Interview with Captain Per Engwall
Captain Per Engwall tells us of his love of Svalbard. A couple of weeks ago our 12-passenger ship M/S Stockholm docked in the harbour of Gothenburg, Sweden, after her five month long adventure. The ship’s owner and Captain, Per Engwall, has spent 25 of his summers in Svalbard. How come he ventured up there? And what is it that makes him return to the Arctic archipelago year after year?
Captain Per Engwall is a true Svalbard veteran. In 1982 he received a request from the Swedish film production company, Svensk Filmindustri, asking him to assist them during a production of Andrées Arctic balloon expedition of 1897, an adaptation for the screen of Andrée´s and his two expedition members’ fateful attempt to reach the North Pole with a hydrogen balloon. Nothing came of this part of the project, but he had now started to dream about the remote islands in the north.
In 1986 he was told that one of the Swedish National Maritime Administration’s former vessels, M/S Origo, was for sale. He bought the ship and the planning for expeditions in the Arctic waters started to take shape. In the beginning he mostly organised trips for friends and family, but in 1997 when he also became the owner of M/S Origo’s sister ship, M/S Stockholm, he expanded the business and the expedition cruises took off. M/S Stockholm is a classic ship, built for the Swedish National Maritime Administration in 1953.
-Initially, we were not sure if we had bought a wreck or a ship since she had not been in use for eleven years, says Per.
It turned out that M/S Stockholm was perfectly suited for Arctic expeditions and after careful restoration she became a real beauty. Today she takes passengers from all around the world through Svalbard’s wilderness. He remembers the pioneering expedition very clearly. They had done their homework and many of whom they had talked to had emphasised the risks associated with sailing in these waters. Once in Svalbard, they were welcomed by sunshine and a clear blue sky. They were also very lucky to encounter a beautiful polar bear with two cubs on their very first day.
The archipelago still has a special place in his heart and he returns every spring. The two last years he has been home in Sweden a bit more than previous years, but never a whole summer. When we asked him what it is that makes him long back to the Arctic he answers:
- I can still remember the feeling I had the first season – the first polar bears that we encountered and the magnificent Arctic landscape. It also the fact that M/S Stockholm is in her right environment up there. She is built for these waters and is strong in the ice.
Flexibility is the key to a successful expedition. The exact route depends on ice, weather conditions and wildlife – and of course, on the spirit of adventure! This Captain never tires of mapping new parts of Svalbard and is drawn to the unpredictable. After 25 years in Svalbard we wondered if he had any favourite site?
- Oh, there are so many! But the west coast is hard to beat, there you find many of my favourites - Hyttevika, Vårsolbukta, Ossian Sars and Midterhuken to mention a few. It is also a great experience to visit the northern part of Nordaustlandet when the ice loosens its grip. There is a place in Albertinibukta named Kapp Bruun, which is also very beautiful and another favourite is Tusenøyane, the archipelago south of Edgeøya, only accessible late in the season.
After all these years up in the Arctic maybe the south polar region would be calling him, but the Captain stands firm on that Svalbard has got it all and that there is still much there for him yet to discover.
Since 1999, we have taken travellers on once-in-a-lifetime trips to Svalbard. From May to September our three small expedition ships, carrying only 12 and 50 passengers, explore this magnificent Arctic archipelago. Unpredictability and flexibility are the main keywords when you travel with PolarQuest as the exact route depends on weather, ice conditions and wildlife encounters. Sometimes you might be woken up in the middle of the night if a polar bear has been spotted on the ice.
Travelling through the stunning Norwegian coastal landscape on a small expedition cruise ship is simply hard to beat. Lofoten islands welcome with picturesque fishing villages, squeezed between soaring mountains and quiet fjords. In wintertime Tromsø offers magnificent sceneries over dramatic landscapes and great chances to spot both orcas and humpback whales. If we’re lucky we will also see the magical Northern Lights dancing in the sky. Join us on an unforgettable cruise!