September 2, 2015
I doubt any other culture has had to constantly deal with the threat of starvation like the traditional Inuit did. You would think that the cold would be their number one adversary, but it wasn’t the cold it was food. 10,000 years of starvation changed their culture in ways we westerners in modern times have a hard time wrapping our minds around. Fore stance it was rather normal (especially if you weren’t a very good hunter) to make your grandparents commit suicide once they were too old to contribute to the hunting society. In was also rather acceptable to kill a new born girl by placing her on a piece of drifting ice. Their logic was “girls won’t grow up to be hunters”. This is what happens when a culture starves for millennia, either you can provide food, or you’re just a mouth to feed.
It all sounds rather heartless but you’re looking at it through the eyes of your own culture. The Inuit didn’t enjoy these practices, they were living the ultimate version of the survival of the fittest. Since they spent most of their time trying not to starve to death they didn’t wage war like most cultures. After thousands of years without war they seem to have lost most of their sense of bloodlust. I bet your average American has more bloodlust than your traditional Inuit. The great Arctic explorers described them as the happiest people on earth (which is also hard to wrap your mind around). The Inuit went through one of the most extreme transformations in human history going from the Stone Age to the Atomic Age in just a few generations.
Most people in Greenland today wouldn’t call themselves Inuit, just Greenlandic. In the larger towns like Nuuk and Sisimut many people are a mix of Greenlandic and Danish. As far as I can tell it’s only when you get north of Upernavik that you start seeing signs of traditional Inuit culture.
Greenland is part of Denmark. The Danish government gives something like 3-4 billion in subsidies to Greenland every year. This has changed everything. If it wasn’t for the support of the Danish government Greenland would be a truly impoverished 3rd world country. This has also had a huge impact on their culture, the Greenlandic people today are quite western in many ways. I can’t say western culture is always a great thing and it’s sad to see an ancient culture lose its roots but at least they don’t have to deal with the constant threat of starvation anymore.
(An interesting side note, after WW2 the United States tried to buy Greenland from Denmark for 100 million dollars, had Denmark said yes Greenland would be our 51st state.)
It certainly works out well for me and Nicole. Nearly every town has a small grocery store. There is only one grocery store chain in Greenland, it’s easy to find as its logo looks like a polar bear sniffing another polar bears butt (can’t miss that). These stores are full of Danish foods and seem like they have been plucked straight out of Denmark. It’s funny to think that Nikki and I had to sail to the Arctic before we started eating well on an expedition. They don’t really have highways or roads in Greenland but nearly every little town has a helicopter landing pad. If there was an injury you could get to Upernavik’s very nice hospital fairly quickly. Fuel isn’t cheap but since it’s subsidized it’s not terribly expensive either. Greenland has its challenges and isn’t a place for novice sailors, but it also has its perks.
North of Upernavik when approaching one of these small towns the first things you hear are the dogs. The dogs never stop making noise, whether it’s howling, barking or wining. These dogs aren’t the type you walk up and pet as they are more wild then domestic. They are work dogs used to pull sleds in the winter, in the north that is still very common. The dog’s noise isn’t bad, it makes the towns seem more alive. The big dogs are mostly all tied off but the puppies typically run free. If you put your hand out the puppies climb all over you, my guess is they think you have food. Nikki is in puppy heaven every time we go for a walk around these towns. The Greenlandic dogs have two coats of fur so they are always shedding. They wouldn’t be very good indoors or on a boat unless you don’t mind having dog hair everywhere.
We have been taking it a bit easier since the Devils Thumb. We are still averaging 10-14 hour days but that’s a whole lot easier than working for days on end. The research dominates all aspects of our expedition. This isn’t a sailing adventure with a little research on the side, this is a research expedition with a little adventure on the side.
You probably notice that our track line has been zig zaging all over the place lately. It’s all part of our bathymetric survey. We have a 1 kilowatt single beam sonar with data logger and are following lines given to us by NASA’s OMG (Oceans Melting Greenland) program. By doing this we are mapping out the sea floor helping OMG better understand where the deep areas are that may have the warmer saltier water column. Our data isn’t strong enough to be given to the Danish Hydrographic Office, but it’s good enough for NASA. What we really need is a multi-beam sonar but that’s $100,000.
There are almost no depth sounding for any of the areas we have been in so when in doubt we use iceberg navigation. We only draw four and a half feet, most bergs are deeper than we are so if you see a berg of any real size you can assume that the water is deep enough for us near it. There is also almost no tide information north of Upernavik, which makes things tricky when you can have fifteen to twenty foot tides. So we use icebergs that have run aground to gauge the tides by the indention cut out by the rising and falling water. Icebergs can be very helpful at times.
Over the last week the water has been the clearest I’ve seen yet. You can see down fifty feet and at thirty feet you can clearly make out every detail of the sea floor. This makes anchoring a lot easier. Since the bottom is full of large flat rocks and boulders we can find the sandy spots and drop the anchor right on target. The water almost looks tropical if it wasn’t for the fact its freezing cold.
Tomorrow we will enter heavy ice once again in an effort to help map out the fjords around Kakivfaat and Nunatakassaap glaciers, then it’s off to Upernavik.