Sailing around South Greenland’s deep blue icebergs isn’t something you get the chance to do every day, but you’ll remember it for the rest of them once you’ve done it
My imagination had already informed my adventure of sailing around vast icebergs in the Qooroq ice field of South Greenland. The original trip had been planned with an authentic wooden fishing vessel as our mode of transport, but this had been cancelled due to bad planning on the part of the excursion company; despite having paid upfront, we were dutifully informed that there weren’t enough people on the trip, so ‘it would’t be going’.
Undaunted and undeterred, we set about making this once in a lifetime experience happen ourselves; there was no way I was travelling all the way to Greenland and not having my fifteen minutes of tranquility among creaking ice and the crisp, breathy stillness of summertime on the world’s largest non-continental island.
Blessed with a tenacious guide called Christine, and an intrepid adventurer mariner called Nils, we set about planning this most amazing of experiences. It was planned over a wily coffee in Nils’ headquarters, an atmospheric shipping shack located on the main Narsarsuaq road, adjacent to the air strip and a little before Hospital Valley. The excitement was building, without doubt enhanced by the lack of other tourists, and the voyage was set for the following morning.
“It will just be a sort of dinghy,” Nils advised, “so we must have at least very little wind.”
Squally showers and a light breeze announced the coming dawn, and we breakfasted on reindeer and seal meats with some trepidation; was the weather good enough, would we make it out to the ice field? Our time in Greenland was rapidly running out, so it was getting to the point of now or never.
We needn’t have worried. Ardent skipper Nils collected us from the hotel on the very strike of 8am, and duly ferried us down to the harbour where we boarded our craft, a bright orange and blue inflatable that was to prove our passport to a land of magic. We were accompanied by Christine and guide-in-training Pilu, a native Greenlander who seemed as excited by the prospect of bobbing around in shattered sheet ice as we were. And so in our posse of four excitable boy scouts, with Akela Nils at the helm, we set off for Qooroq.
As we sped our way round the coast, the purply grey patchwork of cotton wool clouds gave way here and there to a shaft of ethereal, watery sunlight, bathing this harshly unforgiving yet beautiful landscape with an almost heavenly glow. It’s very hard to convey the feeling engendered by such an experience now I’m back on dry land sitting in front of a laptop, but thankfully something deep within my psyche holds onto it; the childlike wonder of butterflies in your tummy, the tingling throughout your whole being and the smile, that magnificent inward smile that imbues your very soul with a serene sense of wellbeing.
Approaching the ice field itself, we noticed that the initially sporadic floes were now coming thicker and faster, giving way occasionally to ever larger icebergs of azure and cobalt, indigo and sapphire – all the deep blues of pure ice, uncontaminated by air and impurities. Their majesty was overwhelming, their might bewildering. As Nils cut the engine allowing us to drift sedately among these behemoths of the sea, it was strangely comforting to feel the stillness of the morning, barely punctuated by creaking ice and its desultory crash into the freezing ocean. As the outboard motor slowly sputtered back into life, our captain nuzzled in yet closer, affording us the sublime opportunity to reach out and touch the ice itself, an activity to which mere mortal words can do no justice whatsoever; this was a oneness with nature which has no equal.
We continued to drift and bob among the ice for a good hour, before finally heading back to Narsarsuaq harbour. The random boats were still there, dotted around the quayside just like before, and the fishermen readied their vessels and tended their nets, just like before. All the daily necessities and details of this south Greenlandic village were continuing just as they had a few hours earlier; it was we who were different. We intrepid three, under the guidance of our master mariner, had communed with Mother Nature in a most spectacular way, and that had facilitated a change in us that would be a part of each one of us for our remaining days.