Summer 2022
John Andrews
Wed 24 Jun 2015 18:26

57:14.482N 052:44.485W


After three weeks of preparation we have this morning set off on our passage to Greenland.

Suilven emerged from her over-wintering on the hard in Lewisporte Marina in pretty good order, the only slight damage being a couple of dripping taps and a cracked heads pump.

The repairs and modifications have also gone well, by and large. The Whispergen is working again, perhaps better than ever before due to a general tightening of all the connections. The faulty hydro-generator has been fettled up and seems to be working well now, but is yet to be tested in a good wind. The mainsail has been repaired and fitted with redesigned battens and the anchor is now held in place by a metal ‘stirrup’ so we no longer get the sound of it rocking around and gradually loosening its securing straps. The main problem has been the chart plotter and auto-helm which has never worked satisfactorily since upgrading the chart plotter last year, and towards the end of last season became almost inoperable with the auto-helm kicking out at regular intervals and the radar image not aligning itself with the wildly drifting heading.

At some considerable expense we ordered and fitted a GPS compass which gives a very stable True Bearing but disappointingly will not work with the autopilot. John has been working away at the issues, data loops, rate gyro compasses and the like, rather alarmingly at one point having to dismantle part of the course computer.  He has been getting some good technical support from the UK and bit by bit the system has been stabilising, although the new GPS compass remains unplugged.

It has been crucially important to solve this problem, as our sailing plans for this year are to return to the Greenland coast and visit places that we rushed past last year in our haste to get to the Northwest Passage.  When John’s head has not been buried under our bunk, connecting and disconnecting leads to the course computer, we have taken a few trips out to see a bit of Newfoundland.  Before returning our hire car, we drove all the way over to the fjord indented west coast of Newfoundland. This is an area of high hills – the tail end of the Appalachian mountains - and has a spectacular coastline which we hope to sail along on our return to Halifax at the end of the season.

We have also done a couple of ‘commissioning’  day trips in Notre Dame Bay, a large island studded bay , ideal for cruising but which at this time of year has almost no leisure boating activity at all. Apparently last year there was still pack ice blocking the entrance to the bay until the last week of June so the season really doesn’t start generally until July.

We have spent two nights in Twillingate, a fishing settlement on the Northwest arm of the bay and were lucky enough to be there when they held a concert in aid of raising the Manolis L, a cargo ship carrying paper from the mills in Exploits Bay which sank about thirty years ago and is now in danger of emptying its tanks of bunker oil into the bay. The mix of local songs, poems and writings gave us a glimpse of the history of the area, and of some of the issues the ‘out-port’ settlements, (i.e. not St John’s) are facing today, and we were given a very warm welcome. John had long conversations with the garrulous harbour master and learned all about the fishing and hunting which is now heavily restricted. One of the things locals are allowed to hunt are Turrs, or Thick-billed Murres, a type of guillemot. Local residents are allowed to catch 40 birds each and the harbourmaster declared them to be absolutely delicious, particularly when stuffed with a smaller sea bird with a name like Bulbird but we couldn’t be sure of this because of the thick Newfoundland accent.

We received an equally warm welcome in Fogo Island. Fogo has the distinction of being the Eastern –most point of Canada, and of being one of the four corners of the earth, according to the Flat Earth Society. We were ever so careful we didn’t fall off! It also sports the most extraordinary luxury hotel, the Fogo Inn, with one suite going for $4000 a night. It is an incongruous construction, faintly reminiscent of a power station on the outside, but inside is absolutely beautiful with fabulous views over ‘iceberg alley’,  where icebergs of all shapes and sizes drift sedately by on the Labrador current. There are cosy wood-burning stoves , locally made furnishings and wall hangings and spectacularly expensive cocktails! The hotel has been built by a local woman who has made money in fibre optics and who is giving something back to the island where she was born and raised. The hotel provides a considerable amount of local employment and is a boost for other local businesses and the island has a definite feel of well-being, with a lot of new homes being built and existing homes being well maintained and freshly painted. We moored up not in Fogo itself which has a treacherous approach, but in a very secure little harbour called Seldom, (Seldom-Come-By) on the other side of the island. There is no taxi, but the ladies in the museum on the quayside were more than happy to run us around the island, and even lent us their car on the second day.

All the while though, we have been looking at weather forecasts and ice-charts, planning when it would be best to make our passage to Greenland and where our land-fall should be. The dangers at this time of year are the icebergs that break off the Greenland glaciers, sweep across Baffin Bay and then down the coast of Labrador and on down to Newfoundland..  There is also the fog, which makes spotting the icebergs difficult and also the regular depressions that sweep from the west across the Davis Strait. There is an iceberg density chart issued by the Canadian authorities which looks seriously scary, as whichever way we go, we will at some point have to go through areas which look to be thick with icebergs. In the event though, although we can see icebergs, they are so far few and far between and present no greater problems than last year.  There is no sign of fog yet, although I am pretty certain we can expect some before arriving in Greenland.  The wind, far from coming from the West is persisting in coming from the North, i.e. from the direction we want to go, and looks as if it will stay that way for the rest of the week, so we have just had to decide to go anyway and put up with it. So far, no strong winds are predicted and we may even have a period of motoring, but time will tell.

The ice situation on the Greenland coast is interesting. It changes rapidly according to where the wind is pushing it, but generally speaking there is much less ice in the South West of Greenland than there was this time last year, and we are hoping to make land-fall in Arsuk, much further south than was possible last year. We then hope to be able to make our way up to Nuuk following inner leads and passages as far as possible, weather and ice permitting.

We set off this morning at day break in order to try and clear as much of iceberg alley as possible in daylight hours. The wind is a moderate force 4, the seas are gentle and we are heading in a North Easterly direction.  There is no fog but it is cold!