July 15 – 17, Nuuk
Les, Ali and I met for coffee at the Seaman’s Mission early on a foggy morning. Then we hauled my 45 pounds of equipment, almost all clothing, down to the wharf where Arctic Tern lay, and I was given a quick tour (here’s how to make coffee; here’s how to operate the head) and shown my quarters.
She is a big boat, Arctic Tern, steel, nearly 45 feet overall, and orange of hull. She has an upper cabin, “the sun room,” surrounded by large windows in which are a long settee, also orange, and a navigation station; just below this is the galley and dining area, which can easily seat six near the warmth of a diesel heater.
All the way aft is the master stateroom and all the way forward, the V-berth. The V-berth is two bunks, one on the inside of either bow, and a head, both separated from the rest of the boat by a watertight steel door. I have the starboard-side berth and my companion, a swollen net of onions, apples, and lemons, swings heavily to port. Otherwise the cabin is mine. Those who have spent time on boats will know that privacy like this is an unusual luxury.
Our first happy task was to have coffee with our nearest neighbors on Young Larry, whom I was pleased to meet. Young Larry’s owners, Andrew Wilkes and wife, Marie, made an early (2010) transit of the Northwest Passage followed by a long, descriptive article, published by the Royal Cruising Club’s Pilotage Foundation. This was one of the first, detailed accounts I discovered while doing Northwest Passage research. Les and Ali have also spent many years in Arctic waters, and the conversation between these four easily followed through to the end of the cake and second pot of coffee.
In the afternoon we walked our passports to the police station looking to get stamped out of the country for a planned departure next evening. Ten minutes later, and after much rummaging, we were told by the officer on duty that the stamp could not be found. There was only one; likely it was at the airport. The officer would send someone to retrieve it and meet us at the boat (note: two days later no officer has come calling—an indication of the importance of procedure in Greenland.)
There is a common joke among sailors born from common experience; that being, the cruising life provides one with the privilege of working on his boat in exotic places. True to form our departure prep began early the next morning. I busied myself capping the Dorade vents on Arctic Tern’s lower decks against the mighty seas we are sure to face west of Alaska, while Ali zipped Les to the top of the mast to renew the VHF antenna and wiring. All went well until, during his descent, Les found that the starboard-side diagonal shroud had a cracked wire just below the fitting.
We chewed the problem over lunch-time sandwiches of peanut butter, yellow cheese and Branston Pickle. It was agreed that one of the problems with stainless wire is that routine checks, as are performed on Arctic Tern, don’t guarantee against nasty surprises. We also agreed how fortunate it was to find the problem here. Les reasoned that though we had spare wire aboard, using it now would mean not having an emergency replacement further on. Nuuk is the last outpost where ordering from Europe is “easy.” So, after coffee Les made his way to the boat center, and now a double-long stand of 10mil wire should be delivered from Denmark by late Friday.
Jimmy Cornell and team of eight, including guests and a reporter, we are told, departed aboard his Aventura in the early morning. Catryn, a fiberglass, pilothouse sloop, arrived from the UK in the afternoon, as did an aluminum cutter named Gjoa and another glass boat, the Lillian B. of Maine. Dockage in Nuuk is all rafting and we took lines from Lillian B. as she and four crew pulled in along Arctic Tern.
After dinner, Lillian B. invited us aboard for whiskies to celebrate the completion of their first leg, and during which their younger member peppered Les and Ali with questions of the passage further on. During this exchange they made one of those quintessential remote-travel discoveries: their propane tanks, which needed filling, had none of the right fittings for Greenland gas.
Next morning while I renewed the running backs, Ali replaced sheet blocks and Les went up the mast again to remove the offending stay, this while the crew of Lillian B. disgorged their empty propane tanks from their lockers and tore the boat up looking for spares with which to jury rig new fittings.
We had mid-morning coffee in the cockpit. Brilliant sun, windless. Short sleeves shirts and bare feet. Next hour a light breeze from the north, and though the brilliant sun remained, we quickly moved for our boots and sweaters.
In the afternoon I was given a few hours shore leave to explore the town. From the café in which I write, I can see Young Larry departing under sail up Nuuk’s main fjord, this as an iceberg makes its way to the sea.