Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Nomad's Summer in Greenland Part 3: Aasiaat to Newfoundland

Calm before the storm.

Repairing the gear was an unwanted five days lost of the very short Arctic sailing season. Although the Greenland coast can easily be cruised well into December the periods of reasonable sailing conditions between storms for sailing away from Greenland begins to diminish rapidly in September. It was with some urgency that I sailed from Aasiaat to begin the long journey south. In the last week of August, darkness was returning to the night sky, and Nomad was more than six hundred miles north of the southern tip of Greenland. Sailing with a good forecast is no guarantee of a smooth passage. The forecasters got it mostly right this time but the wind was considerably stronger than predicted, blowing a full gale. I learned later in Nuuk that they had only changed the forecast about twelve hours before the storm arrived there. Nomad made good, but uncomfortable, progress south under sail alone for only the second time since arriving in Greenland.


Fishing boats in Nuuk
I arrived in Nuuk on a rare clear calm day affording a scenic view of the town approaching from the sea. Rafted up to Destiny with Andy and Janice onboard we exchanged information on anchorages and harbors as we were going in opposite directions. Learning that the area around Faeringehavn was worth exploring I decided to make that my next stop on the way south. Faeringehavn is an abandoned settlement at the entrance to Kangerluarsoruseq with reasonable protection from the sea although some swell enters with a south west wind.

Looking out to sea from the hills above Faeringehavn

Small boats sometimes stop for the night to camp out in the empty buildings here. The holding is marginal behind the large island, I found a lot of kelp on the bottom and was drifting towards a rocky island directly astern at about one boat length per day. I re anchored closer to shore and put a line ashore for added security.

Tied to the shore at Faeringehavn
There is great hiking in the mountains and many interesting buildings to explore here as well as an old wreck stranded in a cove. It is possible to get in the very well protected cove behind the settlement but it needs to be explored in the dinghy first as it is a very narrow entrance between submerged boulders. The cove with the wreck would be a very protected location if heavy weather was forecast. Surprisingly there was an excellent cellular signal here from a mountain top tower just to the north enabling me to get daily weather forecasts.

Some of the structures were decaying,

Wreck grounded in a cove further inland from the village

Old fishing boat at low tide

Power station at Faeringehavn
Six miles further up the fjord is the abandoned Nordafar fish plant. There is a good anchorage area about a mile north of the plant. It was a very intriguing place to explore with all the buildings still standing an much machinery left behind.

Nordafar fish plant slowly disintegrating

Marine railway at Nordafar

Machine shop

Inside the fish plant
 The locals have a penchant for vandalizing abandoned settlements, but I have never seen such a completely trashed place anywhere. Anything that was possible to smash or overturn was in every room of every building. With no one to ask about it I can only surmise that the people that lived in the company town were were not happy with life there and had vented there anger on the facility as the left it. Nonetheless it was a very interesting place to explore.

Typical of the vandalism found in every building.
Power plant at Nordafar

Community center/school
Finding that the cell signal was too weak to check the weather, I returned to my previous anchorage in Faeringehavn. Nomad arrived in Paamiut following an overnight passage motoring on the calm windless ocean.

Sunrise near Paamiut

A shipwreck marks the hidden entrance to Paamiut
 Refueling there was simple, the gas station ashore had a diesel hose long enough to reach anywhere on the wharf. Nomad lay longside the wharf in Pammiut for nine days while I caught up on maintenance and began building a new hatch. Paamiut is a small town of fifteen hundred people with all shops just a short walk from the wharf. The people here are very friendly and many stopped by to visit. I learned much about life in a small remote Greenland community here and had my first reindeer dinner.

Low tide at Paamiut
 With a good sailing wind I departed Paamiut bound for the inside passage at Nunarsuit , the large island at Kap Desolation. The wind increased overnight and I had to reef several times to keep my speed down and avoid arriving at the rocky entrance to Nunarsuit before sunrise. All sail was dropped with a twenty five knot breeze over the stern and I motored into the Torsukattak channel.

Approaching Nunarsuit
 As is usual the wind increased and aligned with the fjord as I made my way inside. Violent blasts of katabatic winds threatened to spin Nomad around even with no sails up. These could be heard roaring off the mountains several seconds before they hit. The winds remained strong all day all though the random blasts subsided after passing through the very narrow but deep Knaekket . I anchored Nomad in Bangs Havn for some much needed rest.

The inland passages were full of icebergs
 There were numerous icebergs floating around as I made my way into the tiny, ice free anchorage at Tunulliatsiaap Nunaa. The sunset was magnificent Illuminating the rocks and icebergs with reds and golds reflecting on the still waters. I ducked below to make dinner as the temperature plunged below freezing without the sun. Opening the hatch to toss out some onion skins, I was awestruck by the sight of the the sky shimmering in the green waves of the aurora borealis. Dinner forgotten, I sat on deck watching the aurora until they faded away . I had not expected to see the aurora at this time of the year and I had never seen the colored aurora before, only white sheet like displays. There were numerous icebergs to dodge crossing the Braedefjord but I was able to get through to Tugtutoq island without a lengthy detour offshore. Sildefjord is at the east end of Tugtutoq island and has a well protected basin to anchor in at the end of the fjord.

Nomad in the well protected anchorage in Tugtutoq island

The sun sets at the end of this canyon.

Tugtutoq is only twelve miles south of the ice cap. Wind from the north is very cold here.
 Climbing the mountains,there were many patches of blueberries and the ice cap was clearly visible from the top across the Braedefjord with its numerous bergs. The sun was setting in the canyon to the west as I made my way back to sea level. A few reindeer had also come down at sunset, but I did not see them until after I returned to the boat. After sunset a few green streamers appeared at the mountaintops and slowly developed into a brilliant display of the aurora covering the entire sky above the fjord.

The nightly Aurora Borealis is spectacular!

The Aurora streaming off the mountain top as it begins to grow.
The boat was surrounded by fresh ice in the morning again and my wet laundry was frozen solid on the lifelines so I reluctantly decided to move on before I got frozen in.
 Quaqortoq has a busy harbor and is the largest town in southern Greenland. Nomad was comfortably rafted up to a fishing boat on the far side of the harbor where I changed the oil and topped off the fuel tanks again. Ten miles up Quaqortoq fjord lies the ancient Norse village of Hvalsey.

Quaqortoq fjord

The ancient Norse ruins at Hvalsey

 This is the best preserved Norse ruins in Greenland. I spent two days anchored at Hvalsey hiking and examining the ruins in an absolute windless silence before returning to Quaqortoq.

Looking at Kape Egede from Tunullit
 Tunullit is a protected harbor opposite Alluitsup Paa although it did get a bit of surge inside from a distant storm passing offshore. The scenery is impressive with snow covered mountains and Kap Egede visible in the distance. Good hiking, fresh water streams and a herd of sheep are the shoreside attractions here. There is a cell signal in the anchorage, but reception is better up in the hills as the antenna is blocked by the island at sea level.

Alluitsup Paa. The Tunillit anchorage is behind this village
 Uunartoq fjord has an island with a hot spring on it. Not wanting to anchor near some icebergs I went around the island, passing between it and the closest small island finding thirty feet of water, and anchored on the east side which worked well for an expected wind shift overnight. I thoroughly enjoyed a long soak in the hot spring until it was time to get out of it.

The warm waters of the hot spring were a stark contrast to the cold and rainy air.
 Standing up from the warm water into the light rain with a breeze blowing across the icebergs in the fjord was a chilling experience! Rounding the forbidding, fog shrouded Kap Egede rather closer than I should have in a large confused swell, the other side was clear and sunny as Nomad made her way between the rocks and icebergs into Nanortalik at sunset.

Kap Egede

The weather changed quickly rounding the cape.
Small boat harbor in Nanortalik, to little for Nomad

Nanortalik church

After studying the weather for a few days off the bottom of Greenland, the possibility of finding a gap between the storms off Kap Farvel to reach the Azores did not look good. This being the second week of October and not wanting to risk being stuck here for the winter it was time for Plan B. There was a depression passing just to the south, so I backtracked to Kap Desolation and sailed across the Labrador Sea just above 60N to avoid the west winds from the low. The wind stopped about halfway across and it was time to motor the rest of the way before the next low approached. Nomad passed the last iceberg of the trip at the edge of the continental shelf near Nain and made her way into Makkovik Labrador as the wind began blowing from the south with the approach of the next storm system.

Makkovik Labrador

The Makkovik boardwalk.
 I was impressed with the scent of evergreens and the sight of the autumn foliage as I had not seen a tree since leaving Newfoundland in June! There was a fuel shortage in Makkovik due to the fuel ship for the year being delayed, but I was able to get 175 liters to continue. After crossing the straits of Belle Isle in heavy snow squalls the wind died out so it was motorboat time again. The updated VHF weather report now had storm force winds from a rapidly intensifying low to the south within twenty four hours. Twillingate Newfoundland appeared to appeared to have the best shelter that I could reach. Nomad arrived just after nightfall laying alongside the wharf as the wind began to build. Having arrived in Twillingate with about twenty liters of fuel left in the boat I was eager to refuel, but the only gas station with diesel fuel was sold out. By the time the fuel truck arrived Monday morning and I refilled the tanks,making a second trip to fill all the jugs it was late in the day. Taking the harbormaster's advice I postponed departure until the next morning because there appeared to be breaking waves across the harbor entrance leftover from the storm. That was great advice. There were still big curling breakers in the shoals on both sides of the channel as I turned east between the islands towards Conception Bay. All day there was still a very large swell leftover from the storm with little wind making for a lively ride until it settled down overnight. With no wind, Nomad motored the last two hundred miles back to the dock in Long Pond that she left from at the end of June.

This was a rare voyage returning to my starting point so I was able to calculate some interesting numbers for this voyage. Long Pond NL to Long Pond NL, 119 days and 4043 nm. Highest latitude reached: 70N. I had expected light winds in the Arctic, but there was virtually no winds outside the fjords for long periods of time. I logged an incredible 614 hours on the main engine and 40 hours on the generator. Total fuel for the voyage including what the heater consumed: 2215 liters. Six oil changes on the main engine. Diesel fuel is subsidized, the cost everywhere in Greenland is the same. In the summer of 2017 it was 0.87USD per liter, varying only a few cents with the exchange rate fluctuations.
Careful preparation paid off and there were no serious problems during this arctic voyage. There are however a few things to change on deck and some more equipment that would make life much easier before returning to the arctic. Top of the list is a pilothouse or at least some shelter for steering and watchstanding . Reels for the 122 meter long shore lines would greatly aid deploying and retrieving them. A bus heater plumbed into the main engine would enable the Refleks heater to be shut down when motoring saving quite a bit of fuel. A long serrated stainless knife on a long pole for cutting the large masses of kelp or grass that frequently come up with the anchor. A navtex receiver and an Iridium device to receive weather reports and ice charts would be extremely useful. I was unable to receive weather fax charts on the shortwave receiver at all during this voyage. Aasiaat radio gives a weather report on the VHF but it is very rudimentary and I had a very difficult time understanding their heavily accented english. Upon arriving in Nuuk I purchased a sim card from Telepost and another hotspot since none of the devices onboard were compatible with their cellular service. This was expensive,but it worked well. The only downside of using this was the need to go by a town with a phone signal every few days to get a current weather report. There are no free wifi spots in Greenland. A forward looking sonar would be a big help navigating the many unsurveyed areas on the charts with no soundings.

Nomad's expedition to Greenland was an incredible adventure with numerous unforgettable experiences. I t was also successful as training trip for future arctic expeditions and an eventual attempt at the Northwest Passage.

Nomad in Long Pond once again.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave,
    It’s Heather and David on Jina, who you met in St Johns NFL last summer. We thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Greenland adventures. It must have been spectacular. I hope you do manage the northwest passage. We are on the west coast now and planning a trip up to Haida Gwaii next summer and eventually Alaska. Perhaps we’ll meet you on your way down!