After layering up, not an easy thing to do with sleep still in your eyes and a cabin the size of a rabbit hutch. We raced to the port side, stumbling out onto deck I noticed that several people were already on there and I wondered if perhaps they had slept in their outdoor gear. We definitely needed to organise our dressing drill better. I stared out over the ice searching for the polar bear, I noticed a woman standing next to the rail peering through binoculars. I followed her gaze, in the distance I could make out a rocky escarpment but nothing else. Peering through my binoculars my eyes accustomed themselves to the lay of the land and I noticed a small pale creamy dot moving slowly over the rocks. My first polar bear.
I know you'd need binoculars too to see it but believe me it was there and the shot above was taken at 3.32am. The polar bear gone his Lordship and I grabbed a hot chocolate and headed back to our cabin. After grabbing a couple more hours of sleep we headed off for breakfast. Mealtimes on ship were important, not just for the wonderful food served up by the Argentinian chef, but they were also important points of reference in the twenty four hour daylight. It is easy to slip into unscheduled sleep patterns in this environment. Breakfast over it was time to head to the meeting room for the morning briefing. We were intending to land at a cove some miles north of our current position. A female bear and her cubs had been sighted there a couple of days earlier so it would be a good starting point. Just as we got back to our cabin an announcement came over the intercom.
"we're sorry to announce that there is a problem with the plumbing, the pipes on the lower deck are blocked and therefore we would ask that anyone needing to use the facilities please use only those in the upper deck cabins. Thank you"
Five minutes later there was a knock on the door. I opened it to a rather flustered looking chap, who, explaining whilst jigging said that he was desperate to use our facilities. He was the first of several. Mid morning arrived and his Lordship and I had relocated to the lounge for coffee... actually that is somewhat of a fib. We actually had to evacuate the cabin after a rather forlorn lady begged entry to our facilities, it quickly became apparant that she was not fairing well with the Argentinian chefs culinary delights so we gave her some much needed privacy and beat a hasty retreat.
Just as we downed the last of our coffee it was announced that we had arrived at our landing point. We needed to kit up again and be on deck ready to launch in the zodiacs in twenty minutes. Now why is it that as soon as people get their outdoor gear on they need the toilet? It took not inconsiderable restraint on our part to smile politely to the constant stream of bods travelling through our cabin as we attempted to perfect our dress drill. Finally kitted up we headed up on deck to await departure.
Zodiacs are brilliant little vessels, once you have mastered the art of getting into and out of them it's great fun zipping about in them. It can be doubly exciting if the fog descends and you suddenly happen upon one of these...
Add a polar bear hitching a lift on the old iceberg and you could be in for some hairy moments. So when fog descended the zodiacs and landings were out of the question. But for now we had clear weather and headed off to the cove. There are some amazing places in the Arctic circle, and I loved getting off the ship to go ashore. This particular cove was an old whaling station and although it brought sadness at the death of so many beautiful creatures it also had a strange beauty of it's own. There was a hut with grey weathered wood walls that had been there for over one hundred and fifty years. The bacteria that rots wood normally cannot survive in these conditions and so the hut still stands just as it did when last used.
What appears to be a drift of snow on the shore line is in actual fact the remains of over seven hundred beluga whales. Not killed for their meat or blubber, they were killed for their hides beluga leather was much prized as it was softer and more supple than any other leather. Those bones have laid there for over a hundred years it is now an offence to touch them so who knows how long they will be laying there for into the future. Long after my bones are gone I think.
Whenever we went ashore scouts would be on the look out for polar bears. Of course we were eager to see them, however it would have been another matter to come face to face with one whilst ashore, they can outrun a human and when all said and done we were just another part of the food chain. So the scouts never went ashore without their guns. I on occasions took on the role of scout as I can shoot a rifle with pretty good results. I have to confess however if one of my fellow passengers had left the group and put themselves in danger through straying I would have been tempted to shoot that silly beggar rather than the bear! But of course I never disclosed this to my fellow travellers, I figured it might not go down too well with some of them.
Even with the kit we were all dressed in it was nigh on impossible to stay out for longer than an hour or so, the cold would eventually begin to seep up through your feet and the constant icy wind would freeze your breath and in turns your throat and lungs. So no polar bears sighted today we headed back for the warmth of the ship and another round of hot chocolate to warm our hands and our hearts. The twenty four hour polar bear watch began again.
Needless to say his Lordship when taking his watch, stamped his own inimitable style on his polar bear tracking...