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Passports and icebergs

Severe weather forces Nick Clark and the WWF expedition toward Canada, dodging icebergs along the way.
Last modified: 21 Aug 2012 14:27
Watching for the dangerous approach of icebergs aboard the Arctic Tern during 2am daylight

This blog is Nick Clark's fourth dispatch from his journey with a World Wildlife Fund expedition exploring some of the last regions of near-constant sea ice.

The weather has dealt a severe blow to our plans. We're making a beeline for Canadian waters now in a bid to beat a nasty system bearing down on Baffin Bay. Now we'll never know the story behind the mystery tent from my last blog.

When you leave one of the northernmost communities on Earth, passport control is on the beach. A pleasant policeman called Rudi Schimdt had rolled up in his 4-by-4 and as we stood there in our sea boots on the sand, he stamped us out of Greenland.

We talked about life in this lonely outpost. Rudi said he was in discussions with his wife about committing to a semi-permanent stint. On the whole he thought things were good but there was one continuing theme in his work.

"I cannot lie about the problem here with alcohol," he said. "It's very big problem, like it is in many northern communities. It's the main difficulty."

We had been talking about this with Christian Knudsen from the Danish Geological survey, who we'd bumped into a couple of days prior. He suggested it was easy to romanticise about the traditional way of life.

"Just go to the cemeteries and do your own maths," Christian said. "Count how many there are in their early twenties - they're the suicides. Then there are more in their forties - that's alcoholism. Then count those in their eighties."

It may be an exaggeration of the problem, but it's an issue I've reported on from Greenland before, as the nation grapples with changing times.

Bergs and boats

Icebergs and boats don't mix, and a constant job on this voyage has been to look out for the dangers they present, even at anchor. Bergs continually drift by the boat.

"The ones to look out for are those more than a third of the size of the boat," said skipper Grant Redvers. "Clearly you need to avoid colliding with those."

And they come close. A deafening, grinding, crunching noise woke me in the night in my forward bunk. A iceberg was jammed up against the hull, right by my left ear, screeching as it scraped along eight millimetres of steel hull. This one was small enough to motor away from but gave me the jitters ahead of my impending watch.

And there was I, alone on deck, in the surreal total daylight of 2am, watching an advancing phalanx of icebergs bearing down on the boat. All but one veered off out into the bay. One kept on coming, big enough for me to wake the skipper. It drifted by in touching distance, giving a menacing dip of its icy hulk as it passed our stern. Keeps you on your toes.

Next stop, Canada.

Read Nick Clark's earlier dispatches from Greenland:

August 18: A mystery tent and a dog sled

August 14: Contortions, communities and climate

August 8: On the frontline of global warming