The Greenland Log, May 19 - October 6, 2002
 
 
May 26, 2002
We left the Potomac on the 19th, and arrived on Cape Cod after a slow passage of seven days. Unfavorable winds pushed us as far out to sea as Hudson Canyon. We followed the edge of the continental shelf hoping to see whales. Instead, we spotted a good number or sharks, a big hammerhead among them, and a very large sea turtle. Tomorrow we'll transit the Cape Cod Canal and sail north across Stellwagen Bank, again hoping to see whales.
May 29, 2002
We spent a full day and a night crisscrossing Stellwagen Bank and didn't see a single whale. When thick fog rolled in we gave up and sailed north towards Maine. Early in the evening the wind died, the sea flattened out and everything became very still. Then we heard whales breathing, with long, low puffs. We couldn't see them, because of the fog, so we motored slowly towards the sound, turning off the engine several times to listen and get a bearing. Finally we saw, less than twenty yards from the boat, four humpback whales slowly dropping below the surface and coming up again to breathe. They were quite undisturbed and maybe even curious, at one point crossing right in front of our bow. There were several more. We could hear them all around us in the fog. We silently drifted among them for an hour and a half, until it was completely dark.
The next day a tiny bird with a yellow back landed on our rail and nervously hopped about the boat until it found a sheltered spot under the dodger. He was far from home; we were 25 miles off shore. The whales find their way each year from Puerto Rico to the Gulf of Maine, but this little bird got lost in the fog. He flew away several times looking for land, but returned to the boat, like Noah's dove. He stayed with us until we approached Portland. The fog was so thick that we couldn't see Portland Head, even though we passed it within a hundred yards.
I write this update in the Peaks Island Public Library. In a day or two we'll sail towards Nova Scotia.
June 7, 2002
We reached Nova Scotia after a three day passage, but we didn't get as far up the coast as we had hoped. Soon after we rounded Cape Sable the radio broadcast a gale warning. Rather then push on to Halifax, we took cover in Shelburne Harbor. And we are still there. After the front passed, another low settled offshore, causing a north-easter, the worst possible wind for us.Canadian customs formalities were decidedly informal. All we had to do was call up and tell them we are in the country. No paperwork was required, except for our shotgun.We are docked among the local fishing fleet. There is one other sailboat here, the American ketch Tamara. Owners Mark and Nancy are on their third voyage to Labrador, and have been very generous with advice on navigating northern waters.I am sitting in the public library again. Outside the wind is blowing from the north-east, it is raining hard, and we do not know yet when we can go back to sea.
June 13, 2002
We left Shelburne on the 8th, but the next day a new storm forced us into Lunenburg harbour. Then we finally got a break and a strong following wind carried us well beyond Halifax. The wind eventually became light and easterly, which in this part of the world always seems to mean thick fog. We managed to motorsail around Cape Canso and are now on Cape Breton Island, the north-easterly tip of Nova Scotia. Cape Breton is famous for its poverty and its folk music, but the first thing that struck me was the silence. On a windless evening I hiked to Jerome Point. Chuck stayed on the boat, and at a mile's distance I could still hear him talk on the cell phone.I am writing in the office of a small marina in the town of St. Peters. Tonight many of the local residents are assembled in a restaurant on Main Street, where they are engrossed in a mysterious card game called '45'.In order to reach Cabot Strait we have to pass through the Bras d'Or Lakes, a series of inland seas and fjords. Then we will have to find a good jump off point for the crossing to Newfoundland. Cabot Strait has a bad reputation.
June 15, 2002
We crossed the Bras d'Or Lake in a rising wind that eventually forced us to furl the jib and put three reefs in the mainsail. An easterly gale is forecast for tomorrow, so we are now hiding in the small town of Baddeck. We are trying to be philosophical about the weather, and the beauty of the region helps a great deal. The lake and the fjords are bound by high and steep hills, there are countless bays, coves and islands, and behind every headland there is a new and often quite dramatic view.
June 19, 2002
Newfoundland! Exactly one month after leaving Tall Timbers we sailed into Port aux Basques. We had already seen the coast the night before. The snowfields on the mountains stood out clearly in the evening light. We didn't want to enter an unfamiliar harbor in the dark, so we hove to five miles offshore and waited till morning. We had picked our weather well and the crossing was smooth. We started out on a cold, but clear and starlit night, and had moderate north-westerlies all the way.Port aux Basques is a small community around the docks for the ferry to Nova Scotia. Only one road leads out of town, across the mountains and to the interior of Newfoundland. We are tied up along the public wharf, between halibut fishermen and an old yacht that was impounded for smuggling liquor from the French island of St. Pierre.Bare cliffs and islands of stone make up the coast here. The landscape beyond is dominated by an absence: there is not a single tree anywhere. Even on a sunny day the light is slanted and soft. The moors and barrens are pale green, and your eye is drawn to the mountains in the distance. Cape Breton is a large and remote island. After sailing northeast for two days we are now on an island that is even larger and more remote. I am glad the world is such a big place.So far out trip north has not been a very fast one, but we had anticipated delays and are still within schedule. We have a fair chance of reaching the Strait of Belle Isle in time to attempt the crossing to Greenland.
Postscript June 20: We are stuck again. Gale warnings were issued this morning for the eastern Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Strait of Belle Isle.
June 24, 2002
After a wild downwind ride along the western coast of Newfoundland we entered the Bay of Islands, a maze of fjords and inlets surrounded by high, thickly wooded hills. We saw several orca's on the way, but the most remarkable thing was the weather: on two consecutive days the wind changed from flat calm to 25 knots within an hour. Fast moving low pressure systems and high mountains near the coast are apparently the cause of this.We are docked in Corner Brook, which my father visited 50 years ago to buy wood pulp for a Dutch paper mill. It is a faitly large town, as a matter of fact the last fairly large town on the way north. We have to check our supplies and do some serious shopping here.Everybody tells us that the spring has been much colder than usual. The ice conditions in the Strait of Belle Isle, however, are favorable. They do not seem to be directly connected to the local weather. Nico and Jana are due to arrive in Newfoundland tomorrow. Resupplied and with a full crew we should be able to push on. The Strait of Belle Isle is still 150 miles away.
A footnote: Before leaving Port aux Basques we had a pleasant chat with the liquor smuggler. Smuggling, which the locals, with a fine euphemism, call 'wholesale business', is an old and almost respectable vocation in Newfoundland.
July 2, 2002
It was a field of whales ­ I cannot find better words for it. There were dozens of them, spread out over a large area. They arched their immense backs out of the water before diving down, and just after the backs disappeared the tails came up briefly and seemed to wave at us. They came back up head first, with their mouths wide open to drain the seawater, and the gulls swooped down between the jaws to steal the krill. We were at the southwest end of the Strait of Belle Isle. It was a bright, sunny day, and the high coast of the Labrador stood out to the North. We reduced sail when we saw the whales, and slowly zigzagged among them, sometimes coming so close that we could see the barnacles on their backs and flippers. And even at a distance we could clearly hear their songs.
We reached the Strait of Belle Isle on the 29th of June, after a fast sail along the coast. We made only one stop to wait for weather. With Nico and Jana on board duties are lighter. The children sail the boat during the day; Chuck and I do the evening and night watches. We are now in the small fishing village of Flowers Cove, and waiting of a southwest gale to lie down. It had been blowing hard and without interruption for three days. This morning the cod season opened, but even the local fishermen stayed in. Flowers Cove is a good place to wait: fresh shrimp and lobster are brought in every afternoon, and the harbourmaster presented us with several pounds of moose burger and caribou meat when she, almost apologetically, came to collect the Can$ 6 docking fee.
The Strait of Belle Isle is free of ice on this side, but we are told there are many icebergs near the eastern exit. There is a lot of ice along the Labrador coast in general, but the shrimp fishermen next to us on the wharf were clear of it after sailing due east for about 150 miles. We plan to do the same thing.
On the human level our cruise to Newfoundland is already a success, I think. In the towns and villages we visited (Port aux Basques, Lark Harbour, Corner Brook, Rocky Harbour and Flowers Cove) the people have been extraordinarily friendly and helpful. There were no exceptions. The kindness and hospitality of the Newfoundlanders is so striking that even Chuck, who holds a dim view of human nature, is mellowing a bit.
July 5, 2002
Ice! We saw our first icebergs while crossing the Strait of Belle Isle to Labrador. They were not very big, but in the soft light they stood out brilliantly against the gray sea and the Labrador coast, which is, in a subdued way, remarkably colorful. The mosses, lichens, berries and small trees on the mountains show many shades of green in distinct patches, like a mosaic, and the bare rock is tinted  red and purple.To avoid a night of rain, fog and easterly wind, we pulled into Red Bay, a hamlet that was once a Basque whaling station. Many old whale bones still lie on the beach on the west side of the bay. We saw live whales too, some quite close to the shore, and also seals. The seal hunting has been very good this year. Skins bring up to Can$ 65.00 a piece. The hunt is still done in the old fashioned way, on the ice early in the spring, with clubs.
July 18, 2002
We are in Greenland! We crossed the Labrador Sea in seven days and made landfall near Cape Desolation on the 15th of July. For a small boat like ours it was a fast passage, but it came at a price. We sailed along the east side of a stationary low pressure system. This gave us strong following winds, but also miserable weather. We had four days of uninterupted cold wet fog, then two days of rain, and when the low finally moved away, we were hit by a south east gale that blew us thirty miles in the wrong direction.
The weather improved when we approached Greenland. We sighted the coast early in the morning. The steep peaks of the mountains rose up out of a white fog bank, and the sun rose behind the mountains. We started to see icebergs again, for the first time since leaving the Labrador coast. They were much bigger than before, and floated by like white cathedrals and abandoned ships. We sailed north along the coast until we reached Nuuk, where this update is written in the public library. Nuuk is a good size town on the fork of two fjords. It is surrounded by glacier coveered mountains. The harbour is busy and lively with trawlers and the small motorboats the Inuit use to go hunting and fishing. Greenland customs procedures were even more informal than in Canada: we were completely ignored.
We celebrated our arrival with a dinner of musk ox and whale meat. Both are readily available here, and very tasty. The next day a southerly gale blew for twelve hours. We had to double up our lines and hope that the old wooden trawlers to which we are tied up wouldn't break loose. The storm dumped an incredible amount of rain on us. We are now trying to dry out and plan to climb nearby Store Malene mountain tomorrow.
July 22, 2002
Bad weather has kept us in Nuuk for almost a week now. Fog, strong, gusty winds and continuous rain make it impossible to move on. We try ro make the best of it, fix things on the boat, buy supplies, and visit the library and the internet cafe. Chuck took a room in a hotel for a couple of nights, where we could all take showers.There are two other sailboats here. The crew of Blue Pearl, a 44 foot aluminum cutter, is waiting for a spare part. They are trying to make a north west passage from Greenland to Alaska. The other boat is small like ours, and up for sale. The owners sailed from Europe and got caught in the ice near Cape Farewell. They spent a very scary 24 hours in their liferaft before they could break free. They made straight for Nuuk, abandoned further cuirse plans, and flew home.We are not giving up. As soon as the weather clears we'll sail north to Sisimiut.
July 27, 2002
We crossed the Arctic Circle in the early morning of July 25th. Large numbers of seals popped up their heads to look at us when we left the fjord at Nuuk, and later four humpback whales swam along with us, just off our bow. Whales are becoming a theme of our voyage: when we approached Greenland a pod of at least sixty black pilot whales stayed with us for almost two days.
The weather finally cleared when we reached Sisimiut. We had not seen the sun in three weeks. Sisimiut is a pretty and lively hunting and fishing community. We are tied up to an old trawler again, and can watch the coming and going on the shrimpers - some from Iceland and Russia - and the small powerboats of the Iniut. From the outskirts of the village they arrive in the harbour by bus, with their rods and rifles. Very few people have cars here. There are no roads beyond the village. Almost everybody, on the other hand, seems to have a boat and a snowmoblie or a dogsled.
The view of Sisimiut is dominated by the tall, cone and dome shaped mountains that rise up out of the fjords to the east. The town itself is dominated by sled dogs. There are literally thousands of them (2,000 is the official number) and they are all tied up outside, around the houses, along the roads, and on rocks and hillocks. Their barks, yaps and howls from a constant background music, and at 12 noon they all howl together, in answer to the fishplant's sounding of the lunchtime siren.
We had glorious weather yesterday and hiked up Nasaasaaq mountain, a hat shaped peak on a ridge of bare, light gray rock dotted with snowpatches and bright green mosses. It was already evening when we started the descent, but we were not worried: it never gets dark here. We are finally, truly in the Arctic.
August 2, 2002
When we sailed further north, a great white city appeared on the horizon ­ so it looked when we approached the Jakobshavn Isfjord. Hundreds upon hundreds of immense icebergs formed a wall that was visible from more than twenty miles away. The number and size of the icebergs had been steadily increasing as we entered Disko Bay. Even on the south west side there were so many that they formed a landscape, with distances and a perspective, like isolated farms on a plain. Close to Ilulissat the sea was white and covered with smaller pieces of ice that had melted and fallen off the big bergs. It took us six hours of motoring to reach the shore, zigzagging and slowly advancing and backtracking, with two people armed with boathooks on the bow to push away the chunks of ice. We were afraid that the ice would block the harbour, so we anchored in a cove north of town and rowed to the shore in the dinghy. On the rocks some Greenlanders were butchering a seal they had just killed. We hiked to a hill above the Isfjord, where we could see the slow, rumbling, sometimes thundering parade of gigantic icebergs, several miles wide and as long as the eye could see.
August 6, 2002
We had fine Arctic weather, calm and sunny, and we sailed into a sound at the north east side of Disko Bay. We passed the abandoned settlement of Ata, and anchored in front of the Eqi glacier. We kept a safe distance, but every time a piece of ice broke off the face of the glacier, with the sound of a faraway thunderstorm, we could first see and then feel the waves coming through the anchorage. In 1950 a French expedition landed here. They left behind a pile of rusted equipment, a hut, and a trail that leads to the great ice cap that covers most of Greenland. We reached it after five hours of steady climbing, first through hills carpeted with green mosses, lichens and mushrooms, and then through the morene, a bare land of rocky peaks, scree, and fields of gravel and hard, pewter colored mud. The ice cap itself is an undulating plain of opaque, light grey ice that at this latitude stretches for more than 500 miles to the east coast of Greenland. There is always a steady and very cold wind. Fritjof Nansen once crossed it on skis. We only hiked up a couple of miles, taking care to avoid holes and crevasses, and looked around in wonder.
August 11, 2002
It is strikingly quiet on the shores of Disko Bay. The ocean swell is flattened by the  icebergs, so there is no surf, and there are no trees that could rustle their leaves or  branches. There is very little wind, anyway. We used the engine a lot, and had to stop  for fuel in the tiny settlement of Rodebay, which in the 17th Century was a Dutch  whaling station. Now 50 Greenlanders and 300 dogs live there, in and around cheerfully  painted wooden houses on bare rock. All the wiring, and the water and sewer pipes  run above ground, which gives the place a honest look. We refueled again in Aasiaat,  where we also bought fresh seal meat, which tasted very good with the mushrooms we  picked earlier. From Aasiaat we took a partially marked inside passage through an  extensive area of fjords, islands and narrow leads. Here we encountered several fin  whales, the biggest whales we've seen so far. The wind finally came back when we  reached Davis Strait, and we sailed back south under spinnaker. We are now in  Sisimiut again. Olina, who joined us in Ilulissat, flies home to Washington tomorrow.  The children, Chuck and I are getting the boat ready for the passage back to  Newfoundland.
August 12 - 28, 2002
We were two days out of Sisimiut when the storm caught us.  We had been motorsailing in a dying breeze and a gentle swell when we first noticed small ripples on the water and then short gusts from the south, dead ahead.  Not an hour later the sky had disappeared behind thick, dark gray clouds, and we were reefed down and under stormsail.  We were unable to hold our course against the rising seas.  Running with the storm was not an option: it would have carried us straight back to the north.  So we dropped the mainsail and hove to, turning the bow towards the waves and lashing the tiller.  Then there was nothing we could do but wait, and wait we did.  We were hove to for a full 24 hours, rolling and bouncing on very high waves, and slowly drifting off course.  Rain, spray and breaking waves washed over the deck.  We were all hiding below in the cabin, and we all got seasick - fortunately not at the same time.  One striking thing about the storm was the noise, not just of the waves banging against the boat, but especially the constant howling and loud whistling of the wind in the rigging.  The storm ended after a day, but it took another whole day before the swell subsided.  Only then could we resume our course.
The Labrador Sea is a lonely place.  We were offshore for ten days, and we didn't see a single ship. When it was foggy we frequently put out radio calls to alert other ships to our presence, and never received an answer.  One night Nico and Jana, who were on watch, called us up to see the Northern Lights.  The sky was clear, and across the whole immense width of it was drawn a pale white curtain of light, with creases and folds that changed as if a breeze was blowing through.  The lights remained in the sky for hours.  It was very impressive, but not frightening, because the light was so quiet, so completely unlike lightning.  We were never truly alone on the Labrador Sea.  The pilot whales visited us frequently, and even when you were off watch, in your bunk, you could hear their high whistles and squeals through the hull of the boat.
The 16th Century French explorer Cartier did not like the barren hills and rocky coast of the Labrador, nor the bad weather, the ice and the mosquitoes.  This must be, he wrote in his log, the land God gave to Cain.  We met Cain's descendants in the small settlement of Black Tickle, and liked them very much.  We had not planned to stop there, but a gale forced us to take cover.  The heart of Black Tickle is the fish plant, and in the workers' bunkhouse we were invited to take showers, do our laundry, and recover from the Greenland crossing.  We are now back in Newfoundland, very near the outpost the Norse from Greenland established more than a thousand years ago.  Nico and Jana are on their way home to go back to school.  Dick Teachout joined us here to sail to Nova Scotia, where we hope to arrive in about ten days.  

August 30 ­ September 12, 2002
The first gale, an easterly, kept us in St. Anthony on the far northern tip of Newfoundland for two days. As soon as t he wind calmed down we left, in the afternoon, and we managed to get through the Strait of Belle Isle the following evening, just before the next gale started. This one, a south-westerly, kept us in port for three days. We left again on a good forecast, hoping to reach the Bay of Islands halfway down the west coast of Newfoundland, but another south-westerly literally stopped us. The west coast is mountainous, wild and very beautiful, but there are few harbours. We couldn't reach a place to hide from the blow, so we hove to under storm jib. We were hove to for eighteen hours before the wind clamed again, and veered north. We had some great sailing after that, even hoping to get across Cabot Strait in one big leap. Then gale number four forced us into Codroy, a village that between the sea right in front and the high mountains behind it, looks precariously small.  Dick Teachout, who sailed with us on this part of the trip, remarked that Newfoundland seemed just as remote as 25 years ago, when he first visited the island on a Navy assignment. When we finally crossed Cabot Strait and approached Nova Scotia, we were welcomed by gale number five. We were too far offshore to reach port, so we tacked back and forth under storm sail, just trying not too lose too much ground.  We are now docked in Baddeck on Cape Breton Island, where, to top it all off, we had a visit from hurricane Gustav. The boat, and the crew, have taken quite a beating on this voyage. We have had to make repairs to everything from sails, standing and running rigging, water tanks, electrical system, self-steering vane, and the toilet (twice). Fortunately we could do most repairs ourselves. We have, so far, needed outside help only once, from a diesel mechanic in Greenland.
Dick flew home yesterday, as scheduled. Chuck also left. He was involved with the expedition from the very beginning, and has been a tremendous help. Now that he is gone, I urgently need new crew. I do not think it is safe to sail alone along the busy east coast of the US. There are still almost 1,000 miles to go.
Postscripts from Olina: Hurricane Gustav passed directly over Sea Scout in Baddeck, Cape Breton Island, at 2 am on Thursday, Sept. 12.  Sea Scout sustained no damage.  Jeffrey Balkind joined the crew two dayslater. They left Shelburne Harbor at the SW end of Nova Scotia on Sept. 22, and reached Cape Cod Canal on Sept. 25. After crew changes in Marion, MA,, where Charles and Eugene came on board, and in Jersey City, NJ, Sea Scout approached Cape May, NJ, on Oct. 3.  Then they sailed throught the Delaware-Chesapeake Canal.  Two days later Sea Scout - with Geert, Tony and Ilya on board - sailed fast past Annapolis, to reach Tall Timbers, on the lower Potomac, on Sunday, October 6, afternoon.