Susie Theis


Birthday Fjording in Nuuk, Greenland

We received no response from the harbor after calling on the VHF to let them know of our impending arrival. Creeping around the peninsula to the protected little marina just behind Nuuk we saw that our options for pontoon space were limited. We decided to raft up to a fishing boat that looked as if it moved only on rare occasion. The harbor was littered with garbage and old broken down looking boats that overcrowded the few available pontoons. Cranes and shipping cargo obstructed the rocky peaks in the distance. A dead seal and an old pair of Dynastars sat next to the dumpster providing a distinct smell every time you walked up to the Soemandshjemmet, or what we liked to call the “Shimmy shammy” since our Greenlandic was a little rusty. 

There are little quirks about each harbor we've been to that distinguish the places in my mind. In Nuuk, it was the fact that the aloof harbormaster could provide absolutely no knowledge on where we should raft up or how to keep the locked door open so we could return to the boat each time we left. Getting home everyday was a challenging game. There was the option of braving the barbed wire that surrounded the steel doorframe or using a rope to swing out over the water and onto the dock on the other side. There was also the option of sticking your arm through the bars and enduring the few seconds of pain that it took to twist open the lock (Ian and Zetty seemed to be the only ones who successfully did that). A crew member on another boat even told me of how he managed to creatively build a raft with a couple old pallets after a night out to the bars. One time I had to flag down an elderly looking fisherman to let me in. I felt pretty guilty after it took him ten full minutes to crawl off his boat. He then proceeded to give me some sort of instruction in Greenlandic to which I just nodded my head and said thank you.

Nuuk was an extreme contrast to the other places we had been. We had spent the majority of our time thus far in countries like Iceland and the Faroes, which have an overwhelmingly friendly charisma to them. While past harbors might have been industrial at worst, a cute coffee shop, clean shower and fast wifi were never more than a few blocks away. Let’s be real, Arctic Monkey hasn’t exactly been roughin’ it this summer. Ian even went as far as to dub our new location as the "Arctic Tijuana". I think that may have been a slight exaggeration but when you’ve grown used to the quaint, Scandinavian harbors it makes sense. The people seemed less friendly but I assumed that was because most spoke absolutely no English. However, while we didn't get to know many locals we did strike up quite a few new friendships in port. 

Minutes after we had tied up on our arrival day another sailboat came in behind us. "Are you Zetty?" called the skipper as they came alongside Arctic Monkey. John and Linda, a couple from Britain, attempted the Northwest Passage last summer and knew of Lou and Zetty through Jimmy Cornell. We quickly grew to consider them friends and would continue to bump into them as we traveled north. 

Also among the boats we befriended was Dodo's Delight, a westerly thirty-three whose crew consisted of four climbers and it’s captain. There was Mark, who had crewed on a past trip to the Azores, and his friends Trystan and Patrick. Next there was Martin, a researcher and ice expert who served as a wealth of knowledge to us on the current conditions in the Northwest Passage. And then there was their captain, Reverend Bob Shepton, a retired minister and seasoned veteran to the northern waters. At eighty years old he's still seeking adventure by sailing the arctic all summer long and making first ascents regularly. Congregation members used to say he wore his climbing gear under his robes at Sunday services.

I met Bob briefly the very first afternoon aboard Arctic Monkey since he lives in Oban, where I started my journey. Later, on passage, I ended up reading his book, Addicted to Adventure, so I was extremely excited to see Dodo's Delight motor into the harbor one morning. 

Together, the crews of Arctic Monkey and Dodo’s Delight set out for a nearby anchorage on the 13th, to celebrate Ian and Lou's birthdays (which happen to fall on the same day). Within a few hours, our two boats were among some of the most beautiful fjords I've seen this entire trip. Yet again I was awestruck. The landscape looked like Yosemite on water. We anchored beneath a jagged ridge line that our boat called "shark fin ridge" that the climbers planned to attempt the following day.

Following dinner the crew from Dodo's dinghied over to help us celebrate. Nine adults squeezed below deck as we enjoyed Zetty's homemade chocolate cake and champagne. Sipping a smorgasbord of drinks purchased from the small, somewhat limited market in the harbor, our conversations and laughter lasted well into the night. It felt like it had been ages since I'd been at a party. More than once, Zetty and I found ourselves laughing so hard that tears sprung to our eyes. Having gone home a little earlier, Bob came out to the foredeck of Dodo around two in the morning and yelled for the guys to come home. "Aren't you going to be exhausted on the climb?" I asked Patrick. To which he responded, "We can climb every day, this is a rare occurrence!". Although not a climber I could relate, the need to socialize with other people while you're living aboard is crucial and necessary, especially in the Arctic where finding other people let alone others who speak English is seldom.

Before angering their captain too much (however, I think the damage had already been done) we said our goodbyes to Patrick, Mark, Tristan and Martin and they rowed back to their boat. 

In the morning we all crept from our bunks and lethargically drank our coffee. I guess you could say the adults were all feeling a little “under the weather”. I assume the mood was similar on Dodo’s Delightas we saw the climbers emerge from below deck a couple hours later. Eager to see what was on land, Ian and I decided we would hike a bit of the way with them before they reached their route. 

We let down the dinghy and cruised across the glassy bay of the fjord. Drowsy greetings ensued and we started making our way up the slope. Unfortunately, we didn't last very long. Within minutes of setting foot on land in many parts of Greenland you will find your face being molested by a swarm of small bugs. While the mosquitos don’t necessarily bite, in fact they seem to be downright sloth-like, they love to congregate in a small cloud around your head. For anyone considering a trip to Greenland, bug spray is a must. Just trust me on the bug spray. After about forty-five minutes of hiking we hit our breaking point with the overpopulation of mosquitos and made a mad dash back to the shoreline. As we were scrambling over giant boulders and hopping creek beds I was amazed by how unique the landscape was. Everything is massive. Its nearly impossible to get any kind of scale on the mountains or distances because everything is huge. Every time we would go ashore in an anchorage we realized that what we thought were streams and rocky scrambles are actually rivers cutting through boulder fields.  Even the climbers said that sometimes they'd pick a route and unexpectedly end up having to hike for hours just to get to the starting point. We decided that Greenland is like God's toolbox; all the extra rocks that he wasn't sure what to do with he decided to just piled up in the Arctic. It definitely makes an excellent playground for any outdoor enthusiast or adventurer. 

Susan TheisComment