Guillemots, ice and Sysselmesteren

By |Published On: July 11, 2023|Categories: Europe, Svalbard|686 words|5 Comments|


The next day the forecast suggested that the wind would back into the east. Naïvely, we thought, this might allow us a leisurely downwind sail to the mouth of Isfjorden and our next anchorage Trygghamna, about 30 nm away. This expectation just demonstrated how much we had to learn about the vagaries of Svalbardian weather. Instead of a leisurely six hour downwind sail, we had winds from behind, the side, the front, light winds, gusting winds and no wind. Eleven hours later, as we sailed along at 0.1kts, as birds resting on the water overtook us, we decided to call it quits and hoisted the iron genoa (i.e. started the engine) and made a beeline to Trygghamna, at that point just half an hour away.


Along the way, we came across a few random bits of floating ice. These sometimes were sitting low in the water pretending to be a wave so a constant watch was required. Very cool to see!

Floating ice along the way



Entering Trygghamna, we motored deep into the fjord and anchored in a shallow bay under the glacier. It felt as cold up close to the glacier as it looked. The name Trygghamna apparently comes from the old Dutch ‘behouden haven’, meaning safe harbour. Try as I might though there is no way I can make ‘trygg’ from ‘behouden’ so I have to assume that trygg is Norwegian for safe, just as hamna is Norwegian for haven. It was a trygghamna because it almost always remained clear of pack ice and was well protected from winds from most directions, both things that the 17th century whalers appreciated just as much as 21st century sailors do. Nevertheless, during our second night here we were woken by little ‘clonk’ sounds on the hull as small bergy bits of ice came drifting in, pushed past the outer skerries by tide and wind.



Our stay at Trygghamna was far from a lonely one. All through the endless day light we were visited by guillemots that fed, completely uninterested in our presence, around and under the boat. They would scull along with their bright red feet, every now and again putting their head under the and scanning the meal possibilities below, before disappearing underwater with a plop. We could watch them ‘flying’ through the green water before surfacing with fat blennies (stout eel blennies to be as exact as possible) that seemed far too large and far too long for them to swallow. A bit of handling on the surface though and down they went in one big gulp.


Less unconcerned about us, in fact very wary of us, was the squadron of female common eiders with their retinue of chicks that motored around the shore and skerries. While the females cruised along with a constant, comforting ‘wark wark’ call, the little chicks pushed hard to keep up and stay inside the protective ring of the adults. Every few hours the females would take off and fly to the other side of the bay to feed alone, their chicks all carefully stashed in amongst the rocks of the shoreline until they returned.


Another feathery visitor, an Arctic skua


Our other visitors were less feathery and far hairier, the Sysselmesteren (police/rangers), come to check our papers. These Sysselmesteren were two in number and arrived in a large rib, fully kitted out in serious arctic survival gear. We learnt that one of them was from the police and the other was from the Department of Environment; both were from around Oslo and this was their summer job. Not a bad gig. They joined us on board for about an hour, checking all our various permits (for being in Svalbard alone, for having a rifle on board, for visiting particular restricted locations, etc), drinking coffee and eating cookies, and swapping stories. All was in order, including the coffee (‘Best coffee we have had on a boat so far!’), and eventually they decided that they needed to get back to work. We, in turn, left for our next anchorage going north.


  1. Caro immin August 9, 2023 at 7:35 pm - Reply

    Prachtige landschappen

  2. Meaghan Kelliher August 10, 2023 at 4:53 am - Reply

    Best coffee on board a boat…… very good to hear standards have not slipped guys… I note boarder control were offered neither chocolate or cheese

    • David Westcott August 16, 2023 at 4:43 pm - Reply

      coffee was treasure enough to share!

    • Frederieke August 21, 2023 at 5:17 pm - Reply

      We noted that too. Sharing of valuable goods like coffee, chocolate and cheese only goes so far.

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Starting our trip north, but going east first
Polar bears and walruses