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PLA17-18, trip log, Scoresby Sund, Aurora borealis

by Oceanwide Expeditions

Logbook

Day 1: Embarkation in Akureyri

Embarkation in Akureyri
Date: 18.09.2018
Position: 65°41.3’ N / 018°04.5’ W
Wind: N
Weather: cloudy, light rain
Air Temperature: +8

We get our first glimpse of Plancius from the bus. She awaits us quietly at the end of Akureyri’s wharf. Her bright blue hull contrasts with the dull, colorless surroundings: the city has been imprisoned in a thick fog for weeks now, and one can barely distinguish the other side of the fjord. A light rain greets us, but also the much warmer “welcome onboard!” of crewmembers, who take care of our luggage and show us the way to our cabins. We readily start exploring the ship, striding along corridors and decks, excited like kids discovering a new playground. We rapidly find our way to the restaurant, the reception, the bridge, or the observatory lounge.

We gather in the latter for a mandatory security briefing given by our third officer Mindo. He warns us: the “Little Drake” (the stretch of sea that separates us from Greenland) may live up to its name! Bad weather is forecasted and the crossing will be rough! Debate ensues: to take medicine, or not to take medicine? That is the question.

A drill, necessary simulation of the ship’s evacuation in case of an emergency, follows Mindo’s presentation. An hour (and a few drinks) later, our hotel manager Zsuzsanna explains the rules of life onboard. We are then introduced to our captain Alexey, from Russia, and to our international expedition team. Beau is the expedition leader. This charismatic Canadian who has worked for many years as a guide in the arctic and Antarctica, was pretty much born a guide, as he grew up hunting and fishing in the wilderness of northern Ontario. Arjen from The Netherlands is Beau’s assistant. This former biology teacher decided, fifteen years ago, that he preferred open air “classrooms” of Polar Regions. Jonathan from Austria, Laurence from the UK and Andreas from Germany, are glaciologists: three specialists, as we expect to see ice where we are going! Isabelle from Germany and Marie from France are marine and evolutionary biologists, respectively. Daniel is a professional photographer who also guides in Iceland and Lapland. Finally, William from Scotland, Catherine and Michael from the UK, and their leader Heinrick from Sweden who has been among the first to lead diving trips in Antarctica, constitute the “diving team” as a group of skilled divers onboard will undergo underwater explorations.

As Beau jokes, all members of the expedition team are “bipolar”: these passionate fellows, badly infected by the infamous polar virus, all spend their time hopping from one pole to the other! Lise from Holland is the ship’s doctor, and as she points out not only is Greenland an isolated place, but bad weather is coming: we should be extra cautious…

Day 2: On the crossing to Greenland

On the crossing to Greenland
Date: 19.09.2018
Position: 67° 33.2’ N / 019° 32.0’ W
Wind: N 50
Weather: Rain
Air Temperature: +5

Mindo and Lise were right, and those of us who have not taken medicine regret it now. Outside decks are closed, corridors are silent, and breakfast tables are partly empty: Plancius dived in a huge storm! Forty-to-fifty knots of northerly wind forms impressive waves that bang against the ship’s bow, slowing it down. Minutes feel like hours while the rest of the world disappears in the thick torpor of this long, hypnotic sea day.

The zodiac briefing, although mandatory, is postponed: Beau gives us time to get used to the ship’s movement. In the afternoon, Laurence gives a lecture (simultaneously translated into German by Jonathan).

He details the unique geology and glaciology of Greenland. Its glaciers are amongst the fastest and largest in the world, yet these giants are fragile; they recede extremely fast due to global warming. Greenland’s coasts are often foggy while inland, skies clear up, a strange phenomenon we will get to experience the next morning. We also learn that during human history, Greenland was populated in waves, over 4-to-5 thousand of years.

Today 56000 people of Inuit origin live in Greenland, but only 1500 have settled in the North East! Laurence explains that because there are close-to-no roads in Greenland, its inhabitants are bound to travel and get supplied by boats: living here implies logistical difficulties!

Before diner, weather gets even worse. During his evening briefing, Beau reinsures us: we should arrive at the entrance of Scoresby Sund (and sheltered waters!) tomorrow afternoon.

Day 3: Vikingebugt, Scoresby Sund

Vikingebugt, Scoresby Sund
Date: 20.09.2018
Position: 70°21.8’ N / 025° 16.2’ W
Wind: SE 1
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +3

During the night, the sea calmed down a lot. For many who didn’t leave their cabins yesterday, a welcome change! In the morning we find ourselves in the entrance of Scoresby Sund, the largest fjord system in the world. The morning is spent with mandatory briefings about zodiac operations, landings, and how to deal with Polar Bears, and with handing out the rubber boots.

Meanwhile, the fog we had been trapped in since morning lifts up a bit and we enjoy the majestic shoreline of Volquart Boons kyst.

Later in the morning, we arrive at Vikingebugt. There, we anchor for a while to enjoy the scenery and even some wildlife: just after the mandatory briefings, Raymond, one of the AB’s on watch at the bridge, spots our first Polar Bear! It remains quite far away, never more than a small, moving, yellowish-white dot to the naked eye, but nicely observed with binoculars.

The ship then repositions for our afternoon activity. After a nice lunch prepared by our hotel team, we move to the other side of Vikingebugt to a place called Helgenaes. When we arrive, Beau finds another Polar Bear poking its head out of a snow cave. This one can be defined as a ‘pixel bear’ as no matter how much we magnify our pictures or use the telescope, it never becomes more than a dot… but it was a bear sighting nonetheless!

We head for our first outing, a zodiac cruise along the shores and icebergs in the bay. Steep mountains surrounding us, crackling ice and beautiful basalt columns on a tiny island make this moment magical. Some of us even manage to get a slightly closer look at the bear… still a small dot.

Back on the ship, we all head to the lounge for the daily recap. Beau presents plans for the next day and Arjen gives tips on how to take pictures of an Aurora borealis from a moving ship. Some of us sight at the prospect… if only we could be given a chance to see those! To finish, Andreas explains the formation of basalt columns using an… interesting analogy with cow poo… and sticking a finger in a cowpat. Strange people, these geologists… Shortly after, dinner is called and in the evening, the bar is a lot busier than the previous evening! People enjoy drinks and each other’s company while thinking back at their beautiful first day in Greenland.

Day 4: Røde Ø and Harefjord, Scoresby Sund

Røde Ø and Harefjord, Scoresby Sund
Date: 21.09.2018
Position: 70° 28.7’ N / 028° 08.8’ W
Wind: 0
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +1

As usual we wake to the dulcet tones of Beau. Overnight Plancius had sailed through most of Fønfjord. The weather is crisp, clear, and cold, and there is not a breath of wind; the fjord is a dark mirror, reflecting the vast mountain walls around us. As we breakfast we turn north into Rødefjord and first rays of sun bathe the fjord in golden light as we approach our destination for the morning; Røde Ø (‘Red Island’).

The plan for the morning is a split cruise, half of us go ashore for a landing, and the rest stay on the zodiacs for a cruise amongst the huge icebergs. Røde Ø is a prominent obstruction which protrudes into Rødefjord and an armada of icebergs from the nearby glaciers get stuck in the narrow, shallow channel between the island and the mainland. These icebergs originate from two huge glaciers nearby; Rolige Bræ, and Vestfjord Bræ. The landing party arrives on the beach and after a few seconds sets off to scale the hill above the beach. Rode Ø takes its name from the stunning geology here; the red sandstone and conglomerate were formed in a desert environment nearly 300 million years ago, a time when Greenland was close to the equator. As we crest the top of the hill we are greeted with an incredible sight; peering over the sandstone cliffs we can see a graveyard of icebergs laid out beneath us. From our vantage point we can see the turquoise glow surrounding the icebergs; this hints at the vast volumes of ice in the depths of the fjord below. After an hour the groups swap and the landing party boards zodiacs for a tour amongst the silent, gleaming towers of ice. We navigate through the maze, thick clear blue streaks cut through the ice, cleaving the bergs from prow to keel; these are old crevasses which have filled with meltwater and have then frozen solid the following winter. One iceberg amongst the fleet catches everyone’s attention; it wisas composed of the clearest glassy ice and had been sculpted into a myriad of beautiful curves by the sea.

After a glorious few hours in the south of Rødefjord we head back to Plancius for a much-needed buffet lunch. In the afternoon we continue deeper into the fjord system, heading north, in the direction of Harefjord. Captain Alexey navigates skillfully through the dense ice in Rødefjord, all-the-while we take in the changing landscape from the outside decks and the observation lounge.

We pass countless icebergs in all manner of shapes, sizes, and colours. In the late-afternoon we arrive in Harefjord and anchor off the northern edge of the fjord; a gentle slope of red and gold autumn tundra. We head ashore in the zodiacs and land on a gorgeous sandy beach for a perimeter landing. We are incredibly lucky with the weather, the fjord is completely wind-still and is drenched in warm September sun. The expedition guides set out a large perimeter and we are free to roam between them. Many of us walk up the slope to a vantage point on a small rounded knoll, from here we can see a couple of musk ox in the distance, browsing on willow and birch leaves. The musk ox give us a wide berth, but we are able to get a good look at them through binoculars. Musk ox are hunted in this part of Greenland so they are very cautious around people.

Whilst we were on land we can also see a beautiful steel sailing ship anchored in the fjord, this is the Rembrandt van Rijn, another Oceanwide vessel. She has spent more than a month in Scoresby Sund without being resupplied and they are starting to run low. The Rembrandt ties up alongside Plancius and supplies of food, beverages and other essential are craned onto Rembrandt to last her the last few trips of the season.

Back aboard Plancius once more we set off into Øfjord, a narrow fjord surrounded by steep granite walls almost 2 kilometres high. The fjord itself is another 1600 meters deep making this one of the steepest places on Earth. In the evening Zsuzsanna has a special surprise for us, an Arctic barbecue on the back deck! Tables and benches are set out and the grills are fired up. A veritable feast awaits us and is accompanied by beverages, music, and even disco lights. We eat, talk, and dance as the sun set behind us; this turns out to be pretty spectacular. In this part of east Greenland the sun sets directly over the vast Greenland Ice Sheet, the setting sun is reflected of the ice back into the clouds and occasionally creates the most incredible sunsets. Our sunset in Øfjord was amongst the very best of these, the clouds glowed yellow, orange, and then pink over the space of twenty minutes, each colour more vivid than the last. Eventually the partying peters out and it was time for bed; much needed after an adventure-filled day in the Arctic.

Day 5: Jytte Havn and Ingmíkêrtikajik, Scoresby Sund

Jytte Havn and Ingmíkêrtikajik, Scoresby Sund
Date: 22.09.2018
Position: 71° 06.0’ N / 025° 48.0’ W
Wind: SW 4
Weather: clear
Air Temperature: +1

Waking up is a bit difficult this morning! Beau indeed woke us up in the middle of the night, for a good reason: northern lights could be seen from the starboard side of the ship! Being able to observe this fantastic phenomenon represented a dream for most of us. While this dream became a reality, it remained hard to believe… as one can hardly describe the mélange of sheer amazement and melancholia that auroras create. The impressive heights of Ofjord’s rock walls, dormant giants slowly passing by in the darkness, were lighten up by eerie curtains of green light. Northern lights formed various shapes, changing in a smooth and soothing manner, from long lines extending through the entire night vault to vertical pikes seemingly dropping from constellations.

Despite this short night, and with the help of coffee and tea from breakfast, we are excited to land on one of the many islands of Bjorne Oer (Bear islands), were we split in three groups: gentle, intermediate and fast. The first explores the frozen willow trees, mosses, and berry bushes of the tundra bordering several beaches of this site, called Jytte Havn, and bask in the incredible morning light. The second hikes the gentle slopes of surrounding hills to gain some height and observe Plancius dwarfed by fantastic snow-capped mountains. The third picks up a fast, calorie burning pace, and climbs up a hill offering magnificent views on the other side of the fjord.

In the afternoon, we land in a place with the unpronounceable name of Ingmikertikajik, an historic highlight: there, Tulle people who grew crops when Greenland benefited a much warmer climate about five hundred years ago, built winter houses. The latter are small constructions of a few square meters, the entrance of which was a tunnel. We can also observe circles of stones, or “tent rings”, that served to hold temporary shelters made of animal skin and narwhal tusks. Again, the tundra is lit up by the oblique arctic light of this Greenlandic fall, decorated by shining patches of cotton grass and frozen water.

After a recap’ during which Laurence points out that one of the remarkable mountain peaks seen in the morning has been called grundtvigskirken after Reykjavik’s iconic church, and Andreas explains how and why glaciers calve, we recharge batteries with a delicious diner meal. Faith, from the group of divers, gives a presentation on Oceanwide Expedition’s trip to Antarctica “in the footsteps of Shackelton”, and just as she finishes, a last incredible sight greets us: a gigantic full moon rising above an iceberg in the dusk…

Day 6: Hurry Fjord and Ittoqqortoormiit, Scoresby Sund

Hurry Fjord and Ittoqqortoormiit, Scoresby Sund
Date: 23.09.2018
Position: 70° 29.5’ N / 022° 25.4’ W
Wind: NW 2
Weather: Clear
Air Temperature: +2

Those of us who manage to make it to bed early, our sleep is short-lived, we are roused again by Arjen who calls to let us know that there are northern lights again! We rush to don warm clothing and head for the decks. Outside the light show is incredible, even stronger than the night before and lasting for more than an hour. The lights come in waves, spreading across the heavens from horizon to horizon. As the light swells we begin to see vivid greens and dancing curtains of light right above our heads. The sky is otherworldly, and even though there is a scientific explanation for the phenomenon, even this is spectacular; the light we are seeing is the wind from the sun colliding with the Earth’s atmosphere.

As usual we are woken by the call from Beau; he lets us know the weather (sunny), wind speed (5 knots), and temperature (a brisk -2°C). As we breakfast Plancius covers the last few miles to our goal for the morning, Hurry Fjord, a large fjord which incises into Jameson Land on the northern edge of Scoresby Sund. The expedition team set off into the rising sun to scout the area and ensure that it is safe for us to land. After a little while the radio call comes through that it is clear to land, and we set off for the shore in the zodiacs. The landing site is a shingle slope with some relatively large waves surging up the beach. We pick our moment carefully and soon we are at the top of the beach with mostly with dry feet. We remove our life jackets and set off to explore the area. This outing is a perimeter landing and the guides are posted in a large semi-circle around the beach. We roam freely between them, exploring the tundra which has a dusting of fresh snow. The snow is covered with tracks and these hold clues to the animals in the area. There are fox prints, prints from Snow buntings, and even spoor from Ptarmigan. As we wander deeper into the landscape we also find traces of previous human habitation; we stumble across several tent rings, and the more substantial remnants of a Thule winter house. As this is our last landing in the wilderness of Greenland we all take a moment to say goodbye to this wild landscape on our own terms, most just with a moment of quiet contemplation.

After boarding Plancius once more and feasting on lunch we arrive off the small Greenlandic village of Ittoqqortoormiit. A crisp, sunny scene greets us here; the colourful houses on the hillside are bathed in weak winter light from the low afternoon sun. A Greenlandic policeman boards the ship to check paperwork and to allow Plancius to clear customs, and shortly after we are boarding Zodiacs to be shuttled to the shore.

Our landing is a small beach next to the pier where are briefed by Beau and Arjen, and after collecting maps from a Greenlandic representative of the local travel agency, we set off into the village, to explore this unique settlement. After 7 days on a ship, in some of the most remote landscapes on Earth, it took a few moments to adjust to the sights, sounds, and smells of village life. Most of us head to the gift shop first where we sample musk ox and peruse the souvenirs; these range from carvings and beadwork, to maps, postcards, and t-shirts. From there we set off around the community, walking the surprisingly numerous roads. Many of the people in Ittoqqortoormiit still actively hunt and fish to support themselves and we see evidence of this all around us; one house has a polar bear skin hung over a rail to dry, and several others have musk ox hides outside. There are also many sled dogs at the edge of the village, waiting patiently for the snow and ice to return and for the winter hunting trips to begin again. The village has a sleepy feel, this was definitely exacerbated by the fact that we are visiting on a Sunday afternoon! Despite this there is plenty to see and do. A few of us make it as far as the astroturf football pitch in a small valley on the northwest edge of the settlement. This flat, uniform, green surface is entirely incongruous in the landscape. After an interesting few hours exploring Ittoqqortoormiit it is time to head back to the ship.

From Ittoqqortoormiit Captain Alexey takes Plancius south, first to the mouth of Scoresby Sund, which is lit gold by the setting sun. Just a few minutes later and we are move past Kap Brewster and off into the open sea, bound south for Iceland and our final destination, Akureyri!

Day 7: On the crossing to Iceland

On the crossing to Iceland
Date: 24.09.2018
Position: 67° 32.0’ N / 019° 40.1’ W
Wind: S 4
Weather: Cloudy
Air Temperature: +4

This is a quiet day at sea. We are now well accustomed to the gentle rolling of the ship, and are almost all able to enjoy breakfast!

The morning is educational: Marie (in English) and Beau (in German) tell us more about the incredible mammal all of us got to exceptionally observe during this trip: the polar bear! Their conferences illustrate the overall distribution, evolution and ecology of these animals. We learn how studying polar bear population behavior and physiology helps us understand the impact of human related activity on the environment and how many fields of research, from evolutionary genetics to obesity and cancer research, benefit from studying these animals! Christina, a passenger specialized in polar bear research, pitches in to explain how scientists estimate the age of a large mammal from the layers of its teeth.

In the afternoon, the weather becomes rough again and outside decks are closed. Laurence (in English) and Jonathan (in German) nonetheless give fascinating conferences to explain how glaciers such as those we observed in Greenland form and evolve. We learn how scientists name glacier types, from small “glacieret” to the huge ice sheets (only two exist in Greenland and Antarctica), as well as the more poetic words used to define the different areas of a typical glacier, such as icefalls, glacier front, meltwater plumes and moraines… Laurence and Jonathan’s conferences help us better understand current changes occurring in the cryosphere and how such changes contribute to the rise of sea levels.

Later in the afternoon, while Richard who is part of the diver’s group explains how to edit photos in the dining room, the main lounge bathes in a blinding light. The sea calms down as we enter the fjord and during the captain’s cocktail, Alexey and the Expedition team celebrate with us the end of an incredible trip as we enjoy magnificent views of the Icelandic coast.

Total Nautical Miles Sailed: 968.91

Northern-most Position: 71° 17.3’ N, 025° 32.6‘ E

Details

Tripcode: PLA17-18
Dates: 18 Sep – 25 Sep, 2018
Duration: 7 nights
Ship: m/v Plancius
Embark: Akureyri
Disembark: Akureyri

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Aboard m/v Plancius

The ice-strengthened vessel Plancius is an ideal vessel for polar expedition cruises in the Arctic and Antarctic.

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