W1610 – Icebergs at Dawn

My last post, W1610 – Hvalsey hiccup, described my visit to our first port of call in Greenland, Qaqortoq, and some timing issues visiting the historic church at Hvalsey from there. Just before we sailed away from Qaqortoq the captain told us in his briefing that as part of our voyage around the coast to our next port Narsarsuaq (‘the large plain’ in Greenlandic) we would be sailing through an iceberg field in Tunulliarfik fjord around 4am, which will be just before dawn.

Although this was a very early hour, and it was bound to be very cold up on deck at that hour of the day, this was too good a prospect to remain in bed, which I can do on any other day. So before I tucked up that night I carefully laid out all the clothes I would need in the morning, and set my alarm for 3:45am.

When the alarm sounded what seemed just a few minutes after I had gone to sleep, I wondered whether this was such a good idea after all – my bed was warm and cosy, and I was still sleepy. My bed is under the cabin windows, so reaching up I pulled back the thick curtains. Right outside my window an iceberg was slipping past in that wonderful pre-dawn light, waking my senses in an instant! I inwardly cursed not setting the alarm even earlier, and set about donning all those layers of clothes I had set out as quickly as I possibly could.

Up on deck I was surprised to only see half a dozen or so passengers were up to see and photograph the absolutely stunning scene before us, but numbers steadily grew as time went on.

Here are a selection of the numerous photographs I took as the sun slowly rose over the fjord and icebergs – I’m sure I don’t need to say anything else as the pictures speak for themselves:

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Once the sun had risen, I started to photograph the icebergs themselves, as they looked so impressive lit by the low orange sun:

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After around an hour and a half on deck, the number of icebergs thinned out, and as the cold was starting to penetrate into my bones I retreated back to my cabin to thaw out. My first task was to transfer the epic photographs I had just taken onto my tablet for safe-keeping.

I was due out on the first tour of the day with a 7:45 check-in time which meant a 7am breakfast, so some quick calculations showed it simply wasn’t worth going back to bed! So instead I put my outer layers back on, and went back on deck to take more photographs:

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I was struck by the number of seabirds taking a ride on this flat-topped iceberg, it was almost like an aircraft carrier for birds!

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Returning to my cabin once more I prepared myself for the day ahead, and after a warming breakfast went to the lounge to check-in for my tour. As I did so the ship docked against a tiny quay – another example of the benefits of sailing on a small cruise ship. I was doing the same tour as almost every other passenger on the shop – a boat tour in a small local boat through and up close to the icebergs in Qoroq ice fjord. They had clearly roped in all the available local boats in the area to take us all, and trips were scheduled throughout the day. The check-in process was slightly more complicated than usual as instead of just a coach number, we were allocated a coloured sticker and a boat name on our tickets, and we had to listen out for this combination to be called to know when our trip was ready to depart.

This was the boat I was allocated to, and being the first passenger on board I secured myself a seat in the open area at the front of the boat for a good uninterrupted view:

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We made good speed down Tunulliarfik fjord (the one that we had recently sailed up), as far as the junction with the Qoroq ice fjord. Here a collection of large icebergs were grounded close together on the moraine, where skipper carefully weaved his boat in and around the icebergs as we took amazing close up pictures of them. I was particularly struck by the big variations in shape and texture of the different icebergs, and also how deep and intense the blue colouration was on some of them:

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We then sped up the Qoroq ice fjord towards the glacier that was calving all the icebergs and smaller lumps of ice around us, which got more numerous the further we went. Although the ice became too much for us to get close to the glacier, we could see it clearly in the bright clear conditions:

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The icebergs and ice were looking so good in the low early morning light – I was awestruck at the beauty of the view around me, and so grateful for my early start time for my tour.

As we made our way back down the Qoroq ice fjord, the boat engine seemed to splutter and stop, and we drifted to a halt in and amongst the ice. Fellow passengers who were in the stern reported that black smoke had come from the exhaust as we did so. The skipper tried unsuccessfully to start the engine, and we all looked at each other, but I thought there are worse places to have to spend extra time! The skipper tinkered with the engine, and after a while it reluctantly fired up, still sounding rather unsteady. We then proceeded back to the quay and our waiting ship rather sedately – although a trifle concerned I was also enjoying the unexpected extra time in the lovely surroundings.

Once back at the quay, after unloading us the skipper just took his boat to a quiet corner where it remained tied up for the rest of the day. Our late return and the withdrawal of our boat clearly affected the schedule of trips for the remainder of the day. Some of my table companions at dinner told me they had to wait an hour and a half for their tour to depart, but their annoyance soon departed once they caught sight of the amazing views to be seen on tour.

After returning to the ship and a short rest, I decided to set out on foot to explore Narsarsuaq, which is located around 2.5km along a rough road from the quayside. Narsarsuaq is just a small settlement, it’s main feature is an airfield built during the second world war by the Americans, code named ‘Bluie West One’ or BW1, now used for commercial flights.

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I didn’t find much to interest me or my camera, other than these painted rocks, the statue of Eric the Red, and this amazing mural painted across the end of one of the buildings:

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As it was such a lovely day and still only mid-morning, I decided to carry on along the single road for a while as it headed out into the countryside. I very much enjoyed the wild and remote scenery with it’s flowers and birdlife, eventually reaching a point where I could look down on a lake at the end of a valley ahead of me. Much as I would have liked to carry on, my legs reminded me of the equal walk back to the ship and of my early start to the day, so reluctantly I turned around and made my way back to the ship.

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As I walked beside the fjord close to where the ship was moored, I was struck by the way that the beautiful blue of the fjord was reflecting the clear blue sky, and that it was only the passing icebergs which gave away that this was not a more tropical location. I was also amused the way the ship appeared to be playing ‘hide and seek’ in the fjord, save for it’s smoke giving the game away.

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I was happy to spend the rest of the day back onboard ship, reflecting on the truly epic and astonishing sights I had seen and photographed earlier. It was certainly one of those very special days to remember.

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