An iceberg nursery after a scary ice crossing

August 18th. Let’s said that after our long run of yesterday , we took it easy today: a late breakfast and our morning off.
I took advantage of the lunch time to discuss our program for the next three days. I needed to consult my charts . Even if I have some paper back-up, the electronic charts were much easier to use. This time, the computer refused to start. Everyone tried, some with voodoo   manipulations others with a more rigorous approach. Not sure which one worked but the computer finally turn on. Now, the software refused to open the charts. Malik finally unlocked it. Great… so what about the next three days?
First, we decided to go to the GROENNE island today, just 21 nautical miles away for a midway anchorage and a five hours trip. Our final goal was the LLULISSAT glacier, which gave its name to the city close by. This glacier was to be the greatest in the world…..  True ? We would see before returning to AASSIAAT, our present place.
The charts were showing a mooring close to the first island. That meant no dropping of the hook, a mooring line was already waiting for us!
Four PM: time to motor out after filling up our tanks with fresh water. On our way north, we met again a lot of icebergs, huge icebergs. Amazing in size and beautiful in shape, impressive and absolutely unique. I didn’t think we would have had the opportunity to see that very often. And also a clear indication we were not far away from the iceberg nursery. Amazingly, the weather was nice and not so cold today. The sun gave us another beautiful show of lights with many superb icebergs on the center stage.
At eight PM, I reached the chartered mooring field. No mooring. I needed to drop the anchor. Not a big deal except that after hitting the bottom, it was only rocks down there. I did not like that at all. Not entirely confident in the holding, I decided to stay onboard and keep watching Breskell’s movements.
Vari, Dom, Edgar and Malik took the dinghy and went on land. Dom took my gun and again went for some meat.. I hoped, that, out of frustration, he didn’t return with a seagull! They taste like rotten fish on wings…
This anchorage was calm for now but totally exposed from the south. A close look at my chart offered an alternative if needed. Another anchorage, on a neighbor island was protected from the south winds. I plotted the course as a precaution.
But the night was peaceful. Almost. At around one o clock, Malik woke me up. “Captain, it’s low tide and I think the centerboard is making a grounding noise”. This surprised me. I had done my home work before going to bed and calculated the amplitude of the tides. I knew we had enough water and as there was no wind, we could not have moved a lot. A quick look at the depth sounder confirmed my first intuition: plenty of water under the keel. As a matter of fact, the noise Malik heard was nothing more than the anchor chain dragging on the rocky bottom during the slow movement of the boat drifting with the current. Impressive noise if you thought it was the keel aground. I thanked Malik for being so vigilant but told him to return to sleep without worrying anymore.

August 19th. At four AM today we were all up. As the saying goes, the world belongs to the early risers. Fifteen minutes later the Diesel engine was rumbling and we left our anchorage without any problem. We had even a light SW wind. Rounding the island, I set up the main and the gib and for a while we run a good six knots: so nice to sail again. We had not done that for a long time. Sadly, after an hour the wind died. Motor again….

A long line of ice

Now appeared far away a long line of ice just in front of us and right in front of our next destination, the mother of all glaciers, the LLULISSAT Approaching closer and closer, this line soon became what was looking like a wall. On our way, we met again huge icebergs drifting slowly. Getting closer, the birthplace of the next generation of icebergs appeared in full daylight . In front of that ice field, I was not sure to keep going to the nursery. It was getting scary, really scary!

Oh boy!!!

Remember, I was not sailing a reinforced cruise ship or an all metallic heavy cruiser. Breskell was a modern looking,shallow draft, light boat that I built a long time ago with my bare hands, the help of my father architectural skills and some barrels of epoxy. Breskell was a world able sailing vessel but not an icebreaker. In my life at sea, I have being through some scary moments . Another day, if you remind me, I will tell you about some night cruises on the Amazon river.  Worse?  When I thought my Breskell would never resurface again after we disappeared together, and for some long seconds, in a large bubble of light foam in the Bermuda Triangle. For now, I was telling my crew that I was not sure to be able to cross this mined ice field. I even thought about backing up and returning to our last anchorage. I was delaying my decision. But later, whatever decision I will make, we would have to stick to with it. Everybody understood that it was a really tricky situation. They all agreed. Great crew. I kept going and going.

Surrounded by icebergs and growlers

We were now surrounded by icebergs and growlers looking like the gigantic jaw of some prehistoric monster. Teeth of ice all around and ready to close up on us. Slowly, we kept going trying not to disturb too much the spirits inhabiting this awesome place. We even pushed quietly some ice out of our way. Scary you said ? I had stomach aches….and Brittany’s sailors are not known for being particularly emotional. We slalomed and kept moving in. Strangely, the more we went, the more confident I felt…. The sleeping monster was now letting us explore its belly. We were moving around . Very, very impressive and so gorgeous. Just pure beauty. I had no words for what we were into. Even the best pictures cannot convey the absolute beauty of this place, probably enhanced in my case by the rush of adrenaline needed to overcome my first apprehension . It was just magic. I slowed the boat just to admire this unique, powerful and fragile landscape. Huge icebergs, growlers , ice everywhere; an icefield alive with sounds and movements. An ice-field sweating also with the un seasonably warm sun.

The tragic beauty we are about to lose

The tragic beauty of something we were starting to lose. I knew I was living now another very special “moment of eternity”, probably not to be seen again in one’s lifetime. It was the most beautiful landscape I ever saw.
At midday, Breskell pointed her bow at the entrance of the port of ILULISSAT. Three cruise ships, one of them French, were docked in the harbor. The magic of the previous hours was gone. The town looked like a real tourist trap.

The magic was gone…

We even tied Breskell to a local tourist boat. Yes, we had made it of our own, but we have no right to be selfish or depreciating. Others also have an equal right to enjoy the fabulous beauties of these northern latitudes. They are in great danger to disappear with the warming of our planet. I hope, even if those huge cruise ships are now becoming an important part of the problem, they became also a part of the solution. Can these few privileged witnesses alarm the world about the sorry state of our Arctic ice?
For now, such beautiful and incredible landscapes are a great way for the inhabitants of these remote areas to make a decent living without harming their environment.
That protection belong to the people farther south. Ice doesn’t care who occupy the White House, control the congress or take the senate. It just melts, and melts now.
I wish they will all act before the melting in progress today destroy this incredible landscape and this rich marine environment. And by a vicious side effect, deprive of their way of life the inhabitants of these Northern latitudes.
They took  no part in this alarming warming.

Want a real visual proof of what I saw ?
This professional photographer spent months to produce an indisputable document of what I   saw from the Breskell deck

The warming of greenland

and

A visual proof of the melting of MY GLACIER…

in this very well illustrated TED conference.

James Balog, a respected photographer fixed all that in real time on his movies. The disastrous sweating, the definitive melting of “my glacier”, the beautiful Ilulisat .
Between many others, the principal investigator on several NASA-funded projects, Dr Rignot, studied the mass balance of Greenland ice sheets and wrote : “What is important to know is that the ice front, or calving front of glacier keeps retreating inland at galloping speeds.”
Exactly what we saw from the deck of Breskell !
Not enough bad news for you, for your kids, your grandkids ? According to University of Washington glaciologist Ian Joughin, the end of every summer and for the last several years, has seen the calving front of “my” glacier, the “IIULISAT glacier”, (the Jakobshavn’s) recess about 2000 feet, ( 600 meters) farther inland than the summer before.
10 years… 20 000 feet, 6 kilometers. My son is going to see it far away in the mountains. Your grandkids? Just the rubbles left behind. Maybe on your dead bed, they are going to ask you some nasty questions about the loan they have left in your hand…

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