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Sunday, 17 September 2017
Tuesday, 12 September 2017
Greenland 2017 from Simon Currin on Vimeo.
Sunday, 3 September 2017
Friday, 1 September 2017
The overalls are neatly folded and packed and the last hose clip has been tightened. Sally has blitzed the boat with her vacuum and the bilges would be gleaming if it weren't for the pink antifreeze sloshing around to protect the pumps The dehumidifier is set to 'Sahara' to suck the last bit of moisture out of the boat. Tomorrow morning we throttle the dehumidifier back to a more sensible and temperate setting before closing the hatch, turning the key and taking the taxi to the airport.
The sailing season is all too short in these northern waters and we have had the best of it. Our season started with a spring cruise from Reykjavik to the wintery mountains of Iceland's West Fjords. We left Iceland at the earliest opportunity as decreed by the ice and were one of the first pleasure boats to make a landfall on Greenland's east coast this year. We squeaked through Prins Christian Sund the first day it opened. We then had all of August to meander our way up the coast. Now we are in Aasiaat- the capital of North Greenland at 68 42N. An unglamorous Arctic town which bustles with hunters and young families eking out an existence in a harsh and unforgiving landscape.
With the nights drawing in at great speed it's definitely time to turn our backs on our floating home and leave her to face the winter in the care of Sisak Technik - the Aasiaat shipyard. We have done all that we can to prepare her for her ordeal. We have injected strange coloured fluids into her veins and cosseted all the electrical and mechanical systems.
What next for team Shimshal? Sally and I are already getting excited about sailing south to new continents. We hope to launch in June and potter back south to Maniitsoq waiting for a perfect weather window to cross to Labrador. If we can finesse it with the Canadian authorities we would like to make our landfall in the Tongat Mountains National Park and creep south down the Labrador coast to Battle Harbour before crossing to Newfoundland.
Friends have recommended Lewisport so we will probably leave the boat there before continuing south along Newfoundland's east and south coasts. Our plan, at the moment, is to haul out in Halifax, Nova Scotia at the end of next September. So Shimshal and her crew have much to look forward to.
Before then though Sally and I are most looking forward a cycling trip to Tuscany where we hope not to see icebergs, glaciers and frigid fogs. Life is at it's best when it's full of contrasts!
For the first 3 days in Aasiaat there was unrelenting rain, some wind and Scotch mist. We began to fear that we would never get the sails off and dried for the winter.
A brief respite was forecast for the 4th day and so, immediately after breakfast, all hands were on deck to dry and drop the head sails. Folding a socking great foresail on a narrow deck is, in the skipper's experience, a time to take a low profile as making a three dimensional shape fold flat is not always intuitive. Today he was allowed only to control the halyard and the rate of drop and was thus able to watch, with amusement, the rest of team Shimshal battle it out.
All ended well with the sails bagged and parked in front of the dehumidifier to desicate them to winter storage levels.
Next job was to wrestle the boat cover in place which we completed just as the patter of drizzle returned.
We then took on the indoor jobs of winterising the 2 heads and the two saltwater taps which went without a glitch. With seacock closed we managed to squeeze my oil pump hose down as far as the seacock and backfill with antifreeze. With a jug coupled to the distal pipes we then pumped antifreeze through the taps where we caught it and recycled it into the toilet and bilge pump. We then reconnected everything so that when we come back all we have to do is open the seacocks and away we go!
With the boat now in bits Sally went off to the fire station and bartered a fill for the dive cylinder. A packet of filter coffee and a bag of sugar is the going rate in Aasiaat. She also humped all our home bound gear to the hotel as we have decided to move off the boat for the last 2 nights to get it as dry as possible for the winter layup.
After lunch I attempted to fix the leak from the calorifier with judicious use of some anti-clockwise wound PTFE tape. I'm keeping my fingers crossed in the hope that we do not get that irritating trickle seepage next year.
Meanwhile Sally got us an invitation to a free coffee and cakes event to commemorate the arrival of fibre optic broadband in Aasiaat. We had seen the French cable laying vessel L'Isle des Aux on our trip north and speculated that it might be laying fibre. Sure enough they have, today, completed the laying of a cable from Iceland to Qaqortoq and on to Halifax with a spur up to Aasiaat. It was great to see the town celebrating the arrival of such a crucial bit of infrastructure. At home we just moan that it's slow to get to the countryside. By my reckoning this 30mm diameter cable (they had a sample on the coffee table) must be 3,600 miles long as that's the sailing distance from Reykjavik to Aasiaat and then on to Halifax!
After Sally repaired a rip in the spray hood we called it quits for the day and moved into the hotel for showers, a bed on land and, briefly, super fast broadband.
Tomorrow's jobs are now few. Sally is going to manicure her galley having already drawn up an inventory of remaining food stores and sell-by dates. The boys will disconnect 2/3 of the batteries leaving them to face the winter cold fully charged which should mean that they wont freeze in the expected temperatures. The remaining 1/3 we will keep on trickle charge. That way we can leave the bilge pumps on for the 2 months the boat will be in the water before she is lifted. The latter being an insurance condition.
More or less the last job will be to pump antifreeze through the 4 fresh water taps taking care to ensure we do both the hot and cold circuits.
Our last few days in Greenland have been
and will continue to be busy but Sally and I are already making plans for a return in the spring whilst the sea ice is still here to go dog sledding and snowmobiling. They say the weather here in March and April is stunning!
Thursday, 31 August 2017
Trip statistics for SHIMSHAL's summer cruise 2017
Here's the numbers for this summer's voyage:
Total distance: 1669.68NM
Time moving: 212.16 hours
Average speed: 6.03kn
Max speed: 12.5kn
Trip time: 7 weeks
Anchorages and ports in Greenland: 16
Anchorages and ports in Iceland: 3
Wednesday, 30 August 2017
At 0800 Monday we crept, with just 30cm of water left under the keel, alongside Polaris which was already docked at the shipyard's barge pontoon. Once docked our cruise had ended for the year.
The dock itself was a rusting barge sheltered by a wrecked fishing boat. The shipyard had a rugged and utilitarian look and was littered with both scrapped boats, boat parts and boat 'projects'. This was to be Shimshal's new home for the next 9 months.
We had heard good reports of the yard and despite it's disheveled appearance it was encouraging to watch the care they took over slipping a steel 70' trawler.
It looks like we won't get hauled until November so we are going to have all of the winter preparations in the water which was a challenge we hadn't expected. However we have come well prepared and the no frills chandlery here were only too pleased to sell us the pink antifreeze that's good down to -40C. I'm told it's always preferable not to mix colours with antifreeze and pink is what we had for the last 2 winters in Reykjavik so extra concentrated pink is what we will stick with for Aasiaat.
Aasiaat is renowned for it's dry climate. Imagine then our consternation when rain arrived a couple of hours after us and has stuck around ever since. The scene is truly Scottish with the relentless patter of rain which is forecast for the week. The only difference between here and being tied up at a rough and ready Scottish shipyard is the procession of icebergs that drift past the harbour entrance. Fortunately none thus far have found their way into the harbour.
We are hoping that sometime between now and when we fly home on Saturday the rain will relent long enough to let us get the sails off and dried. If it doesn't then they will move into the hotel with us!
We spent Tuesday winterising the engine and generator and, as always, Tim was a mine of information. His overalls finished the day with new psychedelic antifreeze coloured stains but we were both confident we had done all we could to protect Shimshal's mechanical systems against the savage cold that they will encounter.
First the generator was drained of antifreeze and then topped up with a stronger fix that should be good to -40C. Then the oil was drained and topped up. Then the seawater intake seacock was closed and the hose disconnected so that we could run 5 litres of antifreeze through the sea water cooling system and exhaust.
Then we did the same for the engine but took the lid off the strainer to pour the pink stuff in until it came spurting out of the exhaust when we ran the engine.
All machinery having been thoroughly cosseted we replaced the floor boards and the companionway steps and let Sally and Heather back in who had been banished for the duration to the Fisherman's Mission.
The truth is they hadn't spent all their time at the Mission. As usual they had made good use of the rainy day. The had walked to the HQ of Aasiaat Radio which is the home or Greenland's Marine Safety operation. They really enjoyed meeting the voices that had been our constant VHF radio companions since Prins Christian Sund with messages such as, "Shimshal, Shimshal what is your name?" I gather that Aasiaat Radio too were delighted to put faces to names.
Sally also befriended a rather splendid Maltese yacht tied up on the main wharf. They are one of a handful of boats that have successfully transited the North West Passage this year. The owe their success to flying a drone to discover the leads in what seems to have been a very bad ice year there too. It sounds like plenty of dramas are still being played out in the NWP with boats hemmed in by adverse winds and, of course, the advancing season. Thank goodness we have no aspirations to head west that way. Instead, next year we will head south and west in search of softer scenery and more temperate weather. Canada beckons!
Sunday, 27 August 2017
I think it's true to say that few pleasure boats come this way. Maybe it's the fog, the ice, the cold or the the hit and miss charts that deter people? There's the North Atlantic crossing and the Davis Straits too that are sure to put people off as both have a certain 'reputation'.
Since arriving in Greenland a month ago we have seen only a handful of other yachts and one of those was Alchemy. There was the French boat that passed us going south in the fog as we neared Nanortaliq. There was the other French boat that we overtook going into Nanortaliq as well as the crewless luxury Nordhavn motor cruiser tied up in Nanortaliq. After that nothing for 3 weeks and 500 miles. Until today.
We met two of the Swiss paying guests from the Italian ketch anchored in the bay this morning. They were drinking coffee in the fisherman's hostel. The Italian couple that ran their charter boat had spent a couple of months cruising Disko Bay and were now on route to Halifax, Panama and Alaska.
This afternoon I was busily topping up the fuel tank when the first distraction pounced. A sixty foot steel trawler, built like a tank, nosed in behind us passing our stern with a few centimetres to spare. He came onto the quay at right angles and, in doing so, bisected a raft of speed boats. He then sprung in alongside the quay behind our raft and, as if by magic, the raft of speed boats re-emerged on his starboard with no damage done. I returned to my siphon and my diesel.
I had just set the third diesel can going with the siphon when a yellow American yacht entered the harbour. The yacht came along side us and, from what seemed a very long range, hurled their mooring lines at us. It later turned out that they had broken a steering cable and were struggling to manoeuvre. Sally and I took their lines and tied them alongside us. We chatted about their cruise of Disko Bay and their destination. They were planning to overwinter here in Sisimiut and then head for the North West Passage next year. Then I remembered the diesel siphon!
Too late! The tank was overflowing and a large pool of diesel had accumulated on the deck. Too many distractions for one afternoon but thank goodness we managed to soak it all up with diesel wipes and, as Sally says, "you can never have too much Fairy Liquid!"
Therefore, in the six weeks we have been sailing we have encountered just six other foreign pleasure boats. Not a lot for such a magnificent coastline and vast country.
Tomorrow, Sunday, we will sail at 0700 for Aasiaat and prepare Shimshal for haul out and her long sojourn ashore in the grip of an arctic winter.
Saturday, 26 August 2017
The early morning alarm call went off this morning with a heart stopping sense of urgency. "Tiiiiiiiiim!!!!!" was the yelp that Heather made from the deck above our cabin. Quick as a flash the rest of us were on deck in varying states of undress.
Heather, on her way to the fisherman's hostel, was climbing from Shimshal on to the monster green, steel fishing boat we were tied up against when something had gone wrong. At the exact moment she had her hands on the trawler and her feet on Shimshal the two boats started moving apart leaving Heather straddled between the two as a human gang plank. Luckily the shriek was not followed by a splash and she held on long enough for the boats to come back together with a tug on the stern line.
So began our second day in Sisimiut. Another warm and sunny one. The morning's weather forecast indicated a start the following day for the last leg of a voyage. We thus had all of Saturday to relax and enjoy in Sisimiut now that the first drama of the day was over with no damage done and no clothes to dry.
Top of my list for the day's activities was an Internet fix which saw me cruising the website of Andersen winches. The day before we had removed the electric motor and discovered that the drive train had broken. On the face of it the whole assembly looked in perfect condition and hewn out of solid bronze but it had definitely died after 11 years of very light use. We will take it home and send it back to Andersen to see if they can repair it. The website allowed me to post a support query but didn't enlighten me as to why such a premium marine product had died without warning.
Maritime premium product failures are a recurring theme of Shimshal's voyages. Last year it was the throttle system and now thruster. The throttle cost a fortune to replace. The year before it was an alternator, the autohelm and the Whitlock steerer. All quality products, lightly used and well maintained that had failed suddenly, completely and without warning.
Our last car died after 210,000 miles with little more than an annual service. My current car is 17 years old and goes like a bomb. So why is it that anything designed for a boat, even safety critical items such as throttle and steering, seem to have a license to fail suddenly and catastrophically in away that no car owner would tolerate?
I suppose the production volumes aren't huge so things don't get snagged by millions of users but there does seem to be an element of industry denial at work. When we reported the autohelm failure to the manufacturer their help desk said they had never heard of any such issue. Yet the internet is alive with similar reports. Are they just deaf to trouble or is it they don't train their staff? Maybe they just don't care? One high end navigation light manufacturer faithfully replaced our lights under warranty five times when, year after year, they failed during the season. Despite their obvious, and widely reported, failure the manufacturer still advertises these lights as being, "indestructible, maintenance free and so waterproof they could be used on a submarine"!
Then there's the marine environment. I concede that salt water presents lots of challenges but none of our recent failures have been subjected to salt or showed any sign of corrosion, overuse or abuse.
Some say that intermittent use and, in particular long periods of no use, presents real challenges for engineers. But why should a drive train on an expensive electric motor be more vulnerable because it is used 2 months of the year rather than when in continuous use?
Sailing would be so much more fun and less expensive if the guys that make this things refined their designs and manufacturing processes when their products fail. "Built in obsolescence" was killed off in the motor trade 30 years ago so why do we tolerate it on boats and keep shedding out the dollars?
One of these days things will go legal when a boat's throttle fails off a lea shore and folk die because of it. In my trade we would be prosecuted for man slaughter if we could be shown to have negligently turned a deaf ear to previous reported failures. So why is it different in the marine trade?
Let all us Boaties unite and demand better from those who seek to fleece us.
Heather and Tim our long suffering, hardworking, energetic and resourceful crew had booked us a restaurant meal last night. Presumably to celebrate their survival thus far! In our copious cruising notes dossier we had found a recommendation by Clive Woodman for the bistro at the Sisimiut Hotel at the eastern edge of town. We had a reservation for 7.00pm.
We had shuffled the boats inside us on our raft twice in the afternoon and thus had a reasonable level of confidence that we would be able to leave the boat to fend for itself for the bistro booking. Anyway the harbour was emptying fast for it was a Friday evening when every one takes to the water in Sisimiut. It seemed like everyone was heading off for the weekend and can only assume it was to their huts in the fjords for a bit of hunting and fishing and general r&r after a hectic week in Sisimiut city - a town of 5,500.
It was sunny with a cool northerly wind blowing from Baffin Bay when we wandered up the hill to the commercial centre of town and then eastwards, past rows of accommodation tower blocks, to the Bistro. Although there is only 2 miles of road in town and none in the surrounding countryside the roads were busy with Friday night taxis, 4x4's, newish private cars and a Hummer that kept cruising past us. Everyone left in town must have been out and about to celebrate a fine summer's Friday evening.
The Bistro was easily spotted amongst the shabby, graffitied social housing and inside we were greeted by smiling waitresses, music, warmth and two TV screens showing looped video of log fires. Remember there are no trees in Greenland so the video was the next best thing to a warm welcome!
I'm not sure how many restaurants there are in Greenland but this must be one of the best and had been worth shaving for. Even Tim had eschewed his overalls but alas, not shaved! The game of the day was Reindeer which I think is Carribou. Musk Ox had evaded the bullet that week so was off the menu but it's wool could be bought in town for €59 per ball. Heather's new found knitting habit may yet result in some musky socks.
I opted for a medium rare rudolf steak. Heather, betraying her North American origins, opted for a bacon burger with cheese whereas Tim and Sally shared a table load of seafood. Greenlandic prawns, arctic snow crabs, ubiquitous cod and scallops from somewhere maybe not quite so local.
It was a feast fit for four sailors enjoying the slow return to civilisation after so long at sea. Thank you Tim and Heather.
The predicted wind had got up as we walked down the hill back to the harbour and it's chill reminded us that the sailing season here is very short. A lovely looking ketch had anchored in a protected bay north of the town. That was the first other yacht we had seen since leaving Alchemy in Qaqortoq. We wondered who they were and where they were heading?
Friday, 25 August 2017
How can it be that on one hand it feels like this voyage has been going on for ever and yet it seems to be going so quickly? In 8 days we will, if the weather allows it, catch a flight from Aasiaat to Kangerlussaq and then a connection onto Copenhagen. Finally EasyJet will bring us home and back from the wilderness. As you can imagine this isn't the cheapest set of airport connections on the planet!
But the voyage isn't over yet. We are resting in Sisimiut today and tomorrow while some forecast headwinds pass through and then we will make the last 120 mile dash north to Aasiaat. With luck we will be there earlyish on Monday to begin the painstaking task of winterising Shimshal for, although we are heading for more temperate climes, she faces a long harsh Arctic winter. Aasiaat will, once winter comes, be frozen in until late May and we need to do all that we can to protect Shimshal's systems from the biting cold.
In his day job Tim decommissioned a nuclear power station and we are all set to squeeze him back into his overalls and set to work decommissioning Shimshal for her long, dark winter at 68 degrees 42 minutes north.
I say squeeze him into his overalls because the food on this trip had been exceptionally good. The provisioning, resourcefulness and ingenuity that has gone into keeping us all fed with fine and varied foods is quite extraordinary. Most days we have fresh baked bread and that's rarely a bog standard plain white loaf. Yesterday, for instance, it was ciabatta rolls with home made 'Heather' burgers. Fresh baked cakes pop out of the oven regularly and, of course, there's always lashings of fresh coffee and pancakes for breakfast. My only "complaint" is that I'm on a boat full of tea drinkers, apart from Heather who drinks nothing, and so have nobody to share my Rwandan coffee aeropress creations with. Rod, if you are reading this, you are welcome back anytime to keep the skipper company at coffee time!
Being rafted up against two local boats here in Sisimiut means that we can't leave Shimshal unattended in case one of our inside boats decides to leave. All the more important because Sisak IV seems to be some kind of ice hardened search and rescue boat. So we go ashore in shifts. Heather and Tim have just gone ashore for showers and Internet. What would Tilman have made of that?
I am resuming our writing as it was interrupted by a 60' steel trawler which has just squeezed inside us to join the raft. As soon as he had manoeuvred into position they towed the broken engined whaler (Julianna) away completing a delicate shuffle of innumerable boats to make space for her alongside.
We just got the Greenland weather forecast which seems to confirm PredictWind's suggestion of strong, indeed gale force, northerlies which will probably delay our departure for Aasiaat until Sunday. No matter, it remains warm and sunny here and the crew are cleaner than they have been for weeks and seem content with what Sisimiut has to offer.
Five hundred miles north of Cape Farvell we crossed, for the forth time in Shimshal's existence, the Arctic Circle. Curiously, as we did so, the clouds parted, the sun came out and the day grew warmer. By the time we had docked in the bustling harbour of Sisimiut we had shed our oil skins and thinsulate one piece suits and were back to wearing clothes more appropriate for a Scottish summertime cruise. It was almost warm! It was certainly bright and sunny.
We squeezed ourselves in between the never ending stream of open fishing boats to find a comfortable berth alongside an old wooden fishing boat with a harpoon gun mounted on the foredeck. Juuliana was, in turn, rafted against Sikiuk IV a sturdily built patrol vessel identical to her sister ships we had seen in Qaqortoq and Nuuk. All of them built in Torshavn and painted conspicuous red. Already docked on the main quay was a massive, Bahamas registered, cruise liner with it's cargo of German tourists spilled throughout town.
Sisimiut is a quaint town built, as every where in Greenland, on and between great knobs of rock. It was busy. A digger clawed away at the seabed dredging out a new and improved fishing quay. Speed boats swarmed in and out. Some with crates of cod, some with families on board and some with the antlers and carcasses of caribou weighing down the bows. In town every other male had a gun strapped to his back. Apart, that is, from the German tourists from the liner. They carried digital SLR's with improbably long zoom lenses. Not only had we crossed the the Arctic Circle but, it seemed, we had entered a frontier town. A working town of hunters, whale catchers and fishermen.
Very little English was spoken here. A passing boat sold us a cod that was still twitching. All we could gather from the transaction was that the fisherman's name was Adam and that he couldn't understand why we only wanted one cod and not the whole crate. I'm not sure what we would have ended up with had the carribou boat have stopped by to sell us it's mornings catch!
Tim, without overalls, neatly despatched the quivering cod with one of my prized winch handles and then dissected it to the delight of the fish eaters amongst us and to the disgust of the non-fish eaters. "So fresh" they said, "it doesn't even smell of fish". It seems odd to me that those that profess to like fish so much prefer it when it doesn't smell of fish! Any way they enjoyed it and tonight, for the first time in a very long time, we have a restaurant booked and Musk ox is on the menu. I am hoping that that too doesn't smell of fish!
I got my internet fix in the fisherman's hostel. Internet in Greenland is ludicrously expensive with mobile data costing up to a £1 for an MB and wifi at £5/hour. I'm curious about why, with so much Danish infrastructure investment around, no attempt is made to make Digital infrastructure affordable? How can a society this remote continue to prosper without that essential, modern day, building block? Anyway I got online and connected with what was going on in the world outside. A world we are just nine day away now from re-entering.
Wednesday, 23 August 2017
When we entered Anders Olsens Sund we knew there was a southerly blow about to arrive. The wind was already becoming gusty and bringing with it lashings of supercooled rain. We knew we had to find a really good holding for the anchor if we were to sleep soundly as the blow went through.
With great care we felt our way into the Sound to seek water shallow enough to anchor in and yet sufficiently offshore to allow us to swing on our chain with wind shifts and gusts. A delicate balance but crucial to get it right.
The first anchor drop was in 13 metres and we set 60 metres of chain. It bit the bottom but when we motored hard astern it dragged and later came up with a scoop of thin mud.
Tim on the bow patiently and persistently set, raised and re-set the anchor in order to find the perfect holding. Each time it went down and set but the mud on the bottom wasn't strong enough to take the strain. After half a dozen or so attempts we dropped in 9 metres and set 80 metres of chain which is a generous scope by anybody's standards.
We had found a place with plenty of swinging room and with 3,000rpm in reverse it still stuck hard. We figured with that we could sleep soundly as the winds rose through the night.
Needless to say I didn't sleep soundly as the boat rocked and swung with the wind humming in the rigging. A couple of times my anchor alarm went off but these were false alarms triggered by poor gps reception. Nevertheless each alarm had to be checked to make sure our transits hadn't budged.
The morning broke with sunshine and a stiff, cold wind whipping up waves in the Sound towards us. To the east the jagged mountains of Greenland had acquired fresh snow and sat below lenticles of cloud in an otherwise blue sky. A sure sign of plenty of wind being about.
We pulled in a forecast from space and confirmed that today was a day to remain at anchor reading, writing , baking and dozing. Warm and dry in our deck saloon we can watch that our anchor holds and enjoy a spectacular anchorage. If the wind abates a bit this afternoon we may be able to get ashore in the dinghy and possibly fly the drone to make a unique photographic record of our visit to Anders Olsens Sund.
Sailing in Greenland without a reliable engine and without access to weather information must have been a nightmare. We have both and are in awe of those pioneers in whose wake we are following.
Of the 'modem pioneers' HW Tilman is the most famous. He cruised this coast 56 years ago in his beloved Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter named Mischief. He did have an engine but, by all accounts, it often didn't work. I don't think he had weather information although he did get occasion ice observations from aircraft. What he definitely didn't have was satellite navigation. Instead he had often to rely on asking local boats where he was.
I can't imagine what it's like to be fog bound off an unknown, ice bound coast with inaccurate charts and the only method of measuring depth was a lead line. Tilman, and all who came before him, felt their way around here with none of the bells and whistles we now take for granted. Even more extraordinary were the Danes who settled the coast in the 1700's and Davis who 'discovered' it in the 1580's. We know too that the Vikings came this way on their way to Newfoundland but, apparently, 40% of the longboats departing Iceland didn't survive.
Of the 'Modern Pioneers' we had the pleasure of meeting Willy Ker at an OCC event a decade ago. By then he was an elderly man but his eyes twinkled when he heard of our plans to come this way. When asked for advice he said simply, "buy my book".
We did, of course, buy his book and even managed to go one step better by acquiring photocopies of his hand annotated charts. He wandered around these waters in his Contessa 32 diligently collecting and collating all the cruising information required to write the first yachtsman' s pilot to Greenland. Thank you Willy.
We now have the benefit of the indispensable Cruising Guide to the Arctic and Northern Waters published in 2014 which will surely encourage more to venture this way.
However, there is now a new source of pilotage information. Intrepid souls such as Bob Shepton, Clive Woodman, Jonathon Maguire and John Andrew have added depth and breadth to the existing literature and either published it on their own blog sites or on Forums such as the Ocean Cruising Club's. A simple search of the OCC website revealed a wealth of information from a dozen or so modern pioneers. With great foresight Sally printed, bound and cross referenced this information so we are cruising here with the combined wisdom and experience on board of many that have gone this way in recent years. A luxury indeed.
The other thing that has made our cruise dramatically more comfortable is access to reliable weather information. We use a subscription service called PredictWind. They take the raw weather data and run it through their prediction model and present it in a way that compares the sources and predictions. We are able to draw down by satellite bespoke forecasts which are updated every day. We have found this of inestimable value for planning and thus far we haven't got caught out or had to labour against unexpected head winds.
Indeed, as I write this, we are snugly anchored in a bright and sparkling anchorage waiting for winds to go through that we saw coming a couple of days ago. We have been able to plan our passage around them and snatch miles as some weather windows open and others close. Our predecessors would, instead, have been out there shivering at the helm.
We are doing what we can to contribute to the literature to make it still easier for those that follow us. We are writing up detailed anchorage and berthing notes and will publish them on both the OCC Forum and the Cruising Association's database. Where possible we are supplementing this with drone photographs of the anchorages.
Sharing knowledge and experiences, made better by digital media, has added significantly to the comfort and safety of our cruise. It has led us to places that we would otherwise have never known about. Long may that spirit of sharing continue.
Tuesday, 22 August 2017
It seems that the Eternal or Evigheds Fjord is one of the most famous in Greenland. It had been the subject of novels and of adventure literature for half a century or more. Tillman brought his beloved Mischief here to climb a few mountains and we chose to pay homage to his anchorage.
Leaving the delights of Hamborgerland behind we went north briefly before heading east up the long Fjord. A couple of knots of tide was against us most of the day and frigid air rolled down off the icecap. To the south the peaks were already gathering cloud but to the north was clear.
The Eternal Ford doesn't quite go on for ever but it's pretty long with many twists and turns along the way. Seven major glaciers snake down into it but I suspect none calve into the fjord itself as we encountered no ice.
Ten miles in we turned south and entered a broad bay with some rock islands guarding an inner bay to the east. We had heard that there might be strong winds to come so we took great care to dig the anchor in as far as we could. It went in easily and stuck hard.
The winds never came but the rain and the mist did. So too did the Ocean Endeavour, a small cruise liner with 80 staff and 120 young Canadians on board. As a youth development project they were touring the Arctic having started in Resolute Bay 2 weeks earlier. Much grey, wet weather had been encountered and the Eternal Fjord was to be no exception. The radio chat of the RIB drivers kept us entertained until, after a frigid swim, they upped their anchor to steam off at 20 knots to catch their flights from Kangerlussaq the next morning. We were left alone to enjoy the rain, the mist and the isolation of a Tillman anchorage.
The day we left Maniitsoq was a day of superlatives. We had sat out a bit of weather tied up securely to the wooden pontoon and had enjoyed pottering around in town. We had topped up the diesel day tank and refilled the main water tank with a couple of barrels ferried in the dinghy from a hose pipe on the quay. We left the dock in flat calm conditions and nudged our way out of the harbour through a procession of open fishing boats and water taxis.
Out of the channel we turned east and slid past the stony ramparts of the town improbably surmounted by high rise accommodation blocks, pastel blue in the morning sun. A heavily built fishing boat nosed past us towing a couple of open boats. The skipper waved cheerily. A flurry of high powered open boats shot past powered up by massive outboards. It seems the minimum acceptable number of horse power here for a working day boat is 150hp but 250hp is not uncommon. We lumbered on under motor at 6 knots.
The day was clear and the sunshine lit up the mountains and their ice caps. This being Geenland swathes of mist were still lurking. We turned north and motored close into the shore of the island of Maniitsoq where huts dotted the coast. The ridges and rock faces of Maniitsoq fell away after a few miles and after 10 miles we turned east again to explore a long narrow fjord and the glacier that was at it's head. The air was colder in the fjord and it became cooler still as we neared the icy extremity of the Greenland Ice Cap. The sides of the fjord grew steeper and waterfalls gushed from high hanging glaciers. Guano on a precipice betrayed a gull colony. The birds themselves swarmed around an open fishing boat which was cleaning it's catch.
The glacier at the head of the fjord had receded so no longer calves into the water so we didn't have to worry about ice. Close up the blue, crevassed tongue of ancient ice twisted and ground it's way through the mountains. The fjord changed colour with its load of glacial sediment. We turned around and retraced our wake.
We were now heading along the north shore of Hamborgerland which was reputed to be one of the most scenic places in Geenland. The mountains grew in stride and their faces became steeper and more jagged. Icy jewels decorated the towers with scores of glaciers large and small. The afternoon was now perfect blue sky and sunshine as we headed west beneath Hamborgerland's north coast. A brightly painted freighter of the Royal Arctic Line passed us going east and gave scale and perspective to the majestic scenery.
The anchor went down in an exquisite anchorage called Appamiut on the north side of the Hamborgerland Sund. Our walk up to the ridge above the anchorage revealed a stunning vista of sea, sun, ice and mountains. Quite fantastic. Needless to say the cameras whirred and the drone flew capturing the moment in stills and video. Only the sinking sun and it's orange light could improve on this heavenly scene which it duly did.
Friday, 18 August 2017
One of the reasons we have sailed three times to the Arctic and once to the Antarctic is that Sally and I discovered early on (2005) the Weasel Suit. Made of thick thinsulate and wind proof Pertex these one piece dive under suits are, for us, the 'file and forget' cold weather essential. It has to be said that they look deeply unflattering and make trips to the heads a nightmare but, once on, we are almost impervious to the cold.
For this trip we had a mixture of stoats and weasels in that Tim had the fleece equivalent but appeared equally content to sit it out in the cockpit on the coolest and wettest days. The off-white overalls seem, as we gain northings, to be now less prominent. No doubt when we reach Aasiaat they will see action once more.
Certainly stoats and weasels made a big difference to this trip on deck as did the 5 KWatt diesel heater, built in dehumidifier, heated towel rails and electric blanket below deck. Someone once said, "Any fool can be uncomfortable!"
We slipped into the protected harbour of Maniitsoq and passed, as we did so, the longest bridge in Greenland. It might be the only bridge in Greenland. Anyway this diminutive structure joined the Royal Arctic cargo dock with the rest of the town. The town itself appeared to be perched precariously on glacier polished rock and where building had been impossible dynamite had done the trick.
We tied up on the long, and somewhat flimsy, pontoon and paid up for this at the frostily managed Maniitsoq Hotel. They appeared happy to take our money but that was about all they were happy about.
Nevertheless, warm welcome or not, it's lovely to sit in our warm and dry deck saloon and watch the comings and goings in the harbour. Better still the grumpy hotel has a commanding view of the harbour and today Shimshal was at its centre.
There appears to be an abundance of supermarkets here but not much in the way of decent cafes with or without internet so, IF we have fine weather tomorrow, we will move on as we are apparently on the verge of a scenic wonderland. We plan to take some detours down fjords and explore Hamborgerland before wending our way north to Sisimiut. We have 9 days to complete the remaining 276 miles of this voyage to Aasiaat so we are not in a rush.
We arrived at Tovqussaq later than expected. The wind had picked up a little and the seas were more bouncy with a building swell from the south west. Being well into August the nights were starting to draw in and that, coupled with mist, meant that the light was grey and dimming fast. The wind had a cold edge to it and brought rain with it. Cold, soaking rain.
The recommended anchoring place had some telltale branches of kelp floating in it which never augers well for easy anchoring. The thick growth of stalks clog the anchor and prevent it from biting.
It took six attempts to get through the kelp and find a bit of seabed suitable to tug our anchor in firmly. Five times it dragged as we motored astern to set it and when it came back up it had harvested huge trees of kelp. Each time the anchor had to be cleaned with the boat hook and painstakingly re-laid. Each time the light got dimmer and we got soggier. Each time our spirits dropped a little until that sixth time when the chain came bar tight and we all knew we were safe for the night.
In total it took us a rain soaked one and a half hours to set the anchor to our satisfaction and, inevitably, during that time anxiety levels rose and nerves began to jangle. We were in no danger and the weather, apart from being wet, was benign. However, we were in a remote and poorly charted anchorage in the gathering gloom. We were keen to get below to get fed, warmed and rested and yet we needed to patiently battle with the kelp forests and make sure our ship was safe and secure.
During one of the failed attempts we were motoring hard astern trying to dig in the anchor when the reverse thrust caught the rudder and flung it against the rudder stops with such force that the wheel span violently out of Sally's hands. She was taken aback by the experience and thought something catastrophic had happened to the steering. All though was well with the steering and the anchor set beautifully on the next attempt and the nervousness was slaked by the warmth of the saloon, yet more fine food and a good night's sleep.
It rained heavily over night but Shimshal was securely tethered and she lay peacefully at anchor allowing her crew the rest they deserved. By 0500 there was sufficient light to navigate and so we got the anchor up and threaded the narrow passage that took us back out to sea towards Maniitsoq forty miles north.
Thursday, 17 August 2017
Two full days of shore leave in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, came to an end today as we headed, once more for the open sea. As we crept past the new container port a Russian shrimp trawler was manoeuvring mid channel so we paused and then followed in her wake.
The explosion we had heard on entering the port had, we have since discovered, been a catastrophic accident. Much dynamite had been used to create the new container dock and, it seems, not all of it had been accounted for. For, on the day of handover to the Harbour operator, a digger applying the finishing touches, set off an unexposed stick of dynamite which blew off it's wheel. The driver was said to be "shocked" but OK!
Unusually for Sally in Nuuk she became a culture vulture as she spent much time in the museum. In recent months she has read extensively about the Inuit, the Danish colonisation and their history and exploits. It was great that the museum added colour to the mental images she had conjured from her readings.
I, on the other hand, hooked into the web with a frenzy of internet. The harbour master and the fisherman's hostel, now re-branded as a 3 star hotel, were all most helpful. There was a splendid fisherman's chandler a few yards from the dock but everything on board is working well at the moment and so, for once, there was no need to flash the plastic. I hope we don't regret that boast!
We managed too to Skype the Aasiaat Shipyard that will be taking care of Shimshal until next season. We had been getting a little nervous as they hadn't answered a couple of emails and both Sally and I were starting to fear that we were going to find ourselves with no home for the boat with the imminent end of the sailing season. Needless to say the call put our minds at rest. Yes they were expecting us and yes Jens will be in charge of haul out and decommissioning. The only slight surprise was that the haul out will be after we have flown on 2/9/17.
After leaving the bustle of Nuuk we are now heading due north about 8 miles off shore. We did not attempt to follow the notoriously rocky and shallow inner lead and have opted for open water passage making. It's more relaxing. The snow splattered mountains are to starboard and, though overcast, there's no fog! A gentle breeze from the south is helping the motor but it's too light to get us into our chosen anchorage before dark so we continue to burn diesel.
Tonight we plan stay at Tovqussaq which looks to be a very sheltered anchorage of manageable depth. As I write it is 25 miles away so we should be anchored by 1800.
Wednesday, 16 August 2017
The Passage to Nuuk
We decided to abandon the complex inner lead and head offshore for an overnight passage to Nuuk. Out to sea, in better charted waters, there would be less need for the intense concentration that had characterised our voyage thus far.
The plan worked and at these latitudes we found much less ice off shore and so we were even able to maintain reasonable progress through the the brief hours of darkness.
The passage to Nuuk turned out to be a memorable and enjoyable one during which the fog rolled away revealing a perfect half moon and a northern sky that never lost its luminous glow. The northern lights made an appearance and so did porpoise and whales. The narrow southern approach to Nuuk threaded many mountainous islands each of which looked their best in the slanting morning sun. Mist daubed much of the landscape further enhancing the already exotic landscape.
We closed the harbour just as a tanker was leaving and as a large cruise liner was arriving. There was too a flurry of work boats, water taxis and open fishing boats. It was clear that we were arriving in Greenland's capital after weeks in the wilderness.
Our search for a berth was punctuated by a loud explosion as the builders put their finishing touches to the new cargo dock. We selected an ancient whaling boat, beset by a port list and copious weed below the water, to tie up against as clearly that boat wasn't going anywhere in the next coupe of days.
Great to be briefly back in civilisation with showers, Internet and laundry - the luxuries of a wilderness cruise!
Monday, 14 August 2017
The Greenland weather gods must have read with interest our last blog which lamented the fog and the absence of sunshine. For this morning, whilst still anchored in the lovely Ravns Storo, shafts of sunlight burned off the mist and we found ourselves, once again, in picture perfect Greenland.
We had been tired by the concentration needed by day to navigate Greenland's inshore leads and by the nightly visits of curious icebergs. We needed a good sleep. So there was much relief when we entered, in late evening, the ice free fjord of Ravns Storo. The anchor took hold on the first attempt and we knew we could relax and sleep.
We had declared Monday morning a time for recuperation thus the late breakfast allowed time for the fog to recede and reveal our surroundings. Ashore we wandered around the rocky bluffs padded with rich lichens, mosses and exquisite wild flowers. This had been a Faroese fishing station abandoned before 1983 and everywhere there were the ruined remnants of the past.
Bleached and battered by sun, wind and ice the wooden carcasses of their huts, boats and sheds were all along the shore. A rusting davit on a makeshift quay, iron cooking ranges and an elderly diesel engine. All this paraphernalia was testimony to the forces that drove those fishermen, not so long ago, to scratch an existence 1800miles from home on the west coast of Greenland. Why they came and why they left is not recorded. We could only muse about their lives and the hardships they encountered.
Back on Shimshal the sun was high in the sky and, after lunch, we motored out of the bay on smooth, windless seas bound for Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, and our next destination.
As soon as we cleared the harbour our old friend the fog was back with us but the sun was never far away and we were dry and warm in the cockpit. We settled ourselves down for the 94 mile overnight passage north to Nuuk.
I'm not sure if it was today or yesterday a humpback whale porpoised past the boat 25m from from us and then dived waving his tail fin as he went. The reason I am not sure is because the last two days have been long motoring days trying to get north ahead of some fresh northerly winds forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday. We have had wind but it has been light and from dead ahead.
We awoke this morning at 0445 and were on our way by 0500. Extreme care was needed to extricate ourselves from our anchorage as we were beset by fog and surrounded by ice. In addition we had already discovered a charting error and so we literally had to feel our way out.
That extreme concentration punctuated by an episode of intense anxiety were to continue throughout the long day with the engine chugging at 2,500 rpm. The charting errors continued and the fog stuck to us like glue. The passages were intricate with no margin for error.
But the crew of Shimshal were up to it with precision navigation and monumental vigilance. One of the oddest episodes of anxiety was when were happily going along a marked passage. The water was pale with glacial sediment and the depth sounder persistently read dangerously shallow depths despite allegedly being in deep water. Then a reef appeared ahead out of the murk when it should have been to port. We double checked everything and proceeded with great caution wishing that the thin veil of fog would part and reveal the sunny wonderland that surrounded us. Tantalising glimpses of blue skies and glittering peaks came and went but mostly we laboured north and west in dank, frigid fog.
Passing the settlement of Paamiut, we read in our sailing guide "Arctic Pilot" that "Paamiut has a raw, damp climate with considerable fog, especially in spring and summer". We are experiencing the real Greenland then but the crew of Shimshal are hoping for sunshine and following winds so that we can relax and enjoy as we get further north. Meanwhile visibility, ice and dodgy charts will keep us on our toes. Cruising here is not for the faint hearted!