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Published: September 24th 2017
Angmassalik Region, Greenland
Next year we will practise havoc, In that green trench. The saws will yammer their nagging dirge, The donkeys will gather the corpses, The land will be hammered to stumps and ruin... Peter Trower, The Ridge Trees.
Despite living in a treeless domain, I actually, somewhat like the trees and their branches that diminish the forever-wind and present us with squirrels.
The southern tip of Greenland has trees. I’m not talking a daunting claustrophobic jungle that destroys all light that tries to penetrate the canopy, I’m talking a handful of trees, scattered about an otherwise treeless void. There are larches, spruces and pines living among the alders and birches! The landscape is green, the leaves are crisp and shiny, the late blooming flowers stand resplendent in colour, and there are no bears prowling, nor any squirrels for that matter.
I now understand why Eric the Red called this giant land ‘Greenland’.
Indeed, Old Eric must have liked it here.
I certainly like it…
I also like moving through polar regions on the foamy crests of liquid indifference. Ocean Atlantic
We boarded the M/V Ocean Atlantic in Akureyri, Iceland for a month-long expedition into some of the more temperate and southerly Arctic coasts of Greenland and Baffin Island. Of course, we faced all the usual dilemmas as we poked our way through the geologically fractured and extremely
In Tasilaq, Greenland
complicated coastlines of these ancient lands. Happenstance
Happenstance is real, especially on the northern seas.
In the western reaches of the Denmark Strait near Ammassalik, Eastern Greenland, we encountered a mega-pod of fin whales - at least a hundred-strong. The whales approached the ship and didn’t seem perturbed by our being there. We watched them for a couple of hours before moving onwards.
Such encounters are special, particularly in such high numbers. We also had Humpbacks frolicking close to the ship from time to time and a cameo appearance by a Minke, but our encounter with Bowhead Whales in Isabella Bay in the Ninginganiq National Wildlife Area of the east coast of Canada’s Baffin Island in Nunavut Territory was remarkable…
Seeing a Bowhead anywhere in the Arctic is a rare event - seeing more than one or two at a time is even rarer. As the ship entered Isabella Bay we sighted blows close to shore in the shallows near a narrow channel. At least fifty of these rotund, eighty ton giants were directly ahead of us, a foamy wall of V-shaped blows rose upwards into the silent sky.
It was magnificent…
...We lowered the Zodiacs and drove in for a closer look. As we inched ever-closer to the granite walls that entombed the shallows, we had a some up close and personal experiences with these iconic Arctic whales…
Over the years, I have had many encounters with many whale species, but that evening in Isabella Bay was exceptional.
It was almost dark, the light was flat, the sea was glass, and a polar bear was walking along the near shoreline - and a bowhead swam under my Zodiac…
Silently and gracefully.
It surfaced a moment later, took a mighty breath and was gone…
There was silence in the Zodiac…
“Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it. He ought to imagine that he touches it with his hands at every season and listens to the sounds that are made upon it. He ought to imagine the creatures there, and all the faintest motions of the wind. He ought to recollect the glare of the moon and the colours of the dawn and dusk.” N. Scott Momaday. Sourced from Arctic Dreams, by Barry Lopez.
Adverse weather prevented us from entering the open sea near the Greenlandic capital, so we were forced to stay within the sheltered waters of the very complex fjord system that sprawls behind Nuuk. Nuup Kangerlua (Nuuk Fjord) at first glance on a map, is a twist of hundreds of nautical miles that tangle around islands and crash into other fjords. We heard rumour of a music festival deep within the labyrinth, so we asked a few locals in Nuuk
and they informed us that the isolated camp at Qooqqut was hosting the event.
We were welcomed with open arms as we scrambled up the steep banks - we doubled the attendance as our ship of 100 folks scrambled ashore.
The small camp at Qooqqut consisted of only three buildings (depending on your definition of building) and was in a stunning, lush green setting with a backdrop of mountains.
Firstly, there was a kayak building competition which involved making a kayak from 4 metre long lengths of wood, duct-tape and Cling-Film (Saran-Wrap). It was remarkable that the folks involved could fashion together a kayak in less than an hour - and it actually worked as well.
🎶🎵🎵🎶 Then afterwards, the ‘Famous in Greenland’ duo, Tiu sang in Inuktitut in ghostly, almost opera-like voices with some throat singing thrown in for an even more haunting sound, while pop singer, Kelly Fraser from the Canadian Arctic, sang to a more energetic, younger generation... 🎶🎵🎵🎶
I even found time to hike in the surrounding valley among the splendour of the autumn flowers and the trees. The blanket of vegetation that covered the ground was that of the boreal
At the entrance to Sunneshine Fiord, Nunavut, Canada
forest, The fragrance of Labrador tea lingered in the air, and a feast of northern berries sprawled beneath my feet.
This was a very unexpected place with an unexpected festival - we had no idea it was going on. Again, I think happenstance was on our side. The Great Untangling
The most unusual task I undertook during the expedition was on a Zodiac… After midnight…
The wind was blowing, it was pitch-black dark and the rain was pouring down as we left the natural hot springs of Uunartoq on a small island of the same name. A few hours earlier, we had set up an elaborate tangle of Christmas lights at the small wooden dock so we could locate the dock and our Zodiacs after darkness fell. My colleague and I were the last two back to the Zodiacs that evening, so we uncoiled the festive-spaghetti of wires from the wooden fence and threw them onto the floor of the dock then into our little boat.
After a final tidy up, my colleague drove slowly back to the ship using navigational aids due to the darkness and shallow reefs and rocks in the
bay. I embarked upon untangling the strings of lights as we splashed our way across to the mothership. I wasn’t done by the time we reached the main vessel, so I wrapped the remaining lights around my arms and waist before I got back on board. I wandered about the ship for a while dressed in battery-powered flashing lights…
…And on the subject of flashing lights - there were many evenings aboard Ocean Atlantic when the Aurora danced and waved above us… The Aurora
Dazzling spirals in the starry night - a brilliantly tinged transparency of green in an empty void. It is little wonder that the peoples of yesteryear had spiritual connections to the lights.
The lights were torches held by the dead to search for food in the depths of winter - the thoughts of unborn children. They were fertility and life - death and play.
Over the years, I’ve read much Arctic literature and many accounts and journals of explorers trying to describe these mesmerizing twirls that often fill the northern skies. The descriptions often fail - suggesting that language is, at times, inadequate…
“It is impossible to witness such a beautiful phenomenon without a sense of awe.” Captain Robert Scott, Antarctic explorer.
Greenland's CapitalDeck 3
Nuuk. 20,000 folks call this city home
There was a crew party down stairs on the old car-deck level of the ship, I wasn’t intending to go as it was already late in the evening…
“There will probably be a dance down there.” Said Sylvana.
“What kind of a dance? A crazy, loud music dance?" I responded, still with little intention of going.
“It’ll be a see-what-happens-dance.” replied Sylvana.
There’s that word again, ‘happenstance’. A see what happens dance.
I went to the dance…
It was exactly as I’d expected… Deck 2
On the utility deck, I accidentally walked into the laundry room… In front of me stood the mightiest washing machines I had ever seen. Three Soviet built monstrosities, closely resembling decommissioned nuclear submarines, each capable of washing one metric ton of laundry at a time…
The machines are welded to the ship’s super-structure and have massive supports all round. There are steps leading up to the colossal doors on the front to access the cavernous interior of these gargantuan, walk-in washing machines…
The piping and valve set-up is beyond spectacular!
Who ever thought a washing machine
In Pangnirtung, Nunavut, Canada
could yield such grandeur…
I had to laugh at the sign, “Ear protection must be worn when operating this machinery.”
I can only imagine what they sound like…
I walked away laughing and making abstract washing machine noises as I scaled the steep, forward stairwell…
🇮🇸 Iceland. 🇬🇱 Greenland. 🇨🇦 Canada.
Birds sighted on the expedition. For all of our bird-nerd friends...
Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, Red-throated Loon, Pacific Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, Northern Fulmar, Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, Whooper Swan, Tundra Swan, Canada Goose, Snow Goose, Greater White-fronted Goose, Cackling Goose, Common Eider, King Eider, Mallard, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone, White-tailed Eagle, Gyrfalcon, Peregrine Falcon, Arctic Jaeger, Long-tailed Jaeger, Great Skua, Glaucous Gull, Iceland/Thayer’s Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Black-legged Kittiwake, Arctic Tern, Little Auk, Razorbill, Black Guillemot, Thick-billed Murre, Atlantic Puffin, White Wagtail, American Pipit, Snow Bunting, Lapland Longspur, Northern Wheatear, Common Redpoll, Hoary Redpoll, Common Raven, Red-necked Phalarope, Long-tailed Duck, Rock Ptarmigan, Ringed Plover.
“Never sail with a captain who likes to swim.”
Captain Radja, Master of the Vessel, M/V Ocean Atlantic.
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