Sailing Northwest Greenland: beginning

Ilulissat iceflow, a detail

At last, a new sailing through the Arctic waters! Polar sailing has long been a tradition for me, something I I've done during summers for several years, and I'm very happy to be able to revisit the harsh but beautiful landscapes and waters of Greenland.

View of the Ilulissat Iceflow, which I was about to experience.

The high Arctic has long been closed for visitors because of the pandemic. During Summer 2021, enough control has been gained to open up gradually. At first, the far-off Greenlandic settlements remained a closed zone. Next, they were open to visitors who had undergone a two week quarantene. Then, finally, they were open to those who had undergone a full vaccination. Still, a very limited amount of travellers were allowed to enter the country. I was lucky to secure a flight ticket at a very early stage, when there still were no entry guarantees. After the reopening, most tickets into Greenland were sold out. Buying the tickets before the place was reopened was a bit of a gamble, especially considering the price, but taking risks is all part of being able to create the most amazing adventures. On the turn of September, I was ready to go.

Travelling with the sailing gear on, to save luggage space and weight

The airport hub of Kangerlussuaq in western Greenland - far away from it all.

I was joining a sailing boat that was already on the Western coast of Greenland, and has been there for two years. The sailing plan had failed because of Corona, so now it could only sail Greenland. I've already sailed Eastern Greenland, Spitsbergen, Faeroe Islands and Iceland with the same boat, also arranging guided tours of Spitsbergen. Now it was time again.

I was joining in Upernavik, a small town located in Northwest Greenland. Then, I'd sail south towards the Disko Island and disembark in Aasiaat, just before the boat sailed the last distance to its wintering spot.

Ice and more ice! Here, just outside of the window of my involuntary visiting site.

Both me and the other crew's plans got greatly affected by technical malfunctions of Air Greenland's flights. A plane got to turn around, others got cancelled. One of the crew lost a week waiting for a flight. Myself, I got stranded in Ilulissat for two days. I throroughly enjoyed the days though, it's truly a beautiful place!

I seized the opportunity to explore and taste Greenland throroughly. A snow crab for dinner, with the view of the bay!

In Ilulissat, I spent one of the days working in film industry. They were shooting season III of Borgen, a Danish series, and I was featured as an extra. I've done a lot of gigs like that in Sweden, Denmark and Norway - now, working in Greenland was a new, exotic addition to that.

A photo of the icebergs in the bay, taken at sunset, walking from work to home.

Apart from working, I visited the Unesco World Heritage site of the Ilulissat Iceflow. The glacier that meets the sea here, called Sermeq Kujalleq, calves immense amounts of icebergs into the water, and is the most productive in the world - except Antarctica. Every day, it delivers 100 million tons of icebergs into the bay, in all possible sizes and shapes. These stay around for months, sometimes years - and then continue around the North Atlantic. It is most probable that the iceberg that sank Titanic came from this very bay.

Note how the beaches are washed down, even in high tide. There's a reason for that.

When the icebergs break off, split or turn around, some very big waves can be formed. Tsunamis of up to 10 meters are known to sweep the beaches, so the access to the water close to the glacier is prohibited. Sailing close to the big icebergs is very dangerous for the same reason. Also, they can have an underwater foot that extends a long way out, which is a risk for the boat to hit and damage the keel - and in case a bit of the foot breaks off and reaches the surface, it can of course hit the boat with all kinds of possible consequences, none of them positive. A usual rule is to keep the distance at least three times the iceberg's height, if possible more.

The hiking trail as it starts in the old Heliport, near the beautiful exhibition hall.

There are a few great hiking trails with breathtaking views of the Iceflow. Because of tourist restrictions, it was quite deserted. I walked around practically alone, watching a passing fishing boat or two, finding arctic mushrooms along the way, and taking what seems to be hundreds of photos.

Hiking the Red Trail

Hiking the Blue Trail

The path from the city leads along a cliff that is called the Suicide Gorge. Here went those who were tired of life, or old and sick and not wishing to be a burden on their family. Anorher way was to take the qajaq and set into the sea never to return.

Near the Suicide Gorge. The bright sun shines onto the dark side of Arctic reality.

Suicide is still a big and serious issue in Greenland, worsened by alcohol abuse and the cultural disconnection that happened when the Danes introduced the Inuit to "civilization". There are support centers to help turn this around. Alcohol is very expensive to control the use. Several settlements have a dry policy and do not sell alcohol at all. The culture is also evolving, and many young Inuit seem to have an identity that combines the old and the new.

Fishing boats co-existing with the icebergs.

The beautiful church at the coast of Ilulissat.

Finally the watiting game was over, and I was welcomed to board a Dash-8 plane to Upernavik. Along with me was Hilde, an arctic sailing veteran from Norway. And on board was Sergej, a friend who had joined me earlier for sailing in West Indies, Spitsbergen, and also in Greece. He's done several Clipper Race legs and was going to do the Northwest Passage, but due to Corona restrictions the journey was rerouted to Greenland only. (To be continued)

Onwards - to the sailing adventure!
All the flights have been climate neutralized.