WHISTLING, red heads and bananas are all considered bad luck at sea. A new addition to that list of maritime superstitions is soil.

“I had to sneak these aboard,” whispers expedition leader Mette Eliseussen, as she furtively shuffles plastic sacks of compost below deck on sailing ship S/V Linden. Registering my confusion, she nods her head knowingly and adds: “It’s because Dracula had to sleep in his own soil.”

As far as I can tell, there are no bloodsuckers on board, so her cryptic explanation leaves me none the wiser.

Swishing around with foreign soil on land, however, is of justifiable concern; a fragile eco-system functioning far above the Arctic Circle, the Svalbard archipelago is at daily risk from invasive species.

In reality, very little grows in this hostile landscape of spiky mountains, monstrous glaciers and frozen deserts. At sea, however, it’s a different story.

Cultivating microgreens and vegetables in a floating garden is part of the S/V Linden team’s bigger plan to operate sustainably in the Arctic. Chartered by Svalbard-based tour operator Basecamp Explorer, the classic wooden schooner is running environmentally conscious cruises along the fjords and coastline of largest island Spitsbergen; ranging from long weekends to five-day expeditions, the itineraries offer a responsible and (relatively) affordable taster of Arctic adventures, on land and at sea.

“They thought I was mad when I suggested the idea, but if we want to be self-sufficient we need to grow our own food,” insists crew member Dennis Lyngs, as he clips several sprigs of parsley to be used as a garnish at lunch.

Swiss chard, horseradish, sorrel, mung beans and oyster hat mushrooms all sprout from window box containers in the deck level dining cabin; downstairs, tomatoes and cucumbers grow below skylights mimicking a greenhouse.

Built in the Aland Islands in 1993, three-masted Linden is a replica of a 1920s vessel originally purposed for training sailors in navigation. Computer radar systems have since been installed, although it’s still possible to steer manually with a compass, one of the few antiques salvaged from the original ship.

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Measuring 49.5 metres, it’s the largest wooden schooner in Europe, with an ice-strengthened hull to tackle Svalbard’s slushy waters.

Owner Rasmus Jacobsen, a Danish environmentalist and commercial ship owner who first visited Svalbard 12 years ago, has invited me on a weekend voyage, departing from Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen’s only urban metropolis, travelling along the Isfjord and into the Greenland Sea.

Swaddled in a sheepskin jacket and buried beneath a tweed flat cap with a woollen beanie perched on top, he grapples with a heavy wooden wheel, which we’re all encouraged to steer.

“I don’t have the fuel power to go far north, but I do offer something different,” he says. “I’m a practical person and I like to see how ideas can work together.”

The keystone of his game plan is sustainability in the Arctic, sailing wherever possible and carbon offsetting any necessary fuel usage. Confident we have enough natural power to forge forward, he orders the deckhands – and passengers – to unfurl all 11 sails.

Sails fully opened, Linden slices through gentle waves and settles into a soft breeze breeze.

“When sailing, you start to feel the pace,” explains Jacobsen, as we drift past a concertina of snowy ridges streaked by the mid-May sun. “At first, you are fast with excitement and then you slow down; you move at the pace of the environment around you.”

Appreciating the calm, I seize an opportunity to climb the rigging to the crow’s nest. I’m harnessed with a carabiner, although not once do I feel the need to clip it on as I hang from the tip of the mast surveying the deep blue around me.

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Only news of lunch can lure me back down to deck: Delicate slices of rye bread decorated with edible flowers, served with beer bread made with locally brewed stout.

A gardener, fashion designer and taekwondo black belt, enigmatic Dane Dennis is also a creative chef. Tomorrow, he promises us, we’ll be dining on a seaweed stew if we can gather enough juicy bladderwrack when going ashore. He intends to serve a sustainable menu, foraging where possible, and trading with local trapper families. Even his shiny sealskin coat is eco-friendly, he argues, having once belonged to his naval officer grandfather.

Carrying just 12 guests, Linden doesn’t need to book landing sites, meaning itineraries can be flexible and encounters are intimate. During our visit to a walrus colony at Poolepynten peninsula on Prins Karls Forland island, for example, not a single ship passes by.

Hulking mounds of blubber create a chaos of flippers as the animals grunt and lock tusks, jostling for a comfortable position in a huddle onshore. Exhausted, the flabby pinnipeds roll lazily into the surf, where a transformation occurs; in a fluid world, these beasts become graceful beauties.

The Arctic soundtrack is equally alive in Trygghamna, a sheltered bay at the tip of Isfjord, where we snowshoe up to a ridge.

Pausing, we savour the melodic melting of ice, the laughter of little auks and screeches from Arctic foxes, who are nowhere to be a seen. Dwarfed by our own clumsy, racket-shaped hollows, paw prints are the only evidence these tundra natives were ever here.

But as days grow longer and the sun becomes ever more reluctant to sink, any proof of our presence will disappear.

Because that’s the aim of responsible travel in the Arctic – leave no trace, on land, sea, or even borrowed soil.

How to get there: Basecamp Explorer (basecampexplorer.com) offer a three-day Sail Into The Wild expedition on S/V Linden from 12,900 NOK (£1172) per person, departing June 7, 2019. Norwegian (norwegian.com) flies to Longyearbyen in Svalbard, via Oslo. For more information on the destination, go to visitsvalbard.com.