PLA17-17, trip log, Scoresby Sund, Aurora borealis
25.09.2017 by Oceanwide Expeditions Triplog
We arrived at the pier in Akureyri at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, after a scenic bus ride from Reykjavik to the North. We settled into our cabins and gathered then for the first time in the Observation Lounge, for a first welcome by our expedition leader Katja and a mandatory safety information and drill. The briefing was held by First Officer Artur who was talking about ship safety and how to prepare for the worst. A general alarm-drill (seven short blasts followed by one long blast) was made, and we all took the SOLAS orange life jackets and mustered in the lounge guided by crew and staff. After a roll call to assure everyone was present, we went out to the lifeboats hoping to never actually have to use them again.
After a short break to enjoy this scenic navigation, Katja invited us for another briefing about life on board given by Dejan. Dejan introduced us to the interiors of the ship, hotel operations and dining room edict. Captain Evgeny joined us in the lounge for a welcoming toast before we introduced the expedition team. However, this introduction was interrupted by our very first wildlife encounter – 4-5 humpback whales were feeding around the ship. We enjoyed the humpback show until we were invited down to the dining room for our first scrumptious dinner prepared by Head Chef Ralf and his staff.
Yesterday everything was so calm coming out the fjord, but that did not last for too long. During the night the wind increased and the movement of the ship started, it was pitching up and down and from time to time it felt like we were lifting up on our beds. In the morning, the dining room was pretty empty, but still some brave ones made it for breakfast.
At 10 am it was time for an interesting lecture given by Kasper and it was about the historical aspects of east Greenland, a subject that is clearly close to his heart. It started with the very first Inuit settlements, followed by the Vikings voyages, and then through the modern era of the Danish history in East Greenland.
The wind keep increasing, reaching up to 50 knots (almost 100km an hour), but life on board kept going on and at 12:30 it was time for another meal.
After lunch the weather got worse, strong winds with a snow storm. A Plancius was bravely making her way through the waves, most of us stayed in our cabins to avoid walking around the ship. In the afternoon Åsa’s lecture was postponed until weather conditions would improve. The wind kept on going up until we reached 50 knots and 70 knots of wind gusts. In the evening Katja announced that the recap would be postponed for the next day due to the movements of the ship. So, instead there was a Frozen Planet documentary series played in the observation lounge. Some of us watched this passionate film before dinner time.
In the evening the crew and staff went through all the cabins dispensing apples and crackers for those who were not able to make their way to the dining room. Later on we went to sleep hoping that conditions will improve soon and having experienced the real forces of the Denmark Strait.
Most of us were already awake when we heard Katja’s wake up call. We had been rolling and pitching during the whole night but luckily our floating home was becoming more steady as we sailed deeper into Scoresby Sund. Now the dining room was teeming with fellow travellers getting over from seasickness, we’d all recovered the colour in our cheeks.
After a deserved breakfast we gathered in the lounge to meet the rest of the staff members whose introduction had been postponed due to the amazing breaching humpbacks on the very first day. Then we continued with the mandatory AECO and Polar Bear safety briefings during which Katja explained the guidelines that we should all comply with in order to carry out responsible tourism in the area and how to behave in bear’s land.
After lunch we all got ready for our first activity of the trip, a zodiac cruise in Vikingbugt. The wind had fortunately calmed down completely and the fog had lifted enough to let us admire the landscape around and the glacier sliding down deep in the bay, the one responsible for many of the icebergs that we were planning to cruise around. The snow was falling slowly; granting everything it touched a special charm. We smoothly sailed into the bay, around the icebergs with infinite shapes and colours and past the basalt columns that made as wonder about their curious outlines. Despite the lateness of the season some of us managed to spot a juvenile guillemot swimming in the water, a glaucous gull and some ravens flying around.
After almost two hours cruising we went back to the ship where Sava surprised us with hot chocolate that couldn’t suit best our needs, what a lovely welcome! Later that afternoon we went to the lounge to listen to Åsa’s lecture on climate change, “The shifting Arctic”, that helped a lot in clearing doubts and becoming more aware of the changes in the Polar Regions.
Shortly after recap we had a visit, it was Rembrandt Van Rijn, the other company’s sailing vessel that was approaching so that we could hand them over their provisions. It was really picturesque watching the three-masted vessel so close to us while the zodiacs drove back and forth with the supplies.
During recap we learnt about our future plans and then Andreas and Valeria explained about the basalt columns formation and why the ice is blue. DJ then invited us for dinner where we all kept talking about our first day in Scoresby Sund.
After a very calm night, we were waking up to a winter wonderland with falling snow and misty clouds covering the icebergs surrounding the ship. After breakfast, we entered our zodiacs to explore this white surrealistic landscape. While exploring the icy world, we learned about the origin of the icebergs and also how you can see the different patterns, layers and colouration of the icebergs and from there read out quite much about how their history.
Cruising around in between these giants, some of them 80 meter tall, is an inspiring thing. So some boats chooses to turn off the engine and float around in silence for a while. This seemed like a good idea, but for the boat piloted by Kasper, the silence lasted a bit longer than expected, because the engine on his boat wouldn’t start again. So the guests from Kasper’s boat were transferred to other boats and he was then towed back to Plancius for repairs. With a new set of start plugs, he was back in business again! Meanwhile the rest of the boats landed ashore for a quick hike up a small hill on the Røde Ø (the red island) and got a magnificent view over the stranded icebergs. After a morning in the snow and on the water, we return home to Plancius for lunch and for a ship cruise up through the fjords towards this afternoon’s activity. While sailing north, the hotel team opened the Ship Shop for us and the German travel agent Polar News group gathered for a meeting with their escort guide Julia. In the afternoon, we arrived at Rypefjord and our second outing of the day. This landing was our first real hiking possibility in Greenland, so we gathered on the beach after a short transfer by zodiac. We explored the tundra and were watching out for wildlife, which at this time of the year might be difficult, but it was nice to stretch our legs and sweat a bit.
When we came back to the landing site, there was a bit of a surprise, since the tide tables in the area is almost non-existent, our boats was kind of stuck on the bottom of the landing. So getting back onboard took a bit longer time than expected and the expedition team was working hard to get everyone safely back to our home away from home. After all of this, when everyone was back onboard, we were called for a special dinner in the aft, where DJ and the hotel team had made a special arctic BBQ dinner for us with wine, beer and dancing. Another wonderful day and evening in the arctic!
The first landing of the day was in Jytte Havn, were we divided into different hiking groups exploring the landscape in our own paste. The waters in East Greenald and not very well chartered, so Plancius had to anchor a bit out in the fjord and we were offered a beautiful approach to land by the zodiacs shuttling as back and forth between the icebergs.
After our hike in Jytte Havn, our captain Evgeny offered as a beautiful ship cruise among the icebergs on our way to Sydkap. We gathered on the outer decks of Plancius and took a lot of photos! When approaching Sydkap, a herd of muskox was discovered and we quickly changed our landing place. We landed on a beach close to some Thule culture remains and gathered all passegers before we approach the hill where the animals were grazing. It is difficult to approach a group of animals with more than 100 persons, but we all managed to get a glimpse of those fantastic animals before they went away from us. It was most probably a male and some female with calves. The muskox are perfectly adapted to a cold climate by having an inner layer of wool and an outer layer of long hair. By this compact fur, they do not need to spend any unnecessary energy in keeping an appropriate body temperature.
During the night, we got another surprise – the northern light! Katja woke us up at 02.00 in the morning and we got dressed and out on deck, where we could enjoy the aurora borealis in the sky.
The clock had just struck 7 when we heard Katja’s wake up call. Conditions were calm this morning and the sun was shyly shinning as we sailed into Hurry inlet for our morning landing.
After an energetic breakfast we were ready by the gangway to board the zodiacs, we could see how the clouds came in and the snow started to fall. By the time we were all on shore gathered around the remains of a Thule house, the snowflakes had added a magical touch to the landscape. It was a perfect atmosphere to listen to Kasper taking us on a journey hundreds of years into the past, to the days of the Thule culture. As the sky cleared a bit we wandered around the place within the perimeter the staff was marking, taking time to explore the smaller life in the ground and to enjoy a moment of solitude in these remote latitudes.
Before returning to the ship, the bravest in the group went for a polar plunge in the icy waters of the inlet while the staff handed out the towels and the boats were ready to bring the crazy swimmers back on board straight away. While we had lunch the ship repositioned in front of Ittoqqortoormiit, the northernmost settlement in east Greenland. Before going ashore, Birgit gave us an insight of the Greenlandic culture, their way of living and how to interpret what we would see; it was a mind opening talk that helped a lot in clarifying many things about the Inuit society nowadays. We spent the afternoon strolling around the small village with colorful houses and roller-coaster roads; most of us visited the tourist office, and the sheriff’s house and workplace where his wife exhibited her work of art.
We came back to the ship with different impressions about this remote village on the edge of eastern Greenland, but grateful of having had the opportunity of seeing with our own eyes how the people in the north live in this extreme place on earth.
At recap time Dj brought the so not good news about settling accounts, which also meant than unfortunately the voyage was coming to an end. Katja told us about the forecast for the crossing and then Lothar, a guest lecturer, gave a small talk about the northern lights, followed by Åsa who helped us identify some of the plants we had seen and Seba telling us about the life cycle of Musk oxen.
Shortly after dinner we were in open waters and most of us went to our cabins looking for shelter and hoping for good winds during the following day.
Always look on the bright side of life – a famous saying from an even more famous group of comedians, and for us onboard the Plancius, it seems to be our mantra for the trip. Because we once again found ourselves in grasp of the high seas. So it was very appropriate that DJ and Katja did a joint wakeup call in both English and German, accompanied by the Monty Python tunes. Having breakfast while the ship is listing and rolling is an interesting experience, when everything is moving on the tables. After breakfast Andreas has a lecture marathon, because he does a lecture about glaciers first in English and then directly changes over to do the same one in German, puh.
After lunch, we are still bumping around, but more and more comes out of the cabins to have some fresh air and enjoy the first sights of Iceland on the horizon. In the afternoon Asa has a lecture about the other end of the world, with a talk about the trips that Oceanwide does to the Antarctic islands of Falkland, South Georgia and of cause to the Antarctic itself. As Iceland comes closer and closer, we are soon south of the Arctic Circle and soon it was time to a lot of goodbyes. Katja and the team says goodbye and we all cheer with our deer Captain Levakov, then dinner and packing, but gladly, by this stage we were finally in shelter of the fjords, so we are done with the rocking for this time. Dinner was again fabulous and this evening DJ did a presentation of a lot of the galley and hotel staff, a very good way to say thanks for all the hard work they did on this trip. Then it was off to bed one last time before tomorrows departure.
After the breakfast it was time to say goodbye – to the fantastic days on board Plancius, from the team, from new found friends… The busses were already waiting for us, and the little blue expedition ship that had become a home for us in the last two weeks had to be left behind while we were driving towards Reykjavik to continue our voyage or travel home.
We will never forget this voyage and its unforgettable moments which were - also for the globetrotter among us - an amazing adventure with unique impressions of Northeast Greenland. We definitively know now how it feels to get infected by the polar virus the expedition team was talking about. The one or the other is already planning in his mind the next travel to the far North, or maybe the far South.
Thank you very much for this wonderful voyage, for your flexibility and enthusiasm. We are looking forward to see you back on board at any time - in the North, the South or somewhere in between!
Travelled distance on our voyage: 988 nm
On behalf of Oceanwide Expeditions, Captain Evgeny Levakov, Expedition Leader Katja Riedel, Hotel Manager Dejan Nikolic and the rest of crew and staff on board MV Plancius: We wish you all the best and a good voyage home!