Sailing in the downdraft from a glacier

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Mon 5 Jul 2010 01:27
60:08.254N 043:36.363W Monday evening

What an amazing first day in Greenland after our 717 nautical mile passage.

We had a bit of lunch and then set off over to the Danish weather station at the entrance to Prinz Christian Sund. We left Saxon Blue moored up and took the tender across which was a bit overloaded with all four of us. When we arrived at the dock, there were four guys unloading a lot of scrap onto the quay. They are salvaging the old undersea communications cables laid by the Danish years ago. They're diving down, cutting them into pieces and then bringing them up to the surface. After that, they're burning off the insulation and extracting the copper. All these cables have been redundant since they were replaced with satellite communications recently.

>From the dock, we climbed the 281 (apparently) steps up to the Danish base. It's called a weather station and I suppose they do the odd report but it's all automated really. They're also looking after some comms gear. In reality, I think it's just so they have a presence in the area. Originally, it was a US base during WWII when it really was all about weather. There are 4 guys there now, a Danish telephone engineer and generator engineer and a Greenland cook and salvage man. We took them some biscuits and fresh bread and they invited us in for coffee. We sat and chatted about the history of the base and what they get up to. It sounds very similar to the old lighthouse keepers or even modern mariners with long periods away from home with a small group of people.

They have a bunch of friendly dogs for company and then it's just the visiting boats. They get 5-10 visiting yachts per year and I think pretty much everyone who comes by stops for a chat and to sign the visitor's book. Other boats that I've heard of like Morgans Cloud had signed in so it was great to think of us in such company. I enjoyed the visit much more than I expected. I'd been having difficulty just getting my head around yet another new country and this one seems very intimidating on first look. Meeting some people who live here and are just getting on with life made it all seem much more real and ordinary. By the time we left, I was feeling ready to explore and a lot more at home here.

We got underway very efficiently and headed up the Sound. We had to dodge tiny bits of ice mixed with lumps about the size of cars and vans. Not too scary but you don't want to hit one. Only a few miles into the Sound is the first side fjord with a calving glacier at the end. It was enormous. The ice turns from a smooth blanket on the top of the mountains into a mass of fissures as it works its way down to the sea. In the middle of the flow was a massive, rounded crag. The fjord itself was full of bergs. Everything from truck size down to gin and tonic size. It was another case of "I know glaciers are big but...." the sheer scale of it all just doesn't seem real.

We decided that the light was right for some photography so we launched the tender with Jamie and Kali in with all the best photo gear. Richard and I continued into the fjord in Saxon Blue with radio comms to the photo boat. Initially, there was a lot of floating ice and it seemed that we would soon have to stop. As we went on, though, I grew in confidence and the ice diminished so we just kept on going. After a while, we even saw some seals on the ice - a rare sight in Greenland where they are considered a tasty snack. Just past the seals, the floating ice almost cleared and we had the glacier to ourselves. We could have sailed up and touched it but prudence prevailed (just). As it was, we got to within 100 meters of the face where we could feel its freezing breath on our skin. The water was swirling with the fresh water currents coming from under the ice and the glacier itself constantly cracked and groaned. Some of the shapes in the ice looked like stage sets with one piece in particular like the fingers of an upturned claw.

The photographers were now taking it in turns to drive the tender and do the pictures. To say Jamie was enjoying driving the tender in among the ice would be a serious understatement. Under instruction from Kali, we put up the main and jib and actually sailed along the face of the ice with the downdraft giving us enough pressure to move. It was incredible and the pictures look great. Shame I can't post them here but they're worth waiting for.

After all that excitement, it was time to get cracking and find somewhere for the night. We hauled the tender back onboard and, pausing only to scoop us some glacier ice for use in the whisky (using Andrea's landing net but don't tell her), we got on our way. We had dinner going along and then came into this anchorage off another side fjord. It's sheltered enough but the wind is kicking up a bit of chop so it won't be as calm as last night. Still, after that day, I don't think it'll be hard to sleep.


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