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Spitsbergen Cruise

MS Nordstjernen, Page 6
Continued from page 5

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ABOVE: PolarCirkel boats in the Bockfjord, with lifejackets piled on the icy beach. INSET BELOW: Watching out for polar bears, and a mural in the Russian mining settlement of Barentsburg.

photoShore landings and port calls

During a three- or four-night cruise, the MS Nordstjernen typically makes three wilderness shore landings and visits two ports.

Shore landings are made in PolarCirkel boats. A PolarCirkel boat is a hybrid that offers the best features of a a rigid boat and a Zodiac inflatable. The air-filled tubes beneath the boat provide a smooth ride and allow easy beach landings, while the rigid hull's molded-in benches and fixed handrails offer comfort and security for up to seven passengers.

On our Nordstjernen cruise, passengers were divided into groups for shore landings (I was in the "Polar Bears"). When it was time to go ashore, we donned lifejackets on the luggage deck, then went to the gangway (a stairway fixed to the side of the ship) and walked down one at a time. Entering the boat was easier than I'd expected: I could just step from the gangway onto a molded platform at the bow of the PolarCirkel boat, grab the handrails on each side of the platform, and step down into the boat. The first landing was a bit tricky because the PolarCirkel boat was pitching up and down in the choppy sea, but on the other landings, stepping into the PolarCirkel boat felt safer than stepping into a bathtub.

When we reached the shore, we just stepped out of the boat onto a plastic crate and hopped down onto the rocks or sand.

During our time ashore, we were required to stay near the guides, who were armed in case of attack by polar bears. (We didn't see any bears at close quarters, but on the previous voyage, the landing had to be aborted when a group of polar bears came toward the landing area. The landing was resumed after the bears had disappeared from view.)

muralPort calls are made in two settlements: The Russian mining settlement of Barentsburg, a few hours from our departure port of Longyearbyen by ship, and the international scientific-research community of Ny ålesund, a former coal-mining village that Roald Amundsen used as the departure points for his 1925 and 1926 expeditions by seaplane and airship to the North Pole.

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