Sunday, 26 July 2015

Back to dry land

I've got back from my eventful boat trip around the local settlements. It wasn't totally successful due to the generator on the boat breaking down resulting in the loss of cooking and toilet facilities. We can back to port on Wednesday night to fix it and then back out on Thursday morning, only for it to fail again so we abandoned the trip on Thursday night which meant that we missed out on visiting 2 settlements.

The above didn't really affect me as I was just along for the ride, but obviously it was a problem for the hospital who had arranged meetings and maintenance visits at all of the settlements, and had chartered the boat at not an inconsiderable expense.

That's the negatives over.

We left on Sunday evening and travelled north through the icebergs from the ice fjord to a town called Kullorsuaq, which I believe means Devil's thumb, and from the pictures I've seen I understand the name. Unfortunately due to cloud down to sea level I never got to see this impressive natural feature. I don't envy the ship's crew navigating through the ice in thick fog, but they had radar and are used to it. We felt the impact of 1 growler (small iceberg), but apart from that it was an uneventfull journey.

Once we got up in the morning and had eggs and bacon it was off to meet the local staff and to asses the building and any maintanance issues. These health centres are essentially a house with 2 rooms dedicated to health care. This once was a little bigger, but not much. I had to see a couple of patients while I was there, but it wasn't anything sygnificant.

The we were back on the boat to travel south to the next settlement. Here the health centre was a house. These are designed to see patient's downstairs with accomodation upstairs for visiting staff, this may be a dentist, Dr, or health visitor etc.

The rest of the trip was along a similar vein to this, visit a town, short journey and then visit another.

The main departure from this was when we spent a night in a town called Nuussuaq. This is the only town that is on the mainland and not an island in the Upernavik archipeligo, We arrived in the late afternoon and due to tides we were unable to leave for many hours, due to the length of stop over and the first good weather we had experienced.

As soon as dinner was finnished I packed my rucksack with water, some snacks, first aid kit, crampons and camera. Grabbed my gun (a local had mentioned the "ice bear" risk) and went for a walk. I was hoping to get to the top of the highest hill in the area which is around 850M. The summit was only around 10km away from the harbour and I had plenty of time. But I hadn't bargained ont eh local terrain. My first problem was the heat, the sun was beating down even though I started at 8:30pm, next was the ground I was walking on. It was like a Martian landscape (very high iron deposit levels) with big rocks and boulders everywhere. I had no map to the area, apart from a sketch I made from a nautical map. I had my garmin gps with some homage to a base map with me and the weather was clear. I also had a compass and as I was walkign along a thin strip of land I figured I couldn't go too far wrong. I had my SPOT tracker with me incase it all went horribly wrong.

Once I had go onto the ridgeline I was planning on walking along to get to the hill that was my goal I was greeted by a cloud inversion on the other side, this was all of the cloud that had been plaguing us whilst we were at sea, I was glad to have my camera with me at this point and I spent some time photographing this scene. Once I got going again I was walking along the stony ridge wondering how the landscape was formed. There was nothing smooth like a glacier deposits and even on the ridge the rocks were smashed and large. As I was traversing the ridge it became apparent that it wasn't a flat ridge, but my goal should be attainable. Most of the walk was hard going, but uneventful. I had a chance encounter with a grouse, which made me glad I packed nearly 1.5kg of long lens for my camera. Just after seeing this is became apparent that to get to the hill I wanted to summit I had to descend all the way to sea level before I could get to it. At this point I turned around to start to walk back to the boat. I chose a different route, which turned out to be even harder with pretty much 7 km of boulder fields. All the time I kept thinking of the film 127 hours as the rocks rolled around as I walked over them. I was certainly glad I was wearing boots with a rigid sole even though I didn't end up wearing crampons.

One other highlight was the slight detour the boat took so we could see what I believe is the biggest sea bird cliff in the world, even though it was freezing due to more fog, we had a good view of the birds.

The last town we visited was called Kangersuatsiaq which is reported to be the prettiest town in the region and it didn't disappoint. It seemed very sheltered from all sides so had longer grass than anywhere else and was kept much tidier than other settlements. When we first got in a Brittish flagged yacht was blocking the jetty so I was asked to try to get them on the radio, they we ashore so didn't answer, but they came back once we sounded the horn a few times.

Once we had got alongside and they had tied up to us I got chatting. They are a family from Hungary with Mum, Dad, a daughter of 19 and a son of 6. They are planning on sailing half of the north west passage this year before leaving their boat to finish it next year. They have less luxuries than other boats I've seen so as they were in Upernavik the next night I offered them a shower and to check the ice reports online. They seemed very grateful as they have no shower on board the boat. In the ned we ended up in my house having dinner, they were excited to have pancakes as on board they need to ration their gas so pancakes are a luxury.

This week I'm back to hospital, but I hope to climb the hill on a near by island which is still very snowy.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Another boat trip.

The way the health service is provided to the local area is we have the main hospital here in Upernavik and in each of the settlements there is a house with a local in. If someone is ill / injured they go to that house and the member of staff there makes a quick assessment then contacts us for further help. We may prescribe medication from their local supply or request that the patient comes here either by boat, or if it is serious we will send the helicopter.

As I think I mentioned in an earlier post, every once in a while the hospital staff need to go visit the health centres in the surrounding settlements. The houses are owned by the hospital so any maintenance issues need to be looked at and a general assessment is undertaken the staff need to be seen and some patients will be seen, but patient's aren't the main reason for the visits.

Rigmor (my host) arranged for this trip to happen during my stay so I can come along. I was told this on my arrival so I knew if nothing else I would get off of this 2 mile island for a week.

The plan is to leave here tomorrow evening and steam north for around 250km to the most northern point of the trip and then work our way back south down to 85km south of Upernavik before returning to our usual jobs. I will be taking my SPOT with me so you can see where I am as I'm not sure if I will have any other communication on the trip.

I've been told that I will have plenty of opportunity to go walking so I will be packing most of my kit for hiking and photography (fingers crossed there is plenty of space on board). We hope to be fishing on the trip too.

One thing that has worked out extremely well is that Rigmor's husband is on holiday over here at the moment. His usual job is a chef in the off shore oil industry, so he's coming along to cook for us and from the food I've had so far I expect it to be good, and he is used to ship's galleys so I don't expect it to be a hindrance to the standards he produces.

We will be hot on the tail of Snow Dragon 2, Bagheera, and Salty, but I think they will be too far ahead of us to be able to catch up to repeat the events of Tuesday evening.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Drinking the boat dry.

After being dropped back off in Upernavik so I could go to hospital to work for the day I was invited back to the boats for dinner as they were staying in Upernavik for the night. I got home and had a rest waiting for a text to tell me what time to meet them.

After the text message came in off I went expecting a night of good food and a couple of glasses of wine as we had had the night before. How wrong was I.

A lot of boats, especially up here in the high latitudes run a dry ship in case of problems at night such as dragging and anchor or icebergs either threatening the vessel at anchor or blocking the exit from a bay. By being sober the boat can be moved ASAP to either a safer mooring or to start that day's passage. Snow Dragon 2 and Bagheera have a more relaxed attitude, but still a sensible restriction on drinking and only in fine weather and good ice conditions.

As they were in a port and had met up with people they knew from previous encounters on a boat called "Salty", the alcohol was less restricted, a lot less.

I got over for around 6:30 to sort some images for them and to offer some advice about cameras and cleaning etc. We were just starting a G&T made with fresh iceberg ice and the cabin opened and a shout of "fire in the hole" in a southern USA accent came in. Followed by the skipper of Salty. It turns out he was drinking a rum and coke made with a rum called "fire in de hole". This set the scene of how the evening was to progress.

Dinner was scheduled for 7:30 so we made our way over with our contribution (I'm treated like part of the ship's crew now). Salty is crewed by a husband and wife who own the boat, their 3 kids (5,4 &1). This is all they usually have, but as they are going through the north west passage and they have the kids they have taken on 2 deck hands so they can have round the clock ice watch and someone can watch the kids with 3 people able to operate the boat.

After eating and exchanging stories of adventure the drinking carried on, and on, and on. This is their last opportunity for a blow out before Alaska. The problem I have had is that with the 24 hours of daylight the ships day is very flexible due to weather and moorings, not sunrise / sunset. My day is fixed at an 8am start. I'm not sure what time I went to bed, but at 1am I took them for a walk round Upernavik via the hospital so Eric from Bagheera could send an email and check the ice reports.

At 1:30 we were walking down the airport's runway then glissading down a load of rotten ice that was still left from being swept off of the runway during the winter.

Everyone had such interesting stories to tell of adventure and loss. Normally my life has been one of the most adventurous / obscure in a group, but this time I was well and truly the most "conventional". With talk of considering giving birth on the ships deck (but deciding on a tiny hospital on some island somewhere), to big knock downs to all manor of other adventures.

Then the party had to end so I could get to work on time (after being a little late the day before).

I popped in for a chat at lunch time to sort the images that never got done the night before and exchanging email and blog addresses. Then it was time to bid them farewell and go to work. Later that afternoon I saw them all slip the mooring and off they go for their epic adventures while I'm here to carry on mine. They won't be sailing as a flotilla as Salty wants to go further north then the other 2 before heading west so they can see "ice bears" and other wildlife, but I expect all 3 boats to meet up again.

Unfortunately I feel that now the NWP is on my bucket list. But that will be something for the future.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Incredible weekend.

This extended weekend has been in 2 halves, on Sunday the Queen arrived for the day, so the town was in it's splendour. When she got off of the royal yacht it was nice to see her in full Greenlandic traditional dress. After watching that I waited for my friends on Snow Dragon 2 to arrive in the port. Once they had arrived I took them shopping and then to watch some of the festivities that were put on for the royal occasion. This involved choirs and kayakers etc.

Once she had left we picked up the shopping from my house and my stuff and went back to Snow Dragon 2 and their companion ship Bagheera for a few days sailing around the local area.

This is a really exciting opportunity that I have had all from a chance encounter in a shop where I used to work in 2008. They came in for some equipment for the yacht for a trip up the Greenland East coast and as I had undertaken a previous trip there we got chatting about adventures, and I've always thought about them, and their exciting lifestyle. Once my elective was arranged to Upernavik I looked them up on Facebook and their page said that they were sailing the north west passage this year. After one post and a few emails I was realised that our timetables coincided and then I was invited to go on a short voyage with them. I was really pleased as it meant that for at least a few days I was guaranteed the company of English speakers (not knowing for sure the level of English amongst the staff here).

After the Queen had departed on the royal yacht we departed to go to visit the ice fjord. They were rather trusting as once the anchor was lifted I was told to steer the boat out from the harbour. I used to sail dinghies and have experience of the power boat in the uni dive club, but nothing like steering a large boat out from a commercial harbour and then weaving in and out of icebergs.

Once we were underway the 'bergs became bigger with some towering over the deck. It was now a little foggy so the Caribbean temperatures I have become accustomed to were now a memory, but I am in the Arctic so I can't say I wasn't expecting to be cold.

After a motor sail toward the icecap we anchored for the night and the eating started, a great meal of meat and 2 veg followed by crumble. With plenty of wine to wash it down.

The next day we had a leisurely start before going for a hike and scramble to get some photo's of the icecap and the yachts. Now the sun had come out so had the mosquitoes too.

Then it was back to the boat for breakfast consisting of pancakes with bacon and maple syrup.

After breakfast we went to look at some icebergs in their tender. I found that my new crampons will work with wellington's so I ended up getting out of the boat and walking round an iceberg, fully aware that it wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had and hoping that it wasn't going to break up as I put an ice axe in or roll over with me on it. When you are near icebergs or with big ones on the horizon you realise how active they are, with continuous bangs and pops as the stresses get too much and a crack propagates through the ice, sometimes splitting them in half, or them shattering into much smaller pieces. I have to admit in hindsight, there are better types of footwear for front pointing with.

In the afternoon we did some shooting practice as they had picked up some ammo in Upernavik and they had some new guns to test out.

After the ammo was used up we set sail again to find a spot to anchor for the night and eat another meal that most people wouldn't expect to find on such a craft. While we were sailing I took the opportunity to climb the mast for some pictures of the ice and the boats from above. This was an interesting, but chilly experience.

This morning we had an earlyish start to get back to Upernavik for my placement and for one of the guests on Bagheera to get a flight to continue his trip round the Arctic before he heads home to Argentina. Although with the amount of fog that has come in over night I'm not sure if he's going anywhere for a few days.

After these few days and talking with the skippers and crew I hope to be part of some big plans they have in the future, both next year and some things with a longer time scale.

I think the plan is to meet up for food tonight before both boats depart to make their way to the north west passage to continue their epic adventure.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Results day

The last few days have been plagued with the stress of the results from my "finals".

Well, they have finally arrived and I've managed to pass all of my exams. Given how some of them felt they went this came as some what of a surprise. This now means that I can take advantage of my down-time without having to revise for resits.

As we have had to send a nurse to Nuuk with a patient and we have a new interpreter who speaks English I have been consulting patients on my own (with the other staff in a nearby room for advice and support).

It's been nice to have this responsibility that I don't get in the UK, although with good support very close to stop it being stressful.

We have a new nurse arrive tonight so we will have some food to welcome her and her husband, and no doubt a few celebratory bottles of wine.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Fresh fish

The last few days have been fairly uneventful, I've just been going to hospital and then back home. The TV consists of old British programs with Danish subtitles.

Last night I went fishing with one of the Nurse's Husbands, there was plenty to catch, but he said that most of the catch wasn't great to eat. Then just before we packed up I caught a cod (I'm told it was a cod), which made a nice dinner and a nice change from all of the canned and frozen food I've been living on since I got here.

Once again the mosquitos were a problem, although nothing like the numbers that are in Ilulissat. They are a slight annoyance, but made up for with the surroundings being so different to anywhere else I've been.

This morning the town is buzzing with our new arrivals, the Danish royal Yacht has arrived with a naval escort ship. The queen of Denmark is expected to be here on Sunday, assuming the weather is ok for a plane to land. There are some things planned for her visit, but I'm not sure if I will get to meet her.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

My first week and time away from hospital

It's about a week since I started to my travels. I'm now settled in and getting into it here.

My day in hospital runs from 8 am to 4 pm week days, but that is flexible if I choose. I'm also on call in case of an emergency in one of the outlying settlements. If we get an emergency call we need to go by helicopter to pick them up after a telephone triage.

The hospital has been very welcoming, even giving me a set of keys so I can come in at night to use the internet to stay in contact with home.

Yesterday I went with one both of the lab technicians and my host's husband for a trip by sea kayak round the island. We were guided by one of the lab techs as that is his main business with the lab work and radiography side lines. The sun was intense, but due to the sea temp (possibly around 1 deg C) we had to wear dry suits in case of capsize. Putting my hand under water to take some pictures of icebergs was a painful experience. I'm hoping to go for a swim before I leave, but now I've seen how cold the water is I don't expect to be in for long. It is a strange experience on the water here. All you can hear are the waves lapping the shore and then there is a huge boom as the stress in an iceberg gets too much and a crack propagates through it, this then repeats a few times, sometimes resulting in a piece breaking away and the berg turning over. For this reason we didn't go too near to the big icebergs or hand around for too long. There is a risk of either a piece breaking off above you or a piece breaking off from below the water and then hitting you from below.

Today a few of us went for a walk, even though it is cool / cold in the shade, once you are in the sun you start overheating quickly. Dressing for any activity in this place is a nightmare.

I'm still trying to find a way off the island to go for a walk on the bigger / higher islands near by.

Sorry that there are no pictures, but I've no way of resizing them. I will add pictures once home to complete the story.

If you want to go kayaking check out Nikonaj's website. DYODD first though.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Starting in Upernavik

I arrived on Tuesday afternoon to be greeted by my host with the ambulance to transport me and my luggage to my house. It turns out that there was the Health visitor on my flight too.

The flight was pleasant enough and only took an hour, it left late which seems to be standard for Air Greenland, but there is no pressure on departure slots so the plane takes off when it is ready. I managed to get a window seat this time so got a good view of the icecap. Due to the late departure and there being a choir on the plane we were treated to an impromptu performance in the departure lounge in Ilulissat airport (it's also the arrivals lounge and waiting room).  As Air Greenland operate in the Arctic, the rules for the aircraft are different to the rest of the world: as well as life jackets the plane carries cold weather suits in case of ditching onto land. These are all illustrated on the emergency card next to how to exit the plane in an emergency.

After getting to my hose for my stay and having a shower and doing some shopping, I was over to my host's house for dinner which was expertly cooked by her husband who is a chef by trade. It wasn't very Greenlandic, but was most welcome after living on airport hotdogs for 2 days. We had Greenlandic sushi (strips of raw fish with lime juice) and barbequed tenderloin of beef. I'm hoping someone will show me how to cook the local dishes during my stay.

My first day at hospital started at 8am the next morning with a hand over in Danish that was translated by one of the staff and then a tour of the hospital. It is reasonably compact with about 14 beds. There are plenty of staff, but they are trying to recruit another doctor at the moment.

The patients are a mixture of specialities, but surgical patients are taken to the main hospital in Nuuk as there isn't an anaesthetist here.

Sleeping here isn't that easy due to the 24hours of sunlight, but the trick I was taught was to tape cooking foil to the windows as a black out. I got a much better night's sleep after trying this.

Today I've been seeing a few patients with one of the nurses, these were minor complaints that a GP in England would normally see. One of the patients came in wearing a Liverpool FC hoodie, so after a little sign language he realised that I'm from Liverpool (I'm guessing the first to ever visit Upernavik) and got a picture with me before he left the consultation.