cut them down to use in the building of their homes and for fuel. Because of the frequent Gales that rake the islands with high winds, efforts to reintroduce these plants have proven unsuccessful. I would also note that the Shetlands are the most northern part of the UK, and are relatively close to Norway to the East. On our drive, we saw truly beautiful rolling hills and open fields. It was obvious that economically the Shetlands are doing quite well, and in fact they have only a 1% unemployment rate. We later learned that much of this prosperity can be traced to the discovery of oil in the 1950’s. Income from the oil is placed in a National Trust and is used to provide for roads, community centers, schools, etc. I might also point out that fully one third of the population works for the government!

Jarlshof is an extraordinary archeological site, encompassing within its boundaries the ruins of successive generations dating back over 5,000 years. Lerwick, Shetland, ScotlandThe existence of these ruins was unknown until a violent storm in the winter of 1896/7 left them exposed. The site reveals a remarkable sequence of stone structures – late Neolithic houses, a Bronze-Age village, an Iron-Age broch, several Norse longhouses, a medieval farmstead and a 16th-Century Laird’s house. In spite of the piercing cold wind, we all found the walk around the park to be a fascinating and educational experience.

We then had a brief pause for tea, and then back to the ship for our departure northward. We were scheduled to spend this afternoon doing Zodiac cruises around the Shetland Island of Noss. Noss Island, Shetland, ScotlandSadly the swells and strong winds made that visit impossible, however, just our cruise-by these bird filled rocks was exciting.

So tonight we are headed to the Capital of the Faroe Island, Torshavn. Sea conditions right now are not good, and we are having a somewhat rough ride. The sky is absolutely clear of clouds; however we were warned yesterday that the prediction for tomorrow was for Gale Force winds. We will have our briefing soon, so we will see what is said.

I do hope that everyone is enjoying our trip, and that you are all doing well.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Puffins, Puffins and More Puffins


Map picture

Before beginning, I would just like to remind everyone that this “e-mail” is also posted in a “blog” format at our web page Included on that page is a map of the area I am discussing, and scattered throughout the article are a few pictures.

Photographs of our trip are hosted on my Picasa Page

Our first cruise is in an album entitled “Artic Explorer,” while the cruise we are currently on is entitled “Artic Explorer 2.” All of my pictures can easily be reached from a link on our globe-trotters web page that takes you directly to my Picasa Album.

So, let’s move on with our current trip.

Lisa and I absolutely love this cruise ship. There is so much going on that it is difficult to keep up with it all – it is NOT your ordinary type of cruise. The ship is now working its way northward along the Hebrides Islands of Scotland. Because we are a small vessel, it can anchor at these small islands, and we are getting to see things that most people would never encounter. Yesterday was absolutely one of the best days I have ever had on a cruise – but let me get to that in a minute.

When I last wrote, we were departing Dublin, Ireland, and heading northward to our eventual destination in Iceland for this segment of our cruise. On Saturday, June 2nd, the ship anchored off the Isle of Gigha. The island is now privately owned by its 120 residents, and with heather clad hills, deserted beaches, and only a single lane that meanders for six miles between cottages and farms, Gigha is truly a place apart. It is famous for the Achamore Gardens which were created by the Horlick family years ago. Today the residents of the island are dedicated to maintaining the garden, which is famous, worldwide for its many rare species. DSC01227We anchored off the island around 1pm, and started going ashore around 2pm. We were met by the only little bus on the island, which whisked us to the gardens where we had several hours to explore the truly magnificent landscape. Of course, we were accompanied by the onboard botanist, who was in absolute heaven over the collection, and also our resident ornithologist, who was ever present with his binoculars and spotting scope. We easily spent 3 hours exploring before returning to the ship. DSC01233My pictures will tell the story of this visit.

On the next day, Sunday June 3rd, the ship returned to the Island of Iona, home to Iona Abbey. Since we had gone ashore when we visited this island on our first cruise, Lisa and I took the morning “at leisure.” During lunch, the ship moved to the Island of Lunga, again in the Scottish Hebrides.DSC01277(2) Lunga is part of the remote and unsheltered Treshnish archipelago of eight main islands, and many smaller skerries of volcanic origin, and all are uninhabited by humans. There are remains, however, of early Vikings and medieval castles that tell us at one time they were inhabited. The islands are now protected not only for their historic value, but because they are important breeding grounds for many, many species of seabirds and grey seals. At Lunga, there are no good landing sites, and so our plans called for a one hour tour of the island by Zodiac. To the surprise of everyone, our day had once again dawned sunny which is almost unheard of in this part of the world. We had some strong winds early, but as the day progressed, they died down, so the expedition staff set about trying to see if they could locate a landing site that would allow us an opportunity to explore the island on foot. DSC01330(2)During our Zodiac ride, we were surrounded by grey seals, who kept sticking their heads up out of the water to see who we were. It was funny because the seal would pop up first at some distance, and then over time it would come closer and closer. Overhead the air was filled with birds of all types, and huge colonies were nesting along the cliff side, as well as, floating in mass herds which the crew calls “rafts of birds.” Suddenly the radio crackled into life and the onshore scouting team said they had found a place to put the Zodiac in so that we could come ashore, and that the onboard bird specialist had discovered the largest nesting colony of Puffins he had ever seen.

Our Zodiac headed towards the landing site which turned out to be an outcropping of volcanic rock. Lisa took one look, and because of her fake knees decided to stay on the Zodiac and return to the ship. Not having planned on going ashore, I did not have my walking stick, but when it came my turn, I gamely got off the Zodiac, and within a minute, I was in serious trouble; I had absolutely no balance on those uneven volcanic rocks. I started to turn back, but the entire crew knew how important it was for me to get good pictures of a Puffin for my granddaughter, Jennifer that they literally begged me to let them help me see what they said was the most amazing collection of nesting Puffins they had ever encountered. So, I gave in, and one of the Expedition Staff led me by the hand across the large plateau of uneven volcanic rock, and then pointed up to a narrow trail that climbed up a steep hill for some 300 ft. to where the Puffins were nesting. He said it would be a steep, but easy walk and climb from here, and he would be waiting for me when I came back.

Well, his definition of an “easy,” but steep climb did not match my experience. It started out easy enough, but then descended down a steep embankment only to present me with a boulder strewn river bed that required over 200 ft. to cross. Lung, Treshnish Islands, ScotlandTry as I might, I just could not balance well and almost fell several times. So, the other passengers started helping me, and I became somewhat of a “mascot.” Once across the ravine, the path started a climb. It was not only narrow and steep, but was filled with loose rocks and large boulders.Lung, Treshnish Islands, Scotland I thank my trainer, Matt Terry, because I had the strength and stamina to make the climb, but my balance was so bad that what I was doing was really dangerous. More than once, in fact, perhaps a dozen times, I almost lost my balance and could easily have fallen down the hillside. I did “kind of” fall on my recently injured knee, but a little fall does not count. At one point I realized how crazy this was, but I was determined to see it through. People kept helping and encouraging me, and in the end, I finally made it to the top. What lay before me was a scene unlike anything I had ever seen before. There were literally thousands of cute little Puffins that had decided this hilltop was their perfect place this year for nesting. Lung, Treshnish Islands, ScotlandI could literally walk right up to them, and they ignored my presence. People were lying on the ground snapping pictures within inches of the little birds. As soon as I caught my breath, I joined in the fray and must have taken almost 100 pictures. While I was standing there, so many people came to congratulate me for making the effort and saying how worried they were about me. To a person, they offered to help me down, but for some dumb reason, I said I would be fine! “Yeah, right!”

Going down that pebble strewn steep path was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I slipped, slid, and stumbled like a drunken sailor. At one point, I completely walked out of my right shoe, and had to go back and pry it from the rocks. People helped when they could, but at my pace, I kept telling them I was Ok, and to go on. At the bottom, I once again had to navigate the boulder strewn river bed, and then I climbed up to the path that took me to the volcanic rocks. True to their promise, the Expedition Staff had been on the lookout for me, and they rushed to help me across the rock, all the while slapping me on the back and congratulating me for a job well done. Back at the little outcropping, I looked up as a Zodiac came to pick me up and to my surprise; the Captain of the ship was driving the little boat. I swear, this man is everywhere, and he really enjoys what he is doing. He too offers congratulations, and I am starting to feel a little special. In truth, when I got back to the cabin I admitted to Lisa what a really dumb thing I had done. I could so easily have fallen yet again, that it was scary. This really proved to me that, with my having lost virtually all feeling in both my feet up to my knees, I simply have very poor balance awareness, and on any uneven surface, a cane is a must. In any case, what an exciting day! I have so many Puffin pictures, and so many memories – that I slept well last night!

Overnight the ship moved further North to over 50 miles north of the Outer Hebrides Islands. Our destination was to be St. Kilda Island. The Islands of St. Kilda form the last outpost of the north-west edge of Europe, and rise out of the Atlantic Ocean West of the Outer Hebrides. In four previous attempts to make a landing here, the weather was so bad that it had to be skipped. The island is almost in the Atlantic Ocean and subject to ocean swells and almost constant foggy weather. Last night we were told that the weather forecast was for sunny skies and light winds. The Expedition Team was very excited, and the Captain increased speed overnight in order to arrive at the islands just at first light. St. Kilda, ScotlandHe would then do a ship cruise around the island in the morning light, before anchoring in the small cove that is at the center of the island. We were all awakened at 6 am, although most of us had been up much earlier to see the arrival.St. Kilda, Scotland It was a spectacular sight, and one that almost took our breath away. The majestic cliffs rose for hundreds of feet, and the sea and skies were full of birds of all varieties.

So, what is so special about St. Kilda anyway? Well, it has the distinction of being the first property to be included in The Scottish National Nature Reserve, and in addition it has been accorded two different designations by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, one for cultural history and two as a wildlife reserve. The Island is home to over 1 million birds. The Island was inhabited in the early 1800’s, but the last residents were evacuated in 1930. Today, there is a small staff of 3 Park Rangers to oversee the Island, and there is a small British military facility that maintains the radar installations that were first installed during the Second World War, but which today are used for the tracking of missiles.St. Kilda, Scotland We had 4 hours to wander around the island and to explore the ruins. The island is quite overrun with wild sheep which were abandoned by the last residents.

We are now back onboard the ship and have had lunch, when as I am typing this, the Captain announced that he was going to do a “cruise by” the nearby Island of Soay, one of the largest gannetries in the world. So, we just all ran outside for the show, and what a show it was. Soay, St. Kilda Archepeligo, ScotlandThe huge towering monolithic rocks were white with birds, and the sky was literally filled with flying gannets. The Captain took the ship within about 50 ft. of the large rocks, and he maneuvered the big vessel as if he were driving a Zodiac; it was impressive to watch. I went to the Bridge out of curiosity, and here was the Captain surrounded with all this high tech equipment, and he is calmly sitting in the Captain’s chair with an old fashioned map in his lap and a pair of calipers.St. Kilda, Scotland

Anyway, we are now heading to our next destination with a briefing at 5pm, but for some unknown reason, they have moved dinner forward to 6 pm and they will not say why. It has been implied that later this evening there is yet another surprise, weather permitting. I am just loving it, and so is Lisa.


PS About half way through dinner, our ship stopped a few hundred yards from a huge rock outcropping which had a large lighthouse on top. No one on the crew would say a word about the “surprise,” but soon after stopping the Expedition Team set out in a Zodiac headed to shore. Quite some time later the team leader came on to say that the reason the ship had stopped was that the last time they were in this area, they had discovered a huge Puffin colony on this island, and if it was still there, they were going to shuttle us ashore to take pictures in the low evening sun. Sula Sgeir, ScotlandSadly, the Puffins had moved somewhere else this year, because all they could find were five mating pairs. So, the BIG surprise fizzled, but at least the ship tried. So, overnight we have set sail towards the Northeast and the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland.