August 19, 2012

Leg 5: 14 - 16 August 2012: Dundas Bay to Fort Ross via Beechy Head

From Dundas anchorage we get out into Lancaster Sound again, the great waterway that runs east to west. The current runs the other way, year round. It slows us down, with the light head winds progress is slow. But we have to save diesel, in case we need it badly later on, if we get into ice again or ...  Aim of this leg is Beechy Head, so much history has been written in the search of the North-West Passage, that we need to do this pelgrimage to the graves and memorials. The Erebus and Terror wintered here twice in 1845 and 46. The first crew members died a slow death. The first signs of things to go wrong, how must it have felt to be in such a barren, desolated place, the sun gone for the winter and an unknown sickness taking out crew members one by one . . .  Walking the beach I feel the shivers running down my spine, Jonathan safely anchored off, well prepared and equipped. How little did they know of what lay ahead of them in their search for the North-West Passage!!!

We choose Prince Regent Inlet and Bellot Strait. We leave in perfect weather the sun is out, a nice breeze on the beam, brilliant weather. The change comes fast, before we get the first reef in and the yankee furled we are covered in snow. Fingers stiffen quickly in the now freezing winds that blow up to 30 knots over deck. Leopold Island disappears from sight, ice floes join in the mix. The bigger once are easy to spot, the smaller bits are our worry, dodging growlers at 8 knots is fun in an ice strengthened alloy boat. In a glass-fiber boat it would be playing Russian roulette.

Fort Ross is our anchorage at the eastern entrance to Bellot Strait. Discovered in 1852 by one of the ships searching for survivors of the Terror and Erebus. It took till 1933 before the first ship sailed through, the ice and 7 knot current making it a deadly mix  for anything less then an icebreaker. Checking out the strait from a hillock behind the station we have to retrace our steps rather quickly. Not sure if the Polar Bear noticed us but we do not plan to wait and find out it's appetite.

August 15, 2012

Leg 5: 9 - 13 August 2012: From Pond Inlet to the Dundas harbour on Lancaster Sound

We left Pond Inlet on 9th August to sail West and attempt to pass through Navy Board Inlet to get in the Lancaster sound. The experts tell us to wait but we see possibilities and we have a strong alloy boat after all.The latest ice chart still shows large area's with heavy ice in the sound but there might be a passage through. The alternative is going out to the east and all the way around the ice north east of Bylot Island. A detour of 235 nm. Weather conditions are ok. Wind from east so we try to stay in the windward side of the ice. Less dense and less risky if the wind decides to increase. Several times we have to track back. To find area's with less dense ice. Smaller ice we can push but where the cover is more than 5/10 we can not do anything. Full power on the engine but the ice hardly moves. So back out  to find a more open area.

11 August 2012

We manage to find more open water closer towards the eastern part of the Sound. The wind stays light and the water is without any swells. Fog comes down for shorter periods but never for long. When the water opens up a bit more we spot some whales and during Eirik's watch they spot a polar bear with a one year cub swimming across the Sound towards the ice. Their hunting grounds for seals no doubt. By the time we get the new ice chart in we are sailing in open to very open drift ice.
The chart shows a bit more but they are always late. We anchor at the end of the strait for a well deserved rest. It has been some long hours. A closer look at the ice charts over the last days shows the ice moving east at 25 miles a day. So the 5/10 ice to the west in Lancaster Sound will nicely block our way out of Navy Board Inlet tomorrow. We got to leave or stay for some days and get blocked in. As soon as we get out of the Navy Board Inlet the cold westerly winds blow right in our faces. One after another goes inside to put on some extra layers. On our track to Dundas harbour on the northern shore of the 55 nm wide sound shore we meet some ice belts at first. We can see the denser ice further out. We slalom through the ice for a while and get out in open water again, 25 knots of freezing winds blow right into our face. Half a day later we anchor in some great sand/mud bottom. perfect holding in perfect protection so time for an ankerdram before turning in.

August 9, 2012

Leg 4: from Ilulissat to Pond Inlet, the NW Passage has begun!

Ice blocking the entrance to IlulissatIlulissat has a very small harbour and lots of fishing boats in all sizes. Moored Greenlandic: an old badly worn rope tied to a mooring that is already in use by 6 other boats. Put some big chunks of glacier ice in the mix and the chaos is complete. Turns the wind or tide and all has to find a new order in the chaos. A 20 tons piece of glacier ice loses balance and starts to turn over ever so slowly. With a force that accepts no resistance, wood splinters to pieces, a stay breaks under the pressure and the aft mast of a fishing vessels breaks and falls in the water on the other side. Nobody pays any notice…..

Just too much to take in

Upernavik fjordCountless icebergs on our way out of IlulissatFrom Ilulissat we motor through Vaigat Strait. With 4 new crewmembers we slalom between all the huge icebergs with of course lots of smaller ones in between. Just south of Ilulissat the most productive glacier of Greenland spits out iceberg after iceberg. All has to go over a 200 meter deep bar. The ones that run aground get pushed over the bar by the mass behind it. We go slow at first how else can we take this all in?

Church or Polar Bear trap

Anchored of the Bear TrapA well fed polar bear. Beautiful white coatOur first anchorage is at the tip of the peninsula. The Vikings came here for their summer hunt in the 1300’s and erected a small chapel here. Later it was in use as a Polar Bear trap by the Greenlanders. Enough reason for the Norwegians on board, Eirik and Hanne to explain us what a great sailors the Vikings were in their time.

How do we get to the Glacier?

gaining info from localsWe get into a small place called Prøven. We could not get a detailed chart of the fjords here but we heard that yachts used Angmarqua sound to get to the Upernavik glacier. We could not find any info or soundings so we need to find a fisherman who can tell us more. He sketches a route and some possible anchorages for us. Once in Upernavikfjord, about 5 nm from the glacier front we get into 5/10 ice cover. Lots of it are small chunks of glacier ice, frozen together. It easily splits under Jonathan’s bow. But also plenty of lager and harder bits of glacier that we need to avoid. We measure the iceberg in front of us with the sextant: 78 meters  high!!!

Once again

Jonathan in light ice conditions in Upernavik fjordThe tablet decides to pack up once again. So we go on by sight following the track drawn by the fisherman from Prøven.  Barny is a software engineer and designer. He does not really understands what went wrong but he manages to get it all working again and we can see on the screen again how we pass the intricate track between the islands.

Nova Zembla Island

Icebergs, mountains and the low light of the midnight sun .........Upernavik is our last port in Greenland before heading across Baffin Bay to Baffin Island.  370nm as the crow flies, quite sizeable for a bay. At the Canadian side there is an Island called Nova Zembla. No clue how it got it’s name or is this our navigation software playing up again? Guess it is named after the Nova Zembla in the North- East Passage.  A pleasant breeze just keeps us moving along at 5 -6 knots under sail. Yes Jonathan is in there!!! We can cross Baffin Bay in a straight line since the pack ice has melted early this season. Closer to Baffin and Bylot Island we might have some. Now we have some larger icebergs at first but halfway we hardly see any. By the time we get to Nova Zembla Island we get icebergs again but we can spot them only on radar. We do not see much of Nova Zembla anything above 100 m is covered in low cloud.

Sounds nice??

So we move on to Pond Inlet. The “hamlet” Pond Inlet is on the southern shore of Eclipse sound. It all sounds quite idyllic: an Inuit village at a sound with a name like that. But not now since we arrive with a strong wind with the current flowing out. It makes the open anchorage more than lively. Cups slide of the table and Barny has to put up his lee cloth to stay in his bunk. Ah well, we are in Nunavut, the Arctic part of Canada!!!

Barny getting the flags ready for Canada

August 4, 2012

Leg 3: Nuuk to Ilullisat

From Nuuk to Ilullisat is around 500 nm so not any great distance and we plan to go into some of the fjords to see the great glaciers where all the iceberg are born. This trip is more to enjoy the scenery, hiking etc. Visit some villages on the way.  If you want to take great photos of icebergs and be impressed by enormous glacier fronts then this will be the trip for you.

The strong westerly slowly dies out, the sky clears and we are left with flapping sails and hardly any progress. Just the current setting us westward according to the GPS. The latest Gribfiles give no hope for any wind so we start the engine again. At times ice, at times fog, but never any wind to speak of. In the north we can see the sharp peaks of southern Greenland. We would love to go in there and explore the fjord but nor the ice nor the schedule give any room for that.

In Paamiut we more along side “Best Explorer” They motored all the way from Reykjavik and thus arrived a day before us. We do some jobs on board and when Ashleigh goes for a long walk, I have time to talk to Georgina, our cook. She does not seem to grab the essence of the trip ahead. She still serves wonderfull Caribean style lunches and wanted to leave Reykjavik without any bread on board. When leaving Greenland in a few weeks we need to be stored to reach Dutch Harbor Alaska without any resupplies. With 6 cold and hungry crewmembers that needs some serious planning.

In the middle of the “night” we approach Fiskenæset, a small town deep into the fjords. There are a few anchorages in the charts but they are all useless since the bottom drops of steeply. We find a spot on a short dock. One of the locals is very interested and comes on board for a coffee. Noël - whether it is his real name we do not know, but it is one we can remember - tells us more about the 300 inhabitants. He worked on the international airport for years but returned to his hometown. In the old peoples home he has a quiet job. But not too many elderly here or? Many people do not like to live in the big city, Nuuk (10.000 inhabitants), and choose for a more quiet place without the big town issues, where alcohol is major problem.

My initial amazement on Georgina’s planning turns into irritation. When approaching Nuuk there still is no sign of a worked out stores list. This is the last place to stock up before Dutch Harbor. For a crew member for the North West Passage she still has a lot to learn, it is too late for that. Sorry but this is where it ends for her.

In thick fog , yes again, we find an anchorage 5 miles into the fjord. There are so many fjords and islands that many have the same name. They simply could not think of any more appropriate names, And for the Greenlanders it is no problems for they know which fjord or island is discussed. For a visitor it can be confusing to find 5 Maniitsoqs in the index of the pilot book. Apart from that C-map uses Greenlandic and Danish place names. So if you zoom in too much names change, to add to the confusion the western longtitude of the detail charts are often way off. So our track crosses 500 meter high mountains or we anchor in the middle of town. Then off course the radar helps out. But with thick fog the bigger icebergs give the same echo as all those islands. So with thick fog lots of coffee and stay sharp!!! For Greenlanders fog is no reason to slow down so they speed through the fjords at 20 knots just the same.

Together with Ashleigh things are easy and in Ilulissat another 4 crewmembers will join. That there is no airport means a save anchorage for Ashleigh. In a town you never know… Thera ars some shelters here though. On the island Basisø, in the middle of Disko Bay, we find the remains of 11 turf houses. The village was abandoned 55 years ago. North of the island is iceberg alley: an enormous succession of huge icebergs that are pushed out of Jakobshavn Isfjord. A day later we take 12 hours for the 22 nm to Ilulissat. In balmy conditions we spend hours between these giants. It is hard to believe that they are formed by centuries of snowfall. Slowly all of the Greenland icecap is floating into the sea...