“Hey, wanna go bundle up and look for icebergs off the bow?” said Ian. The day had been a low-key passage from our last anchorage of Christianhab and we were making way for Ilulissat. I went below deck to layer up and returned no more than five minutes later to find Arctic Monkey quickly approaching ice as far as the eye could see. At the helm, Ian casually slalomed through the larger pieces. The behemoth icebergs that had been on the horizon for the last few hours finally started to grow in front of our eyes like white canyons at the base of a mountain pass. The air was crisp and smelled like freshly fallen snow. Just another July day above the Arctic Circle. We cut in between two of the bigger bergs and started to navigate into the settlement. Awestruck, I couldn’t stop starring. For the first time in my life I felt my eyes go teary, moved by the beauty.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened but at some point the brash ice around us started to multiply. The navigation became more challenging and the intensity level grew. Surrounded by six story icebergs on all sides we paused to consider our next move. A tour boat appeared and went shooting through a corridor between two bergs. In the uncharted waters that surround the town of Ilulissat our best guess was to follow the boat. We squeezed our way around a corner and came too close for comfort to one of the bigger bergs. The next ice field came into view. It was thicker and more prevalent, suddenly navigation felt almost impossible. However, by this point there wasn’t an easy way to get out either. It seemed that there was no turning back. As we were weighing the the options another tour boat appeared and started to come alongside us. The captain yelled that he’d be back in thirty minutes and he would help lead us in. Perfect. Or so we thought.
We took our positions on the boat and prepared for the last five nautical miles of the passage. Ian and I stood on the foredeck, ice poles in hand ready to fend off as many as we could. Lou and Zetty in the cockpit manning the helm. The tour boat, who we dubbed “Little Red” for her hull color, started making way through the growlers and bergy bits. Even with the help of our new friend icebergs the size of small cars started coming at us from all directions. Each time one rammed into us I lurched forward as Arctic Monkey came to a violent halt.
Lou’s voice echoed in my head, “Anything bigger than a basketball could rip a hole in the boat.” Ian and I threw all our body weight against the wooden poles in an attempt to lessen the blows while simultaneously shouting directions back to the cockpit. Too many times we were unable to slow the boat enough before we’d thrash head on into a piece of ice the size of my jeep wrangler. Each time I felt my body tense, sure that it would be the one to end us. In my head I alternated between rapid prayers and giddy excitement from an adrenaline rush. Three quarters of the way through the situation, teetering on dire, Lou exclaimed while trying to reverse that he thought we had lost the prop. Shifting gears we felt the forward motion of the boat and let out a brief sigh of relief, false alarm. Blow after blow we slowly inched our way towards the harbor.
Following a line of fishing boats we couldn’t help but laugh when we saw that the conditions in the harbor weren’t too different. Boats were scattered around pontoons and iced in by smaller pieces. We rafted up to a fishing boat, as per usual, and sunk into the cockpit, exhausted. Sitting in the afternoon sun of Ilullissat we cracked open well deserved beers and started to laugh, “I can’t believe we just did that,” we repeated to each other over and over as if it was just a dream.