Sail boat in fog, Illulissat, Disko Bay
We’ve just returned from Greenland courtesy of CMV’s ship, Marco Polo, out of London, Tilbury dock. This is a company we’ve never used before so, first, a quick comment about our transport. CMV has a good following with plenty of returning clients who, in the main, like its itineraries and its prices. A smaller cruise ship with around 800 passengers, Marco Polo has a nice feel about it and can handle smaller ports of call. For a wildlife watcher, the outside decks are excellent with loads of space front, back, and down the sides. That is the only time I’ll use the word excellent in this context because everything else is, at best, 3 star. Food, service, Organisation and entertainment are hit and miss, sometimes good and sometimes not. A dining companion said not to expect Ferrari service for Ford prices. So there you are. Don’t aim your expectations too high and you should be ok. But these issues are not quite as important to me as the ship’s itinerary and the potential for good wildlife viewing so, in short, I’d use them again given the right destinations and a price that reflects the quality.
Greenland is a wild country, spectacularly beautiful with its majestic mountains, fjords and ice. This time, we cruised the west coast as far north as Uummannaq, at 70 degrees north and well into the Arctic circle, stopping off at small, remote, towns of Qaqortoq, Narsarsuaq, Sisimiut, Illulissat, Quekertarsuaq and Nanortalik as well as Reykjavik (Iceland) and Lerwick (Shetland). We set off with medium to high expectations of cetaceans in good numbers and around Iceland we were still optimistic with a couple of close encounters with minke whales and several far-out sightings including orca, humpback whales and some, unidentified, blows. And then, days of nothing. Fairly good and, sometimes, brilliant sea conditions with good visibility but nothing to see.
At anchor in Sisimiut we had a distant, breaching, humpback. On the approach to Uummannaq a fin whale made a brief appearance but it was not until Illulissat in Disko Bay that we had something to write home about. Several humpbacks accompanied by scores of seabirds feeding near our anchored ship, entertained us for a good few hours on two consecutive days. When we left Disko Bay, we expected more activity but, despite calm seas and relatively good visibility, we had to satisfy ourselves with brief appearances from harp seals and what was almost certainly a Greenlandic shark.
Travelling south from Nanortalik, the southwestern coast of Greenland around the entrance to Christiansund was an incredible panorama with cloud obscuring the tops of the otherwise sunlit mountains and a narrow strip of blue sea bordering the coastline. We still had occasional icebergs as we waved goodbye to Cape Farewell, the most southerly tip of the continent. The sea was flat calm, we could see clearly for 10 miles but northern fulmars were our only companions. As darkness approached, we could only hope that the North Atlantic would produce more interest for us over the next three sea days to Shetland.
The following morning, we were visited by a group of great shearwaters and a long-tailed skua. A large, very dead, whale floated by accompanied by a group of gulls. The day after was much more productive for viewing if not for photography. Sperm whales, pilot whales and at least one fin whale passed the ship and two young northern gannets accompanied us for a few hours. Then, very little as the sea became rougher and, therefore, more difficult to spot the blows of whales or the splashes of smaller marine mammals.
Finally, we arrived in Lerwick, Shetland, to poor visibility which spoiled a great photographic opportunity when a skua downed a northern gannet and the two did battle for some time right on the edge of the fog. Later in the day, the sun bathed the island in warmth and light in sharp contrast to the horrendous wind and rain that our home county of Yorkshire was experiencing at the same time.
The final day took us down the North Sea towards London. We could see the oil rigs off the east coast as we passed 30 miles off Bempton cliffs and the gannets of the area performed admirably for us as they dived into a bait ball. I didn’t realise it at the time, but on my distant photos of the gannets I found at least 2 whales, maybe minke but, unusually, accompanied by a blow, and one dolphin. There were plenty of kittiwake flocks, and a few puffins floated past in the wake of the ship. As we passed the Humber estuary the sea life began to dry up – a good time to change for dinner.
We do like to visit these out of the way places and Greenland is up there among the most interesting. It’s hard to imagine what it would be like to live there permanently because we only saw the best. The summer months of midnight sun will soon be replaced by almost total darkness when the magnificent scenery will be almost blacked out until late spring and the, sometimes, balmy days that we experienced will become intensely cold.
So, it’s good to come home, back to the garden and it’s great local wildlife and, of course, to my resident owl who will have been missing his nightly feed for the last three weeks.