THE EXPEDITION VESSEL mv Plancius was pointed south-east and heading into the Denmark Strait, bound for Akureyri, Iceland. It was time for us to reflect on our expedition north of the Arctic Circle to the rarely visited, and infrequently dived, island of Greenland.
As with all true exploratory expeditions, the outcomes are never certain and we had our share of unmet expectations, but the wonders of the north had captured our hearts and we had departed with a sense of regret. We wanted to stay!
The ship rolled lazily in a gentle swell under a serenely setting sun. This was a big difference from our experience more than a week earlier, as we had set out on our first trip to Greenland.
With the expedition vessel leaving from the north of Iceland, most members of the dive-team had chosen to arrive early and explore the wondrous diving opportunities of that island-nation.
Divers peer through the clear ice of an iceberg to see trapped sediment from eons ago.
With a marvellous initial dive in the iconic Silfra geologic fissure, we were also able to shake out any equipment issues, buoyancy problems and diving rust before proceeding further north.
Iceland has many varied dive opportunities, and over the course of a week we had carried out macro dives along the shores of fjords and experienced the only diveable hydrothermal vents in the world at Strytan.
Visits to hydrothermal rivers and additional geological fissures in the north rounded out an exciting start to the expedition.
Before long we were excitedly boarding our vessel, getting settled into our cabins and casting off for a 24-hour crossing of the Denmark Strait. Our destination was Scorsby Sund, a group of dramatic fjords on Greenland’s east coast.
Leaving the shelter of the Eyjafjordur Fjord in Iceland, the Plancius confronted a 40-knot wind and 4m seas as it punched its way towards the world’s largest island.
Over the course of the next day we became accustomed to being tossed about like a bird in a storm… that is, those who didn’t quietly retire to their cabin and keep a low profile!
We crossed the Arctic Circle early on, and the only witnesses were those on board and the Northern fulmars that seemed oblivious to the weather as they flew an aerial ballet alongside the vessel.
All crossings eventually come to an end. We suited up under a brilliant Arctic sun for what would be something of a check-out dive at a place known as Vikingebugt in the Danmark Fjord.
There was very little marine life to see except for a few brittlestars and small coldwater mussels. The most memorable aspect of this initial plunge was that several members of the team became “bi-polar”, having previously completed dives in the Antarctic.
No official statistics are maintained on this, but DUI, the expedition sponsor, estimates that fewer than 1000 divers are bi-polar in this sense. True or not, this was cause for a small celebration in the ship’s lounge that evening.
After a couple more dives along rocky drop-offs in the fjords of Scorsby Sund, it was time to seek out a diveable iceberg.
Icebergs litter the waterways of these fjords as the glaciers of Greenland push their ice inexorably towards the sea, where they calve off, begin to float in the salt water and eventually melt and vanish.
Diving on icebergs is dangerous if the right one is not selected. Icebergs are inherently unstable, and one that breaks apart or rolls over in the sea while divers are around it means trouble.
We searched for a while in a place known as Jytte Havn until we found a reasonably safe-looking ’berg to dive.
Rolling off the inflatables into the cold water, we were transfixed. Below the waterline is where most of the iceberg exists and the ice formations, smoothed by untold weeks or months in the sea, present an ever-changing palette of other-worldly landscapes.
As we passed divers exploring the iceberg, we could see the smiles literally frozen on their faces!