Blog Archive

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Satellite photo of ice conditions in Cap Farewell areas

Satellite photo from 29th July showing a plume of ice coming from the entrance to Prince Christian Sound (just south of 60 degrees north) being swept southwards in a crescent by the southgoing current and winds

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Ice pilot in repose

Sent from my iPhonePining (like Monty python's parrot) for the fjords. And after a refreshing dip, back to those satellite photos!

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Sunset Denmark Strait.

Forth night at sea

ocean sunrise

land ahoy!

Land ahoy!

It's always a thrill to sight land after a long voyage. All the more so when it's a jagged and icy mountain range embedded in the pink hues of the dawn sky. Our first glimpse was from a range of 72 miles.

An hour later more distant mountains had sprung out of the blue sea. By now bathed in the slanting sunlight of early morning. Heather was on deck to enjoy the moment and I let Sally sleep a while before coaxing her too on deck to share the experience.

We are arriving on an exotic and enthralling coastline in perfect conditions. A coastline so remote that few will ever glimpse it. We are, indeed, very lucky.

A few dramas along the way

A few dramas along the way

It's 4am utc and the bright and starry night is being broken by dawn in the north east. We have come a long way south where hours of darkness have become, once again, a part of the daily cycle. We have timed our arrival at the 40W longitude to coincide with dawn as we are now closing the east Greenland coast and in the realm of icebergs. The radar is set to spot them but as yet there's no ice, no land and no boats to be seen.

Throughout the night there has been a confusion of emails, sms's and attempted voice calls from Greenland Rescue and Joint Arctic Command. I had been dutifully reporting our progress every 6 hours through the GREENPOS system and had done so at 20:00 so I was alarmed to see a scramble of communications suggesting a "missed report" and implying that a rescue was to be launched imminently if they did not receive an update! I hurriedly replied to all calls to make sure that expensive reconnaissance flights weren't launched as we are all fine and well in our little, mid ocean cocoon.

Fine and well apart from Sally that is. She had fallen in the cockpit and bruised her ribs whilst safely docked in Iceland. The pain had been getting better but now is grimacing as she moves carefully about the cabin. She thinks she wrenched the old injury the night before last when we had a little drama on board. So now she is back to square one and a box of paracetamol.

The drama was minor in the scheme of things but a good illustration of how quickly things can change. Shimshal had carried us through some hilly seas and, half way into our 600 mile passage, we were emerging into lighter winds and smoother seas. At last Sally's seasickness was beginning to abate and we were gliding gently south west into the embers of the setting sun. Most of the crew had settled in their bunks and Heather, vigilant as ever, was on watch. I was awakened from a sound sleep by her report that the steering wasn't working!

I wasn't appropriately clad for the middle of the Denmark Strait but was quickly on deck and at the wheel whilst below everyone was scurrying for their oilskins and arctic wear.

To my relief the rudder hadn't fallen off but it quickly became apparent that the autohelm had given up on its long battle with quartering seas. I reset it but no go. By now everyone was dressed and at action stations. Sally, now in her arctic baby grow, took the wheel. Heather and Tim were in their oilies and reporting for duty. All keen to avoid hand steering the remaining 1,300 miles to Aasiaat!

As it happens Tim's well worn, greying overalls would have been more appropriate attire as he slid down into the port lazarette to confirm my suspicion that the bolt connecting steering motor to rudder had sheared. Out of SHIMSHAL's copious supply of spares I quickly found a likely replacement but nothing on board is that simple. To remove the severed bolt we had first to uncouple the steering wires which is no easy task in a rolling boat a long way from land.

Even without his overalls on Tim rose quickly to the challenge. I assembled a concoction of washers to make the new bolt fit whilst Heather acted as the ever attentive relay between man in the locker and man in the stores. Sally, at the wheel, sailed the boat silently on into the night but now obviously grimacing with every unguarded movement.

Within 2 hours our well oiled team had done their work. Tim emerged from the locker stinking of WD40 which I had sprayed earlier on the various steering pulleys to silence their squeaks and groans. The job was done, power steering had been restored, the cockpit emptied and the lazarette re-stowed.

Drama over Shimshal sailed on her way as if nothing had happened. Tim's overalls had escaped the WD40 smears but, even without his beloved costume , Nuclear Electric had used his cunning and dexterity to swiftly resolved an inconvenience that, un-fixed, would have gone on to haunt us on those cold Arctic nights. Meanwhile I made a mental note to buy more M10 bolts of various lengths!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Our secret weapon

Our secret weapon!

Shimshal has a guardian angel. He sits by his poolside in his rented Mallorcan Finca and taps away at his laptop. By day he is the archetypal Brit abroad building sand castles with the family whilst undoubtedly clad in socks, sandles and trademark red chinos. By night he takes a bottle of red wine from the fridge, pours himself a glass and then goes on line. He trawls the web for satellite imagery of remote, frigid coasts. He runs weather routing scenarios and struggles with Google translate to turn Greenlandic and Danish descriptions into some form of English.

With the crickets ringing in his ears and under a starry Mediterranean sky he distils his researches into a few, data light emails that he pings off to Shimshal as she approaches one of the wildest coasts on earth.

Two thousand and sixty nine miles away from that balmy poolside the Iridium phone on board Shimshal pings a, "you have got mail" message. There then ensues a lengthy battle with a satellite to draw down Richard's Mallorcan musings. It's a worthwhile battle as the result paints a clear picture of what lies over the horizon and where we should and should not go.

Tonight's emailed image showed a huge crescent of ice blocking our approach. Instead, 20 miles further north, we see an ice free fjord with a described anchorage within it. Instead of sailing ourselves into icy trouble we opt for Greydivig and, hopefully, a peaceful night at anchor when we make our Greenlandic landfall tomorrow night.

So Richard, our secret weapon and guardian angel, on board Shimshal tonight, we are drinking a glass of warmed red wine to salute you. Happy holidays and thanks a million.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Rolling down the Denmark Strait

We left Patreksfjordur at 1400 on 26th July and in the first 24 hours we have covered 135 miles.

Iceland put on it's best show for our departure. Brilliant sunshine, temperatures in the teens, rolling mountains and sandy bays. At first even the seas were flat but that was soon to change.

Off the headland the north easterly swell met the Icelandic coastal current kicking off a confused set of steep sided waves. With no wind Shimshal wallowed and rolled. Then a local magnetic anomaly deceived our steering compass as happens frequently in Iceland.

We wallowed on until the north easterly breeze filled in when we hoisted the genoa and turned off the engine. The breeze built but did not dampen the motion so we swayed off into the setting sun until the magnets sorted themselves out and the steering went back on.

For the last 24 hours we have been yawing and rolling downwind in 2.8m seas under headsail alone maintaining 6kn with no fear of an accidental gybe. But now the grey seas have turned to blue as has the sky and the late afternoon sun is bathing the saloon. The swell is gradually diminishing and the motion improving. All's well on Shimshal.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Leaving Patreksfjordur

A great day to say goodbye to Iceland

Shimshal all loaded up in expedition mode

Entrance to Patreksfjordur 

The southern shore of Patreksfjordur 

Above is S/V Spellbound in front of Shimshal 2 days ago

Time to move on

We have fine weather and an excellent forecast for crossing the Denmark Strait. My best guess is that we have an 80% chance of being able to get into Prins Christian Sund. So it's time to leave for Greenland.

Sunday, 23 July 2017


Our ice vigil continues in the West Fjord. With no real prospect of setting sail for south east Greenland as that coast is still ice bound. Instead of being on the high seas we are  relaxing along side. 

Breakfast was interrupted by a VHF call from S/V Spellbound, an American OCC boat, who had spent the night anchored on the opposite side of the fjord. An hour later we took their lines as they docked ahead of us.

Gary and Leslie, from Spellbound, joined us for morning coffee and stayed for lunch and the conversation flowed easily. 

Meanwhile Tim was back in his greying overalls applying the valve service kits to both heads. They were both working OK but in need of a service so now we have ticked 2 tasks that weren't even on the list. I'm pleased to report the bilges went unchallenged by the disconnection of the two sewage pipes and the overalls didn't acquire any additional organic stains.

There followed a visit to the best swimming pool yet. A lovely outdoor, infinity pool looking down at the fjord and the town. Some of us spent up at the cafe and got back to Shimshal just in time to be invited for drinks on Spellbound to be 

followed by a Heather supper.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

White overalls scale the mast

A week into our trip and Tim's overalls are now decidedly off white but, as a consequence, the blocks are running like silk. It's odd to be scratching around looking for outstanding boat jobs to do during our enforced wait in on the eastern side of the Denmark Strait.

Today I got around to modifying a GoPro to run off a 12 volt external battery as, to date, it's usefulness has been limited by a feeble battery life. Lots of satisfying drilling, filing and epixying. Has anyone else had this battery problem? Anyway it appears to have worked so I'm hoping we can now reliably capture some time lapse , action and marine wildlife shots. Watch this space!

Boogie with Muggi

We spent the evening in Patreksfjordur reminiscing about the  friendly folk of Isafjordur. Our accompaniment was the rich, crooning voice of Isafjordur's fantastic harbour master Muggi who presented us with his cd as we cast off the lines. Great stuff Captain Muggi and thanks for making us so welcome.

We may be some time in Patreksfjordur

Everything is ready to go and the weather is benign but the ice isn't playing ball. The situation has worsened significantly so we maybe in Patreksfjordur for a while yet. Time to explore the town I think!

Friday, 21 July 2017

Bottom scrub and prop polish

The geothermally heated outdoor pool at Sudereryi is magnificent so we wallowed there sipping fresh coffee (actually only I tested the free coffee) and staring up, once again, at the misty mountains. A perfect way to ponder our next move. By the second coffee a plan had emerged.

We clambered down the dirty tyres and rusty chains of the dock to get back on board and sprung ourselves out from amongst the fleet of Bobby fishing boats. We motored out through the shallow channel and, once in the bay took a right to escape the approach route of local fishing boats, and dropped the anchor in 7m. We dug the anchor in hard to test the new throttle in reverse which appears to restrict us to 3,700 rpm astern.

The tender was soon in the water and a circumferential waterline scrub dislodged a bit of marine growth. I stuck my head under the water to try and inspect the prop for barnacles but I couldn't see well enough from the surface so an underwater inspection was required.

Tim seems to thrive on such adventures and, quick as a flash he was into his dry suit and snorkelling down to inspect. Many barnacles reported which explained the lacklustre motoring speeds of yesterday. What a shame we had turned off my ultrasound device before we left in May. Previously it had kept the barnacles at bay.

The job couldn't be done without air so on went the cylinder and Tim was once again in the water manicuring SHIMSHAL's nether regions. Although I haven't seen it for myself I'm quite sure her bottom now gleams. Certainly we can now cruise at normal speed. What a difference a few Crustacea make.

Meanwhile, for reasons best known to herself, Sally dropped an onion overboard and it went bobbing off towards a flock of hungry fulmars. I was alerted to this latest crisis by Sally's plaintiff cry and asserting that she could have rescued it should she still have had her fishing net. No need for a net - Tim took on the flock of Fulmars who by now were pecking warily at the floating onion. They gave in without so much as a squark as they must have been as perplexed by Tim's seal like splashing as the were by feeding on a freshly salted onion.

With Tim, the dingy and the onion safely back on board we weighed the anchor, hoisted the sails and motor sailed the 49 miles to Patreksfjordur. Cleared of Crustacea the prop gripped the water and the newly buffed underbelly of Shimshal slid south west. At least we are now going in the right direction for Greenland.

On our way and in our wake

We left Isafjordur as we found her with the hill sides swathed in mist and bathed by a calm, cold and grey sea. Away from land the temperature dived and on came the beanies and the parkas to fend off the evening chill. But the cold and the monochrome did not dim our spirits as we chugged along the coast a dozen miles or so to slip into the fishing port of Sudereryi. We were warmed along the way by a hot meal  of Heather's magnificent chicken fajitas created from scratch in the now gently rolling galley.

Time I think to reflect, before the memory dims, on the technicolor characters we had met and had now left behind. 

In previous posts I have waxed lyrically about Dori, Muggi, Heime, Petur and others whose names I have never known and I will never pronounce. Most of those locals came to the quay to wave, say their farewells and render assistance with our slightest needs. Muggi brought as a parting gift two cd's. One made by him for his sixtieth and one by his son, Mugison, whose fame has spread to distant shores. What a shame we didn't think to have those tunes blaring from our deck speakers as cast off our last line!

Isafjordur has a tiny cruising community housed in those rugged, go anywhere yachts. Some were the Range Rovers of the sea and others more Jeep like in their finish. There was of course the Germans but I'm not going to mention them for fear of libel!

First up for eccentricity was the extraordinary floating menagerie on board S/V Pachamama. Dario and Sabine with their five children have spent the last 18 years floating around most of the world's oceans and climbing the world's highest mountains along the way. A continuous, unending expedition they call TopToTop. In each continent they acquired baby and are soon to add an Icelandic born one to their collection. A delightfully engaging family of Swiss meandering with no boundaries. Just happy to share their message of hope for the future of our planet and humanity and their passion for adventure and self reliance.

Pierre was down in the mouth this trip. He had had an epic last year whilst single handing in Scoresby Sound and was reticent about putting to sea this year on his own. He had found a lovely Spanish student from the University but she had  been drawn away by work, studies and filming projects. If there is anyone out there who is looking for a ship and a high latitude adventure then Pierre is your man.

Not so sure I would make the same recommendation for Nina 2. Rumour has it that Mika the Finnish skipper feeds only what he catches to the crew. I'm sure he is an excellent fisherman but the crew that had found him on the internet didn't it like fish! Not sure how that is going to work out. Nevertheless, on the day we left, Nelson flew in from Seattle to join Nina 2 and meet, for the first time, the boat, her skipper and the starving first mate from Florida. 

Michael on Troll had chosen Greenland's most icebound coast for this summer 's adventure. His tiny boat, S/V Troll, had bags of off road potential as her steel, rounded hull was built to a naval training specification. That is built to withstand the bruises inflicted by naval ratings. Quietly spoken and considered this geneticist was happiest on a mooring surrounded with by the mist that kept the world at arms length. I could see why he has yearning to be frozen into the remotest Greenlandic fjord.

On the Range Rover, aka S/V Destiny, there was Andy and Janice. It had taken them 8 years to build their floating home designed for the high latitudes. Urbane charter hosts they exuded competence and confidence. I am in awe of anyone who can turn raw ingredients into a thing of beauty that functions as it was designed to. Andy and Janice have done this in spades. They started with a pile of aluminium sheets and transformed them into a glistening work of art where every detail has been considered, designed and constructed by them. They too will be heading westwards to overwinter in Nuuk with planned adventures ashore on skis through the cold, dark months.

Then there was us on Shimshal. Dipping a toe in maritime adventure whilst preserving a more conventional life ashore of work. Amateurs but not outcasts in this region of rugged cruisers. On second thoughts, maybe we are now cast out by the crew of a certain German racing yacht  thrashing it's way south to Scotland? C'est la vie.

Three happy sailors have escaped harbour

Thursday, 20 July 2017

The starting gun has gone off

Last night was target practice time. Gumi, who took us shooting on the mountain top range in 2016, fixed us a repeat visit. So this time 8 of us piled into Heime's 4x4 and climbed up the mountain road to the gun range in the mist. There were a few sheep around but they seemed undaunted by a truckload of high velocity weapons arriving in their domain. 

Andrew and Janice from S/V Destiny brought their guide's gun - a short barrelled gun of massive calibre. Michael, from S/V Troll brought his CZ Magnum 375 which was identical to ours. He had bought it from a Greenlander who had dropped it in the sea after shooting a whale. Sweet revenge I think! Anyway it seemed to work fine. For good measure Andy had with him a phenomenal flare pistol which effectively fired the starting gun on our adventures and drew a line under the boat maintenance days served to date.

The guns boomed away and the target gradually got peppered by massively lethal rounds. A loud thud sent the huge whiz bang flare on its way kicking up a crater in the moorland as it met the earth. More mortar that flare pistol!

Most of us were diffident with the guns as we were intimidated by the loud bangs and tongues of flame and smoke. Tim got clobbered by the sights during the recoil and ended up with a blooded nose. Heather was hesitant but easily won the chocolate bar award for marksmanship. Sally was unnerved by show of noise and smoke but still managed to kill a target at 25 metres. I just about managed to do likewise.

When the mountaintop shootout ended all crews were a little more confident that we could defend ourselves agains a rampaging polar bear if we had to.

With mast blocks greased, sail sliders siliconed, engine oil levels checked and floorboards screwed down we were now nearing the end of the jobs list. When it became apparent that the freezer was being feeble the obvious choice was to call on the good folk of Isafjordur for assistance. As ever they came up trumps. Dori took the contents of the freezer to the hospital and lodged it in one of their freezers set to -22. He didn't tell us which freezer he used but we like to think it was either the mortuary or the pathology one. A few refrigerator contractors were summonsed  but most were out of town. Just after lunchtime Alaenka arrived from Bolungarvik who duly did the business with his re-gassing device. It was time to go.

We can only fuel at Isafjordur a couple of hours either side of high tide so we duly went along side the fuel berth and started the tedious task of taking on a summer's worth of fuel. As some of our tanks have been modified they are not designed to cope with high volume pumps so we tricked 870 litres of fuel in over the best part of 2 hours. A process made all the more painful by a large and vulgar German racing boat who insisted on butting in and helping themselves without so much as a please or a thank you. Disgraceful and menacing behaviour so out of keeping in a land of welcome, hospitality and universal friendliness. They were heading to Scotland so I hope they improve their manners before they arrive.

With 1200 litres of fuel and 600 litres of water on board we let go the lines, waved farewell to Isafjordur and it's delightful cast of characters and chugged ponderously out to sea. My only regret that we didn't dive and clean the prop and hull before we left - a job for tomorrow I think!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Springs and brushes

We have yet to move off the dock but much has been accomplished. This morning Tim  descended into the sail locker and soon emerged lugging a huge and heavy electric motor that he had extracted from the bow thruster. Coated with flaking paint and rust he then set about dissecting it in the cockpit. The springs  that push the brushes onto  the armature had succumbed to corrosion and lost their boing. Some brushes were firmly jammed in by salt crystals. We had bought ludicrously expensive replacements out from the UK but fitting the springs required cunning and ingenuity. 

Much scratching of heads and helpful hints from passers by at first did not meet with success. But then a foolproof method emerged. First coil the spring tight with the fine nosed pliers then hold it tightly wound in place with some stainless mousing wire with a few twists. Then ease them on to the peg and nip the mousing wire. Finally retrieve the wire debris from the innards of the motor. Some of the brushes had to be drilled out and the salt chipped off with a screwdriver.

Eventually the motor was restored to 8 working, mobile brushes all firmly held in place by 8 perfectly tensioned springs It was time for Tim to lug his project back to the sail locker and re-attach it to the thruster leg before the latter fell to the sea bed potentially leaving a gaping hole in the bottom of the boat and a water fountain. 

It was with some trepidation that we fired it up. But the suspense was rewarded by a brisk bow thrust from port to starboard and then back again with no sparks, no smoke and no drama. 

I think there is something very reassuring about a man in overalls as it exudes competence, professionalism  and confidence. Thanks a million Tim - I never doubted you for a minute!

Meanwhile Sally and Heather have competed the provisioning and cooked up half a dozen “passage” meals for those rough days at sea. All is stowed, catalogued and spread sheeted.

The wind and the rain sprung up in the afternoon so we retreated to the warm embrace of the saloon to watch the comings and goings and comb the web for ice and weather data. The ice now extends well south of Cape Farvell but boats are now beginning to to reach Greenland’s east coast. Arktika has bulldozed her way into Tasilaq and a British boat will soon be leaving for Kangerlussak. We will bide our time as, for us, there’s still too much ice. Tomorrow we will get the sails on and finish our jobs.

Rugged Ships

There are some rugged ships mustering in Isafjordur waiting for Greenland's ice to retreat. Most are built specifically for high latitudes out of steel or aluminium and come complete with equally rugged skippers.

A good boat job day on board SHIMSHAL yesterday with a new throttle systems installed and most provisioning done. Many thanks to Heime who loaned Sally his 4x4 for her big shop. 

Fewer jobs to do today so after that it's down to the weather and the ice.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Tea and toilet paper

So how many tea bags and toilet rolls do we need for a 7 week cruise. Only on SHIMSHAL could we know this number to the nearest decimal place! 

Our crew spent the night pondering these various calculations and I can report that 543 tea bags is judged to be an adequate number based on 5 cups of tea from one tea bag! I have yet to hear the basis tor the toilet paper calculation.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

The ice is back and the whole coast is closed to plastic boats

How do taxi drivers get away with it?

We had booked to fly from Birmingham but Iceland Air cancelled the flight and re-booked us from Heathrow with a complimentary taxi collection in the centre of Shrewsbury to compensate for the 5 am start. 

The taxi arrived 10 minutes early and shot off down the motorways of middle England at the speed of a comet in deepest space. Apparently without prosecution, we arrived, courtesy of Comet Cars, at Heathrow's Terminal 2 in record time and 5 hours before the flight. Plenty of time to get a rucksack full of assorted electronics through security.

Any normal driver would have had enough points on their license at the end of that journey to keep them off the road for a year. But the nice guys at Comet are invisible to the cameras and let us snooze our way south soothed by the melodies of Smooth FM. Thanks Comet for a painless and prompt start to a hazardous and arduous trip. Speed cameras will not be amongst our hazards for the rest of the trip!

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Video of our OCC BBQ at Traighuaine

Traighuaine wild flowers from Simon Currin on Vimeo.

Just a few days to go

With just a few days to go we are watching the ice charts with renewed intensity. There remains much more ice around than last year so we are pondering our choices.

Tasilaq looks like it is going to be out of bounds for some time so our current plan is mapped out on the Google Erath images above and below (the proposed route being in yellow).

After a couple of days of boat maintenance and provisioning we plan a shortish voyage south along the Iceland coast to Patricksfjordur. This will allow us to retrieve our sea legs and bide our time in a remote Icelandic Fjord awaiting a weather window to sail south west across the Denmark Strait to make a landfall in Greenland at the southerly limit of the sea ice - curently 61 degrees north (see ice chart below). Then we can potter south before entering Prins Christian Sund which now appears reliably navigable. Once on the west coast of Greenland we will hug the coast and head north to Assiaat on the southern shores of Disko Bay where we are booked to haul out for the winter. and Fly home on 1st September.

All up this s a voyage of around 650 nautical miles. I have posted a detailed image of our planned rout through Prins Christians Sund (PCS). and the most recent Greenland ice chart The passage through PSC is 79 nautical miles.