The Arctic Ocean sometimes looks like a foaming monster that wants to devour you. But even then her charm is captivating because she can take you on a journey to another world.
DAY 29th / Sunday 31 of July 2022
Position: 66°56΄N 53°40΄W – Sisimiut
Our next stop after Nuuk in Greenland was Sisimiut, 200 nautical miles further north. We decided to set off from Nuuk after midday when the low barometric was just below Davis Strait. At 16:30 we marked our position: 64°37'N 52°28'W and recorded the data of our course.
In just an hour and a half we covered 49 miles and burned 164 liters. Our cruising speed was high and fuel consumption very good at 3.3 liters per nautical mile. Without many icebergs in our way and without fog to limit our field of vision for once, we were able to take advantage of the power and speed of the twin 350-hp Suzuki outboards.
At 18:00', our position was 65°18΄N 53°11΄W. We continued our course with very good progress although the swells that came at our stern quarter became much bigger. Soon we had covered 45 miles more, burning 170 liters. We were about halfway through our route and everything looked like we were going to have a beautiful day without any unpleasant surprises.
About Greenland’s Population
Greenland’s population of nearly 57,000 is spread amont 72 towns, villages and settlements. 45 –or, 63% -- if these are settlements with 200 inhabitants or fewer. This seems to be about the maximum number of people that can live primarily off the land, hunting and fishing, within a reasonable distance from home.
Below is a list of Greenlands population centers, and the number of inhabitants in each--
Nanortalik 1,129; Aappilattoq 105; Narsarmijit 74; Tasiusaq 50; Ammassivik 46; Alluitsup Paa 169; Qaqortoq 3,008; Saarloq 24; Eqalugaarsuit 81; Qassimiut 14; Narsaq 1,320; Igaliku 31; Qassiarsuk 70 ;Narsarsuaq 170; Nuuk 19,261; Qeqertarsuatsiaat 176; Kapisillit 49; Paamiut 1,209; Arsuk 86; Tasiilaq 1,931; Sermiligaaq 198; Isertoq 46; Kulusuk 215; Tiileqilaaq 75; Kuummiit 258; Ittoqqortoormiit 354; Sisimiut 5,520; Itilleq 81; Sarfannguit 87; Kangerlussuaq 475; Maniitsoq 2,516; Atammik 197; Napasoq 78; Kangaamiut 303; Aasiaat 2,977; Akunnaaq 67; Kitsissuarsuit 63; Qasigiannguit 1,041; Ikamiut 74; Qeqertarsuaq 840; Kangerluk 14; Kangaatsiaq 509; Attu 187; Iginniarfik 65; Niaqornaarsuk 239; Ikerasaarsuk 104; Qaanaaq 602; Savissivik 51; Siorapaluk 42; Qeqertat 28; Upernavik 1,125; Upernavik Kujalleq 207; Kangersuatsiaq 140; Aappilattoq 152; Tasiusaq 270;Nuussuaq 198; Kullorsuaq 456; Naajaat 41; Innaarsuit 148; Nutaarmiut 59; Ikerasaarsuk 1; Uummannaq 1,447; Niaqornat 40; Qaarsut 161; Ikerasak 234; Saattut 255; Ukkusissat 153; Ilulissat 4,737; Oqaatsut 42; Qeqertaq 120; Saqqaq 151; Ilimanaq 47.
Position: 66°34΄N 53°55΄W
Entering the Arctic Circle
Sunday, July 31 at nine o'clock in the “night” we celebrated our entry into the Arctic Circle. It was a special moment for us. I opened the drinks cabinet and took out a bottle of whiskey.
We were already at the top of the planet: 66 degrees and 34 minutes north of the Equator. Inside the Arctic Circle, the “Land of Midnight Sun” as it is otherwise known, the sun does not set during the summer solstice and is above the horizon (and thus visible at midnight) for 24 hours at least once a year.
Because the length of the day is very long in summer, without darkness after sunset, navigation can usually continue without special challenges.
Due to climate change the ice is melting at a rapid rate in many areas, but this does not mean that navigation is necessarily easier than in the past. These seas require particularly seaworthy vessels and of course crews capable of coping with the often-extreme conditions.
Countless icebergs and high concentrations of smaller ice blocks make high-speed operation dangerous and sometimes impossible, and the waters are fully open, not covered in sea ice, only a few weeks a year, even now.
And, to get here, you must pass through some of the roughest seas in the world, as we had already learned through hundreds of miles of tough going.
At 22:00 we entered the small and crowded port of Sisimiut.
About 100 meters to port was the small floating pontoon dock of the gas station, where we put in 725 liters, the amount we had burned from Nuuk until here. We then went deeper into the harbor to find a place to tie up for the night.
The harbor was jammed full of the local fishing boats and so we returned to the small jetty of the gas station where we eventually spent the night.
DAY 30th / Monday 1 of August 2022
Position: 69°13΄N 51°06΄W – Ilulissat
At 9 o'clock on Monday morning we left Sisimiut behind and turned our bow to the North. Our next stop was Ilulissat and its famous glacier at 160 nautical miles.
Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord is one of the few glaciers through which the Greenland ice cap reaches the sea. Glaciers here annually calve over 35 km3 of ice, i.e. 10% of the production of all Greenland calf ice and more than any other glacier outside Antarctica.
Scientists say studying the area has helped to develop our understanding of climate change and icecap glaciology. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord covered by icebergs make for a dramatic phenomenon, to say the least.
At 12:00΄ our position was: 68°25΄N 53°42΄W. We had traveled 96 nautical miles and burned 347 liters (93.8 gal.). Air temperature +6 °C. Water temperature +4 °C. The sea was calm; we encountered no icebergs on our way while the bright sun and blue sky warmed our souls.
At 15:00΄ we were outside the “outlet” of the Sermermiut Glacier which is located immediately below the port of Ilulissat. It was a monumental and epic sight, and we enjoyed it even more thanks to the rare clear skies, calm seas and bright sunshine.
However, as we moved on, we soon found ourselves in a giant ice field. At a speed of 3 knots we were traveling between the huge masses of icebergs that are very close together, in various imposing formations that seemed like they would never melt—although climate scientists tell us that many of them are melting, and rapidly.
Initially icebergs broken free from the glacial mass are drifted north by ocean currents before turning south towards the Atlantic Ocean to eventually reach lower latitudes, researchers tell us.
It is even speculated that the iceberg that sank the Titanic came from the Ilulissat Glacier, which has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco since 2004.
Icebergs are often huge here, sometimes reaching an astounding 500 meters in total height, though most of that height is under the water. They hit the shallow parts of the seabed and they can stay in the fjords for many months until they break up or are pushed away by other icebergs that are constantly breaking off from the glacier.
For many hours we wandered among them and hungrily photographed every corner. We couldn't get enough and only when we realized that time had passed and “night” was approaching, we headed towards the port of Ilulissat. Unfortunately, the course to the port was not all that easy.
You can take a look at the radar screen in the adjacent photo to get a small taste of the numerous icebergs that lay ahead of our bow, spread out over a vast expanse that we had to pass through.
Many times, we were forced to pass through thousands of small ice chunks that were scattered over many miles, almost totally blocking our way.
No Dockage at the End of the World
Winding our way through the numerous icebergs that lay outside the narrow harbor entrance, we finally managed to enter the otherwise large harbor. Surprisingly it was packed with two and even three rows of local boats. There are not a lot of harbors here, and those that exist are heavily used by locals.
It was impossible to find any free berth to tie up. After first refueling from the fuel station located on the starboard side of the harbor, after much time and effort we finally found a narrow space next to a local lifeboat and breathed a sigh of relief.
The The town of Ilulissat is the third largest settlement in Greenland, with a population of 4,533 people. It is located approximately 180 nautical miles north of the Arctic Circle and is one of Greenland's largest commercial centers. It has an International Airport, and for many tourists of the Far North, this is their entry point into Greenland.
It’s also known by its Danish name Jakobshavn meaning 'Jacob's Harbour' and is Greenland's most visited tourist destination due to its proximity to the Ilulissat Glacier. In the wider area of the glacier there have been Inuit settlements for at least 3000 years, researchers say.
We were very fortunate to receive an offer of housing from Egon and Laila Pedersen, and stayed overnight at their house from where the view to Ilulissat Bay was amazing.
It was 1:00 a.m. and the sun had been standing above the horizon for several hours, giving us uniquely beautiful purple images, with the numerous icebergs looking like anchored ships ready to set sail at dawn the next day—just as we hoped to be continuing our journey toward the fabled Northwest Passage.