(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!
August 13, 2014
We arrived back in Aasiaat with no problems and found space at the dock for Migration to tie up. Soon we were rafted up beside her with two fishing boats rafted up facing Migration’s stern. After a quiet evening we woke to find workers on one of the fishing boats using a grinder and sending steel dust flying our way. Wanting to avoid this as much as possible, we decided to move back to create some space between us and the fishing boats. While keeping Shear Madness secured to Migration, we eased Migration’s lines while George maneuvered her to her new location, a safe distance from the fishing boats.
Steve arrived on schedule and after he had settled in, we decided to visit the one restaurant in town, which turned out to be very nice. It is run by a couple, a Danish man and his Thai wife, and serves a combination of standard and Thai dishes. Though there were some small communications problems, we enjoyed our meal. Seated nearby was a group of men who we struck up a conversation with. They were from a large tugboat, the Tandberg Polar and they had quite an interesting story. They were from Norway and were on their way to Labrador to salvage a boat called Maude, one of Raoul Amundsen’s vessels that was lost many years ago. The tug is pulling a large barge, which will be used to raise the Maude over the next month. Then it will sit for the winter before being towed back to Greenland next summer and then on to Norway the following year where it will be restored. Details are available at http://www.maudreturnshome.no.
We returned from dinner planning to get a good night’s sleep before departing for Christianshab (Qasigiannguit) in the morning. But we were all awakened at 1:30 in the morning by a ferry that arrived and was trying to dock in front of Migration. Because we had moved our boats, there was not quite enough room for the ferry to fit at the dock, so he decided to get our attention by undoing one of Migration’s docking lines and throwing it on board. If that wasn’t enough, he then decided to bang his anchor into Migration’s, ensuring that everyone was soon awake and on deck. We needed to move the boats back to their original spot. The only problem was that it was now very cold with a nasty wind blowing. And it was also during the short 2-hours of darkness! But it wasn’t long before we were moved the short distance that allowed the ferry to fit and everyone was back in bed.
The next morning Bradley and I accompanied Steve for a walk around town. Steve is a serious photographer and took many great photos which he will be posting on his website. From there, it was an easy day trip to Christianshab, a lovely town just south of Ilulissat where we found plenty of room to anchor. We spent two great days there, with some spectacular day hikes offering fabulous views. We also took the tender out to see some icebergs up close, taking Gulliver along. It is amazing to not only see, but to hear the icebergs. The have their own landscape, with waterfalls, blue streaks where ice has melted and re-frozen without air, grooves, hills, nooks and crannies – and many different sounds. The water is very clear and deep here, enabling a great view of the bergs below the surface. Here you see bubbles rising up as air continually escapes, with occasional chunks of ice rising to the surface. Care must be taken when getting so close, as icebergs are not exactly stable – they can overturn, collapse, calve, or move at any time. This becomes very clear when you are close enough to hear the sounds and see the various features – a constant bonanza of sights and sounds.
Christianschab is a lovely town, seemingly with as many sled dogs as people. These dogs are generally kept just outside of town in small groups. The dogs are kept chained in close proximity to others in their group – these are working dogs, and are well-fed and cared for. They are not pets, though the puppies are allowed to wander free and are cute and playful, just like any other puppies. The adults are beautiful – watchful, intelligent, and proud. The only downside to being here in the summer is not being able to see them in action!
Back at the town dock, we observed several locals preparing to head out in small boats to hunt seals. We watched them dress in wetsuits plus several layers of clothing – it gets very chilly out on the water! We saw several families, with small children sitting next to the rifles as they headed out with big smiles on their faces. Several locals came by offering for sale walrus skulls with tusks, narwhal tusks, and other interesting items – none of which we wanted to buy but all of which were interesting to look at!
QQAll of this is a reminder of the very different life of these amazing Greenlanders. For centuries they have lived quite successfully in this harsh and unforgiving climate – having been here for a brief period of summer, we cannot even begin to imagine what it would be like in winter. But it makes us want to experience it – not by boat of course, but perhaps a trip back by air to experience some dogsledding or snowmobiling.
We have not seen a lot of cruising boats here, but in Christianshab, a sailboat named Kiwi Roa arrived at our anchorage and we stopped by to meet them. This boat is owned by Peter Smith, a New Zealander who was a long-time sailboat racer and boat builder and who is the designer of the very popular Rocna anchor, the type that Migration uses. We enjoyed drinks aboard Shear Madness with Peter and his partner Marlise.
Next it was off to Rodebay (Oqaatsut), 35 miles north from where we hope to launch another attempt to get into Ilulissat.
August 17, 2014
One of the “must do” things for any cruiser traveling to Greenland is to get some photos of your boat with an iceberg. But getting that incredible shot is easier said than done! We’ve been very fortunate to get some great shots of both Shear Madness and Migration posing with icebergs. But how have we done it?
First you have to find a suitable iceberg that is willing to pose with you. That means it needs to be photogenic, reasonably stable (ie, not ready to overturn or calve imminently), properly positioned for the light conditions, and not too far out of your way. As we cruise in company with Migration, we maintain VHF radio communications on an agreed to channel and discuss all matter of things – our route, upcoming hazards, whale alerts, dinner menus, tech support questions, comparing reading from various instruments, and much more. Periodically one of the other of us will call “Photo op!” and point out a likely candidate. That leads to a discussion about how far away it is, how a diversion will affect our arrival time at our destination, whether it is truly “worthy”, and how we would best get some great photos.
It’s really important to have two boats. One can position and pose while the other takes photos. Then positions can be reversed. As the icebergs must be approached very slowly and carefully, this of course takes time. We start with a broad plan of action, then one boat gets into position while the other guides it to the best spot for photos. When done, we switch positions and repeat the process.
We did this successfully several times prior to Migration’s guest, Steve, joining them. Steve is a serious photographer and on our trip from Christianshab to Rodebay we spotted a perfect photo op – a large iceberg with a see-through window which would allow one boat to shoot photos of the other boat position on the other side. Shear Madness moved into position while Steve shot photos using his various cameras and lenses. Then it was Migration’s turn. The only problem is that we do not have the same quality equipment on Shear Madness, so in order to get the same great photos of Migration, we needed to transfer Steve from Migration to Shear Madness. Not a problem!
We decided to proceed away from the berg where we had maneuvering room, then hold Shear Madness in place while Migration, using her stern cameras, backed up to our stern, allowing Steve to step off of Migration’s swim platform and onto ours. This was accomplished without incident as both George and Bradley are masterful drivers and the sea conditions were quite benign.
Soon Migration was positioned and Steve got some equally wonderful photos of her. He stayed aboard Shear Madness for the rest of the trip until we reached our anchorage where we planned to launch a tender. But upon reaching the anchorage, the winds had picked up to 20+ knots, making the tender launch a real challenge – envision even a small tender suspended from a crane in strong winds swinging like a pendulum! So we decided to put Steve back on Migration the same way he had got off – with a stern-to-stern transfer. First we dropped and secured our anchor, then Bradley used our stern thrusters to hold her in place as George backed Migration up to our stern – a bit more of a challenge with the winds – but still easily achieved. When the sterns were nearly touching, Steve stepped easily aboard and Migration pulled away to drop their anchor. The only problem was that we would have to wait until morning to see the photos Steve had captured! As it turns out, they were worth the wait!
The photos posted with this update are not high resolution due to limited bandwidth. Better photos will be posted later when we are back in high-bandwidth territory!
Click any photo to enlarge.
August 11, 2014
Fog, Icebergs and Kaneles can disrupt travel!
These couple of days have been a series of interesting, challenging and frustrating adventures as we attempt to enjoy our time in Greenland and help Migration pick up their very special guest, Steve. (A Kanele is a small regional tidal wave created by massive calving glaciers, sending surging water of several meters into nearby iluas (bays)).
We pick up our adventure here in Itivdliup Ilua where we spent the night after a 12-hour attempt to go 50 NM from Aasiaat to Ilulissat. This trip should have normally taken us 7 to 8 hours. We set out on Sunday morning at 11:00 with blue skies and comfortable temps in the low 40’s(F). It just feels so much warmer when the sun is shinning and the seas are flat. As we started our adventure north to Ilulissat, we passed some amazing icebergs that required we stop and do a photo shoot. As usual Captain Gulliver was keeping a close eye on the situation.
One of the primary reasons for visiting Ilulissat, other than to pick up Steve, is to visit the very active Ice glacier at Kangia Isfjord. It is supposed to be an amazing experience. As the radar picture below demonstrates, active is an understatement. We estimate that approximately 170 square Nautical Miles was covered in Ice so dense as to make it impassable. It is simply impossible to describe the size and magnificence of the huge Isjford (Ice fiord)!
It took us several hours and lots of very difficult navigation attempts to come to the realization that Ice Class boats are built from Aluminum or Steel incorporating special designs for a reason. After poking our way north along the ice front and trying several times to turn east and find a passage into Ilulissat, we were stymied first by ice and then by fog. Even with our radar accurately showing any decent size piece of ice, without the ability to see more than a hundred meters in front of us, navigation was extremely difficult, not to mention stressful. Besides the massive icebergs and their little brothers, medium sized bergs, the water is simply covered with small bits of floating ice, ranging in size from small chunks to large blocks, some of which can cause damage if hit. These “growlers” or “bergy bits” do not show up on radar, and create a real obstacle course. As the fog intensified, it became more and more difficult to see these bits of ice.
Unable to find a safe passage into Ilulisat, we decided to head to a recommended anchorage north at Rode Bay. After an hour of picking our way through ice bits and with increasing fog, we decided to change course and head south to a safe anchorage 14 Nautical miles Southwest. We had spotted the location on the way north. It was still touch and go, as lots of fog and even more growlers appeared on our course. The sound of a growler cascading down the side of ones boat, is much like that of fingernails on a chalkboard. After what turned out to be a very stressful day, we made into a safe and beautiful anchorage for the evening. We are talking about fog so dense that our visibility was often reduced to less than 100 meters. We know this because our radars can spot the icebergs and we can then determine their distance when we can actually see them. Close to the entrance to this anchorage were two large icebergs, each with arches at the bottom, creating a window/tunnel through the iceberg. We remarked about how cool it would be to kayak through one of them.
It was 10:30pm by the time we were anchored and settled but the sun was still well above the horizon, while a beautiful full moon was on the rise. Just when we thought all was well and had settled in for a well-deserved sleep, we heard a sound so loud and close, one would have thought the boat was breaking apart. We all jumped out of bed and after carefully looking around, we realized the large iceberg, sitting just outside our anchorage bay was calving. It is amazing the amount of sound emanating from the ice as we passed it. As the ice density increased, so did the noise level, to an almost distracting decibel level. Because sound travels so much further through water, than air, one can hear the icebergs singing to each other as they slowly shrink. In the morning, we saw that the arch/tunnel we had seen just hours before was obliterated! Glad we had not seriously considered launching the kayak!
It turns out we were not the only ones having difficulty getting into Ilulissat this day. All the while we were trying to get in, we watched one ice- class, experienced, pocket cruise ship spend over 4 hours carefully working its way out of Ilulissatthrough the ice at an average speed of 1.5 knots (we tracked them via AIS). They were just pushing the smaller growlers and bergs out of their way.
We also talked to a second cruise ship, L’Austral that was scheduled to visit. After spending several hours exploring options to get in, they had elected to spend the night driving in a slow circle in open water and hope conditions would improve by morning. We had several conversations with them and they were extremely helpful, even offering to allow us to follow them in. It was a good thing we elected to proceed with a different approach, because the next morning we found out they could not make it in as the fog persisted. In addition, a second, ice-class cruise ship – Silver Explorer, spent multiple hours Monday morning also trying to reach Ilulissat, before deciding to skip ii and proceeding to their next destination. It appears to be a very heavy ice year!
We had a wonderful nights sleep in Itivdliup Ilua in flat calm conditions, once we got used to the sounds of icebergs self-destructing. We woke early at 0600, for a scheduled call with Migration to try and determine how we were going to pick Steve up in Illulissat that afternoon. After carefully thinking about our options and having a discussion with the Captain of Silver Explorer, who was in the process of trying to get in, we came to the conclusion that the best options were for Steve to: one, catch the local Disko bay ferry back to Aasiaat the following morning or; two, change his flight to fly directly into Aasiaat. George was able to reach Steve and he was able to change his flight.
So now all we had to do was cruise back to whence we had come the day before. The only problem – you guessed it, heavy fog. So dense that throughout the morning the two boats closely anchored could not see each other. Finally by around 11:00, the fog had cleared enough for us to pull up the anchors and make a mad dash through the ice-infested waters to clear water before the fog returned. The one thing we all noticed as we returned to Aasiaat, was just how much the bergs can change their appearance in 24 hours.
We hope there is dock space for the evening. We will pick Steve up and stay through Tuesday evening as the weather is schedule to turn aggressive for 24 hours, before settling back down for 3 days. We then plan to continue to explore Disko bay for the next 7 to 10 days.
August 4, 2014
On our final approach to Greenland, the sea was calmer than we could ever have imagined – it was like being on a giant lake. As we approached the entrance to the town of Sisimiut, we encountered the National Geographic Explorer, a small adventure-cruise ship. It seemed to be circling around so we contacted the captain by radio and learned that they were watching some humpback whales. As they moved on, we moved closer and were treated to a very nice whale show. We also saw plentiful seals poking their heads up and icebergs dotted the horizon. It was a true National Geographic moment!
Despite its beauty, Greenland is not visited by tons of cruising yachts, so the cruising guides are at best sketchy. As we headed into Sisimiut, we slowly cruised around several potential anchoring sites, but had great difficulty finding a suitable spot. The shores drops off very quickly, often resulting in depths of 40-50 meters (120-150 ft) just off the shore – too deep for us to anchor. Shallower waters are often too close to shore to be comfortable. We finally found a spot where we were able to drop our anchor in 20 meters (60 feet) and get a reasonable hold, but not one that inspired great confidence if the wind were to kick up, as it was forecasted to do. Migration launched their tender and we went ashore for a bit of exploration.
It was immediately clear that we were in a different world. The inner harbor was crowded with small boats and as we secured the tender and made our way up the dock, our senses were overwhelmed with the sights and smells of fresh seal carcasses. Greenland’s population of 50,000 is made up mostly of people born in Greenland – Inuits – who still rely heavily on hunting seals and whales. Unlike the hunting that occurred Canada in the 1980’s, where baby seals were clubbed to death for their fur, Greenlanders hunt only for subsistence, using all parts of the animals they take. The seal and whale population here is plentiful, much healthier than say, the cod fish population in northern Canada or the shellfish population on the east coast. Seals here are hunted with rifles much the way Americans hunt deer, though often with silencers on.
Sisimiut, Greenland’s second largest town, has a population of 6000 and has two large grocery stores, a bakery, post office, museum, and some good hiking. The towns in Greenland are not connected by roads – there are local roads only – but transportation between towns is by air, ferry, dogsled, or snowmobile. Given this, we were surprised at the number of cars in town – there were many nice, new models, including many SUVs. Unlike in Labrador, where there was quite a variety of dogs, in Greenland the only dogs permitted are sled dogs. These dogs are not pets – they are working dogs, bred to pull sleds and happiest in the winter months when they are doing so. We saw many sled dogs, chained in their owners yards or kept in pens outside of town. They are taking the summer off, quite content to rest and watch the world pass by until the winter arrives.
Once ashore, we learned that we could tie up to the large commercial dock, so we moved both boats the following morning, so that we were much more secure for the coming weather. These commercial docks are quite rough – not like cushy marina slips. They are huge, imposing structures, often presenting quite a challenge to get on and off your boat once you are tied up to them. With tidal ranges of 10 feet or more, sometimes the dock is way above you and sometimes far below!
Sisimiut is a very pretty town, with buildings in good repair and painted in bright, vibrant colors. We visited the local butcher shop, where we procured small portions of reindeer and whale meat plus some musk ox meat from the local grocery store. We did not get any seal meat because it is much more difficult to cook. Chef Bradley took charge of cooking the meats, while Marci prepared some shrimp and I contributed a fresh salad. We all agreed – the reindeer was the best, with the whale meat a close second and much better than we had thought it would be. I thought it tasted more like beef than fish, but Bradley thought that while it looked like beef and had a beefy texture, it had a very subtle but pleasant fish taste. The musk ox was fine too, though indistinguishable from beef.
The locals are quite curious, though hesitant to engage in conversation. The primary languages here are Danish and Greenlandic, and few people speak fluent English, though many know enough to get by. A steady stream of people walked or drove to the dock to look at the boats and would smile and wave at us, but conversation was minimal. There were a few locals who were very helpful though. One couple took Bradley on a driving tour, pointing out to him the best local restaurant, though we ultimately did not get a chance visit it on this visit. A local boat captain went over local charts and provided us with some wonderful guidance based on his years of driving up and down the coast –extremely valuable help in these less than well-traveled waters. Another fellow took us to his office to allow us to download weather information on his internet connection, saving us both time and money as local internet access is expensive and slow. And the local shrimp boat asked “do you like shrimp”? This boat catches small Greenlandic shrimp and processes them onboard – they are accumulated in a holding tank before being cooked whole and frozen. The had several 1-pound boxes that were torn and could not be sold, so we were given one and Migration got another. Someone it seem that the further we travel, the fuller our freezers are getting!
Our cruising guide said that the local harbormaster can “assist you with clearing in”. When arriving at your first port in a foreign country, it is necessary to check in with customs and immigration, who then grant you permission to enter the country. We found the local harbormaster, who was a bit unclear about what needed to be done. She advised us to come back in an hour after she had time to speak to the office in Nuuk, the capital. We went on to the Post Office to buy local phone and internet cards and were helped by a very nice woman there. Marci and I set off to shop while Bradley and George went back to the harbormaster’s office. It seems that three government employees had been summoned to be taken aboard our boat for an inspection. One of these was the woman who worked at the post office! They boarded the tender with Bradley and George and conducted an inspection of both boats, ensuring that we had no illegal drugs, excessive alcohol, firearms, or other items of concern. They were a bit concerned about the thyme and rosemary they found in the freezer and some of the personal prescription medication we carry, but were finally convinced it was only herbs and proper medicine respectively! After joining us for a cup of tea, we gained official permission to visit Greenland.
Our next destination was Aasiaat, a trip of 123 miles. It was another early morning departure at 3:30am, putting us into Aasiaat at 8:30pm after a 17.5 hour cruise in mostly settled seas and a 10-20 knot breeze from behind us. We made great time because the West Greenland current was also pushing us along. As we approached Sisimiut we decided there was a lovely bay on the NW coast of Iginarfik, just outside town, that we could anchor in rather than head into the commercial docks. Unfortunately we were not successful as the depth was 60 meters seemingly right up to the shore line and there was not room for both boats anyway, So we ended up having to go to the commercial dock in Aasiaat, which come Saturday evening was a blessing. Fortunately the days are very long here with only a couple hours of darkish twilight, so except when there is fog (which is often!) there is plentiful daylight.
As we approached the commercial dock, there was a crowd of maybe 20 people watching. None of them seemed familiar with boats, however, so they did not offer any help with docking lines. Just as we pulled close, an SUV sped onto the dock and a very helpful man appeared, showing us where to go and grabbing some of our lines. He had a beer in one hand and a big grin as he proudly announced how drunk he was! It was, after all, a Friday night! Soon Migration was in place behind us and we breathed a sigh of relief as we were secure again.
The weather was not great during our stay with rains and wind kicking up. We managed a nice walk around town to explore between rain storms, finding the local grocery stores, meeting some sled dog puppies (very cute), and meandering through neighborhoods checking out the challenges of construction in this rocky and frigid terrain. With winds and rain expected to intensify on Saturday, we planned a movie afternoon aboard Migration. We brought the popcorn and enjoyed “The Internship” and “Jobs”, then decided to stay for a quick dinner. The winds continued to build, reaching over 40 knots and presenting us a real problem –how to get off of Migration and back on to Shear Madness! The winds were blowing both boats well off the docks, requiring George to fire up his engines so that he could engage his stern thruster to get us close enough to the dock to disembark. But with nobody aboard Shear Madness, someone had to get on first. That was Bradley, who managed to get the boat close enough for a jump/scramble into the cockpit. He was then able to use our electric winch at the stern to get the boat close enough for me and Matt to board. This was all with freezing cold, driving rain and strong winds – not the time to make a miss-step and end up in the near freezing water! But all’s well that ends well, and it was a great adventure.
August 9, 2014
Torngat National Park and The Davis Strait Crossing – (July 29 – Aug 5)
(Written by Bradley with minor edits and additions by Kathy)
Torngat National Park is a large area of wilderness in the most northern part of Labrador. It was set aside as a National Park in the 80’s following a lengthy land settlement with the Inuit people. During a six-week summer season, a base camp is set up, providing minimal accommodations for adventurous folks who want to experience this unspoiled wilderness. These accommodations range from tents to larger, hard-sided “shelters” that even come with heaters. There is plenty of great hiking, though you are encouraged to hire a “beer guard” – at least that’s what it sounds like. This is actually a local Inuit guide whose primary job is to carry a big rifle to protect you from polar bears (which the locals pronounce “beer”).
As soon as we arrived at the park, we received word from our weather router (a land-based meteorologist who helps predict weather and route you along safe routes for long passages) that a window for the crossing to Greenland was opening up within 24 hours. It had been clear from our last weather download in Nain that near perfect conditions for a crossing would be arriving before we were ready to take advantage of them. The primary cruising rules that we have learned to follow are 1) No Schedule and 2) Take the weather windows when they develop. So after some careful discussions with Capt. Gulliver and team on Migration and the weather router, we elected to cut our trip to the park short and depart less than 60 hours after arriving. A major factor in our decision was that we only have the month of August for cruising Greenland before we have to start looking for weather windows to get out of town. We had also already made the decision that we would return to Labrador for an entire season in the future. As I sit here at N64.42 and W 55.46 (crossing the Davis Strait) drafting this blog, I can tell you we made the correct decision.
We arrived at the park late Wed afternoon 30 July and departed at 03:30 Saturday 2 Aug. We had just two days to experience as much as we could of the park while making final preparation for a 3 to 5 day crossing of what can be a very nasty sea if it so decides. So far, we have only had to run our stabilizers for less than 12 hours out of 60. We have had, with the exception of that same 12 hours, seas of less than .5 meters (1.5ft) and winds in the single digits. The forecast is calling for this to continue for at least 24, if not 36 hours. We have already altered our crossing course from Nuuk further north to Sisimiut, Greenland to put us closer to our intended northernmost destination of Disko Bay. We may again alter course this evening after we hear from the weather router to arrive within 100 miles of Disko, an easy day trip where it remains light for 20+ hours a day this time of year.
After hearing from the router and having some discussion with Migration, we elected to continue to head for Sisimiut. It is a major city (population 5000) with a port, which means local cruising knowledge is available. A substantial part of the coast is not charted, so local information will be critical.
Back to the park – Anchoring was a challenge, with both boats using most of the chain in our respective anchor lockers to secure “ok” holding. We ended up with all 133 meters (400 feet) of our chain out, so we used this opportunity to scrub out the anchor locker on Thursday. It is amazing what accumulates down there, even though we use both a fire-hose sized pump to wash the chain and also spray it with a saltwater hose as it comes up to keep it as clean as possible. (Having put all the chain out and having already reversed it several years ago, an item clearly added to our winter project list is to secure new chain. The chain is now going on 11 years old. We will most likely secure around 150 meters.)
Once we anchored, we all went to shore to meet the park managers and sort out options. Gary, the director for Parks Canada on site, asked us to come back at 20:00 for an organizational meeting, as they were busy organizing the departure of a group. At our meeting, it was agreed we would secure the services of a guide for hiking the next morning at 08:00. Of course, we ended up having to delay because of – you guessed it – FOG. We ended up hiking up the hills surrounding base camp for almost 2 hours and then back down in 1 hour. One could spend days hiking the area. Unfortunately we did not spot any polar bears, but did see lots of grandeur and beauty.
While our plan had been to return to the boat for lunch and then do an afternoon hike we were all too tired for a second walk. Some boat preparation chores were attacked – the anchor locker, cleaning a raw water intake, chasing down a hydraulic drip and beginning a very detailed review of the entire boat, securing everything for a major passage. We had become a little spoiled in the calm coastal waters of Labrador. On Friday morning several of our knees were a little too sore and the fog was in again so we continued with boat chores. The two boats decided Shear Madness would launch our big tender and we would attempt a circumnavigation of the “The Big Island” (correct name) we has passed on the way into the anchorage. At our briefing, we had learned that this was one place we were most likely to see a polar bear. Up until this point in the trip, once Migration had joined us, we had been either docking or they had been graciously launching their small tender, which is much more easily launched and retrieved, than either of our large tenders.
We started out in clear weather, but quickly ended up engulfed in heavy fog, as we crossed the channel to “The Big Island”. The fog cleared as we arrived. We enjoyed several hours cruising the shores, but could not find any bears. We did note the amazing clarity of the water, often able to see close to 30 feet down. We all returned very cold, as the wind chill brought the temperature to below 0C or 32F.
We did have some luck fishing. Matt caught two large (9+pound) Arctic Char – a cousin of salmon and trout. George and I went ashore to show the camp managers George’s drone and we lucky enough to be invited on a short helicopter ride. We got a great tour and were lucky enough to finally see a polar bear!
There was to be a concert that night at base camp, given by the guest artist Ian Tambyn, who we desperately wanted to see. He had spent a week at the camp working with a group of visiting teenagers selected by Parks Canada in conjunction with local town councils as future leaders. However given our planned departure time, we needed to reload our tender, wrap up everything, eat a wonderful dinner of extremely fresh Arctic Char, and get a couple hours of sleep before our wake up call of 02:45. It is amazing how quickly the call arrives, after only 4 hours of sleep! It was time for final checks before beginning anchor retrieval.
Dawn had already started to arrive. As we turned east out of the anchorage we were greeted by a stunning sunrise, peaking through some fog on the horizon.
Engine rooms checks have become more interesting as we have cruised north. The average engine room temperarture used to be in 90’s (32C) or above. Now we are lucky if it is in 70’s (21C) even with intake fans reduced to their lowest settings. Outside temps have been 34F (1C) to 45F (7C), with the exception of an occasional very sunny windless afternoon reaching 70F (21C). While most of the machinery seems to enjoy the cooler temp, it has led to drips here and there. Anywhere seawater is running through pipes, we are getting heavy condensation. Often where rubber hose connects to hard piping we were getting dripping seawater. After a couple rounds of carefully tightening the clamps we have eliminated the saltwater drips and only have to wipe up after the condensation. While none of the operating temperatures on the equipment we monitor each hour has changed, it is a much cooler environment and therefore much better for all electronic items.
We could not have asked for a better trip across the Davis Strait. After three days covering close to 600 miles, with very little wind or waves, we arrived safely in Sisimiut, Greenland, crossing into the Arctic Circle! Now the real adventure begins!
The End of Internet
Written by Bradley in late July, published in early Aug when we once again have internet access. We will be posting several new updates soon (we hope!)
Just as we arrived in Nain, one of the northernmost towns in Labrador, we spied our new friends Novara at anchor. They had arrived the evening before. Nain has a population of less than 2000, but two competing stores, that sell everything one needs, kind of like the sears catalog circa early 1900’s. These last several stops have been in places where one can only arrive via boat or airplane. There are no roads connecting the towns. In the winter some make the hundreds of miles trips via snowmobile. We had 2 days of pouring rain.
This is most likely the last place we will have email for several weeks. On the morning of our departure George and I are sitting outside the local administrative building at 03:00 doing a final download of emails and weather. At least it was not raining.
We had a wonderful time in Nain. Some last minute provisioning of perishables, milk, heavy water proof gloves, and some specialized fishing lures, that will come in handy at our next stop. We had a breakfast at the local hotel Restaurant – the only eatery in town and most importantly, had happy hour on Migration with the 4 blokes from Novara. They would depart a day before us, but that would not be the last we hear from them.
After this we will head north while working with a weather router to select the time and place to cross over to Greenland. We have been cruising north behind a long string of islands that provide wonderful protection from ocean swell and waves. So the sea state has been very kind to us but, the weather has turned cooler – low 40’s with rain and fog – very much like a late fall day in VA. We are cruising in some old Valleys that a previous Ice age created, now filled with some of the cleanest salt water we have seen in the world. Sometimes we can almost reach out and touch the mountains from the boat as we pass them. With the water temperature in the high 40’s to very low 50’s the water is most likely too cold to swim in, but I have not been able to try because of the profusion of jelly fish up here. I am surprised.
The raw beauty of this coast is primordial. It captures your eyes and does not let them go – for hours each day. Yesterday we did a 103 mile passage from Hopedale to Nain. Actually we are 1 hour south of Nain in a well-protected anchorage. Just off our bow is an old abandoned mine operation opened up here in the early 2000’s. The Nain harbor is exposed to NE winds and as we anchored in this protected cove, the winds outside were blowing 20 to 25 knots.
We departed at 04:30 yesterday, just as the sun rose in plenty of light and arrived at 18:30. We spent most of the day captured by the beauty of mountains – some with even a little snow remaining and the sea with magnificent changes in depths of the water. We would go from several hundred meters deep to less than 3 meters, what we draw, and back within minutes. One had to keep a very good watch and tight course.
This summer is just like a winter day in Auckland. Rain, fog, Temps in mid single digits C (40’s F). The good news is that when it is like this, the flies are not out. They are big enough to carry one off, and have a ferocious bite. Other days temps are in high 20’s (60’s F) and one has to keep moving, wear bug spray and still end up donating a liter of blood to the local wildlife. It is getting dark after 22:00 at night and light again by 03:30, so we are down to less than 5.5 hours of darkness each night. What a wonderfully energizing way to live.
Our next stop is the Torngat National Park. It is a two day trip North along the Labrador coast, through a number of Tickles (narrow inside passages between the coast and islands), with magnificent scenery and calm waters. The weather started out benign, not raining or windy, but no blue skies. By late afternoon, as we started to think about anchoring options, the wind was up along with buckets of pouring rain. We had decided to stop at Anchorstock Bight (Sutherland Inlet) and who do you think was anchored – Novara. We extended an invitation to them to join us for after dinner drinks, but conditions were so bad, that even a two Brits, a Kiwi and a Scot decided to take a pass. I am sure many of our Aussie and Kiwi readers are rolling their eyes in disbelief.
It took us three tries to get the anchor to hold, and in the end, we took more chain than normally required to feel the anchor grip. During our first anchor attempts, we were cleaning major amounts of Kelp off, so we knew what the bottom looked like. Had the weather and our schedule been different, this would have been a lovely place to explore, as there is a large inland lake accessible by tender at high tide and two abandoned sites, a quarry and a mine. All equipment was just left and the sites closed. Very sad!