The “green” island – Greenland


S/Y Romar departed Oslo May 1st2017 heading west in the wake of the Vikings. The journey went along the coast and passed Norway’s southernmost point, Lindesnes. Further west and north to Tananger, Haugesund and Bergen. All three central cities in Norway’s contact with the islands in the west. King Harald Hårfagre united Norway into one kingdom in the battle of Hafrsfjord, just next to Tananger. Harald Hårfagre  (Harald Fairhair) lived in Haugesund and the national monument “Haraldshaugen” is located just outside Haugesund’s center. Haraldshaugen is the official cemetery, but this is disputed. Bergen, the Norwegian Hansa city, is and has been a center for trade and transport in the North Sea area. S/Y Romar has now departed Reykjavik, Iceland, and heading for Greenland.

Statue of Leiv Eriksson, the son of Eirik Raude and Thjodhild (Þjóðhildur). Leiv Erikson was the first European who sat foot on North American soil. He also established a Norse settlement in Vinland.

Hauksbók (Landnám sagaer) describes how to sail from western Norway to Greenland. One should keep north of Hjaltland (Shetland), just so that the land is visible in good weather and south of the Faroe Islands so that one only can see half the cliffs above the horizon. One should not see land in Iceland, but only the observe land-bound seabirds and whales. In Greenland, one should follow the ocean currents around the southern tip to the settlements in Austerbygdi (Qaqortoq, Narsaq and Nanortalik municipalities today). The other major Norse settlement in Greenland was Vesterbygd, located in the area around the Nuuk area today. In 985, Eirik Raude sailed with 25 seagoing ships from Iceland with a course for Greenland. On board were hundreds of men, women and children, horses, cows, sheep, goats and pigs. Only 14 ships arrived.

Icebergs – in all sizes and formations were seen along the whole coast of western Greenland

Ice reports from Greenland were far from good, and very different from June 2016. Much sea ice was coming down the east coast, rounded Cape Farewell and flowed north on the west coast. The shortest route from Iceland to Greenland is to Tasiilaq on the east coast with around 360 nautical miles. It was not possible to cross over from northern Iceland and follow the east coast down south. The ice forecast indicated that we had to sail north to the island of Nunarsuit on the west coast before we could get ice-free access to the coast of Greenland. This was far, nearly 1000 nautical miles. The distance from Reykjavik to Cape Farewell is 650 nautical miles and directly over to Newfoundland, the double 1300 nautical miles. S/Y Romar has diesel enough for approximately 65 hours of engine propulsion, or about 300 nautical miles. Sailing from Reykjavik to Cape Farewell with an estimated speed of 5 knots would at best take 6 days. Then not taken in account that the mother of North Atlantic gails is located just south of Cape Farewell. We had to expect gails!

The shipdog Mira (Wirehaired German Pointer) watching fulmars with the hope that they should land on deck. Luckily for them, they never did.

It was decided to prepare for sailing directly from Reykjavik to Newfoundland, and sailing meant sailing with wind and sails. The engine could only be used in cases of emergencies and 1 hour daily for charging batteries. Fresh food for 3-4 days was purchased and placed in the refrigerator, otherwise provisions was foods that could withstand storage at room temperature; cereal and yoghurt, canned and dried food, crackers, cheese, jam and baguettes. Whatever, the electricity was prioritized for navigation and autopilot, the refrigerator was never turned on. Reykjavik was laid behind us on June 12 in the afternoon in good breeze and great sailing conditions. The breeze lasted until the sun went down. Thereafter, the sea was like a mirror and the sails hang slack. For the next two days we had almost no progress. First during the evening of the 14thwe finally got filled sail and obtained steerage speed. In the afternoon of 17thof June the wind turned, and we got headwind. The next few days, the wind changed between moderate breeze and storm – mostly headwind. The progress was equal to zero.

The inner harbor of Nanortalik

I was under deck when I suddenly heard that we were entering brash. I ran up on deck and saw a wall of drift ice in front. I felt like balancing on the edge of a giant meat grinder. Meter high drifting ice moving in heavy sea was a fearsome sight. I started the engine and headed out of the “grinder”. It became an unforgettable warning. Today’s sailboats built in fiberglass and with fin keel will be grinded into small plastic pieces in minutes.

Finally on land in Nanortalik, Greenland. Mira was not allowed to go on land on the Faroe Islands and Iceland.

It’s night and I woke up to the sound of hungry “thrush chickens”. Then I heard the sound of “common magpie”Now I really wondered – bird in the rig or had I got autophobia? Out on deck to check. There, I couldn’t hear anything, but I could see. Just outside the railing, a flock of pilot whale was playing. Surely between 10 and 20 animals, and they circulated long the starboard side of Romar, some just centimeters from the hull. I’m quite sure the whales actively searched the boat and that saw Romar as participant in a form of play. I enjoyed the sight of these amazing animals and their precision swim along the side of the boat. They rotated again and again, came up along the side of Romar, turned out and came up again from behind. The game continued for almost half an hour before they suddenly disappeared.

Iceberg – The Sphinx of Nanortalik

The discouragement came creeping. The fresh food was eaten, the canned stew tasted really bad, the weather forecast was miserable, and we had no progress. In this endless misery, I finally received positive messages from my sons Tobias and Jonas. The drifting ice on the west coast of Greenland had drifted south and the west coast of Greenland was ice free. I immediately started the engine and put the course directly to the town Nanortalik (“Where Polar Bear goes”).

Nanortalik harbor

Almost midnight June 21st, we sailed in the zigzag between icebergs into the harbor of Nanortalik in the lights of large fireworks. Cheery youngsters on the roads told that they celebrated Greenland’s national day.

Raising sun

The Royal Arctic Line quay was not exactly built for small yachts neither when it came to fenders or access to shore. For me, who could climb a leader, the access to shore was not a big problem, but Mira’s depended on high tide. The alternative was to lift her up or down by rope attached to the life jacket. Reluctantly, she accepted, but only when she really wanted a firm ground under her legs. Fortunately, the dock had a good electricity supply, so boat, skipper and dog were heated and dried after almost 10 days in the sea. Rarely had Danish pastries and fresh food tasted better, and most shops offered freshly baked bread and pastries. Simple and unappetizing Danish canned stew, tasting only salt and bay leaves, definitely sharpen the appetite on fresh food. Truly speaking, this Beauvais skipperlabskovs was produced in Denmark by company owned by the Norwegian Orkla Food.

After three days, we dropped off again and set the course towards Newfoundland again. Out in open waters, I requested a weather forecasts through my Garmin InReach SE (PLB – Personal Locator Beacon). The forecast warning for westerly wind up to storm (28 m/sec).  The course was immediately changed, and we headed for Qaqortoq (Juliannehåb), a town with approximately 3000 inhabitants. Also, here the quayside was built for container ships not yachts, but we got well protected mooring at the short end of the pier. The crew on the Hurtigruten ship M/S Spitsbergen, as the next day arrived in Qaqortoq from Newfoundland, confirmed that it had been a very rough crossing.

Hvalsey church ruins. Hvalsey church was a church in the abandoned Greenlandic Norse settlement of Hvalsey

We took the opportunity to sail in Hvalsøyfjorden. Here, the cousin of Eirik Raude (Eirik the Red), Torkel Farserk settled around year 1000. In “Austbygda” (The eastern settlement), we find the ruins of Hvalsey Church. These are the best preserved ruins of the Norse period on Greenland The church of Hvalsey was built around year 1300. The last written report from the Norse period in Greenland has its roots in this church. It describes a wedding held on September 16th, 1408 and says that there were many persons present in the church. This indicates that there still was a living community in Austbygda at that time. Unfortunately, there was not enough depth at the pier in by the ruins to allow us on land, but the ruins were clearly visible from the sea. We crossed the fjord and enjoyed sea charr trolling and a sunny and quiet afternoon.

Qeqertarsuatsiaat, Fiskenæsset (The fish cape)

From Qaqortoq we continued sailing north to the Qeqertarsuatsiaat. In Danish, the place is called Fiskenæsset (The fish cape) and is a quite good descriptive of the place. A small cluster of houses and less than 300 souls on a headland with a well-protected harbor inside. There was a store, a diesel outlet and a processing plant for fish. The marina was full of local boats, so we had to moor at the more weathered quay belonging to Royal Greenland. A Norwegian yacht in the harbor a Sunday morning was obviously the most important happening of the day.  Ship dog was obviously not an everyday sight, and especially not a wirehaired German pointer.

Mira climbing the ladder at Nuuk harbor

From Qeqertarsuatsiaat, the course was set against Greenland’s capital Nuuk. Thunderstorm with light rain. We went for engine along the coast. A coast quite similar to the northern Norwegian coast,  but with two major differences. It´s almost a day’s sailing between each settlement and a total lack of green color. It´s far between the grasses!

Romar at Kutterkaien (Cutter dock)
Strolling in Nuuk

Nuuk is a busy port, but with tight conditions for visiting yachts. “Kutterkaien” (Cutter pier), in inner harbor, is primarily a dock for smaller commercial vessels, but is also used as a guest harbor for yachts. Here we lived in a nomad state. The first day we moored outside of a mud barge, but we had to move around depending on the traffic. Always three to four boats on the outside of each other. Many of the commercial boats operated charter activities and had a fixed place at the pier. The yachts had to me ready to move depending on the charter boats assignments. However, there were a relaxed tone and a flexible attitude, and I did not observe any tensions.

I stayed in Nuuk for a few days, waiting for my son Marius to board again. Several of the other yachts planned to sail thought through the Northwest Passage while others were waiting for vital spare parts. Someone with special interests for sailing also visited the harbor. A Danish had sailed non-stop from Hirtshals and up to Nuuk. He spent a couple of days filling up the provision store and diesel before he left for sailing back to Hirtshals. Also, this time non-stop. A Frenchman had been over-wintering frozen in the sea ice at Qeqertarsuaq (Godhavn) and was now on his way to Newfoundland. The Aluminum hull of the Gracia yacht had a few dents from the ice, but everything else seemed to be in good condition and the skipper was ready for new experiences. I got his SIM-card before he left the harbor.

Making classic Greenlandic kayak, skin on frame

Nuuk is like any European small town, perhaps different from vegetation and fish and seal meat sales on central street corners. Both goods for relatively cheap prices. However, the range of goods in the warehouses was of the same brands as in Bergen. Hans Egede, the apostle of Greenland, of course had his great statue outside of Vor Frelsers kirke (Our Savior’s Church, Nuuk Cathedral) in the colony harbor, in the old town. In the colony harbor, I also found a grandfather and his grandson making classic Greenland kayaks – skins on the frame. Straight enough, seal skin is no longer used, but synthetic fibers and synthetic impregnation are used. Still great craftsmanship and great craft. Back to Hans Egede, in Greenland he is considered Danish. We should be grateful to the Danes who have “stolen” this North Norwegian spitfire and querulant and taken him to their heart. Thank you!

In Danish Nuuk was called Godthåb, or good hope in English. In earlier days the town had a reputation for giving “good hope” for “girls, wine and song”. I did not see any excessive partying during my visit, but the establishment of Sømannshjem (Home for sailors) in Nuuk, Aasiaat and Sisimiut shows that the Danish church believed that missionaries among greenlenders and visiting fishermen and sailors were necessary. Either way, Sømannshjemmene served cheap, solid and good hot and they provided affordable internet access and shower facilities. Offers I used with pleasure.

Hans Egede (1686 – 1758) was a Norwegian Lutheran missionary who launched mission efforts to Greenland. Perhaps because he was involved in a number of conflicts in northern Norway

With Marius well on board we continued up north and visited Maniitsoq (Sukkertoppen), Sisimiut (Holsteinsborg) and Aasiaat (Egedesminde) in Disko Bay. Outside Maniitsoq we saw a large school of feeding humpback whales. We also got close contact. Two came straight towards us, dived under Romar, turned their belly up towards the boat and came up on the other side of Romar. It was an impressive sight to see these huge animals “lunching”. From Aasiaat we sailed into the Disko Bay to Illulisat (Jakobshavn). Illulisat means icebergs in Greenlandic, and icebergs were there. Illulisatfjorden is an ice fjord where the inland ice runs out at a speed of 20 meters a day. The fjord is on UNESCO’s world heritage site. It is estimated that around 10% of the icebergs in Greenland waters come from the Illilisat fjord. The ice front was a majestic sight.

From the Illulisat fjord we sailed to Qasigiannguit. Here we moored outside the Faroese missionary ships Juvel II. Jevel II is based in Klaksvik on the Faroe Islands and operated Christian missionary activities on the west coast of Greenland during the summer of 2017. We rested safely on the outside of Juvel II and on July 17ththe course was set home.

Feeding humpback whales outside Maniitsoq
Illulisat Ice fiord