My Greenland Sailing Staycation

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Staycation (n): a trip in which one uses his or her time off to remain home and, in fact, go nowhere. A play on the American English word “vacation”.

Okay, so I’m using a bit of poetic license with this one since I did not actually stay home for my summer holiday, but I did stay in the country as opposed to the vast majority of friends I know who travel to Denmark for summer holiday, plus another handful or two who venture further to places like Bali or Los Angeles. Plus, it is alliterative with “sailing” and “swordfish”, which made for catchy and unique hashtags.

I’m fresh back from a nearly three-week summer holiday in which I sailed along the west coast of Greenland between Nuuk (64*N) and Disko Bay (69*N) in my own private boat. By the way, when we say sailing here, 8 times out of 10 it is actually with a boat with an engine instead of with a true sailing vessel. I guess I’m not really sure what to call sailing with a motorized boat otherwise? Anyway…

To put it simply, my sailing staycation was one of the greatest experiences I have ever had! Of course I have been sailing before, and I’ve even been sailing along most of the west coast before, but when it is your own boat, and when it is YOU yourself as captain some of the time, it is an experience on a whole other level!

I’m nowhere close to being able to compose a concise post about my holiday, so for now I give a few teaser thumbnail photos and a suggestion to follow the trip in short-story form via my in-trip Instagram posts on @polarphile.

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Welcome to Ilulissat! (69*N 51*W)

(Thursday 28 March 2013)

On Monday I flew on Air Greenland from Kangerlussuaq to Ilulissat. I have now been in Ilulissat for 3 glorious nights, and I have 14 nights more. I have had the pleasure of visiting Ilulissat twice before, so this has been a fantastic return trip! Last June, I spent 11 nights in Ilulissat with Visit Greenland, Ace & Ace, and Chris Coubrough to film the fifth and final episode of Taste of Greenland. Then in August, I spent half a day while sailing on Sarfaq Ittuk, the coastal ferry run by Arctic Umiaq Line.

I am staying in the most perfect, cozy, little studio flat, Qupaloraarsuk 52, literally right on the water with not a single thing obstructing my view of the sea! When I wake up in the morning, I don’t even need to sit up in bed in order to see the icebergs! Here are some of my personal snapshots of the million-dollar view from the private balcony:

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I know about the flat because its owners are relatives of my host family in Nuuk, but it is for rent to the general public! It is a small studio flat with a private entrance and mudroom, private balcony, private bathroom with shower, and private kitchenette (two burner stove, mini fridge, shelves for storing dry goods, pots, pans, dishware, utensils, and tea kettle). There is a small table for dining, a chest of drawers, a television, and a radio. The flat is virtually next door to Hotel Icefiord where there is a nice restaurant and bar, and it is just a 15-minute walk to the center of town where there are plenty of shopping and dining options and all of the tour companies’ offices. What more could you need!?

I was very much looking forward to seeing the Ilulissat Ice Fjord and a sea full of icebergs during the winter season… and I have not been disappointed! My expectations were that the icebergs would be much, much larger than in summertime, and that they would be eerily locked in place because of a frozen sea. Well, I was correct about their larger size, but I was incorrect about them being locked in place. The sea is not totally frozen, so the icebergs are free to move around… and they do!

I am first and foremost in Ilulissat in order to work, but I do hope to carve out some personal time to enjoy this beautiful town! Weather, time, and availability permitting, some of my dream wish list items for Ilulissat are:

Sailing to Qeqertarsuaq (Disko Island)

Multiple-day doglsedge tour to Oqaatsut (Rode Bay)

We shall see… Takuss!

A Little Lesson About Ice

(From 25 March 2013)

Since I am gearing up to travel to Ilulissat, the town whose very name means “icebergs”, I figure there is no better time to give a small lesson about ice and icebergs in Greenland. As a disclaimer, I am no glaciologist, so please do not take everything I say to be scientifically precise J But I do know enough from what I have learned in Greenland to provide some useful information. If anybody is interested in a truly spectacular and awe-some portrayal of glaciers, do check out Chasing Ice, a big-screen documentary (by James Balog, National Geographic photographer/cinematographer) that artistically displays how glaciers flow, depress, and calve over time. The images document glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and the United States.

One may ask: Are there not icebergs all over Greenland? Why does Ilulissat have the pleasure of being the namesake town for icebergs? The answer is: Yes, there are icebergs all over Greenland. Icebergs originate from glaciers that flow into a body of water, creating a tongue that floats on the water whose front breaks off (“calves”) in pieces of all shapes and sizes – the icebergs. When I say that glaciers flow, one may think of liquid water; but a glacier is frozen ice. It flows due to its own weight, and it is not detectable by the human eye just standing and watching for a short period of time. The Greenland Ice Sheet is itself one huge glacier, and it flows into the water in hundreds of places all over Greenland. Therefore, there are icebergs all over Greenland.

Ilulissat is especially well known for icebergs because the glaciers in its immediate area (Sermeq Kujalleq and Eqip Sermia) are especially active. They move faster, and thus calve more frequently creating more icebergs, than other glaciers in Greenland and in the whole world! Sermeq Kujalleq, more commonly just called Kangia or the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, is one of the fastest flowing glaciers in the world. It currently flows about 35 meters a DAY while other glaciers in the world only move that far in a year!

However, despite the glacier’s fast pace, it is currently in a state of rapid retreat (moving closer and closer toward land). Glacial retreat IS a natural occurrence, but the rate at which Sermeq Kujalleq is currently retreating is what is unprecedented. Sermeq Kujalleq has actually been slowly retreating since about 1850. But in 1998, the glacier suddenly started flowing twice as fast as before, its surface level depressed, and its floating glacial tongue calved off entirely. In just 10 years, the glacier retreated 15 km (9 miles) when previously it took 80+ years to retreat that far. The Ilulissat Ice Fjord was granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2004, so the area is now protected.

This is a picture of the Ilulissat Ice Fjord, taken in August 2012.

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This is a picture of Eqip Sermia, a glacier just north of Ilulissat that calves very frequently, taken in June 2012. It is an extremely popular attraction for tourists. There are sailing tours to view it from the water, and there is also the possibility to stay overnight in small huts/lodges on land close by.

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This is a picture of Narsap Sermia, a glacier just north of Nuuk, take in July 2012… and an iceberg that originated from it.

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