Siebe Vanhee | Greenland Chapter 6: Upgrade – from kayak to sailboat crossing the Atlantic!
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Greenland Chapter 6: Upgrade – from kayak to sailboat crossing the Atlantic!

Greenland Chapter 6: Upgrade – from kayak to sailboat crossing the Atlantic!


The boat life – quiet and peaceful in the Greenlandic Fjords.


Back in basecamp on day 37 since we had left Belgium after the Dreadlock Peak and the unnamed wall we prepared our bags for the ‘sail’ home. Late afternoon the Brits arrived like they had promised. From then on, the night of the 37th day, we would spend 14 days on the boat together with a great British crew. But who were those Brits? First of all the sailboat had a captain, Simon, an old school climber from back in the days when the white cliffs of Dover have been climbed. Passionate by climbing he admired our climbing and kayak adventures in south Greenland. It was great to meet him listening to his climbing story’s with little gear and if there was gear, it where old boots, hexes and heavy karabiners! The next crewmember was Tom, Simon’s son. He was a great dingui sailor and passionate about watersport. He took one of his better friends of university with him on this trip. The third crewmember was Tim (with us on the boat he was called British Tim to avoid confusion on the deck). Equally like Tom he is passionate by sailing and grew up with it. Last but not least there was Maddy (Madeline). Without her we would have been starving the whole ocean crossing. Maddy is a young sailor and even followed a course that allows her to accompany different boats as a crewmember. Her life is all about sailing, part time she lives on a boat and crossed the ocean several times. With her on the boat we didn’t starve. Because she would never be seasick she was the ideal person to have inside the boat preparing the food at different times of the day. On top of that, she liked cooking a lot! So the five lads of us were amazingly happy to have Maddy on board.

Themo and his speedboat. 

First of all we had to leave the fjords before arriving in the wide ocean. The first day we went past the little Inuit village Aappilattoq where we did a small amount of extra grocery’s for the road. Here we met up with Themo again who invited us for an afternoon of seal hunting. Laughing with the idea of going seal hunting in Greenland we accepted it and jumped on his fishermen’s boat, a small speedboat. For a couple of hours we enjoyed ourselves chasing seals with the speedboat when Themo tried to shoot the little head sticking out of the water. In the start I found it kind of odd shooting at seals but quickly I realised this is just nature and the way it goes. This is how the Inuits survive, in winter they mostly hunt seals when in summer they fish. This is their way of living. Although we saw some seals and Themo had a couple of good shots at one, we couldn’t get them. After seal hunting, Themo gave us some shooting class. We aimed for small icebergs and even tried to shoot a pillar off a glacier… This sounds even funnier when I write this down! Just try to imagine us floating in a small boat below a massive glacier pouring into the fjord while one of us is shooting at a huge detached ice pillar of that glacier. I guess nobody their will come and arrest us for that. Furthermore we did a small iceberg-shooting contest off the sailboat, ate some cake, drank tea and said goodbye to Themo. Thank you Themo for the great experiences you gave us and all the help and hospitality in the village.



Britisch Tim and Tom with the gun.
Tom and Belgian Tim climbing a First Ascent.

That second night on the boat we did some bouldering below Igdlorssuit Havn. This wall in Prins Christian Sund looks impressive and worth to come back for. The next day we climbed on the north side of the fjord, just east of Igdlorssuit Havn. This time it was not just Tim and I. We both took one of the British guys up the wall and both teams climbed a first ascent. Together with British Tim we chose the ‘wide’ line. Despite the fact my British climbing partner didn’t had much experience climbing outside, he followed the wide and sometimes awkward cracks nicely. When both teams returned to the boat with great success, Maddy and Simon welcomed us with some tea and scones! I have to say we got to know the British culture better on this boat in Greenland than in GB itself. That same day we continued following the 60 kilometre long fjord Prins Christian Sund. Before taking off in the Atlantic towards Great Britain we slept one last night in a bay in Greenland. The next day we would leave…

The last Greenlandic boat bivy!
Crossing the Atlantic Ocean by sailboat

On day 40 of our trip we left the fjords and the beauty of Greenland. Soon the only thing we would see is just… water, water and more salt water. As soon as we popped out of the fjord into the open sea, the wind was strong enough to sail. For the first time Tim and I where on a sailboat and could experience the rigging of the sails. Once the sails were rigged, the boat was tipped to the side and the stability of the flat waters inside the fjords disappeared. Both Tim and I immediately felt the motion of the boat having an effect on our wellbeing and our stomachs. Only two hours since we left the fjords, I was seasick. I almost reached the point of vomiting my guts out! After I went into the cabin to go to the bathroom I realised this was not going to work without taking some seasickness medication. Simon as well as Tom both took this kind of seasickness patch you have to stick behind your ear and is efficient for about three days. I decided to cheat as well and got a patch on. After only two hours I felt better, pfiew! When I went inside the cabin a little later I saw Tim lying in his bunk. He was completely pale and didn’t look healthy either. I told him I was wearing the patch and the great effect of it, soon he took one too.


Crossing the ocean was a great and unique experience. Tim and I had never sailed before and now completely unexpected we were dedicated to a sailboat and an eleven day ocean crossing. For about nine days of the journey we didn’t see land, there was only water around us as far as we could see. Although we were wearing the seasickness patch I never felt great, definitely not the first few days. Walking around inside the cabin was horrible. I couldn’t stay inside very long without lying down in my bunk. The worst was the toilet, being locked up inside a small room sliding around from one side to the other. Just taking my three layers (baselayer, alpine pants and goretex) of pants off took me four minutes. In the start we didn’t have much to do, the seasickness made it impossible to read or write. So the only things we did were talking, eating, sleeping or staring at the ocean outside. This was a strange way of spending the days. Most of the time we lived from one meal to the next, definitely after the rationing we did in Greenland. 

Me in the mast trying to fix the jib.

How was the sailing for dummies like us? In the start there was a lot to learn but in general the basics are not that complex. Once the sails are rigged according to one course and wind direction, it was just important to hold the wheel and keep on the same course until the wind direction changed again. Normally most modern sailboats have an autopilot. But on the Questar (name of Simon’s boat) the autopilot broke down a long time ago. This made crossing the ocean a little bit more interesting since we had to have always someone at the helm (wheel) holding course according to the compass. We used a fixed schedule of two hours per person, so every one of us had to steer two times two hours in a 24 hour day. Are you still with me? Kind of complicated to explain. This was not too bad, but still, it made life on a boat more tiring, definitely when you have to steer at nighttime, with only moonlight when you have good luck. Even if you don’t have to steer for a while you often wake up because the others around you inside the cabin have to wake up and alternate every two hours. Furthermore, rigging the sails was fun. Slowly we got to know how it all worked. Also, Simon wasn’t scared to give us some jobs on the boat which made us learn a lot. Experience is the teacher of all things!


The one and only dolphin that jumped this high!


The endless sight of water around us wasn’t always boring. Almost every day we’ve seen some wildlife. Some day’s dolphins were following us for about 15 minutes, playing with the bow. Other day’s we saw a huge Basking shark, which we guessed would be 8 meters long. Some mornings a bunch of pilot whales (big dolphins) where following us. They have almost the same character and behaviour as the dolphins. They swim around in groups and are very playful. Once, even a normal small shark popped up close to the boat. Seeing all this wildlife every day we didn’t feel like having a mid-ocean swim but they gave us great animation to look at. It feels incredible to be in the nature like this, so alone, but still surrounded by these sea animals you don’t see every day swimming in your garden!   

After several days on the water we felt better and didn’t need the patches anymore. Definitely Tim didn’t need it any more. One day he woke up and popped his sleepy head out of the cabin, he looked like a drug addict who just came straight from Tomorrowland. I saw one of his pupils was huge while the other stayed small. He immediately took of the patch because having a bad sight was one of the side effects. One day further he still looked like the Tomorrowland drug addict and started to worry. Sly I hoped it would stay for some weeks longer, it would be great fun to see him like that entering Belgium. But luckily for him it didn’t last long.
On day 49, nine long watery days after we left Greenland, we made a short stop for one night in Ireland. Finally, some mainland!! The last days were rough, the sea wasn’t great to sail because the swells were coming from three different directions. This made the boat move in all directions what made sleeping horrible, rolling around from one side to the other. But most of all this was the first time in 40 days we got back into civilisation since we left Nanortalik. We had a great evening, going out for a proper meal and some drinks! The following two days we had no wind at all, so we were obliged to motor all the way back to Salcombe, the Questar’s harbour. Once arrived at our destination we were all tired and happy to be on shore again, sleep in a real bed that’s not moving and eating great food! I would like to thank Simon, Tom, British Tim and Maddy for their hospitality on the boat and the great chance they gave us to cross the ocean in a sailboat. It was a unique experience. But still, I’m not sure if I would do it again. It’s a lot of sitting and lying down, the contrast with our long time in the wilderness of Greenland was big. Also, I’m not known for my skills to do nothing at all, Tim either.


Oof… End of story! Next and last blogpost you can read a short reflection on the trip. What is big wall climbing? What is an expedition? At least, how I see it!




I would already like to thank our sponsors Petzl, The North Face, Avventura, Five Ten, Millet, Trek’N Eat, Care Plus, Brunton, kayakshop Arjan Bloem, KBF, BVKB, Klimclub Hungaria and Sportpraktijk Vanden Auweele for all their support providing the right gear and preparation for this trip!

Prins Christian Sund and the Questar Sailboat on the right.


Themo, spotting seals!

The glacier we shot at! 
Britisch Tim and myself at the top of our last climb.


This is how we looked like after the Ocean Crossing thanks to Maddy’s food!
Tom, cruising the Questar.
Big swells behind!

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