Already our last day at sea before entering the beautiful harbor of Sisimiut. It often happens in summer; the wind died early, and we start the engine.
Entering the harbor.
It’s our third visits here in as many years, almost my backyard! Without hesitation, I enter and moor Breskell on the side of MV “Sisak IV” . This boat was here last year, just at the same place. It doesn’t seem to move a lot.
Next day, I get a little confused by a set of instructions given by my neighbors. My Greenlandic language is much better than during for my first two visits. I added several important words: beer , bathroom and Internet cafes to my vocabulary of 10 words. For an American, I am already bilingual, still not enough to understand what happens with the next fisherman’s boat. Was it planning to move now or later? I understood “now” and left immediately. Wrong guess! IILEN” a gorgeous square-gaffed rig ketch was at the same time trying to enter this crowded place, adding to the confusion.
During my wait in the middle of the harbor, Berda, on board with us, offers the opportunity to guide us to the “ghost village” of Sisimiut. Yes, a “ghost village” exists really on the other side of the Sisimiut peninsula.
Let me introduce Berda.
Let me introduce Berda if you are new to this blog. It’s this beautiful girl in traditional Greenlandic clothes.
Our story started in July 2917.
I walk in the street in Sisimiut among other tourists. It’s my first visit there. A cruise ship generates a lot of activities in town. I follow nonchalantly enjoying the walk and following the passengers. At some point, the crowd drifts and assembles in front of a building. Interested, I get closer. I discover for the first time this truly beautiful woman in traditional Greenlandic dress. I am immediately struck by her special quietness, her mysterious and engaging smile, her particular kindness.
I start asking questions and graciously, this young lady answers the tousled sailor. She is probably quite intrigued by this special trademark that made sailboaters so easy to recognize the word over: sun burned skin, strange cap, salt fringed clothes and a swaying walk… No, I don’t belong to this cruise ship. Yes, I cruise myself but on a beautiful home-made yellow boat. She has now to full-fill others cruise-ship obligations. We part. Her smile, when she leaves, will stay with me for a long time: another travel cherished memories.
2018. One year later, I am back to Greenland with Eric, my new sailing partner.
Boarding my boat in Sisimiut, came a guy I had encountered in a bar the day before. With him, again, this beautiful girl in traditional Greenlandic dresses. We sit and talk. I ask her if she remembers meeting last year a strange looking sailor with white wild hairs and a strange American accent. Again, this engaging and mysterious smile, this kindness and understanding. Not only she recognizes very well the sailor, she even remembers his name! I present her to my quiet new crew-member.
I suppose that he was, like me, awestruck by her beauty, kindness, intelligence and exotic charm. During our provisioning, she comes almost every day to chat on “Breskell”. We become very good friend. Every time she visited, the yard’s workers were joking . “Olivier, you are an old salt with white tamed hairs, a burned skin, a craggy face and, yes, may be with a great smile. Still, can you explain why this magnificent girl is coming again and again to visit you?”
I told them I have a secret. My smile evidently and also a sailor exclusive weapon learned on the high seas during storms or harsh and challenging circumstances. A secret shared only with my wife and one or two very close friends. It was so much fun!
2019.Back again. And back again with my secret weapon.
Now, we are more than friends. She could be my daughter. And like my daughter, Berdie is so sweet so wise and so charming that I treasure every moment we spend together.
The ghost village.
And today , during my unintended circles in the middle of the harbor, when she proposes an impromptu visit to the “ghost village”, I just said ” OK, let’s go!”. In no time, we are under way.
Following the shore along the peninsula, we enter a fjord. An hour later, Berdie keeping a careful watch from the bow runs to me saying “left … left, turn left.
It’s right there”. Whoops… She guides me through a very narrow entrance. I don’t like it at all. If open waters are the trusted friends of sailors, nearby rocks are their eternal foes. I enter very slowly as I have no idea where I am going. Now, I am totally surrounded by huge boulders… pretty dangerous. I trust Berdie, she knows perfectly where she wants to go. “Keep going ” she said impetuously, “keep going”. For sure, but we have now three feet of water under the keel, and we see the bottom like in a clear glass of pure water. “Keep going”! May be Berdie, but not anymore with my yellow baby! “Breskell” navigates on water, not pebbles. I decide to anchor. I know perfectly that I am now trapped inside a rat’s hole.
On the other side, the weather is beautiful with no wind . I feel secure and in no imminent danger. On shore, stand a few little houses. Some habitations look in great shape, others are dilapidated old shacks with no soul around. Definitely, we anchor in front of an authentic “ghost village”. Our coming land exploration delights all of us. My two dinghy parts are quickly fitted together. We push the tender overboard.
Joshua goes up to the crow’s nest for a good general view of the landscape. I shuttle my crew from boat to land.
No ghost in daylight to scare us, only tiny houses, mostly red and white surrounding an old protestant church, the main faith in this part of Greenland. Well maintained, the church sits on the top of a rocky escarpment.
About forty persons, mostly fishermen, used to live here explains our captivating guide.
In the seventies, human greed depleted here the fish’s stocks like they had done in Canada where the same infinite stupidity destroyed in a few years the plentiful cod. Deprived of their way of life, the fishermen left the village and migrated to the nearby town. Since then, this village is known all around as the “ghost village”. With war cemeteries, it sits here as another silent witness of human foolishness. Sisimiut municipality maintains the church and a few chosen houses.
A tourist attraction for visitors and for local kids an educational center about our past mistakes explains Berdie. She remembers with us the time when as a kid, her class was taken there. They spend the full week, alone with their teacher, in the “ghost village”.
During their stay, each kid was assigned a rotating task and immersed with his traditional heritage. From the city, she added, it took them twelve hours to come walking here and later, twelve hours more to return home; a past journey filled now with nostalgic memories.
We slowly visit with our guide the entire village including the cemetery and the old fish warehouse.
We leave our name on some decrepit walls.
Located on a tiny island, without a boat, you had to cross over a rope bridge to access the site. Quite a challenge if you don’t have some sort of “sea legs” when you swing from side on the suspended bridge.
Swinging bridge, old church, little red houses and the surrounding countryside, all that portrays this “ghost village” as a lovely and lonely place.
It’s time to board back “Breskell” and return to Sisimiut.
“ILEN” is now docked against the fishing boat. We went alongside. As it happens with nomads, Randall, the “one year, five oceans, perfect eight cruise guy” emails us.
He will reach Sisimiut tonight. He asks about anchoring outside of the harbor. Our quick reply: don’t worry Randall and join us inside any time during the “day”. Anyway, there is no more night here! A few hours later, “ILEN” , “Molly” and “Breskell” are docked together sharing beers, sea stories, travel roads and dreams of safe passages.
During our stay in Sisimiut, we spend a lot of time with Berdie. Her mom invited us for a nice meal, and they performed some traditional Greenlandic dances for us. What a wonderful experience ! Before sailing away this year, Berdie promises to visit our home in Port-Townsend. She now belongs to our extended seafarer family. She is another part of “Breskell” soul. We will never forget all our wonderful Greenlandic friends. But Berdie will keep a special place in our heart. Farewells, emotional moments again and no way to forget the tears in your beautiful eyes. Sailors never cry. They turn to the wind to dry their sob. We will meet again Berdie. It’s our promise. Three times, we sailed to Greenland to meet you. Your turn now to visit us south with your beautiful daughter. Allow me just a few more months to return home!
And again, the boatyard’s workers are flocking around “Breskell” grinning and asking about my “secret weapon” for attracting such beautiful girl?
Easy. Sail away with me on the high seas, far away from land in harsh weather and hazardous conditions and you will discover it! And no, you cannot order it on “Amazon” or anywhere else. It’s free!
Climates changes and grandkids.
For now, Berdie, allow me to conclude this post with Winona, your beautiful daughter.
We played together all over “Breskell”. Boats are ideal playgrounds for little kids.
So many places to hide, to climb, to explore, or simply to swing on ropes.
Winona could have been my granddaughter! Sweet, sweet little girl.
Now, what a top NASA climate scientist like James Hansen shares with an hardcore sailor like Olivier Huin? Together, we enjoy reflecting about little kids starting on with their new life.
James’s 2 years old grandson Jake already trying to take care of his newborn sister and Winona playing happily onboard “Breskell”. James Hansen had a long academic career and developed highly sophisticated theoretical mathematical models around earth climate. I spend a short “jail time” in traditional schools. Messing around boats and sea adventures, I made my practical PhD around my life. Still, James the scientist and Olivier the manual , we reached together an identical conclusion. Climates changes are coming for good and will greatly affect the coming generations.
He computed the alteration on earth with his mathematical models. I confronted the degradation in the Arctic with my hand-made yellow boat.
What can we do as individual to avert more damages?
James Hansen doesn’t want his grandson Jake saying:
“Grandpa demonstrates perfectly that climates changes are on their way big time. Grandpa has done nothing about it”.
I don’t want Winona telling Berdie later:
“remember mom the shaggy skipper who witnessed the devastation climates changes already produce on our native land? This damn sailor returned south without a look over his shoulder”.
So, top NASA climate scientist James Hansen started speaking and speaking loud. His first intervention invoked the NASA mission. “Understand and protect the home planet”. Hard to protect “home planet” when denying climates changes with all the hard data supporting it. Politicians found an easy solution: simply change NASA goal!
They reduced NASA objectives to exploration without any more protection! Nice and easy. NASA can now safely explores others galaxies from a vessel taking water from all parts. At least, they take care of the life-raft!
Unabated, James decides to manifest peacefully in front of the White House.
He got arrested.
Fed-up and disgusted, he returned for a time to its sophisticated theoretical models. I don’t hide the fact that he lacks totally the charisma needed to attract big enthusiastic audiences. Old cow-boy hat, tired expression, sad eyes, monotonous voice, no body language, all that combined with hard data don’t go well for an exciting presentation in front of a roaring crowd. For some time, he left communications to others.
Later, with another look to his data and now to his grand-kids, he concluded that staying quiet was just UNETHICAL
And he started speaking again.
I don’t speak to scientific gathering or to TED sophisticated audiences. With my yellow home made-boat, I just go through the North West Passage, another tragic evidence of the Arctic warming predicted by James Hansen . I expose my crew and myself to possible harm. With great challenges and unavoidable dangers comes also a short span of media attention. Like James Hansen with his outstanding academic record, I plan, whatever the outcome, to use my “sailor Himalaya “ and the modest publicity that this high latitude sailing deserves in my community to later look straight into the eyes of Gerdie’s daughter:
“Me too, Winona, I tried my best, with “Breskell”‘s crew, to protect you, your land and my planet vessel. Look…”
Sadly, the law of physics are not the law of politics. They explain, they don’t entertain. At the end of my next post, I will try to present in simple terms the complex work of James Hansen. It’s worth it! His conclusions are much more frightening than the ghosts of our village!