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HDS14-22, trip log, East Greenland Scoresby Sund - Aurora Borealis

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Akureyri

Akureyri
Date: 12.09.2022
Position: 66°06.3’N, 18°22.5’ W
Wind: NW2
Weather: Overcast
Air Temperature: +11

Finally, our adventure visiting East Greenland will start!  Akureyri, the nice little town in the north of Iceland is our departure place. From there on, we board our new temporary home Hondius for the next 10 days. The weather offers us bright sunshine and amazing light over the fjord.

The Expedition Team and the Hotel Team welcomes us, present our rooms, and make us feeling home. We use the first hour to explore the ship. Soon we get called for the mandatory safety briefing and the Chief Officer informs us about safety and common routine on board the ship.

Our new knowledge is used immediately on the General Alarm Drill that follows quick after the briefing. We dress up warmly and take our bulky bright life vest and head to our muster station. Always good to know how things work. After this is done, our Expedition leader Hans calls us for a short welcome followed by some useful information of our Hotel manager Michael.

While we sail out of the fjord, the scenery is stunning and how could it get any better… we have the first sightings of whales. Some humpback whales are in the fjord feeding and it is just amazing how we see them diving down and showing us their fluke, so close by. We enjoy the scenery with the whales while the sun sets over the mountains and the clouds are in beautiful shades of red.

After a tasty dinner, we had early to bed to save our energy for the upcoming exiting days.

Day 2: Denmark Strait (sea day)

Denmark Strait (sea day)
Date: 13.09.2022
Position: 068°09.3’N 019°12.2’W
Wind: N7
Weather: foggy and overcast
Air Temperature: +3

Today we spend at sea, crossing the Denmark Strait from Iceland to Scoresby Sund, Greenland. Unfortunately, the sea is quite rough, with a 5m swell, meaning that it is exceedingly difficult to spot wildlife (whales) from the bridge (the front decks are closed due to the rough seas). The foggy conditions also do not help, and the only ‘life’ we see are the northern fulmars, ever-present around the Hondius while at open sea. These birds love stormy weather, because they can then do the trick of dynamic soaring, appearing as if the birds ‘ride’ the waves (see cartoon below).

Dynamic soaring. The bird flies into the wind and gets lift from the increase in wind velocity from the sea surface up. When wind velocity no longer increases, the bird turns and glides downwards with the wind in the back. When reaching the sea surface, the bird again turns into the wind, again gaining height. And so on.

With little opportunity for wildlife observations, the day is made to effective use by informing the guests about our Zodiac operations, the AECO guidelines, and polar bear safety. To complement, Hans gives a lecture with tips and tricks on spotting wildlife, which certainly will come in handy later in the trip. In the afternoon, George lectures about photography, followed in the evening by a more hands-on photography workshop led by Arjen and George.

Late afternoon, the fog lifts, and the skies clear. Right on cue for our first glimpse of the Greenland coastline. After a lovely diner, night falls and we are lucky to see the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights. End good all good!

Day 3: In the Viking’s Lair (Vikingebukta & Denmark Ø)

In the Viking’s Lair (Vikingebukta & Denmark Ø)
Date: 14.09.2022
Position: 70°21.8’ N, 025°14.4’ W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Clear sky
Air Temperature: +4

As the gentle voice of Hans slips into our ears this early morning, we find ourselves at Vikingbukta or Vikings Bay. The skies are clear, and the temperature is low, the very first fast ice is starting to form around the ship. Hans gently reminds us that we are going on a zodiac cruise and that we should get dressed warm. As we all enter our zodiacs we get a call, a bear has been spotted!

The animal is lying relaxed in a snow patch on the slope, high up and overseeing Hondius and its passengers. We try to photograph the majestic animal as we get another call; a mother and two cubs are spotted! Walking further in the fjord over de mountain slope. It proofs difficult to photograph these wonderful animals while bouncing up and down the small zodiacs, but luckily, we all get a good sight of the newly formed family. Arjen later explains that the cubs were probably from this year, incredible how fast they can grow, starting at a size of a small avocado.

Our fearsome leader shows again that he has magnificent eyesight and spots a small pod of Narwal at a far distance. The illusive animals do not show up again and we keep a sharp look out as we proceed further and further into the fjord.

We warm ourselves with an amazing lunch buffet, the zodiac ride was cold but nothing a bit of excellent food cannot change. During lunch we sail towards Denmark Island. The rocky island will be our landing site for this afternoon, we do need a bit of movement after all this sitting around. The island used to be covered by a glacier and it shows, large vaults run in between the outcrops and the stony ground shows lots of carvings. Amazing what a huge force must have been exerted on the island as the ice made her way.

The island proofs to be a wonderful landing site; it has remains of the old Inuit culture, plants, and plenty of little lakes to walk to. From a bit of a height one can already have a magnificent view of the rugged mountain range across the fjord. A perfect way to end this wonderful day.

Day 4: Rode Ø and Rode Fjord

Rode Ø and Rode Fjord
Date: 15.09.2022
Position: 70°27.7’ N 028°08.5’ W
Wind: Variable
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +4

In the early morning, we woke up early for a chance at seeing Narwhals in their natural environment. Sadly, the Narwhals have not been seen, but instead, we got a smashing sunrise as recompense, heaving its shiny globe out of the horizon perfectly in between the mountain ranges, bathing the surrounding mountains in beautiful pastel colours ranging from pink to pale blue. After a subsequently lovely breakfast, we prepared ourselves for a split activity: landing on Rode Ø and a zodiac cruise between the vast icebergs, stranded in their graveyard. The icebergs could be seen beautifully from a viewing point on land, where people sat and just indulged in the sights, taking in incomprehensibly huge blocks of ice.

After a subsequently lovely breakfast, we prepared ourselves for a split activity: landing on Rode Ø and a zodiac cruise between the vast icebergs, stranded in their graveyard. The icebergs could be seen beautifully from a viewing point on land, where people sat and just indulged in the sights, taking in incomprehensibly huge blocks of ice.

The zodiac cruise allowed us to come much closer to these giants, observing them from different angles, in which they adopted different forms. Seals were swimming in the water, as we cruised in our tiny zodiacs between masses of solid water reaching over 30 meters in height, meaning that many hundreds of meters lay below the surface. It is hard for the mind to comprehend such a sight, and we could but gaze upwards and be amazed.

After this truly delightful morning and a lunch containing yet again too much food, we set off in Rode Fjord on our second zodiac cruise of the day in search of musk ox, which we haven’t yet seen on this trip. We spotted some from the Hondius, and as we approached the shorelines, a group of them was waiting right by the water. They did not seem too alarmed, so we slowly made our way closer in a snake formation. On the way, we spotted an enormous iceberg, with an almost hollow entrance, containing but a small window through which line shone through, reminiscent of the cupola in Rome.

We came closer to the musk ox and could finally see their furry brilliance for ourselves. They were contently grazing away, in a relatively barren landscape, yet still colourful through the combination of dwarf birch, arctic willow and bearberries. We spent some time with the musk ox and continued our cruise along the shorelines.

Sadly, we found an abandoned musk ox calf, injured and laying by the beachside. This is however but another part of the natural process for many animals, and it will surely serve as subsistence for a family of polar bears or foxes, continuing their line that way.

In the evening, the game was on, as it was BBQ night! Lots of grilled food and free drinks were enjoyed on the outside of deck 5 amidst lovely weather and light, and once the food was consumed, the tables were moved, and the open area served as the dancefloor until midnight. Sweaty, full, tired, but extremely happy with the day’s events, we finished the day, and were looking forward to what else awaited us in the continuing voyage.

To finish off, here is a limerick: 

We cruise through blocks of ice,

Rising high above us to the skies,

Suddenly the iceberg starts turning,

And ice blocks are hurling,

As we see our imminent demise.

Mikhail Barabanov

Day 5: Øfjord & Sydkap

Øfjord & Sydkap
Date: 16.09.2022
Position: 70°53.8’ N, 027°10.6’ W
Wind: E2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: +4

This morning we sailed through the stunning Øfjord. This thousand-meter-deep fjord is around 5km wide and has steep mountains of up to 2000m high on both sides. On these cliffs, several glaciers are located. In the fjord, we saw many huge icebergs. A stunning place for a ships cruise! Many of us enjoyed the spectacular views from the outer decks, or otherwise from the bridge or lounge.

During the morning, Bjarni invited us to his lecture about the history of Greenland and the Thule people. It was interesting to hear more about the way these people managed to survive in this harsh climate. A little later Ben tried to convince us not to take part in the afternoon Polar plunge with a talk about the Greenland Shark, the ‘Swimmer Killer’ as he called it.

After another splendid lunch, we all headed out again at Sydkap. Both groups of kayakers had a great paddle in the water around Sydkap and the surrounding islands, where the others went ashore for various hikes. On shore we found several remains of 300–400-year-old Thule winter houses. With a little imagination, we could see the foundation of the houses with the entrance dug into the tundra.

During the hikes, we enjoyed the spectacular views of Hall Bredning, with massive icebergs everywhere. The long hike found some other, a bit more macabre, historical remains: an old grave where a human skull could even be seen in between the stones. Some of the other groups saw some muskoxen in the distance or groups of long-tailed ducks in the water.

When we made it back to the shore, it was time for a few crazy people to jump into the water to do the Polar Plunge. It turned out the water was not only wet, but also quite cold, but fortunately the showers onboard Hondius were nice and warm afterwards.

Back on the ship, Hans and the expedition team invited us to the lounge for the daily recap after which, we went for dinner. In the evening, George and Arjen taught the photographers a little about street photography, which might come in handy for our visit to Ittoqqortoormiit the next day.

Day 6: Nøkkedale and Ittoqqortoormiit

Nøkkedale and Ittoqqortoormiit
Date: 17.09.2022
Position: 70°24.5’N, 022°35’W
Wind: N3/4
Weather: Weather
Air Temperature: -2

Early morning, M/V Hondius sails into Hurry Inlet for yet another wonderful day of expeditions. Once we enjoyed our delightful breakfast with croissants and coffee, the long hikers landed at the site first. The moraine of the glacier forms an inviting landscape for this morning’s hikes.

Arriving on the beach we had no idea that the beauty of Nøkkedale would take our breath away this morning. We see frosty tundra and small water pools covered in the first ice of this season. The sun sets higher in the sky and makes the colors of the flowers stand out. It is autumn and surprisingly enough we find the arctic cinquefoil still in bloom. In the valley of the inlet the cotton grass waves her flowers in the light breeze, an inviting subject for close-up photography.

Higher up on the mountain, the long hikers are fortunate enough to see a gyrfalcon fly by. The leisurely hikers wade through the outlet of the river while enjoying this gorgeous place and the medium hikers end up taking more pictures than hiking kilometers as the scenery is so inviting to capture.

We follow the river out of the valley towards the beach and slowly make our way back to the landing site. Meanwhile we share stories about this morning’s discoveries.

Aboard the ship, we sit back and relax. Captain Remmert and his bridge team set sail for Ittoqqortoormiit, our afternoon destination. After lunch we visit one of the most isolated villages on earth, where we can room around freely.

We visit the museum with lots of Inuit culture, the church, and the tourist office. And most of all, just walking around Ittoqqortoormiit, seeing, looking, and processing these impressions of the local life is unique. Down at the river, the sledge dogs are being fed. Meanwhile, the food for the next days is already hanging at the pier: a freshly caught ringed seal.

A chilly windy afternoon ends back on the ship where we enjoyed a recap about today’s adventures and tomorrows plans. After dinner Meike talks about Greenland sledge dogs and why they are so special. Arjen and George end this day with their talk on the influence of photography in arctic history.

Day 7: Rømer fjord and Turner Island

Rømer fjord and Turner Island
Date: 18.09.2022
Position: 69°41.1’N 023°35.3’W
Wind: variable
Weather: overcast
Air Temperature: +1

After sailing in open waters during the night, we woke up in the sheltered water of Rømer fjord, a fjord southwest of Turner Island. Out from the windows of the ship we could see steep cliffs in the red, brown, and black with a sprinkle of fresh snow in the upper regions and on the whole rather sparse vegetation. The fjord is named after Ole Rømer [1644–1710], a Danish physicist noted especially for the first measurement of the speed of light.

This day we were quite lucky with wildlife sightings when we visited Rømer Fjord in the morning with the zodiacs. Belugas had already been spotted in the distance from the bridge earlier in the morning and our prospect for more wildlife seemed promising. After a little exploring along the beach in the zodiacs we could see remains of large marine mammals, probably beluga. We also saw a group of long tailed ducks in our fjord and soon after that we started to see the hot springs that Rømer Fjord is known for. It was quite fascinating to see how fast the vegetation changed close to the hot springs as conditions there were much more favourable to all kinds of flora compared to the surrounding fjord. A group of harp seals were also around, we could see their little heads peeking out of the water with the binoculars and the disturbance of the water was visible to the naked eye. Our guides always seemed to have their heads buried in the binoculars, pointing out to us the direction of the seals and other wildlife during this zodiac cruse.

Soon after that we spotted our first polar bear of the day, but it would not be our last one. We spotted another one, then two more swimming in the water, another one hiking up a hill and when we passed the corner, we saw three bears. It is hard to say how many polar bears there were in total as many of them were seen in the distance before disappearing behind a hill, and then perhaps reappeared later during our zodiac cruise, most likely there were 8 polar bears overall.

The polar bears gave us memorable moments. We observed two bears who were heading towards each other, and they got quite close without seeing the other as they were separated by a small cliff. When they finally saw each other peaking around the corner of the cliff they seemed both a bit startled and backed off a bit before heading in opposite directions. One of the swimming polar bears majestically crawled up on an iceberg, making him very photogenic, before gracefully sliding himself back into the water heading for shore.

The polar bear was not the only thing we saw on the iceberg, as we also found a lone walrus resting on an iceberg not too far from the polar bears. This area is not particularly known for walrus sightings which made this meeting a very pleasant surprise.

In the afternoon we had to change our original landing plans due to there being too many polar bears close to the hot springs in Rømer fjord to conduct safe landing operations. As an alternative we turned our attention to Turner sound, a narrow and shallow channel separating Turner Island on the northern Blosseville Kyst from the mainland assessable from Rømer fjord.

We landed on a small beachhead with steep cliffs to our front and Turner sound to our backs. It was a relatively short landing on a barren little piece of mostly empty beachhead surrounded first by gradual rocky hills, then steep untraversable cliffs.

The Hondius has motored past landscapes like this frequently during our voyage. So even though the landing area was not our primary choose, it seemed in retrospect only fitting to land there to get to know that empty, harsh and rocky environment that is so common in Greenland. When we landed a few of us went with Mikhail and Annelou for a hike to peek into the canyon above the landing area. Most of the passengers walked along the beachhead to a point where one could observe a walrus swimming in the water at some hundred meters. The walrus was regularly seen of the beach, the walrus seemed very curious about these human visitors to his remote corner of the world and sometimes came closer to have a look at our landing area and the zodiacs on the way back to the ship. Meanwhile on shore the humans took their time walking around the beach and the some of the surrounding rocky hills. With little to no wind, we were surrounded by the majestic Greenlandic landscape, dominated by steep basalt cliffs, there seemed to be an aura of serenity over the whole area. Many of us took the opportunity to sit down and enjoyed our peaceful last moments on Greenlandic soil before we would motor our way back in the direction of Iceland.

Day 8: A sea day + Grimsby Island

A sea day + Grimsby Island
Date: 19.09.2022
Position: 67°08.5’N 019°19.5’W
Wind: variable 2
Weather: Weather
Air Temperature: +5

Good morning everybody and welcome to our last day of this amazing trip. You may feel that the trip was already ending but we have had a full day of amazing moments. We woke up to a calm and tranquil sea. The Northern Fulmars and Gannets were gliding around the ship showing us how dynamic souring works. Up and down over the waves with much ease showing off their moves right in front of our windows. After breakfast we all were invited to come and listen to the lectures of Bill and Marcel. They explained us how the ship the Hondius works behind the scenes and who it was named after. We have for over a week been on this ship and have been able to get to know her well, however, these lectures helped us to understand what is necessary to run an expedition ship like the Hondius.

After the lectures the moment finally came that we had to return our muck boots. It feels like this would have been the end of the trip with no more activities or landings but something spectacular was awaiting us in the afternoon. Before lunchtime Paolo invited us to the observation launch where we learned about an impossible journey. The story about a Greenlandic kayaker who washed up on the shores of Aberdeen (Scotland) in full hunting gear.

Just before lunch we passed by the island Grimsby. Here we were kindly reminded by George that we were passing over the Arctic Circle and that we were able to see the giant cement ball that he talked about the night before in RECAP. The ball that will fall of the island in a couple of dozen years due to the Arctic Circle that is moving north.

During lunch we were all excited about our arrival to the area of Grimsby Island. In this area varies types of whales have been spotted together with large groups of dolphins. And yes, straight after lunch the messages started coming in about dolphins jumping some distance in front of the ship. A large pod of long finned pilot whales was also
spotted. This large pod of up to 20 individuals were a real sight to see.

In the afternoon we had a last lecture given by George and Jaap. They gave a lecture about sea ice and the world’s newest ocean. Not much after they finished a humpback whale was spotted. This whale was still a little far away from us, but we slowly got closer. The whale was also seen by three whale watching boats that went towards it. After this we had a few more glimpse of the whale although not for much time because it would soon dive under again to avoid the smaller boats. The feeling of being far away in Greenland where we were able to enjoy 8 polar bears with nobody else around came back and felt again like an extremely special moment that is not easy to find any more on our world. We did however see another big group of dolphins jumping around relatively close to the ship in front of a reasonable large waterfall. A beautiful moment to end our whale watching hours and head back inside for the final daily recap but it was not the end. We also spotted another pod of dolphins swimming before entering the fjord of Akureyri together with a couple of minke whales that were swimming very close to the bow of the ship.

During the recap our Captain Remmert Jan Koster gave a toast to our very successful trip to Greenland.  We also got shown the slideshow that was made by George. A beautiful way to show the many highlights that we have had during this trip. The expedition staff said their goodbye’s and received an applause. For the final time, we were invited to the restaurant on deck 4 to have our last dinner on board.

Day 9: Akureyri

Akureyri
Date: 20.09.2022
Position: 66°06.3’N, 18°22.5’ W

Only 9 days ago we all came together. We met, introduced ourselves, learned together, shared awesome experiences, and then shared the stories and pictures of those experiences. Quickly we were friends. We will always be friends, even if we soon will be distant friends. So soon we are parting.

How will we get our other friends back home to understand what it was like to be on this expedition? We can tell them about the fluking humpback whales, we can tell them about the huge number of polar bears we saw, we can tell them about the northern lights, we can tell them about the encounter with the narwal and beluga, and the hikes, and the walrus on the ice, and the beautiful landscapes – but they can never really know what we know. Our smiles may help them understand, but only our Hondius friends can really know what we know – that this was a beautiful, wonderful, magical adventure.

So, we all wished each other farewell, knowing that we may be moving on to the next chapter of our lives, but that this chapter will never be forgotten.

Thank you all for travelling with us on this voyage, for your enthusiasm, support, and good company. We very much hope to see you again in the future, wherever that might be!

Total distance sailed on our voyage: 1,124 nm
Northernmost position: 71°17.815’N, 024°56.72’W

On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Remmert Jan Koster, Expedition Leader Hans Verdaat, Hotel Manager Michael Frauendorfer and all the crew and staff of M/V Hondius, it has been a pleasure travelling with you.

Details

Tripcode: HDS14-22
Dates: 12 Sep - 20 Sep, 2022
Duration: 8 nights
Ship: m/v Hondius
Embark: Akureyri
Disembark: Akureyri

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