Prince Christian Sound

by John Delach

On board Holland America’s MV Massdam, July 23, 2010:


Today, our ship is scheduled to cross southern Greenland from west to east through Prince Christian Sound as part of our trans-Atlantic cruise deemed: “Voyage of the Vikings.” We had been warned this passage could be cancelled at any time, so I was totally attentive when shortly after nine, James Russell-Dunford, the ship’s information director announced in his booming voice:


Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s been quite a night and a rather long one for me. I have only just returned to the bridge having been relieved, so I could get a bit of rest. One of our passengers, an eighty-four-year-old man took ill late last night, and our doctor determined that he had to be evacuated. We returned to Qaqortoq arriving at 3 am where we lowered him by tender and he was taken to the local hospital with his wife and their baggage. The crew did a superb job and we were on our way back to sea by 3:30. Hopefully, he will be fine, and I’ll be able to report his status.


We have made good time and will be approaching an entrance to the sound in a half-hour. Helicopter observations report that the sound is ice-free, but we’ll have to see if the fog persists when we reach the entrance before I can commit to a passage.


I return to my book continue to read while glancing out over the bow. When the electronic gong sounds signaling another announcement. I look up and there in the distance breaking through the mist directly in front of the ship I spy a mountain at least 2,000 or 3,000 feet high. “Where did that come from?” I remark to the woman in the next seat. As I rise to leave, the captain announces we were going to start a passage. “I may have to turn around if conditions deteriorate, but right now I am satisfied with visibility and ice conditions.”


I hurry to our cabin to don protective clothing, rain pants over my jeans, sweatshirt, wind breaker, wool vest and a new waterproof rain jacket. A Tilley’s rain hat tops off my outfit and to the bow I rush. I stay only long enough to photograph the entrance to the straits then move to the stern out of the wind and rain; away from the crowds. Here I stay for the entire passage except for lunch in the Lido and a camera battery change. A cold rain persists but, not only do I survive, more importantly, so does my camera.


My reward; some of the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever witnessed. It may have been more pleasant had the sun been out, certainly far more colorful, but the low clouds and mist add drama that, in my opinion, trumps color. Mountains exceeding 4,000 feet line the sound towering over the ship, as close as 500 feet on either side of the channel. At times, layers of clouds wrap around their faces, clinging to the sides obscuring them, but allowing crags and peaks to poke through. Other times, the drab gray, brown and green formations break free of the mist. Countless waterfalls drain pockets of ice and snow while seven different glaciers descend from the mountains, one directly into the sound. Icebergs of all sizes, shapes and colors drift by. The captain’s enthusiasm grows as we continue and, at some point he silently decides we will complete the journey including a side-trip to a lone Inuit village that clings to a flat, rock plateau.


Approximately 150 men, women and children inhabit Aappilattoq, (Ap-pil-at-tog) an isolated hamlet of small pre-fabricated houses perched at a junction of canyons. Once again, my senses are jolted by the exterior colors of the Inuit’s homes; bright and vivid reds, greens, blues and yellows.


The natives fish for sustenance and hunt seal to make a living. The captain sails Maasdam past the village into a wide basin where the ship makes a 180-degree looping turn to continue east along a different passage. The ship’s horn bellows as we complete the turn calling out skiffs from the village. Four appear, a single man in the first, two villagers in the second, six in the third including at least three children and three in the last. The boats are similar, white open skiffs with huge outboards. Two of the drivers stand steering by means of long handles attached to the motors. They wave and take photographs of us as we wave and take photos of them.


Before lunch, Mary Ann brings me a welcome cup of the thick Dutch pea soup being served on several decks. It is so good that I enjoy more with lunch.


We exit the sound just after 4 pm. I took more than 250 photos over the seven hours that I spent on deck which I edit down to 100.


What a fabulous day!