The Story of Icebergs - Greenland





The Iceberg Story

A Poetic Story:

“The Migration of Icebergs” by Daniel Anet*

“It’s a naïve iceberg, pure ethereal sculpture, a floating mountain that rolled over one day and plunged into the sea.  But it’s also the wide open sea, an infinite constellation if icebergs, like a migration of swans; or perhaps it might be the reflection of the Milky Way slipping across the dark blue sea, through the drifting fog.

The fjords thrust into granite lands for hundreds of kilometers, like inland seas; and their waves will eventually lap against short beaches of grey and black pebbles, onto which slump the pleated fronts of age-old glaciers polished by waterfalls. 

And, as they break into spillways of rocks smoothed by their sudden collapse, the icebergs take to the sea like ships, and start their slow cruise towards the inaccessible South, the warm waters of which dissolve them as they approach, after years of wandering, in an ultimate shipwreck.

Stupendous spectacle of thousands of floating ice mountains, white tables ripped from the sea ice, white castles more emboldened, more jagged, more fabulous than any man could make. 

The genius of the Far North defies any artist, endlessly sculpting, kneading and whittling these icy flotillas, with no two pieces ever alike, for man imitates but nature creates.  Laundry blue ice, pinkish ice, frothy ice, dove-grey ice, vast maritime bestiary that defies the imagination.  And all this takes place beneath skies of incomparable softness, all pinks and light purples, misty greys mottled with pale green, that sometimes, on sunny days that suddenly appear, fade into Mediterranean blue.

And, over all this, there reigns a unique serenity, as at the beginning of the world.  The soul breathes in step with creation, and time disappears in the vastness.  Purity regained.”

A Tragic Story *

On the evening of 14th April 1912, Titanic was in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, 604 km (373 mi) south of Newfoundland, cruising at full speed.  New York lay another 2,000 km (1243 mi) away.   Another vessel, Californian, has signaled the presence of an ice field, but Captain Smith was confident that the ‘growlers’ (small ice blocks) couldn’t damage this huge steamship.

The sky was clear, but it was a moonless night, and the sea was smooth.  Up in the crow’s nest the lookouts scanned the dark horizon, but without binoculars, which had been forgotten in Southampton.  At 11:39 pm, the lookouts saw an enormous iceberg, as high as the ship, 500 meters (547 yards) dead ahead.  The First Officer screamed, “Iceberg, right ahead!” and ordered the ship to be turned hard to port and the engines to be stopped.  He also engaged the closure of the watertight doors.  The ship carried on, hardly turning, because of its inertia.

37 seconds after the iceberg was spotted, it scraped along Titanic’s hull for 100 meters.  The iron rivets popped and the plates buckled, causing damage to the first five compartments, and letting in water through several holes totaling 1.1 to 1.2 square meters (1.32 sq yards)….

Two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg, Titanic broke in two between the third and fourth funnels and sank to the bottom, taking more than 1,490 souls with her, perhaps as many as 1,635.

Titanic had steamed straight into a ‘large ice field’ at full speed.  Carpathia reported an ice field with more than twenty icebergs measuring over 60 meters high (197 feet).  The iceberg that struck the Titanic was identified by traces of paint left on the ice.  It was more than ten meters high (33 feet) and weighed around 500,000 tons, ten times more than Titanic.”

 A Modern Story*

The risk is still very real: on average there are two collisions a year between boats and icebergs….The last deaths occurred in 1959 when Hans Hedtoft sank off the south coast of Greenland with 95 people on board. 

There were about 6.8 accidents a year between 1887 and 1912, compared with 2.3 between 1980 and 2005.

Seafaring history is full of lives swallowed up, of ships that have disappeared without trace, of nameless corpses, and weeping women.

A Personal Story, by Jan P.

Our guides and drivers refuse to continue through the fog-soaked air and ice-drenched waters.  Barely visible in the distance, spectral towers tempt like Sirens, and beckon the foolish. 


Fools only to “point and shoot,” we soon escape this overcrowded highway and weave our way ever so cautiously through the clogged field of bergy bits, brash and growlers. 

 Our tiny motorboat runs full speed ahead across the open ocean and up the fjords.  Lazy bachelor icebergs draw us near.  We stop alongside enormous white slabs recently released from their ancestral glacial home; striated hills eroded by rain and wind and wave; mottled beauteous blue monsters.  

Despite its pristine beauty, Greenland may not the place for the Marriott-Four Seasons-Shangri-La crowd.  The hour-long boat rides are bumpy and rough.  And windy and cold.  Proper piers are not always available.  Climb on the boat rail and hop across to the rocky shore; then hike up the rocky hillsides.  And after a long ride, if I need to take a pee, I just go and take a pee.   Trail lunch.

Village accommodations are modern, comfortable, warm and satisfactory.  No TV or room service, but washers and driers.  Food is good.  Plenty of fresh fish and home baked bread and pastry.  Try blubber if you dare.

If you dare, book a tour to Greenland.  You’ll be the first kid on your block to have the satisfaction.  And the privilege.

And don’t forget your binoculars!


PS  My friend Larry wrote to me from Boston, “Aside from Leif Ericson, you are the only person I know who has visited Greenland.”  And on the assumption that Greenland is not on everyone’s 2016 “To See” list, I decided to suspend my usual “Highlights” photo galleries.  (My thanks for this excellent suggestion go to my friend Rainer in Cologne, Germany.)

Please enjoy all the photographs and videos of my icebergs.  Each one is unique.  

Of course, when you finally get to Greenland, “my” icebergs will be “history.” 

But “your” icebergs ….. ah, your icebergs will be your icebergs.

*Excerpts taken from Icebergs. Christian Kempf.  Les Editions de l'Escargot Savant. Le Thillot 21230 Vievy, France. 2014

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