Our next stop, Magdelena Fjord, boasts the closest thing to a fully protected anchorage Svalbard offers. There is a sandy hook forming a natural breakwater, with good holding in mud and sand. It was one of the favorite anchorages for whalers during the past 300 years. Numerous graves give evidence to how tough that life was. There are four tidewater glaciers in the vicinity, and the scenery is as spectacular as anything we have seen in a lifetime of cruising.
This is a government outpost. A cabin houses two rangers in the summer, an isolated, coveted position. The rangers come by to check our papers and we invite them aboard for a home-cooked meal.
Everywhere these two men travel they are prepared for the worst. From dry suits worn in the dinghy (the norm for everyone in small boats here) to rifles, high-powered pistols, and heavy-duty flare guns, it is evident they respect the king of the food chain. When we inquire about the chances of seeing a bear in Magdelena, they reply that they have not seen one all summer.
The next day dawns with brilliant blue skies and we take the dinghy ashore to explore. Arctic terns fly about our heads, daring us to try to find their nests. The black-and-white scenery is framed by dark blue sky and darker water. We step carefully, avoiding the tiny, beautiful flowers which eke out an existence during the short summer.
Our new friends, the rangers, are off counting reindeer (a subspecies of caribou) and we have Magdelena Fjord to ourselves. Joe is a little uncomfortable with the rocky terrain around the beach. He points out what good cover this would give a hungry polar bear, and we are a quarter of a mile from the dinghy. Even though there have been no sightings this summer, we head back.
Until 20 years ago, you were not allowed to carry firearms when ashore. Then a camper was taken from his tent right here in Magdelena, and eaten on the ice just off the beach, in full view of his helpless friends. The government changed their rules on self defense.
Two weeks after our visit, three yachts are in Magedelena. One of the crews is walking on shore. Another has climbed the mast for a photograph, and he suddenly yells to get the attention of the folks ashore. When they do not respond, his partner jumps into their dinghy and roars off to the beach. The photographer aloft has spotted a polar bear swimming ashore and all concerned beat a hasty retreat.
2124. Our Furuno GPS Says 80° 00.2’N.
We’ve made it! The leads are still open, but the west wind has now increased to 15 knots, and though we’re tempted to push even closer, we are concerned that the ice behind us may close. Wind Horse has come within 598 miles of the North Pole and we feel on top of the world.