The Most Northerly NORDSTJERNEN, Part Two

Peter Knego documents the 1956-built former Hurtigruten liner NORDSTJERNEN before embarking on a three night voyage into the Svalbard archipelago, which begins with a visit to the Russian/Ukrainian mining town of Barentsburg.

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All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2015 unless otherwise noted.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015, ctd.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN on the Blohm and Voss slipway. From a photo displayed on board.

The last survivor of a once plentiful fleet of traditional, pre-funnel-aft Hurtigruten ships, the NORDSTJERNEN (hull #787) was built by Blohm and Voss of Hamburg in 1956 for Bergen Lines.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN funnel with traditional Bergen Line livery.

Her sparkling livery and stout elliptical funnel nostalgically recall Bergen’s slightly larger, part time cruise ship METEOR and the North Sea mini-liner/ferries LEDA and VENUS. Named for the “North Star”, the sturdy vessel served Hurtigruten’s coastal run from Bergen to Kirkenes longer than any other ship thus far, from 1956 until 2012, when she was sold to privately owned Vestland Rederi and given “protected” status by the Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN in 2012. Note modern Hurtigruten funnel livery, which has since been restored to the original Bergen Line colors. Photo courtesy of Hurtigruten.

NORDSTJERNEN’s new owners took her to Gdansk, Poland for a stem-to-stern rejuvenation that included the restoration of her teak decks, new plumbing in her cabins and an overhaul of her diesel machinery. She emerged in late 2013 and has since been on charter to various entities as a cruise ship and floating hotel. Former owners Hurtigruten are now representing the ship for her season of Svalbard cruises in 2015 and 2016.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN wheelhouse, facing starboard. The bridge wings are accessible at most times and even the wheelhouse is occasionally open for visitors, conditions permitting.

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NORDSTJERNEN has five passenger decks, beginning at the top with Boat Deck, which features a teak-lined open deck area between pairs of port and starboard boats.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Forward Salon, facing starboard.

Salon Deck begins with the gently cambered and sheered former first class Lounge, which has large windows forward and to either side. It features a lovely recessed ceiling (that is oh-so-reminiscent of the 1957 GRIPSHOLM’s observation lounge) as well as painted wood carvings commissioned for the ship in 1956.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Forward Salon Deck Hall, facing forward.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Forward Salon Deck Hall, facing aft.

Directly aft of the Lounge is the Entry Hall, with its teak paneled stairtower and doors that lead to short, sheltered promenades on either side.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Restaurant, facing aft along starboard side.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Ceramics on forward Restaurant bulkhead.

The Restaurant follows the Lounge and boasts original ceramic artwork. A buffet station forward links galleries of seating on either side.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Cafe, facing aft.

The former tourist class Cafe follows the Restaurant on the port side and is used for additional seating at meal times.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Bar, facing aft.

On the Cafe’s starboard side is the Bar, which is directly aft of the galley.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Aft Lounge, facing forward from starboard.

A second lounge, once designated for tourist class and now furnished with rattan seating, concludes the interior spaces of Salon Deck.

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Splendid stern.

The open fantail has teak deck chairs and a traditional emergency steering station that remains a popular photo backdrop.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Starboard C Deck promenade, facing aft.

Deck C has narrow promenades on either side that meet at the aft mooring station. Access to the open fo’c’sle is possible from this level via stairs at the forward end of either promenade.

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One of MV NORDSTJERNEN largest staterooms, Cabin 306, facing forward.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Reception, facing aft.

Most of the ship’s largest staterooms (still small by modern cruise ship standards) are on this level, along with a midships stores area (used for loading luggage and supplies) that is adjacent to the reception booth.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Port B Deck Passage, facing aft.

Deck B features a wide range of mostly tiny staterooms, some with porthole and private facilities, many with one and not the other, and some with neither. Men’s and Women’s restrooms and shower areas are adjacent to all staterooms without facilities.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Cabin 211, facing port.

My abode, Cabin 211, was located on the port side of Deck B and featured both a small porthole and WC.

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Hurtigruten and ferry fans are probably familiar with these clever but compact loos that have a built-in shower that drains onto the floor.

Deck A has a small selection of the ship’s miniscule (think train compartment) upper/lower cabins without facilities at the bottom of the aft stairtower.

The NORDSTJERNEN is a sparkling jewel of a ship, a veritable dream-come-true for those who love classic liners. She has been beautifully restored and is like a time capsule, brimming with vintage charm and character. That stated, in no way is she geared for those seeking all the latest comforts such as balconies, spas, wifi and myriad dining venues touting gourmet cuisine.

The staff is friendly but service is basic on the NORDSTJERNEN. Her guests need to be fully ambulatory (ie there are no lifts or wheelchair-accessible doorways) and certain things taken for granted on regular cruise ships (such as having staterooms cleaned/turned over and towels refreshed daily) simply aren’t provided.

Dining is also very informal and selections are not only limited but often repetitive. Breakfast and lunch, save for a couple of hot courses and the soups, were the same from day to day. At dinner, there are three set courses and any dietary exceptions (vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.) must be made in advance. However, unlike ships on regular Hurtigruten line voyages, complimentary self-service coffee and tea are included and available around the clock.

Just as working class crossing and cruising used to be, activities are very limited. There are occasional enrichment talks but no music or formal entertainment is scheduled. This experience is all about engaging with fellow passengers (barring language barriers or indifference), being contented with a beautiful vintage ship, relaxing and enjoying the spectacular surrounds of Svalbard.

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After boat drill, at 1:00 PM, the lines were released and NORDSTJERNEN turned away from Longyearbyen, motoring into the glacial vastness of Isfjord. It was lunchtime, so I adjourned to the Restaurant to partake of the first buffet. On a daily basis, lunch would feature a modest salad, deviled eggs (either topped with an olive or a tiny shrimp), a selection of cheeses, soup, a fresh fish (usually the best option), potatoes and veggies. Store-bought desserts were served in the neighboring Cafe.

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From NORDSTJERNEN to Isfjord.

Out on deck, the sun was beginning to break through, illuminating the snowcapped peaks and turning the erstwhile gray Isfjord waters a deep shade of blue.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN aft from starboard wing.

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It was so delightful to have full access to the working areas of the ship, from the bridge wings to that long fo’c’sle, with its cargo hold, cranes, fleet of Polarcircle excursion craft and docking gear.

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Sunshine in the Isfjord.

Within a couple short hours, NORDSTJERNEN was approaching Barentsburg, a Russian/Ukrainian mining community located on the Gronfjord, near where the Isfjord meets the open Greenland Sea.

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Slopes of Barentsburg.

Shortly after the ship docked, we climbed some 220 wooden steps for a guided tour of the town.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN and the platform supply ship MV POLARSYSYSSEL at Barentsburg.

At the top of the stairs, there is a terrace overlooking the harbor and scenic Gronfjord. The locals have nicknamed the spot “TV” for its panoramic views.

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Barentsburg “Angel” yielding selfie stick.

Our guide began by taking a “selfie” with the group, then led us on a delightful and humor-laced romp through town. The young Kate Jackson-lookalike shared numerous anecdotes about living in a town of 400 Russian/Ukrainian citizens in the midst of northernmost Norway. One memorable morsel is that workers are paid with “credit cards” to purchase food and supplies, since neither Norwegian nor Russian currency is accepted in town.

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The second northernmost Lenin.

Like Pyramiden (see prior post), Barentsburg has its own Lenin statue, which has become the town’s number one “selfie” attraction. Our guide explained it was not torn down after the fall of the Soviet Union as it is considered a part of the region’s history. She also shared that the colorful buildings behind the statue are dormitory style residences that were only cosmetically modernized and that on the inside, they are very old and decrepit.

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We were treated to a wonderful folkloric show in the local auditorium featuring Barentsburg’s finest musicians and dancers. Musical selections ranged from ska-influenced rock to pop hits and the ever-crowd-pleasing “Kalinka”. While not as dramatic as the abandoned Pyramiden, friendly Barentsburg brimmed with more than its fair share of charm and irony.

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Wildlife photographer Alonza Garbett.

Back aboard the NORDSTJERNEN, dinner was followed with an informal bird photography lesson by the talented Norwegian-based architect and photographer Alonza Garbett.

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From 211 to the midnight sun.

By the time I retired, we were northbound in the Greenland Sea, hugging the west coast of Spitsbergen. The waters were remarkably calm and the sun was shining brilliantly.

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MV NORDSTJERNEN Cabin 211 porthole.

After dangling my cameras out of Cabin 211‘s beautifully polished brass porthole, I sealed it back up and covered it with the deadlight for some sleep-inducing darkness.

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From NORDSTJERNEN to the sea.

A new day of adventure loomed.

End of The Most Northerly NORDSTJERNEN, Part Two.

Much More To Come…

Special thanks:  Mindy Bianca, Lauren Frye, Elliot Gillies

Peter Knego

Peter Knego

Having documented over 400 passenger ships and taken more than 200 cruises, MaritimeMatters’ co-editor Peter Knego is a leading freelance cruise writer, a respected ocean liner historian and frequent maritime lecturer both on land and at sea.  With his work regularly featured in cruise industry trades and consumer publications.  Knego also runs the website which offers MidCentury cruise ship furniture, artwork and fittings rescued from the shipbreaking yards of Alang, India.  He has produced several videos on the subject, including his latest, The Sands Of Alang and the best-selling On The Road To Alang."
Peter Knego

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