Tuesday, 22 August 2017



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



The passage to Maniitsoq went quickly. Tim and Sally took their seasickness tablets and were, at least in the early part of the voyage, rendered comatose. They needn't have worried as the seas never rose and the motion was never challenging. The bimini and spray hood kept the worst of the rain out of the cockpit but, at these latitudes in the Davis Strait, full foul weather kit was called on for anyone venturing into the cockpit.

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.

Anchoring in a Kelp

Anchoring in a Kelp.

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

North from Nuuk

North from Nuuk

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

Greenland isn't all ice

Greenland isn't all ice!

To date this blog has focused on ice, rock, and the considerable challenges of sailing in foggy and poorly charted waters. But Greenland has a femanine side too. Here are a few photos to prove it.

The Passage to Nuuk

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 Geenland Weather Gods

The Geenland Weather Gods

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.

Another whale and more fog

Another Whale

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!

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Fog, sun and more fog

Fog and Sunshine

We had planned to be up at 0530 but we all slept over. Nevertheless our well drilled crew had the anchor up, stripped of weed and stowed by 0600.

We were in sunshine! The first we had seen since Greydvig a week earlier. The pinkish rock of the low hills and headland glowed in the morning sun. We nosed our way back into the channel which, after a mile, turned west. Now with the fresh morning sunshine on our backs we saw the fog rolling to meet us. In the narrows we were beset by fog and the day before we had noticed a charting error or anomaly which meant that our chart plotter could not be relied on. I switched on the radar and was relieved to see that the charts seemed accurate. At least for now.

We groped our way westwards and into the open sea where the fog parted revealing a sparkling morning of sea, sun, ice and mountains. Ahead lay blue skies and a fresh wind from the NNW. We motor sailed to steady the boat and collect a little lift from the sails as we trudged NW into gentle white capped seas.

Pyramids of rock stood out to sea and sometimes their tops peeped out above a patch of fog.

The sails went up and down but, what wind there was, was nearly always on the nose.

And then the sparkling sunshine got cloaked in thick, wet fog. We motored on into the murk straining to see headlands, growlers and even other boats. A fishing post passed within 200m on the AIS but it was invisible. Every now and then a towering icy giant berg would loom out of the mist. Such a surprise resulted in much frantic twiddling of knobs to tune the radar.

As we neared our chosen anchorage the fog thinned sufficiently to reveal the army of ice bergs that stood on guard. 

We wove easily past them in mid channel noting the chart and GPS discrepancy in the sound. We passed a tiny hamlet with open boats tied up to an exposed dock. Finally we turned to starboard to find a place to anchor for the night.

The recommended anchorage is in the NE corner but, as we approached it shallowed alarmingly so we settled for a spot close to the NW shore where we found good holding in 10m at the second attempt. Three children from the village strolled along the shore to engage us but we were too tired and had a few jobs to do before a short night's sleep.

Transferring 103 litres of fuel took 6 minutes 19 seconds. Then supper and bed called. Sadly the night was disturbed by an icy visitor. A socking great lump of ice nudged and clung to our stern. The pole came out but it merely pushed Shimshal forward only to fall back on the brooding, frigid mass. In the end we shortened our anchor chain by 5m and we had no further trouble.

Another Sea Eagle

Another Sea Eagle

At 0700 on a wet morning in Qaqortoq we got our lines that rafted us to Alchemy and slipped out of the harbour. Alchemy had a rendezvous to make with a flight so was heading 50 miles up a fjord to Narsarsuaq. We, on the the other hand, had a lot of miles to do to reach Aasiaat - our chosen port to over winter ashore - and were anxious to get going.

The drizzle came and went but the fog stayed away as we pointed west to enter the complex web of passages that led us to Mato Lob.

In one such passage, maybe 50m wide, a sea eagle was being mobbed by a gull. Eventually evading it's tormentor it spotted a fish breaking the surface 20m from Shimshal. It swooped but did not strike. Instead, on giant wings, it heaved itself aloft to try again in a more lonely spot. A majestic sight.

With virtually no wind the low cloud clung to the tops as we wove our way between islands and islets. A large and very smart fishing boat steamed past us going south. He waved enthusiastically as we crossed.

In a long straight section and in perfectly flat calm conditions a brace of speed boats hurtled past on their way south. We plodded on northwards at a much more stately 5 - 6 knots.

In the early evening we nosed into a small bay on the south side of the channel and anchored securely in 12m. We had arrived at Bangs Havn where we settled down for the night. Two dinghy trips ashore with a 60 litre barrel enabled us to fill up our water tanks from a gushing stream. We winched the full barrel onto the deck and siphoned the water into the tanks.

More passage planning followed and Heather managed to conjure up another fine offering from the galley. Steak and curly french fries with pepper sauce.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Tim's Half Century

Tim's Half Century

We awoke to a windless day of drizzle but that didn't matter as we were on shore leave for the day being safely docked alongside Alchemy in Qaqortoq. The saloon was full of balloons and bunting to celebrate Tim's fiftieth. We had plenty of treats in store for him.

Overalls on it was time to transfer diesel around the boat and, in the process. reduce our port list caused by the eccentrically mounted long range 600 litre tank. In 2015 I had "designed" a fuel transfer system that got installed and baptised in 2016 and tweaked in 2017.

I'm always a little nervous about putting my ideas to the test, especially where diesel is concerned, but this time it worked flawlessly. Birthday boy was on deck in his, now very off-white, overalls manning the hose and I was in the bilge manning the pump. In ten minutes we had transferred 183 litres into our day tank and jerry cans and not a drop of diesel entered the bilge. So good so far.

Next up Birthday Boy was squeezed into the port lazarette and was supplied with copious spanners, hacksaws and screwdrivers. It was time to make a permanent repair to the electric steering that the overalls had patched up mid Denmark Strait. With an incredible stroke of luck I had been able to buy 4 spare bolts in Qaqortoq which, at the current rate of use, should last until I'm 96!

The new bolt was fitted, the steering lines tensioned and greased and the rudder bearings lubricated. It seems that on the morning Tim took his pension his productivity had never been better.

With boat jobs and laundry done we walked back up the hill for showers and a snort of wifi at Laila's hostel to wash away the oily perfumes of the morning's labours. Good to be in harbour!

I forgot to mention Anna's visit the night before. German by birth but studying for a masters in Tourism in Copenhagen she had managed to wangle a summer in Greenland surveying tourists. Bored with with cruise passengers the crews of Alchemy and Shimshal presented a different take on the tourist theme to inform her Thesis. We ended up having a lovely and informed conversation about the pros and cons of tourism in Greenland and how to steer it in a sustainable, non-destructive, direction. Thanks Anna for the chat and maybe see you again in Nuuk on the 19th?

The Half Centennial got into full swing at 4pm when Alchemy stepped over to share in the celebrations. Heather had cooked a delicious three layer cake which meant that Qaqortoq will be remembered mainly for calories, birthday parties and copious quantities of carrot cake.

At last it was time to say fond and final farewells to Dick, Ginger and Brian. The crews of Alchemy and Shimshal had very much enjoyed their impromptu cruise in company through some of the wildest waters on the planet. We have been honoured to share the experience.

The harbour day and the birthday was now drawing to a close but, before more celebratory calories (chicken wrapped in bacon with broccoli and cheese sauce), there was more passage planning to do. The way north is an intricate set of passages threading hundreds of islands, islets and boulders. We all poured over charts and chart plotters until we were confident that we had a workable route and schedule for our onward journey to Aasiaat.

Finally Sally and I went ashore for a last sniff of internet and to download two omnibus editions of the Archers. Yes we have been offline that long!

Whales, sea eagles and free cakes

Whales, sea eagles and free cakes

Reluctantly we left the hot springs in our wake and steered south west to pass Zacharias Havn to port. The landscape was now changing. Jagged mountains were giving way to low, rolling headlands and a plethora of narrow passages. Occasionally we had rain and but the fog stayed away which meant that the helm could relax a little although the pilotage remained intricate.

Occasionally we lost the shelter of the islands and rolled in the swells of the Davis Strait. Out to sea and to our south a gale was blowing but we had seen it coming and pushed north to where we knew there would be much less wind. In fact there was none so we motored the 40 miles to Qaqortoq.

In a narrow passage we disturbed a sea eagle and in another a whale dived a few metres from the boat.

We were now in quite populated waters and fast ferries (Targa 33's and 27's) shot past us even in the narrowest of passes. Finally we entered the fjord that runs a few miles east to Qaqortoq and saw, anchored at the entrance to the harbour, the cruise liner Rotterdam. We had last seen her heading in the opposite direction when we were on passage from Isafjordur to Patreksfjordur.

Alchemy had arrived an hour or so ahead of us having spent the night at Zacharias Havn. We rafted up alongside them and everyone was pleased to be unexpectedly reunited.

During the afternoon the tenders to the Rotterdam swarmed around the harbour disgorging and collecting 150 guests at a time.

We wandered around town with the mainly American cruise passengers, re-provisioned and, somehow, Sally managed to get us an invitation
to Laila's birthday party. It was never clear who Laila was or why we were invited but from the evidence on the cake it was her 23rd birthday. We all went up to the excellent hostel to stuff ourselves with the copious cakes and coffee bequeathed by Laila's friends and family. Happy birthday Laila!

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Going West to Nanortliq

Going West to Nanortliq

By first light the anchor was up and we motored west into a misty, wet morning. There was ice everywhere but it wasn't the big bergs that were the problem. More so their decaying remnants that littered the fjord with bergy bits and brash. Every now and then we failed to avoid one and it thudded into the bow with a very solid thump. One of the first to do so timed it's impact perfectly for when Heather sat on the forward toilet. A chilling surprise for her I am assured!

Steadily we picked our way along the fjord wiggling between icy obstacles as we went. Above us, swathed in cloud, were the brooding granite walls reaching up to imagined tops. Glaciers dribbled down from the ice cap calving more bergs to frustrate our progress.

At the narrows the tide was against us but we pushed on through, wary of the eddies that threatened to set us onto the passing icebergs.

After 30 miles we took a dog leg around an island and the passage became wider. Though still plenty of ice there were fewer of those troublesome bergy bits and growlers. Smooth granite cliffs reared up all around us to lofty summits daubed in mist. An extraordinary voyage through a pristine wilderness landscape freshly chiselled by ice out of rock.

Fifty miles into the fjord system we passed our first habitation, Appilattoq, a tiny hamlet of red houses and a church perched on granite beneath an immense granite cliff. A rugged aluminium open speedboat, driven by a fisherman in a survival suit, flew past us across the top of the waves and dodged into a rocky cleft that concealed the harbour. Hardy souls scratching out an existence sandwiched between mountain and fjord.

Another dog leg littered with ice bergs led us finally out into the open sea and a cold fog engulfed us. We were now in the Davis Strait which is the cold sea that laps the coast of West Greenland. It is renowned for it's fogs so this was a fitting and predictable greeting.

In open water Alchemy spotted us on AIS and called us up. They had anchored the night before just west of the narrows and now were just a hour or two ahead of us. We threaded, by radar, the rocky islets and grounded icebergs that defended the far south west tip of Greenland and followed in Alchemy's wake to Nanortaliq which we entered in fog. We berthed on the container dock a few yards from Alchemy.

Exhilarated and exhausted by a long day of complicated and, at times, tense pilotage amongst ice, rocks and fog we were glad to be tied to a rugged cargo dock. That was until a lump of ice the size of an estate car nudged our stern at frequent intervals throughout the night. A little gentle prodding with our bargain basement ice poles soon saw him off but this was a naturally curious chunk of ice that always found it's way back to take another look.

The Weather Station

The Weather Station

Built by the Americans during WW2 the Prins Christian Sund Weather Station is a sprawling collection of red, prefabricated buildings perched on the hillside 270 wooden steps up from a concrete jetty. The jetty itself was blocked by icebergs but we found a shallow shelf on which to anchor just north of the leading lines. It took a couple of goes to find a decent holding in amongst the kelp.

It was wet and dull but none of us could resist the temptation to go ashore and explore this lonely outpost. We had not expected it to be manned as the reporting was automated in 2016 so it was a pleasant surprise to be invited in for coffee and biscuits with the Greenlandic contractors that were there for the week. They had recently arrived by helicopter and were obviously keen to meet up with some of the first sailors to make the passage this season.

There was a team of telecom engineers and a guy using a drone to map the whole area. They ushered us into their warm, dry dining room and connected us to their super-fast broadband while feeding us coffee and biscuits. A great welcome back to civilisation after the wilds of East Greenland and the Denmark Strait.

Back on Shimshal icebergs lurked but kept a relatively respectful distance from our anchorage as we settled down for the night comfortable in the knowledge we had safely accomplished a very perilous landfall.

Delectable hot springs and down wind sailing

Delectable hot springs and down wind sailing

We left Nanortaliq as we had found it under a thick veil of fog. Painstakingly we steered precise bearings using a bow watch and radar to steer clear of icebergs. We were resigned to maintaining that intense level of concentration all day but, when we turned a headland, the fog rolled away and a sailing breeze sprung up.

The weather improved again as we rounded the southern ramparts of Sermosoq. Jagged mountain ridges, sheer walls and grounded icebergs littering the coast. We sped past on a broad reach.

Our origins plan had been to anchor at Zacharias Havn but the lure of hot springs was too strong so we took a 24 mile dog leg diversion to the north and anchored off the western shore of Umanaq. A wonderfully secure anchor holding meant that we could go ashore and spend a couple of hours luxuriating in the wilderness hot springs.

The springs were heavenly. Bubbles and hot water percolated from the gravel bed of the pool creating a perfect 5m diameter infinity pool lapped with luxuriant buttercups, butterwort and orchids. Below us Shimshal lay at anchor with large, harmless icebergs safely grounded out in the bay. Beyond Shimshal lay a spectacular array of jagged, snowy peaks marching east to the far off ice cap. What an incredible place! 

The night was spent undisturbed by ice for the first time in ages for, even in the harbour at Nanortaliq, we had been in regular jousting matches throughout the small hours.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Farewell to the Denmark Strait

Farewell to the Denmark Strait

Six nights we were anchored in Grydevig enjoying stunning weather all the time we were there. It was a thoroughly sociable time with Alchemy anchored a few hundred metres away. The days were spent fending off icebergs, swatting mosquitos, climbing on the granite hills, towing and tethering Houdini. All the time we were keeping an eye on the developing ice situation. 

When we had first made our landfall we had to choose an anchorage in the narrow belt of coast that had shaken itself free of ice in late July. That meant choosing Grydevig which was in the middle of a 15 mile stretch of ice free coast. To the north lay a coast beset by ice stretching hundreds of miles towards towards Tasilak. To the the south lay the icy coast from Lindenau Fjord all the way to Cape Farewell. The six days we spent at anchor saw us straining all of our digital sinews to keep up to date with the developing conditions. We needed to spot the opportunity to sneak south and cross through the drifting polar ice to enter Prins Christian Sund but we could only do that once the ice had become much less dense.

Our man in Mallorca was kept up late into the night processing the radar satellite images and trying to match them with the Danish ice charts. The helicopter ice patrol sent us pictures of the ice when they managed to fly. Each time we saw them we shook our heads and said, "maybe the day after tomorrow?"

As each day passed the ice conditions improved. The coast to the north cleared rapidly but a plug of stubborn sea ice to our south kept us at anchor. Even that though was gradually improving. On Wednesday it had been 6/10 ice, on Thursday 3-5/10 on Friday 2-4/10 and then on Saturday 1-3/10.

Thus on Sunday, in the very early morning, we retrieved the cobweb of lines that had kept us safe and pulled up the anchor. Tentatively we crept out into the main fjord with Alchemy hot on our heels.

We left the sunshine behind us in the fjord and ventured back into the grey, drizzly Denmark Strait. It was dull, raining and overcast but, mercifully, there was no fog so it was easy to pick our way through the mine fields of icebergs and growlers. We motored offshore to the region we had spent the night adrift on our approach a week earlier.

A gentle, low swell rolled us as we threaded our way south and at first we had thought the ice charts inaccurate and exaggerated as there was no polar ice. We passed the misty, cold Lindenau fjord to starboard and then closed the coast to the south.

There we sighted the obstacle. A jumble of bergs rearing out of a sea of ice stretching far away the south. Our spirits dipped as we contemplated having to outflank the drifting pack by plunging south and being forced to round the ferocious Cape Farewell far out to sea. That would have been a long and tedious excursion.

Keeping the pack to starboard we sailed south and gradually the pack thinned. Eventually we grasped the opportunity and steered to starboard to try and find our way through. With Tim at the bow we zigzagged our way south west now sensing Prins Christian Sund, the crux of our voyage, was almost within our grasp.

With Alchemy close astern we wove our way south and westward. Occasionally one of the smaller bergy bits could not be avoided and would hit the hull with a thud. Most of the time though we were able to avoid any contact. We crept towards the shore and with every mile the ice density eased. Finally Tim, soaked by rain, sighted the radio aerials of the Weather Station with only a few icy obstacles in our way. We were on the cusp of victory.

The polished granite ramparts of the entrance loomed to starboard and passed easily by. We were through the polar pack and within the Sound. We had finally bade farewell to The Denmark Strait and had avoided being forced to round Cape Farewell. Smiles of relief all round.

We called up Alchemy and signalled our intention to stay over at the Weather Station and suck some wifi. Sadly they had airline connections to make so headed west down the sound and into the heart of Greenland. Our enchanting cruise in company with Alchemy had sadly come to an end.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The waiting game

The Waiting Game

Our way westwards remains blocked by the last remaining ice challenge In southern Greenland. Hot from the Sirocco winds of Mallorca we have just received ice charts and satellite imagery with Richard's spin on them. All fjords and anchorages to the south of us are barred by ice of 2-6/10 keeping them completely out of bounds. Thankfully we do not have major constraints on our time so we just need to be patient until the widow opens. We have plenty of fuel, food and water so can wait.

One of the nagging anxieties we have had in the back of our minds is Wales. Wales is a massive sheet of ice that has been drifting steadily down from the head of the fjord since we arrived. I haven't mentioned Wales before because she is so big that she could, potentially, slew across the narrows between us and the sea and block our exit to the open sea for weeks, or perhaps months to come! With nowhere to go we have just had to accept that remote possibility but today things changed. Powys, Ceredigion and a big chunk of Bettws Cadwallader broke off and passed, without incident through the narrows. Now that the risk of incarceration has passed it feels safe to blog about it! 

Talking of icebergs our pet iceberg, now christened Houdini, remains chained to a rock 30 metres to our starboard. He's a slippery customer. Three times he has either shed a limb or rolled to slip his noose and when he does he comes marching towards SHIMSHAL with menace in mind. Three times we have caught him in the act of escape and hauled him back to his kennel where we have chained him and watched him cry tears of ancient meltwater. We have abused him in every way and have even rowed out to amputate a digit to add to the gin and tonic. Every now and then he rolls and shakes his chain and tugs on our mooring line but with every antic he diminishes. Now he is a virtually skeleton burger having shed huge amounts of his bulk since we arrived. Tomorrow we will set him free.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Wilderness Rendezvous

Wilderness Rendezvous 


With the anchor down and the lines safely ashore we were safe apart from the nudge from a nosy iceberg. We were all pretty fatigued by the complicated landfall that had evolved over the previous 36 hours so we were all keen to get some sleep before exploring the glittering landscape that surrounded us.

Our glorious restful sleep was interrupted by a radio message,

"SHIMSHAL, SHIMSHAL this is Alchemy".

It was Dick and Ginger Stevenson who who were also on passage from Iceland to Prins Christian Sund. They had known that we had diverted to Gredvig as this was the only tenable anchorage on this coast this early in the season. They were anxious to hear how we had got on. I explained that the density of ice and depth of the anchorage may make anchoring difficult but their only alternative was to heave to off shore and wait for the ice to clear in Prins Christian Sund. They chose to follow us in. 

It was a pleasure to meet and get to know Dick, Ginger and their crew Brian. I had corresponded with Dick for several years on the Forum of the Ocean Cruising Club but had only met briefly face to face before. We had both known that our cruising itineraries this summer were very similar but I don't think either of us really imagined that we would meet and get know one another on Greenland's wild east coast. In the end they managed to get their anchor set a few hundred metres away from us beneath a lovely waterfall cascading down the cliff. We will cherish the memories of walks ashore and suppers aboard with them and it is likely that we will be cruising in company for the next week until they plunge south for Newfoundland and we hook north for Aasiaat.

Greydvig is a flooded hanging valley on the northern shore of the narrrow fjord. The fjord itself is a massive conveyor of ice with gorgeous, gleaming sculptures progressing up and down with the tide. All shores are steep and made of glacier polished rock. The rocky terraces are generously carpeted with lichens and wild flowers. A scramble up the nearby ridge gives breathtaking views to the glaciated mountains at the head of the fjord. The ice in the anchorage dissipated quickly and, within a day of our arrival was more or less unrecognisable. We had been lucky in finding a perfectly safe haven in which to sit, in wonderful sunshine, and await the opening of Prins Christian Sund. Had we been a day or two earlier I doubt we would have been able to enter. 

With the information available as I write it seems like the coast is clearing to the south and that we may be able to continue on our way to Greenland's west coast in the next day or two. if not then there can be few better places to sit and wait. We have plenty of stores and fuel and have been able to re-fill our water tanks from the waterfall. There is one minor irritation and that is the mosquitoes that have left the skipper' legs peppered with urticarial monstrosities. It seems they can bite through tracksuit trousers!

A Challenging Landfall

A challenging landfall 

 Gingerly we approached the mouth of the fjord in the half light before dawn. We had no charted depth information but at least the position of land on the chart appeared to match with what we saw by eye and by radar. 

We crept into the mouth of the fjord and began the zig-zag advance against the advancing army of ice warriors now gleaming white in the morning sun. We picked our way up the fjord for 2 miles before steering to starboard, across a 6m bar, into a deep pool littered with icebergs. The known anchorage was so tight we had to manoeuvre to our anchoring spot with bow thruster before dropping the anchor in 24m and then falling back on the chain so that we were 20m from the rocks behind with 11m of water under the rudder.

 Tim and Sally were quickly into the dinghy rigging four shorelines, each 50m long and set with one at each quarter belayed to rock flakes or chock stones. By the end we were very well tied in but a sitting duck for passing icy visitors.

 And sure enough the cobweb lured the icebergs in, entangling them in itʼs fronds of polypropylene. A big ugly brute wrapped itself around our bow which succumbed to being poked with our ice poles. We sent it packing only to have it return a few hours later to retaliate by attacking our rudder with itʼs huge underwater tongue. Itʼs plan was clearly to haunt us and intimidate us for the duration of our stay so Tim and I lassoed it from the dinghy and set up a hauling purchase whereby we managed to haul itʼs estimated 20 tons to a nearby rock to tether it and keep it out of mischief. The process was akin to a type of reverse crevasse rescue whereby a crevasse is towed to a rock! We thought we had now tamed the mischievous monster but more drama was yet to come from the miscreant. Our ice poles were purchased for us by Roddy our Scottish born crew last year before we left Iceland. They are simple, sturdy and very cheap as one would expect from a Scot. Just 5m lengths of 2" x 2". Destinyʼs ice poles were a completely different class. They used two carbon fibre windsurfer masts stowed vertically against the shrouds and mounted in bespoke stainless steel holders. No Scottish thrift involved there! The smaller bergs we easily kept at bay by a little pressure on the pole but the tethered miscreant cast off itʼs belay by shedding one of itʼs limbs and came limping back into the attack. Again we returned and tied him to the rock. Next he capsized and, in the process lifted off our mooring belay and set Shimshalʼs stern adrift. Again we returned it to itʼs kennel where it was punished by the sun. Now shrunken to a quarter itʼs previous size it is lying subdued, dismembered and slowly dying.