An exciting sailing voyage in the Scoresbysund region of Greenland
Icebergs the size of villages float by with a peaceful majesty. Scoresbysund is ahead of you, undisturbed. The 350-kilometer-long fjord system is only accessible by boat three months out of the year. That time has come. «Everything, according to the Inuit, has an Anirniq, a soul».
An arrogant chunk of ice scratches across the schooner Opal’s vivid green rusted copper bow. The sea is deafeningly silent. Although the black water appears stiff, it is not frozen. As we sail closer towards the Scoresbysund’s mouth, the number of ice chunks that break the dark hue of the water as white speckles increases. Captain Heimir Hararson reefs the sails and continues his course on noiseless electricity.
The ice spreads swiftly, like curious white sea creatures coming from all directions to inquire. Chunks transform into ice blocks, ice plates, and finally a gorgeous blue iceberg looms on the horizon. The ice has spread throughout the area. Slush scratches against the copper in a playful yet slow manner before disappearing beneath the bow. We approach Solglacier with caution, a twelve-kilometer-long ice mass moving at a moderate rate of ten meters per day and considered the fastest moving glacier. The inexorable pushing mass produces a never-ending thunderous spectacle.
Shreds of mist cling to the black vertical basalt walls that look down on us from both sides of the ice mass, like two thousand meters high guardians. Over there, a blue icy avalanche erupts with the sound of a jet fighter bursting through a sound barrier, while the turbine of a 747 warms up thirty meters further. Blue ice is a type of old ice. A thousand lumps tumble towards the lake on the right. They have been liberated from the glacier to which they have belonged for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. Opal moves softly along, deeper and deeper into Scoresbysund.
NATURE IS OUT OF THIS WORLD
Scoresbysund, or Kangertittivaq in Inuit, is located on Greenland’s eastern coast in the northern Arctic Sea. Our coordinates are 70° 32nd parallel north and 24° 21st parallel west, putting us above the polar circle. The area was named after William Scoresby, an English whale hunter and explorer. In 1822, he charted out the fjord coast. Scoresbysund runs 350 kilometers into Greenland, making it the world’s largest fjord. Given the numerous side-branches, it is also the world’s largest fjord system. The sea can reach depths of up to 1500 meters, while the fjord’s steep granite and basalt walls can reach heights of three thousand meters. This is enough nature to make you feel the tiniest you’ve ever felt.
“The area was named after William Scoresby, an English whale hunter and explorer. In 1822, he charted out the fjord coast. Scoresbysund runs 350 kilometers into Greenland, making it the world’s largest fjord.”
We set off from Constable Pynt, passing through Hurry fjord on our way to Ittoqqortoormiit. It is the largest city in East Greenland, with a population of 429 people. “Until roughly 1800, the Thule, a people descended from the Inuit, used to reside in the area,” Órur (Thordur) Varsson, Opal technician and wiz-kid, adds. “We may talk about global warming, but between 1650 and 1850, they were primarily concerned with global cold. This epoch is also known as the Little Ice Age.
The Thule, who were acclimated to the freezing weather, abandoned up on the area, and no one ventured in there for more than a century after that. For a period, the Danish, and Norwegians fought over sovereignty of East Greenland, and the Danish chose to expand their operations in 1925. So the Bureau of Colonization of Scoresbysund relocated eighty-five Inuit from West Greenland to this location because they discovered the remnants of a Thule settlement.”
To emphasize how remote this place is, the water is frozen from October to June, making ship transit impossible. Greenland’s nearest village, with at least ninety inhabitants, is located eight hundred kilometers south of the island. There is nothing in between. The closest inhabited world is Hsavk in Iceland, 500 kilometers sailing on the northern Arctic Sea and the Opal’s home base.
Ittoqqortoormiit translates as “location with large dwellings.” Those houses are dispatched like brightly colored Lego-blocks with sharp roofs against the drab rocks. The barking of the dogs is loud. This place has three times the number of dogs as humans. The sleighs must be pulled by someone. I board the rubber boat and we sail through a choppy sea to the jetty. Several seal carcasses are tied to the ladder and swaying in the water. The sea works as a refrigerator, and the Ittoqqortoormiit dogs adore seal blubber.
“The barking of the dogs is loud. This place has three times the number of dogs as humans.”
YUMMY FAT MEAT
We are warmly welcomed by Ingrid Anike’s family. They’re presenting stewed muskox, which is a delicious fatty meat that tastes like pork. Hunting is quite significant in this area. In the winter, the mouth of Scoresbysund exposes an open sea gap between the ice, free of ice due to currents and winds, and hence THE location for life. Here live birds, seals, arctic hares and foxes, muskox, and the huge polar bear. For the Inuit, everything is prey. “Everything has an Anirniq, a soul for the Inuit,” Ingrid explains. “They form Anirniit, the kingdom of spirits, when they come together. The Inuit do not honor anything, but instead fear.
This is hardly surprising given the severe weather conditions in this area. There is prosperity as long as the Anirniit are content. But, oh boy, if the spirits turn against you…” A polar bear killed an Inuit? This is Nanoek’s, the polar bear master’s, vengeance. The boy who drowned a few hours before we arrived in the sea? Swallowed by Sedna, the sea mistress. Mahaha, a demon who terrorizes the entire Arctic region and tickles its victims to death, is my personal favorite. That is why people who freeze to death are frequently discovered with a smile on their face.
For the Inuit, everything is prey. “Everything has an Anirniq, a soul for the Inuit,” Ingrid explains. “They form Anirniit, the kingdom of spirits, when they come together.
We’re sailing in Fønfjord. It’s the first time in three days that we’ve had wind, and it’s not just a little. “In general, the fjords of Scoresbysund are rather calm with little wind,” Captain Heimir explains as he orders all sails to be set. “However, when the Piteraq blows, it may haunt like nowhere else.” The Piteraq is a katabatic wind that originates from the Greenland ice cap and flows down the fjords. The ice cap is extremely massive. This ice cover, which is more than three kilometers thick in some areas, contains 9% of the world’s sweet water. There is constantly a high-pressure area above the ice due to its radiation. When this collides with a low-pressure area near the coast, incredibly fast winds, as severe as hurricane winds, can emerge in the fjords. The ice cap winds use Fønfjord as an evacuation route. Fortunately, the wind is still blowing at a steady 5 today.
A beautiful blue sky and a survival suit that stands against the icy cold, black basalt that gradually turns into the devorable slopes covered with moss and other vegetation. A muskox grazes alone, its silky hair flapping in the cold breeze. The freezing salty sea air fills my lungs. The rigging on the schooners is tight. The world around me is the globe as it has always been, sculpted entirely by natural forces and polished by ice and wind.
What should you do if you wake up on a black sand beach? Where would you go if you were to walk? How would you survive? Even if you manage to catch an arctic hare, which are so tame that one dares to come as close as 2 meters from us, the chances of you surviving and seeing another human being one day are slim. Nature rules the show in these places, and she is not kind.
“What to do if you wake up here, on a beach of black sand? Where would you walk to? How would you survive?”
As quickly as the wind lifted us up when we turned into Fnfjord, it also let us down when we sailed into Rdefjord. The name comes from the lovely sedimentary mountains near the lake that have a significant concentration of iron. However, the sailing portion is complete for today. Opal, a gaff-rigged schooner, was built in 1951 at Bodemweert, Germany. It was transformed from a two-mast ship to an exquisite two-mast ship with slender lines of oak wood and copper covering between 1970 and 1983. In 2013, she was lovingly inducted into the North Sailing Fleet. The Icelandic organization that organizes these voyages is North Sailing. “It’s a rare ship,” órur says, explaining that it is the first sailboat with a specially built Regenerative Plug-in Hybrid Propulsion System. In a nutshell, she uses batteries instead of ballast. These batteries can, in fact, be charged using land-based electricity, exactly like a hybrid car. However, because the propeller functions as a dynamo, her batteries recharg while she is sailing. The ship sails quicker, the propeller turns faster, and the batteries charge faster. This method has never been used on another maritime vessel. I am eager to help you perfect the system. Ideally, you should be able to do away with the diesel engines. I’m trying to find out what’s going on.”
As a result, when there is no wind in the sails, the silence is unbroken, which is huge in these places. We can only hear the rippling water and, every now and again, a little chunk of ice striking the bow. In Iceland, opal is also used to spot whales. Animals approach Opal more closely than any other ship due to its silent movement.
“Pink and orange fog gusts are sweeping through the sky, sometimes as dazzling as spotlights, sometimes as fiery.”
THE DISCO SKIES
The night has fallen; it is as clear as crystal. The number of visible stars in the polar night gives me a melancholy feeling. A glass of Icelandic brennivn, cooled by century-old ice cut particularly from a blue ice-lump for this purpose, heightens the experience. I’m staring at the star-speckled sky when a small green explosion stands out in the black night with a faint plop. The eerie green light sweeps fast across the night, blurring and clearing. Another explosion occurs to my left, then to my right, then to my left again. Pink and orange fog gusts are sweeping through the sky, sometimes as dazzling as spotlights, sometimes as fiery.
In the Greenlandic polar night, it’s dance time. This northern light is solar wind, which is high in energy. When it collides with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in our atmosphere, it releases energy. It is then transmitted into the sky at a height of 80 to 1000 kilometers in the shape of the colorful polar lights. I’ve seen northern lights before, but never anything like this. Never before have I seen so many of them in such detail, so frequently, and for so long. It’s also the first time I’ve heard them. The night lasts a long time that day because it is practically hard to leave such a spectacle. Who knows when you’ll see something this lovely again. In this scenario, it was the day after that, followed by the day after that. Igaluk, the Inuit god of the moon, continues to tease his brother, the god of the sun.
LIGHT BLUE & GOLD
Beauty, pure beauty, everywhere. You’re almost frightened to turn your head to the right in case you miss something on your left. As a travel journalist, I’ve seen many lovely areas on the earth, including Antarctica. East Greenland’s waters, on the other hand, are the wildest, most harsh, and most beautiful I’ve ever sailed. When we return to Ittoqqrtoormiit, we come upon the Bjrne er, or bear islands, so named because the crest resembles bear-claws from the back. It’s 4:45 a.m., and the sun has a thousand colors.
Pink sunbeams kiss the peaceful, jagged mountaintops of Bjrne er. The sea is flat, yet it is gold and light blue in color. A small city-sized iceberg breaks off far out on the horizon. The last ice behemoth has lost its balance and is slowly sliding around, causing rolling seagoing waves. During the night, ultra-thin ice pancakes developed on the water. This serves as a reminder that we must depart from Scoresbysund. The East Greenlandic wilderness is closing down and preparing for the return of a harsh mother nature’s winter dominance.
“During the night, ultra-thin ice pancakes developed on the water. This serves as a reminder that we must depart from Scoresbysund.”