The Offshore Voyaging Reference Site

Another Day, Another Anchor Watch

We are presently anchored in a small cove on the north side of Uummannaq Island at 70°N and I’m on anchor watch. This is our fourth “anchorage” since leaving Aasiaat three days ago. I put anchorage in quotation marks because these are not the sheltered coves that we appreciate so much in Newfoundland or Maine. No, these are either open bays next to a hunting village or a narrow slot behind a dotted line of rocks. And we are in ice central here: Disko and Uummannaq fjords, with their numerous and very active tidewater glaciers.

It is amazing how agile and persistent ice can be! We get the anchor down, all seems great for several watches and then suddenly a growler the size of a panel van appears and decides it wants to sit on our anchor. Up comes the anchor and off we go. Or the tide changes and suddenly a huge berg, that seemed securely grounded .25 nm away, is suddenly charging straight at us (when they get going, they can move surprisingly fast). It takes an agonizingly long time to get 300 feet of chain back aboard when facing a marauding berg!

On most watches, however, it’s just the humdrum harassment of the berg “barf” (a technical term!) exuded by some distant disintegrating goliath, usually accompanied by such booming and cracking I would swear we’re in a war zone. That’s when our 10 foot-long wooden ice poles come into play, since even a small piece bumping against our aluminum hull rings the boat like a bell, waking those lucky enough to not be on anchor watch.

But the stress and sleep deprivation are balanced for me by a sense of wonder at the incredible beauty surrounding us. These massive fjord systems are lined by towering ice-capped mountains of diverse shapes and colours. Some of the mountains are black jagged monsters piebald with snow; others have softer contours, with valleys painted with the green of small plants; and still others are barren brown mud and rock that look only recently released from the ice that once covered them.

And at their feet, a myriad of white and blue bergs of all shapes and sizes, bathed in the blue 9°C (48°F) water of the fjord. Yup! 9°C. More on that later.

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