Farmhamna, Respite After the Night of the Waves

Our first night out to sea was a truly epic experience. We sailed from the sheltered, mirror-still Isfjord and headed north, sailing from the later afternoon all through the night to arrive in Farmhamna the following day. As we passed the small mining town of Barentsburg, twinkling in the distance, the swells from the open sea finally hit the Antigua. Turns out what can be described as a “small swell” in the context of the ocean is, in the context of land-lubbers like myself, a massive upset. Three-meter swells hit our little boat, and while many of my comrades head below deck to their bunks I joined a small group on deck. The boat was rocking so violently you simply had to hold on to something unless you felt comfortable sliding around uncontrollably! Waves crashed over the front of the ship, once choice swell drenching a few residents who seemed to quite enjoy the authenticity of the experience. After a while, the waves got the better of me (and most others onboard, including the crew and wilderness guides and even the poor dog Nemo). I got sick overboard, and then felt worlds better.

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Our trip from Longyearbyen to Farmhamna, roughly

As a reward to those of us toughing it out in the misty, cold outdoors, an outstanding aurora came out! Green with a red band at its bottom, the aurora wrapped around the ship from east through north to the northwest, and at one point a separate band flashed into the south (quite rare!) A group of towering, electric-like white shards shot out right above the ship, dancing above the mast. It was staggering in its beauty. Unfortunately, it also kept me out on deck long enough to become quite ill a second, and then a third, time! Definitely worth it, though at a high cost. Late in the night we switched from the motor to the sails, which meant everything on board smoothed out substantially. The peace was overwhelming.

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The Antigua under sail

While I didn’t get to take any images of the aurora, there appears to be one taken of it from the International Space Station! The date is correct and the station was over northern Europe at that time, able to record a pretty staggering Kp7 aurora. Though I can’t 100% verify that this is the exact aurora I saw, it certainly looks familiar!

 

Landing at Farmhamna was  a super beautiful but deeply haunting respite from the ocean. The area was an abandoned (for a few years) trapper station, and as such was absolutely littered with animal bones, knives, sleds and other trapper necessities. There was also a tall wooden structure used for hanging animal carcasses from as they were processed by the trapper, under which the earth was saturated in a greasy brown mixture of fats and blood. The low golden light of the arctic autumn made for some difficult but breathtaking photo ops, accentuating the colorful tundra and the contrast between it and the dark, heavy clouds on the horizon.

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We then continued on to Smeerenburgbreen in the afternoon after landing in Famrhamna. Awaiting us up there was a massive glacier at the very tip top of the archipelago. All told it was quite a haul! The greatest blessing though was that from that night on, which we liked to call “the night of the waves,” the sailing was a lot of sailing rather than motoring and we managed to avoid any more “little swells”.

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Coraholmen, in the Mirrored Ekmanfjorden

I thought I’d give you a little glimpse into our daily routine on the Antigua! It’s worth noting that although we were in the same time zone as the UK, we had our own timezone onboard the ship. Ship’s time was one hour ahead of local time, an attempt to eek out a little more sunlight from the rapidly dimming days.

On deck of the Antigua, featuring Hilary on the right!

On deck of the Antigua, featuring Hilary on the right!

8-9am, breakfast is served in the saloon followed by a briefing on our morning landing

930-10am, total chaos as we scramble to get our gear organized for a landing! Cameras, freshly charged batteries, film etc. and life preservers.

1030am (ish), landing time! Everyone who is going on the landing must sign out, everyone who is staying onboard must sign “on board”. The guides at this point have already landed at the landing site and set up a safe perimeter for us to work within. We slowly board the zodiacs, a handful of people at a time, and zip over to the landing site.

Symbols used to sign in and out and onboard the ship for each landing

Symbols used to sign in and out and onboard the ship for each landing


A zodiac landing at Smeerenburgbreen later in the trip. See the guide on shore with Nemo, the zodiac coming to shore, and the Antigua in the back right of the image.

A zodiac landing at Smeerenburgbreen later in the trip. See the guide on shore with Nemo, the zodiac coming to shore, and the Antigua in the back right of the image.

Landing-1230pm, we work at the landing site. Every landing site was different in size but the rules remained the same: you had to stay within the boundaries set by the guides and never use the word “bear” unless you actually see one

1-2pm, Back on the boat (don’t forget to sign back in) followed by lunch! Followed by a briefing of our afternoon landing spot, usually a new spot in the same area or possibly a new area altogether.

230-5pm, embarkation, new landing, sign out, sign back in onboard. At 5pm, there’s cake and tea in the saloon!

730pm, dinner followed by lectures given by each artist in residence.

Coraholmen early in the day

Coraholmen early in the day

Coraholmen, our second new area on the trip, was one of my favorite landings of the entire residency. The day started out deeply grey and dim with low clouds. As the sun rose (around mid-morning) the clouds broke and the glassy still surface of the fjord gave us the most amazing mirrored patterns reflecting the already repetitive geological formations on the mountains. A really spectacular place.

The sun begins to break through at Coraholmen

The sun begins to break through at Coraholmen


Our brightest, sunniest day all trip

Our brightest, sunniest day all trip