Diving in Greenland
Swimming around in below-freezing water sounds cold. And so it is, but that’s soon forgotten when, 40 metres down, you are surrounded by experiences from another world.
The best dive is yet to come if you haven’t dived in Greenland
If you are crasy about diving, Greenland can give you some very special experiences. And that’s guaranteed! Once you’ve tried diving 40 metres under the ice you can’t get enough. The sensation is intense, because although you want to see everything, there is still this great respect for the harsh environment. It is ice cold, your fingers hurt and you have to be constantly aware of the state of your equipment. And yet it is fantastic. Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing when I came up after my first dive and it’s still hard to wipe the smile off my face.
The first dive in Greenland
After a four-hour flight from Denmark we landed on the biggest island in the world. A quick change of aircraft and directly on to our destination, Sisimiut. With 5,000 inhabitants it is considered to be a large town in Greenland. After some lunch we unpacked our equipment and headed for the harbour. Morten and Bo, who arrange extreme diving trips, said there was a three-metre difference between high and low tide. This is quite unusual, but the advantage is that this tide creates strong currents, which result in a very rich marine life.
We went on board and sailed out of the harbour. We had planned our first dive at one of the two icebergs which were stranded just a few kilometres away outside the harbour basin. The weather was brilliant and the light conditions could not have been better. After a trip around the iceberg, we were told conditions were safe and we prepared to dive. There was a new layer of crust-ice on the surface and slipping into the minus 1.7 degree cold water was a transcendent experience.
A cold an fantastic dive in Greenland
But the cold shock was quickly replaced by a great fascination. I could clearly see the bottom, 23 metres below me. However, the cold water created some problems. Regulators can’t function properly at these temperatures, where spit freezes to ice. We had to have two regulators so we could change during the dive.
Once everyone was in the water, we swam over to the iceberg. It rose about 10 metres above the surface and stood solidly on the ground. We glided down the wall and landed softly on the bottom. A fantastic sight with incredible blue and green colours. Of course I wanted to take photos, but my equipment went on strike in these cold temperatures. Damn! We dived around the iceberg and saw small crustaceans, sea anemones, star fish, bristle worms and many other creatures. We came to a melt-water channel that went all the way to the bottom of the iceberg. It was an incredible sight. There was always something new to look at, but after half an hour in the cold water it was time to stop.
It was so cold, that I had violent pains in my left index finger. But all this was quickly forgotten once we sat in the boat, chatting about everything we had seen. But this was just the beginning. For the next dive we moved to a small bay with a cliff wall, which went to a sandy bottom 25 meters down. Here the marine life was totally different. There were forests of seaweed, sea anemones, sea squirts, Icelandic scallops, lumpsuckers and sea cucumbers. It was also weird to see the land-ice continue underwater. The first day’s diving had definitely lived up to my expectations.
Off to Mussel Island in Greenland
After a good night’s sleep we were ready to resume exploring underwater Greenland. We sailed to a bigger fjord aiming for Mussel Island and its exciting cliff wall that drops 30 metres in terraces. I glided slowly into the water and continued down through a forest of seaweed. We were surrounded by half-metre long sea squirts looking like creatures from another planet. I have never experienced anything like it. We dived further down and I felt as if I were a natural part of this fantastic nature. Fortunately my body quickly acclimatised itself to the low temperatures and I was able to enjoy myself, although I envied Morten his dry gloves!
We sailed on to a small island not far from Sisimiut. The bay here was covered with ice but the boat’s 40 mm thick hull easily broke through the ice. Again the visibility impressed me, it was 16 meters deep here and the seafloor was clearly visible. We dived through the hole in the ice behind the boat. Diving under the ice was a very special experience and I looked up several times to make sure it was easy to see the opening. But there was nothing wrong with the visibility. We drifted silently around looking at the marine life that had chosen this location for their home. I thought that these creatures must have antifreeze in their blood otherwise they would have frozen stiff. It is an incredible world full of life no matter where you are.
Nature in Greenland calls the shots
We left early the next day. We had a long way to go and weather wasn’t as good as it had been, quite the opposite. It was snowing heavily and the wind caused the boat to roll violently on the big waves. We were aiming for the wreck of an old fishing boat in Itilleq Fjord, and we were very disappointed when we found the fjord full of ice. Thick ice! In any case, the 600 hp engine and the 40 mm thick hull couldn’t compete with the ice floes. The engine ran at maximum power but we didn’t get closer than about 1 km to our destination. Hard luck! The alternative was a dive at a vertical cliff that went down to 150 metres. The rich biological life here was very different from what we had previously seen and we saw fish for the first time. We even got one more dive in, because we decided to make a night dive as well. This confirmed my opinion that a diving holiday in Greenland is best in April and not during the summer, when the light nights spoil the experience.
The fishing boat Borgin
The next day the weather was perfect and we wanted to try to get out to the wreck of the fishing boat again. This time by dog sled. We sailed as far as we could and then Morten was guided to the target using the GPS. When he reached the wreck Morten marked the ice and came back to the boat to get the rest of us. We loaded the equipment onto the dog sled and pushed it out to the marked position.
When we got to the position we started to hack a hole in the ice. It was almost surreal – that we were actually standing, hacking at the ice so that we could get into the water! After half an hour we had made a hole in the 15 cm thick ice that was big enough for us to get into the water – and back up again. Bo marked the place clearly with a circle so we could see the hole from below the surface. It was very exciting, but I wasn’t so sure that we would find the wreck. But I wasn’t going to miss an ice dive, so I joined the madness.
The water in the hole froze quickly to ice again and when I jumped in there was already thick brash. I let myself sink slowly to the depths and suddenly, 10 metres down, I saw two masts reaching upwards. It was the fishing boat Borgin. I dived lower and studied the boat with interest. It sank in 1954 – the year before I was born. Here was a complete wooden ship of 110 feet, laden with 350 tons of salted cod.
I swam round the wreck and suddenly wondered if I could see where to surface. But there wasn’t any problem, not even 40 metres down. The circle that Bo had marked around the hole was bright, showing the way out of this wonderland.
I felt happy and liberated and I am sure that if it hadn’t been for the mouthpiece, I would have laughed with joy. But this had to wait until I came up, and then I held nothing back. Laughter and uncontrollable hoots broke out and everyone agreed that they had never experienced anything like it. Bo and Morten asked if we were ready for another dive, but we agreed that this was the best finale we could get. My diving holiday in Greenland ended with a huge grin.
A small suggestion for diving in Greenland
A diving holiday in Greenland is just as unique as the island itself. It has been the experience of a lifetime and it has given me precious memories. I can only recommend it, but you must be ready to receive indescribable experiences and take your time to digest impressions you never dreamt were possible. Be warned!
DIVING tips – for the technically-minded – in Greenland
Woollen underwear and warm clothing are a must, as well as warm gloves (dry or wet). You don’t need a full-face mask, but it is important to have a regulator with an octopus, preferably newly serviced.