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Cruise Day 5 - engine trouble, hot tub, polar bear, BBQ

View In the Realm of the Ice Bear - Svalbard 2023 on Grete Howard's travel map.

At 04:30, the change of engine sound stirs me out of my slumber, and the sudden sound of an alarm finishes the rude awakening. I try to remember what we were told at the initial briefing about the number of times the bell rings means. Wasn't five bells the warning call that we have to evacuate? I open the porthole hatch and look out. We are still moving. Surely if we were to abandon ship, it would stop first. I listen out for urgent human calls but hear only muffled voices, too quiet to be able to establish what they are saying. A few minutes later the bell goes again, but this time it rings three times. I surmise that it is the engineer's alarm, and go back to bed but still keep an ear out for any calls.

Two hours later the alarm goes off again with three rings, followed by a single call a few minutes later. This time I all but ignore it, and fall into a deep sleep. It doesn't seem like I have been asleep for more than a few minutes when my alarm clock goes off at 07:00. I feel groggy and a little nauseous. David feels the same and goes up on deck to get some fresh air while I get dressed.

Engine Trouble

David ascertains from the captain and engineer that cooling fluid was leaking into one of the cylinders, and the centrifuge that separates water from the oil was giving off white smoke which set off the alarm earlier. Three out of the four non-return valves are working fine, but they are unsure which one isn't. We are now heading for somewhere safe to anchor so that they can fix the problem.

We head for a calm fjord called Beverley Sound, for Origo to throw anchor. There is not a great deal to see outside, so it is time for me to catch up on blog writing.

After a couple of hours Viktor, the ship's engineer, comes along to give us the thumbs up, having replaced a part, and tells us that "it's now working but no guarantees". Apparently, he has replaced this once before, fairly recently, so if it goes again, he is threatening to sue the company.

He gives anyone interested a guided tour of the engine room, also known as The Dungeon.

The 'Dungeon' sign on the door to the engine room

Hot tub party

For the rest of the morning, we sit on the top deck, watching the ice floes, mountains, gulls, skuas, clouds, Ellen and Gustav (the kitchen/serving staff) knitting, and the hot-tubbers. Most people were not aware that there is a hot tub onboard, as it doesn't mention it in the information from AWT, but some, like me, had done a little research about the ship before we came. Both David and I chose not to bring bathing costumes, however, as we don't feel the need to go in – I am happy just to watch (and photograph) Jackie, Karen, and Ian (and later Sabrina) soak in 40 °C while watching the Arctic scenery. They certainly enjoy it though.


Despite there being a mere 2 °C outside, it feels lovely and warm up there – at least the side that faces the sun. I start by taking my gloves off, then a short while later the hat comes off, followed by the thick coat. Even then I am feeling the heat, and I end up sunning myself in a short-sleeved top. As soon as we get out from the shelter of the fjord, it doesn't feel quite so cosy anymore. On comes the fleece, followed by the reverse order of the undressing until I am back to where I started – looking like a polar explorer. Oh, wait... I guess I am a polar explorer right now.


We return to the warmth of the mess for lunch and a bit of downtime, before returning to the top deck for more photos of ice floes and birds. Again we zigzag through the ice, avoiding as many of the frozen pieces as we can; leaving behind a clear path of our journey. The displaced ice floes slowly return to take up their old place in the pattern of nature, albeit that some of them are now broken in two or more, with the ship creating an obvious straight cut in the floes it collides with, as it just crashes through the ice with the same ease as crumbling a lump of Cheddar cheese. I love watching the power of the old girl.

The sun glistening on the water

Bird chaos


Northern Fulmar

Kittiwake with fish


Glaucous Gulls

Kittiwake seemingly flying upside down

Kittiwake with fish

Bear No. 10

After some time I start to feel the cold, and the lack of sleep from last night, so we retire to the cabin for a little nap. The next thing I know is an urgent knock on the door: "Polar Bear", prepare for the zodiacs".


It was a new record for me today: from sleep to Zodiac in five minutes. I am really getting into the swing of climbing down that ladder and into the boat now. We quickly fill up the zodiacs and head off towards where the bear was last seen. By this time the bear has dived into the water, and we initially see him swimming along for quite a long distance.



Enthusiastic photographers on board

We stay just 15 to 20 minutes with this bear, as it is obvious he is not interested. Again Origo has followed us to make it easier to go back on the ship; and on the way we rescue a large orange object left floating in the sea. Not sure what it is, or where it came from, but it shouldn't be here, that's for sure.


MS Origo

The other photographers photographing us photographing them

Gustav makes us another couple of versions of Rum Sour as we sit and look at photos before dinner.


Tonight Ulf has prepared a BBQ on the top deck, with some deliciously spicy sausages, lamb chops, and chicken, plus pasta, potatoes, and salads. Gustav and Ellen have set up a small bar and serve a complimentary fruit punch too.

Ulf cooking sausages

Vide and José

Johannes, the captain, and Viktor, the ship's engineer

The bar

Even while eating sausages Svein is on the lookout for wildlife

Complimentary fruit punch

Jeanette and David looking for bears

The food so far on this cruise has been really good, and the BBQ is no exception


For dessert, there is rhubarb crumble. Yum!


Such an amazing experience to enjoy grilled food, a nice drink, and this scenery with new-found friends.



Bear Alert

We return to the saloon to warm up, and just as we are all getting cosy and thinking of going to bed, we get another bear alert. We all pile on the bow deck, but as it is the same disinterested bear as before, we decide not to pursue it.

This time we really do go to bed. We have been warned of some turbulence in the night as we hit various ice floes along the way, so I want to make sure I am in a horizontal position before that happens. When the ship stops a couple of hours later, the engineer alarm sounds, and the engine switches off, we fear the worst – what has broken now? We hear lots of knocking and banging in the night, but no more alarms.

Thank you to Arctic Wildlife Tours for this incredible adventure.


Posted by Grete Howard 16:15 Archived in Svalbard Tagged birds wildlife zodiac ice cruise bbq icebergs gulls arctic sunbathing polar_bear sausages fulmar hot_tub kittiwake origo adventure_cruise ms_origo ice_floes arctic_wildlife arctic_wildlife_tours arctic_safari engine_trouble beverly_sound the_dungeon hot_tub_party pack_ice photographic_safari rhubarb_crumble rum_sour

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Is that orange thing you picked up from the sea a flotation buoy? Isn't the immersion suits box a safety equipment box and not meant to be used as a bar table?

by Aadil Desai

We were not sure what it was, some sort of research thing, apparently. It had a glass globe inside.

There were more than enough life vests and flotation suits (enough for 50 people in total, I believe, and we were just 23 including crew) in other containers - although it wouldn't have taken much to move the bar stuff off either if they were needed.

by Grete Howard

Grete what an incredible adventure and such amazing experiences. Your photos are fabulous along with the great descriptions of your days.

by Benice Cooper (née Harris)

Thank you so much for your kind comments Benice, it truly was an adventure of a lifetime. ♥

by Grete Howard

Wonderful bear photos again, even if he wasn't very interested in posing for you Love the birds too, especially the somersaulting kittiwake and the ones with fish. What do you think would be the shortest zoom you could get away with to get decent photos of the bears? As you know, I'm not into carrying heavy equipment so don't own a DSLR but my Lumix is usually fine for land-based wildlife.

by ToonSarah

Thank you, Sarah. x

As for the size of Zoom, it is hard to say. It depends on the sighting and how close you can get to the bear. Some of the images I took were at 840mm and cropped afterwards, whereas the shortest focal length I used was 188mm. The vast majority of my images - including all those here - were taken at 560mm. The ones on this page did not need cropping.

by Grete Howard

That's helpful, thanks Grete :) I can get close to that with my bridge camera (optical zoom equivalent to 480mm in 35mm format) so should be able to get decent shots. Now I just need to persuade Chris!!

by ToonSarah

That should absolutely do it, Sarah. David was not that keen to go in the first place, not being a photographer, but went along with me because he is such a nice man. ♥ Asking him afterwards if he thought it was worth it, and knowing what we know now, would he have booked it... his answer was a resounding "YESSS", We both thought it was worth all and any discomfort to get so close to the animals.

You can, of course, go on a bigger ship (friends of ours went on a 118-passenger vessel and absolutely loved it), and there are pros and cons. With a small ship you can get out into the zodiacs way quicker with just 12 passengers (2 zodiacs), rather than over 100 passengers with 20 zodiacs (if they even had that many, maybe they alternated who could go out, I don't know). Also, the lowest deck of the smaller ship is very much lower than that of the larger ones, meaning you get a better angle for photography.

by Grete Howard

All very useful info Grete. I suspect if ever I do persuade Chris he will want a slightly more comfortable experience but let's see ...
By the way, despite ticking the box to me notified of future comments, it isn't working, so if I miss any of your replies or am slow to respond, it doesn't mean I'm not interested. I'm having to revisit the posts to check!

by ToonSarah

it is getting boring to say, but still loving all the pictures!

by Ils1976

Thank it really kind of you to say, Ils, thank you ♥

by Grete Howard

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