A fjord named after a saint

By |Published On: July 25, 2023|Categories: Europe, Svalbard|736 words|2 Comments|


Our destination for the night was Trinityhamna in the Magdalenefjorden, just a short hop down the outside of Spitsbergen to the south. It is just another fjord rimmed by towering, jagged peaks, laced with glaciers and all that guff. Sigh, so spectacular, again.

More spectacular scenery.


The first recorded visit to this fjord was by Willem Barentsz in 1596 and it soon became an important location for the European (and especially English) whaling efforts. The Basque whalers, engaged by other European nations in the initial whaling in Svalbard, named the fjord after their patron saint, Maria Magdalene. The Basque presence in Svalbard, however, did not last long. Their expertise, gained from centuries of whaling in the Bay of Biscay and off the coast of Labrador, was soon copied by European countries like the Netherlands and England. Once these nations had learnt the necessary whaling skills, the Basques became superfluous and were booted out.

Subsequent to whaling, and since the late 19th century, this fjord has been a cruise ship destination. It still is today. Large cruise ships enter the fjord to disgorge hundreds and even thousands of people onto land to admire the surroundings, but mostly to eat and drink. We were lucky with just four other boats being at anchor and all being small, with only 6 to 10 people on board.

Our shallow draft allowed us to anchor in front of the rest of the boats, close in by the beach with its 17th century whaling try-works and huge graveyard. There was barely a breath of wind. A pair of guillemots fishing in the green water kept us company in the quiet, while their brethren circled the cliff heights above us. Ah, the serenity!

Yuma at anchor in Trinityhamna, with Gravneset to the left.



The next morning, we breakfasted in a leisurely fashion watching as each of our companion boats pulled their anchors and motored off.

Breakfast in quite a spectacular spot!


Once they were all gone and we were alone, we packed up our shore gear and took the dinghy into the beach. What awaited us there was a squadron of particularly irate arctic terns who put their best efforts into slicing our scalps and piercing our eyes. Such darlings.

Our dinghy on the beach, with Gravneset on the right.


The graveyard and try-works at this site, Gravneset, are set on an old moraine sand spit and dune. If this wasn’t jeopardy enough for their long-term survival, the graves have long been subject to plundering by tourists and others. As a consequence, to protect what remains and to provide something resembling a peaceful final resting place for the poor whalers, almost everything is roped off and inaccessible leaving little of recognizable form to be seen. One has to wonder where the bloody terns were when all that desecration occurred; it’s hard to imagine too many touristic barbarians getting through the aerial defenses they provide.

Remains of try-works (left); walk around the graveyard (right).


After a tour of Gravneset, we took a hike up the hillslopes to the south and east poking along, on the look out for scurvy grass and bears. Very lovely.

Views across Magdalenefjorden.



A bit of greenery in an otherwise bleak landscape.



After our stroll, we took Yuma up to the Wagonwaybreen, the glacier at the end of the fjord. The photos of the anchorage in our cruising guides clearly showed a beautiful glacier in the background. Now, we had to motor quite a long way to finally see the face of the glacier; it had retreated at least 2 kms if not more. This is by no means unusual in Svalbard, with many glaciers having lost a lot of ice over the last couple of decades.

Gullybreen, another glacier in Magdalenefjorden.



On the way out of Magdalenefjorden, we were approached by a group of about six intensely curious walrus. They swam right up to Yuma and, poking their heads out of the water in unison, gave us a long and detailed inspection.

Walrus checking us out.


Once satisfied that we weren’t Icelandic scallops or anything equally delicious, they proceeded to roll around playing with each other on the surface before resuming that very walrus rolling dive and rest feeding behaviour. We enjoyed watching them for half an hour or so before they moved too far off whereupon we resumed our journey south to our next anchorage, Hamburgbukta.

Getting up close and personal with Yuma.


  1. Caro immin August 29, 2023 at 4:54 pm - Reply

    Ik herhaal mezelf. Maar alweer prachtig

    • Frederieke August 31, 2023 at 7:05 pm - Reply

      Dankjewel! We herhalen onzelf ook wel een beetje, maar het blijft mooi.

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