Some people dream of rounding Cape Horn, some people dream of going through Havengore Creek – a far more risky adventure in my opinion. I dream about sailing to Scoresby Sund. We made a half-hearted attempt in 2011 after sailing Sumara to Jan Mayen but we were stupidly early and the ice was fast all down the Greenland coast. Sadly, our schedule didn’t permit waiting for the ice to shift so after another attempt the get to Kangerlussuak we gave up and sailed home.
When Will Stirling asked if I would like to sail with him to Scoresby Sund on “Integrity” of course there was only one answer. So on 7th July 2019 we flew to Husavik to prepare the boat. Two quick tips, don’t even consider buying a cheese and ham toastie on EasyJet, words can’t describe its foulness and there were enough E numbers to kill a rat. God knows what their other “food” tastes like! Secondly, it is a long drive in the hire car from Reykjavik to Husavik, but don’t try speeding, Will was fined £377.00 for driving at 115 km in a 90 km zone which was rather painful.
Heavily loaded with sailing, camping and climbing gear plus the maximum allowance of cheese and several bottles of King’s Ginger!
Overwintering in Iceland takes its toll on a classic wooden yacht. There was plenty of work to do before setting off but after a couple of days we were ready to go. Our plan was to do a man overboard practise, swing the compass to draw up a deviation table then head off to Flatey.
We decided to skip the idea of stopping at Flatey and so we set off along the north coast of Iceland to the West Fjords. Sadly the ice situation wasn’t going to allow us to get into Scoresby Sund so we changed plans to head for the Westfjords and thence onto East Greenland but further South. We passed the Horn of Iceland in thick fog but we were able to hoist the square sail off Oskubakur en route for Sudureyri
After refueling, we left Sudureyri on 12th July, earlier than planned because strong winds were due to hit Greenland late Sunday or Monday.
Dan is not only a genius fisherman but he cooks one of the best fish curries I have ever tasted! Will’s signature dish is tuna pasta which was bad news for Dom who hates tuna pasta! We would cook it up secretly while Don was asleep. We did a fair bit of motoring being keen to avoid the strong winds forecast to start on Monday. The boat was very cosy, heated partly by warm air from the engine and also from a solid fuel stove. On 12th July the air temperature was 4 degrees and the sea was 3 degrees, indicating the possibility of encountering ice soon.
A brew up in Integrity’s cosy interior. The solid fuel stove could be supplemented with warm air blowers driven from the heat of the engine – but obviously not while we were sailing!
It wasn’t long before we spotted ice. Firstly small growlers then large bergs. With the fog, it demanded the helmsman’s careful attention. Our technique was to count how long an auk sitting in the sea would take to reach the boat, if it took a minute from sighting to the bow then we knew we had one minute to throw the helm over before hitting a berg. I suppose some people use radar but this was certainly more fun. Will even managed to catch a glimpse of sun and presumably the horizon to take a sight.
How could we resist a trip through the middle of a giant berg! The yacht was actually quite a distance away and with the drifting fog there was the potential of losing the mother ship!
We were hoping to visit the fjords to the north of the settlement but visability was diabolical and the charts can’t be relied on. We headed to the main settlement of Tasiilaq. We moored against a large supply ship but were woken abruptly when it needed to move so we anchored outside the harbour wall. Will had already bought a rifle but had it sent to Scoresby Sund so we pondered hiring or buying one in town. In the end we decided to proceed unarmed as buying another rifle was a huge extra expense (£670.00) and hiring one would necessitate bringing it back. As we intended to cruise north and leave from there to avoid potential strong headwinds it would be a shame to head south to return the rifle.
An interesting range of products can be purchased for the local supermarket.
After visiting the little museum and having a rather wonderful private talk we set off on a 30 nm voyage up the Semilik Fjord. Although there was quite a lot of ice we were reliably informed that there was less than usual!
We anchored in Tiniteqilan for the evening. We touched a rock near the entrance which was our reminder to ensure someone is always aloft when entering bays. The charts are completely unreliable and the sounder was too late. The water is generally gin clear. In the morning we met up with a group of kayaker being led by Martin from the Shetlands. As it was one of their birthdays we served them tea and cake while we towed them under sail. After a while they decided they could row faster and left us behind! Coincidentally I met a women at the Arctic Club dinner last year who remembered the occasion as one of the highlights of the day!
Always better with someone aloft in these waters
After Will and Dan explored the island of Ikasartivaq in the dinghy we pushed on to anchor in 20 m off an old American Air Base. This was in Ikateq Fjord an off shoot of Sermiligaq Fjord. The holding in small pebbles with a fisherman’s anchor was doubtful. There was a .5 kn current running.
We went ashore necessitating crossing the delta of a fast stream. We split up to explore which was probably not ideal as one group had the bear scaring kit and it wasn’t me. The base was abandoned leaving all sorts of old relics to explore.
There were derelict hangers and old boilers.
Photo by Will Stirling. They also left thousands of barrels of diesel. We were told, but have no evidence, that there was a dispute over the ownership of the fuel so the cans were spiked to render them useless.
Dan and Jack laid out a net at the base of the stream to try to catch some trout. We should have checked the net later in the evening because when we woke in the morning there were 100’s of very ugly and very spiky fish caught up in the net. It took us a long and painful time to free them. The good news was we caught an Arctic Char and a couple of cod.
Integrity moored in Storo in 20 m with 50 m chain. A near perfect anchorage. The larger bergs in the fjord ground near the entrance rendering the bay relatively berg free. That said one hit the boat during the night while I slept through it. However beware of the incorrectly marked rocks off Sermilligaq (Chart 2300)
We climbed up the hill from the boat. Note we were armed with a wooden oar in case of bear attack. I had my hunting knife too, so obviously we all felt absolutely safe and sound. Er.
The ice was building up out to sea.
On 18th July we motored up Odesund to Kangertigtwatsiaq. Keep to starboard on entry due to a bar. We saw the waterfall then headed up to Midtpynt and east up the coast in thick fog past Kap Japetus Steenstrup. We left Ailsa O to starboard and headed up Tugtilik. We anchored at the head of the port hand branch of the fjord where we climbed onto an iceberg for some publicity photos for Kings Ginger.
Well someone has to do it!
This is Gino Watkins – Henry George “Gino” Watkins (1907 – 1932) who was a British Arctic Explorer. The most important expedition he led was the British Arctic Air Route Expedition in 1930 – 1931. They used Shackleton’s old ship the Quest. They also bought rope from the excellent chandler Arthur Beale as a telegram in our archive shows! He was awarded the Founders Medal in 1932 which bought him international fame. Sadly he died in a kayaking accident in this fjord when he returned to Greenland a few years later.
Gino Watkins telegram requesting rope.
This is a photo from Arthur Beale’s archive of the ship Quest which was used by Shackleton for his last expedition and was then purchased by Gino Watkins for the British Arctic Air Route Expedition. You can see the tender which we found in the fjord.
We went for a wander to try to find Gino Watkins old hut. We found the location and the remains of his old boat. Here Will is considering a keel up restoration job. Maybe not.
As we left the anchorage we visited the Gino Watkins memorial cross set into rock at the head of the fjord. There is a Gino Watkins Memorial Fund which still funds worthwhile polar expeditions. The highest mountain range in Greenland – the Watkins Range – is named after him.
After filling with fresh stream water involving six dinghy trips we left the anchorage on 19th July. Our chosen anchorage was blocked by bergs so we headed for the Bay of Horrors. We sailed past Kap Hildebrandt and Imilik and found an anchorage off steep moraine in the first bay to the west of the headland. We anchored in 12 m. The following day we headed towards Solos Sund only to find it blocked by ice. We continued North through heavy ice conditions as far as Sondre Aputiteq where we moored the boat to a flat sheet of ice for the night.
As the ice was quite dense we decided to take a rest for the night by mooring to a flat ice sheet. You can see the Island of Sondre Aputiteq in the distance to the left. The idea was to climb the island in the morning to see out to sea to find out whether the ice was clear. We didn’t have enough diesel to reach Iceland so we were depending on some wind. The engine sprung a diesel leak which luckily Dan and Will managed to successfully repair. Position 67.13.28N x 33.15.68W and drifting.
Photo courtesy of Will Stirling. Getting squeezed!
In the morning Will, Dan and Jack set off in the dinghy to climb the island to check the ice conditions out to sea. Bearing in mind we had already seen a bear and the landing party were unarmed, there was a frisson of excitement about the trip! And indeed it did get very exciting for them. As they were half way up the hill they spotted this sleepy bear and decided to make a very rapid exit! Photo – Will Stirling.
Photo – Will Stirling We decided it was time to leave Greenland as the yacht was getting hemmed in by ice. It was very calm to start with but we needed some wind or we would soon run out of fuel. On 23rd the calm fog turned into F5/6 NE. The No3 jib got wrapped around the bobstay and it took a couple of hours to free it. We eventually made it to Flateyri in Iceland only to have the engine stutter to a halt as we neared the harbour. The dinghy tow wasn’t too successful but a friendly fishing boat gave us a pull in with considerable skill. Dan, Jack and I decided to walk to Isafjordur over the Breidiadlur Pass and to race the boat around the headland with Will and Dan onboard. It took us 7 hours 25 minutes and 36 seconds to cover the 27.2 km. The following day we worked on the boat and met up with my old friend Siggi. On 28th July we left Isafjordur in the hire car stopping at Arkannes en route for the airport. It was a brilliant adventure but that ambition to get to Scoresby Sund remains!