By Mike Haynes
In 1983 with the Polar Exploration Group advance party of Ian Frearson and Chris ‘RIP’ Garner, we were on board the chartered ship Plancius heading out from Longyearbyen, West towards six weeks in Tempelfjorden. Also on board were the two tonnes of expedition resources and research equipment that had been freighted out to Svalbard for the main expedition.
Little did we know that as we headed into the forepeak to change out of our travel clothes and into our arctic gear, the crew seemingly had set the automatic pilot on a course and either left the bridge or chose not to check where the ship was heading. As we were getting changed we were suddenly thrown from our feet as Plancius came to a juddering stop and grabbing life jackets, we dashed through the bulkhead and up the companion way to emerge on deck as quickly as we could.
The ship had struck a reef of rocks which could be easily seen in the clear arctic water from the bow and she was aground and listing hard to port within sight of Longyearbyen.As we were on a rising tide, the Sysselmann’s vessel Polar Star came to the assistance of the Plancius and after we had disembarked in tenders, a tow rope was made fast and the Plancius was freed and able to make it’s own way back to Longyearbyen.
As we later discovered, the rocks were indicated on the land maps of the area as ‘Rocks Awash’ which at low tides, they would be.After inspection by a diver, the Plancius was deemed fit to steam for repairs and our expedition plans had to be reset – of which more another time.