Friday, August 30, 2013

Engine failure in Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord

The experts, from Bill Tilman to Robin Knox-Johnston, are categorical in their advice: to sail the icy waters of Greenland you must have a reliable engine.

Luckily we did - or thought we did right up to the moment it failed to start.

While Siggi tried to get it going we had time for another hike up to the lookout over the fjord (above). 

It was remarkable how different the view felt when you're not sure how you're going to escape, and the weather was suitably chilly with a harsh light.  

I decided to treat this episode as an adventure, the sort of thing that Scoresby and co wouldn't have batted an eyelid at, and used the time to think through our situation. 

There was no Solent Coastguard, listening patiently on channel 16, let alone the hunters on the locally used C08, which was a shame as they could have been very useful.

Given an outside tow wasn't possible, what were the options? We couldn't kedge as the fjord is too deep (I mean really deep, in places deeper than the Denmark Straits) and we couldn't sail out as the anchorage in Suheili Bugt was too well sheltered. 

But there was one workable solution - towing ourselves using the Zodiac and its outboard engine. However it would need the tide to be flowing out with negligible wind in the fjord.

And by golly on the Thursday late afternoon that's exactly what we had, as as quick look at the water level showed it was just after high water. 

As Nelson would have put it: "lose not an hour"!

So off we went, me, R. and L in the Zodiac, not my most favourite of methods of transport, with two thoughts high in my mind:
  1. It was going to take a long time to reach the fjord's opening where the wind would be strong enough to give the boat steerage way (three hours was my guess as I stepped off Aurora)
  2. It really wouldn't be a good thing if something went wrong, as the route was rather wiggly close to various rocks plus of course icebergs

This graphic from Google Earth shows our approximate route at the start, and for scale the red line is about 1 NM in length (and of course the ice wasn't at those locations though the density isn't far off):
There was a certain amount of debate about what to do with the tow line in the Zodiac.

One view was that we should do a big bowline to make a V-shape around handles on the inflatable but another view was that this could cause problems such as drag its stern down and threaten to wrap the rope around the prop.

As we wanted to avoid any problems with this operation, instead we went for the more controllable human approach in which I was basically a cleat controlling the rope's direction and L. anchored the tow line's weight while R. was in charge of the outboard.

It felt like a very long three hours, which is what it indeed took to get us out of the fjord.

What was really frustrating was that there was just an amazingly stunningly beautiful sunset and I had my camera in my pocket but couldn't reach it as had to hold onto that darn tow line all the way out.

I think the others might have taken pictures: I'm just hoping not too many of me straining to keep that tow rope high enough not to decapitate R. or fray on the fuel cap of the outboard (which we had to re-fill half way out).

Eventually, close to Overhand Mountain, we were called on-board: the boat was finally sailing. It might have been only a knot or two but that was fine by us.

As we crept out of the fjord we picked up speed, and I remember steering Aurora between icebergs at a wacky 3 knots.

Finally we were clear and I had time for one last pic of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord as we headed out to open seas and safety:
Yet again the weather had captured the mood perfectly.

Updated: I've just seen that the latest Yachting Monthly has an article on towing a yacht with an inflatable and outboard from none other than Tom Cunliffe. I must go and have a read....

Visited by Inuit Hunters

We were staying cosy indoors, enjoying our movies, when we heard an engine sound outside. Sensation - other human beings!!

In east Greenland there really aren't that many people at all with as far as I'm aware no permanently occupied settlements within about 200 miles of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord.

We'd seen evidence of at least one hunting party with the narwhals by Turner Island but on wet Wednesday we were to meet some in person.

They were a cheerful bunch - or seemed to be, as none of the trio spoke English and I'm gathering that there wasn't much Danish either. But then this is Greenland, where locals are Inuit and that's their culture, not anything European.

They were sheltering from the bad weather outside the fjord and had heard us practicing with the guns. They came aboard and went below where they had some of our rather good home baked bread over a coffee and chat with Siggi.

Then they explained their hunting technique which is to use the kayaks as they are silent and means they can get up close to whales. Then they use the stick to throw the harpoon head which has attached to it via a line a buoy which stops the animal from diving.
After this demo there were friendly waves all round and they pottered off to stay overnight in the so-called abandoned village:
And then we were on our own again.

These three hunters were the only other people we saw in two weeks between leaving Isafjordur and arriving at Tasiilaq, and we weren't to see them again.

As it was to turn out, it would have been rather good idea if they had stuck around a bit longer...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Greenland weather day with movies and popcorn

We had been mostly lucky with the weather but on the Wednesday the forecast was for 45 knots of wind with gusts quite a bit higher out at sea.

That was unfortunate as the plan for the day had been to head south, for alas our time in Greenland was coming to an end, but in a way it was fitting.

Greenland can be a hard and unrelenting environment, and the wise traveler adapts to conditions where necessary. Pretty much all the books I'd read of journeys in these lands had times when the only option had been to wait, and so I considered this day another tick on the list of Greenland experiences.

I spent some of it lying in Robin Knox-Johnston's my bunk reading the book "A Viking Voyage" and listening to the rain pounding on the hatch above.

We watched some videos, including the 1934 classic "The Wedding of Palo" - though alas we only got to see the first half so never got to find out who Palo chose of the two rivals for her hand (though have a pretty good idea).

We also saw the beautiful and moving "Iceland: A Skier's Journey" filmed on a trip on Aurora with Siggi - definitely worth a watch.

There was even popcorn, so all in all it was a good day.

Then we had some visitors.....

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The abandoned village of Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord

While kayaking in Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord we stopped off at the abandoned village.

This is a collection of maybe a dozen huts was once a living community before the settlement was abandoned, too remote to be sustainable.

Having said that it could be argued that "abandoned" is too strong as these huts are still at times occupied by hunters and the Navionics chart describes them as "Traveller's hut" which is more accurate - or at least would be if in the plural.

There was a sad, desolate feel to the site, with its faded wood and rusting ironwork merging into the surrounding landscape.

Inside the accommodation was basic, often just a raised sleeping area:
What was most remarkable was the amount of debris nearby, making the village look like a rubbish tip, with everything from broken toys to bullets to shoes.
In fact there were a surprisingly large number of shoes:
With the slow rates of decay this garbage will be there for decades and I had a strong urge to get busy with black plastic bags - if only to collect it all into one compact area.

But then I got distracted by the view again.

Maybe that's how the local s feel too.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Kayaking in Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord

The day after we didn't get lost in the fog in Greenland we launched the kayaks again. 

The first time had been by Turner Island but there weren't enough places for everyone so I'd hiked instead. But this time I was very keen to give them a go and boy was it fun!
I was in the double kayak with R. and we were paddling between 'bergs in one of the most amazing places on the planet - just brilliant.
 And then we were joined by a curious seal:
It's fair to say that not falling in was a pretty important goal in these freezing waters, and no one decided to test out their roll here.
A just amazing paddle: another great day.

Not lost in the fog in Greenland

It is important to point out that we weren't lost though it was foggy.

We'd gone for a hike on Kraemer Island in Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord and in principle it was very simple: head north until we see over the other side into Watkins Fjord, and that is indeed what we did.

The view was impressive with the fjord completely jammed full of ice fed by multiple glaciers though the narrow channel heading down to our anchorage was clear:
On the way back the weather changed and we were surrounded by fog.

The terrain was rather rough and on the way out we'd had to zig-zag a lot scrambling up and down ravines across rivers and battling scree, but the general route had been to head north.

So in theory the route back was to head south but where to zig and where to zag was made a lot harder with the poor visibility.

Luckily we had a mix of natural navigation and top tech to hand. I of course relied on the following clues:

  • Vegetation in Greenland is sparse and will struggle on north facing surfaces. It was actually a pretty good indicator of where south was
  • The wind was from the SW and so when at the crest of hills clear of eddies its direction was another good navigational sign

The Mexican's also had their smartphones which all had magnetic compasses.

So we were not at all lost and I never felt my mental map of where we were was that far off.

At one point there was a debate about whether we should go left or right to retrace our steps to the little waterfall with the rock over it, to which I called right and we were rewarded with this:
I'd call that a result for natural navigation.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Robin Knox-Johnston Greenland connection

During the trip there were a whole series of links to sailing legend Robin Knox-Johnston.

Firstly, as Tillerman spotted, Robin K-J, together with climber Chris Bonington, led an expedition to attempt the first ascent of The Cathedral, a peak in East Greenland. They sailed Suhaili across the Denmark Strait (above) from Reykjavik into Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord where they anchored in a small cove they called Suhaili Bugt.

We also sailed across the Denmark Strait and also entered Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord where we anchored in Suhaili Bugt.

But there were more Robin K-J connections. The yacht we were on was a Clipper 60, built to race around the world for Robin K-J's company, Clipper Ventures plc.

In addition the actual yacht was one that Robin K-J knew well and had sailed frequently - including over to Greenland.

As the expedition with Chris in Suhaili didn't achieve its goal (sorry spoiler there) they returned again with a bigger team and hence boat. They took one the Clipper yachts, namely Antiope (Robin K-J's favourite of the fleet), in an attempt to get into the same fjord.

Alas ice kept them away so they headed back to Iceland, ending up in Isafjordur.

Here they met a chap called Siggi who suggested that they keep the boat in Iceland to give them easy access to Greenland. They responded by suggesting he buy the yacht!

A year or so passed and Siggi bought Antiope and renamed her Aurora.

So not only were we sailing a Clipper yacht it was actually Robin K-J's favourite, one that he had sailed over to Greenland in.

One final link was that when I was shown my bunk I was told it was the one that Robin K-J used when he was sailing Antiope (as it was then).

I reflected as I got to sleep one night that I was in Robin K-J's bunk, in his favourite Clipper anchored in Suheili Bugt where he'd gone climbing with Chris Bonington.

I'd like to say that it inspired me to great feats of seamanship but when I was given the task of using the Zodiac to make fast the first shore line I misjudged the strength of the offshore wind and there was a mad scramble with the paddle.

But it was rather cool all the same.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Entering Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord

The original starting point was to have been Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord but initially the ice charts had suggested it might be too clogged to allow entry. A week later, as part of our journey south, we gave it a go.

There was still quite a bit of ice, but there was always a gap between the bergy bits allowing Siggi to get Aurora through. But it required constant vigilance, and Siggi had to foot steer while dashing from side to side checking the way ahead (above).

We did get rather close to some bergs, so we had to watch out for the foot that can extend out a long way underwater:
Our route took us close to the dramatic Overhang Mountain:
Then there was a sharp turn to starboard, a narrow channel between two rocky islands, then hard to port to anchor in a small sheltered bay together with one (and later a second) shore line:
The name of the bay? Suhaili Bugt.

If you think there might be a Robin Knox-Johnson connection there, well then you're right. In fact there were lots - any suggestions before I blog about them?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The raven and the glacier

The next anchorage was D'Aunay Bugt, where the yacht felt insignificant against a landscape of glaciers and mountains (above, the boat is BR).

Here we stayed two nights, with two good hikes. The first was up to the ridge that was meant to overlook the other inlet marked on the chart. But it seemed to have been clogged with gravel, the bar high and dry, apart from a rushing river fed by another glacier.

We were inspected by a raven, which flew round us, squawking a greeting:
In the barren landscape this sign of life was startling and we could see why the Vikings considered them messengers of the gods.

The next day we hiked to a glacier. In the crisp, clear, Greenland air it seemed so close and yet it took all day to reach its base, scrambling over a rubbish tip of giant boulders:
We gingerly tried to walk on its surface but the edge was a mixture of mud and slush that dissolved like quick sand under foot, leading to many metres of mud slide slipping downwards.

Disturbed by these signs of instability and aware of the long trek back to the boat we went no further, but headed down again passing patches of beautiful purple flowers:
Here we found that Siggi had put out the net and caught something just right for our good appetites: fresh Arctic char.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Greenland Picture Puzzle

This picture was taken around local noon.

I think there are clues as to the following:
- which way the current is flowing
- which way I am looking
- which way the wind was blowing

Can you spot them?

Bonus marks for what sort of current it was.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Greenland as Mars

After the excitements (and relaxations) of the Turner Island anchorages it was time to move on. As the ice had driven us further north than usual we needed more sailing days to get down to Tasiilaq on schedule.

The next hop was to a little inlet at behind Cape Ewart off Knighton Fjord which turned out to be incredibly barren (above).

It reminded me a bit of the images transmitted by the spacecraft sent to Mars, apart, of course, from the sky being blue rather than red. I wasn't surprised to find out that Greenland has indeed been used as a test bed for Mars technology.

We concluded it must be because it was relatively dry, for where there were rivers some greenery did appear:
We hiked to a couple of lakes just above the anchorage while K. collected wild sorrel to add to salads and pesto (dinners were pretty good on-board) but didn't feel much need to stay.

So the following day we headed south again...

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Whale meat recipes

When travelling around the world I like to get a feel for the local culture, including its cuisine. So when in the Orinoco Delta I sampled live termite - and jolly good they were too.

Greenland has a different style of dish altogether, namely whale, which to be honest I found a bit of a challenge.

The hunters who'd left the narwhal found by the polar bear had been rather successful and as well as the two it was chewing on we came upon many other carcasses around the shoreline. The meat had been cut off, but for one reason or other they hadn't taken it all but left stacks of great chunks in piles nearby.

We speculated as to whether they couldn't fit it all into their boats or whether the polar bear had frightened them off, but later we heard that the custom is to take what you want and leave for others the excess.

Anyhow Siggi filled a couple of large plastic bags with narwhal and then and over the next few days we were to try several forms of it.

Firstly there was raw, sashimi style. This tasted initially like tuna and beef but there was a strong after taste of blood that made me reach for a bag of dried apricots to cleanse the pallet (and I wasn't alone).

Next up was ceviche style marinaded in Siggi's "mix of soy sauce, ginger, garlic and chili and then sprinkled with a bit of fresh lime".

The main serving was in a stew with ginger. I don't have that recipe to hand but the book "A Viking Voyage" (review to come) has one that includes onions, garlic, mushrooms, Jack Daniels, brown sugar, cayenne, oregano, salt and pepper with a marinade of oil, lemon juice, soy sauce and garlic which they seemed to like.

Then some meat was cut fine and then air dried on the foredeck:
Narwhal jerky, even when spiced with cayenne, did not find many takers, probably because it still had a strong, lingering after-taste of blood and the texture of a dry carpet.

We had more whale when we had the farewell dinner in Tasiilaq including some of the prized skin, again raw, known locally as muktuk. It's meant to have a great taste but to be honest was a bit bland with a chewy texture.

I understand that this post might be a bit controversial for some but the meat would have gone to waste if we hadn't taken it, and it is one of the Greenland Inuits traditional source of food.

As I said earlier I like to be open to experience other cultures and their cuisine, and narwhal most definitely was new to me.

Its not one I'm planning to repeat, but if I were to return to Greenland I would have to be prepared to eat as the locals do - though maybe with a bag of dried apricots to hand just in case.

Bathing in the hot springs of Greenland

After the polar bear had vanished we returned to our hunt which was to find some of the rumored hot springs of Greenland.

We had rough instructions such as "opposite where the channel entrance meets the fjord" which wasn't that helpful to be honest but after rather a lot of wandering around we found not just one but three hot springs.

The first one we found, all green and mossy, was used by the girls, while us boys held off. However the second was so tempting we couldn't resist.

Our hot spring came bubbling up from what looked like a mini-volcano crater (above). Here it was scalding hot but just below some locals (hunters we guessed) had dammed it to make a pool where the water was just about bearable:
Here we wallowed in male bonding sort of way, looking down at the fjord where ice bergs drifted slowly by, asking hopefully if anyone had brought any cold beers.

They hadn't.

So after daring each other to dunk our heads right under, then trying to shake the gravel out from parts where gravel should never go, we headed back to the yacht:

 A polar bear and a natural hot spring bath: that's was good day indeed.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

One hungry polar bear

Spotting a polar bear along the shoreline from where you've just stepped ashore is an interesting experience.

Not surprisingly our immediate thought was to jump in the Zodiac and head back to the yacht, where we discovered that the kayakers were similarly inclined to get out of the water.

Then it was all hands to the cameras:
 As you can see there were two whale carcasses by the water's edge.

We later found piles of narwhal chunks that hunters had left behind, so we guessed that the polar bear had been scavenging and got lucky:
We clicked away, me regretting travelling light and not bring the DSL and zoom lens.

It didn't seem that impressed with this pap session, and after looking at us with disdain it picked up what looked like a narwhal tail and trotted away to a safe hiding place.
Woo hoo!

See a polar bear - tick!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Turner Island: Our first anchorage in Greenland

Our first anchorage in Greenland was behind Turner Island in the channel connecting the Deichmann and Roemer fjords.

It was a drier, rockier landscape than we would encounter further south, for there isn't just the one landscape in Greenland. Plant growth was limited to low crawlers, the occasional wild flower and the lichen and moss clinging on to the endless rocks.

I'd just come off watch and was mentally switching modes between sailing and hiking / kayaking so stayed with the boat while the others headed up to the top of a nearby hill, where they saw a white Arctic hare that seemed surprisingly tolerant of their presence.

By the others I mean the crew and guests of Aurora. I don't like blogging about other people without their permissions so will just say they were all a great bunch and identify them by their initials.

I was given the task of shuttling them from yacht to land in the Zodiac inflatable. I think people were surprised how bad I was at controlling the outboard motor given how much I'd sailed but then most of it had been marina to marina.

I was quite happy to hand over to someone else:
More practice required...

The next day there was a three pronged movement of forces, with a land party (me with K. and W.), a kayaking party (T. with the Mexicans) and Siggi and R. taking Aurora over a very shallow bar (maybe just 1.5m under the keel).

It was a good walk, easy going apart from a tricky river crossing:
The only disconcerting point was spotting what were clearly bear prints, which turned the gun from a health and safety tick box item to a reassuring presence.

Later on we re-joined the boat in its new anchorage:
Here we went ashore again to hunt for, well, I'll get to that later, but we were in any case interrupted.

We had just put the first steps on land when we saw just along the shoreline a POLAR BEAR!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Crossing to Greenland: ice and fog

By dawn we'd left Isafjordur far behind and was out in the Denmark Strait. In Iceland it's called the Greenland Sound which makes more sense to me given its location.

The usual route for this voyage is to head west to go direct to Kangerlussuaq fjord (highlighted as red square below) but at the time the latest ice map below showed rather a lot of ice in that direction so we headed north instead:
There wasn't much wind so we motored most of the way, with the odd hours sail just to say we'd done it.

Even with this more northerly route we did see ice, the encounters made more "interesting" with quite a bit of fog:
We also saw whales, fins and (probably) orcas, but they vanished before cameras could capture them. There were fewer sea birds than around Iceland, just the friendly fulmar (top).

It took another night to get there but when came on deck for my watch saw the most amazing view of a mountainous icy landscape, just as promised.

We had arrived in Greenland...