We are sailing up the fiord rimmed by mountains and ice, leaving the final outpost of civilization behind us.
It's a September evening just past 11 o'clock at 81 degrees latitude, not far from the north pole.
Even this late in the year, the sun is still out, its slanted light illuminating the glaciers with a soft, pink glow as it hovers, seemingly forever, above the horizon.
The Arctic tundra lies before us quiet, undisturbed and magnificent.
During the next three days, the only other humans we will see are a couple of Russian sailors docked at a ghost town.
This is the most remarkable thing about the Arctic: its unspoiled stillness. There's no white noise, no humming freeways, no helicopters hovering overhead. There's just silence, occasionally interrupted by the birds, the waves and the wind taking hold, then letting go, of the sails.
Svalbard, a cluster of islands between Norway and the north pole, is a place of midnight sun, northern lights, natural wonders and dramatic contrasts. With the exception of the small town of Longyearbyen, the remote archipelago is rugged and wild.
I arrive in Longyearbyen with a plan to spend a few days onboard a sailboat built and owned by a 48-year-old Dutchman named Mark van de Weg. Since I went ice trekking on a glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, earlier in the year, glaciers have taken hold of my imagination.
I am not religious, but looking at glaciers, and contemplating what they represent, feels almost spiritual. They are magnificent to behold -- vast and with a surprising array of colors, including shades of blue, green and purple. Their continuous movement, even if by increments, is awe inspiring. Looking at glaciers is seeing our planet's history: its past, present and future contained in one moment.
Because the ground is not covered entirely with snow, I know it will be impossible to travel overland on skis, by snow scooter or by dog sled. Besides, the boat offers an opportunity to get closer to the front of the glacier than you could ever be on land.
Researching my trip into the wilderness, I had fantasized about flying by helicopter farther north, camping on the ice and skiing across to the north pole, which isn't on land but a frozen patch in the middle of the Arctic Sea. But my budget dictates a shorter trip. Van de Weg, whom I have found online, suggests by e-mail that we explore Isfjorden, literally "the ice fiord," northeast of Longyearbyen.
Other adventure outfits offer trips around the fiords by icebreakers or powerful rubber dinghies. But Van de Weg is the only one who takes travelers by sailboat around Svalbard. There is not a lot of business to go around anyway. He gets only a handful of tourists every year. Most of his customers are scientists or professional nature photographers.
As the day of my departure draws near, I begin to wonder what I've gotten myself into. I have always loved sailing, but the idea of sailing around the icy waters of Svalbard is a tad scary -- but, of course, all the more exhilarating because of it.
When Van de Weg picks me up at the tiny Longyearbyen airport, the light is fading fast. Every day is about half an hour shorter than the previous day.
And it is getting noticeably colder. Temperatures approach 30 degrees, but it feels much colder because of the wind.
Van de Weg began coming to the Arctic in 1994 after circumnavigating the world in a traditional wooden sailboat. Five years ago, he wintered with his girlfriend and two guard dogs on a small sailboat stuck in the ice of a remote fiord. He felt like the king of the frozen bay, he says. "Enjoyable," he adds, with a half-smile.
The Dutchman looks the part of an Arctic skipper with his ruddy complexion and solid 6-foot-4 frame.
As we set sail, the water is choppy at first, waves crashing against the hull and spraying the deck with icy water. But after a couple of hours, the sea calms down.