Greenland: A Voyage

From Sisimiut to Ilulissat

Ilulissat was the next stop, where the icebergs are, or at least a lot of them, and we elected to travel by ship, up the Davis Strait on an “overnight” voyage to get there.

Is it really overnight if it never gets dark?

The Arctic Umiaq Line is a single-ship operation which runs the coast-wise ferry originating down south in Qaqortoq and ending in Ilulissat three days later, having made nine other stops along the way.

Our jaunt was sixteen hours and it left on time and arrived a few minutes early.

Sisimiut astern

She’s the Sarfaq Ittuk, about 73 meters in length these days with a passenger capacity of 249, accommodated in a mix of cabins and communal beds, of which I had the latter.

Sunset on the bridge

(Communal bed is not as bad (or good?) as it sounds.)

In fact, our berths were on the lowest deck and far astern, right above the propeller shaft whose rhythmic thump, thump, thump throughout the night made for a cozy night’s sleep when paired with xanax.

Top bunk for me

Sarfaq Ittuk was built in 1992 and is a single propeller, 2,000 horsepower diesel-driven ship which draws about two meters of water and does just under 13 knots when cruising.

She is relatively self-sufficient underway, creating potable water through a desalination system and treating and discharging brown-water waste, hopefully not at the same time.

Engineering Space

Bow and stern thrusters are powered by two auxiliary generators, she executed a nice 180 degree about-face in close quarters when we arrived in Ilulissat.

Engine Room propulsion controls

The course was northbound in the Davis Strait which is relatively shallow, around 40 meters, with one area as shallow as nine meters where the ship has to head inland if it is windy to avoid a bottom scrape.

Speaking of scrapes, Sarfaq Ittuk has had at least one.

Two years ago, leaving Qaqortoq, she was grounded in the harbor by heavy winds though not seriously damaged.


She was re-floated and on the way into dry dock when the hauling rig broke and she was once again aground though freed when the tide came in.

In 2000, she was refitted in Gdansk, Poland, which included cutting her in half and adding 35 additional meters of length for cabins, perhaps an indication of the growth of tourism here.

But the passengers on our trip were a mix of everybody, Greenlanders, visitors and lots of very cute kids, all with summer birthdays, I suppose.

The Chief




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