Come to Sunny Disko Bay!

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Mon 21 Jul 2014 21:00

We spent a glorious week in Disko Bay, which lived up to its reputation of being one of the sunniest spots in Greenland. The air temperature was still quite cold, but in the sun and out of the wind, it really got quite hot.

The Jakobshaven Glacier did not disappoint either. From our secluded anchorage, it took about fifteen minutes to motor round to the main harbour in our two dinghies. It is then possible to take a number of routes to look down on the glacier, which is only a half hour walk away. Our first route took us past the spot where apparently the whole town gathers on 13th January to watch the sun rise for the first time after six weeks below the horizon. We stared down in awe at the rough jumble of ice that was slowly making its way towards the sea. From time to time there was a loud crack that sounded like a pistol shot, but was in fact the sound of the ice exploding as it ground its way relentlessly down the valley.  The next day, we took the coastal route, and were able to overlook the spot where the glacier actually reaches the sea. We all sat there in silence for about half an hour, willing a large piece of ice to tumble off the front of the glacier into the sea, but sadly, our joint mental powers were not enough to make the glacier oblige.

Ilulissat is the most southerly town in Greenland where sled dogs are kept as routine. They are now largely kept at the edge of town, on long chains, so we passed them on both days. We had been warned of their ferocity and told not to approach them. They seemed content enough, however, although not really in their prime, as they were in the middle of losing their thick winter coats and looked a bit tatty. Five o’clock in the evening seems to be feeding time, as even from our boat, over a mile away, we could hear the chorus of barking dogs as feeding time approached.

James and Kat had to leave us early on Friday morning, and checked into a hotel for Thursday night. To mark their leaving, we treated ourselves to a fabulous meal at the Ice Fjord Hotel. They put on a ‘greenlandic buffet’ every night, which is very reasonably priced and you are able to help yourself to all manner of local food, both appetizing and ‘curious’. It featured a lot of raw and smoked fish, including whale and seal meat which is commonly eaten. It also featured excellent musk ox and reindeer casserole.

The bay Suilven is moored in is a beautiful spot, completely unspoilt, albeit directly under the local airport runway. This meant that as James and Kat flew out on the seven o’clock flight, John and I were on deck to wave them good bye as they flew what seemed like a few meters over our mast.

The only real downside of the anchorage was the enormous number of black flies and mosquitoes that infest the place. They didn’t seem to be totally intent on biting, and were very slow moving, but they were extremely irritating. I had bought a length of midge netting in Aasiaat, and spent the morning constructing a fly screen to go over the companionway. Though I say it myself, it is extremely effective, and keeps the flies out of the cabin whilst allowing relatively easy access for people.

We had by this time been joined in the bay by Nordlys. They had arrived in Ilulissat a day after us, having encountered very little ice – conditions obviously change very quickly. They had been moored, together with Revenge, alongside a fishing boat, but had been kicked off when the vessel wanted to leave and so came round to join us. We had also been joined by some rather large pieces of ice that had floated in on the tide, and that were going to threaten our peaceful night. As we still had our dinghies out, Max and John motored off, armed with boat hook, to push the ice away to somewhere safer.

The following day, we made our way 55 miles North to a small settlement called Saqqaq. This lies in a sheltered bay behind a small island. We gradually caught up with the ice, and getting through the flow proved quite exciting again. This time there were no small bits, but quite a concentration of bigger bits and they were moving at a steady rate on the northerly current. The charting round here is also a bit dodgy, and when we had anchored, we looked at the chart plotter which had placed us firmly on the island.  The boat was now in a very sheltered position, but looking out across the bay to Disko Island, we could see a vast volume of ice moving inexorably Northwards and could hear a roaring sound, rather like the noise of a distant motorway and the occasional thwump, as bits of ice calved off the larger icebergs. This coupled with the barking of the sled dogs combined to make a very Greenlandic soundscape.

Having spent a day enjoying the sunshine on the boat, and walking round the village, our plan was to go North another 100 miles to Upernavik, where we were intending to wait for a good opportunity to cross to Canada. We were contacted by Aventura, however, saying they felt there was a good opportunity to cross now. As we want to keep in touch with our fellow rally boat, we abandoned the plans for Upernavik and decided to follow Aventura across. So we are now 36 hours into a four or five day passage heading for Dundas Harbour on Devon Island. We are still encountering the occasional iceberg as we head North West, and will have to make our way round a tongue of ice that is still hanging around Baffin Island.

As we write, we are sailing in a gentle southerly breeze with the cruising chute up and making about 6 knots in the right direction. The sun is shining and ship’s time changed today to UTC minus 3.