Up to Upernavik

By Chris Bray 8 November 2013
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With Teleport in working order, Chris and Jess spend some unforgettable days in Disko Bugt.

LIMITLESS HUGE ICEBERGS FORMED one solid white mass blocking our approach to Jakobshavn. Those furthest out broke free, one by one sailing out towards the blue horizon in a ceaseless, slow-motion parade. Every minute or so the silence was split with a crack like a gunshot followed by the roar of thousands of tons of ice collapsing into the water as pieces of bergs gave way.

I’ve never seen so many icebergs, not even in photos. It was absolutely staggering, and as the sun swooped lower towards midnight, saturating the whole marvellously sculpted scene in pinks and oranges, I have to say it was the most memorable and breathtakingly beautiful thing we’ve ever experienced. Swinging out wide enough, we eventually found a safe route around and into the tiny harbour.

The crowded inner harbour was chockers with hundreds of fishing boats. With barely room to manoeuvre, we spied an unoccupied front-face and tied up, thankful for our now reversible engine!

Needless to say, we slept in, and woke to the background chorus of boisterous sled dogs howling and barking in the distance. There are over 5,000 dogs in this community, all of them the same type. Over a year old, the dogs must be chained; however, the puppies – and there were hundreds of them – are free to wander. Two adorable youngsters stumbled clumsily towards us through a field of daisies and almost exhausted our camera batteries before we’d even started the hike up to overlook the glacier.

The view from the humble wooden park-bench-style seat – silhouetted against the skyline as we walked up towards it – was one of those moments in life where you just stop and stare, speechless for a second, and then breathe, “wow”. There was just so much ice, spreading out into the distance. And every hunk was just so enormous and so different. We thought we’d ticked “See Glacier” off our bucket-list back at Fox Glacier in New Zealand. How completely trivial Fox seemed now.

On our last evening, a large chunk of ice perhaps 10m across somehow drifted right inside the inner harbour (almost filling the narrow entrance as it jostled through). It managed to turn and come directly for us. We slipped our lines and changed places in the nick of time. We refuelled and left early on 5 August, passing last-night’s bergy-bit now docked firmly where Teleport had been.

Ice, Ice Baby

Now if we thought there was a lot of ice on the way in, it was nothing compared to a full day of sailing from Jakobshavn to Sarqaq. At times, the view ahead looked hopeless – such a tight mosaic of bergs, bergy-bits and growlers. However, as we cautiously approached even these denser regions, little gaps and openings in the bobbing, shifting maze always opened up, and we slowly wove our way forward, reversing, swerving, always scanning for the best route ahead. We took it slow, and stopped often, even went backwards occasionally, and made it to the small community of Sarqaq on the Northern shore of Disko Bugt close to midnight.

We puttered around the anchorage trying not to wake everyone up with our Popeye engine banging away, found a good spot to anchor in about 25ft of water, and snuggled down below, thoroughly worn out from the day’s high-concentration cruising.

About 15 minutes later, just as we drifted to sleep, we heard the scrunching clunk of ice against the hull! We exploded out of bed and were on deck in an instant, ice-pole in hand, fending off what became an endless procession of growlers that swept through the anchorage. The bigger ones were so immovable that pushing them off only resulted in pushing Teleport away, before our anchor pulled us back into them again. The worst was when a biggish one with a rather gnarled, twisted underwater shape wound itself around our anchor line. It was a bit of a juggling act to free us before it a) cut the line, or b) dragged us with it and our anchor out of the bay. It was a long night, and we were forever getting back up and pushing off from yet more ice.

The next day the weather was even more idyllic. We motored beneath a bright blue sky, not a breath of wind, slightly less bergy-bits, and some of the most beautiful icebergs we’ve seen. Finally we spotted the one we were both secretly looking for. “There – that huge one’s got the perfect arch in it!” We headed over as close as we deemed safe, deployed the dingy, put in the oars, and I hopped in while Jess puttered around the other side as I rowed into position. “Ok, go for it!” Teleport slid into my view through the arch, perfectly filling the available height. We got the distances just right. It was perfect.

We both agree that Disko Bugt has been the highlight of this trip to date – it’s the unforgettable times like this past week that make up for all the ‘other’ times.

After another long day sail of 14hrs, we pulled into an anchorage surrounded by stunning green hills. It’s always fascinating to wander along the shore around here, with all sorts of things drift up or left behind: old wooden sleds, floats, whale bones, and even a rather ancient-looking, sun-bleached human skull on the same barren, pebbly shore we also wandered.

A few days later we pulled, at last, into Upernavik – apparently Greenland’s most northerly town with full services – our last stop before turning west and crossing Baffin Bay back across to Canada.

Very approximately, we’ve now travelled about 2,200 miles from Halifax, about 60% of this year’s 3,700-ish mile adventure. Hopefully the 400 mile, 4-day crossing from here to Baffin Island won’t be anything as long or traumatic as the trip over from Canada, but we do have some things to look out for. Most notably this time there will be ice bergs all the way across as you can see on the ice map, and scarier still, there is a large 100 by 150 mile plate of the sea in the way that is still basically frozen – our first taste of pack-ice.

So – next stop – the Canadian Arctic! 

Follow Chris and Jess on their live tracking map here.  

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