Into the Arctic

Nuuk is very lovely when the weather’s good…

Nothing I had ever read or heard had led me to believe that the weather in Nuuk, Greenland, would be pleasant.  Yet even with lowered expectations, the decided harshness of the weather was astonishing.  During the entire week of our stay, it was seaboots and foulies nearly any time we were outdoors, and if you weren’t wearing a heavy waterproof jacket, you were carrying it just in case.  Still, it’s something to be in the rough-and-tumble sort of town where wearing bibs and seaboots in the bank, the hotel lobby, or the nicest restaurant is not considered out of place.

The weather was nice as we left Nuuk.

Did I say rough-and-tumble? Yes, that pretty much describes the capital of Greenland, where the heavily industrial harbor is the center of activity, with cargo, fishing, and passenger vessels treading an intricate dance in the endless summer daylight.  Even so, there are surprisingly nice restaurants, and the hotel rooms that Greenland Tourism was good enough to comp the expedition were first-rate.  Those last also proved essential, since the generator in the forward head had showed its need of attention by filling the cabin with smoke when we tried to start it while running downwind in big seas.  The diesel-fume-etherous vapors that pervaded the boat while that was being dealt with at the bulkhead in Nuuk would have rendered us all unconscious, at best, had we been sleeping aboard.

Breathtaking Fjords and mountains. An arm of the icecap is ahead.

During the week we spent in Nuuk, doing boat repairs and receiving extra crew for the cruise toward Disko Bay, we saw the sun for five minutes, after which it promptly rained.  We got a surprising amount done—there was much more to sort than just the generator—and still got plenty or rest and of the limited sightseeing that Nuuk could supply given the weather conditions.

Sailing past an ice mountain in the arctic night.

Once we left Nuuk, again bursting with supplies, fuel, and with several additional people onboard, the weather improved dramatically.  Our purpose was to daysail north along the coast, exploring the occasional fjord, and checking out the inside passage that winds among the thousands of coastal rocks and islands.  This was better—there was less fog, no rain, and the snow-girt mountain ranges were nothing less than spectacular.  A day out from Nuuk, we entered a world of deep rocky fjords, beset by craggy cliffs that drop straight into narrow tickles with depths of more than five hundred feet less than a boat length from the shore.

We also entered a world of icebergs, one in which they increased in concentration until we were actively dodging them on the last push to Aasiaat, and had to circumvail a few even in the harbor as we approached a raft-up to a gritty wooden Greenland whaler.

Remote anchorages, where few pass by and fewer stop.

For most of the trip though, the icebergs were a distant sight offshore, or tiny pieces washed down a glacial stream into water colored aquamarine by silt.  It was an astonishing contrast, that coast, between landscapes so remote that only a distant stone cairn on a hilltop betrayed the passing of people, and bustling fishing villages crammed with fishing boats, the occasional passenger liner, and grocery stores surprisingly well-stocked with decent supplies.

Sisimiut from a nearby ridge.
Sisimiut from the Lutheran church on the hill.

It would be easy enough to spend a whole summer (how often have I said that before!) just in the fjords and inlets between Manitsoq and Sisimiut; actually, it was hard to tear ourselves away from the charm of Sisimiut itself, that most picturesque of hamlets north of the Arctic Circle.

Foggy bergs with their attendant bergy bits and brash ice.

But Disko Bay was calling, and the pitiless itinerary that waits for neither whimsy nor the weary dogged us along and finally impelled a 20-hour push through tickles ever more ice-choked, and past frowning cliffs of overhanging bluish ice looming silent though the day-lit midnight fog.

The Seamen’s Bethel–“Somandsjemmet,” in Aasiaat.

It hardly matters when you go to sleep up here where the sun never sets, but only takes its  leisurely circuit around near the horizon—in fact, time would mean very little at all if it weren’t that stores and banks and restaurants still keep to certain hours, and the weary sailor who just came in at three AM and wants to make it to the Seamen’s Bethel while the coffee is still hot and there might be a pastry left must get short shrift on sleep and see about napping somewhat later in the day.

And now that I mention it, here I am in Aasiaat, having done all those things except the last, and thinking that it’s high time I finish up this blog post and have a little shut-eye before time catches up to me again.

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