OTL14-22, trip log, East Greenland Scoresby Sund - Basecamp

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Akureyri: Embarkation

Akureyri: Embarkation
Date: 09.09.2022
Position: 65°47.7‘N, 018°07.5‘E
Wind: N-4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 13

Today is the day! Our long-awaited Arctic adventure is about to begin (a few years wait for some of us!). Our story begins in Akureyri, the second largest city of Iceland, where we board M/V Ortelius, the ship that will be our home for the next eight days. What will we see on our voyage? We can only guess at this stage, but the smiles on the faces of the guests as they arrive show the excitement everyone is feeling.

It is a beautiful day alongside the pier, whales have been seen in the fjord and at 4 pm guests arrive ready to board for our epic trip. The expedition staff waits on the pier to welcome us and guiding us to the reception for check-in. We now have a little time to settle in and get our bearings on board the vessel whilst the bridge team prepares for the ship to depart from the pier. With everyone onboard, we are called to the lecture room to attend the first of our mandatory briefings - a ship safety briefing from the chief officer Mickael and house rules from the assistant hotel manager Stephen. On completion of the briefings, we take part in an abandon ship drill and gather at our designated muster stations on the sounding of the alarm. Everyone puts on the life jackets; we follow Vladimir and Stephen to the assembly points close to the lifeboats. As we have accomplished the drill, we are ready for departure.

We wait for another cruise ship to leave before it is our turn to set sail and head out to our adventure. After Dinner Captain Per introduces himself and welcomes everybody. Our expedition leader Jan welcomes us onboard, and we get to know all the expedition guides and the kayak team. We all enjoy raising a glass of our chosen beverage in celebration of starting the voyage. A delicious dinner buffet awaits us with a variety of dishes prepared by head chef Heinz and his galley team, served by our friendly dining room staff. Then we have some free time to explore the ship and wandering the decks.

Some of us are enjoying for a little longer the fresh and very windy air on the outer decks, others have a cup of tea or drink in the bar, meeting our travel companions. The sun sets in beautiful colours from pink to orange and on the other side the moon starts to rise. It appears big and red tonight. Before most of us retreat to our cabins to rest we hear Jan’s voice through the speakers. We have northern lights – while crossing the Arctic circle! The lights dance magically on the evening sky. There still is some light on the horizon and we can’t stop looking. What an amazing timing and what a wonderful start of our cruise.

Day 2: Danish Sea – at sea

Danish Sea – at sea
Date: 10.09.2022
Position: 68°24.0‘N, 020°05.9‘E
Wind: NE-6
Weather: Fog
Air Temperature: 4

We wake up to a wonderful day with sunshine but still a lot of mist. We are crossing the Denmark Strait towards Greenland and the sea is calm. We hope to see whales but the mist is making it really difficult. Right after breakfast we collect the rubber boots that we will keep for the entire trip for our zodiac cruises and landings. Just before we head to the AECO meeting, Jan makes an announcement that we have whale blows in front of us, and we see a Northern bottlenose whale, a fin whale cross right in front of the bow, and a humpback whale fluking up. Further away we detect some more blows as we are passing through a seamount, but they are too far away to identify the species.

Then it is time for all the mandatory meetings: AECO, polar bear safety, and zodiac operations, and for those who would like to kayak, Zet and David gave them a short briefing as well. It takes us the rest of the morning to get through all of them.

After a delicious lunch we have the option to attend two simultaneous photography lectures, one in German by Katja, and one in English by Werner. Later on we attend two simultaneous lectures on whales, one in German by Ursula, and one in English by Pierre. A little later we attend the first recap of the trip where Jan gives us information about the activities for the following day, as well as on how the kayak operations are going to unfold.

Before dinner we are invited to go to the outer Deck because we are approaching our first large iceberg, and as we pass it it starts to roll quite impressively. After dinner we witness another magnificent moonrise, it is still full moon and the moon has a strong orange colour. And just before we go to bed Jan announces that we have Northern lights again, so we all go out to the outer decks where we witness amazing colours and shapes in the dark.

Day 3: Vikingebukt & Danmark Ø

Vikingebukt & Danmark Ø
Date: 11.09.2022
Position: 70°21.9‘N, 025°15.7‘E
Wind: WSW-2
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 9

And the ticking off of our wish list continues. But not as we could have expected, we were not woken up in the middle of the night for Northern lights. Instead, Jan’s call wakes us up 15 minutes earlier than planned and the reason is a good one. A polar bear is sighted on a mountain slope at the entrance of Vikingebugt. Everybody hurries out on deck as one never knows how long an animal will stay in sight. But the bear, which appears to be well fed, is leisurely walking along a flat area, a few times even lying down. Then, and to our great surprise, it walks down the steep rocky slope. Which is impressive by itself. Reaching the beach the beauty of the Arctic enters the water and swims away.

For those staying on the look-out it turns out to be quite a challenge to follow the bear’s path as only a small part of its head remains visible. Eventually we loose sight and are wondering if it is the same bear we have seen during the last cruise? Did it go in the water to cool off, to change place or because he has smelled a seal somewhere? Or did he leave as we came in? We will never know as during our voyages we can always only open a tiny window into the lives of the animals and the Arctic. Some of us might think how great it would be to spend more time at places to watch how these animals live and behave over time. Most however are happy to continue the journey later in the day.

After breakfast we start our zodiac cruise at the steep slope on the west side of the bay. What at first sight appears to be barren and boring turns out to be a most fascinating journey into the geological past of Greenland. Beautiful basalt columns are exposed in all directions and, facing the surface, even exposing their perfect hexagonal shape. We slowly drive through patches of sea ice forming in the cold exposing their typical pancake shapes. Last but not least we circle icebergs of various shapes and sizes making the cruise a mesmerizing and highly diverse experience.

Once everybody is back on bord we lift anchor leaving this beautiful place of geology and glaciology. From far we could soon see a dense fog bank along the coast we were heading to. Plan A was to land on the island of Denmark Ø to visit the remains of winter houses from the Thule people. But the fog is too dense to go on land. Heading west into the Gåsefjord the fog clears and a possible site to go ashore is sighted. Immediately the zodiacs are lowered, the expedition team lands at the beach and our guests jump back into their outdoor clothes. Just to hear some time later that plan B doesn’t work out either as the fog had moved back in.

As all alternative landing sites in the area are also fogged in, a plan C is needed. Shortly after the afternoon sweets, Jan presents in great depth historical and modern explanations why and where Northern lights develop. While people in Greenland believed to be caused by deceased Inuit or unborn children playing with a walrus skull, others thought they were signs of something bad going to happen. Today we know that polar lights are caused by solar spot activities on the sun spreading electrical particles into space. When these meet the magnetic field of our planet, they are redirected towards the Northern and Southern pole creating the unique and for long not explainable phenomena. Meanwhile the Ortelius passes Denmark Ø into the Fønfjord framed with high and rugged mountains.

Day 4: Røde Ø & Rødefjord

Røde Ø & Rødefjord
Date: 12.09.2022
Position: 70°30.6‘N, 027°56.4‘E
Wind: ESE-1
Weather: Rainy
Air Temperature: 9

We spent the night at anchor near Røde Ø, the red island. It got its name from the red sandstone, that makes up the island. This sedimentary rock was deposited roughly 360 to 300 million years ago when the climate in Greenland was warm and arid. This morning, however, nothing was warm or dry. In contrast, it was drizzling when we boarded the Zodiacs for a Zodiac cruise at Røde Ø and the iceberg alley. Not far from the ship we were greeted by the first white-blue giants. Further and further, we made our way into the labyrinth and the shapes of the icebergs got more fantastic by the minute. We saw a giant cave, deep blue stripes, ripple marks, and sometimes completely smooth parts of ice next to sharp fresh fractures. From time to time we heard a deep rumbling noise, telling us of another piece of ice that had broken off a berg.

Eventually we reached Røde Ø where we landed in a little bay. A short climb to the ridgeline led to a spectacular viewpoint over the iceberg cemetery. The narrow gap between the island and the coast acts as a barrier, trapping all icebergs that have been discharged by the Vestfjord glacier. The white and turquois of the icebergs contrasted nicely with the orange of the polar birch and the yellow of the polar willows. It was hard to leave this special place, but after the landing we cruised through the iceberg alley back to the ship. A clear and deep blue iceberg close to the ship made another stop necessary. The lack of bubbles and the high sediment content suggested that this ice stems from the deepest part of the glacier, where the high pressure makes gas bubbles disappear.

After lunch we went ashore for a walk in the tundra. The long hikers did a very long hike and were rewarded with the sight of several musk oxen. All other groups had to be satisfied with musk ox wool and their droppings. But the views over the iceberg filled bay with a miniature Ortelius made up for it. In the tundra yellow, orange, and brown colours were prevalent, telling us about autumn and the looming of winter. It was drizzling slightly but that didn’t stop anybody from enjoying their hikes.

A short Zodiac ride brought us back to the ship. Just in time for recap where Katja talked about icebergs and Charlotte looked in depth into Arctic faeces. Meanwhile we were passing more beautiful icebergs as Ortelius sailed deeper and deeper into Rødefjord where we would spend the night.

Day 5: Jytte Havn and Rune Island (Ingmikertikajik)

Jytte Havn and Rune Island (Ingmikertikajik)
Date: 13.09.2022
Position: 71°00.9‘N, 025°37.0‘E
Wind: ESE-2
Weather: Rainy
Air Temperature: 5

We woke up to the most beautiful view as we were travelling down the fjord to our landing site; Jytte Havn. The mountains were covered in a light dusting of snow and some enormous icebergs dominated the large opening of the fjord. Everyone was out on deck with cameras to eyes trying to capture the spectacular scenery.

Once the Expedition Team safely scouted the area the long hikers followed by medium and leisurely all came ashore to begin their walks. The small lakes and pools made beautiful photos with reflections from the mountains gracing us with their presence. A few keen beavers decided to do the Polar Plunge, an experience not to be forgotten as we dived into the icy cold water!

After a delicious lunch the ship sailed past yet more huge icebergs, one 900 metres long! We all landed at Rune Island (Ingmikertikajik) and we were pleasantly surprised to be greeted with several Arctic Hare feeding on Purple Saxifrage. Our walk took us past 300 year old winter houses made by the Thule people where they lived for hundreds of years during Winter. The island was absolutely stunning and the evening light gave it a warm, reddish colour.

Once back onboard we were informed by Jan the daily plans for tomorrow followed by an announcement of an Arctic dinner; a bbq! It was out on the helideck, the tunes were pumping, the sausages were sizzling and the wine was flowing! We gorged ourselves on the tasty buffet and couldn’t help but get our feet moving on the dance floor. Wow what a day. To add the cherry on the cake Jan woke us up at midnight to inform us of Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis!! And they were the best we had seen them all week with icebergs in the foreground.

Day 6: Ittoqqortoormit & Nøke Dal

Ittoqqortoormit & Nøke Dal
Date: 14.09.2022
Position: 70°28.5‘N, 021°58.3‘E
Wind: NNW-1
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 6

It was one of these quiet and calm autumn days when the sun is still giving warmth, but at the same time it’s clear that this is nearly the end. The morning started for us at 7:15 when Jan, the Expedition Leader woke us up with his wake up call over the PA system. Ortelius was about to drop the anchor in front of Ittoqqortoormit, one of the most desolated settlements on the planet and the only alive village in East Greenland.

Rusty old and lazy sun was hanging low above the horizon looming over the settlement. It looked tired and was sort of trying to say us: “Please, let me go to sleep!” Soon, dear Sun, very soon you will have several months of quietness and sleeping below the horizon. The Northern Lights will take your shift during the Polar Night. Just wait a little longer and give us some more of your light. Not a slightest wind was disturbing the surface of the sea. Nothing could predict the trouble. (And no trouble happened later, it is just a figurative expression.) The Expedition Team had put several “Zodiacs” on the water and when we were ready to go, they started shuttling us to the shore.

Ittoqqortoormiit turned out to be a very small village populated with a little more than 300 people. Most of them were natives, but there were some Danish living there as well. The locals were not so communicative, we only could see them driving fast there and back on their FWD vehicles. We had a chance to visit the museum that was situated in a small building not far from the landing site. Inside there were different items and elements of Inuit clothes and many photographs depicting Inuits, their life and their activities.

Also there was a church. A very small and very clean and cozy building. Inside there was a woman spinning the Muskox wool and selling mittens and hats she had knitted before our arrival. We were enjoying the sunny day walking up and down the streets of the settlement and big black ravens were watching us sitting on every streetlight. Ortelius was anchored a few cables away from the shore, so we could hear the noise of its engine meddling into the sounds of the village. And in the background we could see large icebergs drifting away out of Scoresbysund.

Very closed to the landing site by the river there was a pack of Husky dogs tied up. These were the working dogs so we had got the instructions not to feed and not to pet them. Well, in any case it would have been a challenging thing to do, because the dogs were stinky and aggressive, so none of us would dare to approach them. Nevertheless at 11:30 it was feeding time, so one of the locals came up with dog food and gave it to Huskies. At the same time it was nearly a time for us to have lunch so by midday we all left Ittoqqortoormiit and got shuttled back aboard Ortelius.

In the afternoon after a couple of hours of navigation Ortelius dropped the anchor at Kap Steward. That was the area of our afternoon activity. We got shuttled to the shore where we got divided into several groups. The idea was to walk inland into the tundra to enjoy the nature and also to try to spot some wildlife, e.g. Muskoxen. The long hikers were the ones who succeeded to be the first ones who had spotted those huge animals. The other hikers got informed over the radio and after half an hour of walking through the soft tundra joined the observation. The Muskoxen were pretty far, but we could not approach closer, because this time of year these animals are very nervous and can be aggressive and dangerous. Though it was possible to see them in details with binoculars. Some time later we had to make our way towards the landing side. That was a bit exhausting to be honest, because walking on soft carpet of tundra is very energy consuming, but it was totally worth it!

When back onboard we had a daily recap in the bar followed by dinner, but that was not the end of the day, because when it got dark we got another chance to see the Northern Lights. Wonderful day!

Day 7: Romer Fjord & Kangertiva Fjord

Romer Fjord & Kangertiva Fjord
Date: 15.09.2022
Position: 69°44.4‘N, 023°42.6‘E
Wind: S-1
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 4

This morning Jan our fantastic Expedition Leader woke us up earlier than usual because his Eagle eyes spotted a Polar Bear! At 0715 sleepy eyed we clambered to the decks to see not one, but two bears onshore! The scenery was spectacular with the red 1000 metre mountains reflecting beautifully on the glassy ocean. We were all extremely eager, so we shovelled down some breakfast and got ready to go and see this unexplored fjord! The first bear awed us with his presence as he sat and looked at us in the beaming sunlight. The newly forming sea ice was glistening in the sunlight, at the same time we noticed the second Polar Bear sleeping on a peninsula. We watched from zodiacs as the bear occasionally looked up at us. We spent the rest of the morning watching groups of Harp Seals spyhopping, thermal springs bellowing from the ground and Narwhal skeletons that were littered on the shore; evidence that Inuit people had been hunting here some time ago.

After a delicious lunch the ship sailed to Kangertiva Fjord to visit the glacier. Ginormous icebergs surrounded us, our guide careful drove us around them and keeping a distance we watched the finest pieces of natures’ art plummeting up from the water. As we had been driving into the fjord another Polar Bear had been spotted 50 metres from the ship swimming in the water. We cruised over to where the bear landed and looked in amazement as the bear climbed the steep mountain to the plateau. The afternoon felt chilly but there was a beautiful feeling of pure satisfaction of the week we just had. This place feels so fragile and gave us a sense of vulnerability, somewhere not to be forgotten!

By 1800 it was time to head back to the ship, we snapped our last few photos of the 500th iceberg we had seen, then clambered onboard to get a very needed hot cup of tea. Shortly to follow was recap with Jan’s daily plans, Annina’s interesting talk on lichens and of course another tasty dinner from Heinz’s team!

Day 8: Danmark Strait

Danmark Strait
Date: 16.09.2022
Position: 65°47.7‘N, 018°07.5‘E
Wind: N-4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 13

Jan wakes us up half an hour later today as we are crossing the Danmark Strait on our way from Greenland to Iceland, back to where it all began. We have a pleasant breakfast and after that we bring our faithfull gum boots back to the lecture room.

It is then time to attend a series of lectures. The first one is presented by our expedition leader Jan and is titled The Human History of Greenland. Katja does a simultaneous interpretation from English into German. At 11am Annina gives a lecture in English on Life at the Ice Edge – Sea Ice Ecology. At the same time Ursula gives a lecture on polar bears in German. The lectures are suddenly interrupted by an announcement by Katja as we have spotted a minke whale, a large pod of white-beaked dolphins, and eventually we have several pods of pilot whales escorting Ortelius for quite a while, which postponed the end of the lectures.

After lunch we pass very close to the northernmost rock belonging to Iceland, named Kolbeinsey. This piece of rock gives Iceland the right to claim large territorial waters.

We then attend the same series of lectures by Ursula and Annina but in inversed languages. Most passengers decide to spend the time after the lectures looking at the Icelandic coastline appearing before our eyes and having some drinks at the bar.

At 18.15 we then all gather to the bar to have the Captain’s farewell cocktail where we celebrate a very successful expedition. Werner then shows us the slideshow he has prepared and we are all very emotional at the sight of the beautiful pictures and memories we have collected during this unforgettable trip.

Day 9: Akureyri: Disembarkation

Akureyri: Disembarkation
Date: 17.09.2022
Position: 65°47.7‘N, 018°07.5‘E
Wind: N-4
Weather: Sunny
Air Temperature: 13

Unfortunately, every trip comes to an end, and we arrive in Akureyri in the early morning hours. During our last breakfast, the crew and expedition staff are taking care of our luggage. We disembark and all that remains is to say our goodbyes to our newly made friends, fellow travellers and all the welcoming faces of the Ortelius we have come to know so well. The Ortelius lays up alongside the jetty, so we take some last photos before saying goodbye to the expedition staff. Some of us may have some days left Iceland others may have to get back to work when coming back home. Regardless, we all take home many great memories, thousands of photographs and new friends made. The Arctic is an incredible and unique part of our planet, and we are grateful to have had the opportunity to observe and soak up this pristine and fragile environment!

Details

Tripcode: OTL14-22
Dates: 9 Sep - 17 Sep, 2022
Duration: 8 nights
Ship: m/v Ortelius
Embark: Akureyri
Disembark: Akureyri

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