Nicholas Kats, a naturopathic doctor from Connemara and the owner of “Teddy,” a 39-foot steel ketch. In 2012, after several months of planning and anxiety, and hundreds of e-mails, Nick and his crew decided to sail from Connemara to explore Iceland, East Greenland, and Jay Mayen Island. Below is Nick’s account of the adventure.
Photos above are courtesy of Ben Yeager.
Connnemara,Greenland and Iceland
This summer we sailed to Greenland and Iceland. I had long wanted to see Greenland – the land, the ice, the Eskimos. My boat – an insulated steel ketch with wood and diesel stoves for heat – is good for Arctic travel.
Ben and Sam, young Americans with sailing experience and the desire to go anywhere, joined me. We were out 7 weeks and traveled 3000 land miles.
We had a great sendoff from Clifden quay. We headed out into a NE gale, a good wind for Iceland. That evening one crew was wet, cold and seasick, and another bashed his head, possible mild concussion. When the wind backed to directly from Iceland, we returned to Inishkea North, Mayo and enjoyed the tranquility of the island for 2 nights.
The following is from the blog Ben and I maintained on the trip.
Posted from Heimaey Island, SW Iceland:
Took 7 days to get from Inishkea North to Iceland where we are now. We passed Rockall, a marvelous & tiny haystack of a rock solitary in the middle of the vast sea, powerful currents around it. We caught mackerel & ate it fried & raw (sashimi), absolutely super. We caught a seabird on a tuna lure and took it and marinated its meat for an elegant dish. We caught a lamprey eel that attached itself to the rudder, but no one had the appetite to skin and cook it.
Each day of northing shortened the night, from mild darkness to the north in Ireland to almost broad daylight, no night at all, here at Heimaey Island. The boat steered herself by setting the sheets and all slept through most nights.
Heimaey is spectacular with its volcanism and ferocious erosion. I’m going to the 1972 volcano after this. It erupted and destroyed 400 homes back then. Its surface is still hot – dig down into the pumice a few inches and you can cook food in it.
From Olafsvik, west Iceland:
Entering Faxafloi, the bay of Reykjavik, was splendid. A brisk breeze against us, the sea and air blasting with vigor, immensely rugged lands ahead and around us with Snaefellsjokull towering 50 miles to the north. The land is so rugged & on a titanic scale that people are a mere flimsy veneer clinging to the coastline, no more.
We traveled mainly by night which was marvelous. You get 6 to 8 hours of sunset/sunrise, endless and ever changing. Totally hypnotic. Night in the Arctic summer is definitely the time to travel.
From Ammassalik, East Greenland:
Took 4.5 days to cross the Denmark Strait to Greenland. We entered the ice fields 3x. By ice field I mean vast regions of concentrated floes and bergs. The Danes (the colonizers of Greenland) call this the storis, the until recently impenetrable ice fields coming down from the polar basin year round. This pattern changed dramatically in the past decade, due to global warming, and small boats like mine can enter a month or two a year. Two locals told me that 5 sailboats come in each year, in August.
Sailing through the floes is like no other experience. Luminous blue & white floes all around as far as one can see. Seals basking on floes or in the sea, a hurtful expression on their faces. Whales rising to the surface. Ice-fog misting the whole, then suddenly rising to show the horizons white with the ice field. The occasional colossal berg amid the flat floes.
Sailing through the floes… Total utter concentration, seeking out passages ahead, where to go, where not, passing floes with feet or inches to spare, or knocking off floe edges when I had to squeeze between two. Running over small stuff. A constant vigilance, like downhill slaloming, or racing over boulders.
We sighted Greenland far far away, when the ice-fog suddenly lifted. A shocking view, an immense and far off shark’s mouth of raggedy teeth, up & down the whole coast and receding far far inland in fading ranks. These mountains steeper & far more jagged than shark’s teeth. Rising to 4000-6000 ft. A powerful moment that the 3 of us had long sought.
1500 Eskimos here. I love looking at their faces and shapes. Talked with a few – not too many speak English – they tend to be bilingual in Inuit & Danish. There is a calmness, a sparseness of ego, a deep sense of respectfulness & boundaries between people. This compared to the Americans and Irish I have known.
Later, from Ammassalik:
We had a very intense few days in dense ice. Went up the fjord west of Ammassalik Island.
1st night at an abandoned Eskimo village, about 10 houses, most dilapidated. Church-school, graveyard behind, each grave a pile of rock on the granite, marked with painted white cross nothing more.
Moved up into a branching fjord and got within a mile of glaciers. The Greenland ice cap looming over us, a vast heavy whiteness spanning the horizon between & behind the mountain peaks. It seemed crazy to try to anchor in the dense continually moving floes. So we anchored up against a floe in the middle of the fjord. 100 by 75 feet, our own little kingdom. I swam in the morning, then had coffee on the flow in just my boxer shorts until my feet could no longer take it. The sun shining, blue sky, no wind, the barometer steady, wonderful.
We motored out, several x pushing through solid blockages of small floes. Sailed across and up the 5 mile wide fjord, a splendid sail with much blue water between giant bergs & no clutter to dodge. Came to a small island a km square, a hunting shack on it. Went around to the landward side, anchored, walked ashore. Two stone ruins, about a dozen small hollow cairns containing the bones of the Eskimo dead, some very old, the cairns collapsed & overlain with slow-growing moss, others with bits of skull, two with nice skulls. One was a child. Such utter remote wilderness – the two stone ruins so well placed to overlook the vastness of the fjord shambolic with bergs, the jagged mountains, the ice cap looming over all. Of course to the Eskimo this is his backyard, and the coastline and islands are littered with cairns and the bones of the dead, everywhere.
At this anchorage a wind shift pushed the ice down to us. A berg moved onto the anchor chain in 30 ft water. Happened very fast! We were unable to retrieve the chain, figured this berg would serve as bulwark against any other ice until the next high tide. So it proved, and retrieval on the tide was no problem.
The last night in Greenland, stayed up til 3.30 am drinking and dancing. The pub was like the Wild West – wonderful.
We left the next morning. Passing thru a last small ice field I was careless and hit 2 bergs hard trying to squeeze between them. Nice shallow ding a few feet aft of the bow, 2 foot across and half an inch deep.
The return from Ammassalik to Clifden took 12 days. Lots of minke whales in the 60s latitudes. In the 50s a pod of respectful pilot whales accompanied us awhile, then lots of dolphins cascading in from all sides to share the joy of the world with us. Ben and Sam hung onto the bobstay under the bowsprit, inches above the water, and touched the dolphins on their backs and dorsal fins many times.
We went from 24 hours of light to day/night. Saw the stars for the first time in 6 weeks. Ditto phosphorescence – that of our wake, and that of the trails of dolphins zigzagging under and around the boat in the dark.
We came into Clifden to a welcoming flotilla. Sailed up to the mooring, tied up, and had all aboard for hugs and a celebratory drink.
It is great to be back – my friends, Elsa my dog, Connemara the land, my house. The end of an adventure, now renewing my old/new life.
To see more photos, visit – benyeager.blogspot.com
Want to join Nick on his next adventure? Plan to sail to west Greenland and Baffin Island, east Canada next summer. 2 months out, in two legs of one month each. Places available. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org