After lunch on our arrival day we settled into our rooms (ie, we had a kip!), it was time to head to the conference room of the Arctic Hotel, meet our fellow photographers and listen to our guides give tips on safety, what to expect, camera settings and processing.
To be honest, none of us could wait to just get out on the boats and see for ourselves. Our group was truly international and had flown from all four corners to be on this trip. We thought our journey to Greenland had been a bit tricky to organise but we soon realised we were lucky! The guides were Daniel Kordan and Raymond Hoffmann from ‘Iceland Photo Tours’, themselves from Russia and Iceland respectively and top travel photographers. They were experienced, fantastically enthusiastic and understood exactly what we were looking for. They explained we’d be on two yachts, both were crewed by extremely experienced and veteran sailors who’d navigated much harsher and awkward seas than Disko Bay where we’d be all week. The Russian crew sail all over the world in both Arctic and Antarctic seas, taking guests to amazing places to see incredible sights. The main yacht (Rusarc Aurora) would be the one we’d spend most of our time aboard and the ‘prettier’, red sailed second vessel would offer support and photo opportunities.
Both boats are suitable for icy seas having specially adapted hulls to cope with most small ice collisions but we were warned that in particularly iceberg laden areas we would be told to sit down and get out of the Captains view clearly and abruptly. No ill feeling would be meant but they’d rather upset us than face a collision!
We then went for a delicious dinner and chatted to our new found friends and before we knew it, we were off for our first trip on the boats. To say we were excited is a bit of an understatement. Joking and laughing we were driven down to the harbour we’d seen earlier in what can only be described as a makeshift minibus. I think the guides called it ‘Black death’ due to its antiquity and, shall we politely say, DIY seating. We didn’t care, we were off to see icebergs up close and personal and fulfil a lifelong dream. The drive was all of 1.5km and took about 3 minutes in total.
“Black Death” in all its unreliable glory!
We waited patiently as the “Rusarc Aurora” pulled up to the jetty and we clambered aboard for the first time. The Rusarc is a 60ft yacht and built for navigation rather than guest comfort but again, we had no problem with that. It was 9pm, the 16 guests fitted on board comfortably and we were wrapped up warm. The seemingly late start time offered us the best photographic opportunities as the sun sets and rises early in the morning (1am for setting and 2am for rising) in this place 69° North well into the Arctic Circle.
We sailed south-west towards the biggest bergs we could see in the distance. When we got there we were just simply blown away. The icebergs are every bit as beautiful, stunning, odd, awe inspiring and down right gorgeous as we’d expected. But better. It’s one of those moments where there just simply are no words. Photo’s don’t do them justice no matter how hard you try. Being there, up close, feeling the cold breeze on your face, the colours, the sounds, the majestic beauty, is just almost too much for the senses to take in.
Several times on this trip we all said we’d had moments where we were quiet, sailing on the tranquil dark sea, drinking in the whole place. The whole ‘feeling’. If it’s not too poetic of me, I just don’t think I’ve ever been to a place more serene, a place where I felt so insignificant and yet so alive. It’s purely majestic in so many ways and totally addictive.
The bergs in front of us were absolutely massive. Huge chunks of calved ice, already sculpted by the sea, the wind and the slow but inevitable melt. At odd times we heard massive, thunderous roars in the distance. This was the bergs all around us calving and turning as the elements slowly take their toll. It was exciting, calming and base level natural.
The mammoth size of these things is simply awe inspiring. I knew they were big as I’d seen the reports in the news the same as everyone else but when you see them, totally dwarfing our large yacht, you get to understand the scale of the glaciers that spawned them. The colours, the variety of shapes and sizes, WOW! Imagine then, being in this place for the first time, in an almost dream-like state, marvelling at the sights before us when, totally out of nowhere, someone shouts “Whale!”. This place just doesn’t stop giving. There we were, in the middle of all these enormous bergs when in front of us fluke’s a Humpback whale. Not once but several times. We’d barely been on the water an hour. This took me over the edge and I’m not too proud to say that my attempts at photographing this gorgeous beast were not too successful. Hels was almost a gibbering wreck as whale’s are her ‘thing’, Humps her favourite.
Reluctantly, we sailed away and left ‘our’ whale to its own world. The weather wasn’t particularly camera friendly but we didn’t care. I pressed the shutter hundreds of times, the sky looking moody and overcast but not heavy. Each turn, each 100 yards of travel revealed a new beauty. We wondered at the spectacle before us and breathed in the sumptuous land/seascape. The light changed before our eyes, remaining overcast but subtly altering its hue every few minutes.
We popped below deck a couple of times for some warming tea and biscuits but couldn’t stay away for long. We couldn’t see the views from down there and didn’t want to miss anything. We stayed out for hours before everyone started to droop. A mixture of the excitement, the cold, the (for some) travel lag and lateness of the hour meant we had to return to base. We disembarked at around 1:30am with virtually no sign of a sunset/rise but still buzzing about our first encounter with this magical world. We wearily headed for bed and a well earned sleep before our next exciting day in the Arctic.
Me with Ian enjoying warming tea and shooting on deck