W1610 – Hvalsey hiccup

In my last post, W1610 – Sound Viewing, I described a wonderful day spent sailing through Prins Christiansund fjord as we approached our third country, Greenland. The next morning we sailed into our first port in Greenland, Qaqortoq. I was up on deck early that morning, and watched as we dropped anchor in the bay – in this small port we would be going ashore by tender boats.

It was a lovely morning, and in the low sunshine both the bay and the town with it’s multicoloured houses looked most attractive. The tour I had chosen was not due to leave until 11:30, lasting three hours, so knowing I was unlikely to be back on the ship in time for lunch I decided it was best to have a large and late breakfast – so I had more time than usual at this early hour to enjoy the beauty and peace of the scene before me.

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The tour I had selected in Qaqortoq was to take a ride out on a small local boat to view the historic stone church of Hvalsey. I checked in as requested at 11am, and soon we boarded the local boat directly from the shop using the same gangway and pontoon system that the ship’s tenders were also using to take other passengers ashore in Qaqortoq. We actually left the ship 15 minutes early, and the local boat was soon making good speed up the fjord towards the church.

On the way I enjoyed the passing mountain scenery looking at its best in the fortunately familiar bright clear sunny weather that has been such a feature of this cruise. A bright green field containing sheep stood out on one bank of the fjord:

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After about 45 minutes we reached a small pier close to the church ruins, almost at the head of the fjord. Here we disembarked, and were met by the ‘local’ guide, who it turned out originally came from Iceland. She led us up to the church, and spent some time explaining the history of the site and of the church.

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She explained that when Eric the Red came to this area of Greenland he allocated the land around different fjords to different people, and the land around Hvalsey was given to his blood brother Thorkell Farserk, who set up a farmstead. At this time Greenland was an independent country, but later when things became difficult the people of Greenland asked the King of Norway if they could come under his security in return for paying taxes, which he accepted. The Norwegians brought Christianity to Greenland around the year 1000, and it is thought that the wealth of the Norwegian King paid for Hvalsey church to be built, using slave labour from Scotland. Hvalsey church, and also one on mainland Norway share many construction features to traditional Scottish stone crofts.

The church has walls around 1.5m thick made of local stone and mortar made from crushed shells, and it is thought it would have had a turf roof. It would have held around 30 to 35 people, making it the largest and most significant church in the area.

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The local guide then said that we were free to explore the area, including the ruins of the farmstead buildings on our own. Someone asked when the local boat would be returning to collect us, and she said around 2pm, but that we should act like the original inhabitants did, and look down the fjord for signs of an arriving boat.

I then set off to explore and photograph the area, judging how far I went so that I could be back at the small pier by 2pm. The area around the church was most attractive, with loads of wild flowers in bloom, notably the harebells:

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My walk took me first to the farmstead ruins, but there was not much left to see, then high above the church, and then down to the shoreline where I photographed the seaweed under the crystal clear fjord water, and the thousands of mussels of all sizes:

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Everyone dutifully reassembled around the pier at 2pm, and there we waited patiently for the local boat to return – it would be delivering a new set of passengers doing this tour, and taking our group back to the ship. Time passed, and more time, and it was well past 3pm before I spotted the boat in the far distance using my binoculars. It was just after 3:30 before we had boarded the boat and we’re on our way back.

I never did find out what the hiccup was in timing on this tour, but we were away far longer than the documented three hour duration. I, and several others were most frustrated, for had we known when the boat was actually going to arrive we could have explored the lovely surroundings for much further afield. It also meant that I would not get to go ashore in Qaqortoq, as after boarding our ship there would not be time to take the tender ashore and back again and have time left to see anything.

As we sped back down the fjord we could see several large icebergs glinting in the sunshine:

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As we reached the bay where our ship was anchored the water became much more choppy, and the skipper decided it was not safe for us to try transferring from his single hulled craft to the ship’s pontoon, and that therefore he would take us ashore in Qaqortoq, from where we could take the more stable twin hulled ship’s tender back to the ship. I was actually delighted at this change of plan, as I could now have around half an hour or so ashore in Qaqortoq to snap a few pictures of the area close to the pier there:

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I then returned to the ship on one of it’s tenders without any problems, learning that they had actually moved the ship during the afternoon as the conditions in it’s original location were even more rough.

Despite the hiccup in timing, the tour had provided a great start to my time in Greenland – I had learned about the history of the area, very much enjoyed the peace and beauty at the head of the fjord around the church, and had a brief glimpse of a Greenlandic town.  Little did I know what an astonishing and breathtaking day lay ahead on my next day in Greenland – to be documented in my next post!

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