Icebergs and Bergy Bits

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Wed 2 Jul 2014 22:07

63:31.2N 051:51.9W

Icebergs and Bergy Bits.

We have definitely arrived in Northern waters. When we left Iceland, the water temperature was a relatively balmy 12 degrees, thanks to the the tail end of the gulf stream which flows along the southern shore of Iceland. As we approached the tip of Greenland, the sea temperature had dropped to 7 degrees and continued dropping as we made our way up the West Coast. Two days ago, we were shocked to see that the temperature was a mere 1.5 degrees, and that was when we spotted our first iceberg, about a couple of miles away, a majestic mountain of ice, drifting between us and the coast. Another iceberg was spotted a few hours later, this time right on our bow, forcing us to alter course. We were clearly too far inshore, so decided to head out to sea again, partly to avoid yet another band of bad weather, but also to get out of the icy waters inshore.

Sailing with icebergs is a new experience for us. We are having to learn how they behave, how fast they move, and whether they are mostly wind or current driven. Luckily the radar picks them up very easily, and we are able to tell from the changing bearing whether they are going to pass near to us or not. This is not the same with the ‘bergy bits’, the official name for much smaller bits of ice that have broken off from the ice bergs and  float 1 – 5 metres above the water. They are very difficult to spot in any waves, and completely impossible in fog. The first six hours of this morning were very difficult, with the fog clamping down to only a few yards visibility, while we peered intently into the mist, ready to take avoiding action at a moments notice. We realized that we were too close inland and again, tacked out to sea into warmer water, away from danger.

The passage from Iceland has proved to be very trying indeed. Apart from the first day, when we we had the wind on the beam we have either been sailing hard on the wind, or been motoring. We have covered over 1400 miles through the water, on a passage that is only 1150 miles long, so we have covered an additional 250 miles, tacking out to sea and back again in order to make progress. The worst part of the journey came two nights ago, when we were warned that ‘thick weather’ was coming in, and we needed to go west to avoid the worst of it. We did go west, and we may have avoided the worst of it, but it felt pretty bad where we were. The wind blew at a good Force 6 to 7 for about 18 hours, building up nicely at night to gusting at over 35 knots, which is at the bottom end of Gale Force 8. None of us slept much that night with the boat corkscrewing through the waves and slamming hard on the larger ones. The following day, the wind abated, but stayed from the north. We were wet, cold and and tired and the time had definitely come to turn the heating on. We were not amused therefore when the new heating system failed to fire up. The hot water bottles that I bought as a last minute thought  in Oban have come into their own.

We are now on our final approach to Nuuk. The morning fog finally lifted, and we are sailing under a completely clear sky. We are still having to motor sail in order to make sure that we reach our final waypoint without having to tack out to sea yet again. We have been rewarded however, with our first sighting of land since leaving Iceland 8 days ago.  We all gasped as the coast of Greenland was revealed, a scene of high, snowcapped mountains as far as the eye can see. We are all looking forward to getting in now, partly to recouperate, but also to explore some of this spectacular country that we have worked so hard to reach.