Recently I had the pleasure of joining a team of pro’s on a trip to Greenland. A German crew from Nord Deutscher Rundfunk (NDR - the north German Television) working on an underwater “road movie” and a wildlife photographer from Denmark. The adventure started in Sisimiut just north of the polar circle and finished in a load of ice cubes up north somewhere in Disko bay.

I‘d dived several times before in the arctic waters of Greenland, but it would be very interesting to witness the making of a film on that very topic.

The NDR crew and I met Sara Lindbæk, the photographer, in Kangerlussuaq Airport (don’t try to pronounce without local guidance). Sara had already spent some days in the snow, taking pictures of things she didn’t intend to.... that’s how it goes, but the results were stunning! By the way the rest of the crew are Thomas (Editor and cameraman), Wolfgang (Cameraman), Andreas (topside cameraman) and Ulrich (cameraman).

Arriving in Sisimiut we find out that the sonar system has given up a few hours earlier. Sailing in Greenlandic waters, where we often go into unmeasured areas is no joke and sailing without a sonar is an absolute no-go.

After lunch in the newly opened café in hotel Sisimiut, we say hello to chopped off heads of two walrusses at the bulwark as we go on board the boat VEGA. Traces of wildlife ....for Sara.


Borgin is the wreck of a wooden schooner which caught fire and went down in 1954 while the crew were having a party on shore. The wreck lies in a natural harbour well protected from the sometimes very harsh, icey environment.

Quite a bad dive this first one... disappointing visibility probably caused by melt water dragging sediments from the fjords and algae producing rays of the midnight sun. Hope this will not be the situation on all our dives. On top of this the anchor chain is stuck on one of the masts, guess someone has to liberate the ship and our vessel from each other the next morning. But on the good side we had very nice dinner. Reindeer hunted by the brother of our skipper - wouoww happy meat!

Luckily, on the next couple of dives at Borgin visibility is a lot better and the crew start to film. Getting great shots of both inside and outside the wreck of the Borgin. Topside, the sun illuminating the ice covered mountains the NDR guys shoot a lot of video of the boat, us throwing anchor, throwing anchor, sailing and throwing anchor..

A few days on land

Travelling Greenland underwater is fantastic but don’t forget to “come to the topside Luke” The filmcrew spend a few days shooting footage back in Sisimiut. The church, the view, landing dash 7 aircrafts, life from the harbour and visiting Tele Island where traces of the Saqqaq culture going back some 4500 years can be seen. We even find some traditional graves a few hundred years old. The crouching corpses staring out to sea.

Sara and I continue out to the edge town, to the area of the dogs. This is where all the towns folk kennel their hunting and sledding dogs. When you smell and hear it you understand why it’s on the edge of town. It seems hunters and people with sledge dogs are not all that keen on photographers - maybe due to bad experience, but after a while most people seem friendly enough.

Nature dives

Just outside Sisimiut we continue the diving at Lighthouse Island...and yes there is a lighthouse. Loads of macro life: Nudibrancs, anemones, amphipoda, hydroids, kelp, fishes and sea cucumbers dressed in vivid red. Unfortunately no wolffish this time.

We cook out on the open sea, a challenge for my stomach standing below deck chopping dead pig and onions. But dinner is served without any unexpected additions to the recipe. Later that night (don’t forget that midnight sun) we are going to dive Mussel Island where the Isortoq fjord ends. I really love this place, steep slopes, life, and a jungle of giant kelp swaying towards the light.

Thomas The Editor agrees, euphoric after his dive deep into the kelpforest. Lumpsucker, scorpionfish, nudibranchs, ghost shrimps etc. etc.

A bit north of Isortoq fjord we sail into a turquise cove, anchoring for the night between the carcass of an unlucky freighter and a lonely hunting shack. Dinner tonight is Skipper Bo’s special seafood chowder. Excellent for the waistline using only 2 liters of cream.

The settlement visit

After a long trawl up the coast finding only icebergs too small or too unstable for diving our mood is not the best.

Kangatsiaaq might as well be the end of the world. No people but snowmobiles, sleds and the detritus of life scattered through the village as if abandoned. And this, with 600 inhabitants one of the largest settlements in Greenland. Photo Sara clicks off a shot of a polar bear skin flapping like laundry in the breeze. Still no people.

But then the sun comes out. First children and then the rest trickle out of their homes to restart the daily grind. Back in the harbour NDR get an interview with an old ex-fisherman.

Thomas wants to know about the climate change and how it affects a fisherman's life, but this old geezer only wants to talk about the closing of the local Royal Greenland fish factory and the tough times ahead.

Royal Greenland is the biggest company in Greenland, employing close to 3% of the workforce, thus having a major influence in the Greenlandic society.

Capital of whaling

I want to find the whale graveyard near Aasiaat and after a bit of poking around in the dingy I find it. On land, underwater, trapped in a grip of ice the bleached bones of these once majestic leviathans bare pale witness to the local lunch.

Appropriately enough, this being fox Island, there is a polar fox running round on the island and Sara goes ashore to get acquainted.

We overnight in Aasiaat harbour and the following morning I try to get Sara back to Fox Island in the dingy. It’s a short trip, but the ice is just too solid. No way we can make it in the dingy.

A friendly guy in the harbour offers to help. Alas we don’t have a common language so after the customary misunderstanding and 2 hours in a an open boat getting colder and colder on a directionless sightseeing detour...

Meanwhile the TV crew have gone into town with Bo as a tourist guide to tell about the history of this former whaling capital. In the 18th century Dutch whalers had a big business in this area. Bo sure knows what he’s speaking about. Living his whole life in Greenland and always sailing and working at sea. He is now 38 years old, owner of two boats taking care of everything from sonar mapping, sales and service of boat engines charter tours and both commercial and recreational diving. He’s a good character on the box.

We decide to have a proper look at the whalebones and as we glide through the skeletons I am tense with melancholy thinking of how beautiful they must have been, these huge intelligent lords of the sea and I’m sure I catch a faint echo of their glorious song.

But here they are. The massive skull of a fin whale jewelled with sea urchins and cucumbers.


And now for something completely different. I’ve been looking forward to showing the TV crew this and what a great feeling it is to dive an iceberg. Not the easiest of dives with so many precautions and safety procedures but when you’re down there listening to the air escaping the ice and hearing, even feeling the crackling from this monstrous frozen fortress, you feel small, very small.

Ilulissat is the place for icebergs. Every day between 40 and 100 million tons of inland ice shears from the glacier to crash into the sea. Well, it used to. Nowadays the glacier moves so fast, probably due to the global warming, and splinters on land resulting in smaller icebergs in much greater quantities.
John Travolta is very cool

Disco bay is packed. Ice ice ice. I have never seen anything like it. I’m glad we’re sailing with Bo who is cautious but not adverse to give it a go through the complicated bits. And Andreas The Topside Shooter. Far away from home and wife twisted our arms with a gin and tonic or two celebrating his wedding anniversary. We toast in the midnight sun.

Ah Well

So after 6 hours in the ice and marginal progress towards the target we have to give up. Ilulissat, So close and yet so far.

So to keep the schedule we have to send the crew and Sara on a plane from Aasiaat to Ilulissat. After two hours max. in dreamland we reach Aasiaat just in time to catch their plane with the 170 kilos of overweight in the tiny dash 7 aircraft.

In a way it emphasizes the theme in the production of the TV program. The greatness of nature, the unpredictability and how small we are in the great wild nature.

2 days later I meet the crew and Sara in Kangerlussuaq. They have got all they wanted. More interviews, pictures of the icefiord e.t.c. and I passed the Danish Crown prince Frederic in Sisimiut airport, where many of the citizens waved flags and shouted welcoming words to him. Well well everything can happen in Greenland.