We hardly keep track of the days of the week. But Friday is an exception. It´s the the most sacred day on Barba. And to nobody´s surprise, we call it Barba Friday. It´s always associated with a nature performance as well as an extra ration of rum. There were the Friday pilot whales in Andenes back on the mainland, the walrus colony south of Ny-Ålesund and, a good week ago, about 70 or so Beluga whales that came within 30 meters of the boat. But this past Friday lifted the ”Barba Friday” term to new heights.
The spectacle started early in the morning. We had spent the night at Depotodden at about 80 degrees and 25 minutes North. It was our last pit stop before we were to push north to the Arctic sea ice. Depotodden is in ”Brennevinsfjorden,” famous for Fridtjof Nansen´s landing there with a sea plane back in the day. And there´s a nice hut to check out, the Oxford hut, built in the late 1800s by the univeristy. But otherwise there´s not much to write home about here. Only very limited vegetation and cliffs that dive straight into the ocean with no room to land a paraglider or beach lounging. When it was time to leave, Ivan and I were up at 09.00 in the morning, preparing for departure. I was standing in the bow, only half awake, about to pull the anchor chain. When I turned around to ask Ivan to drive forward I saw what in my normal life would have been a cute dog swimming in the water. A white, rather big dog, that is, about 40 to 50 meters from the boat and heading in our direction.
I ran to the stern of the boat, informing Ivan about our visitor, before jumping down below to wake up the sleepy crew. The magic word “Polar Bear” followed by “swimming towards the boat” had a dramatic effect. We all scrambled and got in position on the stern. The bear did not seem to be too impressed by us, and was now about 10 meters from the boat. He was swimming back and forth, inquisitively checking us out and living up to his Latin name, Ursus maritimus. It looked like a young male, about three years old or so. He was coming closer and closer, with a both curious and hungry-looking behaviour. We could have used the flash bang or flare gun to scare him off, but we did not want to leave a hearing-impaired young polar bear in our wake. So we tried to reason with him instead, in Norwegian, German, Russian and English. Despite our rather loud reasoning, he did not seem to get the point, though. In the end, we had to use our wooden stick intended for pushing ice away from Barba to splash the water just in front of him. Finally he started to understand that he was not a welcomed guest onboard.
It was amazing to see this beautiful and mythical animal up so close. He was trying to figure out the situation. Looking at us, approaching closely from different angles towards the stern. Being scared off, he would try again shortly thereafter, but once more have to swim away as the wooden stick was put to use. All this lasted for about 20 minutes until he realized that it was best to swim ashore on a nearby rock. He sat patiently looking at us in a way that made us think he had never seen as strange a sight before as the creatures standing on the deck of Barba.
Once we had admired our friend from a safe distance, we lifted the anchor, and sailed North where our next adventure was waiting.
Featured photo: Ivan negotiating with the bear from the stern of Barba. By Daniel Hug (terragraphy.de)