Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure, Day 11: Stuck in Longyearbyen

Fog Shuts Down Svalbard … And Silversea Rises to the Challenge

Stuck in the fog aboard Silver Explorer tonight. The fog has almost become an entity in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Stuck in the fog aboard Silver Explorer tonight. The fog has almost become an entity in its own right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Sunday, July 12, 2015

This morning, guests aboard Silversea Expeditions’ Silver Explorer disembarked our adventuresome expedition ship in Longyearbyen, Svalbard. We bid the crew – our friends – farewell. We shook hands. We descended the gangway. We left Silver Explorer, and our voyage, behind us – in the past.

Little did we know that six hours later, we’d be back onboard having lunch in The Restaurant.

Silversea provides every guest with a fantastic overview of their expedition...but our real adventure is just beginning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Silversea provides every guest with a fantastic overview of their expedition…but our real adventure is just beginning! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Following our tour of a foggy Longyearbyen, we made our way to the postage-stamp-sized Longyearbyen Airport. As we pulled up, some bad news: Expedition Team Member Kit came over the bus intercom to tell us our incoming charter SAS flight was delayed in Oslo by at least an hour.

Still, our hopes were buoyed when we came into the airport and were told by SAS staff that the flight “was expected to land any moment.” So, we got our boarding passes, checked our luggage, went through security, and waited.

Silversea gives disembarking guests a full tour of Longyearbyen before their transfer to the airport for their onward charter flight to Oslo. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Silversea gives disembarking guests a full tour of Longyearbyen before their transfer to the airport for their onward charter flight to Oslo. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For those who think I have a dream job, consider this: I’m supposed to be in Amsterdam tonight for a river cruise that embarks tomorrow, for 15 nights on the Danube. So I used my time at the airport to access the internet and start looking at my options. I figure my hotel stay in Amsterdam can get scrapped; it’s looking unlikely I’ll make my connecting KLM flight. I hit cancel just as Expedition Team member Kit magically came over the airport’s PA system.

Longyearbyen used to be a big mining town...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Longyearbyen used to be a big mining town…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...used to be. This equipment was left here when the mine shut down in the 1980's, and hasn't moved since. I'm endlessly fascinated with this place. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…used to be. This equipment was left here when the mine shut down in the 1980’s, and hasn’t moved since. I’m endlessly fascinated with this place. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
More abandoned mining operations. Because of the age of the building, the entire site is protected as a National Historic Site of Svalbard. It'll remain here forever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
More abandoned mining operations. Because of the age of the building, the entire site is protected as a National Historic Site of Svalbard. It’ll remain here forever. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Longyearbyen almost doesn't seem real, like something out of a video game or a science fiction movie. And we get to spend some unexpected time here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Longyearbyen almost doesn’t seem real, like something out of a video game or a science fiction movie. And we get to spend some unexpected time here. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

The inbound charter flight had been diverted to Tromso because of the heavy fog here in Longyearbyen. At best, it would make it here with a six-hour delay, meaning the earliest we could possibly get out would be 6:00 p.m. It was announced that we’d be leaving the airport, claiming our luggage, and returning to the ship – where lunch was prepared and waiting for us.

Now, Longyearbyen is a cute town. But it’s like the cute town that time forgot. And given the harsh polar climates, sometimes the thinking of the locals in places like this ain’t quite right. This was the case at Longyearbyen Airport, where they’d pulled half of the guests’ luggage from the belt and had sat it on the floor. I found my grey Hey’s hard sided case waiting for me, but numerous guests weren’t so lucky.

It is said that no one is born or dies on Svalbard. Expectant mothers almost always fly to the mainland to give birth, while bodies cannot be buried here anymore due to the permafrost. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It is said that no one is born or dies on Svalbard. Expectant mothers almost always fly to the mainland to give birth, while bodies cannot be buried here anymore due to the permafrost. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Useful in the winter, less so in the summer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Useful in the winter, less so in the summer. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Large blocks of dormatory-style apartments make up the bulk of homes in Longyearbyen. Colours are not chosen randomly; the city has approval over all exterior colours, which must match the earth-tones of the land. Green, seen here, isn't allowed any more on new buildings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Large blocks of dormatory-style apartments make up the bulk of homes in Longyearbyen. Colours are not chosen randomly; the city has approval over all exterior colours, which must match the earth-tones of the land. Green, seen here, isn’t allowed any more on new buildings. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Thirty or so of us got on the first bus transfer back to the ship. The Silver Explorer is literally down the hill from the airport – but we can’t walk there. Why not? We’re in polar bear country, of course! And as the airport is technically outside the city limits, you need a gun in order to walk the three kilometres that separate ship and airport.

The other sixty or so…not so lucky. Their luggage took over an hour to come off the belt. And what was the issue causing this massive delay? Someone forgot to turn it on. Follow me, if you will, as I hum the first few bars of the theme to Deliverance.

Coach tour to the end of the Earth! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Coach tour to the end of the Earth! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

We, meanwhile, returned to the ship and enjoyed cocktails in the Panorama Lounge before Executive Chef Pia made us a nice welcome lunch – that was, of course, intended for the embarking guests but which was moved up time-wise so we could enjoy it. And here I though lunch would be an expensive can of Pringles potato chips on SAS!

While we’re doing all this, Expedition Leader Juan came over the PA with some bad news: the flight from Oslo has been cancelled, so our departure from Longyearbyen was scrapped for the day. We’d be spending the night onboard Silver Explorer.

For the guests, this is a huge win. For the crew – this is a nightmare.

The only traffic sign in the world to sport a black background: polar bears are possible from this point on. Guns must be carried. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The only traffic sign in the world to sport a black background: polar bears are possible from this point on. Guns must be carried. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Consider this: the entire accounting and passenger management system has to be re-programmed to fit in our special “voyage.” New keycards have to be printed, on short notice, for 102 guests. The luggage that was just offloaded this morning has to be trucked back here from the airport. The tide isn’t high enough to open the ship’s shell doors, meaning each piece has to be manually hauled up a steep gangway to the Deck 5 embarkation point. And Silversea guests have a lot of luggage.

The Expedition team, meanwhile, has to figure out what to do for the rest of the day to keep guests entertained and happy. They have to liaise with the ground operators to secure some kind of transportation for us, and contact Silversea headquarters as well as representatives from SAS to find out what will happen next with the charter flight.

The surprisingly-fabulous North Pole Expedition Museum in Longyearbyen...Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
The surprisingly-fabulous North Pole Expedition Museum in Longyearbyen…Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
...outlines the journeys of explorers like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and S.A. Andree. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
…outlines the journeys of explorers like Roald Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen, and S.A. Andree. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Like Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen really got around in the early 1900's. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Like Amundsen, Fridtjof Nansen really got around in the early 1900’s. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
For all his accomplishments - claiming the North and South Poles for Norway and discovering the Northwest Passage - Roald Amundsen went missing in the Arctic in 1928. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
For all his accomplishments – claiming the North and South Poles for Norway and discovering the Northwest Passage – Roald Amundsen went missing in the Arctic in 1928. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A piece of fabric from S.A. Andree's (in)famous "Ice Balloon." Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
A piece of fabric from S.A. Andree’s (in)famous “Ice Balloon.” Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Butlers and suite attendants have to remove the personalized stationary, backpacks, polar jackets, specialized alcohol, and other amenities from the suites to return them to their original state.

We have pressures, too, of course. People have places to be, flights to catch, things to do. But I personally think they pale in comparison to what the crew have to go through now: a period of indecision and uncertainty. And uncertainty is sometimes a productivity and morale killer.

Police? Note the snowmobile tracks leading into the garage on the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Police? Note the snowmobile tracks leading into the garage on the right. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Aware that the lack of internet and phone service onboard the ship due to satellite connectivity posed an issue, Silversea arranged bus transportation into the center of Longyearbyen. The caveat: we’d have to leave at 5:30pm and proceed to our anchorage. So all aboard was set at 5:30p.m.

Still, that gave me two hours in town to send out as many emails as I could. I rebooked my KLM flight to Amsterdam for tomorrow evening and felt pretty secure in that decision. For $125 change fee, it’s a small price compared with purchasing a new ticket.

At 5:30pm, I returned on the last shuttle bus to the ship. I embarked, got my new keycard, and moved in to my old suite that I’d vacated this morning. It was an odd feeling, to be sure, to be back so soon.

Back Again! I return to Suite 704 shortly after lunch. It's a little odd to be back after you've left, but I can't complain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Back Again! I return to Suite 704 shortly after lunch. It’s a little odd to be back after you’ve left, but I can’t complain. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Still, guests were in a jovial mood as we set sail to our overnight anchorage. I took my laptop to the lounge, ordered a beer, and sat down to write about our “series of unfortunate events.”

At 6:22pm, Expedition Leader Juan came over the public address system to deliver some more double-edged sword news: SAS has made the decision to cancel tomorrow’s flight to Oslo as well. The airline says the earliest they can get us out of Longyearbyen is Tuesday morning – but that it could be as late as Wednesday evening before we reach Oslo. This has some fairly adventurous consequences for yours truly, as I’m supposed to be in Amsterdam tomorrow for the start of my next voyage aboard a river cruise ship. That won’t be happening. The best I can hope for now is to join in Cologne on Wednesday – and how I will get there is still up in the air. But I see images of the John Candy movie, Planes, Trains and Automobiles

New dinner menus were even printed - note the date and location. Silversea's Silver Explorer crew have worked themselves to the bone for us, and their dedication hasn't gone unnoticed.
New dinner menus were even printed – note the date and location. Silversea’s Silver Explorer crew have worked themselves to the bone for us, and their dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Back again. Bon appetite! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Back again. Bon appetite! Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

However, the weather is the root cause of this. It cannot be helped, and Silversea is at the mercy of SAS and their ability to offer the Boeing 737 charter flight service to Oslo’s Gardermoen Airport. And this isn’t something SAS wants to get wrong; Norway’s worst-ever air disaster occurred in 1996 when a Russian Tupolev TU-154M crashed on approach to Longyearbyen Airport due to poor weather and crew disorientation.

Tomorrow, we will be at anchor here in Longyearbyen as there are no available berths for us. Imagine that! Longyearbyen – the town that typifies the phrase “barren wasteland” – is full with cruise ships tomorrow. Incredible!

Zodiacs continually carried crew members to and from shore throughout the night as they enjoyed some time off and worked to change flights by using the town's Wi-Fi. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Zodiacs continually carried crew members to and from shore throughout the night as they enjoyed some time off and worked to change flights by using the town’s Wi-Fi. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

So, Silversea will offer continuous shuttle service by zodiac to and from the Silver Explorer and Longyearbyen throughout the day tomorrow so guests can go ashore, do some shopping, and make use of local communications services.

Add to that another step the crew now have to do: print new daily programs for tomorrow. Re-stock suites with more toiletries. Re-set fruit baskets. The work required of them is ongoing and endless, and they are absolutely rising to the challenge in every conceivable way.

What’s interesting is how many guests have expressed concern for those who were supposed to embark today. We know this cuts down on their cruise, and that they are spending a few more unscheduled Radisson nights in Oslo. We’re very aware we’re getting the better end of this deal; it’s really no hardship to be “stuck” aboard a five-star luxury vessel for two more unscheduled nights.

But, the bar's still serving cocktails, so how bad off are we really? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
But, the bar’s still serving cocktails, so how bad off are we really? Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silversea is also helping to assist guests who, like myself, rebooked their flights this afternoon. It’s very generous, and nice of them to do. I also think it’s appropriate – but I have no idea how they’ll do it. We have no internet or phone access. In town, only the airport and one café have Wi-Fi.

But the ones working the hardest are, as always the crew, including the Expedition Team. They, like us, had shifted gears this morning, preparing for another voyage. Another set of guests. Another hundred-odd names to memorize and faces to remember. Instead, they got this band of miscreants back for another round!

It's as quiet onboard Silver Explorer tonight as it is out on deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
It’s as quiet onboard Silver Explorer tonight as it is out on deck. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

For me, I can’t complain. Sure, I’m worried about how I’ll get to my river cruise. I’m perturbed I can’t use the phone or the internet, and I have no idea whether I now need to fly to Amsterdam or Cologne, Germany. It’s going to cost me money – that much I know. But you know what? That’s life.

In a way, I am glad this has happened. I get to see firsthand what Silversea’s response to a major issue is. And I have to admit I am impressed: they’ve handled this Plan B (I hear Plan C is also in the works, in case) with the same grace and effortlessness that they conducted themselves over the past 10 days, working through confusion, exhaustion, and a lack of information from SAS.

We’re all in uncharted waters here – and we’re all in this together. So let’s see how Part 2 of our adventure goes!

Pea-soup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders
Pea-soup. Photo © 2015 Aaron Saunders

Silver Explorer Arctic Adventure | Live Voyage Report

Day 1Arrival in Oslo
Day 2Embarking Silver Explorer in Tromsø
Day 3Bear Island
Day 4Burgerbukta, Svalbard
Day 5Magdalenafjorden
Day 6Adventures at the Polar Ice Cap
Day 7Torellneset and the Ice Blink
Day 8Hiking Fakesvagen
Day 9Polar Bear Hunting
Day 10The Abandoned Settlement of Ny London
Day 11Longyearbyen, Fog, and An Extension of Our Voyage
Day 12Longyearbyen! Embracing Delays
Voyage Recap

Like this article?

Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on Linkdin
Share on pinterest
Share on Pinterest

Our latest articles

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *