OTL16-16, trip log | Greenland, Scoresby sound
29.09.2016 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
We boarded Ortelius - our floating home for the next week – from 16:00, most of us arriving at the dock together with our luggage in two buses. Our expedition ship and home for the next week, was alongside the pier of Akurery.
It was a bright Icelandic day with a hint of autumn in the air. As soon as we’d identified our luggage on the quayside, we climbed up Ortelius’ gangway, checked in at reception and were shown our cabins. Our luggage was soon delivered and we were able to unpack and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the ship. One of the most important locations was the bar/coffee station on Deck 6 – definitely a popular gathering point.
Our stay on board started with a warm welcome in the bar by hotel manager Michael with a useful speech about the ship, from basic rules about toilet system to high tech wifi and internet connections.
After that we got a safety briefing done by our chief officer Sam about abandon ship procedures and how to react in case of distress signals. This was followed by an exercise with gathering at the muster station. Always good to know such things, and hopefully not put them into practice!
We then gathered around our expedition leader David who introduced us to the rest of the team and we all toasted to our great adventure ahead with Captain Mika Appel.
After a great dinner prepared by the kitchen, we were sailing toward Greenland and the Denmark Strait.
Our crossing of the Denmark Strait today was blessed with clear skies and calm waters. For what can be a notorious stretch of water, the conditions really could not have been better. With formalities to complete this morning, such as the mandatory briefings, we were busy most of the morning familiarizing ourselves with our new home the Ortelius, spending time in the sunshine out on deck and of course attending the briefings.
It was in the afternoon that the day really became spectacular. With the clear weather we knew if there were whales around we would be able to spot them. Indeed in the mid-afternoon a few distant blows were spotted. It was hard to tell which species of whale we were looking at from a distance – perhaps it was Fin whales, or perhaps Humpback whales. Or perhaps both! It did not take too long for us to find out: As the crew navigated the ship towards the direction of the blows we could clearly see it was indeed both Humpback and Fin whales.
For the next two hours we enjoyed cruising around with the whales. They were completely unperturbed by our presence, both species even coming within meters of the bow of the vessel. The sleek Fin whales were unmistakable with their tall blows and slim line bodies. The Humpbacks are smaller and produce a bushier blow – again quite discernable at our close distance. The knuckle like dorsal fin and more rotund body shape of the Humpbacks were also a good giveaway as to what species we were observing.
Both the Fin and the Humpback whales are here in the Denmark Strait to feed. At this time of year there is an abundance of zooplankton in the water and indeed the whales appeared to be feeding near the surface as well as making more prolonged foraging dives – most likely diving to 100-200 meters for Krill or a similar sized species of zooplankton. Whatever they were feeding on it most certainly made for a wonderful afternoon of wildlife watching and even as we sailed onwards towards Greenland the blows remained visible in all directions.
Continuing on towards Greenland the remainder of our crossing was spent enjoying a presentation about our destination from Mick Brown and also being issued our trusty Rubber boots – a necessity on a trip such as this! As the evening progressed we had our first recap of the trip – hearing more about the whales we had seen that day and about how to photograph the Northern Lights should we be lucky enough to see them. Heading down to the dining room it was hard to believe this was only our first full day on board.
Overnight the captain brought Ortelius deeper into Scoresby Sund and when we woke up, we found ourselves in Vikingebugt on the northern side of the fjord. After breakfast the first group got ready for our first zodiac cruise. Spectacular, steep mountains and giant icebergs were the main focus of this cruise. In nice weather we cruised along impressive basalt formations surrounded by some small bushes in autumn colours before we had a look at the house-sized icebergs in the bay.
Meanwhile the divers had their first test dive in Greenlandic waters. After an hour and a half it was time to go back to the ship where group two was eagerly waiting to go on their zodiac cruise. Another hour and a half later all were back on board, maybe a little cold, but happy with our first impressions of Greenland.
During a nice lunch we sailed deeper into Scoresby Sund towards our destination for the afternoon, Danmark Ø or Denmark Island. Here we set foot ashore on Greenland for the first time and split up in different groups. One group took off straight away, stretching their legs a little more and covering some more distance. The medium group first unsuccessfully tried to find some Thule remains before they split up in two. And the last group stayed on the beach, not covering too much ground.
All of us however enjoyed the spectacular Greenlandic scenery with again spectacular mountains and huge icebergs surrounding ‘our’ island where we saw lots of vegetation in autumn colours, mainly Dwarf Birch, Fireweed and some species of Willow. This all covered the nicely coloured rocks. After two and a half hours we all headed back to the ship where David and Matthias explained the plans for the next day and we headed off to the dining room for another good meal prepared by our chefs.
And when people thought that was all for the day, they were mistaken… Already in the evening, it wasn’t even completely dark yet, some strings of Aurora borealis were colouring the sky green but the real show happened around 1 a.m. when most of us were in bed. Fortunately, the officer of the watch on the bridge woke David who in turn woke all of us so everybody could experience one of Nature’s most mysterious spectacles. It didn’t last very long, but it all gave us a good glimpse of what Northern Lights look like.
The 07.00 wake up call was a little too early for those who enjoyed the wonderful Aurora Borealis at 01.00 ! But the beautiful sunrise, spectacular landscape and clear cold frosty air was enough to get us up and out on deck.
By 08.15 the gangway queue has already formed and the zodiacs began ferrying folks ashore on Red Island. Shortly afterwards the zodiac cruisers set off. On land we had the usual three choices of walks and each one was full of interest, colour and wonder. A family group Ravens provided a aerobatic display passing overhead several times calling loudly. In Greenland, where this is the National Bird, this should be considered a welcoming sight and sound.
The Island’s rich red Old Red Sandstone intrusive lava formations in the form of sills and dykes combined with frosty flora was indeed memorable.
The zodiac cruises took us amongst ever more fascinating icebergs which have ended up here in this iceberg alley graveyard. Here they will melt, break up roll over and complete the cycle from snow to seawater again. The divers too enjoyed their diving combined with zodiac cruising.
Over lunchtime the repositioning cruise took us past rich and colourful tundra, mountain, canyon and glacial landscape features for which Greenland is justly famous.
We dropped anchor in Harefjord and once again set off hiking.
Autumn colours, massive boulders, rich vegetation and finally, distant Musk Ox were among the many attractions on offer. The vast scale of it all was overwhelming and this, combined with the stillness, silence and overall sense of space was something to savour for ever.
Back on board we celebrated with an ‘outdoor dinner: a BBQ. Surrounded by ice and mountains we enjoyed food and music in what at times seemed surreal, like being in a movie, and what a great show it was.
Amazing…utterly amazing was the word used by all passengers to describe the stunning scene as they emerged on deck before breakfast. The early morning sun was rising above the most incredibly dramatic mountain skyline. Jagged peaks glowing orange in the blazing light, towered in the sky completely dwarfing Ortelius. The scene was more like a fantasy than reality. Ortelius cruised on to the landing site at Jyttehaven, a small archipelago of islands. After landing, passengers were divided into 3 groups to explore the area. The long and medium groups climbed to high vantage points to photograph the stunning landscape.
After lunch Ortelius departed the area and sailed through an area of spectacular icebergs and high cliffs.
In the afternoon, passengers landed at Sydkap beside an Inuit trappers hut. Mathius and Bill led the long walkers high onto the mountain overlooking the bay. Whilst the view was spectacular, the undoubted highlight was a encounter with a massive Arctic hare who ‘modelled ‘quite happily for delighted photographers for 20 minutes..
Recap in the evening included a presentations from Henrik on the astonishingly long-lived Greenland shark and Mick on the brilliant sounding Great Northern Diver. Bill talked about the meaning of the sea in painting, introducing …Looking, Seeing, Thinking, through analysis of the Breugel painting ‘The fall of Icarus’.
During dinner passengers rushed for cameras and lined both the starboard and portside rails. On the starboard …a superb sunset streaked the sky over the distant mountains and on the port, a beautiful glowing moon hovered low on the ice-berg covered horizon
In the evening David gave a highly entertaining and very informative illustrated talk on his crossing of the Greenland ice-cap. The highlight of which, was his account of the unusual use of a sock.
How could it get better? Well it did when everyone received a ‘wake-up’ call in the small hours to get on deck to see the spectacular northern lights. Wow!
What an amazing day!
During the night we sailed south to Ittoqqortoormiit. Just after midnight Northern Lights appeared – beautiful all over us.
Ittoqqortoormiit, the small settlement with around 400 inhabitants is a huddle of multi-coloured wooden houses perched on rocky hills facing south and overlooking the mouth of Scoresby Sound. As we came ashore in our zodiacs, the friendly policeman stamped our passports and we spent a happy morning visiting the museum, church, craft shop, meteorological station and simply strolling around the town.
Some highlights were the Greenlandic sledge dogs and meeting people as they went about their business. This village is truly on the edge of the world and we were all impressed by the strength and tenacity of the people who live there. All too soon, it was time to go. However, the plan was to visit another interesting spot nearby, right around the corner, the Hurry Inlet.
We sailed again towards the east, so deeper into the Scoresby Sound. The wind picked in the meantime up and it became quite stormy with northerly winds. With that wind direction a landing was impossible in the Hurry Inlet because of the orientation of the little fjord, so our experienced staff had new ideas where to land, they even tried a landing with one zodiac, but without success – too dangerous. After that we spend the afternoon in the outer part of the Scoresby Sound, surrounded by huge icebergs. We headed towards the southern side where the mountains are looking impressive, a lot of glaciers in between. In the early evening we went out in open waters of the Denmark Strait towards Iceland.
The Ortelius started already moving while insight but out it was even more – for most of us it was a long nice night, dreaming of our adventures in Greenland.
The last sea day of our voyage we spent in the Denmark Strait on our way back to Iceland. The weather turned out to be not as friendly as it was six days before during our crossing towards Greenland. Northerly winds picked up significantly and thereof movement came into our voyage back to Iceland.
In the morning we had to give back our boots which became been extremely useful for us.
However, for the Fulmars who have been all around Ortelius during our crossing it seemed to be fun. Effortless and with hardly any wing flap they glide in the wind up and down, in front of, behind and beside the ship. Some of them seem to circumnavigate the ship several times. These pretty birds are like all petrel perfectly adapted to high sea conditions. They not only effortless face against each storm but they even use it to overcome hugh distances without a significant energy effort. As genuine seabirds they spend almost their entire life at sea and this can last up to 60 years! Only for reproduction they have to go to land in order to raise their single chick per season.
Mick gave an interesting lecture about marine navigation in the late morning. After lunch we had time to relaxe or spend some time on deck watching the fulmars playing with the wind. What fantastic birds!
In the afternoon Chris gave a lecture about Friedjof Nanssen, the famous polar explorer from Norway. It was an excellent talk about the stunning story of Nanssen´s life.
In the evening we had our last recap where we were informed about the disembarkation procedure of the following day. After that, Arien entertainingly presented a slide showing the highlights of our trip. We had a lot of fun, that was really good!
At 19.30 we were invited to a delicious dinner by our Hotel Manager Michael.
The time had come to say farewell to our, to our floating home Ortelius and to our lovely new friends. We descended the gangway for the final time (on THIS trip!) at 08:45 and boarded our bus to Reykjavik.
Bon voyage until we meet again!
Total distance sailed on this voyage: 1018 nautical miles / 1885 kilometres
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Mika Appel and the Officers, all Crew, Expedition Team and Hotel Team: it has been a pleasure travelling with you!