Saturday, September 20, 2014

Latitude: 69˚21′ N      Longitude: 51˚10′W
Speed: 12.2 knots       Wind: 4.6 knots
Temperature: 2.2˚C (35.9˚F)

A staff bazaar was held after breakfast in the dining room.  This was a nice opportunity for passengers to purchase books, CDs, carvings, prints, and other art created by the staff. I sold all 20 of the books I lugged up to the Arctic with me. Just glad that more southerners will become familiar with Bernier and the boys.


David Newland with CDs for sale at the Bazaar.

Our destination today is Illulissat, the iceberg capital of the world. More icebergs calve off the glacier there and enter the Atlantic Ocean than from anywhere else in the world. The iceberg that the Titanic collided with apparently originated there. Illulissat is living up to its icey reputation. As we approached the town, the floating ice becomes denser and looks like it is clogging the harbour. 1-1-IMG_3173

We anchor quite a piece from the shore, outside the mess of ice. Two zodiacs are sent to scout the ice and landing situation. I stand on the bow following them with my binocs. The two find a route through the ice and return as the call to get ready to go ashore goes over the PA. The zodiac ride through the scattered pans is thrilling. The drivers nudge their way through the floating ice and navigate through narrow leads of open water between. We arrive at the port at the center of town and cruise between large fishing boats and smaller motor craft to the dock. We are lucky. Apparently, usually the zodiacs don’t land in port but about a kilometre away and everyone has to troop down the road and over a bridge to the town.


It is another dock landing. The passengers leave their life jackets piled on shore near where the zodiacs are tied up. Little motor boats arrive and folks disembark with unusual things to us southerners: seal carcusses; pieces of a caribou, the front legs, antlers, the body; and lots of fish in pails, plastic bags or loose.

Other than the dockside activity, Illulissat is quiet like a Sunday morning. Turns out, tourist season is over and the souvenir stores are closed. One store kindly opens upon request, which is great, for folks like me who haven’t bought souv

enirs yet. Many folks visit the Knud Rasmussen Museum, which honours the famous explorer-anthropologist who was born in Illulissat.  I wander over to the church across the way and stand on the rock shore listening to the icepans crashing together.


It is late afternoon with glorious sunshine as we troop uphill and follow the road two kilometres out of town to the glacier. At the end of the road is a boardwalk, which winds through a marshy area with arctic cotton blowing over the terrain.

1-101-IMG_3222 On either side are low rocky hills. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The end of the boardwalk ends at a stunning, vast, jumbled field of ice. I walk with a group of people and we don’t continue the whole length of the boardwalk but ascend a rocky hill near the end. We hike up this rocky section to overlook the glacier.


The low slung sun is brilliantly reflected off the masses of ice.  It was strangely quiet. I thought we’d hear the ice rumbling as it had at Karrat Fjord, but it is silent in the sunlight.  It is so beautiful it is hardly worth photographing because the images will not capture how incredible this glacier is.


Reluctantly, it is time to head back. Some of the passengers are having difficulty walking the long trek back to the harbour. Cathie and several others try to call a taxi. There are a number in town, but they are busy picking other people up. Apparently, it was payday yesterday, and people can afford cabs to go about town on their business.  Finally taxis are acquired and all passengers, walkers and riders arrive back at the zodiacs. We cruise slowly back to the Vavilov through the ice in an incredible sunset that sets the bergy bits aglow. The light in the Arctic is unbelievable. It is practically part of the landscape.


At 22:00 it is announced that the northern lights are visible. Everyone troops out on Deck 6 for a look. It’s still a bit cloudy, but the aurora is low on the horizon. A little more brilliant and lively than the ones we saw earlier on the trip. I manage to take a few unimpressive shots. The aurora borealis completes a spectacular day.


My attempt to capture the northern lights.


About Season Osborne

I am a writer with a love of Arctic history. After finding a photo of Capt. Joseph-Elzéar Bernier, who claimed the Arctic for Canada in 1909, I was inspired to write my master’s thesis on Bernier’s contribution to Arctic sovereignty. This ultimately led to extensive research into Canadian and ‘foreign’ expeditions to the North, which morphed into my recent book, In the Shadow of the Pole: An Early History of Arctic Expeditions, 1871-1912.
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