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Midnight Sun in the Arctic- By Alex Blue

Ah, it feels so good to be back in cold weather. I’m bundled up and sitting on the rail of Isbjörn.. My entire body covered in layers upon layers and my face tucked away from the biting wind. My hair peeks out and flutters against my glasses, their polarization dramatizing the already extremely dramatic environment which lay before me. I close my eyes and let the never setting sun warm me, or at least trick me into thinking so. They flick back open and focus on the foggy clouds which are water falling over the ancient snow covered peaks. It as if they yearn to blanket the mountains which lie permanently frozen. The entire scene feels like one vast canvas, on which mother nature experimented with patterns and textures of an ice cool pallet.

It’s been six days since arriving inside the Arctic Circle, but it’s still hard to comprehend that we are actually here. Sailing in the cold is exhausting, a similar feeling to the one I have after surfacing from a scuba dive. When my body has been in survival mode for an extended period, matched with extreme wonder and awe. Because people weren’t really built to be underwater or in the Arctic. Yes- we have done it, but not without the help of the animal skins of the past or the technological clothing of today. Our modern weather forecasting, accurately detailed charts, and trusty radar allow us to understand and predict the world in a way we could not do solo. So it does feels slightly absurd to be up here, to be sailing around the glaciers of Svalbard. But, as unnatural as it is, it also feels very human. Because as a species, this is what humans do. They seek to bend the constraints that nature has over us. They strive to push it further- into outer space, to the depths of the ocean and the poles of our world. Faster, smarter, smaller, more efficient with each expedition. So all I can do is smile, because in this moment I feel proud to be human.

My mind drifts back to the afternoon we just spent with a herd of Walrus on the beach. Some local sailors had told us about a resident “huddle” that lived around the Poolepynten headland on the Eastern coast of the Forlandet National Park. The Isbjörn crew had already seen some in the Southern part of Svalbard prior to our arrival, but it would be the Delos Crews first encounter with these gargantuan creatures. We had been warned to be cautious of them in the water, as a territorial male was more than capable of popping a rubber dinghy with their meter long tusks. So, we approached attentively and made our way around a group of four mingling in the water just off shore.

One thing I appreciate about Andy and Mia, is their utmost respect for the nature of the area. Traveling by sailboat creates a rare opportunity to explore a place without harming it. The crew’s mutual understanding and pride in this, allowed us to agree on how to best interact with the wildlife. So, we followed the recommend rules with the Walrus- we approached slowly from down wind, and kept a safe distance by capturing the moment with our long lenses.

The excitement built as we approached a pod of almost fifteen bulls relaxing on the sandy beach. We giggled as a particularly larger one attempted to make his way out of the water. It quickly became clear that lugging around a ton and a half of body weight with no legs, can be quite difficult. He used a combination of full body rolls and a worming movement, matched with constant grunting. Despite the interesting smells that protruded from them, what ensued after that was pure comedy. The big herd of males would work on getting as close as possible to one another. Their massive scarred bodies appeared to be melting in a puddle around them, with an undersized head floating somewhere on top. Just as everyone settles, one bull would rear with with a roar and stab his ivory tusks into his closest buddy. This would set off a chain reaction of jabs throughout the group, followed by more cuddles and lots more interesting sounds from both ends.

The laughs and observations of the hilarious Walrus have been continuing amongst us as we sail back across the strait of Forlandsundet towards Spitsbergen. We’ve just arrived at our anchorage in front of a miniature peninsula, which is guarding the Dahlbrebukta Glacier behind it. There are a few small chunks of ice floating around the boat, but not enough to for a crew member  to stay onboard and “ice defend”. We are hopeful that a hike top of the peninsula will get us a good view of the glacier, and so we decide head in.

It’s quite a scene to watch us all gear up and get off the boat. Our crew of eight first attempts to find their driest base layer, then pulls on a mixture of wool mid layers, before configuring some combo of our foul weather gear on top. Then comes packing the camera bags. Most of us are carrying a stand alone production unit on our backs to be prepared for whatever shot may present itself. Between Canon, Panasonic, Sony, and DJI- we have  most of the bases covered. We also always take the survival suits in case the dinghy fails, flare guns to scare away curious polar bears, and a med kit incase someone is injured.  Last but not least, we load two rifles and decide which of the permitted crew will be taking a gun instead of a camera. I like to think the designers of the Swan 48′ would be proud to see how well she hosted us in circumstances she was so oppositely created for.

We load up the dinghy, and make the half mile trip two times to get all of the people and gear on land. Everyone makes it to the top well before me, and sets up our little day camp. The tripods go up, the moonshine comes out, and everyones laughter seems to hang a bit longer in the windless sky. I look up at and enjoy the view of the midnight sun silhouetting the crew,  and pull my camera to my eye with a smile. Being behind the lens here is a true photographer’s delight for a very long list of reasons. My favorite, is that the sun appears to always be rising or setting, along some bold mountain skyline. A never ending “golden hour” of light which sets the scene for endless sun flares and dramatic back lighting. I make my way up to them, when-

BOOM!  A clap of thunder erupts from the glacier which has just come into my view. I gasp in surprise as a massive chunk calves off and splashes into the sea water below. No one could ever be convinced of how loud this event truly is, until you hear it with your own ears. It’s echo lives on as it bounces around the mountains and makes us feel ridiculously small. Then, the several tons of  ice create a tidal wave which swells up across the lagoon in our direction. It’s as if an arctic sea creature has been awakened from its sleep, and is quickly gliding just underneath the surface to devour us. But alas, no sea creature is revealed as the waves break below us with a crash.

I’m not sure how long we spent up there. It’s hard to keep track of time when the sun spins around you at a constant height. When 4am and 4pm look, feel, and act the same.  Time is beginning to feel irrelevant. It seems everyone is adjusting to this differently, but I’ve realized how much my body depends on the natural cues of the sunrise and sunset. Although I can’t deny the perks of having constant daylight for this expedition, it would be a lie to say I am not missing the presence of the moon and stars.

The buzzing of several drones pulls me back from day dreaming about the night sky. The boys are flying about, and getting a kick out of the virtual reality head set at 200 meters above sea level. Turns are taken by all, putting it on and yipping in delight at the view from the sky. With it, we can now see beyond the front face of the glacier, and realize the true scale of it. It goes on for what seems like an eternity, a body of icy white terrain rolling back for as for as far as the eye can see. How long has it been frozen in this way? How long will it remain? BOOM! Another colossal chunk breaks away and in just a moment transitions from a million year old glacier, to just drops in the ocean.

It’s my turn to play with to Mavic drone, so off I fly away from the glacier and towards Isbjörn.  As I approach, my heart begins to beat faster at the breath taking sight. She is now surrounded by big chunks of ice, spread across a gradient of emerald green leading into a deep sea blue. I can’t believe I get to witness this moment first hand, that I get to capture it and save it forever. My jaw is dropped, heart is full, and all expectations for the trip are met here and now.

I call Andy over and give him the VR goggles to let the him fawn over the beauty of his boat. “WHOA!” he exclaims in excitement, which lasts but a brief moment. The smile slides off his face as the Captain in him realizes that any of those ice chunks could actually dangerously large under the surface.  Isbjörn isn’t just their boat, their home ,and their life. It’s the key asset to a business that is already booked for the next several years. Taking this fiberglass boat up into Arctic waters did not come risk free, and keeping her and us safe is the number one priority of the trip.

He slips the goggles off immediately, and tells Mia it’s time to go. The rest of us gather our gear and head down the hill behind them. The adrenaline starts to pump. As we make our way down, or view changes to reveal a huge tidal stream of ice creeping its way straight towards Isbjörn. We span the exact same beach that we had crossed on our way over, only now it appears completely different. A hundred times more ice litters its shores and waters. Although we are in a rush to get back, I cannot help but capture this moment. I drop my bag to the ground and pull out my long lens. Half running to catch up, half screaming inside, I must have snapped 500 photos as I ran across that little beach!

It was in this moment that I recalled something a friend had told us, “Svalbard is like Iceland on crack”. Having spent a couple of weeks in Iceland before coming to the proper Arctic, I found this statement very hard to believe. But now, I find the truth.

As I make my way over the last small mound of dirt I hear Andy yelling from the dinghy, “All aboard, we need to go NOW!” We pile in and head back to the boat, whose anchor is now up as she slowly weaves through the icy waters with Mia at her helm.

Just as I climb aboard, James pops his head through the companion way. Through a toothy grin he exclaims that he would like to get in the water with his housing and dry suit. “ME TOO!” I think… But I did not come as prepared as James, and without a dry suit I will have to suffice with a pair of 3mm gloves as I hang over the side of the dinghy. I hop back into the tender with Brian as James jumps into the icy waters surrounding the boat. We cruise around and film the action, attempting to hold onto my camera against the big blocks of ice smashing into it. All hands on deck are standing at the bow with the ice poles to push away the largest pieces. Isbjörn slowly makes her way out of the tidal flow of ice, and into clear safe water.

This was just one day of our adventure in Svalbard. Although we had so many other unique experiences, I will never forget the feeling of this day. That raw emotion of excitement when the elements drastically morph right before your eyes. It must be why people become obsessed with high latitudes once they get a taste- because a feeling like that is sure hard to beat.

The Texas Bar – By Brian

                 Photo by James Austrums

It’s day 10 and we’re further north than any of us have even been.  Isbjorn is making short tacks, gliding through the frigid water into a glacier lined fjord.  As we make the last headland the fjord opens up to reveal a unbelievably huge glacier dominating the southern wall.  Every few minutes a low thunder rumbles, reverberating off the fjord walls like a canon shot, caused by tons of ice calving off the face and dropping into the frozen waters below.  It’s 10:00PM and we’re in one of the most remote and wildest places in the entire world.  The midnight sun is shining and the weather is ideal.  It’s time to explore!

Our tiredness is swept away by a jolt of adrenaline, our bodies resisting the temptation to sleep. Andy weaves Isbjorn around icebergs the size of houses as we work our way deeper into the fjord until the path is completely blocked.   We turn around.  A few tries later we see a potential candidate to attempt a boarding. It’s a low-slung berg that looks flat and potentially more stable than the other top heavy bergs.  

“Okay guys, let’s go for it!” says Andy.  We all take our positions lining the port rail of Isbjorn.  Myself and Kiril each have a go pro in one hand, ice axes in the other.  James is in his drysuit poised to jump into the water, and Brady and Karin have ice poles at the bow ready to fend off any bits that come to close to Isbjorn’sfiberglass hull.  Before we have a chance to think twice Andy has maneuvered Isbjorn to within a few feet of the iceberg.  It’s a relatively small one but still dwarfs Isbjorn with it’s mass.  Kiril and I step off the deck and up onto the ice.  Suddenly the only thing separating us from the Arctic Ocean is a few feet of crystal clear ice.  Thousands of years of snow compressed so intensely it can now support our weight!  James is in the water with his massive housing pointing our direction.  “Guys, move a little bit to your left and I can get an incredible shot of you!” Shouts James, pushing bits of ice out of the way as he makes his way towards us.  

                Photo by James Austrums

We try to follow James instructions but our sailing boots are meant for the deck of a boat, not super-slippery ice.  Within seconds Kiril and I land hard on our asses and resort to a backwards crab walk to move into position, occasionally flipping onto our bellies and using the ice axes to pull us around.  There is an amazing amount of exploring to do even on this little chunk of ice. At some point Kiril and I decide to just sit down and take a few minutes to let the experience sink into us.  It’s the first of many “once in a lifetime experiences” that seem to occur on a daily basis up here.  We use the axes to chip off little pieces of the berg, letting thousand year old chips of ice melt on our tongues and cool our mouths.  So that’s what a glacier tastes like.  Amazing!

                Photo by 59 North Sailing

It’s nearly midnight and our bodies and minds are absolutely numb, from both the excitement and cold.  We returned to the warm belly of Isbjorn and motored outof the ice, looking for a safe anchorage.  The icebergs are captivating but the actual reason for us sailing to this particular fjord is just coming into view.  It’s a small hut perched on a barren hill overlooking a rocky beach.  Through the binoculars we can spot a home-made sign fashioned out of driftwood.  The sign simply reads “Texas Bar”.

I’d never heard of the Texas Bar until landing in Longyearben.  “Hey guys- are you planning on going to the Texas Bar?” Asked Magnus, a local sailor we’d met in town.  He was a huge proper viking of a man, towering over us with a full beard.  “It’s at the very northern tip of Svalbard, I’m pretty sure it’s the most northern bar in the entire world.”  That sealed the deal for us.  So here we were with our bellies full of of one of Mia’s delicious feasts contemplating our next move.  The time approached 1:00AM but the weather was fair and the sun was bright, so bright in fact you’d swear it was 1:00PM.  But here only 600 miles from the North Pole it shines 24 hours a day in the summer, lazily circling above the horizon and never setting.

“Are you guys keen for a mission?” Asked James. James was always keen for a mission.  No matter the time, weather, or activity in mind he was always charged up and ready to go.  “Yeah sure, what did you have in mind?  See if the Texas Bar is open?”  I replied.  “Exactly!” Was his answer.  You don’t waste good weather here so we loaded up the rifle, layered up, and grabbed a few cameras.  Andy and the girls opted to stay behind so it was just myself, Brady, Kiril, and James.

We landed our little rubber floor dinghy on the rocky shore and and pulled it well above the high water line.  This isn’t a place you want to swim for the dinghy if you can avoid it! In the Caribbean swimming out to the dinghy is a much needed respite from the heat.  Here it’s like having 10,000 needles simultaneously stuck into you, followed by hypothermia.  And that’s if you’re lucky!

The Texas Bar is a small shack built entirely of scrap wood.  It sits about 50 feet from the waters edge and beckons to you as a safe respite in this otherwise barren landscape.  To say it’s incredibly remote would be a complete understatement.  It’s position at nearly 80 degrees north is quite literally on top of the world.  There are no roads in this part of the world.  During the winter months the only way here is by traversing the glaciers that make up the islands interior via dog sled or snowmobile.  During the summer you must come by boat.  It’s someplace you really, really have to work to visit. 

                Photo by James Austrums

There are no trees around, only the occasional hint of lichen clinging to life on a rock.  Everything was either brought in by sled, boat, or washed up on the beach. The front had a rickety table fashioned from wood bits found here and there, and of course the drift wood sign that we spotted from shore.  There was no doubting we had found the right place.  The roof, walls, and even windows were in good shape.  It was immediately obvious that this building was cared for by those that used it.  I walked around back to find a door sealed tight by a simple wooden bar.    Inside was a storeroom, sharing one wall of the cabin, stocked full of wood for the long winter.  Walking around the side I found another door, with the same style of wooden bar to keep it locked up tight.  Simple, effective, and apparently meant to be polar bear proof.

I finally had to remove my cumbersome gloves to work the stuck latch on the door, and when I did the inside revealed what could only be described as an entryroom to the main cabin.  There was a place to sit, remove your boots, and hang your heavy winter gear.  There was another catch of wood, assorted tools, hammer and nailes, axes, and even a saw.  Everything in here served a purpose and was meant for survival in the harsh environment.  

                Photo by James Austrums

“Wow guys check this out!”  I yelled to everyone still outside.  “This cabin is completely kitted out!”  I had finally gotten the last door worked open and was now standing inside the small main room of the cabin.  To my left there was a window with glass, shuttered from the outside.  A double bunk bed was along the back wall, and a wooden table and two chairs along the other.  To my right was a wood burning stove complete with pots, cups, and even drying ropes ready to hang your wet socks on.  No electricity, no running water.  Just the bare essentials of life one might need to warm their bones after a long overland snow mobile ride in the dead of winter.  

Places like this give me chills, it’s easy for me to imagine spotting this little hut after hours of hard travel.  Seeing it and imagining what a luxury it might be to warm your feet, have a hot cup of coffee, and know you’re safe from polar bears for the night.  We lit a few candles on the table and started flipping through the guest book, which was riddled with messages of previous travelers passing through from all over the world.  It’s at that moment we realized where the name “Texas Bar” came from.  Just next to the top bunk bed was a simple wooden shelf lined with bottles of alcohol.  It was a bar, but only in the most rudimentary sense.  This was a place for travelers, for those passing through that could use a sip of whiskey to warm their insides.

                Photo by James Austrums

“Check this message out guys.”  I said reading one of the most recent entries out loud from the tattered guestbook “To all those that follow in our steps, please enjoya sip of the finest whiskey we had.  Wishing you the best of times at the Texas Bar.”  So that was the concept.  If you make a stop at the Texas Bar be sure to leave it in better condition than you found it.  And also leave a bottle at the bar for those coming after you to enjoy.  We cracked open the brand new bottle of Jack Daniels and each took a long, hard pull.  We started a fire in the stove and stripped down to our base layer as the temperature inside crept from freezing to something tolerable.  

               Photos by James Austrums

We were four guys, all from different backgrounds, all from different countries, crowded around a table meant for two sharing outlandish tales of our adventures, generally talking shit, and taking pulls straight from the bottle. Before we knew it we had a nice buzz and it was approaching 4AM.  I pulled out a bottle of Delos moonshine we’d brewed onboard and flown to Svalbard for a special occasion.  I placed it on the shelf in place of the bottle of Jack we’d polished off.  “Please enjoy a bottle of our finest moonshine.  It was brewed onboard SV Delos crossing the Atlantic ocean, and was made with love and desalinated water from the Caribbean Sea.”   This my friends, is what the most northern bar in the entire world is all about.

Nana Mo’s Excellent Adventure on Delos – By Maureen

Ever since I left Delos in Grenada 4 days ago, I haven’t been able to focus on anything but the memories of that incredible experience.

I discovered Delos on YouTube last year while day dreaming about sailing away to exotic places. I was drawn in immediately and it didn’t take long for my husband Colin to become addicted too.
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One Year on Delos – by Alex Blue

It is March 30th, 2018 and exactly one year ago I was on a flight half way across the world from my home state of California towards Cape Town, South Africa. The year since then has surely been one of the most challenging and therefore beautiful of my life. For months, I have been contemplating about how to write down what it has meant to me- a grand summation of all I have learned about the earth and myself… but every time I begin brainstorming, my mind gets lost folding into a million different thought patterns. So, in this final moment and in true Delos style, a few rums deep, I will do my best to make it short and sweet.
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thought 4. by leeesir

monday 1.1.2018, 11:30, somewhere in cold austria

another monday. another thought post.
but it’s not a normal monday for me.
it’s not normal because I am writing this from austria, not delos in sunny brazil!

yes, you read right. after 9 months of sailing and traveling i have returned back to my home country, back to friends and family and the cold weather.

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thought 3 – by lisa

tuesday 21.11.2017, 10:45, abrolhos in brazil

having a camera, or actually a bunch of cameras, around you on a daily basis is not very common. at least it was not normal for me before i came on delos. in fact, it’s still not normal for me. but it’s part of the game and i enjoy playing the game, otherwise i would not be here anymore i guess. View More

Thought 2 – by Lisa

wednesday 19.07.2017, 13:11, somewhere between ascension island and brazil

 

we’re in the middle of nowhere. far from land and far from any civilization. although two cargo ships crossed our way earlier today, but that doesn’t count. View More

The Delos Diaries: Part 27 “Onwards to Brazil!”

It’s the morning of our departure. I wake, my body burning for movement as we excitedly prepare Delos to leave Bird Rock. Yes, that’s right-we did return to that amazing place. After spending another week on Ascension Island, we decided we had no choice but to escape back to its protective rocky embrace. It’s been an incredible couple of days diving, relaxing and sunbathing, but now it’s time. View More

The Delos Diaries: Part 26 “Becoming a Mermaid.”

We’re off early this morning. We’re heading to an amazing dive site called Bird Rock. It’s nice to get away from the island to be honest. I love Ascension, but already I know it’s time for us to leave. We’re here for another week and we’ve got a lot more adventures to be had, but whenever I look out into the ocean, I feel a restlessness. View More

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