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!