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Arctic Sailing Expeditions in Greenland, Jan Mayen, Svalbard & Spitsbergen

The Antarctic is a frozen Continent surrounded by the Southern Ocean. In contrast, the Arctic is a vast ocean ringed with islands and the icy frontiers of Scandinavia's North Cap, Russia, Canada and Alaska. In winter the ice sea reaches out and connects with islands like Greenland, Jan Meyen, the Svalbard Archipelago and is not far from the Northern shores of Iceland. In summer everything changes and the Arctic Ocean and the Arctic Islands become a wildlife haven and an outdoor enthusiast and photographers dream.

Mention the Arctic Regions and many think of heroic expeditions to reach the poles on foot or the historic attempts of sailing ships to find a route through the North West Passage. As Global warning accelerates, the Arctic is beginning to look very different. In summer new sailing grounds are opening up, and routes that were once perilous for non ice breaking ships are starting to look more possible.

The Arctic destinations Classic Sailing ships visit are a mix of tried and tested sailing grounds and some new voyage routes that are truly pioneering expeditions for adventure charter crews. When the sun is out and the tundra flowers and mosses are soft underfoot it feels like a magical holiday but this is remote wilderness where crews need to be vigilant and self sufficient at sea and ashore.

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Why we love this sailing ground

Land of Polar Bear and Narwhal

There are creatures in the Arctic you won't find anywhere else, which is part of the attraction of sailing here. Some Arctic creatures reach almost mythical status. Tecla crews spotted narwhal with their unicorn like horn amongst the sea ice on the way to Greenland last year. Another all year round resident of the High Arctic are the white beluga whales. There are 17 species of cetaceans that live or visit Arctic Waters. Some of the bigger whales include bowhead whales, humpback and gray whales which head for the cooler Arctic waters to breed in Summer. Walrus with their long whiskers are also on many naturalists spotting list.

The polar bear has become a symbol of the plight of Arctic wildlife as the open water increases every summer. Classic Sailing crews have a strong chance of seeing polar bears in the Svalbard Archipelago, particularly North Spitsbergen, and a possibility of encountering polar bears in Scorseby Sound or on the way to Greenland.

Photo by Anna Margaretha. Tall Ship Antigua with visiting Polar bear and cubs
Photo by Anna Margaretha. Tall Ship Antigua with visiting Polar bear and cubs

Iceberg Dodging - In the Wake of the Polar Explorers

There is nothing like standing an ice watch on the open fo'castle of a sailing ship to help relate to the polar explorers of the past. Our clothing is better and the cabins are heated, but watching keeping at sea and at anchor is a serious business. Even after the sea ice has broken its grip on the land there are icebergs, floating sea ice chunks and glaciers carving, so you do need to dodge them occasionally.  On some early season voyages you may be helping to find the open leads amongst the drifting sea ice.  

Apart from the dangerous aspects of ice, everyone gets a thrill from sailing near big icebergs and blue glacier ice is very beautiful and sculptural. 

Tecla in Greenland

Land of the Midnight Sun

The Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon in which the sun is above the horizon at midnight. And the rest of the night. And all day long. Choosing the Arctic  for your summer sailing gives you weeks and months of life-giving, warming and wonderful light. It just makes you feel more energetic all the time and you can really pack an incredible amount into your holiday.

Far up inside the Arctic Circle, in Longyearbyen on Svalbard, midnight can be like noon on a midsummer day, while in the Lofoten Islands at Nordkapp (North Cape) or Scorseby Sound the light is suggestive of early evening, with warm, golden tones over the sea. Further south, though, where the sun peeks between the mountain tops and is only just above the horizon at midnight, you get the wonderful pink sunsets.

Which ship for my adventure?

Wooden schooner Hildur was the first charter vessel to pioneer sailing expeditions to Scorseby Sound in East Greenland.  Her strong oak hull is copper sheathed around the waterline and she is manoeuvrable amongst the ice. Hildur can take 10 individuals but also is a popular choice for whole boat charter.  Regardless if you are travelling solo or with friends, she is a cozy base, with character and heating below decks.  

Hildur is joined now in East Greenland by her larger sisters Opal and Donna Wood who can take up to 12 guests. On calm days or amongst whales Opal motor silently using her hybrid electric engine. If she sails fast enough on windy days she can top up her batteries saving on fossil fuel. Silence is a great thing in the Arctic. You can hear the call of a Northern Diver, the crack of a glacier calving or the splosh of an iceberg going for a flip.

Steel historic sailing ship Tecla has circumnavigated the globe, sailed around Cape Horn, won numerous tall ships races, and is now carving her name as a great expedition ship. Spotting that Scorseby Sound provided an opportunity to navigate deep into the Greenland interior, her skipper Gijs started running 3 week expeditions to Scorseby Sound and back from NW Iceland. In 2019 Tecla has ocean voyages sailing around Cape Farewell to West Greenland and expeditions from Nuuk and Disko Bay. These voyages are for the more adventurous who want to navigate the coastal pack ice and big bergs. Late Summer she plans to transit the NW Passage with charter guests.

Three masted schooner Blue Clipper has two skippers who love Arctic Waters which has shaped their summer Arctic programme. She covered a significant part of the Atlantic Arctic in 2018 and is returning again in 2019. Blue Clipper has voyages stretching from Jan Meyen Island to Svalbard and Northern Norway and the Lofoten Isles.

Opal and Donna Wood rafted together under Northern Lights in Scorseby Sound in September
Opal and Donna Wood rafted together under Northern Lights in Scorseby Sound in September

 

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