October 23, 2014
Here’s the latest in our Summer Video series – it is a typical hike in Labrador. Click on the image to play.
We are also featured in an interview on the Pendana Blog – click to read it!
October 15, 2015
Here is the next video in our summer adventure series – Iceberg Encounters (7 minutes).
While cruising in Labrador and Greenland along with our friends on the Nordhavn 68 Migration, we encountered plenty of icebergs. In this video, we visit some up close in the big boats, position ourselves for some photos, and get even closer in the tender – with Captain Gulliver along!
We are now in the Chesapeake Bay but will continue to publish stories and videos from the summer over the next few months. In the summer and fall of 2015 we will probably stay in the US where we hope to have friends and family come to visit. So if you’ve talked to us about a visit, or are interested in joining us somewhere next year, please let me know!
October 8, 2014
Over the next couple months, I’ll be posting some videos from our summer adventures. The first one is 7 minutes long and covers the our trip from Nova Scotia to Newfoundland, then on to Labrador. Please let me know if you have any problems with viewing it.
“We met up with the Nordhavn 55 Adventure and our friends Brad and Lorraine in Little Harbor, Cape Breton, where we hid from Hurricane Arthur. We then cruised together up the Cape Breton Peninsula and on to Newfoundland’s Bay of Islands and Bonne Bay before heading in different directions. Adventure went on to circumnavigate Newfoundland while we met up the N68 Migration to head to Labrador and Greenland.”
Due to a bug in WordPress, those of you who receive blog updates via email may have noticed that the links to some of the photos in our last update did not work – if you clicked on a photo to enlarge it, you got a Page not Found error. I’ve included those photos again and hope that the links work this time – please let me know if they don’t!
After a wonderful day of exploring and seeing a polar bear up close at Williams Harbour, we had a day of miserable weather – cold, rain, and wind – that kept us inside watching movies and lazing around. The following day was better but not great, but we were determined to do some more exploring. So we bundled up and set off for an hour long tender ride to the Ikkudliayuk Fjord where we hoped to see some great scenery and possibly more bears. We were not to be disappointed!
Majestic, impressive, intimidating, harsh, stark, beautiful – these are all words that come to mind as we progress. We are in the part of Labrador which has the highest cliffs and combined with the long and very deep fjords, it makes for just a magnificent setting. As we entered the Ikkudliayuk fjord, it wasn’t long before we spotted a polar bear. We slowed for a look through binoculars at a bear well up on the cliffs, making his way quite easily along the rocky ledges. Seeing these magnificent animals in person is truly amazing!
As we continued, we spotted another, then another! Seems like we had indeed found a great place to see polar bears! A light rain had begun and it looked like it might get worse, so we decided to put up the bimini top (convertible roof) on the tender for some protection. It’s not difficult, but requires two people and a bit of coordination and a few minutes to get everything in place. With the engines in neutral and the tender drifting, Matt and Bradley began the process while I spotted another bear on shore. As I watched, he decided to go for a swim and soon was in the water not too far from us and coming closer. I watched the bear as Bradley and Matt continued to raise the bimini. They ran into a bit of a problem as one of the pins that secures it in place decided to break, necessitating a temporary fix. As we drifted along with Bradley and Matt occupied with getting the top secure, the bears path brought it closer and closer. Although he didn’t seem to be heading directly towards us, he was certainly going to pass not far off. Finally, the bimini was in place and we resumed our course, with a great view of our swimming bear as he continued on past us.
We wanted to go for a hike but had now spotted four polar bears since entering the fjord. Though they seemed a bit skittish of the tender with its engines running, it may be a different story if we were on land. So we had a good discussion about whether we should go ashore and finally concluded we would give it a try. Though we do not have a gun, we had come prepared with a loud air horn, bear spray, hand held flares, a flare gun, knife, and hiking pole. We have watched the video on how to handle a confrontation with a polar bear and, though we hoped we would not encounter one, felt that it was an acceptable risk. We found a great place to tie the tender and go ashore near a place that would allow us to walk on mostly open terrain with good visibility so that we would not sneak up on anything or vice versa.
We hiked for a couple of hours, climbing gently with remarkable views. We saw signs of wildlife, especially caribou scat and prints, plus a very old skin from a seal well up on land and some very old looking bear scat. We stuck very close together and were on high alert throughout the hike, but fortunately no live polar bears were encountered. We returned to the tender and found that the place we had left it appeared to have been used in the past as a hunting camp. We found many bones, probably of seals and possibly even polar bears, plus a skull that appeared to be a dog. Just as we boarded the tender, we spotted a bear off in the distance, on a small island. We again were thankful we had not encountered one on land!
As we began our trip back to the boat, we spotted a bear swimming not far off and decided to try for a closer look. We eased past the bear, who seemed unconcerned with us and watched him swim at more than 8 knots as we kept pace. We saw him occasionally put his head under water as if he were looking for something. Then he would raise his head and look around, swim a bit, and poke it back under the water. He eventually headed towards the shore and we watched as he got out, shook himself off, and set off over the rocks and boulders.
We had been gone for six hours and the wind was picking up as we began the long tender ride back to the boat. We spotted one more bear on shore and then as we exited the fjord and headed back to our anchorage, the winds really kicked up, creating a very chilly and wet ride! In the open water, we saw our final bear of the day, swimming and apparently hunting. He would occasionally dive underwater, head first, just as Bradley does when spearfishing. At first we thought he was trying to hide from us, but we slowed and watched and it looked as if he were hunting. But as the weather was getting worse and we still had a long way to go, we did not linger to watch but high-tailed it back to the boat. That brought our polar bear sighting count to 14 so far!
Although we were tired from a long day, we were also concerned about the winds, which were coming from the West, the only direction for which our anchorage offered no protection! So we decided to move to a better anchorage for the night, an hour away. It was a good decision, as once there, we were very comfortable as the winds kicked up to over 40 knots. Nevertheless, we got a good night’s sleep and we ready to head south in the morning.
August 29, 2014
We are anchored at Williams Harbour, in northern Labrador – the northernmost reach of the Torngat National Park. As we have experienced for the vast majority of the past 2 months, it is raining, foggy and cold around 3C or 38F. We arrived yesterday morning (Friday 29 August) after a nail biting 48-hour trip south. Yesterday also happened to be Kathy and my 15-year anniversary. I can absolutely say that without her skills, hard work and support our lives on board Shear Madness would not be possible. We both certainly have been fortunate on many fronts. While I dated many wonderful women in my life, I do not believe any of them would be up for the challenges Kathy & I have faced and overcome together. She is a wonderful partner – Thanks Dear!
So do you want to hear about the second half of the trip south or what happened after we arrived, first?
Actually Poseidon smiled on us, while at the same time teasing us a little. We had departed Wed. 27 Aug and had a 400 mile trip to make before the weather turned against us, which was forecast to begin sometime Friday morning. As the previous blog discussed, the first day of the trip improved as the day advanced. We were making good time – just a little behind schedule and the sea had settled.
On day two, I was on watch for a beautiful sunrise. The sky had been clear all night. Wind and sea were cooperating. We needed to average 8 knots – and were tantalizingly close – and the forecast fronts needed to arrive on time or late. However on several 3 to 5 hours periods during the day, our speed would drop to the 6.5 knot range while the wind & Sea was building on our Stbd nose. Late in the afternoon we started to average just above 8 knots, and then on my watch – (we are each responsible for the speed of the vessel during our watch), our speed picked up to over 9 and even hit 10 a couple of times. What was really interesting was the wind and sea were still running against us on our Stbd at 60 degrees. And, as we crossed the Hudson Strait, even though the wind picked up, the seas settled. What a ride 9+ knots, at 1070 RPM and 7 gallons per hour. In fact for the whole trip we ended up averaging 8 knots at 1.1 miles to the gallon.
That night was the most amazing Aurora Borealis show we have seen. The night was perfectly clear, we were surrounded by a light show for hours. It was so bright, it was like a full moon lighting our way. We saw shades of green and red and lots of stars.
After my watch, Poseidon then again teased us with a couple of 6.5 knot hours, but the great Labrador current came to our rescue. I was back on watch Friday at 05:00 to a stunning sunrise with beautiful clear skies and a very smooth ride – the weather had held and we were going to have a perfect ending to a great two day cruise south. We arrived at our anchorage around 10 AM to a beautiful day, light warm winds and temps in mid 50’s, something we have not seen in 45 days or more.
We immediately off loaded the tender and prepared for some serious hiking. We knew we were in polar bear territory, so precautions had to be taken. Each of us carries a bear deterrent; a loud air horn, bear pepper spray, and some flares as a last resort. In preparing for this trip, we thought long and hard about carrying a rifle on board, but that introduces complications with country check-ins, and in some areas like the park, only registered guides are permitted to carry.
Off in the tender we go exploring, to take full advantage of the weather. At any moment we were expecting it to begin to turn stormy as predicted, but so far this was actually acting like a late summer day. The first thing we find are three shipping boxes on shore just above the water line with the largest box being 5” tall & wide, 8” long. It appeared to contain an igloo that can be assembled, like we saw at the Torngat Park base camp.
After a few tries we were able to get ashore and secure the tender in a way that it would not end up high and dry on a dropping 2.5 meter tide. We went for a wonderful 2+ hour hike up a hill. It was the first time we had been off the boat since Sunday in Aasiaat. While we did see some signs of wild life, like some huge hoof prints, signs of field mice and some animal scat, no polar bears were seen. We decided to return to the tender to explore a second arm of the bay that went several miles deep into the mountains. As we are heading over there, we noted a white fishing float bobbing in the water and decided to pick it up. As we headed there, we realized it is moving – and Kathy grabs her camera thinking we have spotted a white seal! Just about that time, it turns its head to look us in the eye and we realize we are seeing a Polar Bear swimming around looking for dinner. We back off the throttle, but he decides to head for the near shore, where Kathy successfully snaps some pictures.
So as not to bother him, but be in a position to watch him for a while we decide to circle far away from him and end up near where he is heading, to just sit and watch quietly. Just as we are approaching shore, and getting ready to kill our engines, what do we spot – a mother and 2 cubs, moving very smartly up the hill. They had clearly seen, heard or smelled us coming, before we saw them. We were very impressed by just how fast all three were able to scamper over the large boulders and move up the hill. This clearly reinforces the warnings – humans cannot out run a polar bear. We watched them move up the hill, while our first bear continued to come towards us on the shore, before seeing us. After studying us for a short time, he simply climbed a little higher and continued on his course.
By that time, Kathy had filled the card on her camera with pictures and we were starting to feel quite a chill in the air. The Temperature was starting to drop rapidly – the storm front was arriving. We returned back to Shear Madness, passing one more PB high up on shore, bringing our total sightings to 6 (1 on Baffin Island and five today!).
This has been one of the best 24 hours on what has turned out to be an incredible trip. Our only sorrow was that Migration and Capt. Gulliver were not with us.
August 25, 2014
As I draft this blog, we are at N 62.17 & West 64.00 – 150 miles N by NE of Cape Chidley, Labrador. We are hoping the weather holds to the forecast, so that we can arrive at an anchorage before the winds turn south and increase into the 20’s. That would not be a comfortable ride.
Let me back up a little. We departed Greenland at 04:00 Monday 25 Aug. for Baffin Island. Based on the weather and conditions, we elected to cross almost due west and then run down the coast of Baffin Island, so we could seek protection when the weather required.
We were all alone on the crossing, having split with our dear friends – Capt. Gulliver, George, and Marci. Migration was heading south along Greenland to position for a crossing to Europe. (Since then the Volcano on Iceland decided to erupt, which makes their crossing even more challenging.) Our crossing was projected to be a 30 to 36 hour trip, with the roughest weather of the trip for the first 6 hours and then a return to our standard conditions of near flat seas. We woke Monday to a beautiful clear morning and calm weather inshore, but once we left the protection of land, we had 1 to 2 meters seas with winds in the 20’s, both on our Starboard Beam. Needless to say, the stabilizers were getting a good workout. The sea state caught our crew member, Matt, by surprise, but he recovered quickly as things calmed down.
By noon, wind and seas began to calm as projected and we had a perfect trip. Tuesday morning as we approached Cape Dyer on Baffin Island, seas and wind were up for a couple of hours, but quickly went flat. We were at a decision point – go to anchor or continue south until weather picked up as projected later that day. We did not like the looks of the our first anchor choice (sometimes charts and reality are quite different) and given the calm seas decided to grab some south while it was good. We knew that by Friday afternoon, we would be in for some rough weather, South to SE or SW winds in the 20’s. As we cruised south we were struck by the Magnificence of the coastline. Sheer cliffs at waters edge, not a bush or tree to be seen, not even ground cover. Mostly solid granite and some other black coal like rock. Monday night the weather had cleared and we saw a classical sunset, stars and the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Kathy was on early AM watch and came down to ask me – What do the Northern Lights look like? I got up and we stared in complete fascination at a stunning show of lights in the night sky. It is hard to describe, but our show was mostly white lights with a little green tint that at first could be mistaken for a thin wispy cloud reflecting the moon. However it was a new moon and the lights moved and changed shape too fast to be anything other than the AB. (This was just the beginning.)
Anchoring was going to be very interesting, as we have no detailed charts for Baffin Island – they do not exist. By late afternoon, we had found our targeted anchorage and began to carefully work our way in. Using both of our depth sounders, proceeding with great caution, and using all of our skills to read the water we worked our way deep into an incredible anchorage. Now we just needed the depth to shallow up to less than 30M and for the anchor to grab, rather than act as a 2000lb mooring. There were a couple of very disconcerting minutes, as we made our way in. We had to pass between a large iceberg and shore as the depth rose from the bottom, like the mountains all around us. Even worse, according to our charts, we were now passing directly over the center of the island even though we could clearly see the island well off to our port side. This is the most off I have ever seen a chart in my entire life of cruising. Some of the walls we passed were over 500 meters (1500 ft) vertical yet the water was greater than 100 m deep next to them. However, as we worked our way deep into the bay, wind and sea state settled to a perfect calm and just where we had put our target, the bottom came to 15 to 25 meters. We dropped the hook and after putting out 100 m of chain, it bit into the bottom. We were 200 m from the wall on the port side, 250 meters from Starboard and around 100 meters from where it shallowed up past our comfort level. (Anchorage N. 66.02 W.62.08)
On the last 100 meter run to our anchorage position, what does Kathy spot, but a polar bear wandering among the almost vertical cliffs! Once anchored we watched it for a little while, before settling down for a nice dinner of stir fried leftovers in rice, with some Greenlandic shrimp added. Of course by now the weather had turned and it was raining and mostly blowing outside, but we were sitting perfectly still. We hardly moved the whole night and did not once stretch out the chain.
We woke to a key decision. The weather router had suggested we stay anchored until Noon, before proceeding south. But it was pouring rain and other than watch the polar bear wander around (he was still there) before settling down for a nap and shower there was not much to do. We decided to stick our nose outside to test conditions. There was a backup anchorage just 12 miles south if things were too rough.
As we come out of our protection, we were able to follow our inward track for ¾ of the way before turning to head south. Shortly thereafter we were all holding our breath, as the depth rose from over 175 m to 14 meters before heading back down. By the time it had reached 20 m, the boat was in neutral and we were moving at less than 2 knots. We had passed over an underwater mountain. Once outside, the wind was as predicted – 20 to 25 knots from the NNE with 1 to 2 m seas. Both following us, so it was a very comfortable ride.
We continued in uncharted territory for several hours, before the shore fell away to the west and we were in 100 to 200 m water. After spending several hours studying the latest weather forecast and looking at our options, we decided to make a two-day run for Cape Chidley, the northern point of Labrador. The forecast continued to call for South to SE or SW winds in the 20’s beginning midday on Friday. On a direct shot we had 381 miles to cover in 48 hours, +_ 6 before the weather turned. If we elected to hedge our bets and stay closer to shore and some bailout anchorages, the trip would be 50 to 75 miles longer and we could not make the crossing of Hudson Straits before the adverse weather arrived. We elected to take a shot and re-evaluate Thursday morning. We sent our plans off to our wonderful weather router Maik (in Iceland) and headed south.
This is where I started at the top. The conditions and forecast have been spot on. We are on target to make our anchorage before the weather changes, assuming it does not come early. We had an incredible night, with seas and winds dropping and a multi hour Aurora Borealis show. Our main meal today, which we eat midafternoon when underway, is my favorite passage dish. It is crockpot chicken, with corn, green beans and cornbread stuffing on top. Kathy prepared it after her early morning watch ended at 07:00 and it will be ready by 15:00.
Ah, now back to the topic of the title. While we have thoroughly enjoyed Greenland and would return some day for further exploration (only with a buddy boat), this has been one cold summer. In fact this summer was colder than some of the winters experienced in Virginia. With the exception of the afternoon hike at the Torngat Park in Labrador a month ago, we have been dressing as if we were in Colorado for winter skiing. The average temp has been between 1 c (34f) and 4c (40f), with most days overcast or raining, creating windchill of round 0 c or 32F. Typically we have on long underwear, pants and then heavy foul weather gear. On top we have 2 to 3 items, an Under-Armor turtle neck, a Patagonia high-tech shirt and then some type of sweater, before putting on Foul weather jacket, ski hat, gloves and heavy water proof boots. We wear no cotton, electing almost exclusively the new high-tech breathable moisture wicking fabrics, to keep from getting chilled by sweat. As you may remember from an earlier blog, I spent some time collecting mussels in Rodebay, where I was in the water up to my knees and elbows. I can tell you, that after 30 minutes collecting, I got colder than a full day of skiing during a snowstorm! It took me most of the day to warm up.
Because we elect not to run a generator while we sleep, some might find our conditions a little rustic, as the inside temp often dips into the low 50’s during the night, before the morning generator run and heat. Since we normally slept with heat set to 50 in VA and a window open in the winter, we enjoy a chilled room. It can be a little nippy when getting up in the middle of the night to use the head – which as most of you can relate seems to happen more frequently each year.
Going for a tender ride, moving along at 15+ knots can be quite interesting. I very much would like to return to Greenland during the winter for some dog sledding and snowmobiling. I imagine it would be wonderful to get further inland than we were able to. I must also say how helpful everyone was to us. While the average person on the street is a bit like a New Yorker in that they don’t make eye contact when passing – once asked for information they become very friendly, although language is an issue here. Most are fluent in Greenlandic (Inuit) and Danish, but English is not widely spoken. Greenland has instituted a coastal watch system for boaters – Aasiaat Radio, much like Australia and New Zealand that is very reassuring. When moving the boat – commercial or private, you check in them every 6 hours and when at anchorage every 24 hours. If you do not report in on schedule, they will initiate an escalating series of events including search. We have heard them looking for boats that have not reported in as scheduled. Conditions in Greenland are very unforgiving and receiving help quickly if something goes awry is critical to controlling the situation so this system was very re-assuring for us!
In closing, I would say, cruising Greenland is not for most boaters. But if you are going to go, go with a buddy boat, develop the skills required, make sure your vessel is in top condition and be prepared for some real challenging cruising – Fog, Icebergs, only commercial docks (sometimes a challenge to get on and off!) and very tenuous anchoring situations. In addition I would strongly consider a survey of your boat by Steve D’Antonio, and make sure you have an outstanding inventory of spares. There are also some special items to be taken along, an ice pole for pushing small growlers away from the boat, extra long anchor rode and plenty of warm clothes, heavy foul weather gear like usually seen on a sailboat, including very tall and warm foul weather boots. Lots of different waterproof gloves are also important. In addition you will need redundant communication systems for weather, safety items like a SPOT Tracker, and a very experienced high latitude weather router for the crossing to and from Canada.
I also want to take this opportunity to thank some key friends and family who carefully track our adventures daily and are on call to help in an emergency. In addition to my daughter Margy who now has her hands full with a 2 month old and a 4 year old, there is Alan P. who I raced and shared a house for years, and most importantly Mr. Spencer from NZ who is a world class boater, experienced sailor and trained in marine rescue who closely monitors our every move. This team gives us great comfort as we know we can reach them at an instant for assistance. From the bottom of our hearts – Thanks All!
Will let you know if we beat the weather in our next blog – ☺.
(Note: we have a lot of material from our summer travels and will be publishing an update about once a week for the next few months until we catch up!).
August 19, 2014
Once clear of the ice maze departing from our anchorage in Rodebay, we settled in for a pleasant trip to Godhavn (Qeqertarsuaq) on Disko Island. Once a flourishing trading post in the late 18th century, Godhavn today is a fairly quiet place where the locals rely on fishing and hunting. The protected harbor is guarded by spectacular cliffs, lots of rocks around the entrance, and plenty of icebergs. We proceeded in cautiously after a full day trip that began with plenty of stressful navigation. All we needed to do was find a nice spot to anchor and drop the hook.
As we rounded the corner it became apparent that this was not to be an easy task. The inner harbor was crowded with boats and moorings and the small dock used by ferries and cargo ships was not available, nor was it suitable for us – it was small and very rough. Finding a spot for both boats where we could safely anchor in comfortable depths took some doing. We both cruised slowly around, checking depths and distances from shore, until we settled on a potential spot. It was not ideal, as it meant we would be on the path of any boats coming or going, but it was the only possible spot we could safely anchor. On our first try, the anchor didn’t hold and we were also way too close to a mooring ball, so we had to try again. Finally, on the third try, we got a reasonable set of the anchor and breathed a big sigh of relief as Migration also settled in. We were happy to relax over a wonderful dinner onboard Migration.
There were several small icebergs that had made their way into the harbor and we awoke in the morning to a strange sight. We noticed a small boat moving very slowly through the harbor. It appeared to be towing something but it took us a few seconds to understand what we were seeing. It was towing an iceberg! Apparently that’s how they get them out of the harbor – a line is fastened around the berg and a boat tows it far enough away for it to be carried out on the currents. We would also have need to use our “ice pole” for the first time here. In preparing for this trip, George suggested we have the poles, longer than a standard boat hook, which can be used to push ice away from your boat. We had each purchased telescoping light bulb changer poles from Home Depot and George had adapted them to be used for this purpose. In Godhavn, we had a fair size mini-berg that seemed intent on drifting into us. Bradley deployed the ice pole and with a bit of effort successfully steered it away from the boat – or was it the boat away from the ice?
Godhavn has some wonderful hiking and we were anxious to get out to see the sights, but the weather was not cooperative. Overcast skies gave way to rain and fog, so we climbed only a short distance our first day before returning to town. Again, there were plenty of sled dogs biding their time until their work begins in the next few months.
Sadly, this was to be a bittersweet night. It was time for us to part company with Migration as they were planning to leave in the morning to begin their journey southwest down the Greenland coast to position for their crossing to Europe. Their plan is being complicated by the threat of a volcanic eruption in Iceland, so they will be keeping a close eye on that and some very bad weather developing on the West coast of Greenland. Meanwhile, we will spend a day or so here before heading back to Aasiaat to prepare for our crossing back across the Davis Strait to Canada.
Though we have loosely cruised with other boats for short periods, this was our first experience spending a whole season in close company with another boat. We could not have asked for a better experience as George, Marci, and of course Capt. Gulliver turned out to be the perfect traveling companions (well, almost perfect – George doesn’t like avocados, mushrooms, or brussel sprouts) and the boats are of course well matched. I don’t think we would have considered a trip this extreme without the added confidence of doing it with such capable and fun companions. And with the dearth of other cruisers here, it was great to alternate dinners, share photos, and in general get to know each other. I’m sure we will look for a future adventure to share together, but for now we are missing our buddy boat!
On our own, the next day we had time for a final hike, but again were constrained by rain and fog. We walked along the coastal trail, up some hills that gave us some views of some beautiful waterfalls and many of the icebergs just offshore. However, the fog was thickening so we had to cut our hike short and return to town. The next day it was time to set off for Aasiaat, a nice day trip. There were plenty of icebergs as we departed, but soon enough we were in clear water with only the occasional large berg to avoid. Fortunately, upon our arrival in Aasiaat, the dock was empty so we tied up to wait for good weather to cross the Davis Strait. We did a bit more hiking around town and found plenty more dogs and lots of puppies to play with – puppies are allowed to wander free until they are grown and they enjoy attention. We once again were immersed in fog and rain! But we were lucky – the weather was looking good for a departure on Monday, August 25. Our destination is Baffin Island, making for the shortest crossing across the Strait, where we plan to find a comfortable anchorage and begin working our way south back to Labrador, then to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia before returning to the US
August 18, 2014
From our secure anchorage it was time for Bradley, Marci, Steve, and me to set off to explore the town of Rodebay (Oqaatsut), a small village of about 50 people and 200 sled dogs. There is a small dock where the tender can be left, a separate dock where small tour ferries from Ilulissat arrive, a little grocery store, and even a nice restaurant which wasn’t yet open. There are no real streets here, just a few dirt tracks which meander around the village. Like everywhere else in Greenland, there are no trees, just moss, a few blueberry plants (berries not yet ripe) and periodic beautiful little flowers. We walked along the ever-present rocks, enjoying some great views of the harbor and seeing plenty of ice! And of course there were plenty of dogs. We learned that there is no running water in the houses. There is a community shower house where people go to take their showers and a central water tank where hoses run to houses in the summer and in the winter, there are two pump stations where household water must be picked up. Sewage from homes is deposited into special yellow biodegradable bags which are picked up periodically from each house and later disposed of at sea.
Marci and I meandered back towards the tender dock while Bradley and Steve headed towards the ferry dock. We soon discovered it was low tide and saw a wonderful bed of tasty-looking mussels. Marci and I decided we would gather some for appetizers that night. Although the water is chilly, mussels are not hard to catch! You just have to reach in and grab them. We started a pile on a nearby rock and soon had a nice haul. I set off to find out what Bradley and Steve were up to and saw that a small tour boat had arrived at the ferry dock. By the time I got there, they had been invited on board for a tour and before I knew it the lines were cast off and they were headed out to sea! Well, actually they were just moving off the dock to allow another tour boat to offload their passengers. Each of these boats had 3 passengers plus one tour guide aboard for the 8-mile run from Ilulissat. Soon Bradley and Steve were back on land, very pleased to have learned all about this 1960’s era boat with a very special engine – believe it or not, the brand is called Nordhavn!
We wanted to make another trip into Ilulissat, so we bundled up and set off by tender. The weather was quite a bit nicer than the previous day with good visibility. There was still plenty of ice to navigate but at least we could see it! There were also plenty of local boats out fishing and hunting seals. We wanted to take the tender all the way to the glacier and had no trouble getting there, but by then the fog had set in, so we didn’t have a great view. We did see a whaling boat – a larger boat with a harpoon mounted on the bow – making an eerie sight in the fog. For now, we headed back to the town of Ilulissat where Marci and I would hike back to glacier since Marci had not been with us the day before. The boys headed off to the local internet café for some emailing and some exploring in town.
By the time we reached the glacier, the fog was lifting and we had some wonderful views. We could hear periodic crashes as large chunks of ice fell from icebergs. We even saw one happen right before our eyes! The strangest site though, was a man walking around on the rocks with a large contraption mounted on a pack on his back while another man was taking photos of him. It turns out they were working for Google, and the device was a type of panoramic camera that takes images that are later uploaded to various Google sites.
We caught up with the boys, checked our emails, then set off to return to Rodebay. But since the fog had lifted, we decided to take the quick detour back to the glacier by tender. It was worth it! Now we could indeed see the ice from water level, taking in the immensity of what was before us! Back in Rodebay, Matt had some great success fishing. He caught several nice cod, culminating with a 10-pounder that fed all six of us!
On August 19, it was time to move on to the next stop. We planned to head north to Disko Fjord for a couple days before heading south to position for our departure from Greenland. We were in for quite a lesson about how quickly things can change! When we entered Rodebay, it had been quite clear with only minimal ice to dodge. But as the winds had shifted, a great deal of ice of all sizes had made its way north from the glacier, creating a real challenge to find a path through. We slowly picked our way out of the harbor, hoping that the ice would clear enough for us to turn north. But it soon became clear that was not to be, and after consulting with Migration, we decided to alter our plans and head south to Claushavn. After another hour of picking our way through ice with no end in sight, we again decided to change plans and head west to Disko Island and the southern village of Godhavn (Qeqertarsuaq).
It is hard to describe the challenge of navigating through the ice. It’s literally like a maze where you can see a path in front of you but you don’t know exactly where it leads or whether there will be another passage further on. The large icebergs are not the problem – it is the millions of pieces of smaller ice that dot the water.
Many are just large enough to cause damage if you were to hit them and often there is no choice but to brush them aside as you pass. Thus, speed is very slow and everyone is carefully watching, looking for the best path. With Matt on the bow and eventually up in the flybridge, Bradley at the helm, and me looking forward with binoculars, we slowly picked our way through, heading west whenever possible, hoping to find clear water. In addition to the ice, we were occasionally disconcerted by gunshots, as the seal hunters were out in force. In their smaller boats, they can maneuver around in the ice much more easily than we can. We saw one man get a seal right before our eyes – and as a result of watching him for just an instant, we almost struck a small growler – we had to engage reverse and thrusters – just a reminder that you cannot lose your concentration even for an instant in these conditions!
While we felt bad for the seal, we also see first hand how plentiful they are here – constantly popping up to look around. We also appreciate how difficult it is to shoot a bobbing seal with just its head poked up with a rifle from a moving boat in near freezing temperatures! Far from doing this for fun, these people rely on seals for their food and use every part of the animal to sustain their own lives. In reality, this is hardly different than our catching and eating fish.
After what seemed an eternity, but was actually about 4 hours, we had made our way through the ice to clear water – clear being a relative term! It’s amazing what a difference a few weeks have made. What we consider “clear” water now would have scared us mightily just a few weeks ago! We still had to be diligent, keeping a good watch and dodging plenty of ice – it was just that now we had plenty of room to maneuver and the density of ice coverage wasn’t so great. So it was off to Godhavn (Qeqertarsuaq) and Disko Island.
August 17, 2014
From Christianshab (Qasifiannguit) we headed north to Rodebay (Oqaatsut), a trip of about 35 miles north. From there we planned to launch another attempt to get into Ilulissat. The winds were calm but it was raining and visibility was fair. As we headed north we again dodged ice of all shapes and sizes. It is truly amazing to see the different colors and characteristics of each piece of ice.
As we approached the entrance to Ilulissat, it looked as if the ice had cleared significantly since our last attempt where winds had blown many icebergs and growlers into the narrow channel, thwarting our attempt to get in. We decided to try to get in to Ilulissat so altered course to head east with Migration in the lead. George is a masterful driver and picked his way through a minefield of ice with Shear Madness following close behind. Bradley did an equally masterful job of guiding us in. This time we were successful in reaching Ilulissat but we soon found it was quite crowded! Migration proceeded into the small inner harbor which is protected from ice and winds but reported there was no place to anchor and no room at any of the docks. There was a spot in the outer harbor where we could probably anchor for the day, but with the ice moving so rapidly it was not a place we would have felt very secure. It was continuing to rain heavily and thus was not a great day for exploring, so we decided to continue on to Rodebay and return to Ilulissat in one of our tenders rather than the big boats.
We proceeded to Rodebay with one small stop on the way to get some photos of the boats with a beautiful iceberg (see separate post in this subject). Rodebay is a beautiful protected bay where there is a small town with a population of about 50 people about 8 miles north of Ilulissat. As we entered the anchorage, we saw a sailboat named Polaris anchored in the bay and called them to inquire about depth and best spots to anchor. We were quite pleased to find good holding as the winds were blowing 20+ knots after what had been a stressful day of navigating through ice. We invited the German couple from Polaris over for a drink and tour of Shear Madness and learned that they have been cruising in Greenland for much of the past nine years! They were a great source of information, pointing out where to find mussels, helping us plan our next stops, and giving us information on tides as it seems the tidal information on our navigation software is incorrect for this area.
We had heard that there are plenty of cod in this bay, so Matt decided to try his luck. Within minutes he had landed a nice 6-pounder and that was quickly followed by another. The weather remained rainy and cool the next day but Migration launched their large tender and the guys set off to collect some mussels. They had good luck, coming back with a nice bucketful, but with some very cold feet and hands! Dinner was set – fresh local mussels and cod with some of Marci’s leftover Reese’s Peanut Butter delight for dessert.
But first it was off to see if we could get to Ilulissat. We knew it would be a cold ride and bundled up appropriately, taking a large thermos of fortified hot chocolate along. Though just an eight mile tender ride as the crow flies, it is considerably longer as you must constantly change course to avoid ice. George was at the helm and guided the tender through the minefield of ice. . The rain continued and visibility was poor but just good enough to spot the floating bits of ice in time to avoid them. Though only a few hundred feet off shore, the water was several hundred feet deep and both air and water temperature were very cold! With multiple layers of clothing, heavy foul-weather gear, hats and gloves, we were reasonably comfortable. We just keep reminding ourselves – this is summer!
We made it into Ilulissat with no problem and found a spot to tie up and go ashore. This is a town of 5000 people and nearly as many sled dogs. All the adventure cruise ships come here, so there are more restaurants and shops than we had found in other towns. But the main attraction is the walk to the Isfjord. It is described in one guidebook as follows:
“One of the most awesome sights in Greenland and indeed the world, Ilulissat Kangerlua (Jakobshavn Isfjord) is one of the most active glaciers one the planet. Icebergs the size of small towns lie grounded at the mouth of the fjord, glistening majestically and emitting thunderous claps as they crack and fissure. The sight is guaranteed to leave an indelible impression on even the most jaded of tourists”.
I can only say that the above is completely true. I’m not sure how jaded we are, but as we walked towards the fjord, the rain abated and we were treated to the most spectacular view of this world of ice. As we watched each other walk along the rocks towards the fjord, the magnitude of this place set against a tiny person really put it into perspective.
The Ilulissat Kangerlua is the most prolific glacier outside of Antarctica. The glacier itself measures 5km (over 3 miles) wide. The 15,000 year old glacier calves over 35 cubic kilometers of ice every year – that’s 20 million tons a day. The water at the glaciers face is 1500 meters (4921 feet) deep, and the largest icebergs rest on the bottom. About 24 miles away at the mouth of the fjord lies a 260 meter (850 ft) underwater moraine that causes the large bergs to back-up behind it until the pressure builds enough to break them up or push them up and over. It can take up to two years for the large bergs to reach the mouth and they may then lie stranded another year before moving out to sea where they move north with the currents before heading down the east coast of Baffin Island towards Newfoundland. Icebergs with a jagged surface are ones that have only recently broken off while those with a smooth surface have turned over. The blue streaks evident on many of the bergs are the result of water that has melted and re-frozen.
With the weather expected to improve over the next couple days, we plan to return to Ilulissat and take the tender in to the mouth of the fjord to view it from sea level. But for now, it was back to the boat for some hot showers and a fabulous dinner of fresh mussels and cod with sides of zucchini gratin and potatoes with green beans followed by the last of that fabulous dessert!