I'm flying above Iceland heading for Copenhagen and thence to London Gatwick. The sun is already starting to set over the starboard wing of the only 'long haul' plane in the Air Greenland fleet. I'm in a reflective mood. I've never liked blogs, journals, biographies or books that simply relate to the days events… and yet I have fallen into the very same trap of late and written my blog in exactly that manner: Monday, got up, ate, experienced something, read this book and went to bed… how dreadfully dull!
It's two weeks since the crew of Dodo's Delight arrived in Aasiaat, Greenland and concluded the passage from Nome Alaska. The arrival on Wednesday 25th September was neither the high that many would expect as a result of achieving something quite challenging, nor was it immediately felt as the end of one thing and the beginning of another. To me, it was the natural conclusion of what I had expected.
As previously mentioned, our arrival into Aasiaat wasn't without it's drama. We avoided losing the mast and rigging to a fishing boats stern gear, but during the avoiding process we bent the rear goal post, lost the expensive wind generator overboard, ripped from it's 3" stainless post. Aside that, we had an uneventful approach. After settling alongside the fishing boat pier we spent over a week enjoying Aasiaat.
Steph and David tried to fish for the lost generator to no success. Being purposely aerodynamic there was nothing to hook onto, and in 7 metres of water at low tide diving options were being considered. Then one day, Pelle and I had a go. Pelle is the owner of 'Anna' who has also come through the passage and has become a good friend. He and I had a collection of implements in the dingy including a heavy fishing line with a three pronged hook. Pelle almost caught the generator soon after catching and reeling in the ugliest fish I have seen - the fish went back to the ocean. A few minutes later I had the generator grappled with the dingy anchor and despite a few wet sleeves we had it back. That afternoon I stripped it apart, liberally washed and dried it, soaked it in NASA's well known WD40 lubricant and left it to stew on deck. Meanwhile, Karen, wanted to learn how to strip and service winches. More cold hands. Once the starboard primary sheet winch was done she set off on her own to do the port one. A few days later, with some trepidation I hoisted the wind generator back onto the aft goal post and rewired it. Quietly satisfied that it immediately started feeding power back into the batteries and ran without any problem. A surprisingly hardy piece of kit!
On the first Friday of the month, a local Aasiaat band plays at the Cafe 3 restaurant. Steph, the musical one of the crew always was going to go. She took Pelle along at about 9pm, ever so concerned that she had missed the start. Meanwhile Bob was expecting early nights. I followed them up to Cafe 3 at about 9.30 and they were having a beer at a shared table. The place was fairly full. Local Greenlandic's with the odd Dane. The music had rhythm and was light and melodic. The band; three men on accordion's and a guitar with a younger lady on vocals. We had a ball. Before Pelle knew it he was reeling (Greenlandic style dancing is close to Scottish reeling in my view), a few minutes later we were all at it. Steph and I had a dance, and being fairly well educated in Scottish reel we did a double hand twist… on finishing the dance the entire room were clearly stunned in watching these mad Brits wild dancing and gave us a standing applause… for those of you who have seen the film: "Back to the Future" (the first / original) then it was a little like Marty's experience at his parents Prom when he played rock on stage and stated "One day your parents will love this stuff'. After Cafe 3 closed we found ourselves in Soren Peter's home. He being the accordion player and band leader (by night) and school teacher (by day). We left at 0330 hrs! New friendships were made and the following night they joined us onboard Dodo's Delight for dinner and a music session. Nine people, an accordion and a guitar is a fairly tight squeeze in the saloon of a 33' boat.
Over the early days there was a quiet, but determined move to get flights home. There was clearly a desire to "get back to the UK" as quickly as possible. I was never willing to pay over the odds. Suffice to say, Steph, then Karen with David, then Bob and I individually sorted three different routes home. Greenland is an interesting place in which to fly around. Air Greenland has a monopoly. Some of us ferried out to other towns, some flew directly to the main hub airport. I paid about one third of what Karen and David did. Air Greenland, as previously mentioned has one long haul plane. So most of the crew left a week before Bob and I - but then again they did arrived in Alaska before me and this schedule gave Bob and I clear time and the space for us to put Dodo's Delight to bed for the winter.
Dodo's Delight will spend the winter months afloat. The natural harbour at Aasiaat does ice over - but not severely. A local Dane, "Peter the Fisherman" will caretake both D's D and Anna as they are rafted up alongside his own fishing boat. Bows tied securely to a large buoy in the harbour, sterns fixed with long warps to the shore adjacent to the "Seaman's Mission" - the local three star hotel. As the crew departed, Bob and I gradually worked through the boat ensuring she would be safe for the cold winter months. Draining pipework, winterising the engine and ensuing there were no lurking packs of food that would be an unwelcome surprise to the crew next spring. When we weren't working on the boat - which was a fairly straightforward list of jobs, we would use the "Seaman's Mission" for coffee stops, warmth and wifi. It also had running water and we could buy showers there.
It was during my extended stay that I was asked to make a presentation, in English, to the local Secondary School. Due to the rural vastness in the area, over 70% of their students board. It was a fun and engaging event and whilst English is taught as their third language after Danish their grasp of our language was impressive. The Greenlandic language is phenomenally complex. They use very long words, which are descriptive. One word in Greenlandic covers a whole sentence in most European languages. Lar's, the recently arrived English teacher from Denmark invited me to his apartment for dinner with his visiting family which was another great experience of local hospitality. His daughter had arrived from Copenhagen that morning and brought with her some fresh cheeses. Now this may seem strange - but I hadn't eaten cheese for many weeks that were more complex in flavour than cheap, supermarket blocks of tasteless cheddar… wow did my taste buds get a shock that evening!
I have always respected the hardships and life of commercial fishermen. During the Northwest passage I read an interesting book by a female skipper of a New England line boat. A fascinating read. It was therefore opportune to be invited by Peter the Fisherman for a few hours fishing for cod. These he uses to feed his working dogs, which like many packs live on a small off lying island with nothing but the habitat to make their home from. Tough animals. Pelle, Peter and I headed off one morning in his traditional wooden boat. The bigger, more commercial craft are all now steel. We fished for three hours, with lines wrapped around spools which are attached to the bulwarks. Each line has a large, heavy lure with a three pronged hook then six hooks with bate - in the form of brightly coloured rubber strips. After less than three hours, in the freezing winds we had landed about 1500 kgs of Cod - some as large as 6 kgs. His sonar (underwater 'radar') was picking out deep shoals and we manoeuvred into the best position to catch them. As quick as we could reel in and unhook, the lines were taught again with another catch. Poor old Peter, having got free labour for the day spent most of the afternoon and evening gutting and cleaning the catch, as we had caught so much he was preparing them to be sold at the local fish processing factory. Interestingly though he only receives DKK 5 / kg - thats about 55 pence a kilo.
Wednesday 16th October
On Sunday, 6th October we departed for the ferry from Aasiaat to Sisimuit and the beginning of a three day trip to get home. The green glow of the Northern Lights bade us farewell. This was a beautiful sight as it glowed over Aasiaat and subconsciously created a mood reflecting moment. The trip was over and it was time to head back to the UK, which in itself is to be an adventure and exciting for me in other ways. The Northwest passage I hope the blog has been of interest and rewarding for those of you who read it, as much as it has been enjoyable and at times challenging to write. I was on the London tube (underground) yesterday, which in itself is quite a significant change in environment to the bleakness of the NW passage and I saw this quote, which summarises so much of the past few months and no doubt those ahead:
"In the end we only regret the chances we didn't take, relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited to long to make" - what wise words.