Into the Ice

Dark shapes emerge from the predawn twilight. They loom, a shade darker than the smooth black glass of the sea surface. As they drift past, the light from the still-to-rise sun reflects off of their north-facing sides, showing colors of soft white, light gray and cold blue.

That’s what it was like on the 3-6am watch this morning. Bergie bits, growlers and other funky-named ice pieces floated by in an unsteady stream all during watch, but they were all fascinating shapes and sizes: some low and flat, others tall and thin, most a combination of the two. And that’s just what we could see above the waterline.

The sizes of the big ones, too, were staggering. One proper iceberg came into view late during the watch. I estimated its distance at a mile or mile-and-a-half away; radar revealed it to be six miles away. Yikes. And then, taking that distance into consideration, the height of the thing ran in the 250-meter range. Double yikes. And that’s pretty small compared to the big bergs out farther to the east.

Yes, east. At Kap Brewster, the cape that forms the southern boundary of the mouth of Scoresby Sund, the coastline veers to the southwest after having run pretty much north-south for many hundreds of miles. The ocean currents along the east coast of Greenland push the ice southward — and continue mostly southerly at Kap Brewster. So as planned, we sailed a bit west of north from Ísafjörður and have now ducked inside the ice that lies offshore (and that turned back Polar Bear on its earlier attempt because it was thicker and the winds had curled the pack in towards shore).

We’re making our way northeasterly, about 15 miles or so off the coast of Greenland. We’re currently in pretty thick fog but for much of the morning visibility was pretty good.

The mountains and glaciers of east Greenland, which came into view yesterday when we were about 68 miles offshore — 68 miles! — loomed massive when they were in view. Seeing them at such size from such a distance called to mind the view of Denali from Anchorage; that something could appear so impressive when so far away staggers the mind. And this is just one small stretch of coast on what is the world’s largest island. If Greenland is this big and on this scale already, well, it’s more than an island. It’s a continent.

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