Blast from the past in Ny-Ålesund

By |Published On: July 13, 2023|Categories: Europe, Svalbard|870 words|0 Comments|

After a night at anchored at Engelsbukta, our next stop was going to be Ny-Ålesund.


Polar night at Engelsbukta


Frederieke was keen to stop in this small town as an old colleague, Maarten van Loonen, was going to be there. Maarten and Frederieke were both members of the ‘Groninger Biologen Duikvereniging Calamari’ way back in the later 1980s. Maarten has worked every summer for 33 years on Spitsbergen and is now the lead Dutch researcher from the University of Groningen in Ny-Ålesund. Reason enough to try and catch up!

So, after having spent an extremely calm night at Engelsbukta (which also meant no wind for sailing), we motored the 20nm or so to Ny-Ålesund.

View from Engelsbukta back to Prins Karls Forland


Along the shore, the mountains had the most amazing colours ranging from dark red to brown and grey, with patches of snow, and large areas of greenery below the bird breeding colonies. Spectacular!



Rounding the corner into Kongsfjorden, we again encountered floating ice which came from the glaciers further upstream in the fjord. We later heard from the harbourmaster that it was the first day with easterly winds for weeks, bringing out into the fjord all the ice that had been calving from the glaciers but which had been trapped in its eastern end by the westerly winds. The sight and sounds were amazing! In amongst them we saw dolphins feeding along with a minke whale.

Arriving at Ny-Ålesund there was no room for us so we got to spend an extra hour or so cruising around in the ice before we could enter the little harbour once another boat had let.


In the harbour, we were greeted by the crew from SY Saranban’de, Matthijs and Deborah. As usual, this was erg ‘gezellig’ and after a brief chat, we agreed to catch up again to try and find Maarten around 1900 and have beers and dinner at the pub. According to the instructions I had received from Maarten, we could find him in the ‘second yellow house on the left’. And indeed, this house (and the one next to it) had various indications that they were occupied by Dutch people; clogs by the door, ceramic tulips on the wall and bikes leaning against the wall.

Ny-Ålesund harbour


Maarten, however, was nowhere to be seen so we wandered around town looking for him and for the pub. We found the pub first, and thinking that the pub was not only a pleasant spot to wait for him but also a likely spot for him to appear in, we decided to have a beer. In true Norwegian style, there were instructions at the door to ‘please take off your shoes’. Weird enough but not surprising on Svalbard. Even weirder were the instructions not to take any photos inside. What do these Norwegians get up to in their pubs that you are not allowed to take photos? We were keen to find out, but apparently the busy pub night was Saturday, not Thursday, the day we were there, so we will never know.

After we had finished a beer and a sausage in a bread roll (the pub’s specialty), Maarten arrived with a colleague from the USA. More drinks were ordered, and a great evening ensued. Especially hearing about the research Maarten had been conducting here over the last 33 years, other research that was going on, and life in Ny-Ålesund and Svalbard in general. No record of the evening though, no photos allowed. The evening finished with a quick tour in the Kings Bay Marine Laboratory to see flying snails that had been collected earlier that day – the relevance of them now evades me but it sure was fascinating at the time!


The next morning, we awoke to all the noise and kerfuffle of the arrival, near simultaneous of both the 3 masted square rigger, ‘Rembrandt van Rijn’, and the Hurtigruten boat the ‘Fram’. The latter being the boat that David’s parents had travelled on from Iceland to Jan Mayen and Svalbard before meeting up with us in Svolvær in June.

Breakfasted but still far from fresh and clean, we joined Deborah and Matthijs from Saraban’de and walked up to find Maarten again, who was very keen to give us his guided tour of the town. And a fine tour it was, not the least because Maarten arrived on a bike, with clogs on, and a gun slung over his shoulder. Two of these things are very Dutch, one isn’t!


Once we were on our way, the tour was full of tidbits about Maarten’s research, the immense international research effort going on here (ranging from rocketry to plate tectonics and satellite communications to flying-snails, grass growth rates, geese and winter plankton), the history of the town, and the ecology of Svalbard generally. And as a special bonus, Frederieke got to see the dive compression chamber at the Marine Laboratory. Fascinating stuff – thanks Maarten!

Houses in Ny-Ålesund


And for the record, Maarten and Frederieke did not go for a dive in the Kongsfjorden. In fact, Maarten had never dived in Svalbard during the 33 summers he had been here. ‘Too cold!’, he said.

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