From Iceland to Greenland on Hummingbird: Chronicle of a sailor


I recently took up sailing and had already acquired several certificates and was ready to test my seafaring boundaries. Growing up, I have been inspired greatly by explorers. It’s the unknown and ambiguity that makes explorations fascinating. I came across Hummingbird, a 60-foot ocean-racing clipper that once belonged to an amateur racing fleet and is currently used for expeditions and training trips. The highlight of Hummingbird’s voyage was an attempt to reach Greenland from Iceland. The vision of sailing through heavy seas to Greenland and attempting to navigate through icebergs to reach our destination is surely exuberating.
Mentally and physically prepared for the endeavor, I headed to Ísafjörður in the Westfjords region, in the northwest of Iceland. There I boarded Hummingbird. The crew came from diverse backgrounds and sailing expertise. I was the youngest among the crew of 11. For the first couple of days we sailed through the fjords of northwestern Iceland, which offered us endless views of waterfalls, flocks of puffins, and sometimes a spouting whale. We spent our mornings plotting our route in the navigation room and the rest of the day honing our seamanship skills. We shifted roles from helmsman to dishwasher, from navigator to cook. And since we seldom had an Internet or even a phone connection, we got our entertainment the old-fashioned way: by holding live conversations at the dinner table, or enjoying coffee on deck.
A week later, Tasiilaq, our first point of entry to Greenland and one of the few inhabited harbors on the entire east coast, had a bit less than 30 percent ice cover, which is the maximum amount of ice cover Hummingbird can maneuver around. Also it was prohibited to be in uninhabited areas in Greenland without a gun, again Tasiilaq was one of the few places to rent a gun. We prep Hummingbird and embark on a 400 mile voyage across the Denmark Strait to Greenland. The crossing was mainly dominated by unfavorable winds in grey skies. I had shifts on the deck when it’s below freezing with a light drizzle in the middle of night and other shifts where I had to be on the bow looking for any small icebergs. The crossing was daunting and tiring. However, approaching the coast of Greenland, we were in for a treat. The coast turned to calm waters filled with shiny crystal-like ice bergs. We maneuver our way through icebergs scattered around the bay to get to Tasiilaq. Unable to get through before sunset, we decided to spend the night out in sea until early next morning, which turned out to be one of the most interesting nights ever surrounded by whales and Northern Lights. It was surreal.
Early next day, we’ve reached Tasiilaq with a new cultural experience waiting for us. Knowing that Greenland is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, I had expected that the Inuit, the people native to the Arctic Circle, would be influenced by European culture and have ties to Denmark. I was simply wrong.
Tasiilaq, with a population of 2,000, is the largest town on the east coast of Greenland. I met several of the locals and embarked on the typical conversation you have when you meet people from a different culture. We talked politics, the economy, and jobs in Greenland. It was interesting to learn firsthand about their lifestyle, their hunting stories, and how they survive their winters. The presence of an environmental group sparked many conversations with the locals, with some for and others against the activists. I met several of the activists, who certainly had their own perspective on the mining and oil explorations around the region. The echoes of water dripping and ice breaking around the bay is fascinating. Some of the bergs were as shiny as crystal, indicating they had been formed many years ago. We couldn’t resist the urge to carve out a small sample and taste this ancient ice while kayaking.
As I boarded the small fishing boat that would take me to the airport an hour away in another settlement, I couldn’t help but think of the whole experience, an experience to last a lifetime. It wasn’t the sailing, or the fjords of Iceland, nor was it the beautiful crystal-like icebergs. It was more than that. It was the journey from Saudi Arabia to Greenland. It was not the place as much as the encounters and obstacles throughout the journey. The late night stories with the crew in the small cabin, the 1 a.m. shifts during the crossing, the political discussions with the Inuit, and navigating through uncharted waters all added up to a chronicle of human endeavor. It is the simple desire to discover new things that is the very essence of our humanity.