By David // Tuesday 2 Oct // 06:00:45 // 6 Comments
The first sight of Greenland, a moonlit cloud bank over the distant shadow of land.
Time has this odd circulate quality; I think it was 48 hours ago that expectations of land were high, on a course of west-southwest from Spitsbergen. We had received an ice report that maybe, just maybe, it would be clear of ice to enter Scorsby. A direct course was set and the wind; force five, from the north increasing to force 7 later, snow and poor visibility. We had been warned.
60 miles out and ice flows were sighted on the starboard bow, expected and no threat – we continued our course. 40 miles from Scorsby we are force by the ice flows to change course to south, the ice flow appears to be 2000 meters across, the wind is now force 7 and sleet/snow blows horizontal through the rigging. We are on a number three jig and speed is 7-8 knots. The air temperature is -2 degrees C. By 2 pm we again change course to south east followed shortly by east south east, the ice has now become an alarming lee shore in a force 7 driving wind, still on number 3 jib, holding course and 5 knots – searching for a brake in the ice.
4 pm, the oceanographers perform a probe, the results are exciting showing the south drifting Greenland current 60m below the Noorderlicht. More alarming is the surface temperature, -1.5 degrees C. Simon and I confer, we have an ancient mariners worse fear, we appear ringed by ice with no clear passage out, at minus 2 degrees C the sea freezes en block and a winter lock-in of the boat could begin. We are now heading east-northeast back to Spitsbergen, the wind has moderated to force five but night is approaching. The radar shows maybe a break in the ice [at force six with breaking waves the radar cannot decipher between them and ice chunks the size of busses]. We are now northeast and after 80 miles of sailing in horrendous conditions we are within 8 miles of our original position 20 hours earlier. At 1am we can eventually break from our ring of ice, muscling through the ice, then head south east then south, the winds is nothing, the seas calm and the moon shines through cloud layers. It is now a beautiful arctic night and the gods play with our emotions.
Midday, 30 hours in, the wind again freshens from the north and we set schooner sail and number 3 jib, we keep the ice flows to starboard with occasional traverses through weak lines of ice flow. Six pm, force 8 from the north, ice chunks have broken loose and there is a 40-minute struggle to bring in the sails, thrashing canvas and widow maker rope blocks. Motoring now in cross seas through ice strewn seas keeping the ice flow to starboard, wind spin drift crosses the seas, the ice watch shouts ancient cries of “Ice to Starboard”: “Ice to Port” – we continue as night falls, now heading due west towards what we are now convinced is a mythical place -Greenland. There is metaphor to our passage and we speculate on the plight of endless climate refugees as they struggle to find a secure place, our wanderings enable us to empathise.
6am and I have just come off watch, moonlight, northerly force 2, we continue our dance with ice flows which give off unearthly light shadows into the night sky. The mountains of Greenland are visible directly ahead and light fall at 9am should see us enter a promised fiord of calm and a place for us to settle and work. We have completed a 7-day, 800-mile sea crossing in a 100-year-old schooner in the high arctic between the 78 and 72 parallel north in late September – for any sailor this can be notched up as a major achievement. We have carried out a major oceanographic tract, few of us on board had sailed before, and yes, this is a front line of climate change. The raw power of ‘nature’ is startling. Einstein has put it thus: “To stand in awe at the structure of the world”.
Tags: David Buckland