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    Exploring in the Kingdom of the Polar Bear

    Sigurður Jónsson

    In their Arctic Pilot the British Admiralty says: ‘The stretch of coast between Kap SM Jørgensen and Kap Deichmann, is considered one of the most difficult in Greenland; the mountains rise almost vertically from the sea to form a narrow bulwark, with rifts through which active glaciers discharge quantities of ice, while numerous off-lying islets and rocks make navigation hazardous’. This “Forbidden Coast” of East Greenland, only 200 nautical miles from our homeport of Isafjordur, forms part of one of our favorite playgrounds.

    This year Aurora-Arktika´s Greenland season started when we set off from home on a quiet evening in late July. An easterly breeze pushed us nicely north towards the setting sun. Under full sail we quickly left the Icelandic fishing banks behind and only 60 miles from the NW capes of Iceland we spotted our first large iceberg. Gradually the wind eased until the engine had to be started and 100 miles from Greenland the Watkins mountains, Ejnar Mikkelsen and the Borgtindene mountain massif came into view. When we approached the Blosseville coast it was glassy calm, clear skies, fog patches but not much ice around.

    As usual we decided to do a bit of exploring and try a new anchorage. This time we had our eyes on an unnamed fjord just north-east of Nansen fjord. The ice and fog slowed us down but a friendly local (!) came swimming by to welcome us to his kingdom. A Polar Bear led us into our anchorage and this proved to be the first of many great wildlife sightings for the next days.

    Nansen fjord has often proved elusive with much sea ice blocking it completely. The great Christian IV glacier discharges huge quantities of ice into the fjord and makes navigation difficult or impossible. This time we managed to sail all the way to the head of the fjord where we hiked a bit ashore. There we saw a mother Polar Bear with two cubs high up in the mountain and they continued their stroll into the valley while we were there. A few Narwhal were seen close to the boat, among them a mother with a young calf. We sailed around Søkongen island and in two days made our way to one of our favorite anchorages in Suhaili bay in the great Kangerdlugssuaq fjord. This is a very sheltered anchorage where Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (first man to perform a single-handed non-stop circumnavigation of the globe AND former owner of Aurora) and Sir Chris Bonington (Britain’s best-known mountaineer and one of the most successful expedition leaders in history) anchored their vessel, the Suhaili, during their attempt to climb the Cathedral Peak in 1991. Again a Polar Bear reminded us who´s dominion this is – a curious young bear swam out from the shore in Uttendal sound and paid a visit to our group of kayakers!

    Two umiaks (women´s boats) full of people set off from the Ammassalik area heading north in 1882, they were never seen again. On Amdrup´s boat expedition from the south in 1899 he came to Nualik and found a house with around thirty skeletons and many well preserved utensils and weapons in and around the house. It looked like the whole population had died of food poisoning from perhaps eating bad meat?  Could these people have been the families of the two umiaks?


    From the anchorage in Kangerdlugssuaq we set course for Nualik ourselves. On the way we first tried to land on the island of Aputiteq where a weather station was operated until recently. Much swell together with thick and broken ice meant that we had to turn away and continue south. A big patch of thick sea-ice also prevented us from reaching Nualik from the north. So off we went again and ran off around the ice and decided to aim for Kialeq instead. Very little ice was on the route but again a narrow band of very concentrated ice stopped us from reaching this anchorage. Same story repeated itself for another three potential anchorages along the coast!

    But this “forbidden coast” has it´s soft sides as well… and eventually we dropped anchor by the white sandy beach in the peaceful Nigertuluk fjord. Here we spent time kayaking, hiking and paddleboarding as well as of course fishing for Arctic Char. Great feasts were cooked up in Aurora´s galley with this lovely fish fried, smoked, baked whole, made into sushi, sashimi, ceviche etc etc… fantastic meals with great people.

    Eventually we made our way to the Ammassalik area where we spent a couple of days exploring new grounds – such as portaging kayaks up the rapids to paddle on the beautiful lake in Sammileq fjord (!). Finally we arrived in Kulusuk where our guests left us and where we are now getting ready to pick up the next group of adventurers.