Whales in Illumanate (9)

In Aasiaat , days ago, a fisherman recommended a remote and beautiful place out of the tourists stampede pouring out of the cruise-ships into the most popular Greenland destinations. And he added : “the best place to be if you want to see whales”.   For my guests, on their own bucket list, after exploring icebergs and sailing in Arctic water, whales are the next best thing to do. With whales, as with all wildlife, it’s hard to make definitive appointment.  We need some luck.  We are now in the middle of July and my guests are leaving in four days from the airport in Ilulissat. How to conciliate  their strict schedule  with our aleatory whale meeting?  That thought is always nagging at me. Arctic weather is hard to forecast and missing a plane can ruin the best cruise…  The same with  missing a whale encounter .  Let’s focus on the whales for now.  At midday , we raised anchor, the weather still fair with a few clouds showing up.  Easterly winds are forecasted for most of today.  With it, our hope of sailing  is fading quickly.  This quiet day offers a good opportunity to try our brand new Garmin  auto-pilot.  I bought it in Port Townsend and fixed it on my steering wheel following the manufacturer instructions. I figure that, in average wind conditions ,  it offers  enough power to steer Breskell. Those electronic pilots keep a very accurate  compass bearing. Before, they  need an initial calibration. Normally, it’s a quick and easy task. Get your pilot computer in calibration mode. Then swing your boat on a full 180 degree circle and let the integrated  electronic  compass adjust itself. Eric and I  worked on it. In a series of unsuccessful tries, we had done circles after circles on the water. Full speed,  slow speed and every speed in between without any positive  results .  As you know, Greenland is a small and tightly  knitted community. Everyone knows everyone. Strange looking foreign fellows like me are quickly under scrutiny.  Imagine now the late pub discussion in front of a pint of strong local brew between inquisitive local fishermen assisting from the shoreline at those wild swings…

Some arguing about the inner fragility of those aliens, drinkers of sweetened bubbling  waters, confronted here with some real Viking beverage.  Then, you let them take the wheel…  No wonder if they offer this frantic water show before getting theirs bearings again…

Others affirming that this wild-looking Yankee skipper, being so far from his land and so close to the North Pole, is completely  mix-up with his four cardinal points.   He needs this traditional Brittany dance to reconnect himself with the spirit of his seafaring ancestors before recovering his own bearings.

More serious concerns come probably from two prosaic origins.  For one, the delicate electronic compass inside the pilot computer head is too close to the huge metallic mass of the engine.  For two, it could also be too close to the magnetic pole .

Leaving all those speculations for now, and before getting in trouble with the local coast Guard for intoxicated or erratic piloting, we start again hand steering Breskell.  At the end of the afternoon, a surprising north shift in the wind direction allows us to set all sails. With no more than 5 to 10 knots of wind, my good old Breskell is gurgling happily at 5 to 6 knots for the great pleasure of our guests and of their captain.  After a while, we get surrounded by growlers.  I keep sailing  even if I do not enjoy  that much.  Finally everything is going  smoothly:  a nice sailing ride through the arctic ice. Not a common occurrence for most sailboaters.

“Illumanate”, the fishing village, is getting closer. Like every landing in an unknown anchorage, I take the wheel with a surge of anxiety and anticipation. And the same pleasure, I suppose, than airline pilots before landing their craft. First, I ask my crew to bring down the sails, then I start the engine.

Big rocks at the entrance..

I studied the entrance before:  big rocks on my starboard side and the shore on port. The village harbor  stands up between.  Ahead first, then I turn around the entrance reef and avoid the shoal, before reaching the point where one fishing boat is moored. No problem,  I have enough depth ……


“Whales”    yells somebody at the same moment. Nobody cares anymore about the entrance. They want to take pictures of those mythic giants of the Arctic water.

In this picturesque but very small harbor, I am sure to have enough deep water.  What about enough swinging room at anchor?  Time to make a quick decision. As they said in aeronautical term, I abort the landing and power out of this place. A little farther down the coast, a small bay offers another safe anchorage with again some rocks marking the entrance on my starboard side.   Once inside we are in calm waters with plenty of room to swing around. On our first try, the anchor holds in 30 feet of water and 120″ of chain.

Whales playing around

Another day in paradise with whales playing now the nautical angels. In their summer feeding ground,  three of them decide to offer us a free show.

Whales playing around..

Once in a while, we even ear their very powerful breathing accompanied by a tall and spectacular water sprout…Then, tails high above the water for their last salute, they disappear. Time for a well-deserved meal and a few toasts to another perfect day.  Bedding time in the twilight of the  arctic  night.  We are all very tired.  And about the plane of my guests?

Let’s worry about that tomorrow…