The author of this article lived in Greenland in his youth. Now, he has returned to see the country again and to enjoy nature from a sea kayak. Here, in his own words, he talks about growing up in Greenland and about sailing.
Growing up in Greenland
I grew up in Greenland. In the summer of 1971, when I was six years old, I went there with my parents and my little sister. My father was a net mender and he had found employment with a firm that was part of the first big fish bonanza in Greenland.
Rodebay (Oqaatsut), a small settlement north of Ilulissat
At first, we lived in Rodebay (Oqaatsut), a small settlement north of Ilulissat which in those days had about 100 inhabitants. We lived in a small, 30m2 house with no electricity or running water. The heat came from a stove and we got water by melting ice. My father had a small workshop where he repaired shrimp trawls and he sailed with a small factory ship where he sat on the deck and repaired the fishermen’s trawls.
Napasoq south of Maniitsoq
We lived in Rodebay all summer. In an autumn storm, we sailed with the factory ship to the village of Napasoq south of Maniitsoq. We lived here for three and a half years before we moved to Ilulissat, where we lived through most of my school years. It was a fantastic time, where I spent just about all my weekends out in nature; in the summer in boats, in the winter on dog sleds. Nature, hunting and fishing were everything to me.
When I finished tenth grade, I was told my father had got a job at the North Sea Centre in Hirtshals. I wasn’t ready to move to Denmark, so I got a job with a lumber company, drove my dog sled, sailed and went hunting. After a year, I took a job on a Greenlandic prawn boat. I fished for prawns in West Greenland for two and half years until I decided to move back to Denmark to train as a carpenter. When I finished training I took my girlfriend to Nuuk where I worked as a carpenter for a year. Then it was my girlfriend’s turn to go to Denmark to train. It was sad saying goodbye to Greenland and I promised myself that I would return someday.
I could never completely let go of Greenland. I would maintain that I thought of Greenland almost every day and I have dreamed of taking a long holiday up there for a long time. I dreamed of buying a motorboat and sailing from Southwest Greenland to Northwest Greenland. Of using an entire summer with plenty of time to explore the coast, to fish and to hunt.
Kayak expedition in Disko Bay
Since I have kayaked for several years, the trip turned into a kayak expedition. Since it was not realistic for me to paddle from the south to the north, the plan changed to a five-week kayak adventure in Disko Bay. Disko Bay is a kayaking Mecca. Plenty of icebergs, incredibly beautiful nature and very stable weather conditions.
Four of us were going and we met a few times to plan the trip in detail. It was also important to harmonize our expectations for the trip and we agreed that the focus should be on experiences and adventure.
We flew to Qasigiannguit and travelled south to the closed Tasiusaq fjord system. It was wonderful to see the shining waters of Tasiusaq Fjord, even though it had been necessary for us to carry our gear overland to get there. We spent some glorious days there before carrying our gear out to the coast.
Paddling in Greenland
We paddled to the settlement of Ilimanaq, where we washed our clothes and took a much-needed bath in the settlement’s service house. From here, we travelled by boat to Ilulissat with the »Søkongen«, because it is inadvisable to cross the mouth of the ice fjord in a kayak. From Ilulissat, we paddled northwards.
On the first stage, we passed Rodebay, the settlement where I lived with my family when I was in Greenland the first time. Later, when I lived in Ilulissat, I often drove out there in the winter with my dogs to go grouse hunting in the fells.
We paddled past Rodebay and into the Kangersuneq Fjord, where there were cabins we could borrow and, a good walk in, there was an impressive waterfall.
The next destination was Pakitsoq Fjord. It is special because the big fjord opens out into a very narrow sound, resulting in an extremely powerful current. So powerful, that it doesn’t freeze in the winter. Therefore, it is very important for kayakers to be careful. At the head of the fjord there is a hydroelectric plant that provides Ilulissat with power. We found a fine place to set up camp and we decided to take a rest day.
We had found an old, tangled long line which we spent a lot of time unravelling. We left 15 hooks on the line and set it out.
Fishing from a Kayak
The next day, before we continued northwards, we pulled up the long line. It took two of us to pull and it was rather difficult to do from a kayak. Nearly all the hooks had fish. Atlantic wolffish, Greenland halibut and Greenland cod (ogac), so we had enough fish for several days. They were a welcome supplement to dehydrated food.
We spent a few days here hiking and we visited Camp Eqi. The glacier is an enthralling sight. We had also been close to a glacier in Tasiusaq Fjord, but Eqi thunders and calves so often that there is always a swell.
We set up camp at the head of the bay close to Camp Eqi. We had to carry the kayaks and our gear up from the coast because of the tsunami risk. We took this very seriously because the vegetation showed how far the water could wash up on the shore. Camp Eqi lies across from the glacier with tourist cabins in different standards. We went for a beautiful walk to the glacier and bathed in the meltwater river.
There was a café where they made amazing food, although we were probably easy to impress after all the monotonous dehydrated food.
When we paddled from Eqi, we paddled through a lot of ice from the calving glacier. We paddled out to an island with the finest beach and campsite. Along the coast, there are many summer campsites like this. There had been several turf huts here and, at the water’s edge, there were old kitchen middens. We thought about what it might have been like to live here many years ago and how they had taken their kayaks and run up the same beach as we had. It was a very beautiful place.
Fishing Arctic charr
It was wonderful to see Rittenbenk again, but it was sad to see the old colonial buildings falling into disrepair. We paddled further into the head of Laksebugten where there was a really good campsite.
We stood and fished by the river between two lakes. It was a place where I had caught many Arctic charr as a child. In less than 10 minutes we caught four nice fish. Since we wouldn’t take more than we could eat, we kept fishing but we released the fish again. The next day, we fast-smoked the Arctic charr. They tasted wonderful.
North of Rittenbenk there is a very large bird colony. It was fascinating to paddle past the vertical cliffs with thousands of birds on the rocks and in the air.
We also saw many eider duck nurseries. It is a strange phenomenon, where the adult eider ducks take it, in turn, to look after the young, while the others »go to work«, just like we do. If you get too close, they draw attention away from the young by swimming off and feigning injury.
The blow of a Humpback whale
When we paddled along the east side of Arveprinsens Ejland, we heard a whale blow. We sailed closer and we could see that there were two adult humpback whales and a juvenile. They dived and after a while, one of the whales surfaced just in front of the kayaks, swam under us and came up again a few metres behind us.
It was very exciting to be in a kayak so close to such a giant. When the whale came up we could hear how its lungs exchanged a great volume of air in a very short time. Although I have seen whales many times before, this was one of the highlights of the trip.
A couple of days later, when we reached Rodebay we reserved a table at Restaurant H8, which is an old pack house that has been converted into a restaurant. The dish of the day: humpback whale with brown gravy and potatoes.
We sat and enjoyed a class of wine in the evening on the terrace of the Røde Palæ (Red Palace) while we looked out on the shining water. A passing group of whales perfected the scene. It was the last evening before we returned to Ilulissat. My wife and children were on the way up to spend a holiday with me.
The end of the Greenlandic tour
The next day we dropped off our kayaks and gear at Blue Water Shipping for shipping with a freighter a few days later. I busied myself with my family and I looked forward to showing them nature and Ilulissat, which I consider to be my childhood home. It was a wonderful 17 days and we enjoyed the hospitality of old friends.
All in all it was a wonderful and unforgettable summer. A friend and I are planning another tour in the summer of 2016. I must experience all this again.
- Make sure someone knows your route and keep them up to date.
- Plan your tour carefully.
- You must be able to manage on your own.
- There is no mobile coverage away from towns and settlements.
- It is always a long way to the nearest house.
- The Arctic Command undertakes rescues at sea, the police take coastal rescues.
- The water is always about two degrees. With regard to clothing, you must consider getting splashed means further cooling. A drysuit is necessary.
- The weather can change from calm to storm in a half an hour.
- Wind in combination with low temperature can make for a chill factor that feels freezing, even on a warm summer’s day and even though you have sought shelter on land. Bring extra, warm clothing.
- Distances in Greenland are deceptive because you can see »infinitely far«. If you are in doubt as to whether you can reach a place, wait!
- Never take a chance.
- Always have local maps in watertight packs that float.
- Always bring a satellite telephone with extra batteries.
- Disko Bay is a Mecca for kayaking and I warmly recommend it. The weather is stable in the summer and there is not so much precipitation or wind.
- When you make camp, it’s better to find a dry place.
- On DMI’s (Danish Meteorological Institute) homepage you can see the local weather.
- Water can always be found. Either in one of the many rivers or by melting ice.
- It is, of course, important that you are an experienced kayaker and that you bring the proper equipment.
- It is a good idea to have your own kayak sent up. You are familiar and feel comfortable with this. With sea freight you can fill the kayak with all your equipment, so you don’t need to take it in the aircraft.
- VHF radios for communication between the participants provide extra security.