12-Jul-2009 – 124 passengers and 120 crew members were on their way on the Russian ice breaker “50 Let Pobedy” (“50 Лет Победы”, “50 Years of Victory”) to visit the Confluence Point 90°N.
We departed at Murmansk in the Russian Arctic and headed north towards our primary objective. But during the voyage in the Barents Sea our expedition leader Jan Bryde had a special announcement for us: "Russia has closed the North Pole on the particular day when we expect to arrive”. The Russian Forces wanted to perform a kind of operation or experiment and did not like any spectators. Our Russian Captain suggested to slow down in order to arrive one day later, but our expedition leader had another plan: set course to Franz Joseph Land (Земля Франца-Иосифа) and visit the remote archipelago.
The course changed and lectures about the archipelago were held. It was discovered by an Austro-Hungarian Arctic expedition in 1873 and was named after the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and King.
The archipelago consists of about 191 islands and belongs to Russia. No indigenous people live there and also nowadays only a few scientists populate the islands. Located between 80°N and 82°N, the islands have an Arctic climate, no trees or shrub, lots of glaciers and a few patches of tundra with permafrost. On the other hand there is a lot of wildlife: birds, walruses, whales, polar foxes and polar bears.
After we got this information, our lecturer Mr. Robert Headland, a subject of the Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, posted pictures of the Kaiser and König Franz Josef on the walls of the bar. I must admit, I really liked this very British habit.
Our ship headed towards Cape Tegetthoff, named after the expedition ship, which was named after the famous Austrian admiral. When we approached the archipelago, the fog and clouds disappeared and the sun shone over the ice.
Everybody was on the deck when land was sighted. I had my GPS receiver with me and observed that we would likely pass the Confluence Point 80°N 58°E. The course the steering man took lead straight to the point and I was in high expectations to get the first Confluence Point on this archipelago. But then the unexpected happened: polar bears were spotted and the ship altered the course to get closer. But the consequence of polar bear watching was that we missed the Confluence Point by exactly 1 kilometer. I – and certainly you – will never understand why polar bears are more important than Confluence Points ;-). However at this time we did not know that we would see a total of 20 polar bears on the entire journey.
Later we landed by helicopter on Hall Island (also: Gallya Island, Остров Галля) close to Cape Tegetthoff, and could see the typical two needles of the cape.
There is also a historic site on the cape: Walter Wellmann built a hut in the 19th century during one of his multiple attempts to reach the North Pole.
As you can see in the photos we had a splendid sunny day, which is unusual here. Thus our expedition leader Jan thanked the Russian military that they forced us to visit Franz Josef Land on this sunny day.
We continued our journey through the archipelago, landed also on Rudolf Island (Остров Рудольфа), the northernmost island of Franz Josef Land, and later passed the Confluence Point 83° 60°E on our way to the North Pole.