Anchor Watch

Yes, it’s anchor watch again! I just took over for Boogie and will be here for an hour and a half, keeping an eye on the radar and the GPS, with a regular peek outside. Polar Bear is anchored in about 15 meters of water at the end of the runway in Constable Pynt, Greenland.

The airport here might be the most improbable thing I’ve ever seen. There are runway lights, taxiway lights, runway-end strobes and a small terminal — all here in what one could call “the middle of nowhere” and not be exaggerating. There is absolutely nothing here in the way human civilization and yet this airport — built during an oil-exploration phase — exists. All around Constable Pynt are low rolling foothills, higher alpine-style peaks, a fjord, glaciers and reportedly a bunch of musk oxen and, at times, polar bears (lower case). Ittoqqortoormiit is a 50-minute straight-line helicopter flight — or seven-hour motor in a sailboat — away. And yet, Air Iceland flies into here twice a week and there’s a helicopter service that runs the ITQ shuttle and other area flights.

Not that I can see any of this because outside right now is a London-style pea-soup fog. Visibility might be generously called 30 meters or so.

We arrived here just before midnight, after picking up four hikers from the other side of the fjord and running them over here. The fog was as thick then as it is now; of course, right after we dropped the hook, things cleared up and we could see right where we were and what the situation was. It was an impressive bit of navigation given the ice floes en route and the fact that we were within 50 meters of the shore when we turned and contoured north to find this known anchorage. It was also a shame we had to work in such conditions as the view as we motored across the fjord was spectacular: a waning gibbous moon in the northeast with a piercingly bright planet to its lower left (I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve been so out of touch with the night sky this high-latitude summer that I don’t know which planet it was: I’d guess Venus or Jupiter given its brightness and color); high cirrus clouds shining pink in the late-night-sunset alpenglow; a hulking glacier at the head of a valley tucked between sawtooth peaks; smooth black water with phantasmagorically shaped ice sculptures thrown here and there in the sky’s reflection. A sublime evening, to be sure.

The hikers we picked up are ashore, secure in a the tongue-in-cheek-named Airport Hilton, awaiting tomorrow’s midday flight to Reykjavik. Our two guests will join them and they’ll all head out for lower latitudes en route to civilization, and a new crop of 10 guests will join us, the final group of this never-a-dull-moment summer.

The plan is to spend the next week here in Scoresby Sund, exploring a huge island up-fjord called Milne Land. Next Saturday, we’ll put three of the 10 ashore here at Constable Pynt for a flight home and then we’ll head out into the open sea bound for Iceland where, after a couple of days we’ll put another guest (a friend of the putative marketing woman for this boat and its company) ashore. The remaining guests will stay aboard and we’ll take Polar Bear back to the UK via the Faroe Islands and/or the Orkney Islands and/or the Shetland Islands. Originally planned stops on this leg in St. Kilda or western Scotland are out.

Also in jeopardy if we stop in Iceland is the 600-mile offshore passage required by one of the paying guests for his yachtmaster certification. As if this enterprise needed another example of why it’s so poorly managed and operated: they’re going to accommodate a friend on a last-minute cut-rate deal rather than a early-booking full-fare client. It’s a case of priorities, near as I can tell, and this one sums up Polar Bear perfectly: a service-industry venture that puts the owners’ wishes ahead of its guests. Case closed.

Just looked outside for the every-10-minute check at 3am and the breeze has cleared the fog away, probably only temporarily but enough to let me confirm that we haven’t drifted at all and that there’s no imminent danger from any ice floating down onto us as we lie at the end of our anchor chain. Another half-hour and I can pass the baton on to Boy Wonder.

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