Arc­tic sail­ing ship with on board gar­den is eco hero

Europe’s largest wooden schooner is of­fer­ing sus­tain­able mini ex­pe­di­tion cruises in Sval­bard. Sarah Mar­shall sets sail on the S/V Lin­den

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - TRAVEL -

Whistling, red­heads and ba­nanas are all con­sid­ered bad luck at sea. A new ad­di­tion to that list of mar­itime su­per­sti­tions is soil. “I had to sneak these on board,” whis­pers ex­pe­di­tion leader Mette Eliseussen as she furtively shuf­fles plas­tic sacks of com­post be­low deck on sail­ing ship S/V Lin­den.

Reg­is­ter­ing my con­fu­sion, she nods her head know­ingly and adds: “It’s be­cause Drac­ula had to sleep in his own soil.”

As far as I can tell, there are no blood­suck­ers on board, so her cryp­tic ex­pla­na­tion leaves me none the wiser.

Swish­ing around with for­eign soil on land, how­ever, is of jus­ti­fi­able con­cern; a frag­ile ecosys­tem func­tion­ing far above the Arc­tic Cir­cle, the Sval­bard ar­chi­pel­ago is at daily risk from in­va­sive species.

In re­al­ity, very lit­tle grows in this hos­tile land­scape of spiky moun­tains, mon­strous glaciers and frozen deserts. At sea, how­ever, it’s a dif­fer­ent story.

Cul­ti­vat­ing mi­cro­greens and veg­eta­bles in a float­ing gar­den is part of the S/V Lin­den team’s big­ger plan to op­er­ate sus­tain­ably in the Arc­tic. Char­tered by Sval­bard-based tour op­er­a­tor Base­camp Ex­plorer, the clas­sic wooden schooner is run­ning en­vi­ron­men­tally con­scious mini cruises along the fjords and coast­line of largest is­land Spits­ber­gen.

“They thought I was mad when I sug­gested the idea, but if we want to be self-suf­fi­cient, we need to grow our own food,” says crew mem­ber Den­nis Lyn­gso as he clips sev­eral sprigs of pars­ley to be used as a gar­nish at lunch.

Built in the Aland Is­lands in 1993, three-masted Lin­den is a replica of a 1920s ves­sel orig­i­nally pur­posed for train­ing sailors in nav­i­ga­tion. Com­puter radar sys­tems have since been in­stalled, al­though it’s still pos­si­ble to steer man­u­ally with a com­pass.

Mea­sur­ing 49.5me­tres, it’s the largest wooden schooner in Europe, with an ice-strength­ened hull to tackle Sval­bard’s Slush Pup­pie wa­ters. Owner Ras­mus Ja­cob­sen, a Dan­ish en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and com­mer­cial ship owner who first vis­ited Sval­bard 12 years ago, has in­vited me on a week­end voy­age, de­part­ing from Longyear­byen, Spits­ber­gen’s only ur­ban metropo­lis, trav­el­ling along the Is­fjord and into the Green­land Sea.

“I don’t have the fuel power to go far north, but I do of­fer some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he says, nose lifted to the wind. “I’m a prac­ti­cal per­son and I like to see how ideas can work to­gether.”

The key­stone of his game­plan is sus­tain­abil­ity in the Arc­tic, sail­ing wher­ever pos­si­ble and car­bon off­set­ting any nec­es­sary fuel usage. Con­fi­dent we have enough nat­u­ral power to forge for­ward, he or­ders the deck­hands — and pas­sen­gers — to un­furl all 11 sails.

Tug­ging at a heavy rope, I help hoist Lin­den’s snow-white wings, which flut­ter like an­gels un­til, taut, they glide like a flock of al­ba­tross el­e­gantly skim­ming the sea.

Hav­ing hur­riedly se­cured ropes around wooden pins, we tidily wind any sur­plus into snakey coils on deck, while ex­pe­ri­enced sailors com­mu­ni­cate through a lan­guage of in­tri­cate loops and knots. Lungs fully in­flated, Lin­den slices through gen­tle waves and even­tu­ally set­tles into a dreamy, slum­ber­ing breeze.

“When sail­ing, you start to feel the pace,” ex­plains Ras­mus as we drift past a con­certina of snowy ridges streaked by the mid-May sun. “At first, you are fast with ex­cite­ment and then you slow down; you move at the pace of the en­vi­ron­ment around you.”

Ap­pre­ci­at­ing the calm be­fore any storm, I seize an op­por­tu­nity to climb the rig­ging to the crow’s nest. I’m fully har­nessed with a metal cara­biner, al­though not once do I feel the need to clip it on. In­stead, I hang from the tip of the mast sur­vey­ing the deep blue around me, elated by the wind in my own sails.

Only news of lunch can lure me back down to deck: del­i­cate slices of rye bread dec­o­rated with ed­i­ble flow­ers, served along­side beer bread made with Longyear­byen-brewed stout.

Car­ry­ing just 12 guests, Lin­den doesn’t need to book land­ing sites, mean­ing itin­er­ar­ies can be flex­i­ble and en­coun­ters are al­ways in­ti­mate. Dur­ing our visit to a wal­rus colony at Poolepyn­ten penin­sula on Prins Karls For­land is­land, for ex­am­ple, not a sin­gle ship passes by.

Hulk­ing mounds of blub­ber cre­ate a chaos of flip­pers as the an­i­mals grunt and lock tusks, jostling for a com­fort­able po­si­tion in a hud­dle on­shore. Ex­hausted, the flabby pin­nipeds roll lazily into the surf, where a trans­for­ma­tion oc­curs; in a fluid world, these beasts be­come beau­ties, mov­ing like mer­maids and whistling more hyp­not­i­cally than the Sirens of an­cient Greece.

Paus­ing our foot-shuf­fling, we savour the melodic melt­ing of ice, the peal­ing laugh­ter of lit­tle auks and ghostly screeches from Arc­tic foxes, who are nowhere to be a seen.

Dwarfed by our own clumsy, racket-shaped hol­lows, paw prints are the only ev­i­dence these tun­dra na­tives were ever here.

SMOOTH SAIL­ING: The S/V Lin­den was built in the Aland Is­lands in 1993

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