Next morning we went ashore to explore the station and its surroundings.
It was an exact copy of the stations we had visited in Franz Joseph Land:
buildings in ruins, rusty vehicles, all types of building materials
rotting away, furniture, tools, dishes, shoes, mouldy clothes, film reels
etc. thrown all over the place as if in a rage.
The minuscule flora that grew amongst all this scrap was a wonderful
contrast to the otherwise depressing sight. I walked around taking photos
while Pekka wandered from one building into another collecting all kinds
of interesting things that we later tried to identify.
At some point I realized that Pekka was nowhere to be seen or heard. I
also realized that I didn't have anything to protect myself in case a
polar bear would come into sight. Pekka had both a flare gun and some flares
with him whereas I only had my camera to shoot with. 'Pekkaaa, where are
you!' I hollered, and after a while I saw him come out of a building at
the far end of the village. We now divided our anti-polar bear weapons and
with a flare in my pocket I happily continued taking photos. The following
night, a big, brownish polar bear was seen walking on the beach!
Lady Dana, the Polish boat that intends to sail both the Northern Sea Route
and the Northwest Passage this summer, had arrived in the same anchorage
and, in the morning of the 27th, we left together for a nearby bay, also
part of the polar station, in search of fuel which we had not managed to
find in our 'own' village.
We returned in the afternoon (after a successful trip of which I will tell you later) and I was preparing dinner when I heard Latte barking. I went up to see what was happening as there shouldn't have been anything to bark at except for a polar bear, of
course. And there he was, a beautiful and deadly polar bear standing on
the waterfront staring at us and sniffing the air. When Latte started
barking even louder, the bear looked startled and backed off to the nearby
buildings. There he first rose to his hind legs and then dashed
off behind the buildings.
In less than an hour, the bear was back on the beach. Latte was barking
again but this time the bear didn't seem to be scared. He came to the
waterfront staring at us, stayed there for a few seconds as if wondering
what to do next, and then again disappeared behind the buildings. Seeing
the bear so close I understood what an idiot I had been walking around on
the beach without even as much as a flare to protect myself.
For the rest of the evening, Latte and I, with my camera ready, were on
continuous polar bear watch but we never saw the bear again. As we had
decided to go and get fuel from the other part of the polar station, the
following morning we weighed anchor and moved to another bay, this time hopefully polar bear-free!
From the Polar Station, it took us almost 24 hours before we reached our
next stop. We first motored through narrow sounds where occasionally floe and
drift ice made our passage difficult, and then continued along wider passages
where we could admire magnificent glaciers glowing white and turquoise in
the light of the midnight sun, forever present!
When we finally arrived in our destination, there were two polar bears on
the ice covering the end of the bay. Of course, this was exciting but
photographing-wise it was a real waste of digital space: they were much
too far away to be seen properly even through the binoculars.
Next morning we left for the north. Our intention was to sail to the
northernmost anchorage in Franz Joseph Land and also visit Cape Flora, the
place where Nansen had wintered in 1896. However, we never made it because
of the weather forecast.
There was a low pressure area approaching from the South-West with 20 to 30 knot winds which quite probably would push ice into our passage. So when we had reached 81° 33,847' N, 58° 23,815' E, we did a U-turn and headed back to the Polar Bear Bay which we thought would be safe in these weather conditions.