One of the most amazing parts about going to the Arctic is seeing the pack ice that covers the Arctic Ocean year round. This time of year, it has usually receded to the 81st or 82nd parallel which allows us to explore the northern part of Spitsbergen as well as the edge of the ice itself. Instead, we encountered thick ice much earlier, as there had been a late freeze this spring, with the bow of Plancius pushing aside large and small flows alike as we tried to make our way north. It is an incredible site…a sea of slowly shifting ice. Home to seals, walrus, polar bears, whales and numerous bird species, the ice does not get boring.
We spent two days in the ice trying to get further north but to no avail. Our furthest position north was the 80th parallel. This meant we were unable to reach some of the best dive sites in the northern part of Spitsbergen. That is part of exploration diving- not everything goes according to plan. On the plus side, we encountered numerous bears including one that showed us how to scratch an itch on the ice. In addition, the walrus and seals were very approachable, and seeing the massive walrus get in and out of the water was incredible. As Plancius broke through and moved the pack ice, small Arctic cod were exposed and they were promptly feasted on by the kittiwakes, gulls and skua.
We also got the opportunity to do something special; get out and stand on the pack ice. Our incredible captain had found a very piece of stable pack ice that he determined would hold the weight of the ship’s passengers. So down went the gangplank, and we all got the chance to STAND on the Arctic Ocean. Of course the divers went out in our drysuits just in case we got the chance to jump in. Unfortunately, the water around the pack ice was moving quite quickly and it was not safe to get in. But that didn’t stop us from having fun on the ice including an impromptu snowball fight! What an amazing time! Beautiful weather, ice, polar bears and so much more! The ice is mesmerizing!
Want to give a big thanks to Faith Ortins with DUI for making our Arctic trip one for the memory books. Faith made us feel comfortable with dry suits even though we had never seen or used them before. Her expert instruction allowed us to snorkel in the freezing water and enjoy playing around icebergs. This is not something we ever thought of doing. She was arranging a dive trip along with The Wilderness Medicine Conference. Since our dive history did not include dry suit cold water diving, we were not qualified to dive this trip. Faith made sure that we felt included in everything during the trip. She went with us on our snorkel outings to be sure all went well. She made sure we all felt that this was a team effort. Thank you Faith for this wonderful experience. We look forward to learning more about diving with dry suits, with or without the cold water !!!
Theresa & Diane Hoffman