The Icelandic provider, North-Sailing, has long been at the forefront of exploration in the region along the east coast of Greenland, establishing a distinctive presence for motor sailer tours. The captivating week-long journeys, which both embark and culminate in Reykjavik, are the epitome of adventure and discovery.
Day 1: Reykjavik to Constable Point
In early September 2018, my journey began with a flight to Reykjavik. Having visited the city south of the Arctic Circle on numerous occasions, the surge in tourism never ceases to amaze me. September signals the start of the Northern Lights season, with its irresistible allure for visitors from China, Korea, and Thailand. The Northern Lights, I’ve been told, bring fortune.
The ensuing morning, I boarded a public bus to the city airport. There, a diverse blend of nationalities awaited the flight to East Greenland. Nearly 80 intrepid souls, outfitted in specialized gear, took their places on the propeller planes of Air Iceland Connect. Gazing down, Iceland’s landscape was a marvel, and an hour and a half later, my disbelief was palpable as Scoresby Sund came into view, teeming with icebergs.
At Constable Point’s compact Nerlerit Inaat airport, built by the U.S. oil company Atlantic Richfield Company in 1985, and operating as a civilian airport since 1990, we disembarked in splendid weather. A short hike led us to a makeshift jetty, where Zodiacs awaited, ready to transport us to the ‘Hildur’. Fellow passengers destined for North-Sailing’s ‘Donna Wood’ and ‘Opal’ joined us from the same flight.
Following a safety briefing, the engine roared to life, propelling us south. For safety’s sake, we sailed in a sort of convoy with ‘Donna Wood’ and ‘Opal’. A sudden flurry of activity ensued just after departure – travelers on ‘Donna Wood’ had sighted a polar bear. We doubled back, and sure enough, a magnificent specimen could be seen in the distance. Zodiacs were launched from the other vessels, their two-stroke engines clamoring loudly. It was evident the polar bear felt perturbed. Opting out of the spectacle, our captain urged us onward. As evening descended, the sea grew calm, allowing us to relish the sunset on deck. The question remained: would the Northern Lights grace us? We waited until 10 pm, and then the sky turned faintly green, appearing in bands that shifted and danced.
Day 2: Navigating Scoresby Sund to Hekla Harbor
Amidst the labyrinthine icebergs of Scoresby Sund, we sailed westward. Along the northern coast of Knud Rasmussenland, a white figure caught our attention – a polar bear. This time, we approached cautiously and silently. The bear, well-fed and seemingly content, regarded us with calmness. We proceeded to a bay where a glacier tongue awaited our exploration. Upon disembarking, my attention shifted to a white speck about 300 meters distant. Signaling Egill, our guide, we opted for vigilance and halted our hike. Instead, we anchored at Hekla Harbor on Denmark Island, embarking on a trek across mossy, rugged terrain. A swarm of mosquitoes accompanied us. This area once hosted an ancient Inuit settlement and served as the winter camp for a scientific expedition over a century ago. Our journey continued in the afternoon through the narrow Føhnfjord, with Gåseland’s grand basalt peaks to port and the towering 2000-meter granite cliffs of Milne Land to starboard.
Day 3: Towards Harefjord
The pinnacle of our expedition had arrived, though the weather had grown overcast. The spectacle of colossal icebergs amassed in the iceberg graveyard was awe-inspiring, a scene straight from dreams. Yet, the passengers of ‘Opal’ began a drone-capturing frenzy, with constant propeller whirring – an impressive endeavor for sure, but potentially unsettling for non-pilots. Consequently, we ventured amidst the icebergs, confronted by their sheer beauty in terms of color, shape, and size. By noon, our course was set for the ice-packed waters of Rødefjord, often traversed by massive icebergs and floes. Perched in the mast’s harness, our captain issued instructions to the helmsman. Arriving at Harefjorden in late afternoon, we dropped anchor for the upcoming two days. With daylight still abundant, we enjoyed a beer on deck.
Day 4: Sailing and Hiking in Harefjord
Today was dedicated to exploring Harefjord on foot, yielding yet another incredible hike. Hours of effort brought us to a ridge’s summit, granting a breathtaking view of Harefjord and its glaciers dramatically merging with the sea. Our picnic that day felt especially satisfying. As the evening settled in, a campfire blazed on the rocky beach, providing the setting for a delightful BBQ.
Day 5: Voyage to Øfjord-Jyttes Harbor
As predicted, the weather underwent a shift. We charted an eastward course through Øfjord, where towering mountain peaks and 200-meter granite walls stood obscured by low-hanging clouds. Our journey revealed intermittent glimpses of impressive rock faces and glacier fronts. By afternoon, our anchor found purchase in Jytte’s harbor on Bjørneøe, greeted by a view of steep cliffs. Alas, visibility was limited, although it did little to curb the hearty appetites of our fellow travelers. The quantity they consumed was astounding – twelve individuals managed to devour nearly ten kilograms of Icelandic stew. On this day, our captain celebrated his 65th birthday, receiving socks as a gift from his wife. Laughter and merriment ensued over cake and celebratory drinks.
Day 6: Sail to Ittoqqortoormiit via Jyttes Harbor
Despite lingering clouds, a hike was initiated on Bear Island. The vista was stunning, with icebergs dotting the bay and imposing cliffs towering above. However, persistent rain cut our excursion short, driving us to seek shelter below deck. Our route redirected us across Scoresby Sund to the remote settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit, necessitating a 12-hour voyage. This choice proved wise – the rain ceased, and we sailed close to mammoth icebergs that resembled architectural cathedrals. En route, we were treated to the largest and most exquisite icebergs. Nightfall brought a tempestuous ride, known as “rolling and pitching,” leaving some passengers queasy while others reveled in their hearty meals.
Day 7: Ittoqqortoormiit Exploration
Our arrival found us in the company of two other cruise ships, underscoring Ittoqqortoormiit’s allure. Established in 1925 by migrants from Ammassalik to the south, it holds the distinction of being the northernmost settlement on Greenland’s east coast. Its 370 residents rely largely on hunting seals, narwhals, musk oxen, and polar bears. Picturesque houses are scattered across the rocky slope south of Liverpool Land. A visit to the local store presented the opportunity to chat with the saleswomen, revealing a range of goods at prices akin to those in Iceland. Notably, Haribo had dedicated an entire wall to their array of sweets. A recent Danish police officer was settling in well, mediating disputes and handling the occasional inebriated individual. The local prison’s relatively comfortable accommodations seemed at odds with its infrequent use, reserved for severe crimes necessitating transfer to Nuuk, the capital.
Absence of direct flights to Nuuk required a stopover in Iceland. Conversing with a friendly teacher, born and raised in Ittoqqortoormiit, illuminated the settlement’s appeal. He recounted his contented life, boasting good wages, enjoyment in hunting, functional internet access, and the seamless education of his children within the village. The pervasive sense was one of being far from the middle of nowhere. As evening fell, accompanied by a light drizzle, our ship set a course for the airport. The day had been sunless, casting a somber mood. Unfortunately, news arrived that the plane’s arrival was postponed, trapping me in a stranded limbo. Nevertheless, assistance from North-Sailing’s Husavik branch facilitated the necessary rescheduling. The ensuing night delivered more of the earlier tumultuous rolling and pitching.
Day 8: Sailing and Revisiting Ittoqqortoormiit
Bonding deepened among passengers, each sharing personal stories and passions. I recounted my sled dog journey in Tassilaq, Harald enthused about his newly acquired ship, and James showcased a stunning gallery of trip photographs. The elderly English officer regaled us with tales of sailing in the Hebrides. Hours slipped away, and my focus returned to the village. I explored the newly constructed soccer field, boasting vibrant artificial turf. As sunset approached, our vessel was moored to ‘Opal,’ with hopes of disembarking. However, a midnight alarm shattered the tranquility, demanding all hands on deck to reset the anchor and prepare for the voyage to the airport.
Day 9: Return Journey to Constable Point and Reykjavik
Our final breakfast was a collective affair, concluding with settling tabs, tipping Egill, our versatile and garlic-loving guide, and acknowledging his role in ensuring our safety with a firearm. The weather cleared, the sails unfurled, and our ship glided smoothly, perfectly aligned. Our captain’s elation was palpable. I found myself yearning for a repeat of this remarkable journey. The landscape, polar bears, icebergs, and the village itself remain etched in memory, with the Northern Lights being the sole disappointment.