The date is 22. August, the place is in the bay of Ísafjarðardjúp, aboard the sv Arktika. The sun shines just above the horizon, although it’s very late. Our destination is Greenland. We set out from our home port of Ísafjörður with a few norwegian passengers who want to tempt to cross the Greenland Icecap, in the “ski tracks” of their countryman; the explorer Fridtjof Nansen. This is not the captain’s first rodeo… however, it is mine. I had never sailed overseas to a different country.
I had ten years experience of the seas as a fisherman, and had countered all kinds of the violent weathers Iceland has to offer. I had very little experience with sailboats, but now I was chief mate onboard a sailship… and I was crossing the infamous Denmark strait (!) I sure as hell was going to learn everything there is to learn about sailing, since I was so lucky to find myself in this position!
We agreed to ´chinese´watches as we call them. I have no idea if they originate in china, but that’s what they´re called these parts. They are a rotation of 4 hours during daytime, and 3 hours in the night.
I thought it was ridiculous at first, I was used to 6hour watches, which fishermen had actually later stretched to 8 hour shifts. They felt the extra two hours of work during the shift didn’t really matter, but the extra two hours off-shift really matter, since they eat, gear up/down, sleep, and such on the oft shift.
But hey… when in rome!
It was dead calm. …No wind. We motored on.
During the night, the mind starts racing… I felt so lucky to be here! I was ecstatic. Soon the wind would pick up, and I would learn everything there is about sailing, and trimming sails and such! The 2300 watch had hardly started when it ended… wow what a weird system. I had hardly set my head on my pillow when it was time to wake up again for the 0500 watch.
Still dead calm. The seas were flat. But surely the wind would pick up… it always does.
When I was relieved of duty the captain, Siggi, had prepared a delicious breakfast buffet. Some of the expeditioners were up and about, thrilled to have started their adventure. I tried to refresh my ´scandinavian´ a little, but was very rusty, and had to resort to english. What a shame. The scandinavian languages are of the same root as the Icelandic and faroese. (with the exception of Finland which pretty much has a really unique language) When nordic people of different nations meet, it is sometimes possible to speak a blend of the languages so that everyone kind of understands (or misunderstands) one another.
The day shifts pretty much flew by. It was fun having a boat full of excited adventurers. They all had interesting stories to tell, and who doesn’t love a good story!? My scandinavian de-rusted a little bit, but not nearly enough. What a shame. After a nice dinner prepared by Siggi, people started disappearing to their cabins. Then the three hour shifts started again. We were headed to Umivik, where Nansen started his crossing. Umivik is about the same latitude as Reykjavík, so the nights were getting darker as we moved further south a whole two degrees from Ísafjörður
No wind. Still motoring.
Pitch black, and no one around. These 3 hour night shifts at the helm were getting a little longer with nothing to see, except the navigation instruments, and no one to talk to. The mind starts racing. We would soon be in iceberg territory. The radar started to get more and more attention. Every now and then I would turn on the ´Icelight´, a spotlight that can be directed at most directions. The wheelhouse of the Arktika isn’t very tall, and the spotlight located on it´s roof didn’t really shine past the bowsprit and the front rigging, only ruining the night vision. I suddenly remembered the movie ´Titanic´.
The Titanic was travelling at 22.5knots when it hit the Iceberg, only 0.5 knots below her top speed of 23knots. 30 seconds passed from the first sighting of the Iceberg until the impact. She was going so fast that the iceberg tore a hole almost along the whole length of the ship. Or so I heard. We were lucky on the Arktika, because we would never be able to go nearly so fast (!) our motoring top speed would be less than a third of the Titanic. I slowed down anyway. Just a little bit.
I was relieved to experience dawn.
What a beautiful morning! No icebergs to be seen. And better yet; no unseen icebergs!
The next day was pretty much the same… no wind, no icebergs
In the afternoon, however, we were getting closer to the fog that oftentimes surrounds the Greenlands east-coast. It was radar time. Darkness grew and the fog thickened. Blips started appearing on the radar. Icebergs. “The silver fleet; Icelands ancient nemesis” like described in the poem by Matthias Jochumsson. I was on edge, as I had never encountered them before. The blips grew more concentrated, as we came closer to the coast. Some of them were really huge according to the radar. I had to zig zag between some of the bigger ones, and I started seeing small ones float past the boat. This was going to be a long night. When I was trying to sleep on my off-shift, I heard small thumps and boinks, as we hit some relatively tiny icebergs, as my bunk was in the front. The night shift was incredibly long. How can 3 hours be so long!? I stared at the radar, hoping the swell wasn´t masking many of the medium sized icebergs, hoping for the best. What had I gotten myself into!? All of a sudden, just as dawn was breaking, the fog lifted! It was a truly magical moment… steep mountains towering above us, and scattered icebergs glittering in the sun. Endless wilderness wherever you looked. I could feel the raw power of Greenlands near uninhabited vast east-coast. We were there. I felt ecstatic. I tried to take it all in. I tried to document some of the moments on my camera, but the camera wouldn’t capture the magic. There is a dimension in Greenland that apparently can´t be captured on a 2 dimensional film or camera sensor. (at least not by a lesser photographer such as myself) I tried to memorize the moment. I would definitely have to sail here again, as I couldn´t get enough of this experience.