Nigel Spencer – Journey To The Arctic


Nigel Spencer ‘Journey To The Arctic’

With a title including journey and Arctic you know you are in for a special talk. And, so it proved, with guest speaker Nigel Spencer. An avid walker and climber, having completed over 200 Munros, Nigel became interested in photography as an extension to his outdoor activities. Catching the remote landscapes and the wildlife he would come upon.

Nigel who hails from Leicestershire, now an accomplished wildlife photographer, entertains clubs across the country with talks on his journeys and images. Nigel’s Journey to the Arctic was a 7-week expedition aboard the Havsel. The boat itself has an interesting life. Originally a trawler, it then became used for hunting in the Northern extent of Norway, before completing its transformation, for hire as a more environmentally friendly means of transporting film crews and photographers around the islands which make up Svalbard. This includes filming for Blue Planet and programmes by Gordon Buchannan.

The Havsel is 100’ long and as a converted trawler there was plenty storage space for both kit and food they took with them. Food is expensive in Norway, in Svalbard it is twice as much. Carrying around 75000 litres of fuel, the Havsel has a range of about 5000 nautical miles.

It was a friend of Nigel’s who had hired the boat, because of its popularity, it was booked 4 years in advance of the trip. There were three separate trips of two weeks, the first week was a familiarisation on leaving Alta in Norway, before picking up the clients at Longyearbyen on Svalbard.

The main aim was to photograph Polar Bears. And as Svalbard is at the Southern most extent of their territory. The task certainly carried no certainty of seeing them. Especially when you are covering areas of pack ice, looking for something standing 8’ on its hind legs, 4’ if it is walking and much smaller if it is lying sleeping.

It did help spotting the fact there was 24 hours of daylight. The only respite from the continuous light was in the cabin. Sunset and sunrise took place between 1pm and 3pm, a great time to be up for landscapes in some of the more dramatic scenic areas. Another advantage was the isolation and the complete lack of a phone signal. Daily checks were made on forecasts and messages via satellite phone, which due to the cost was only used for 10 minutes per day.

Nigel’s talk entertained the club with a fuel description of all aspects of the journey. It would have been daunting for many, especially after 5 days seeking out Polar Bears they had made no sightings.

Wildlife can be so much about luck. This was the case when they came across a whale carcass in the ice packs, around which the bears gathered. Upwards of 21 bears within the vicinity of the carcass. Three days were spent at this location.

On the third trip of two weeks the Havsel sailed to the island of Kivitoya. A very rugged inhospitable place, they looked specifically for Walruses gathering on  rocky ‘Haul Outs’. In addition the came across Beluga whales, and many species of arctic birds. Including Ivory Gull, Long-Tailed Skua, Little Auk, Purple Legged Sandpiper among others.

Over the 7 weeks, Nigel took approximately 35,000 images. Some of the most stunning and beautifully crafted ones were displayed on screen for everyone to see. The scale and background to their habitat gave each image a sense of their majesty, at the same, their vulnerability in an environment under threat.