Don’t mention the B word
Shortly after setting sail from Longyearben it was almost as if it were an unwritten rule amongst my fellow passengers – that any mention of the B word could curse the prospect of any potential encounters. Yet we all knew that sightings of you know what would be the grail for most of us on board the Akademik Sergey Vavilov as we attempted to circumnavigate the harsh and remote, yet jaw droppingly beautiful Svalbard archipelago.
If like some you think the hush of anticipation prior to impending drama is the sole preserve of sporting occasions then think again. Nadal about to serve to Federer in the Wimbledon final, Flintoff steaming into bowl to Ponting at Lords, or any England footballer about to fluff a penalty in the QF of any given major tournament all have their place, but for sheer elevated levels of expectancy then you really need to join a search for a you know what in its rawest form.
Having sailed for three days through the dense, hauntingly atmospheric sea mist so far only occasionally pierced by hazy Arctic summer sunshine, spirits were high – this was a genuine adventure, a word that is bandied around far too casually to describe more run of the mill holidays. It was all eyes out on angdeck and all hands wrapped around binoculars and scopes in anticipation of seeing what for most would be the biggest wildlife prize of all.
Along with around 70 other passengers I had temporarily abandoned deck to tuck into yet another high quality, restaurant standard Vavilov lunchtime meal. As I devoured a lovingly created lasagne that would have seduced the discerning palates of the denizens of downtown Bologna the call to action came. Annie Inglis, one of our outstanding expedition leaders on board calmly announced over the tannoy that a you know what had been spotted way out yonder.
Cue controlled pandemonium and near hysteria amongst my fellow dinersangi. Plates of half eaten Lasagne were discarded (although one client showing fleet of foot as well as a high level of dexterity managed to smuggle his lunch out whilst simultaneously attach the required lens to camera body – I salute you sir) as clients grappled to don their outdoor apparel in double quick time and get in pole position (no pun intended) with cameras at the ready to witness and savour our first you know what sighting.
And there, casually ambling across a vast deep sheet of ice without a care in the world, blissfully oblivious to her admiring audience of polar paparazzi she was. A vision of off-white creamy coloured fur, a dirty off white at that, standing out against a brilliant, pristine Arctic white background. She sniffed at probably some of the freshest air tis possible to sniff, her huge black snout no doubt desperately wanting to smell a potential meal, seal perhaps or maybe my half eaten lasagne.
As we edged ever closer, so smoothly, so silently gently crunching through the ice she rolled onto her back, stuck her stocky legs in the air, giant paws protruding and lollopped around, then gave the ship a knowing look as if to say ‘I was worth the wait wasn’t I?’.
Indeed she was, we were privileged guests, invited into her spectacular playground and the audience was thoroughly captivated. Three hours of silence was punctured only by gasps of amazement and sighs of awe from the various vantage points on board. That and the incessant click of camera shutters as the Polar Paparazzi all got their money shots.
This magical period was just a mere hors d’oeuvres as we continued our Arctic adventure meandering through the fjords and ice floes of Svalbard. There was an audible buzz of excitement amongst my fellow passengers, an energy and high that can only come from you know what.
On 24th June 2010 Exodus’ award-winning photographer, Paul Goldstein, will be leading a special Photographic Polar Bear charter in Spitzbergen. This will be a high octane full-on adventure concentrating on wildlife. It plans to maximise every one of the 24 hours of daylight and will have no qualms about spending long hours in the sea ice. He will be repeating this on 24th July 2010.
Spitzbergen Explorer on the Vavilov (Trip Code: PNS) - 11 Days.
24th June 2010 £3299 (ship only) - and - 4th July 2010 £3590 (ship only)
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