A Fill-Up in Sondre Upernavik

August 5, 2019
Anchored Sondre Upernavik
72 09N  55 31W

Past the Vaigat, the concentration of icebergs thinned. Most were hidden behind a merciless fog, but the radar warned of a steady five to ten within its range. What it could not see were the growlers that swung off from behind the larger bergs like comet tails. For these, I had to remain on watch.  

By 3AM, the predicted N wind began to fill over what had been a flat calm sea. We were due another 50 miles of climbing before reaching Upernavik, miles that would soon become a slog. So, I turned our head toward a nearer alternate, a village known as Sondre Upernavik, which stood up the hill from a hooking crescent of bay open only to the SE.

The anchor rattled down at 6AM, and I went right to my bunk, having been awake for nearly 30 hours. 

The sailing directions deal with Sondre Upernavik in three sentences:

“A small settlement with store. Diesel by hose on pontoon jetty (<1m depth at LW). A convenient place to refuel, if the jetty is available.” (Wilkes, ARCTIC and NORTHERN WATERS).

In this, what caught my eye was the fueling option, which was the only thing calling Mo north to the larger village, Upernavik.

I dinghied ashore in the late morning and found both the wharf and jetty packed with small fishing vessels. Squeezing in a heavy thing like Mo was out of the question, no matter the depth of water. 

By now wind was strongly N. We were stuck here for the day, so I decided to bunker by jerry can. In any case, this would be good practice, I reasoned, as fueling from the beach would be the norm once we crossed Baffin Bay and entered the Canadian Arctic.

Mo carries 14 five-gallon plastic jerry cans for a total haul of 87 gallons of fuel. The capacious inflatable can hold but ten of these in one go. Thus, two dinghy runs are required to get the full compliment of containers to or from shore. 

Once landed, I find the biggest obstacle is learning how to operate the modern fuel kiosk up the hill from the fuel hose on the jetty. The first villagers I button-hole speak only their language, not mine, but my third victim can answer the question. 

“You need to push the green button,” he says. 

Problem solved. Pump humming. I rush down to the hose and my collection of yellow cans, but the nozzle will produce no fuel. 

Back up to the kiosk. Fortunately, the same villager is passing by. “You need to place the handle,” he says, removing the fuel nozzle from a filling machine near the kiosk and putting it on the ground.  

Obvious to a baby! I run down to my jerries. Nothing.

Back up to the kiosk. Here I vainly search the instructions posted on the pump in both Danish and Greenlandic. This can’t be that hard!

After some time, the same local is passing by yet again. What luck! I wave him over. “You need to turn the blue lever,” he says, reaching for a ball valve just out of view.

Clear as day! I run down to my waiting jerries. Nothing. I shake the nozzle. Nothing.

Back up to the kiosk. This time my concierge awaits my return.

“The machine stopped. You are too slow. You must start again.”

Back at the boat, I find that my fuel siphoning tools are inadequate. I make a royal mess. But by evening Mo’s two 100-gallon tanks are full, and we have a spare 50-gallons in jerry cans tucked away.   

I sit down in the pilot house to celebrate my success with a beer and fall hard asleep for two hours. 

Oil and filter change tomorrow and then onward to the Northwest Passage.  

6 Comments on “A Fill-Up in Sondre Upernavik

    • Just look at the angle of the satellite dish. That tells you about all you need to know about how far north you are.

  1. Wonderful hysterically funny description of pumping fuel! I loved it and so sorry, Randall, it made me laugh out loud!!! Loved the photos too, and glad I live in Florida!! Well done!!

  2. The Life of a sailor…Topped up and rolling..well done !! must be a good feeling now…all the best of luck for the next stage!!..sail safe…:)

  3. Love following you, Randall, taking us to far away places and making them come alive for us replacing our misbegotten stereotypes.
    I wanted to comment on siphoning and a wonderful device we bought from Svendsen’s Marine here in the SF Bay area. It is called Puff the Magic Siphon. No more turning jerry jugs upside down, no more spills, no more putting lips on hoses. I wish I could send you one. Google it, maybe you can make one – it’s made from common parts and hoses.
    Safe travels.

Leave a Reply