Part 1: Sailing to Jan Mayen
Continued from the introduction
The expedition to Jan Mayen was originally planned for 2018 with departure from Iceland, but for various reasons the project was postponed until 2019. This time, we would sail with the chartered boat Valiente (operated by Seil Norge) from Svalbard. Petter Bjørstad did an outstanding job in negotiating the contract with Seil Norge, and maintaining contact with the skipper, the Jan Mayen Base Commander and the Police in Nordland county – as half the team would be non-Norwegians and formalities would apply.
Richard McLellan from the UK and Petter used their contact networks to build the team of 10 that would enter Valiente on June 7th. The UK group consisted of: Richard and Denise McLellan, Chris Ottley and Tony Jenkins. The Norwegian group: Petter Bjørstad, Fredrik Brun, Johannes Nygaard and myself (Arnt Flatmo). Greg Slayden came all the way from Seattle, US and Jukka Nurminen from Helsinki, Finland .
There was plenty of mountain experience in this group. Most of us were collecting peaks after some sort of lists. If you go to peakbagger.com -> Climbers and look at the “Hall of Fame Climber Lists -> Most Peaks – Prominence > 1500 meters” (so-called “ultras”), then 3 of the top 4 in the world were on this boat. Petter in 1st place with 322 peaks, Richard and Denise in 3rd and 4th place, 265 and 225 peaks respectively. Greg Slayden – the father of peakbagger and also present on this boat is found in 12th place with 107 peaks. In sum, we’re talking about the most prominent peaks on the planet, with exception of the Himalayas, climbed by these people. Their CV’s are mind-boggling.
Jukka and Johannes are eager collectors of Norwegian 2000m peaks. Needless to say, Johannes has the shortest way to the 2000m peaks. Chris and Tony are following lists in the UK and Tony has started to actively pursue Ultras, leaving Fredrik and myself the only persons not actively pursuing any list of mountains.
A tough decision
When Petter asked me in early 2018 if I was interested in going on this expedition, I had numerous reasons to say “thanks for asking, but no thanks”. The most important one being – I really, really dislike being at sea. It’s a fear. Type Arachnophobia. Fear of sea sickness came in as a strong second, and then there was high pressure at work, what to do with the dog, etc. The price per person, the flight to and from Svalbard, upgrade of equipment etc. – approx. NOK 50,000 was also a factor that came into the equation.
And, as I was neither collecting Norwegian 2000m peaks or Ultras, there was really no reason at all for me to make this trip. So I said yes. It had been 6 years since my last expedition, and this one had the promise of being epic. I could virtually see the opportunity fly by and if I didn’t grab it in flight, it would never come back. Besides, sometimes you’ve just got to face your fears, just to feel alive.
The key factor for my “yes” was of course that my girlfriend Anne committed to look after my dog for these two weeks.
Once I had paid my share, the commitment was firm but due to very hectic months at work, I didn’t start thinking about the trip until the June 7th departure was only 2 weeks away. And my first thought was to take the loss and back out from the trip. Work was just crazy and I did not look forward to trade it with – possibly up to 8-9 days with sea sickness in the Arctic Ocean.
But work got gradually sorted out and the last week before the trip, I managed for the first time to have positive thoughts about the trip. It could still be quite epic and it would probably be better regretting going there than never finding out. And then I started my preparations…
June 7: To Longyearbyen and Valiente
But the worrying wasn’t over. I seem to have great skills in that discipline. Now that I finally looked forward to going, I was worried about not getting to the Oslo airport in time for the flight to Longyearbyen on Svalbard. I don’t trust public transportation in my county all. It’s never fit for my travel plans.
So my plan for Friday June 7th was to drive the dog to Stryn after work – where Anne would meet me. Then go back home to pack and take the 02:30 ferry from Hareid. I could have taken the 04:00 ferry but would be vulnerable in respect to road work. Which there was, of course. In several places. Convoys.
I got to the airport 04:30 and it didn’t open until 05:00. And it started to pour down.
But the 06:55 flight was on time and I was very relieved when we took off.
At Oslo airport Gardermoen, I met the entire team, except for Petter – who had traveled to Svalbard the day before. I had met Petter, Jukka and Fredrik in Sogndal some weeks earlier but I didn’t know the rest of the team. First impression was all good – friendly and enthusiastic team! And then we were on our way to Longyearbyen – on the 09:45 flight.
This was my 2nd trip to Svalbard. Petter, myself and two others did a 11 day ski trip to Newtontoppen and Perriertoppen in 2013. That was a really hard trip, but nevertheless epic. I really hoped that I would look back on the Jan Mayen expedition the same way. Well, hopefully not as hard…
We took the bus from Longyearbyen airport to the harbor where Petter met us. We hauled our stuff off the bus (we had a lot stuff!) and accidentally also off-loaded a poor tourist’s bag in the process. We tried to sort this out and the bus later came to pick it up. Hopefully, the bag and the owner were quickly reunited.
I hadn’t really studied pictures of Valiente and when we went out on the pier I saw this huge boat and thought «wow! This is awesome». But it wasn’t Valiente. That was a much, much smaller boat that I didn’t see at first.
I shook my temporary disappointment off and entered the boat with a positive mindset. I knew that there would be five cabins and that Fredrik and I would share one. The cabin was small but fit for our purpose. I kindly requested the lower bed in case of sea sickness and a subsequent fast track to the toilet and Fredrik granted my wish. The cabins had their own toilets, except those in front, who had to share with us. That was a huge upside.
Petter and Greg had the cabin next to us. Then Chris+Tony and Richard+Denise had the middle cabins. Jukka and Johannes had plenty of space in the front.
Mats Andreassen Grimseth was the skipper on the boat. Despite his young age, he possesses many talents! Listing them would be a chapter in itself. Kjell Erik and Johannes made up the rest of the crew. Solid and skilled people! Johannes didn’t arrive until the next day. He got a bumpy start as his luggage didn’t arrive with him. The “Kj” sound was quite hard for the UK team to pronounce, so Kjell Erik was effectively “Shellerik” for the rest of the trip. He didn’t seem to mind.
While the rest if the team went into town, Petter, Fredrik and I volunteered to take charge of the food that was delivered by a truck. It was a lot of food. Priority one was to check that we had received what had been ordered and paid for. Very time consuming work. It took hours. We tried to sort for cold and warm storage while at it. We had just got the food stored away when we had to walk to town to reach the 20:00 dinner at Kroa.
It was good to have some social time over dinner with the team before sailing out the next day. Afterwards, we returned to the boat and eventually called it a day.
For sea sickness prevention, Petter had bought Scopoderm patches for those who had pre-ordered it. Me, being one of those. In addition, I had brought Postafen from the local pharmacy as back-up. And also “Sea Band” – to be worn on the wrists, exerting pressure on the acupressure point (Nei-Kuan Point). And to the others I said that I had a rabbit’s foot in my pants for good luck. I put on the patch (behind my ear) and the Sea Band and hoped for the best. The fjord was however calm and I slept well through the night.
Pictures – From home to Longyearbyen
June 8 – Day 1
Our departure from Svalbard got a bit delayed due to Johannes’ (crew) missing luggage. It was also clear that we were in need for large waterproof bags and we purchased 4 x 150L bags. 12:40, we started sailing out Isfjorden.
The weather was not so great and we stayed inside. After a while the fjord was not so calm anymore. Tony, Chris and Greg hit their beds, not feeling well at all. Fredrik and Johannes looked a bit pale. Everyone were told to have a plastic bag nearby, ready for emergency. The rest of the team was OK. Me, included. Knock on wood…
The clients (us) were responsible for all meals, sometimes assisted by Johannes (crew) who has exemplary skills in cooking and baking. Denise and Fredrik took overall charge of the cooking during the sailing trip. Others helped, of course, but my kudos goes to them. As I don’t feel my biggest strengths are in cooking, I volunteered to take the dishes – and I ended up taking most of the dishes for the rest of the trip. No complaints. It’s a job needed doing, and I like to keep my kitchen clean. And this would be my kitchen for some time ahead.
The crew turned the engine off around 20:00 and sat sails. I was SO happy when I went to bed, knowing that I would probably OK.
June 9 – Day 2
I didn’t get sick but didn’t fall asleep until 5 in the morning. There were so many new sounds I had to process and learn. The crew had also asked us to report any strange noises. So which were normal and which were strange? I felt like a dog in a new house. The anchor was slamming every time the boat took a nose dive, but this was quite normal, I was told…
Breakfast at 08:00. Scrambled eggs. Pancakes for lunch, served by Johannes (crew). As the day progressed, the winds faded and we were now back on engine propulsion. The weather improved and those who had been sick started (slowly) to find their way back to life. There was salmon for dinner and I could contribute with cutting and peeling. In addition to doing the dishes. And there was plenty to dish! After dinner, there was dessert, and after dessert there was tea and coffee. I gradually adapted to the UK team’s multi-use of “tea“, which could either mean dinner or actual tea, all depending on the time of the day.
The spirit was good. We had learned to know each other better now. With exception perhaps, to those who still stayed in their beds. One should think that moving around would be better but staying in bed was actually pleasant, even in rugged sea.
Denise and Richard are experienced sailors and came up to the “bridge” every hour (when not sleeping) to update their own sailing log. They also helped the crew by “taking the wheel” when the on-duty skipper had to attend to various tasks.
June 10 – Day 3
I slept gradually better. Musli for breakfast. Sunshine and little wind. Time to start test packing for the hike. Once happy, full packing for the hike. ETA on the island tomorrow night. Meanwhile, Skipper Mats demonstrated how to properly climb a mast…
The spirit was still good, even if there was time and room for some heated discussions about what gear to bring to the mountain. Still, excitement was on a rising curve, now that we would reach Jan Mayen the next day.
Sweet potato soup for lunch. Some issue with the generator was solved. Vegetable soup for dinner. Seagulls fighting to establish base-camp on top of the mast. Crew didn’t like that. Bad for the electrical equipment on top. Given the vertical distance, the gulls had the upper hand but eventually got tired of the game. More interesting was the occasional whales passing by…
June 11 – Day 4 and arrival on Jan Mayen
Bad sleep. Rougher sea, 1-2m waves, yet the crew still described the sea as “flat“. The ship’s bell never made a sound during the trip, which I think is an indication for tough sea. Musli for breakfast. Soup for lunch. Johannes (crew) baked bread. Best I ever tasted. Addictive.
Finally – Jan Mayen comes into view around 01:40. The cliffs looked “evil” and we hoped Kvalrossbukta bay was not.
Mats and Johannes took the dingy and found a landing spot. Everything we brought onshore was packed in waterproof bags. We went in pairs, wearing our survival suits.
Jukka and me went last. By the time we got onshore, the lavvo was already up. The UK team had put up their two tents nearby. The rest of us found our place in the lavvo and went to sleep, early the next morning.
Pictures from the sail to Jan Mayen
Continued with the climb of Beerenberg