We are all sitting around the nautical charts and considering how we should continue on. We still lie in the port of Upernavik. We moored at the only pier last evening shortly before midnight. This was a welcome change for the young people here. For the young and old alike a harbor is an adventure playground.
Dressed in neoprene suits they jump into the ice cold water right in front of our eyes. Here north of the 72. Parallel, where the polar night lasts 75 days, it is a good idea to take advantage of the long summer. Upernavik is our last stopover before we continue to the sparsely populated north – the last outpost where we can stock up with what we need. We buy provisions, take on water, shower in the local hospital and write to our families at home. During the next three weeks we will keep contact only over the satellite telephone and only in certain cases. This log entry will be sent this way as well. Brigitte and Arved took a stroll back into the past and hiked over the mountains to the other side of the small island. From the top of a hill, they looked down at the bay where the “Dagmar Aaen” was locked in the ice during the winter of 2009-2010.
Three crewmembers spent the polar winter there at the edge of the ice. During this period they examined the ice development in a long term study for the Max Planck Institute. Scientists had installed extensive measuring instruments in the ice around the ship. While the scientists around their director Dr. Dirk Notz sporadically came to the site, the overwintering crew took care of the sensors and took readings of data which were then later analyzed in the institute. The results were somewhat sobering as the sea ice formed much later than usual and did not reach the thickness and strength which would have been expected. The Greenlanders told us at the time. “The sea is too warm for strong ice to form.
But now we want to be on our way. We listen eagerly to the stories Arved has to tell about where he has already been, what he experienced there and what our options are. Due to the fact that we want to be back in Ilulissat at the beginning of September and we lost time because of the propeller damage, we decide to head north as directly as possible. We want to reach Slorapaluk, the northernmost inhabited community in the world. There we will decide if we can chance travelling even further north or if we should take the slower way back along the coast. We plan to examine many glaciers and are getting used to not making long-tern plans. Our involuntary long stay in Iceland has taught us to react spontaneously to changing situations. And in the end – as always – it is the weather which decides on further travel plans.
We reach a decision and within minutes the engine is thrown on and we cast off. We have decided to directly cross Melville Bay – course 314° for the next 300 sea miles. The sea weather forecast calls for a stiff breeze and falling temperatures. And so we sail into the bright summer night. We are quickly back into our watch rhythm. Four hours on deck and eight hours free time. It is rainy and foggy. Sunday is spent in the fog and besides a few ice bergs there is not much to see. The thick sea fog takes our view. This means that there must be an ice watch on deck. It is hard to spend a few hours in the damp cold weather and stare out into a grey wall in order to see any ice blocks in the water. It is good to get below deck after the watch and warm up with a hot cup of tea.
The weather clears up on Monday and the sun shines like a ball of fire through the fog. Finally! The air begins to glitter and in the distance we can see the coastline with its glaciers – a wonderful play of color. Little auk – a member of the auk bird family – swim around the ship. Only when we get too close do they became frantic and dive at the last minute below the bow. Auk are excellent divers and live most of the year on the water. You could say they are the penguins of the northern hemisphere. They are considered a delicacy when fermented in seal skin – not for the faint-hearted. The smell is like rancid gorgonzola.
Land is in sight off to the side. Cape York is known as the gateway to the northernmost areas. Through the binoculars we can see the 18 meter high monument which was erected in remembrance of Robert Peary, who allegedly discovered the North Pole. This claim is not however uncontroversial. Baffin Bay forms a huge funnel at this point bordered by the Canadian Ellesmere Island to the right and the coast of Greenland to the left. This is the entrance to the legendary Smith Sound. As late as 1818 a British expedition advanced this far north and made first contact with the Inughuit, who until then had believed that they were the only living people in the world. They were that isolated. We are eager to experience what the North has in store for us.