Lesson 2: Ice reports
We thought we were well prepared to get all the information we required at sea regarding ice, but quickly we found that this was not so. We had three ways of getting ice information, through sailmail, by weather fax and finally the Iridium Satellite phone.
When we approached the coast of Greenland we wanted to enter Prins Cristian Sound from the East but we did not know what the ice conditions were like as it had been a week since we left Iceland. The Danish ice services which were supposed to send updated ice charts twice a day through weather fax never came through. When we finally were able to pick up a signal and receive ice maps through weather fax they were for different regions then they were assigned to cover. We finally got on the satellite phone and called Ice services central in Greenland and they wereabrupt and unhelpful at first. The first time we called them while in ice they told us they were eating lunch and to call back in a couple of hours. Then when we called back for an update they asked the size of our boat and told us “its not for you, do not proceed” this told us nothing about our immediate surroundings and we were left in no better a situation.
We were able to contact a weather station through VHF and were given ice concentration information for our area but we were also told the information was unreliable because it was dated. After calling Ice service central again we were told we would be emailed an ice chart shortly. Unfortunately due to the sailmail size restrictions the chart was blocked but we saw that it was sent to several other sailboats in the area. We decided to email them and a few very nice sailors wrote back within minutes giving us the latest ice conditions.
We were still unsatisfied as understanding ice reports through descriptive text is possible it is hard to visualize. Edvin texted a friend in Sweden to try and shrink some satellite photos small enough so that we could receive it by email but this didn’t work out either. Finally we hooked up the satellite phone and decided to take on the cost and tried to download some charts. We did not enjoy finding ourselves on the coast of Greenland depending on other yachties to give us their visual ice conditions and the descriptions we received by radioing local weather stations. While we felt very comfortable in the ice and tested the boat taking into 7-8 tenths for the fun of it we learned some valuable lessons for next year.
Sailmail: Next year we will sign up for a service that will allow us to download larger files, including color ice charts.
Weather fax: We need to find out why the Danish ice services charts were not being transmitted at their assigned times and can only hope this will not be an issue when relying on Canadian ice services.
Satellite phone: We will buy more minutes so that we can download not only ice charts but satellite images which provide much more detail and expose small opening in the ice.