Watch our new film “TOPtoTOP sails stormy arctic waters to sample micro-plastic in Svalbard” and read our report to find out how we made it to Svalbard!
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From the ‘Top of Finland’ back in the Lyngenfjord, it was soon time to pack up and get ready for our big project in the North. As is well known, the sea between Norway and the southern Tip of Spitzerbergen can be very rough and every possible time window with good weather must be used to set sail. Shortly after Salina and Meret reached us save and sound (see the last report), fortunately, also the lost-thought luggage followed. Hence, we could start our first expedition stage from Lyngen to Alta. Just arrived, our friends Inger and Lars Krempig spoiled us with a delicious meal, a warm shower, and even some relaxation in their garden sauna. We especially enjoyed gobbling up vegetables and fruits for the last time, knowing that these pleasures will be meticulously rationalized in the weeks coming. Inger is a tutor for biology at the Alta University and Lars teaches young adults arctic survival skills in the local ‘Folkehøgskole’. With their children, Narve, Runa, Ida, and Guro the couple produced a series of thrilling outdoor movies with the title „Villmarksbarna“. For our trip to Svalbard, they were able to provide us with some precious advice, a couple of maps, and a riffle for polar bear attacks. Hoping to never actually use it, you have to be prepared for all eventualities on this remote Arctic Island. After the last big shopping in Hammerfest and a skilled food-Tetris on the mama-boat, we were finally ready for the crossing.
The sea was choppy at first, but settled off the coast of Bear Island. The wind forecast, however, provided us with two options; Either we stop at the Island and wait for one whole week or we sail through and make our first stop in Svalbard. Given a rather tight time window where the ice in the north is passable, we decided on the latter option. The ongoing rhythm of two hours watches and four hours break in a steadily bright and cloudy environment made us feel like in a semi-awake delirium for three days. One difficulty was caused by a loose Dingi which we almost lost in the high waves. Only masterly teamwork in a hectic night shift could solve the problem. Another issue was caused by two broken toilets, which forced us to do some balance exercises on the deck every now and then. In between those acrobatic feats, we took diligently care of our microplastic samples. So who thinks that sampling is a piece of cake has definitely never been on the Greenland Sea! 😉 For our encouragement, though, we were faithfully accompanied by a group of dolphins jumping and prancing in front of our bow.
On the fifth of July early in the morning, we could recognize the silhouettes of Svalbard appearing on the horizon. The closer we came, however, the more difficult it was to navigate through alternating winds and drifting ice blocks. In a sheltered bay called Kamavika, we found some more protection tried to anchor the boat. The first try failed because the chain slipped out of the roll. The second cast was successful but did not hold us in position as the anchor wrapped up in the algae of the seabed. In a head over heels action, Salina freed us from the plants with the Jungle Knife. One last attempt we wanted to make and we finally managed to find a safe anchorage. Now we could breathe and take notice of our surroundings; A barren but fascinatingly beautiful landscape made us realize well that the tree line was now no higher than the sea level itself. Especially impressive was the mighty glacier that adorns the scenery. Its outlets flow directly into the sea where a good number of break-offs sent waves and drifting ice in our direction.
During the first two days, we were able to catch up on sleep and took turns with the anchor watch. When our batteries were charged and our clothes dried, we decided to move northwards into the nearest fjord. Already at our arrival, the first visitors welcomed us with great curiosity; the so-called Svalbard reindeers. The tame mammals are a small endemic subspecies of the reindeer that is at home in the high arctic archipelago. Since the animals rarely see people in this environment, they were approaching us with great interest. Being back on land after a long time made us all feel pretty exhausted. Nevertheless, we enjoyed it very much to stretch our legs for two days. Salina and Andri were especially happy to have a bit more space for their daily training session than the boat deck provides.
After two days, we decided to set off for Longyerbean – one of the most northern settlements on earth (78° 13′). The capital of Svalbard was founded in 1906 by an American entrepreneur as a mining town. Until that time, the entire archipelago was an uninhabited and stateless territory, where people of different nationalities were engaged in fishing, whaling, and mining. The Treaty of Svalbard from 1920 gave Norway sovereignty over all islands but obliged the country to ensure that citizens and companies of all signatory states may engage in economic activities on equal terms. Switzerland has been part of this agreement since 1925. Coal mining today is mainly operated in Sveagruva and Barentsburg whereas Longyearbyen lives from tourism and research. There is a branch office of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), the UNIS – a joint project of Norwegian Universities – as well as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a long-term storage facility for seeds. The researcher Andrew Hodson welcomed us on the harbor and took us out to the nearby swamp area. Andrew has been conducting research in Svalbard for 20 years and could show us on-site, how stored methane deposits in the permafrost soil are increasingly released into the atmosphere due to global warming (see video for details).
Last, we could use the provision of the internet to seek information on our onward journey to the unknown (and sparsely recorded) north. The next opportunity for a post could be some four weeks away – we look forward to keeping you up to date asap! (Simon, 14.07.2020) Until then – track us!
Opportunities To Learn Hands-On About The Sea – Ezvid Wiki was the world’s first video wiki – 2020-07
Gipfelstürmer – Yacht 13 – Deutschland -2020-05
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Special thanks to all our friends in Lyngseidet and Alta. We are sampling microplastic and e-DNA. Now we are heading for Svalbard and the polar bears. Stay tuned!
Salina’s report about her journey back to Lyngseidet:
Once again it was time to say goodbye in Switzerland after being in school for 3 weeks when schools reopened. I am very grateful for all the friends I have, they will always have a place in my heart. My grandparents came and picked me up. I was looking forward to see my family again.
We arrived at my grandparents’ house. Wenn I got there, there were so many boxes on my bed – it was crazy! Shortly after, I was told that all these boxes had to come with me. If you know my family, then you know that packing is always stressful. It took me the longest time to get them all into only one bag. When we finally got all the boxes in, I was really happy because I thought I was done. Then I realised that the bag was 12 kg overweight – bummer! I gave up and went to bed.
Me and my grandparents got to the airport and met Meret – a very close family friend and like a sister to me. She is joining the expedition for a month to collect microplastics samples. We had planned enough time to pack again so that we could divide our weight between all of our bags. In the end, all our bags were 1.2 kg overweight but luckily they let us through without any difficulties.
The Norwegian border patrol was quite strict with the whole COVID-19 situation. We had to show many letters telling saying we are allowed to enter the country. In the end, they let us through with a smile. There I learned my first Norwegian word: politi = police! Have to learn something new every day 😉
We got to our end destination with two bags missing but other than that we had a fun trip. In the end, thankfully, we also got our bags back. But what would the TOPtoTOP team be without a little chaos?! The last leg of our trip was on a ferry and then finally I got to see all my siblings and my family. I was happy to see them again. Every time I see them again it’s crazy how much they have grown in the last few weeks.
I did have to get used to the temperature difference and the tight space but other than that I am quite happy on the boat as it is. So now we are quarantining for 10 days and hoping to get a good weather window to sail to Svalbard.
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Currently, we are in the Lyngen Alps still skiing.
Tomorrow we sail, cycle, and ski towards the TOP of Finnland; visiting schools, cleaning up and taking samples…
My name is Roman from Spain and living in Norway. I joined TOPtoTOP Expedition at the last minute. I had all my things already packed 4 days before, just in case, so that I did not want to miss this opportunity!
I meet the family and Simon on the Norwegian national day, the 17th of May, at the boat parade in Ballstad thanks to a common friend, Hanne.
I got good vibes and felt identified with them since the beginning. I knew I was with the right people since Dario during the first dinner in Ballstad said: “It’s been already 2 weeks I do not ski and I am getting nervous…”. But not only the right people, but also at the right time. I was without work because of corona and my only daily task on my day to day life was to decide either I should paddle, surf, or ski. Therefore we were a good match!
After skiing together 4 different pics in Lofoten, surfed during two beautiful sunny days, and had a 16 hours kayak course together, the family offered me to join sailing with them from Løfoten to Lyngen and do some ski touring in the epic Lyngen Alps. I could not say no!
Been sailing along all the Norwegian coastline in different stages with Hurtigruten ships (cargo/cruise vessel) before, I know that one of the most beautiful sceneries is between Løfoten and Tromsø area.
Living in a boat is something I want to do in the future, so this was a good opportunity to see, learn, and experience what it looks like and what it needs to make it possible.
The plan was to sail to Lyngen but stoping in Vesterålen to meet some friends, who were able to organize a school presentation and clean-up and then go to Tromsø or Lyngen.
Andri was my personal host onboard on the first day and he took his good patience to explain to me pretty well all I needed to know to feel at home and to feel as a crew on board.
Without almost not noticing and while I was fixing the surfboards on the deck of the boat we departed…
I felt that it was the kind of bye-bye I like: With normality, thankfully and looking forward without forgetting the friendships, help and good memories you are leaving behind but never forgetting. “You need a big heart to stand so many bye-byes”!
We were sailing non stop doing watches in teams of two, normally one adult and one kid. I was doing watches with Andri from 20h to 22h and 02h to 04h.
I sailed before with small sailing boats without computers, GPS, radar… Pachamama has many devices to check the depth, aim, direction, and strength of the wind, radio, GPS… We had to check the depth, other boats on the radar, and on real sight, adjust the aim, check the wind direction and speed… For major adjustments on the aim, we had to wake up the captain knocking 3 times if it is not an emergency and 6 times if it is an emergency. Luckily we never had to knock 6 times.
Pachamama is such a big boat that needs many people in order to change sails, so from time to time we all had to wake up and help even though it was not your watch.
This part of the sailing, in which you have to wake up and be ready for anything that might happen brought me memories from when I was in ski expeditions in Svalbard, where we also had watches, polar bear watches. During polar bear watches you are with flair gun and rifle in hand, also with an accurate system and plan in case of emergency.
I was quite impressed by how all the members are constantly and naturally doing risk assessments in any “normal day to day situation”. I could see that everyone knew the risks and the consequences of any action and what to do to minimize them. “We are living in a floating house exposed to wild and raw nature”.
After 65 nm we arrived at Alsvåg (Vesterålen), we dogged and we had a nice hike to the most obvious mountain. We could see from the village, Nonskollen 611 m asl.. On the way to the top, our local friend Ricard joined us. He was a friend of a family’s friend. On the way to the top, we could see many ptarmigans, at that time of the season they are nesting and are half white and half brown. On the top, we started the clean-up and Ricard showed us the area, his favorite mountain top, and invited us to do a midnight sun hike with him and his wife Inge-Elise and a pizza evening the day after.
The next day we were busy in the local school to do a presentation for the local students. In the same building was the company CERPUS. After the students were busy doing a clean-up, we had a meeting with CERPUS CEO Thommy and some staff. They are best in educational games and we agreed that a partnership between a “real expedition” and their “educational tool” would be a great thing to do. So we started a draft you find here and where you are free to add questions and answers.
To do the hike in the evening, we sailed from Alsvåg to Stø with Inge Elise and Ricard on board. Once we dogged in Stø harbor we started the famous “queen’s hike, Dronningsruta”. A 15 km circular hike, starting following the beautiful coastline and coming back by ridging 6 mountains of around 450 m asl. It is an excellent hike that has a bit of everything of what Vesteralen has to offer. I understood why it is one of the queens Sonja’s favorite hike.
I liked the feeling of sailing, dogging, hike, and back to the boat to sleep. It was a “strange” good feeling where everything makes sense; sailing with the wind, hiking with your own energy under the midnight sun, and be able to sleep on the bottom of the same mountain you summited, over the sea, in an energetically self-sufficient boat.
It was a long day, but with daylight all day long you get a lot more energy. I and Simon arrived at the last ones, at 1 o’clock in the morning.
The day after we went to Ricard’s and Inge Elise’s beautiful house where we got a nice hot shower and an excellent homemade pizza under the sun on the terrace with mountain and sea views.
This time our heart got bigger once more, as we had to say bye-bye again.
Simon decided to take holidays and left us for two weeks and took a bus back to Lofoten for some hiking and surfing. Since Simon left I took his cabin, shared with Andri. I had been sleeping on the bed in the saloon until then.
We set sails to my last stretch sailing. From Vesterålen to Lyngeseidet 180 nm.
This time we sailed exposed to the open ocean, therefore we had more swell, which means more movement onboard. We had a bit more action during our watches.
Luckily while my study year in Svalbard I learned and I am used to sleeping with everything ready just in case. So I was able to help in some moments when man force was needed to change sails.
A bit more than one-day sailing and just some hours before arriving we where immerse in a different landscape type. Big wide and steep fjords, small glaciers, waterfalls, steep mountain walls, and forest!
When we arrived already some locals were welcoming us. It is so nice to arrive and have locals giving you a warm welcome. There was Stein the owner of the small marina “Sørheim Brygge“, Henrike and Patrik owners of the “Magic Mountain Lodge“, and Ingun and Mathieu from “Solhov Castle“.
Ingunn and Mathieu cooked for us a delicious dinner in …. Such an excellent welcome!
In Lyngen, Dario has been giving conferences in the local school and having the students on board for a visit. But we also had time for a bike ride, hike, and a magnific ski tour altogether. Magic mountain lodge lent us their bikes and took us to one of their favorite summits, Fastdalstinden 1275m. With a snow precipitation record in 20 years, there was a lot of snow above 300 m asl.
I was impressed with the Lyngen mountains, I am looking forward to coming back here in winter. It is a stunning place for outdoors, especially for touring ski with a wide variety of skiing terrain and even glaciers and really alpine mountains with fjord views.
I also had time for a midnight sun ski touring tour alone to the closest mountain from the village Kavringtinden 1289 m asl. After a power nap on the boat at around 19h, I took my skis and bicycle and headed to the mountain. It was what I call a “Lyngen summer triathlon” bike, walk and ski through pine and birch forest and a nice ridge to the summit under the amazing midnight sunlight.
I arrived back to the boat at 2 am with this same “strange”, good feeling I had in Stø . With this good feeling, I went to bed.
Now I am writing from Pachamama, listening to Eros Ramazzotti and with a “strange feeling” hangover after the last night’s “private personal celebration” with Lyngen nature. Tomorrow my heart will be bigger again as I will take the bus back to Løfoten islands making two stops to visit people that also made my heart bigger in the past.
With this ROMAN-tic words, I do not say bye-bye but thanks for the inspiration and see you soon Schwoerer family!