Viking’s Greenland Expedition to Nanortalik

Viking Star makes her maiden call on Nanortalik, and Greenland, as her transatlantic cruise continues. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

“God forbid that we should have to winter here. It’s a hopeless prospect.”

  • William McKinlay, scientist, ill-fated Karluk expedition

It came out of the mist this morning, before the sun had even begun to rise: the indistinct shadows of land off our starboard side. When the sun rose at 6:52 am,  Viking Cruises’ Viking Star began her five-hour transit of Greenland’s magical Prince Christian Sound.
Narrow like Norway’s Geirangerfjord and majestic like Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park, Prince Christian Sound connects the Irminger Sea, where we were yesterday, with the Labrador Sea that borders arctic Canada and Greenland. It also acts as a sort of inland waterway; a scenic shortcut for ships looking to bypass the southernmost tip of Greenland.

At 6:00 am, Viking Star began her approach...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

At 6:00 am, Viking Star began her approach…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...to Greenland's Prince Christian Sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…to Greenland’s Prince Christian Sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The actual sound is roughly 100 kilometres in length, and narrows to as little as 500 metres wide in some spots. It also contains a series of hairpin turns that must be carefully negotiated in order to exit the sound on the Labrador Sea side of Greenland; turns that Viking Star handled beautifully thanks to the experience and knowledge of Captain Rune Lokling and his Officers, as well as our two Danish pilots from the Greenland Pilot service. If you’re working that last sentence out, this is a good time to mention that Greenland is a sort of overseas colony of Denmark.

Our Captain, Rune Lokling, in command on Viking Star's navigation bridge, along with the Greenland pilots. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Our Captain, Rune Lokling, in command on Viking Star’s navigation bridge, along with the Greenland pilots. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

I’ve always had a fascination with North Atlantic crossings like this, and I’ve always wanted to cruise Prince Christian Sound for as long as I can remember. Sometimes in our minds, we tend to build-up the things we want to check off our bucket list, but our transit of Prince Christian Sound was every bit as magical as I had thought it would be. The air cooled noticeably, and skies remained nearly cloudless. Ice, from bergy bits to growlers to full-on bergs, was seen. Mountains towered high above us, and birds bobbed around on ice floes, undisturbed by the massive white structure gliding past them at 7.5 knots.
Prince Christian Sound may not have the name recognition that Norway’s Geirangerfjord does, but it is every bit as beautiful.
Some photos of this morning’s incredible journey:

Sunrise...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Sunrise…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...as we enter the sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…as we enter the sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Just over 100 kilometres in length, Prince Christian Sound serves as an unofficial shortcut for ships looking to bypass the southern tip of Greenland. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Just over 100 kilometres in length, Prince Christian Sound serves as an unofficial shortcut for ships looking to bypass the southern tip of Greenland. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Hot Tub with a View. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Hot Tub with a View. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The scenes from Promenade Deck 2 aboard Viking Star are unparalleled. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The scenes from Promenade Deck 2 aboard Viking Star are unparalleled. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Plus, Deck 2's air conditioning blowers keep things nice and toasty! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Plus, Deck 2’s air conditioning blowers keep things nice and toasty! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Prince Christian Sound glaciers; reminiscent of Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Prince Christian Sound glaciers; reminiscent of Glacier Bay, Alaska. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star's first-ever encounter with the ice. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star’s first-ever encounter with the ice. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Magnificent. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Magnificent. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star makes the first in a series of hairpin turns needed to transit the sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star makes the first in a series of hairpin turns needed to transit the sound. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

This afternoon, we dropped anchor off Nanortalik, Greenland. Pronounced nan-or-tal-eek, it is home to just over 1,000 people who live here year-round. Its name is derived from the Greenlandic word nanoq, which roughly means, “The Place Where the Polar Bears Go.” I sincerely hope that’s not the case here anymore; after having been up in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, I know firsthand that you don’t want to mess with one of the world’s most refined killing machines.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock to you that Nanortalik has a very polar climate. In fact, today’s high temperature is a whopping 3°C, but it feels like 0°C, or freezing. However, the ocean currents play a role in keeping Nanortalik’s temperatures very moderate. Thus, it’s likely to be colder in Toronto or New York in January than it is here. The record low for the town is only -16°C, or 3°F.

After exiting Prince Christian Sound, Viking Star...Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

After exiting Prince Christian Sound, Viking Star…Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

...dropped anchor and began tendering guests ashore in Nanortalik. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

…dropped anchor and began tendering guests ashore in Nanortalik. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star's tenders deliver guests to our first port of call in Greenland: Nanortalik. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Viking Star’s tenders deliver guests to our first port of call in Greenland: Nanortalik. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Viking Invasion Takes Greenland! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

The Viking Invasion Takes Greenland! Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Believe it or not, we’re not the only ones to call on Nanortalik this year – though we are the last ship of the season. A total of 13 vessels, including Viking Star, have called on Nanortalik, the largest of which was Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam on September 1. The cruise season only runs between May and September, and the vast majority of lines that come here are expedition cruises carrying just a few hundred guests.
With just 930 guests, Viking Star fits that profile perfectly. Although she doesn’t carry Zodiac rafts, she’s practically an expedition ship thanks to the selection of inclusive excursions, the focus on cultural immersion, and the impressive roster of onboard guest lecturers, which on this particular voyage borders on half a dozen or so experts lecturing in a variety of relevant fields (think: geography, polar exploration, Viking history.)

Remote even by Greenland standards, Nanortalik is home to just over 1,000 inhabitants. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

Remote even by Greenland standards, Nanortalik is home to just over 1,000 inhabitants. Photo © 2016 Aaron Saunders

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