By Catherine Aird, Polar Team
Having recently started with Exodus in the Polar team I was lucky enough to go on a Spitzbergen Adventure Exodus Photographic Charter on the MV Vavilov led by Paul Goldstein, which was out of this world. I literally smiled for 24 hours a day for 12 days!
For the first time in the last few years there was a big freeze in Spitzbergen, and therefore a very strong possibility of seeing bears on ice. Consequently, Paul and our Expedition leader ‘Woody’ decided we would head straight up to the ice in the North in search of bears, and expectations were met early on when we were lucky enough to see our first bear on day 2! We then went on to see two different bears eating seal kills – the first time Paul and Woody had ever seen this – and another bear which came right up to the bow of the ship which was totally incredible. Luckily, we had a very understanding chef and mealtimes were fairly flexible at times like this!
However, the luck didn’t stop there, we spent an afternoon photographing reindeer, and another watching Arctic fox cubs playing undisturbed by the 100 pairs of eyes observing them, and the endless clatter of camera shutters. I haven’t mentioned the Walrus, the vast array of birdlife we encountered or that the zodiac cruises and excursions are an adventure in themselves.
The 24 hour daylight is an incredible asset and the light during the night can be absolutely stunning. It goes without saying that everything we did was dependent on the weather and the wildlife, and we had a couple of foggy days thrown in to the mix. However, we were kept entertained by the fascinating talks on board, which varied from geology to Simon Calder’s quirky travel moments to the construction of the Landmine and Cluster Bomb Treaties.
The beauty of going on an Exodus Photographic Charter is the flexible itinerary, which is decided on a day by day basis depending on the weather and wildlife sightings. It does mean that certain sights such as the post office at NY Alesund fall by the wayside, but are replaced by increased wildlife sightings and unique photographic opportunities. Another benefit is travelling alongside like-minded clients, which creates a wonderful atmosphere onboard ship.
The ships themselves, are a major highlight of the expedition. The Akademik Sergey Vavilov, is an ice-rated Russian vessel that carries up to 100 passengers and is second to none in terms of speed and comfort. Accommodation on board is very comfortable in twin share cabins which all have windows or portholes, so you can enjoy the views of the landscapes from your own cabin. The ship has excellent on board facilities including a lecture room, large dining room, gift shop, sauna, gym, reference library and an outdoor plunge pool for the more hardy passengers! There is plenty of outside space on all levels of the ship and the large decks allow for brilliant wildlife viewing without having to jostle for position! If it gets too chilly outside there is the large bar on the top deck, which has panoramic windows and a well-stocked liquor cabinet! This ship works brilliantly as an expedition vessel, even when a sudden polar bear sighting means 100 people all rushing to board the zodiacs for a closer look. It was always a seamless, speedy process! The thing that makes the Vavilov really special is the expedition staff and crew, who all work tirelessly to make sure every voyage is a success. The expedition staff is made up of experienced, dedicated people from all over the world and they are a valuable source of information about Spitsbergen and it’s wildlife. The Russian crew who run the ship behind the scenes deserve a mention as well. The food was excellent and there was lots of it but a highlight for me was a barbeque on the deck when the temperature was just above zero!
At Exodus we only use small expedition style ships as we believe this is the only way to experience the polar regions maximizing your time on the ice and therefore increasing your opportunities for wildlife encounters. In addition to the Vavilov we are fortunate enough to also offer a 48 passenger berth ship called the Akademik Shokalskiy. This little ship is a gem in the Spitzbergen waterways and navigates easily through some of the narrow channels. The small number of passengers means a relaxed and intimate atmosphere on board allowing you to mingle with similarly minded people and reminisce over the days events. The ship has the same style as the Vavilov with onboard lectures and presentations meaning you come away with an enhanced knowledge of this delicate environment and a passion to help preserve it. We are excited to be chartering this ship for a photographic trip led by Paul Goldstein next July and can’t wait to offer our clients a unique opportunity to focus the itinerary to find the holy grail of the Arctic: Polar Bears. We love talking about this amazing place so give us a call if you want to experience some polar fever.