Cruising in Disko Bay

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Sun 2 Aug 2015 19:57

Cruising in Disko Bay

Our stay in Disko is coming to a close as we are about to start southward again before setting off back to Labrador. We are sitting in harbour waiting for the promised wind which we need as we have an engine problem which needs to be fixed, a good opportunity to catch up on the blog which has been sadly neglected.

We have had an excellent week cruising around Disko Bay. The weather has been generally sunny and warm, apart from a disappointing day on Disko Island itself where a day of fog and rain curtailed our exploration of the island.

The landscape on Disko is quite different from anywhere else we have seen in Greenland. It is  volcanic and has towering basalt cliffs and columns.

clip_image002The whole is offset by the enormous icebergs that float down from the Ilulissat ice fjord and seem to collect just outside the harbour of Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn), the only town on the island.

clip_image004Whales seem to favour the spot as well, and from the cliff tops we saw great groups of hump backs blowing and rolling their backs.

Qeqertarsuaq  is a small but pleasant town with a population of about 1000. It has a small museum, the best exhibits being  the delightful miniature watercolours painted by a local artist and hunter, Jakob Danielsen in the 1930s, depicting in beautiful detail the way of life of the Inuits at the time. There is an interesting octagonal church, known locally as ‘God’s little ink pot’’ because of its strange shape.

clip_image006There is a surprisingly large and well stocked supermarket, considering the town only has a population of around 1000 people.

clip_image008We were also interested to find a football match taking place on a well prepared dirt ground, against a backdrop of majestic icebergs. We heard later that there was a championship taking place in Qasigiannnguit the following weekend and they were no doubt practicing for this. They were pretty good and were being cheered on by groups of enthusiastic supporters.

clip_image010 One of the tourist options on Disko is to hike up to the ice cap and go dog sledging. We made enquiries about the trip but were rather daunted by the four  hour hike up 800m to the ice cap, and then the three hour hike back out again, so we regretfully decided not to do it. In the event, fog rolled in that afternoon which would have made the trip pretty difficult so perhaps we made the right decision.

Our next anchorage was in a nature reserve – Groene Ejland – which has one of the largest arctic tern nesting sites in the world. It was a fabulous spot and we were surrounded by arctic terns, who took no notice of us but were busily diving into the sea all around us, and when successfully catching a fish, taking off and flying over the nearest hill, presumably to their nesting ground to feed their chicks.

clip_image012We were anchored in a sheltered bay, at the back of which were the very clear remains of what had been a settlement of turf houses.


 Unfortunately, landing was not allowed, and probably would have been very unwise given the propensity of arctic terns to physically attack anyone who invades their nesting ground, as our crew Oli knows to his cost when he accidently cycled through an arctic tern nesting ground in Iceland and was vigorously attacked by these most aggressive little birds. We hadn’t realised that when Oli announced that he was going to take an arctic dip, and we suggested he do it in this nice little anchorage we had found. He was appalled to find that not only did he have to psyche himself up to plunge into the water in the first place, he also had to face his new found fear of arctic terns that were flying around the boat in clouds. It says much for his strength of character that with only a slight hesitation he dived in off the boat and actually seemed to enjoy his swim, albeit a very brief one!






 Oli had emailed us while we were on Disko Island to say that he would definitely be joining us as his trip to East Greenland was being abandoned due the persistent ice. He managed to get a flight from Iceland direct to Ilulissat and then took the ferry to Qasigiannguit (Christianshab) to meet us. Qasigiannnguit  is a very old settlement  having been colonised by the Danish in 1734. However it has actually been inhabited for over 4500 years  and in the museum there are artefacts found in a grave on a nearby island which date back over 3800 years. The items even include the remains of a pair of ‘kamiks’ or snow boots. The harbour is very sheltered and there is excellent hiking in the area. You have to find your way past the sled dogs, who are tied up at the edge of town for the summer and then there is a path high above a fresh water lake right to where the outlet flows into the sea. From here it is possible to hike to a number of different places relatively easily in stunning countryside.


We decided not to include Ilulissat in our cruise this year as we didn’t want to cope with getting through a possible ice barrier with just the two of us on board. However, Oli arrived in Ilulissat and was sitting on the harbour wall, watching a ferry being rescued from the very dense ice blocking the harbour entrance, when he was astonished to see a yacht being escorted through the ice by a tourist boat. It was none other than our friends on Arctic Monkey who had had an even more intense initiation in ice navigation than we had experienced last year.

We are now back in Aasiaat and have been joined by our second crew member, Ben, so we are all set to start our journey South.  

This is our third visit here, and we definitely feel we are getting to know the place. People call out ‘English’ to us as we pass them in the street, all with a broad smile. We were even inveigled into visiting the local night club by Ivan, the Kazakh seaman, who stopped by the boat, wanting to practice his very good English.


The club looked extremely uninviting from the outside, but once we’d crossed the threshold, we found a very nice little bar, with groups of people of all ages sitting around drinking beer. There was a live band, which was really very good. No sooner had they started up than  all the old ladies who’d been having a good old gossip in the corner, got up to dance. People were very pleased to see us there and a number came and sat at our table, some with reasonable English, and some with no English at all, just an engaging if slightly drunken smile. We eventually decided to leave as trying to make conversation with very little language in common was becoming quite tiring.

As I mentioned above we have developed a problem with the engine gear box which will have to be fixed when we get to Nuuk. We can still use the engine when necessary, but definitely can’t put in the hours of motoring that we have done all the way up the Greenland coast. We are planning to leave tonight and will go straight to Nuuk in the hope that the necessary repair can be made.