In the midst of a spell of rather chilly weather, what better place to be taken to on our presentation evening than the waters and icebergs of Baffin Bay, between Greenland and Canada, in the Arctic Circle.
Mark had previously prepared a presentation of his trip and so took the opportunity to create a “Part 2” for us to enjoy.
The Arctic has held a fascination for Mark for some time and the seeds of this trip were first sown in the unlikely surroundings of a trip to Dubrovnik. Mark and his partner spotted a nice cruise ship in the harbour and liked the look of it so much, they stalked it all the way to New Zealand! Some online detective work led them to discover that it was operated by a specialist French cruise company and that it goes to the Arctic! Just as importantly, these vessels only held 200 passengers and offered expedition cruises and proper talks and guidance with walks, rather than the supersize cruise ships holding the equivalent of a small town’s worth of people.
Mark duly booked the trip which he described as the “Best holiday but expensive!” The journey from London was via Paris to the town of Kangerlussuaq where they would meet the cruise ship. Being a French company, it was important to get the right supplies on board. The key ones Mark shared with us were the wine, champagne and butter! Sadly, no evidence was left of the first two but Mark did manage to take a snap of the butter…
Some interesting facts were offered to start us off:
- The weather plays a large part in determining the colour of icebergs – when it is dull and cloudy, the icebergs will appear blue; in bright, sunny conditions, they will appear to be the more expected white colour and can almost look illuminated.
- The colour of the water in the bay is influenced by rock flour. This is the fine powder formed by the rocks being relentlessly crushed under the glaciers over time.
- The reason that icebergs look different is due to air bubbles that form inside the ice and create ripple effects. Eventually, these will cause the weight of the iceberg to alter underneath and so lead to a tilt in the form. Looking closely, one can see lines in the ice that show each shift in weight and track the tilt until the whole iceberg rolls over.
- Some 90% of an iceberg is under the water.
It quickly became clear to Mark that he needed to keep his camera by his side at all times – you just never knew when there would be something to photograph, including humpback whales and narwhals. Also, the sense of scale was very hard to determine – something looking huge and impressive from a distance was not quite as dramatic once close-up but the glaciers and most icebergs were vast and each berg was given its own name, based on the distinct features shown. We saw the elephant, the church and the toast rack to name a few.
Once on the water, the first stop was Disko Bay – a UNESCO World Heritage site. With excellent weather, Mark was able to enjoy the sight of the most prolific glacier in the world, this one place being 10% of the world’s active glacial movements.
Local fishing boats arrange tours of the icebergs and Mark and his partner chose both evening and morning trips to make the most of the different light and opportunities
The local community is made up of 4600 people with 3500 huskies! These dogs are of course vital for the day to day life and work in the region. It is therefore very important to respect them and not to feed them when in the town or village. During Summer months, the dogs are fed only once a week in order to keep them lean and ensure they are ready to work for their rewards.
They breed in these months as well but as delightful as the pups look, the warning was clear – do not approach them as mum could turn nasty – and hungry!
It came as a surprise to this club member that there are lots of midges! Mark and others were equipped with the appropriate gear to avoid any bites.
One of the features of this trip was the chance to get into the towns and communities and the cruise team has built up good relations with the locals.
Other highlights in Greenland were the Eqi passage glacier. You could enjoy a 10k hike as well to get to the front of the glacier on foot – this being because it is unsafe to walk along the beaches as at any minute a slab of ice could cleave off the glacier, sending a sizeable wave across these beaches. The speed would make evasion impossible.
Another stop was at Upernavik fjord. In keeping with local Kullorsuag Inuits custom, we discovered that the Inuits believe the best views should be reserved for the dead, hence the cemetery is always at the highest point
At the top end of the bay, Mark told us about the Savissivik iceberg graveyard. This is an area where many icebergs are trapped and break up before they can make a getaway down the Canadian side of the bay.
Here, we saw the effect of weather changes. Free flowing water falls into a crevice and if it turns freezing cold quickly, this water is trapped and so appears as blue Ice pockets inside the icebergs.
Following a stop at Dundas, Mark and the ship headed into Canada and Pond Inlet. Here, the local community were not quite as welcoming, fishermen firing off warning shots at the boats and travellers who were out to see the whales in the bay!
The Canadian highlights included Icy Arm Fjord with one of the highest vertical cliff faces in the world. there was also Sam Ford Fjord and Isabella Bay – at which stop it was time to organise supplies which made that stop brief.
Mark gave us an insight into the skills of the guides on board and their ability to spot a polar bear cub on a slab of floating ice from a very long way away! Luckily Mark did see it too and shared a photo but he did explain how difficult it is to get the perfect image and the need to be prepared in the middle of dinner or the middle of the night!
The final Canadian stop was at Sisimiut. From there, it was back to Greenland and the rare sight of both the cruise ships in the same bay as Mark’s trip came to an end and others were about to embark.
A final note was Mark’s comments on the differing approaches to the local people and their lifestyles. The Danes have left the Inuit communities to live as they choose. Hence, they are happy to get on and work in their own traditional ways. The colourful buildings are perhaps covering some things that we would not like but with only a few weeks of good weather each year in which to do so much, the priorities of these hard working people are to make the most of this time.
The differences on the Canadian side were striking. The British influences and a misplaced view that the local people needed to be made to follow a more European lifestyle has led to bland, soulless buildings and a community troubled by drink and drugs. A telling legacy.
Thanks from all us to Mark for a fascinating tour and some wonderful images.