Sunday, August 10, 2014

Say It Ain’t So!

Map picture

Well, we found our ship in Kangerlussuaq, Greenland! And no, I still cannot pronounce it!

Believe it or not, our experience leaving Denmark was actually civil. I screwed up my alarm, and we were awakened by a phone call announcing both that our car was ready to take us to the airport and that room service was on their way up. Grrrrrr!! So we skipped any breakfast, slammed things into our suitcases, and ran like hell for the waiting car for fear that at 6am in the morning if it did not wait, it might not be easy to get a quick ride to the airport. All of this was my fault, but hey, I am human. We did make the airport in time for our flight on Air Greenland. Security in Denmark is actually an efficient and civil affair. We did not have to take our shoes off, and while they did check our carryon bags, they did not frisk Lisa. In fact, the entire process was in stark contrast to our TSA.

Our flight to Greenland was six hours, and I was so exhausted that I fell asleep before we even left the gate and only woke up as we were about to land. Lisa tells me that the flight was extremely rough with what she would describe as extreme turbulence at times – all of which was news to me. Anyway, we left Copenhagen at 9am and landed at Greenland at 9:40am. The only problem with landing so early in the morning is that the ship has not had time to disembark its passengers, and in turn, clean the ship and have it ready for the new arrivals. Since this voyage is full, turning the ship over, is a big deal. Just to add to the fun, our ship was not able to actually reach the dock. The runoff from the glaciers this year has been so great that the harbor was silted over and so the ship had to anchor several miles downstream. This meant that every piece of baggage going on and off had to be put on a barge and transported to and from the ship. The passengers, meanwhile, got the thrill of immediately having to join the ship by small motorized rafts known as Zodiacs. None of us were dressed appropriately, but everyone was up for an adventure. Interestingly, at our first gathering, rather than asking for a show of hands of people who had sailed the Explorer before, they instead ask for a show of hands of first time members. Almost no hands went up, meaning that virtually everyone on this cruise has been on the ship before.

So, in order to allow time to prepare the ship, arrangements had been made for us to tour the “town” and surrounding areas for almost 3 hours. Everyone was dead tired, it was cold, windy and there was a heavy drizzle. All in all, it was not a fun experience, but everyone took it in stride, understanding the situation.

I did learn some interesting things. For one thing why is there a town at Kangerlussuaq anyway? As we found out on our drive there really was not much there – except one thing: the airport. The airport has a runway capable of handling almost any size aircraft. It was built by the United States during the Second World War and was kept active until sometime in the 80’s. At that point, the base was sold to Denmark for $1. Service to and from Copenhagen is provided by Air Greenland using its one and only Airbus 300. From Kangerlussuaq, Air Greenland then provides local flights to the small communities around the coast of Greenland. The terminal is not much to look at, and many of the old buildings have been abandoned. Air Greenland maintains a maintenance hangar as does the Danish Government. Even though Greenland is part of Denmark, it has achieved a large measure of independence. It has its own Parliament and handles its own affairs. They defer to Denmark for defense and foreign policy.

Finally, we made the ride out to our ship, and I must say that it felt very much like coming home. We know a fair number of the crew and officers. The afternoon was a whirlwind of activity. A quick lunch, unpacking for a 90 day voyage, 30 min. to nap, mandatory safety briefing, a lifeboat drill, a briefing for tomorrow’s events- quick shower, dinner and finally we collapsed into bed dead tired. Apparently after we traveled down the fjord from Kangerlussuaq to the open sea, the ship encountered rough seas, but once again I was so dead tired that I was completely unaware until this morning I awoke to find things moved around the cabin.

The really big news that came from our briefing is that our ability to make the transit through the so called “northwest passage” is far from certain at this time. In fact, if the decision had to be made today, then we would not be able to complete the journey because of the heavy ice remaining after this past winter. Our Captain is the gentleman I have known from previous trips, and there is no one that I trust more to make sound judgments. In addition, the Staff Captain is a woman that we got to know from previous cruises, and I know she has made this trip many times in icebreakers. In fact, she learned to be a helicopter pilot in order that she could scout ahead of the ship to locate the best route. Not only that, but Canada requires that the ship take an additional ice captain certified by Canadian authorities, so we will have plenty of expertise on the bridge to hopefully get us through. So far no one has explained what happens if the ship is not able to complete the journey – that could be interesting.

So departing Kangerlussuaq as I mentioned, the Explorer traveled down the fjord and entered the Baffin Bay. Then it headed north to our next destination, Sisimiut. This site has been inhabited for over 4,500 years. Today it is home to around 5,600 people, which makes it the second-largest town in Greenland. Its primary importance comes from the fact that it is the northernmost year-round ice-free port in Greenland.

When we arrived early this morning, the city was shrouded in a thick mist and constant drizzle. The ship offered several walks ranging from 3 miles to less ambitious, but equally interesting shorter strolls. We went for one of the shorter walks, and managed to get some pictures, but conditions were not good. Sadly we got to watch a beautiful home on a hilltop just above our ship catch on fire. The response from the local authorities was impressive, and luckily they were able to save the structure but it was badly smoke and water damaged

Shortly we will be departing for our next destination up the coast of Greenland. With any luck I will get this published before we lose internet.

Keep your fingers crossed…..


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