North West Passage Expedition

Progress Reports





Saturday, July 7th. On Passage in the Fog. Paamuit Northwards. 

Yesterday, after a late rise, Pat, Cathal and P. went walking in a slightly more serious way, eastward towards the head of a fjord, described as a commonly visited place on summer weekends for boat outings from Paamuit, in those high H.P. motorboats, loaded with cans of petrol. The walk was long and felt wild, none of it over 250 metres, but up and down, around lakes and over cols (saddles), to see more of the same. 

We separated by casualness on my part.  I felt vulnerable on my own; if I had a sprain or break of ankle, I could be here for a fair while. Policeman John had said that this would be a two and a half hour walk each way. When that time had elapsed not a sight of the fjord was to be seen. Up one more ridge I went and then a quarter of an hour later, there it was, majestic and lonely, but for a vessel of about 2,000 tons anchored. Wondrous! 

On the return, on a more northern and direct route, there were traces of a path from time to time. One and three quarter hours later I saw the high Paamuit Loran (?) Mast and a half hour later was on board, 5 minutes behind the lads. 

Tired was I and didn't join the others in their trip up the town that evening. They later claimed to have met a better sort of citizen, while they caroused and I slept. 

Today, I was up at up at 08.00, fresh but with back-pain, hopefully short-lived.

09.00. Away, Eoin and P on watch, into a clear breeze from the north-west, feeling good, bound for either Fiskenes or Faeringhaven. Twelve hours later in a pea souper of a fog, going inshore seemed unattractive. We'd probably keep going for Nuuk. 

  "Eoin is cooking the Arctic Char that Peter, the Newfoundland-bound Greenlander gave to us, onions sizzling in our big (500 mm. by 400 mm. ) frying-pan. Pat is e-mailing on the laptop. Others read. I'm on watch. Thanks be to God for Radar and GPS. Life's good." 

"Qaqortoq Radio is putting out a police message asking for lookout for a missing  boat, 4 adults and 2 children on board. Left Nanortalik yesterday, Bound Sarssuq. Overdue."



Yesterday, the fog cleared as we ran up Nuuk Icefjord. The mountains showed through the sun, the first sun we'd seen in the last week. 

11.30 Alongside. To the Sjomansheim for showers and coffee, what a wonderful   institution these Seamen's homes are, for sailors and tourists alike. We relaxed about. Met French Monique on her 33 footer with her crew Fred and Herve. They accepted our invitation to dinner and we all had a great night, Fred, guitar-player and storyteller keeping us in stitches. Then up town for a last, quieter drink in the Kristinemut, outside of which there were two Politi cars. Being a Sunday, it was early closing. Good nights sleep. ( GNS ) 

Today, we had a late and an easy start.

Left Cathal, Harry, Pat and Gearoid, in the inflatable, across to the Molene Hills, for them to do the walk round, up and back to the harbour. I had walked these hills in 1993, while Saint Patrick had a new crankshaft fitted to her Perkins engine. I dingied by the boatyard, saw the big company trawlers and crabbers. " All going to dinner to-night on the French boat" I wrote a technical piece to Jarlath. My back is improving. Greenland Air Pilot, Jens called.  He had been contacted by John Murray, via Bill Cronin. Jens will bring back news of the ice up north. Nuuk is busy and clean, from what I've seen so far, undeserving of the Lonely Planet critique.


Tuesday, July 10th. 

Last night the French cooked for us 'canard' avec fromage, very French, great night. Monique, sailing south, after overwintering the boat in Sisimuit, will be staying well clear (150) miles of Cape Farewell. She knows four different boats, including herself in 1983, who had knock-downs there.

Most of us wouldn't know 4 people who had been there. They had a shanty-book with, on the cover, a picture of Con McCann and Raphel McIlhone playing music on the Connacht. Inside there is a picture of Johnny Moynihan playing with Raphel.


Wednesday. July 11th. 

In the late morning, after the departure of the French, posting, etc., we left the harbour as the fog cleared and the sun broke through. Raised all sail and spotted 3 whales on the east side of Nuuk peninsula. ('nuuk' is Greenlandic for 'peninsula'.)

Frantic jumping about ensued, pointing and camera-work. Hove-to, in search of the whale, Moby-Dick style. Could we distinguish them? Not really. They were about 10 metres long or maybe more, white underside to tail as it raised vertically before the characteristic plunge.  (We now know it to be the Atlantic Humpback)

You need practise to catch the characteristics for identification with confidence. If we get any good at it or any of the photos are any good, we'll give them to Simon Berrow or Leo Hallissey in Letterfrack. 

In a glorious force 4, we sailed northwards in the inland fjord system towards our objective, a bay in the island of Sadelo, where the chart showed that it shallowed sufficiently to get anchoring depth, our mountain being to one side.

At 17.30, we dingied ashore, Cathal, Eoin, Harry, Pat and P. and began the upward walk. Initially we passed through grassy ground, tufted, with streams of glacial meltwater, mosquitos abounding but not biting much, then to the rock and boulder and on to a mixture of snow and rock. There was no danger, no bother, just keep the plod going, we'd be resting later when some obstacle looms. We eschewed the first low summit, rounding it by its shoulder, the boat now a distant spec below. 

After 2 hours we found our spot, on a col below a rocky ridge, with the option of climbing onward on some exposed slabs. We stashed our bags, with Eoin, and carrying rope and cameras only chose the ridge. Three quarters of an hour later we were on to the lesser summit of Sermitsioq, having needed the rope protection for one short section only. The fjords lay all round beneath us, with bergs freshly calved discharging from the glaciers.  To seaward lay a plane of cloud below us. There was much photographing, mutual congratulation at our good fortune in being here and downward we began.

At midnight, in the dusk the lads were back aboard, myself a half an hour later. I had to detour to retrieve my poles. These I had thrown down ahead of me, before making a delicate crag move. Then discretion, or funk, prevailed and I had to climb back upward, around, down, and search thebottom of the crag to retrieve my sticks.

Gearoid had a mighty dinner ready. There was a fast wash down of sweaty bodies, happily consumed. We slept soundly as we swung to anchor. Next morning the mist cleared at about 11.Now we're on our way out of Nuuk Icefjord, bound for Manitsoq-100 miles, motoring into a light northerly. Manitsoq. Arrived at 06.00. The sun shining after an unpleasant bumpy passage in force 5 headwinds. 3-hour watches, the odd iceberg, a straight-line course made for an undemanding if not altogether enjoyable trip. 

Manitsoq is nice! I saw a boat with only a 40 HP engine. They normally are 80 HP and upward.  Peter had done the journey from Paamuit to Nuuk in 5 hours, which took us over 24 hours. Yes Sir, these fellows get around-- and fast.



Yes, it was the nicest of the places we've been to. Even the Ajo(pronounced Aho), described by the clean-cut young man in the Seaman's Home as 'disgusting', was grand. Three Danish nurses who had had coffee in the boat, seemed to have little clue, or interest in the local scene, otherthan their work in the local hospital.

The Ajo, that same we had been in 1993, that must have been a Monday, came alive about midnight and ran till about 3, Music and dancing young and old, the sobriety test for entry to the music area being the ability to negotiate the stairs. A Dane hosted a party. I went directly back to the boat and benefited to a marginal degree, from the extra sleep.

The boat moved out at 08.00 on Saturday for Sermilinguaq Fjord. Beautiful morning. Sighted Atlantic Humpback. Two hours later we anchored in a cove at the north side, with some difficulty in getting a hold on the rock bottom, even in only 8 metres, close to the shore .Put a line ashore to a rock.

Pat, Harry, Cathal and P off to climb Mountain 1325, on the hiking map, for the area, one of three. A fair old effort has been put into the promotion of tourism in the last 8 years.

There are no small mountains in Greenland. Although it looked closer, as does all in this clean cold air, our upward plod seemed to take us no nearer. Hairy enough it was on loose unsound scree, with snow slopes to our right. It was hot and thirsty, small rivulets of melt water providing welcome respite, each one being the nicest you've ever tasted. Three hours of this punishment got us to the crux. A step, or wall if you like, about 20 metres high, stood in or way. Harry, ahead, declared it ' doable'. But we 3 lesser mortals, without a rope as we were, opted to stay put for the hour it took Harry to 'summit' and return. He did concede to the need for some 'airy' moves.

We took -off down the snow slopes, running, sliding, glissading and were on shore in an hour, 5 hours out. Gearoid and Eoin had had a busy enough time of it too. The wind had turned and they had had to buoy the anchor and shore- line and head away to avoid being put onto what had become a lee-shore, with the plunging depths not allowing of re-anchoring. They engined about, taking in the bird-cliffs, the glaciers and an abandoned settlement. 

Well-fed, thanks lads, we put to sea, down the striking (not a word I like to use ) Hamborgorsund ,saw numerous whales, unidentified, and motored/sailed the 100 miles, crossing the Arctic Circle, to Sisimuit.

Sisimuit, formerly Holsteinborg, great harbour of the whaling times and port of call for expedition ships, so called, the whalers showed the way for the most part, Dutch first then the Scots. The   west coast of Greenland was  familiar to the men of Peterhead and Dundee. 

The day in Sisimuit was cloudy and cool. We took it handy, taking coffee and showers in the Seamen's Home and chatting to a couple of  articulate Greenlanders. There had been two suicides in the town this weekend, both young women, unrelated, one of them one of the best in Greenland on skis. The national flag outside the Lutheran church was at half-mast for the service.

Afterwards, some 30 pick-ups and vans were outside the hotel bar-and were gone in an hour. There was none of the Friday night frenzy. In a town of 5,000, Greenland's seconds largest, there were none unaffected.

We visited the museum, sod-huts, saw 'umiaqs', currach-like skin boats, sledge-dogs and sledges, had a couple of beers and in my case was cornered by a Dane who gave me his version of Greenland history. I could have been in Malawi listening to an Africaaner!

It's now Monday morning, July 15th., and we are under all sail, yankee poled out, in a light following wind., rocks and islands  a half mile and less to our starboard as we sail northwards on latitude 54 degrees on our way to Qeqertassuaq , Disco Island, 130 miles to go. 



"Perhaps a thin veneer of culture on our goings-on." * I long ago got fed-up with that book 'Do Whales Sing--.Instead of being an expedition / nature book, it evolved as an insight, very deep, into a north of England village and its introverted people. I changed to ' A Star Called Henry', Roddy Doyles factional account of some of the doings of 1916-21, a different version from that we had in school. 

Harry bought two books in Nuuk, as Harry does, both interesting, one a gem. 

*The gem, an American / French anthropologists account of her 1929 summer spent in the Upernavic, west Greenland, area. At that time Greenland was closed to outsiders, by its Danish rulers, administered very much in the colonial style. Nuuk and the towns we now know, to a degree, did not yet exist; they came later, beginning in the 60's, with the well intentioned change in policy, gathering the people into centres where modern health, education and work facilities would replace the old subsistence hunting life. *The other, a heavier tome," Crime, Law and Justice In Greenland", deals with the development of a legal system marrying the Innuit and Scandanavian systems  in an empathetic way. 


Pictures from expedition

Progress Reports


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