Goodbye to old friends and a « new-born » growler named Breskell…(15)

Before going up north again, so impressed had we been by our encounter with the EQIP glacier that we decided to sail back for a last goodbye to our icy friend.

  « Walking Breskell on ice », pushing my way around, I drive her slowly to get closer . The ice  today is so thick, that I have to back-off. 

I have to back off

So much ice accumulated in so little time. I refuse to take such a risk even for a last salute to an old friend. Another important learning experience about things to come for our next North West Passage. 

Rule number one:  take nothing for granted around here.  

What was really good yesterday could be really bad today.  In the matter of just a few hours, the ice forbids now any farewell even from far-away.

Rule number two :  adapt. 

In this remote  northern area, there is only one master and one commander:  the ice-field. To survive, I have to play by its rules. Here, I am just a foreign opportunist with one simple goal:  find my way around.   Closing and opening in the ice floes will always occur. It’s not for me to decide when to go. I need to wait patiently, very patiently for this limited opportunity . Then, I could just decide how to go.   I play here a cat and mouse game.   Being the mouse, it’s a deadly game for me.  I need to avoid at all costs the powerful claws of the cat.


Our course to Upernavik

Forgetting the glacier EQIP, we aim for Upernavik.  

Now, let’s assess  our situation carefully … Forty miles away, there is open water.   For now, a lot of ice surrounds us and we need to squeeze our way between the shore and one island. 

between the shore and one island…

For that, I have to engage my boat into some narrow openings up to Sarqaq before reaching the promised land of … more waters free of ice! 

Squeezing my way between the shore and one island

We push our way slowly ahead.  At that moment, on my left, a barge appears.  My friend Knud, on his way home, waves at us.  Farewell my friend. See you another day and somewhere else.  So nice to meet you and to listen to your many stories about this wonderful and rugged land. The aluminum barge crushes its way faster than us, still a slow pace for Knud because of the thickness of the new ice cover. 

  • Walking the ice

Soon, we are alone and again at idle speed.  Our progress north is slow but steady.  For now, we leave an island on our starboard side. Landfast ice accumulates there and  the narrow lane of free water, hemmed in on both sides by thick ice bloks concentrate here. They made for a narrow pass along the cliffs. Not an easy trail .  We keep pushing  around and pulling forward. High dark cliffs surround us.  They make an unusual landscape.  Pure white ice all around except for this one side dominated by really dark rocks. 

With Breskell engaging the ice at her now customary 2 knots, we grind our way up north.  We hear nothing around, except for the reassuring grumbling of the machinery below and the smooth crushing of the ice in front.  

Now, some of my followers are thinking aloud :  

« these guys have too much fun in their old “hardened “wood boat! » Never any complaint, no massive storm, no dramatic hardships, they dive around, fish for their dinner, bask in the midnight sun…  So next summer it’s my turn!  I rent myself a sailboat and up to the ice-field , I navigate to enjoy also these arctic twilights, the magnificent icebergs, the mighty glaciers and to meet all the wonderful Nordic characters.  With luck, I may even meet some nice kayaking girls paddling around growlers in the never ending Greenland midnight lights ». 

  • Arctic twilight..

It could be done my friend, it could be done!  We are not superhuman heroes, just sailors. Hardened sailors maybe. Still, before going North too quickly with your newly chartered plastic sailboat, please, just learn how to survive, alone if possible, into some really good beatings at sea before joining us.  Just in case and to get a little taste of what the real North can throw at you later.

For now, ask my computer.  It’s so cold inside some parts of our living quarter that this machine refuses to work.  To coax it back into action, we move it closer to our trusted wood stove. In fact, its electronic brain is just doing fine.  The mouse our problem.  A damned fat, spoiled, cocooned mouse born in some temperate southern country.  What we need here is one wintered Greenland rodent foraging happily around in this freezing tundra.  We hope that the move closer to some warmer areas will resuscitate our hibernating animal.  We need a computer in good working order for our navigation, weather forecasts, maps of the ice-field, emails, analysis of the drone pictures and for the many others applications used in our modern world. 

Now, it’s almost 10:00 pm and we are still slaloming in the middle of the pack.  Not going fast, we are still making significant progress. For « walking the ice » safely with Breskell, we have established a good working routine.

 Both of us are on duty at the same time.  One stands watch on the bow with his two-way hand radio.  After a sharp look-out all around , the bowmen gives the man at the  wheel his sailing instructions.  To port 10,  20 to starboard, a little more to the right, to the left;  almost like a licensed pilot in a cruise-ship to the helmsman when entering a difficult harbor.  Except that, on a cruise ship, the pilot never asks the man at the wheel to drive the ship and that right or left is unknown vocabulary in the pilot house. On Breskell, we switch positions every hour. For now, if our old faithful Perkins engine is ready to run forever, at 1:30 am in the morning of the following day, we, the hardened sailors, are bone tired.

To Upernavik

We need to stop. For now, it’s enough. We cannot concentrate any longer.  In keeping going, we gonna get soon into big troubles.  

So why not anchor asks our “next to be” chartered sailboater ?

Good question .  In the “CHAPMAN school of seamanship ”, an all time good sailing bible added for free in the charter package, I hope you find a chapter on how to anchor your vessel in a moving ice-field…  No anchor line resists the pressure exerted even by a small moving iceberg.  We need to improvise. We stop the boat, cut off the engine and …  metamorphose our vessel into a « new-born » growler. 

A living part of this ever moving ice-pack

Breskell goes now the way of a drifting chunk of ice, swinging peacefully with her neighbors,  pushed around by the arctic underwater currents, the changing tides and the natural forces of the wind… Together, we become a living part of this ever-moving ice-pack. There is no immediate danger here.  Any big ice drifting our way is just going to gently brush the hull and slide away.  And been stuck into the ice had its advantages.

Big ice brushing the hull

One can take a well deserved rest under the careful watch of the other. One hour each.  In case of some suspected emergencies, we can react quickly and, if needed, changing from a drifting growler to a moving sailboat.  Being on watch, is not another boring maritime task but a privilege.

We luxuriate in those spectacular revelation

We can luxuriate in the spectacular revelation of the Greenland heartland; well, in this case of the Greenland « heart-Ice ». 

The scenery from our floating nutshell is breathtaking.  It’s hard to describe it with words. Imagine yourself drifting slowly this way or that without much control of your movements.

High dark cliffs on one side

On one side, thousand meters high dark cliffs watch closely your moves.  On the other, huge glaciers reflect themselves on the ice around you, gleaming under the sun hidden behind hight clouds.

Midnight rays of sun light brushes the ice

The midnight rays of light brush delicately the top of the glacier leaving on it a golden coat of paint. Of course, a very deep and concentrated  white ice surrounds you with all its iridescence of blue and green.

It’s just magic .

We took pictures non stop. At one point, we even flew the drone.  It returned with some unbelievable images.

Well, now it’s my turn to go to bed.

Sweet dreams to you all.


More to follow..