Greenland report from John Pahl

Sailing the “Forbidden Coast” with Siggi

You’re not often lucky enough to watch a polar bear tear the tail off a narwhale or bath in a steaming hot spring, but in East Greenland you can do both on the same day, if you know where to go. Last summer I joined Siggi on Aurora and we did just that one Tuesday afternoon – the first one in two weeks sailing from Iceland to what is called the Forbidden Coast.

We left Isafjordur late one Saturday, slipping lines as the moon rose clear over the North West Fjords, lighting our route north through waters we shared with a pod of dolphins. There were eleven of us onboard, myself, Siggi and his two crew, plus seven other guests.

East Greenland is far off the tourist trail and like arctic explorers you have to adapt plans to changing ice and weather conditions. For us it meant that the starting point was Turner Island, just shy of Scoresby Sound and 70°N. The crossing was smooth, though we encountered several icebergs and patches of fog.

Alone in the world?  Not quite but one of very few people on this part of the East Greenland coast.

On landfall we anchored, the friendly rattle of the chain announcing our arrival to the circling mountains and seals basking on a nearby iceberg. Here we could stretch our legs and some climbed a nearby peak, encountering a mysteriously attentive Arctic Hare, before enjoying Siggi’s wonderfully – and healthy – baked fish.

It was the next day we saw the polar bear and found the hot springs – but that was after some had kayaked up the sound connecting two fjords while others hiked along a shoreline where bear print marks were clearly visible in the gravel.

The days after had a pattern to them. We’d hoist the anchor and sail most of the day south until we found a suitable anchorage for the night click here for more info. Here we’d hike, sometimes to viewing points, another time to a glacier.

The coastline we were sailing along was stunning: magnificent and extraordinary. It was empty of people, with no permanent population for nearly 400 miles, but containing uncountable mountains, peaks that rise from the ice filled waters to over 3000 feet, almost all unclimbed, separated by glaciers flowing slowly downwards.

The high spot was the three days we spent in mighty Kangerdlugssuaq Fjord. This really the archetypal Greenland fjord, where in every direction photos are good enough for postcards or – given this is the 21st Century – laptop or tablet backdrops, so good you actually have to tell people you took them yourself.

Fire in the sky at Karale.

Here we hiked over to Watkins Fjord which is from where Chris Bonington and Robin Knox-Johnston made their assault on the Cathedral peak (we ourselves were anchored in the bay named after their boat, Suhaili). We also launched the sea kayaks to paddle over to an abandoned Inuit village, dodging icebergs and being inspected by curious seals. One day was a Greenland weather day when we bunkered down as a storm blew outside and we were joined by some Inuit hunters also sheltering from the high winds.

Finally it was time to reluctantly head south to re-join civilisation and catch those flights we had booked months before. I remember helming us out of Kangerdlugssuaq, steering a way out to sea between icebergs in the half-light that passes for night this far north.

On the final night as we made our way into Tasiilaq Siggi and I were distracted from our task of watching for ‘bergs by flickering lights in the sky. It was the northern lights, and we were so far north that we saw them south of us. It was to be the final hurrah of a simply brilliant two weeks.