Safe and Sound in Greenland

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Sun 4 Jul 2010 14:23
60:04.742N 043:11.657W Sunday Midday

Just finished a monster breakfast - I know, I know, it's midday, that's really brunch but... we deserved it! What a passage that was. We always intended to cross to Greenland on the north side of an Atlantic low pressure area and that's just what we did. We didn't expect the low to be that deep or that far north, though. The result was a very fast passage with us sailing for the vast majority of it but it was in big seas. That wasn't such a problem when the wind was behind us and we had the twin headsails out but, when we came round a bit to head more west, the sea was from the starboard quarter and that was when it got really uncomfortable. We all suffered, me worst of all, I think but Jamie was pretty bad too.

As we closed the Greenland coast, things calmed down a lot and we all cheered up. The wind was just as strong where we'd been but we just sailed out of it. The coast was spectacular. Pointed mountains, cloaked in snow with glaciers between them. From a distance, the glaciers don't look like snow - more like tablecloths draped over the landscape. They're so featureless that it's hard to tell if they're really snow or just clouds and they're far bigger than your mind is willing to accept. We were in sight of the coast for about 70 miles as we were travelling obliquely to it getting gradually closer so we had plenty of time to wonder.

As we got closer in, we started to watch for ice seriously. We could see a double-pointed island ahead of us and it was some time before we realised that it was an iceberg. We were about 16 miles from it at this point. The ice that's a danger to us is the smaller chunks that float at water level - we can always see the larger bergs by eye or on the radar. The smaller chunks - called growlers - are always found with the bergs, though, as they melt quickly once they become detached. Just for the purpose, the visibility started to get worse as we entered a fog bank. The fog often accompanies the ice as it floats in the cold currents and the cold water makes the moisture condense out of the warmer (relatively) air. By the time we got close to the berg, we couldn't see it atall but we did see some smaller chunks, one of which looked like an upturned claw with the water pulsing though it.

The visibility continued to deteriorate before, miraculously, it suddenly cleared and we could see the whole coast again in front of us. The pointed peaks of Cape Farvell in the distance, the ranks of other peaks trailing north of that and, off to our port side, a truly massive iceberg. Now, I know we all know that icebergs are big things but, blimey, this was huge. It was hard to really accept just how huge it was. It was sitting stationary in the water, grounded in about 100 meters. The waves from the south west crashing against it had carved the windward face into a smooth curve, like the prow of those ships with a bulbous bow. The surf was massive as the swell moved over the shallow underwater ice. Above the smooth ice, the rest of the berg was a wall of crags, pinnacles and faces - like a mountain range than a single object. It was glowing to itself in the low sunlight, outlined against the darker fog bank behind. I took some pictures but they're rubbish. The presence and the sheer size itself was the thing. Trying to work out how this much ice can form, then move down the mountains and then float as a single piece on the sea before breaking off. Once again, this Earth seems more strange then we usually credit.

As we closed the coast looking for the entrance to Prinz Chritian Sund, it all suddenly seemed pretty intimidating. This coast is usually protected by a raft of sea ice and coming into it this early in the year is almost unheard of. The idea of cutting off the passage around this most notorious of Capes by taking this tiny shortcut seemed too good to be true but as we got closer to the entrance without finding any ice, it looked like it would come of. By now, we could see the antennae of the tiny Danish weather station at the entrance to the sound. To either side were rocky islands, worn smooth by the actions of ice and sea. Between them were grounded icebergs, giving some indication of how deep the water is even right alongside the land. Then, it seemed quite sudden, we were in. The swell died and we could see the steel-grey rocks to both sides. Small bits of ice, the size of dustbins were bobbing around with a larger chunk - maybe tennis-court sized - parked between the bank and an island right where we needed to pass. The sides are so steep-to that it was easy to get between the ice and the island, though.

Just past the island, we turned North and into a by where the chart marked an anchorage. Initially, it was hard to judge the scale of the place as it looked like you could throw a stone across it but, as we approached, Kali had the amazing laser range finder out and was telling me "200 meters to the rocks" with my replying "are you sure, it looks like about 20". She was right, of course. So, into action. We launched the dinghy with Richard driving and Jamie running up the rocks. Once they'd got one strop in place and found a ring-bolt in another rock (helpfully marked by a lot of red paint that I found it hard to see), Kali and I could back into the middle of the two points, check that our line would reach and then motor forward to drop the anchor 60 meters ahead in 30 meters of water. Then backwards again into the position we started with and the boys grab the mooring line and run it ashore and onto the ring bolt. Back they come and grab the other line without stopping (Jamie risking being tugged backwards out of the dinghy if it didn't run freely) and on to attach it to the strop. And that's it. Suddenly, we're all stopped and safe. It's quiet and still with only the floating bits of ice to remind us of how remote it really is and how far away from home we truly are.

I must admit I was too exhausted to really take it all in. We had a snack and a drink - the others sharing Jamie's Tobermory whisky with the picture of the place we visited so long ago on the bottle. I headed to bed via the shower. Kali needed to use my loo about 10 minutes later and couldn't get an answer from me. I think I was comatose. I heard a commotion at 08:30 this morning as the guys left for a walk but I went straight back to sleep again until 10:30. After that, I feel pretty normal again.

Richard thinks this is one of the most special places that he's been in the world - and he's been to some pretty amazing bits of it. The combination of beauty, remoteness and the feeling that so few people have been lucky enough to be here does make it awe-inspiring. I still don't really know that I feel that I've truly arrived yet. We've been doing jobs on Saxon Blue since we got up. The boys have been doing drilling and screwing, Kali has been adjusting the loo and I've been sorting out where we're going to meet Andrea and writing this before I forget what happened. We've got a couple of days to explore the area before we meet Andrea on Tuesday afternoon so let's see what happens next.


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