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It’s been a while since I’ve made a post. Yikes. The last 6 months escaped due to lots of office and road time. Theo and I are in Svalbard leading our first polar expedition for Focus Expeditions. We had an enthusiastic group of photographers and videographers who were all anxious to explore the north with us.

We had an amazing crew including one of the most experienced Swedish Captains – Captain Kenth Grankvist. Our two highly experienced Polar Expeditions Leaders , Rickard and Heather Berg were wonderful – they were so much fun and very informative. Rickard is a polar expeditions’ historian and our group learned a great deal about the successful and MOSTLY unsuccessful expeditions to the north pole.

Our ship was the Freya. It is Kenth’s most newly acquired ship and our expedition was its virgin voyage. It had been a Swedish Coast Guard vessel until last year. Kenth refurbished the Freya into a commercial expedition ship. It has the highest class ice rating although the hull has the bones of an ice breaker.

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Theo and I met with Rickard and Heather the day before we launched to go over the most recent ice chart and weather chart. Normally June is the time for the ice to break up in the north and so we were pretty sure that we would have lots of ice – meaning lots of seals and then of course bears. But we were shocked to discover that this year – there was very little ice. There was little to no pack ice around the entire archipelago of Svalbard. And because we were one of the first ships to launch in the season, there was little information to be gained from other ships. Two ships had just returned before we left. One ship saw 6 bears from a long distance. The other ship called the Origo which was also one of Kenth’s, didn’t see a single bear. Theo and I were worried and not without reason.

So the group arrived happily and the energy level was high. We had an ideal group dynamic – just wonderful people. The next day we launched into high northerly winds while heading due north. What this means is that we were heading into the wind and subsequently directly into the waves. We were instantly getting hammered by 15 foot waves as soon as we turned the corner and went north. Everyone went to their cabins to lay down – the best way to minimize seasickness. The ones who wore the seasickness medical patches fared much better than those who did not – note to self for future trips.

The next day the trip officially commenced and the beauty of the arctic began to reveal itself. Spitsbergen, when translated meaning “pointed peaks”, is stunningly beautiful. One loses count of the number of glaciers and fjords. They seem endless and each one seems to be more beautiful than the last. The weather was perfect: moody on some days with fog and snow (even rain) and then brilliant sunshine.

But we were looking for ice and it’s king: Isbjorn – the Ice Bear.

~ Jami Tarris

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