Prins Christian Sund, Greenland
And now for something completely different. There is no port to explore today & we spent the whole day on the ship. August 9 was a sea day that we spent on “scenic cruising” in the beautiful Prins Christian Sund. The southern tip of Greenland is actually the Cape Farewell Archipelago which is separated from the mainland of Greenland by a narrow fjord called Prins Christian Sund (Ikerassuaq in Icelandic). We entered from the east so the mainland was on our starboard (right) side while Sangmissoq Island (or Christian IV Island to the Danes) was to port (left). We entered the Sund early in the morning and spent about 10 hours before exiting into the Labrador Sea. (Reminder to newcomers: a caption should appear if you hover your mouse over a picture without clicking.)
As you can see from the pictures it was a gloriously sunny & clear day. This is not usually the case, so we were very lucky. Often bad sea conditions or fog or ice floes clogging the narrow entrance make it impossible for a cruise ship to enter the Sund, so sometimes the Voyage of the Vikings has had to skip this part or cut it very short if ice is encountered after entering. Our travel guide Barbara, who has been doing this kind of work (although not always in Greenland) for about 25 years, said that this was the best day she had ever seen in the area.
Well, we were woken up (thankfully) just as we entered the Sund by Barbara, who was narrating the passage over the loudspeakers on the deck just outside our glass door. So before going to breakfast we had time on deck to take in some of the early morning sights. We were sailing past the Greenland ice sheet on the right. & we passed a number of outlet glaciers where the ice is moving down to the water and breaks off into icebergs. The Greenland ice sheet is the second biggest in the world (after Antarctica). If it all melted the world’s oceans would rise more than 7 feet. So if you live near the ocean shore you really might want to get on board in fighting global warming!
When we came to a glacier the captain would stop in front of it and slowly turn the ship around 360 degrees so everyone could see it. While we didn’t see any large pieces calving off a glacier into the water the evidence that it happens was everywhere in the form of floating ice, large and small. The small pieces tended to congregate in fields that stood in the sunlight against the dark water reflecting the nearby rock faces. You will be seeing pictures of icebergs in all shapes and sizes throughout this episode (and the next).
We came to one of the biggest icebergs of the day. Most of these icebergs are actually a lot bigger than they look in the pictures. Most were taken from the 6th deck of the ship and some from the 12th, so its like looking down from a 6 or 12 story building. But there was no looking down at the top of this one from the 6th deck. And remember that at least 70% of an iceberg is under the water. I have several pictures of this iceberg as we approached and then passed it. You will notice that it has a lot of dirt on the top. That may originally have been the bottom of a glacier, which picks up dirt as it scrapes along the ground . We could see it a long way away since it was big and sitting out in the water like a jewel on display.
While we were on deck admiring the view the staff came around distributing Dutch pea soup. Not really what we think of as soup since it was not liquid at all and had the consistency of mashed potatoes, but it was warm & quite delicious. Usually when there is food I am too busy eating to think about pictures, so there are no pictures of the soup. Anyway, we sailed past another glacier, some more icebergs & a nice waterfall. The waterfalls are formed by melting ice from the ice sheet finding its way through the craggy walls of the fjord.
Here is yet another glacier. Tired of them yet? We weren’t.
We came to a hanging glacier, called that because it hangs on the cliff without coming down to the water. It also had waterfalls. You may have guessed by now that I like the craggy blue front edges of the glaciers.
Here are some more icebergs, mountains and boats. We were surprised to see motorboats & a sailboat in this remote area, but there they are. The guy standing on the front motorboat has a camera and is taking pictures or a movie of the Veendam. It is interesting when sailing past an iceberg to see how different they look from different angles. The mountains here are pretty big, rising from the water as high as 6,000 feet.
Next, another glacier. This one looked as we approached like there was only a point of ice touching the water. But as we passed it became clear that there was a wide ridge at the water’s edge.
Beyond the glacier were cliffs with several glacial melt waterfalls wending their way in and out of rock channels. Not much more to say about that, so just look.
Throughout the afternoon we saw a lot of mountain peaks, some with snow caps, each of which would have been really impressive standing alone. In the context of so many others they lost some of their individuality, but were still quite beautiful. Later in the afternoon as the sun dropped a little lower the shadows and changing sunlight gave them even more interest. You can see from the green color in some of these photos that there is flora in this area, but it does not grow much. We were told that there are actually trees here, but you can’t see them because they grow no taller than 3 or 4 inches even though they may live for years.
In the afternoon we sailed past an isolated village called Aappilattorq on an outcrop from the huge mountains behind it. Although this spot has been inhabited for more than a century there are fewer than 150 people who live here. The village has a school, a church and a fire station. Inaccessible by land, the village can be reached by helicopter or (in summer) by boat. But they do have electricity and apparently television. We actually passed this village twice as the ship went up and back through the fjord in which it sits. I have seen it suggested that the bright colors used in Greenland are to enable folks to find their houses when the snow is deep, but I think it is probably a natural response to the gloom of the long dark winters. Whatever the reason, they certainly are colorful.
We passed a lot more icebergs as the afternoon wound down. Icebergs often lose mass more in the underwater portion than the part above water. As that happens the iceberg gets lighter and floats higher in the water. Many icebergs display a sort of straight shelf above the water line caused by this, with the shelf having originally been at the water line. Sometimes as the underwater erosion continues there may be more than one shelf line on the side. The change in center of gravity may also cause the iceberg to tip, in which case the lines become diagonal, or even to flip entirely over. One iceberg dramatically flipped just as we were passing it, just as if it had been paid to perform for us. There is an “after” picture of it below, but unfortunately since I didn’t know it was going to do this I didn’t take a “before” picture. (But there may be a later “after” picture as it seems to have risen higher in the water in the second picture.)
Just before leaving the fjords we sailed past one last mountain peak glowing in the late afternoon sun. On one side of it were some rocks, one of which was standing precariously on its end.
So the weather had amazingly held for us through the entire trip through Prins Christian Sund. There was plenty of sun, no clouds at all and although it was pretty chilly there was little wind so it wasn’t too cold to enjoy the trip mostly on the deck. But when we passed out of the fjord, boom! The fog dropped around us suddenly like a curtain coming down. The fog horn was blowing all evening and into the night to the point were we all but gave up hope of being able to tender into our next port in the morning. Just outside the sound we could still see impressive icebergs shining in the evening sun filtered through the fog.