Soundtrap deployment

As a part of the research 6 passive acoustic recorders have been deployed in the fjord system of Ittoqqortoormiit. They register and record sounds in the frequency area of narwhal communication and echolocation.

They will be recording until the project stops at the end of august. Then they will be released from the bottom and hopefully will come floating up to the surface, here they will send a location signal and a boat will go out and pick them up.

The deployment plan included a tour around Milne Island and visits to Gåsefjord and Nordvestfjord. In total around 275 nautical miles.

Departure and narwhals

We started  out in the evening. Three persons Outi, Inuuta and Mads. We used Inuutas Nuumit 19 a sturdy glasfiber open boat made for Greenlandic waters. The boat has a 115 hp Yamaha and is able to go +30 Knots on a calm sea.

3 other boats where heading for Ittoqqortoormiit so we made a small flotilla in the low evening light.

After less than one hour we encountered a group of narwhals heading towards Hjørnedal. We followed them for a while but the were very evasive and we lost track of them. Unfortunately we could not get any contact to Hjørnedal as VHF radio was to low powered and Iridium telephone could get now contact between the steep mountains.

We went back on track, now alone as the other three boats kept on looking for the narwhals,  though they never saw them again, we were told later on.

Station 1

As we found the approximate position in Fønfjord for the first deployment we turned on the echosounder and  tried to find a spot that fitted 3 different qualifications:

  1.  Between 200-300 meter  depth so that icebergs could pass over.
  2. A position that would be able to catch some sounds, meaning not close to a noisy riverbed and not in a secluded cove somewhere out of  the mainfjord.
  3. On a plateau so that the stone anchor would not just roll down to a much bigger depth. Max depth for the equipment is 500 meter.

We found a good spot and the first station went into the water. Location radios turned on and functions of the recorder checked just at the railing of the boat. Anchor dropped and down the station went. A little scary to see the equipment being dragged down at high speed.

A CTD (conductivity/a proxy for salinity-temperaturedepth) cast was performed at the station to verify the sound properties of the water column.

Station  2

So far so good and we moved on towards station 2, a position in Gåsefjord. On the way we passed Danmark Ø and Gåse pynt.

Weather was fine and mood high.  In Gåsefjord a very big glacier – Sydbræ was lying straight south of Gåsepynt.  The size of the glacier is almost unreal. A massive coastline of moving ice, very beautiful.

The equipment went down well and a feeling of “no problems” made us happy onboard the Numiit boat.  So we turned around and put the throttle at full speed head going for the next station on the coastline north of Sydbræ.

Station 3

We went up along  the coastline on course towards Kap Stevenson and the mountains grew taller and taller looking almost scary. A look at the chart tells you that they are named Tænderne ( the Teeth)  Again the deployment went well and we still felt invincible. We were now heading for station 4 but needed some more petrol from a depot in Heklahavn, already established by Inuuta.

Hekla havn

Heklahavn on Danmarksø is a very good harbour safe in all weather.  And as it often is, a good harbour has a long history. So many boats have sought for shelter here. As it happened we crossed the mouth of Gåsefjord in the southern part of  Halls Bredning and the weather deteriorated. Inuuta pointed out black clouds racing across the sky and soon we were looking for shelter more than for petrol.  We entered the harbour as the wind picked up. Luckily there is a very fine house in Heklaharbour so after putting double moring lines on the Numiit we crept to bed on fine mattresses and could complete the days work with a little reading in magasines from 2009 or books spanning the spectrum from Bill and Benn to Noble prize winner Heinrich Bøll. All placed on the shelfs in the house build by Nordisk mineselskab in 1967.

The wind increased and the house was shaking,  also one of the shutters on the north side of the house kept on banging with every wind gust.  Anyway we were tired and slept until 10 in the next morning.

We opened our foodboxes or more correct our plastic bags, and Inuuta had a gas stove from the boat so with the wind still shaking the house we had a good breakfast. Sitting there watching the harbour we could se the former Danish ship Opal finding a good spot in the harbour to drop the anchor.

We stayed inside and enjoyed the good house and reading messages written on the walls from bypassers during the last 50 years. Local people as well as tourist and the carpenters who build the house all had left small notes about  where they were going or what they were doing.

Radio equipment, tools, nails, tin cans new and old all carried stories of people living here far from their homes.

Inside House in Hekla havn
Outside house in Hekla havn

Later that day the wind decreased a little and we went for a walk to a highpoint to look at  the sea in Halls Bredning . Here we soon realised that any plans of leaving should be postponed. The wind was far too strong for working from a small open boat.

Mads against the wind

So we went back and were met on the beach by the skipper of Opal who very generously invited us on board for a hot meal and a tour around the boat. We enjoyed the food and were impressed by the boats very big electric engine that could propel the big schooner in all weather, making an almost noiseless approach to whales possible.

History of Heklahavn

The  area Hekla havn has been used by old Inuit settlers as well as researchers during  centuries.  An expedition in 1891 to 1892 gave the name Hekla havn. Researchers were transported on the Norwegian ship Hekla a traditional Sealhunter ship. The ship ended up stuck in the ice in the harbour and hence the name Hekla havn.

This expedition found at least 13 old inuit houses just around Hekla havn.

A book by Hans Christian Gulløv called: Syv skinnende hvide rener ( Seven shining white reindeer) gives an outtake from  crewmember Helge Vedels notes from the expedition with a lot of information on the area.

This expedition made two houses but they are now only ruins.

The house we stayed in was built in 1967 by Nordisk Mineselskab and was a base for mining prospecting in the area. Nowadays travellers both hunters, tourists and researchers use this very well made house in the safe harbour.

Halls Bredning and a lot of ice

After a lot of sightseeing in Hekla havn and the visit to Opal we were preparing to leave around 5:00 pm.

The wind had decreased and the white caps had disappeared. A brief clean up and the house was as fine as when we moved in.

Now the landscape on Milne Land changed from high mountains to rolling hills. The view was like looking into a nice farmland on lower latitudes.

The sea was only almost calm so we bruised our bottoms a little as we raced up along the southeast coast of Milne Land. Little auks flew around us and dived beneath us.

But as we turned into a more northerly course, driftice started to block our way.

Inuuta negotiated a path for a long way, but we ended up between a rock and a hard place, as we came close to land and the ice started to pack and squeeze us. The ice looked as it was alive and big pieces were pressed on top of each other.

We could see the other side of this icy area, but had to turn around a go a long way back, and then out in the open sea to get around the ice. We looked hard for animals on the ice but saw only some ringed seals and a few tracks from polar bears.

Station 4

As we got the boat and crew out of the ice speed was up again. The next station was planned to be deployed in Nordvestfjord – a fjord famous for calving glaciers and strong winds. But before we got there we needed to refuel in a depot at Bjørneøerne ( Bearisles) – a beautiful group of rocky islands with lots of small fjords and safe anchoring places. Inuuta had made a depot of petrol up there as well. We refuelled and enjoyed a cold supper on the boat floating  away from land as there were so many mosquitos that staying on land was almost impossible. With a full tank and an extra canister we were on our way again.

The deployment went well and good luck was following us – the wind picked up to a small gale but in the right direction as we headed back out from Nordvestfjord.

Station 5 – Øfjord

Now we were on our way back home to Hjørnedal. Station nr 5 had a position i the narrow fjord Øfjord . A good place with a depth of 2-300 meters  was difficult to find. Inuuta  reported from the echo sounder 125 meters, 145 meters 175 meters, no bottom , meaning more than 400 meters . We tried our best but did not find the perfect spot and the gear went down on a slope on circa 150 meters of depth.  Now only one station was left and we continued south towards Røde fjord for the last station.

Station 6 – Rødefjord 

Going high speed south we came from Øfjord to Sortefjord passed Sorte Ø and suddenly speed was down to walking speed as Glaciers west from us in Harefjord and Rypefjord had filled the area with ice. Inuuta kept on finding a way for us and we all kept a sharp lookout for the so called black ice. Black ice is not really black but is more clear than white and it is very difficult to spot in when the light is low.  On the down from Øfjord we could have made a shortcut on the east side of Sorte Ø but ice was blocking the whole area so we had to go on the west side.

We found a good spot with a fine depth and the last station was in the water in no time.

Heading home after around 300 nm in an open boat we were all tired and happy.

The camp was asleep as we moored the Nuumit boat at its anchor and we went to the kitchen house for a hot meal of sausages  and pasta. Opal had anchored outside the camp The place is called Anker Bugt ( Anchor Cove ) and the old schooner looked very nice out there. The skipper came in and we talked a little about whales tourists and Greenlandic weather before we all went to sleep.

Written by Mads Fage Christoffersen