We’ve had varied yet generally favourable sailing conditions. Things started out well, and for the first few days we hardly ever slowed below 5 knots, sometimes even reaching up to 7.8 knots. As we approached Greenland however, the wind died down, often becalming us, and we slowed from a brisk walk to a genial swim (as a side note, it’s quite incredible how much distance can be covered at such a slow rate – due to the fact of course that one makes way 24/7). Not being die-hard purists, we occasionally interspersed the bobbing with some motoring, but we had to stretch out a limited diesel supply.
Being so becalmed wasn’t ideal but it was a great deal better than being alternative of being bestormed! The worst the weather has thrown at us thus far is a chilling mist that lasted four days or so, drenching everything and dropping the temperature down to below zero during night watches (luckily the night is now on its way out).
Steve, Clinton and Andrew each take 3 hour turns at the helm with Bob directing sail changes and keeping track of the GPS, maps and weather charts. After doing a few mental calculations and head scratches, he rushes up on deck, sets the sails and directs a particular course. With the whole ocean to play with, we typically keep a course for an entire shift. Most of the time, your shift is a lonely one with the rest of the crew staying below deck. iPods have proven to be essential here.
Sea-sickness has been less of a problem than expected. For the first few days, Steve never looked great, and Clinton was not far off. Andrew fed the fish twice, but was otherwise 100 percent fine. After that the weather gave up, and we’ve all been ok. Temperatures started in the mid teens, day and night, but have dropped steadily to low single figures. Wind chill on deck often cools it down further, but fortunately the First Ascent gear is doing us proud.
The highlight though has been the ice. After encountering pack ice about 60 miles south of Cape Farewell (the southern most tip of Greenland) we’ve cruised past some fairly enormous bergs (some bigger than 3 or 4 houses combined). They can make for some interesting steering decisions as their drift is not quite as obvious as one expects.
We are now far enough north that pure darkness no longer happens. On deck, it is possible to complete your shift without any lighting, and even in mist, you can see an iceberg looming ahead with enough time to avoid it (although sometimes one has less than a minute!)
After a few days, and then more than a few days, things do get rather repetitive. Eat, sleep, man the helm, repeat. Due to low temperatures and the uneven rocking motion of the boat, its been hard to get motivated for exercise. All you can do is a few pull ups, sit-ups and push-ups. Even these are silly sometimes because you either get an easy ‘assist’, or an impossible one as the boat’s motion compresses you. A cushion is useful while doing push-ups to avoid face planting.
Dodo’s Delight is like those magical tents in the Harry Potter books. It is tiny on the outside, but somehow those 33 ft are laid out really well, and once inside you have a decent amount of space. Bob has a small, but handy library on board, which we have used well. It contains the Arctic Pilot, and various accounts from Amundsen, Tillman, Blake and other sea adventurers. Plenty to keep one occupied – although check back on this point in 4 months time!
On day 14, we finally saw first land, having already tracked next to the Greenland coast for 3 days though the mist while the wind gods continued their spa retreat. As we approached our destination, the mist suddenly gave way, and we saw ahead of us a large expanse of water, dotted with icebergs. These kept us entertained for a few hours, as we motored our way towards the coast. Land started showing features, and soon we could make out islands, fjords and massive snow covered mountains in the background (which Steve was convinced were a mirage!) On the whole Greenland is quite bleak, but in a beautiful way. We are yet to see a tree or bush – just lots of moss and spongy grass, perfect for boulder landings!
The people of Greenland are really friendly. We were invited into the first house we passed for several beers (and had to forcibly remove ourselves to keep it at that!) Luckily we quickly found some rock to boulder on. Despite overlooking the town’s rubbish dump, the background of fjords, and icebergs made it a pretty special moment.
Since reaching port, we have filled up the diesel, bought some ice-creams and are now enjoying some home comforts (a few minutes after meeting us, the fuel attendant invited us to his home to shower, wash clothes, charge batteries and do some internet!) Not a bad welcome, indeed.
Our next stop is Sisimiut to buy a rifle, Aasiat to pick up Dave and then Upernavik to go kick some big wall butt!
Check out the South African Arctic Expedition 2012 website to follow the team on their adventure.