Prince Christian Sound, Greenland: July 13, 2010
by John Delach
An excerpt from my vacation log: “Voyage of the Vikings: July17 to August 5”.
I had awakened early in anticipation of the possibility of experiencing a unique crossing through a Greenland sound. Unfortunately, the early morning fog won’t quit. Unless it cooperates, my hope will be dashed, I wait for the MV Maasdam captain’s first briefing of the day. Shortly after nine, Captain James Russell-Dunford’s booming voice announces:
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 (Greenland) 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 (Prince William) 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 continuing to sit looking out over the bow from the Crow’s Nest, an observation area above the ships bridge that looks over the bow giving me a panoramic view of what lies ahead of the ship.
When the electronic gong signals another announcement, I look up and there in the distance breaking through the mist directly in front of the ship is 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.
I rise to leave as 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.”
Back in our cabin, I put on rain pants over my jeans, a wind breaker, wool vest raincoat and a Tilley’s rain hat and off I go to the bow. I stay only long enough to photograph our entrance into the straits. I move to the stern out of the wind and away from the crowds. Here I stay for the entire passage except for lunch in the Lido and a camera battery change. The rain is heavy and cold but, not only do I survive it, more importantly so does my camera. Whenever possible, I shoot from positions shielded by bulkheads and over hangs that protect my Nikon, and when necessary, I use one of the many cloth napkins I expropriated to keep my camera dry when I have to expose it to the elements.
What a passage; the most spectacular scenery I’ve ever witnessed. It may have been better had the sun been out, certainly far more pleasant and colorful, but the low clouds and mist add drama that, in my opinion, trump color. Mountains rise to heights in excess of 4,000 feet closing in to the ship as close as 500 feet on either side. At times, layers of clouds wrap around the rock faces, clinging to the sides obscuring them, but allowing crags and peaks to poke through.
Other times, the drab gray, brown and green formations rise free of the mist. Countless waterfalls drain pockets of ice and snow while seven different glaciers descend down 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 rocky landing in the sound.
Approximately 150 men, women and children inhabit Aappilattoq, ( APE-il
-at- tog) an isolated hamlet of rectangular pre=fabricated houses all with exteriors in bright colors perched precariously on flat rocks at a junction of two canyons. The inhabitants’ fish for sustenance and hunt seal to make a living. The captain steers Maasdam past the village into a wide basin where we make a 180 degree turn to continue our east – west passage through the second canyon.
The ships horn bellows as we complete the turn calling out fishing skiffs from the village. Four appear, a single man in the first, two men in the second, six in the third including at least three children and three in the last. The boats are all 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 have more with lunch.
I return to the stern for the remainder of our passage. We leave the sound just after 4 pm.
I stand down from my self-imposed watch. I need dry clothes and a nap. Even so, I’m pleased to discover that I took over 250 photos over the seven hours that I spent on deck. My first edit reduces this number to 127. Eventually, I reduce the number to under 100.
What a fabulous day! For sure, my best ever, better even than transiting the Panama Canal. This passage was a hoot and a half.