2014-08 Ilulissat – First Attempt!

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)).

Photo op with a berg!

Photo op with a berg!

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)!

All these targets are icebergs

All these targets are icebergs


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.

Navigational challenge! Lots of floating ice and fog setting in.

Navigational challenge! Lots of floating ice and fog setting in.


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.

Almost sunset - at 10:30pm!

Almost sunset – at 10:30pm!

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.

This berg collapsed overnight, making a great commotion

This berg collapsed overnight, making a great commotion

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.

  1. #1 by Tom Berray on August 18, 2014 - 4:18 pm

    Hi Kathy,

    I am thoroughly enjoying your posts about your trip to Greenland. The pictures are amazing. Thanks for sharing.

    Good luck with the rest of this trip.

    Tom Berray


  2. #2 by F Peter Boer on August 16, 2014 - 3:38 pm

    Well, we actually got into Ilulissat a few years back, via a cruise boat. A nice place. I know the feeling about the growlers!


  3. #3 by Gordon Priestley on August 13, 2014 - 8:23 pm

    Amazing and the photos are spectacular…keep safe


  4. #4 by Anonymous on August 13, 2014 - 2:35 pm

    Looking forward to hearing that the water temperature is above 50 f. I assume it is maybe 32 where you are. Not to good for a swim.



  5. #5 by egghead4 on August 13, 2014 - 8:25 am

    I second, amazing photo’s and descriptions of your experience!


  6. #6 by Andrew Chapman on August 13, 2014 - 7:54 am

    Wow! So spectacular! And though I should comment more on your posts, I do want you to know they’re appreciated. Fun to vicariously enjoy your journey! Thanks for documenting it all.


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