Saturday, November 18, 2017

Nomad's Summer in Greenland, Part 2: Disko Bay

Rafted up in Aasiaat

Nomad was rafted up to the French  expedition yacht in Aasiaat for two days.   Well rested and with a full load of fuel onboard  Nomad sailed east heading toward the source of all the ice floating around Disko Bay. Leaving on a clear sunny day allowed me to see up the narrow rocky channel  with its small icebergs that I had so carefully navigated  in the fog two nights before.  
Navigation is much easier without the fog.
  Icebergs became more numerous as   I approached the east side of the bay. This was my first experience navigating close by the icebergs on a sunny day.  They are a brilliant white that stands out against the blue sky quite unlike their  usual near invisibility in foggy overcast conditions.   
Nomad's first encounter with visible ice.
Approaching Quasigiannguit late in the day it was easy to work around a number of bergs in the harbor entrance and head for the far end of the bay.  Anchoring  in water as shallow as possible limits the size of iceberg  that can run into your boat while anchored.  
Anchorage at Quasigiannguit

This berg is too big to get inside the harbor.

 Leaving the harbor I went between the coast and the first  island as I had seen local boats using that route. There were no soundings on the chart here, so it was a slow ride through monitoring the depth.   It was deep except for crossing a rocky patch at the north end with only twenty feet at high tide. Once clear of the islands north of Quasigiannuit the Jakobshavn glacier was clearly visible on the horizon along with many icebergs scattered over  Disko Bay.  
Icebergs come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes
The more distant icebergs have mirror images floating above them.

  Steering around an ever increasing number  bergs it looked like a solid wall of ice in the distance.  Sailing closer revealed that there was space to get between the icebergs where many were grounded near shore.  There were two rocks noted on the chart that were hidden in the ice field, but no soundings in this area.  Carefully working through the ice I found that the Nordre Huse anchorage  was clear of ice.  
Anchored between rocks and ice at Nordre Huse
  This is an ok anchorage as long as the wind  or current does not set the ice into the shore. There is a small slot canyon in the rocks allowing easy shore access. Climbing to the top brings a stunning panoramic view over the four mile wide river of ice spilling into Disko Bay with the ice cap visible in the distance.   
The amazing Jakobshavn glacier.
 A strong breeze began blowing down the fjord late in the day so I felt it was safe to spend the night behind the icefield.  It was a surreal experience with ice colored by the twilight of the arctic night and the sounds of the glacier moving audible through the hull. Outside an occasional sound like thunder could be heard over the wind as pieces of glacier broke off.

Nordre Huse at night.
 The fjord wind blew all night and opened up the ice making departure much easier in the morning .   It was only a few miles around the glacier face to Illulissat, so I spent a fascinating morning motoring between the gigantic icebergs at the front of the glacier.  
A good mix of ice and rocks

Local boat crossing the glacier face.
Huge icebergs aground in 500' of water

Illulissat comes into view beyond the glacier.

  Entering the tiny inner harbor at Illulissat I found it to be extremely crowded with no convenient place to tie up Nomad.   With some difficulty I got Nomad turned around  and out of the harbor. With three cruise ships in town, that was enough encouragement for me to head for  the tiny village of Oquaatsut with its sheltered bay for the night.   Nomad easily got by a few grounded bergs in the north entrance and spent the day weaving between numerous icebergs along the coast of Arve Prinsens  Ejland bound for an anchorage in Smallesund  noted in the guidebook.   
Bergs at Arve Prinsens Ejland
 Sometimes the best planning doesn’t help in the remote areas of the Arctic. After carefully working my way into an unsurveyed area I was greeted by the sight of a small berg grounded in the cove and the shallow areas full of bergy bits.  It was obvious where the local fishermen tied to the rock wall and the water was forty feet deep alongside, but I was not comfortable with the amount of ice coming in with the wind.  I retreated to a cove  on the big island that I had seen on the way in  that had a sandy patch showing at low tide.  There was just enough space to anchor carefully without having to put out shore lines.  
Plenty of space to get through.
 The north entrance to Smallesund  appeared closed by ice, but getting closer I could see there was space enough to get through close by the rock wall.  Torssukkatak was full of ice, but navigable.  Here at 70N  looking down the ice choked Vaigat channel north of Disko island I reluctantly decided it was time to head south.   There are few truly safe harbors on the north shore.  The Admiralty Pilot frequently warns of large waves from overturning icebergs entering many of these harbors.  Exploring  Upernavik and Nordre Sunds will have to wait until the next trip.


An icy obstacle course.

Along the Torsukkatak channel

Looking down the Vaigat channel
   There is deep water around the islands on the west coast of Arve Prinsens Ejland  and it was no problem navigating the uncharted channels between them  to the abandoned settlement at Ritenbank.  There is a large shallow shelf off the settlement allowing good anchorage with some current. 
Nomad at Ritenbank
 While preparing to launch the dinghy I began hearing a very loud snorting echoing off the surrounding mountains. Being quite puzzled as to what could be make such an impressive sound, I got out the binoculars and began to search the area. Thinking it could be a polar bear I carefully scanned the surrounding area finding nothing. This was beginning to get a little spooky as the snorting continued to echo off the mountain. I eventually located a large whale cruising near the opposite shore coming up to breathe with only the tip of it's head clearing the surface with each breath. It was safe to go ashore exploring, no bears around!

Whalebone artwork.

The heater room.

Inside the church.

Summer flowers on Ritenbank

Artwork left behind

Disko island seen from Ritenbank

  Early in the morning I was awoken by a resounding thump that shook the boat.  Sitting up all that could be seen out the portholes was a wall of ice. Nomad and an iceberg had collided in the tidal current.  The iceberg had run aground so I pushed Nomad clear of it and the current kept us apart.

Early morning visitor knocking on the boat.
  Pulling up the anchor chain eventually brought Nomad against the iceberg again. Fortunately the iceberg had just missed parking on top of my anchor so I was able to get underway without having to wait for another tide to move it.  I t was another beautiful sunny arctic day as I motored across the bay bound for Qeqertarsuaq  on the south shore of Disko Island intent on doing some hiking there.  
Disko Bay. No napping underway with all this ice floating around.

Sharp ridgeline on Disko Island

South shore of Disko Island with the ice cap visible in the background.

 I was dodging large icebergs and enjoying the otherworldly scenery of Disko Island when smoke started coming out of the open hatch.  Expecting a fire, I was relieved to find that the gearbox had overheated and the only thing burning was it’s seals.  Hoisting full sail, I was able to coax Nomad another mile away from shore in the faintest breath of wind while the gear cooled enough for me to touch it.  It was still full of oil, but it was very burnt and I changed it. Putting it in gear once again, the shaft would start turning slowly but would not speed up even with full throttle applied.  I worked every breeze that came by throughout the night keeping Nomad away from the icebergs and attempting to head across the bay towards Aasiaat.  Making less than 4 miles overnight I was considering all manner of possibilities. Troubleshooting the gear I found that it would provide full power in reverse.  Problem solved! I would be able to back all the way to Aasiaat, twenty four miles distant.  I hurriedly dropped all the sails eager to get moving after a long unproductive night.  But in my sleep deprived state, I forgot to check both sides of the boat for lines in the water after dropping the sails and promptly backed over the port main sheetlet, stalling the engine.  After spending some time unsuccessfully trying to clear the prop from on deck I realized there was only one solution. I retrieved my diving gear stored in various places around the boat and set up my scuba tank on deck . I was unable to free the line from the propshaft with my dexterity impaired by my wetsuit gloves and ice cold water.   I returned with a knife and cut it clear.  After  wriggling out of my wetsuit I took a moment to warm up before throwing the dive gear down below and starting the engine. I began the tedious task of backing across the bay  steering from one iceberg to the next as my course was too erratic to follow the compass.  As I closed the coast near Aasiaat, a large cruise ship went by with a number of people standing on deck watching me.  I can only wonder at what they thought watching a schooner zigzagging backwards between the icebergs.  Having failed at several attempts to back between the rocks guarding the inner passage to Aasiaat,  I felt a faint breeze near shore.  I hoisted the jib and foresail, the main being out of service with it’s sheetlet cut.  It was enough combined with the propeller turning slowly ahead to get the boat moving. Nomad made it between the rocks without incident and slowly made way into Assiaat  reaching speeds up to two knots.  The next morning was calm and I was able to tie to the barge at the shipyard where I would not be asked to move the boat while I had the gear off the motor.  Dismantling the gear I quickly found the problem and by pure chance happened to have the spare parts onboard to repair it. 
The offending part and it's replacement.  This would have been very difficult to repair underway.
 Forty eight hours later, Nomad was mobile again.  I then shifted to the tiny wharf on Transitoen island in the middle of the harbor where I had an abandoned fish plant to explore while waiting for a storm to pass.

The tiny dock at Transitoen island. The crane hangs over the water close by the headstay on the far side of the wharf.


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