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Today we crossed the Arctic Circle at N 66 32′ which in this “bowl” contains over six million square miles of Ocean and land which has fascinated and challenged explorers and scientists alike for centuries. For us this marks an important milestone for our expedition as we take the next step closer to our final staging area in the Canadian high Arctic which is a thousand nautical miles to the North West at about N 76 32′.
This achievement prompted us to revisit the expedition timeline and see how we matched up to our anticipated plans. After a series of delays – Lewisporte pre-departure preparations, Nuuk repairs, battling a full scale outbreak of the flu on board and light winds to headwinds – We quickly realized that while we had achieved an important milestone we were behind schedule and would have to head North bound with haste.
There will not be time to visit all the villages we had hoped for and we have to do some route ajustement to achieve our staging area on time for our Arctic crossing attempt. This means picking villages and fjords more strategically so that we can still enjoy our Greenlandic surrounding while making meaningful progress toward our ultimate goal.
Unfortunately our delays and need to speed things up created logistical issues – Rana our documentary film maker friend wanted to take more time to dive deeper into some of the leads he had developed in a few villages along the coast while on the other hand Morgan our last crew was arriving further up North in Ilulissat and we had a responsibility to pick him up with in a reasonable amount of time. So compromises were made, Rana was dropped off in a village to follow his story and will meet up with us in a few days by ferry more North while Morgan waits in Ilulissat for a few days while we push North straight into the wind to reach him. Once we all unite in a few days time we will enjoy Disco bay then make a hard push for the high Arctic.
We reached the mouth of Eternity fjord just after midnight. The setting sun turned the jagged mountains around us into enormous black silhouettes and the play of light continued as the sun came back up only a few hours later. With a width of almost three miles, peaks towering over fifteen hundred meters above us was impossible to get a sense of size or distance and the large floating bodies of ice around us it confused our sense of perspective. The vertical cliffs held large colonies of birds and there seemed to be an infinite level of details wherever we looked. Mesmerized by the whole experience we anchored for the night right beside a small glacier and fell asleep to the sound of the multiple streams emptied into the fjord.
When we woke up at noon we lifted our anchors to explore the fjord further and headed for the largest glacier. We where met by a concentration of drifting ice and before we could see the glacier we heard the thundering sound of the calvings. Getting closer we could see a large vertical wall of ice with huge cracks and it looked like the whole thing could collapse at any moment. Exited to get closer we got in into the dingy and reached the large area of brash that surrounded the glacier. There was a constant low pitch noise from the cracking glacier and every now and then large pieces broke lose and fell into the water creating small explosions of bursting water and ice. After each calving there was a delayed thunder bang and the wave that followed set the brash in motion and it sounded like we where in a large bowl of rice crispies. Like children in a theme park we spent the remainder of the day playing in the ice trying out Belzebubs threshold of hitting and pushing growlers and brash.
When it was time to anchor for the night we headed over to a smaller uncharted and inactive glacier. Nick was on the helm and I monitored the depth sounder in order to find a suitable depth on the uncharted bottom; 65m, 82m, 45m 0,8m !!! STOP. In a heartbeat we realized that we had hit the bottom and were stuck. We where stuck on a falling tide and if the bottom looked anything like the cliffs around us the boat was in serious trouble. We acted quickly; I got into the dinghy pulling a line from the mast in an attempt to heel us off the ground while Nick reversed the engine at full throttle. Nothing happened so we changed tactics. I got the anchors in the dingy and threw them behind the boat while Nick gave everything he had on the winches. After 20 minutes we had 3 anchors out with lines running from every possible point of the boat. Drained of energy and ideas we felt the boat tipping over as the water dispersed beneath it. There was nothing we could do. But after poking the bottom with a stick we where relived to find that it was flat and muddy and that Belzebub would be just fine laying on her side until the tide came back. An hour later we could walk on the bottom around the boat. With the midnight sun and the beautiful surrounding it was a bizarre but quite amusing feeling. We had to improvise sleeping quarters in the tilted boat which leaned over 60 degrees and when the alarm woke us up the next mooring to our great amusement the boat was floating as if nothing had happened and we set sail from eternity.
We cruised into Nuuk on a fresh breeze surrounded by a hazy morning fog and waters dotted with floating ice. We were arriving to civilization after close to two weeks at sea and we had mixed feelings about our arrival – sad to be arriving back to civilization so soon but excited to see Greenland’s capital and immerse ourselves in its culture. We were also pretty excited about drinking something other than the milk we had been forced to subside on for the last few days.
We arrived in the bustling commercial port area and moored up to a string of large fishing vessels and other sailboats from various countries along a tall wharf. We immediately called to begin immigration formalities but just as last year we were told there was no need to do so and that we were “welcome”. We spent the first day exploring the small capital of fifteen thousand people and quickly realized that while appealing, logistically our stay would be much more complicated and time consuming than we had previously anticipated.
Firstly communications, specifically internet and telephone were difficult to access, wildly over priced and bound by ridiculous data restrictions which made life in port very complicated especially with regard to updating our blog. Secondly, access to the equipment and provisions we required were spread all over town, presently out of stock or simply not available in Greenland making the repairs we had to make time consuming or impossible.
We did, however, manage to organize a long term fuel solution for the crux of our expedition so that we can remain self sustainable for longer periods. This includes the storage of 25 litres of ethanol and 50 litres of kerosene – or jet fuel as they call it here for cooking. As well as an additional 150 litres of diesel storage for heating and any motoring that may need to be undertaken in the remote ice of Arctic Canada.
While we enjoyed the city culture, people, food and drink when we could our days were overall filled with frustration, incessant rain and eventually by the end sickness. After eight days in port we had made friends, connections and enjoyed the Greenlandic hospitality and learned more about the people and culture. However, we were happy to leave the bustling port and head back out to the more quaint communities and isolated fjords that the coast has to offer and the provide a more authentic portrayal of the country.
We had little idea of what to expect as we punctured through the fog of the Labrador Sea and finally saw the Fjord that led to our land fall at Faeringhavn. We selected this place not for its comforts and amenities but for its desolation and mystery – Faeringehavn is home to an abandoned village and fishing station. We though it fitting to begin our journey through Greenland – a country of mystery and intrigue – by visiting one of its unique sites that epitomizes just that.
We decided to start off by having a quick peak at the abandoned fishing station. As we rounded one of the stone outcrops jutting from the water a row of derelict buildings that lined a broken quay slowly revealed itself. We were stunned our little fishing station was in fact a sprawling abandoned fishing town, consisting of warehouses, power plant, dams, hospital, homes, theatre, barracks, cafeteria, machine shops and administrative buildings. Once we had anchored and tied our lines to the derelict dock we all ran off in our different directions with excitement to explore this bizarre and wonderful place.
Traces of the past lay everywhere – personal effects were sprawled amongst fully furnished ransacked buildings that the elements were slowly reclaiming. Kitchens were complete with utensils, living rooms with couches, common rooms with pool tables, fooz ball and pianos, fishing warehouses filled with massive diesel engines, furnaces, cranes, tractors, boat, freezer rooms, tons and tons of salt, fishing equipment and offices lined with cabinets, bedrooms with dressers, beds, and night tables all in various stages of deterioration. All this sitting under leaky roves, under fallen walls and ceilings and by broken wind swept windows. This human infrastructure abandoned in a beautiful and serene landscape with nothing for hundreds of miles. A village frozen in a time that long passed.
After hours of exploring on our own we met up and toured through the most notable spots discussing what could have happened there. The setting was all too much like a scene from an apocalyptic movie – we ourselves felt affected by its energy.
The sea of Labrador had been kind to us with fair winds and waves in our favor, but the never ending fog was making the passage a slightly claustrophobic experience. Our visibility was limited to fifty to a hundred meters around the boat and without sun, moon stars or horizon our reality was becoming smaller and smaller. With no signs of other boats or wildlife we felt completely alone on the sea.
On the 9th day of our crossing everything changed – the fog lifted and revealed a number of icebergs on the horizon and as we got closer to the coast of Greenland we could see the familiar skyline with snow covered mountains and jagged peaks. A family of bottlenose whales paid us a brief visit, but a few hours later they returned with their extended family. For almost an hour more than fifteen of these magnificent six meter whales swam under and around us. In order to make contact with them we tried to make noises and sing to them through a pipe that we submerged into the water. It seemed to work as they curiously came all the way up the pipe to find out what made the noises.
In the evening the wind began to freshen and we had some great sailing as we passed some of the most beautiful icebergs we have seen to date. At two o’clock in the morning the moon came out and as the sun set behind a pointy iceberg the whole panorama was almost too much for us after spending the whole passage in dull gray fog. It had been a wonderful day and we were truly happy about being back in Greenland.
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