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.