Trying for Smeerenburg

By |Published On: July 18, 2023|Categories: Europe, Svalbard|940 words|2 Comments|


We had spent two days at Kobbefjorden, sitting out a gale from the northwest. The anchorage appeared to be well protected from northwesterly winds, but we had not counted on the ‘fallwind’ (katabatic wind) coming down from the surrounding mountains. After having measured 32 knt on the wind-o-meter, we decided to keep watches during the first night as we were not familiar with this anchorage and were not sure how well the anchor would hold. The second night was more comfortable, with the day in between spent trying out our fishing gear we had bought in Svolvær. Unfortunately, the fish were not biting.

Anchorage at Kobbefjorden.


It was hard to crawl out of bed the second morning. Not because I was overly tired, more because I was just sleeping so well; warm, comfortable, and heavy lidded. Besides at 0715 it was as bright and light as it had been at 0230 and 2230 – what difference did it make if I slept or not. But F was up and so I must get up too, apparently (F: ‘Of course!’).


Today, the forecast had predicted, would have light winds and consequently would make a quick and easy trip to Smeerenburg and Virgohamna for a bit of whaling history appreciation. Well, forecasts are never as accurate as observations and our observation this morning is that it is blowing. Not hard like the previous day but still blowing. Not much to be done about that but head off and hope that it is better around the corner behind Amsterdamøya at Smeerenburg.

From Kobbefjorden on Danskøya towards Smeerenburg on Amsterdamøya – it was a bit windy.

It was about 6nm from Kobbefjord to Smeerenburg and it seemed that we gained one knot of wind with each mile. The wind was whistling over the bow as we nudged up into the shallows of the lee side of the Smeerenburg spit (see photo in header), 20 kts. While it was calm behind the spit that wind wouldn’t have made for a pleasant pilgrimage to the whaling mecca, so we turned our bow out into deeper water and headed towards Sallyhamna where other boats had reported good protection from northerly winds.

The ‘spitse bergen’ in Smeerenburgfjord after which Willem Barentsz named Spitsbergen.



The trip across the Smeerenburgfjorden was a bumpy one that required a bit of iceberg dodging. There were a few larger blue and white bergs but lots of smaller ones that could be easily missed but could still do a bit of damage.

More spectacular scenery along the way.

It got colder…



Once out of the Smeerenburgfjorden we got into the lee of the northern islands, giving us protection from the waves and the wind. This made for a much easier eastward leg to Sallyhamna where we were able to push into 4m and anchor. The northerly winds here are literally coming straight off the Arctic ocean and the sea ice to the north of us, so perhaps it shouldn’t be quite so surprising that it is cold. To fight off this cold, we had pancakes for lunch and a bit of a snooze to shake of the sugar induced coma that accompanied them.

Yuma at anchor at Sallyhamna.



An hour of fishing off the swimming platform saw two smallish bottom fish hooked but not landed and a bit of kelp. This fishing thing is a mugs game.


Mid-afternoon saw us in the dinghy heading ashore. Sallyhamna is a narrow, south opening harbour protected to the north and west by a rocky moraine and to the east and south east by steep mountain slopes, scree and a glacier. It has been a few things in its time: a whaling harbour, a hunter’s base, a Sysselmesteren hut, and a safe harbour for small boats. The last two are its jobs today.

Sysselmesteren hut and try-works at Sallyhamna.

Ashore the old moraine is now rock rubble, in some places with enough sand and moss to make walking easier but generally just a jumble of rock. At four or five places around the spit are circular stone constructions and besides them rectangular foundations only slightly longer than the circles are wide. These are the remains of the try-works, or blubber ovens, and the cooling platforms from the 17th century whalers. Today they are filled with sand and debris and look like ruined fortifications in miniature but when used, they would have been covered with large wok-shaped pans under which fires burned. Strips of whale blubber were boiled in these to extract the oil which would then be cooled and barrelled for transport back south to the Netherlands, England or Denmark.

The try-works were no small structures!


A few graves, sunken rectangular stone piles, lay a short distance from the try-works along with the foundations of a building – perhaps a Pomor site?

We spent some time on the spit looking at these remnants of the early Europeans before walking up along the shoreline northwards. Here too our way took us over loose angled rocks which made for slow going. At intervals we came to large car-sized boulders which we passed together and watchfully on the off chance that something big, furry and white was behind them. As luck would have it, all that was behind them were more rocks.

A bit of colour in an otherwise bleak landscape.


Back on board we took the dinghy for a drift over deeper water to try our luck with more fishing. After an hour all we’d caught was cold fingers. We’ll have to take this fishing gear back to the guy in Svolvaer that sold it to us and demand our money back.


  1. Jaap August 22, 2023 at 3:15 pm - Reply

    Why, if you can spot polar bears you must be able to catch a fish. How about a spotted wolffish? Looks good in the hands of fellow fisherman around Spitsbergen! Or just a decent cod for some nice fish and chips. Did Fred take the piepers with her?

    • David Westcott August 22, 2023 at 6:00 pm - Reply

      You might think that with an ichthyologist on board we would have been able to whisper them onto the boat. Sadly, it didn’t work out that way. And wolffish would have been very nice. We didn’t have piepers, perhaps that was the problem.

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Spectacular views along the way to Kobbefjorden
80˚ North