Mythical Land of Greenland

By Simon // Tuesday 2 Oct // 10:00:17 // 8 Comments


To an oceanographer the past eight days has just been – well – work. High seas, cold and wet, but lots of good science – and another step towards beginning to understand the vast marine environment. But to the many assembled artists and film makers the nirvana of our voyage was the increasingly mythical land of Greenland. It became clear why Greenland – which must be the size of Britain, France, Spain and probably a few smaller EU countries for god measure – has a population of 50,000 people; they were the only ones who could get to it. Finding a gap in the fields of sea ice and errant ice bergs was more frustrating than finding a parking space the Saturday before Christmas. This was a close analogy as for some bizarre reason Monday lunchtime felt like Christmas Day – I’m not sure if it was the snow billowing around the deck outside, the strangely promising grey light that always seems to accompany the festivities, or the warm smell of cooking – promising and comforting. If some uncle or group of nieces were to walk through the door laden with presents, expectant of sweet sherry or gifts in return, we’d have raised a glass rather than suprise. White Christmas played in the background (really!) and only the Queen’s Speech was missing.

However this was the first of October and while stores around the world will soon be preparing for their Christmas sales, even my mother won’t have put the sprouts on yet – not at least for another 3 weeks. The Christmas idiom was soon shattered – the winds picked up and the reality that Greenland – 20 miles to our west – may as well have been that free parking space in front of Harrods. By late afternoon the St. Nicholas euphoria transformed to a battle against Neptune. Any attempt to control the Noorderlicht was hindered by ropes and pulleys now embedded in blocks of ice, nice in that Christmas Gin, not good in the Greenland Sea. Within 2 hours the ship was heeling at 30 degrees (no sails up) as force 8 winds blew her sideways. At least the sea water breaking over the booms thawed the ropes – but I could think of better ways. As darkness fell the waters became more sinister and the ice around us ever more menacing.

In spite of all this spirits rose, whether through a combined battle on our environment or just admission that Greenland really was mythical and we might soon be heading to Iceland instead is hard to tell. Liam quite literally broke the ice by appearing like some Austin Power’s character – resplendent in his olive green thermals and ski goggles (nothing else) – ready to take on Neptune. I guess as Neptune was picking himself up from rolling around the floor of the sea bed Liam could have pulled off a David and Goliath task . or maybe not. We worked our way through every children’s tune and musical known, with Vicky providing the tune (angelic voice) and Marcus the words (encyclopaedic memory!). At 0200 I went on watch and by this stage Gert was getting marginally p***ed off with the ice sheets (his words). We had been hove too for 8 hours holding against the wind and ice. With a flick of the throttle and a furrowing of his brows he turned the ship and headed – coastward. The small sheets of ice we’d carefully avoided for the past 3 days became like bowling pins – falling before us as we ploughed our path – with those on watch hoping it was only the paint of Noorderlicht that was suffering. As I finally crawled to my bunk at 0500 I went in the knowledge that when I woke we would either have found Greenland, or discovered that the earth was indeed flat and we had slipped off it.

In my deep sleep I didn’t really care – warm at last in my three layers of sexy nightwear and my duvet tight around (warm I hasten to add is a relative thing up here). I certainly didn’t care when David bounced in at 0800 declaring that we had discovered Greenland at last. Nor at 0805 when Dallas bounced out of his top bunk and shook me to tell me Greenland had been discovered. Nor at 0810 when Ko rang the ships bell and declared Greenland for the Dutch. Nor at 0815 when Amy bounced into the cabin declaring it for America. Greenland just wasn’t getting the message – if it could play hard to get, then so could I. The final crunch came at 0825 as the insistent tone of Dallas’s alarm beckoned me – just 6 inches out of reach of my cocoon. Sorry Dallas, but my hiking boot was the only thing close to hand to extend my reach. I was now awake and finally gave into the inevitable.

As I clambered to the deck, I was met by flat seas and a crowd of excited people cameras glued to faces. Before us was Greenland – though who ever named it thus was either deluded or seriously colour blind – white mountains towering out of the sea, with proper village sized iceburgs framing the scene. Marcus suggested he’d like to get close enough to lick an iceburg, and the vision of a Marcus – tongue stuck to the floating giant lolly as the ship drifted away – made me giggle. And more – not only had we at long last found the hidden island of Greenland – there was also a strange white orb in the sky, which itself had turned blue to contrast the mountains. The science team would need to investigate that – but that can wait until after breakfast. Tomorrow? Atlantis has always proven elusive. might need Guido’s help on that one.
Simon 1000 2nd October 2007

Tags: Simon Boxall


  1. janet schroeder Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 15:16:20

    That is the most magnificently beautiful picture! It does seem to be begging one to take a little bite of it WOW! Congratulations to you all for making it safely to Greenland! Was Ben ACTUALLY in on singing songs from Musicals? He LOVES musicals! Ask him to sing anything from RENT and he will surely do so (:-)). And Ben- I know that new sweater you bought was more than worth it! I can’t wait to see your pictures and hear the tales of your spectacular voyage. You are definitely the COOLEST guy i know right now!! Stay well! Janet

  2. Josh On Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 15:33:49

    Happy to hear that “Amy bounced into the cabin” apparently of her own volition – although am confused by the nationalist sentiment!

  3. Diane Handelsman Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 15:51:02

    I too was happy to hear that “Amy bounced into the cabin”. Would you please ask Amy to post something on the blog so we hear from her and get some of her perspective on the journey.

    Amy’s mom

  4. Sally Boxall Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 16:50:25

    So pleased that you’ve finally found some calm seas and fabulous scenary.What an amazing iceberg! Not sure whether it makes up for what sounds like 8 days of hell though!. We’ve all been thinking about you!
    Lots of love

  5. Yvonne (Aunt of Carys) Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 17:40:47

    Hi Everyone! A great whoop of delight went up in the staff room when I announced you had at last sighted Greenland. We have all been watching and waiting for the next episode of this fantastic journey and indeed the tale was worth waiting for as was the beautiful picture. If we had had champagne we would have toasted you all (not allowed in working hours – especially in a college!) The Christmas festivities made us all feel just a tad jealous! Looking forward to more pictures and stories – there must be some that haven’t been told! May the rest of your jouney be safe and may the seas be kind.
    Best wishes to you all, Yvonne.

  6. Guido Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 18:44:27

    Will stick to Venice thanks all the same…warmer, safer and there’s much less chance of sea sickness on a gondola…

    Pleased to hear you have arrived safely in calmer waters and hope you all have a productive few days.

  7. Angela and Dick Jervey Tuesday 2 Oct, 2007 // 20:20:00

    Thank you for putting us at the scene of this amazing adventure with your descriptive details . Love it!

  8. Sophie Brigstocke Wednesday 3 Oct, 2007 // 8:19:52

    You must have all been desperate if you enjoyed Marcus’s singing!!! Les Miserables is his speciality, though I think he can do a good Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat! As for Nursery Rhymes and kids songs – we know them all! Amazing blogs, amazing pictures and an amazing relief to know that you are all safe and have arrived in Greenland. Thank you for looking after my man – can’t wait to have him home though. Love Sophie

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