We have left Tasiilaq, which was, in earlier times, called Ammassalik in the descriptive language of the Inuit. This means a place with plenty of ”lode” – a type of hering, which spawns mainly in the fiords of eastern Greenland and is a very important source of food and a useful bait fish for the Inuit. We take a southerly course and with the help of the north-easterly winds und under full sail we make good time. This remote rugged coastline is indescribably beautiful and as diverse as the different forms of the icebergs. We explore the bays. The inland ice comes right up to the coast and it is only partly imaginable just how vast it is and how interesting it would be to explore. We find the remains of an old settlement on the islands – piles of stones which were once the walls of a house. We can see the entrance, a window, which was covered by seal skin, a big stone slab, which was once a table on which a fish oil cooker once stood. Arved explains to us that these solid structures are part of a permanent settlement and not just a camp used in the summer months for fishing and hunting seals. We anchor south of the Fridtjof Nansen Peninsula, from which in the summer of 1888 the young Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen started out with his team and successfully completed the first inland ice crossing from east to west. Normally crossings of the inland ice at this time started from Disco Bay on the west side. Today, at Nansen’s starting point, we find snow grouse but, as to be expected, no signs of Nansen’s presence.
Keeping an outlook for ice while sailing, is a good opportunity to sight whales. We see quite a few on our way – one day 23 of them. We sight fin and hunchback whales, which are easy to identify by the form of their dorsal fins, and also from a distance by the form of their blow – the air they blow out. Fin whales have a thin 8-meter-high blow while hunchbacks have a 3-meter-high bushier one. The whalers back in the 13th century could recognize the different whales as well when they set out from the coast of Schleswig-Holstein on their long journeys to Greenland to bring back whale oil and meat.
Arved mentions that, since he has regularly been on expeditions since 1989 in the waters around east Greenland, he has never seen so many whales in the area. Since the whales are no longer commercially hunted, they have recaptured their old refuge. One wonders how these waters must have appeared hundreds of years ago when the animals lived in hordes. We get an idea of this while we are sailing slowly and can see hunchbacks in the distance. One of them seems interested and swims towards us. He lifts his head out of the water a few times and we can see clearly the small skin elevations on his upper jaw before he dives down again. Others show their flukes before they dive: Each animal has its own individual pattern and so it is possible to determine through comparing photos of the flukes that hunchbacks remain here in their feeding area in these high altitudes and these cold waters around Greenland from spring to summer before they then travel in autumn the 16,000 km to their reproduction areas in the faraway tropics. It is great to be able to experience this so close up.