sailing southwards between 74N - 68N
We cleared the edge of the pack ice just after lunch on Thursday, benefitting enormously from the good weather. Hughie was able to fly ahead in the helicopter (affectionately called Tweetie) and pick out a course through the narrow but interconnected leads through the sea ice. After clearing the ice, we turned south to begin the two day transit to the mouth of Kangerdlugssuaq fjord. Iceblink was visible to our west for much of Southward journey (iceblink is the brightening of the horizon -- a telltale sign of reflections from sea ice, not open water).
Friday and Saturday were spent out on the open ocean, cruising full speed ahead for the southeast coast. The swells became progressively larger as the day went on and by Saturday morning we were in a Force 8 storm. Most of the swells were on our stern, which means the ship tends to do a lot more yawing than pitching and rolling. The rolling was still to come, though -- on Sunday mid-morning, just as Leigh was baking her cinnamon rolls for brunch, Arne, our captain, altered course to begin our westerly track towards the mouth of the fjord. That puts the swells on our starboard beam. For the next eight hours, the ship rolled in exactly the same way you would expect an egg to roll in a bathtub (i.e., a lot, and very frequently)! Because neither of us felt seasick, it was actually quite fun to watch the ship plough through the stormy ocean from the comfort of the bridge. (The cinnamon rolls were a big success, by the way. Much more successful than the quiches which, evidently, do not set if baked on a ship that is moving from side to side!)
We have sighted a few whales. Three dolphins accompanied us for a few minutes on Saturday evening. Arne and I saw a sei whale breach in front of the ship on Sunday morning (did the whale know there is a bumper sticker on the bridge that says "I brake for whales"?). Then a big humpback whale breached very close to the port bow several times later in the afternoon.
We approached the mouth of the fjord on Sunday evening. After being up at 74N for the last week or so, it was quite a change to be "back down south" at 68N. We definitely noticed the difference -- there was something approaching a sunset at 12:30AM (the sun really only went behind some mountains, but it made for wonderful views). It was the kind of constantly changing light that kept us out on the bow taking photographs way past our bedtimes!
It is now Monday morning. We are just inside the mouth of fjord, about 65 km from Kangerdlugssuaq Glacier. Hughie and I took off just before 7:00AM and flew up the fjord to navigate a route for the ship through the ice, and to pre-position some equipment up at the glacier. The flight was spectacular. Katabatic wind draining from the ice sheet made for a bumpy ride in Tweetie, but thankfully I had not eaten much breakfast. The biggest surprise of all was that when we got to the glacier, we found that the location of our planned survey grids was no longer on the glacier but in the fjord -- the glacier had retreated a few kilometers since our last satellite images were taken in 2002. It seems to have been quite a dramatic retreat. We are now back on the ship, planning new survey grid locations and will fly out to begin the measurements later this afternoon.