One of the things we did accomplish in the aborted visit to Reykjavik was to pick up the ice pilot, who will insure that we made it past Greenland without any Titanic style mishaps. We hadn’t really given it much thought, but the end of the summer is the time when large chunks of ice have taken in enough sun shine to have the energy to break away and float south. In addition to his primary function, the ice pilot took some time to speak with us and show some great photos of Greenland. You don’t really train to be an ice pilot in a school somewhere. This is the sort of expertise best gained by own the job training. Our pilot recently retired from a career as the captain of a ship which regularly carried supplies between Greenland and Denmark, which administers the island.
Even in these high tech times, ice is still a major hazard in these waters. Since most of a glacier lies below the water line, radar generally does not pick up on these lethal chunks. After a particularly tragic glacier/ship collision in 1942 where the ship sank with total loss of life, Denmark decided to create an ice patrol and make a concerted effort to fly planes over the most contentious areas and map where the biggest bergs are. These maps are updated regularly and sent to the bridge of any ship in the area, giving them a clue which direction they should be looking for danger lurking. Ships can only safely make deliveries to Greenland between July and September when the pack ice has loosened up sufficiently.
There are three types of ice floating around Greenland. The normal ice that forms every winter in colder climes, has melted by now and gone to sea. The glaciers that cover most of Greenland are forever flowing down to sea and their fresh water chunks fizzle when they melt as the air trapped within their layers breaks free. The polar ice formed from frozen sea water is the most dangerous and can be over a mile thick. A piece as big as the island of Manhattan is reportedly on its way to Canada, somewhere along our route. Ships that ply these waters regularly take advantage of planes and helicopters, because only from the heights can you really see a pathway through the bobbing ice floes. At night it is the law that all ships shine powerful lights whose beams can reveal the ice ahead. And most importantly, we are moving much more slowly than we did in our race to get from Dublin to Reykjavik. The ice pilot had great photos of the modern art that ice bergs can form as they melt, but my favorite was the picture he took of a polar bear leaned up against the side of his ship, looking as if he was giving it a shove. The crew had just had lunch and the yummy smells had brought the bear in for a closer look.
When we booked this cruise, I barely gave ice bergs a thought, but now we’re going to be on duty on our balcony, assisting the captain with the glacier patrol.