The Row Around Svalbard duo!

Dispatch from Nanuq: Surprise encounter with fellow explorers!

20 Aug 2018 – Text by Paola Catapano.

I was on shift on a calm sunny evening, marked by an eternal “almost-sunset”. That is when the sun is half on its way to setting, with all the hues of red one can imagine. But they never really sett, just staying there suspended for longer than my shift and the one after.

PolarQuest meets the Row Around Svalbard duo!

Mathilde came out of the cockpit asking “Do you see a boat just ahead of us?” I took the binoculars and answered: “No, I see nothing, just Isbukta, our next anchorage and nothing else.”

She seemed puzzled, got back in, then out again, took the binoculars from me muttering “there must be a boat! And it’s called ALBEDO.” The AIS tracker says so, but none of us could see it. So, for a while we kept scanning the horizon for the ghost boat, looking again through the binoculars. I suspect it might be a rowboat, without a mast. And as we approach Isbukta, along the Spitsbergen coast, we finally saw a small orange speck in the waves. We dropped the sails, put the engine on and decided to approach. Another surprising encounter was ahead of us.

After more than a week without any other human encounter, we had stumbled across ALBEDO, the Row Around Svalbard project of two Swedish kayakers: Glenn, who is also a biologist and former journalist, and Soren, a professional adventurer. They were visibly exhausted after 22 days of incessant rowing, in shifts of 2 hours, often in harsh conditions, only eating dry food and energy bars, with their sleeping bags and pillows constantly wet.

As we pulled up to their boat, I thought to offer them half of a pizza we had just made on board. It was fresh out of the oven and their eyes went wide, smiles larger than their faces. They were 15 miles away from where they started 22 days ago, finally closing their loop around Svalbard. Glenn had a broken rib, but we encourage them to complete their expedition and meet us again the next day, after our anchorage in Isbukta.

And so we did. They rowwed past Nanuq, in their 2m by 7m rowboat especially built for their extraordinary feat.

The next morning, Nanuq was woken up by their radio call. ALBEDO had made it! The duo has  completed a 1200 km circle around the Svalbard archipelago and was now rowing back towards us, pushed by favourable current – for once! – and requiring assistance. Glenn’s broken rib needed to be addressed. It had been a problem for a few of days, and he couldn’t keep taking morphine to keep rowing. I will not easily forget the moment our captain welcomed Glenn on board and they shook hands, both sets of blue eyes sparkling with emotion! Soren would stay on ALBEDO – with a smile of his own, happy to be tugged along by Nanuq in the remarkable swell.

We greeted Glenn with Parma ham, Italian parmigiano cheese (which he welcomed as “pure gold”) and a hot tea. We couldn’t help but bombard him with questions about the expedition they just completed. We wanted to know everything about their extraordinary vessel and their objectives… only to discover that ALBEDO has a lot in common with Polarquest2018!

The PolarQuest2018 team, out on the Zodiac for an expedition on land.

Their main goal is to promote four of the seventeen goals for sustainable development agreed in 2015 by 193 world leaders: water, climate, energy and marine life.  All along their 2500 km circuit – which they started in July 2017 from Tromso to Longyearbyen, and then stopped because of ice to restart 22 days ago – they’ve been producing educational material for schools in Sweden and having regular satellite phone calls with schools reaching out to 1000 pupils. The boat is equipped with solar panels to recharge lithium batteries feeding a sea water desalinator and their satellite phones, so they are self sufficient with electricity and drinking water.

For the rest, it’s just energy bars and dry food. No toilets, no shower and just enough space to lie down on a wet mattress when not rowing. Of course, they also had along the compulsory hunting rifle and flare pistols – plus a secret weapon as defence against polar bear attacks: “We haven’t seen one,” Glen said disappointed. “But if had we, I would have first tried to scare them away wearing my fake walrus tusks and making a lot of noise.” He is not joking.

When we finally anchor in Hornsund, after hours of motoring in the rough seas, Soren finally emerges from the small window of their boat and boards Nanuq without any signs of the shaking he underwent. He knows about Airship ITALIA and is very interested about our expedition. When I tell him it was a Swede who rescued Umberto Nobile from the drifting ice, he says “and now you are rescuing me!” He is a professional adventurer. His toughest expedition: 55 days in a forest with just a knife and no food. His wildest: 2 months on a desserted island in Lofoten with 2 horses, a tent and no food, to satisfy his 11 year old daughter’s wish (of course, she was with him).

I asked him what was the worst moment of this expedition was, and they both agreed the crossing of the Hinlopen strait was really tough. They had to row against 50 knot winds and huge cold waves. The funniest moment, for Soren, was when Glenn tried to anchor on what looked like a rock but turned out to be a walrus, which of course jumped out of the water in great noise showing him his tusks, luckily sparing them from an attack!

And so we end the evening on board Nanuq, sharing 2 kg of spaghetti carbonara and Montepulciano d Abruzzo, with more stories of present past and future adventures.

Follow Nanuq’s position, using the live tracker above!

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