Our Last Town - Qaqurtoq
We tied up on the Greenland Atlantic pier where a student from the local university came to visit. We had met him a month ago in Qeqertarsuaq and he had told us he would look for us here. We asked him a number of questions.
Greenland has home rule but is still part of the Kingdom of Denmark. Some of the people we had talked to believe that independence will happen soon and it seems to be the wish of many of the people. Our visitor believes Greenland will become independent but that will take a few years. Welfare accounts for three quarters of the income of Greenland's 55,000 people.
Tourism, fishing and natural resources are the hopes for the future but organizing these into industries is not a local skill. Our observation is that the Danes run the businesses, fish plants and schools and the Greenlandic natives are still making the transition from being hunters and gatherers.
In response to global warming, he told us that Disko Bay used to freeze over enabling dogsleds to cross the ice from his home on Disko Island to the mainland for most of the year. The last freeze was ten years ago. Now, helicopters are the only link when the brash ice gets too thick for boats.
Vikings and Prins Christian Sund
We were now in the South on the coast settled by the Vikings. We sailed up a fiord to the ruins of the 800 year old Viking settlement at Hvalsey. Anywhere else such ruins would have an interpretation center, souvenir shops and be roped off. In Greenland they are just as the Vikings and the ages have left them.
After days of fog and overcast the sky cleared and the sun appeared on August 7th, the day we were to transit Prins Christian Sund. This maze of soaring peaks and calving glaciers is one of the world's great passages . We were fortunate in that the ice that blocks the sound had thinned to it was just opened up to shipping. We were one of the first boats through. The alternative is to round Stormy Cape Farvel which one is advised to do by sailing 200 miles south to avoid the nasty weather.
As we were making our way a small puff of smoke appeared down the channel. It gradually weaved through the ice until it became a passenger ship. Finally, the Ocean Majesty out of Liverpool tooted passed with hundreds of waving camera snappers. We felt like stars.
We called ahead to the Danish weather station perched next to its antenna farm on the last wind blown mountain top at the eastern entrance of the sound. We had hoped to be able to tie their pier for our last night before leaving for Ireland. We were granted permission.
The station was originally built during WWII as a US weather base for 30 weather men and telegraph operators. Today, airplanes on the transatlantic run rely on its data. The march of technology has made it fully automatic and reduced the staff to three, a maintenance person, a cook and a manager.
Their number of annual visitors can be counted on one hand. We arrived to find Oleg, the manager and most of the staff waiting to help us tie up on their dock. We were invited to climb up to the station for a shower and dinner.
We gathered our clean clothes and climbed the stairs to find a compound of buildings tied down by a spider web of steel cables to keep them from blowing away.
After cocktails, dinner with wine and desert with schnapps we discussed global warming (they believe it is cyclical) and life in the universe (there must be). When we got to life after death, we realized that if we had any hope of leaving the next day, it was clearly time to say goodnight
Protests erupted. Their last visitors had come for a night and stayed a week. It would be inhospitable for us to leave after just one night. Furthermore, it was not safe. The good weather they had predicated at the beginning of the night suddenly deteriorated into a major storm system. They announced that the sound was closed.
They finally agreed to let us go but only if we took bags of Danish cheeses, hams, fresh eggs, bread and butter cookies with us. Fully burdened, we reluctantly climbed down the 285 steps to sleep on Onora.
Greenland appears on the horizon as a monster. The black rock peaks soar out of the stark white ice pack. Cold hard gales blast from its fiords. Weather along the shore is unpredictable. When gales are forecast it can be calm. When gales are not forecast they blow out of the mouth of fiords. When it is not raining or foggy it is a land of majesty with its peaks and glaciers of the icecap that spill huge glowing icebergs into the sea. It is unforgettable.