Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Nomad's summer in Greenland, Part 1: Nuuk to Aasiaat

Nomad closed the coast of Greenland on 12 July following an uneventful thirteen day crossing of the Labrador Sea from Newfoundland.  Under escort by a pod of pilot whales Nomad left the deep ocean behind  and crossed onto the shallow banks off the coast. The wind began to diminish to a flat glassy calm and I sighted my first iceberg as visibility slowly decreased to zero in dense fog.
Pilot whales

The lighthouse on Saattut slipped by unseen in the fog as I carefully passed between the rocks to enter the inside passage to Nuuk from the south. Time passed slowly as Nomad made her way north between rocks and mountains. Charts of dubious accuracy required continuous cross checking of the radar, depth sounder and charts both paper and electronic. Late in the afternoon the fog slowly lifted revealing a stunning landscape of snow covered mountains against a clear blue sky.  Riding a fair tide, I made good time motoring up the channel and decided to stop overnight in Ameralik Fjord  and get a good night's rest before entering Nuuk to clear in.
There was no response on the radio from the harbor authorities as I entered the harbor in Nuuk. I rafted up to one of the few other sailboats in the harbor as that seemed to be the way docking was handled in their very crowded harbor. I sought out the harbormaster in his office at the Royal Arctic Lines office to report my arrival. Customs was notified, " they will stop by the boat if they are interested". They never did. Easiest entry to another country ever! Harbor charges are in four day blocks for about $12USD.
An amazing vista became visible as the fog lifted.

Steps leading down the cliff to the harbor in Nuuk
The harbormaster gave me a short ride into town to show me where the supermarkets and Telepost store were located. The next day was spent working on the boat followed by an early evening request to move and make space for a large vessel. I relocated further into the harbor and rafted up with a boat from Germany who was on his way south from Disko Bay. They shared information on anchorages and docks going northbound and we decided to climb a couple mountains on the outskirts of Nuuk. There are vaguely marked routes up both of them. Ukusissat, the first one we climbed was the higher of the two. The scenery was magnificent and it was snowing on top. Both mountains provided panoramic vistas of Nuuk and the mountains further inland.
Tramping in the mountains
Nomad was ready to sail and when the weather settled it was time to head north. Dense fog settled in as I departed the harbor and worked my way out to open waters. Arrival in Tovquassaq at 0330 was greatly eased by the 24 hour daylight. Following a good rest and a day of exploring, the next anchorage was another abandoned settlement, Ikerasak. As with many interesting anchorages in Greenland the chart of this area had no soundings on it. This requires extreme care, a good eye for guessing the underwater topography and a very slow speed approach.  It was a bit eerie walking about the graveyard  back in the hills with streamers of fog coming between the mountains.

A few foundations and a graveyard are all that remains of Ikerasak
 The next stop was Maniitsoq to refuel and get some fresh produce. There is an interesting museum there, well worth a few hours to look through.
Nomad was very carefully tied to the hotel's floating dock. It was lightly built for the small motorboats that everyone uses in Greenland, not big heavy schooners. Definitely a fair weather dock only, and at $20USD a night it has the distinction of being the most expensive dock in all of Greenland.
Nomad on the little boat dock in Maniitsoq


Departing Maniitsoq, Nomad turned inland to visit the spectacular mountains of Hamborgerland.  It was another long memorable day. As I turned to go up Sermilinguaq fjord to check out the glaciers a large whale was jumping out of the water repeatedly. The poorly charted fjord was quite deep until just past the island near the end where the moraine came up abruptly, unexpectedly far from the glacier's face. After a full astern emergency stop, I turned about for deeper waters and drifted about for some time taking pictures and a nice lunch break before returning to the brisk fjord (head)winds in Hamborgersund.
The glacier at the head of Sermilinguaq fjord.

There were numerous waterfalls and many birds in Sermilinguaq fjord

This remarkable day continued with more spectacular mountain scenery all the way to the anchorage at Appamiut. I spent two nights anchored in the eastern bay enjoying the scenery and doing a lot of hiking before moving on.
Bug protection is mandatory hiking in Greenland

Anchored in Appamiut

The mountains of Hamborgerland
Sisimiut is the next town to the north. It's a long days trip from Appamiut at sailboat speed. I decided to stop about thirty three miles south of Sisimiut and anchored behind a large island at Anders Olsens Sund for some rest. The magnetic anomaly noted in the Admiralty pilot in this area does exist. The autopilot would not hold a course and the compass would swing through a one hundred eighty degree arc every time I turned the boat more than a few degrees. This necessitated steering by hand for nearly ten hours.
Midnight near the Arctic Circle
A good night's rest does wonders after a challenging day. I finished up the last few miles into Sisimiut the next day. Following the range marks on the south entrance kept me off the nearby rocks in a brisk crosswind. The back bay is blocked by a bridge, leaving the small boat harbor and a small cove on the north shore the only options available. The harbor was very crowded with little space to maneuver so I anchored in the cove with two lines run ashore. 
A tribute to the fishermen of Sisimiut overlooking the anchorage.
Sisimiut is an interesting town, one of my favorites. I spent a few days exploring this place, hiking and checking out the local museum. The local market had whale and seal, so I tried them both for dinner. "How do you cook this?" "Fry it with onions and rice or potatoes " Greenlandic cooking is pretty simple. The local Telepost store was quite helpful and replaced my hotspot so I could get internet again. Internet is expensive and there are no free wifi places anywhere. Internet is a very important part of sailing here to receive weather and ice reports. I was unable to receive weather faxes over shortwave for nearly this entire trip and the local forecast were of little use and very difficult to understand.
With a reasonable weather forecast in hand once again, it was time to continue north. The wind became much stronger than forecast but with the help of a following current I was able to maintain five knots motoring into twenty five knots and very steep eight to twelve foot seas. This was making progress but the violent motion of the wind and sea going against each other was too uncomfortable to carry on. I found some shelter behind some rocky islands at Ukiivik. The next morning the wind had shifted and the fog lifted so I hastily got underway to take advantage of the weather. Nomad was under full sail for the first time since arriving in Greenland!  Later in the evening the wind dropped and the fog returned. The first anchorage noted in the guidebook for Faeringe Nordhavn fjord offered scant protection in the current conditions, so I continued on to the end of the fjord and anchored in some shallow water. Too close to the end as it appeared in the morning.  Although I had allowed enough for the eight to ten foot tides in this area to avoid grounding at low tide there were a number of boulders uncomfortably close to the boat exposed as the tide receded.
Growler. About the size of a pickup truck, mostly underwater.
A large iceberg in the fog.

The weather in the fjords is completely different from conditions outside and Faeringe Nordhavn was no exception. The sunshine and good sailing wind that disappeared at the entrance was replaced with dense fog on a glassy calm ocean.  Getting closer to Disko Bay, icebergs  were becoming more numerous along the coast. there were a few off shore but most were grounded near shore. These were all clearly visible on the radar, but the growlers and bergy bits that fall off of them are not. It was an tense eighteen hours getting into Aasiaat passing a few growlers that were unseen until they were next to the boat and the occasional thump of some unseen bit being shouldered aside by the bobstay.
Nomad arrived in Aasiaat at 0400 after picking her way through icebergs and narrow rocky channels in very dense fog without incident. I quit trying to explore the harbor in zero visibility conditions after carefully backing out of a cluster of small boats anchored close together. What was on the radar was different from what was on the chart, so I tied up to the first big boat that I found to put an end to a very long day.
Aasiaat, without the fog.

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