The island of Disko broke the wind and the waves. Qeqertarsuaq is the Inuit name for Disko and it means "the large island". With its 3300 square mile area, one can understand how this behemoth might have received this moniker. Rosehearty roared into her lee with double headsails, 25 to 30 knots of breeze aft of the beam, a 2 meter sea on the quarter. We had just sailed more than 400 miles across Davis Strait. And then everything went quiet. Sails went limp and had to be furled away; the sea became smooth. And then, the icebergs appeared. Now we have seen plenty of icebergs on this voyage, but what we had not seen was the quantity and size of the bergs that came into view.
On every part of the horizon, everywhere we looked, big bergs stood, jutting in to the sky. The ice sheets and strips of Lancaster sound were impressive – and dangerous – but these mountains of frozen water were something entirely different. The sheer bulk of what we were seeing left us in awe. There was plenty of deep water between the bergs and very few bergy bits. This layout, combined with the great visibility and kind sea conditions, allowed us to become absorbed in the view. The thing with icebergs is that when you see them from a moving ship, they change shape and color as you drive passed. The sun moves the shadows around. Refraction plays tricks on you: small bergs become big bergs; their masses floating above the sea.. The clear air makes things that are very far away seem closer. Ice bergs shapes shift. On the flybridge, we described what we saw – one looked like a gaff-rigged topsail schooner, another was the shape of a perfect pyramid from Egypt, and a third, we were convinced, looked like a Scottish terrier, resting on all fours.
The ice bergs we were seeing are calved from the mighty Sermeq Kujalleq glacier, situated next to the picturesque town of Ilulissat. This icefjord is a designated world heritage site. The UNESCO site explains, “One of the few places where ice from the Greenland ice cap enters the sea, Sermeq Kujalleq is also one of the fastest moving (40 m per day) and most active glaciers in the world. Its annual calving of over 46 cubic kilometres of ice, i.e. 10% of all Greenland calf ice, is more than any other glacier outside Antarctica. The combination of a huge ice-sheet and the dramatic sounds of a fast-moving glacial ice-stream calving into a fjord full of icebergs make for a dramatic and awe-inspiring natural phenomenon.”
We ghosted into the Ilulissat anchorage at 0100 local time. The sky burned orange. A waning moon rose. Time for a few hours sleep in this cradle of bergs.