Friday, July 31, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 07 – Nanortalik, Greenland

As we approach Greenland, it seems that icebergs everywhere!

It's 5:30am and we are 20 miles offshore of Greenland. It's different from what Keith expected. Except for the icebergs, and the occasional patch of snow, everything is dark, almost black. Kathy says it reminds her a bit of glacier bay. (The big surprise is that Kathy is up this early; the first time since boarding.) The most striking aspect of this coastline is the jaggedness of the peaks. For a land shaped by glaciers, we had expected a more rounded form.


We Approach Greenland


Early Morning Observer

Nanortalik means "land of the polar bears", according to the information we are given. The story is that the occasional bear is sighted, stranded on an iceberg floating by. Keith wonders about this story, recalling that polar bears swim quite well.

Nanortilak is Greenland's southernmost town, and the first port to entice us ashore. There are no commercial tours offered, but we want to see a bit of the place. Kathy wants to send postcards to the grandkids, and we both want to be able to say we have been here.

Even as we approach close inshore there is little color. Much of the landscape is dark, bare rock, and the very scrubby vegetation is a very dark green, almost brown. It may look different in a brilliant sunshine, but from this aspect the name "Greenland" seems something of a misnomer. It's beautiful, but in a different sort of way.


A Grey and Brooding Coastline, Punctuated With Icebergs

The story goes that the first European settler, Eric the Red, named it Greenland to promote settlement. One would have to be a good fisherman to settle here. Nothing appears arable, at least the limited parts we've seen.

Keith is following our approach on the GPS, which shows us passing directly over the center of a small island. What's wrong with this picture? Since we're clearly not aground, we shall assume the map database is wrong. We hope the captain has better charts!

There are three substantial icebergs right in the middle of what we think to be the channel. It Appears wide enough to slide by, but one does worry about the 9/10 of the bergs which is underwater.

As we approach the harbor, the bergs are so numerous as to cause us to question the wisdom of entering, but our intrepid captain proceeds on. I am amazed how close he passes the ice. He seem dedicated to the proposition of very short tender rides. If he doesn't drop the hook soon, we shall be most assuredly aground. I've promised Kathy that we'll go to breakfast as soon as that happens.

The Port of Nanortalik


Iceberg, Close Up and Personal

It is said that man plans and God laughs. Well God laughed this morning, when Keith planned to go ashore. As we were finishing breakfast, Keith began to feel some very powerful urges, which continued through the day. Keith spent the entire day trotting back and forth across our cabin, in between snatches of sleep. It appears Keith has had his first encounter with the cruise crud.

Kathy decided to brave the 38 degree temperatures, bundled up in layers, and took the tender ashore. It is a 10 minute ride to the dock, where she was welcomed by a group of local children. This is the first time Holland America has visited this port, and all the locals are out in force.


Nanortalik Greeting Committee

Kathy’s first stop is the tourist center where she purchased postcards and postage. She also tried on a $3000 seal jacket, but decide that our souvenir budget could not absorb the cost. Greenland is Danish and the monetary unit is the krona; 5 krona = $1.

The terrain is very level near the shore, but rises sharply as you travel inland. K waked along the waterfront and visited several stores where you could buy anything from a loaf of bread to a 50 inch flat paneled television. Then there was the seal market.


Nanortalik Seal Meat Market

On her way to a bench where she sat and wrote postcards, Kathy was accosted by an army of black flies.


Nanortalik Beachfront Teenage Hangout


Result of Teenagers Hanging Out Unsupervised

An interesting note ~ There are no strollers in Nanortalik. Instead, babies are pushed in substantial quilted prams.


Arctic Baby Carriages

Kathy finished her cards and mailed them at the local post office, where she was told that they would take about 2 weeks to reach America.


Signpost Leads Kathy to the Post Office

Kathy spent about 2 hours on shore before returning to the ship. She took lots and lots of pictures, a few of which are included below.


The Port of Nanortalik


Greenland Flag


Maasdam at Anchor in Nanortalik

It's now 5pm, and Keith seems to be feeling better. We are in the Crow's Nest, watching our departure. The lounge is as crowded as we have seen is so far. We guess everyone wants to oogle the icebergs on the way out. Reminds Keith of the old saying, two's company, two hundred is a crowd.


A Crowded Crow’s Nest

On the way up to the Crow's Nest, Keith planned to go on deck and take some photos. God laughed again, and turned on the rain spigot.

Following departure we enjoyed a light supper in the Lido. Then to bed.

A rumor circulated through the boat a couple of days after we left Nanortalik, to the effect that the Maasdam was nudged by an iceberg that was ungrounded by the rising tide, just as we were departing. We don’t know if this rumor is true. We do know that a diver descended to inspect the hull the morning we reached Scotland, several days and a thousand miles after departing Greenland. We don’t know if the rumor and the diver are linked.

See ya’ tomorrow, same time, same station.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 06 - At Sea, Labrador to Greenland

"If you want sunshine and fair temperatures, cruise the South Pacific. This is the North Atlantic; cold and fog are to be expected. Deal with it."

The above is a direct, verbatim quote made by our Captain at 12:00 noon today, just before he stole another hour from us. Why the change of clocks was made at noon, instead of the middle of the night, is nobody's business but the Dutch, who run this bote. This policy probably was set by the same pinheads who stole the trays from the cafeteria.


Another Foggy North Atlantic Morning"

So what does one do with another day at sea? To provide a sense of the options, we provide below a schedule of events for this day, a typical sea day except for being impoverished by one hour. For the majority of you who aren't interested, just scroll through it.


Schedule for a day at sea

Thursday, 30, July 2009

Red Bay to Nanortilick

7:30 Fitness classes - aerobics

8:00 Walk-a-mile (Lower Promenade Deck)

Fitness classes - stretches

8:30 Catholic Mass

9:00 Bridge Lectures

Champagne Tasting (Special Charge)

9:30 Celebrity Chat

Shore excursion presentation

10:00 Advanced photo editing

Spa seminar - eat more to weigh less

Diamond seminar

10:30 Arctic wildlife lecture

11:00 Culinary demonstration - Mille Feuille of Halibut

Digital workshop

12:00 Noon - Set Clock Forward One Hour

1:00 Singles & Solos

Advanced photo editing

Spa secrets - make-up demonstration

Texas hold'em tournament

Bridge 'till 4

Informal card players meet

1:30 Line dance class

Hands on cooking class

Bean bag toss

2:00 Afternoon movie

Premium wine tasting (mucho extra charge)

2:30 Port presentation

Free throw sports challenge

3:00 Digital video workshop

Indonesian tea cerimony

3:30 Trivia games

Evolution of art lecture

4:00 Friends of Bill W. Meeting

Scrapbooking classes

4:30 Bingo

5:00 Friends of Dorothy Meeting

6:30 Early Showtime

9:00 Specialty coffees, cognacs, & classical strings

9:30 Name that tune

10:00 Icelandic ball in the Crows Nest

10:30 Cigars under the stars

11:00 DJ requests in the Crows Nest

With no port arrival to observe, we both slept until 7, then showered and went topsides for breakfast. Keith had his usual smoked salmon with lemon, capers, and onion, then departed from the routine egg Benedict in favor of a small (3 inch) waffle. With cruise fares slashed, the food servers are exercising strict portion control. They will give all you ask for, but you must ask; the default portions are quite small. The eggs Benedict, for example, are made with very thin slices of Canadian bacon. They will cheerfully make them with two slices, but you must ask. Shown below are a few of the breakfast serving stations.


Smoked Salmon & Trimmings


Cooked to Order Breakfast Station


Breakfast Meats


Breakfast Consumer

Today being a slow day for those of us who don’t care so much for the frenetic pace suggested above, we mostly just relaxed. After breakfast we moved out by the pool. Keith spent his time transcribing the schedule shown above, while Kathy read.


A HAL Entertainer Relaxes in the Hot Tub

At 10 Kathy went below to hear a lecture about the next two ports of call, while Keith attended a class on the use of Microsoft Live Photo. Jointly sponsored by HAL and Microsoft, this was one of a series of classes about Microsoft photo, video, and bloging software. Keith plans to attend more classes. They are taught in a dedicated meeting room with 20 Sony laptop computers, plus two 50 inch monitors for instruction. The instructor is ok, but he is nowhere near as good as the team who taught us to Blog ( at Nick Russell's Gypsy Rally ( last year. The Geeks are a truly professional team who have chosen to make a career educating RV'rs about computers.


“Techspert” Will Teaches Windows Live Photo

Following the hour of instruction is a second hour when students may use the computers to practice what they have learned, with the instructor available to answer questions. Keith is going to test this system by attempting to prepare these blogs for publication while we are at sea. The computers have two of the three programs which he uses for this purpose (MS Word and Windows Live Writer). Keith also uses Photoshop and Google's Picasa to "polish" and resize photos for our Blogs, but these programs, not being Microsoft products, are not available on the instructional computers. It remains to to be seen whether Keith can learn Windows Live Photo well enough to substitute for the software he knows. It also remains to be seen whether the instructor will put up with this use of his computers.

Flashforward – After we got back home in August, Keith downloaded the Windows Live Photo, but did not find it as capable, or as easy to use, as Picasa. This is just a personal opinion. We continue to recommend Picasa for daily photo editing, and the geeks as the best place to learn it.

We hate to keep harping on food, but it's a big part of the cruising thing. Lunch yesterday was an Indonesian buffet served poolside. Today's poolside theme was Indian. Keith has little experience with Indonesian food, but if anyone should be able to do it right, it should be the Dutch (recall the Dutch East India Company). Their Indian was palatable, but far from the best we Indian we have eaten. The Indian restaurant in Worcester does a far better job.

After lunch Keith napped, while Kathy donated once again to the HAL Memorial Blackjack Fund. Keith makes her use her own discretionary money for these donations. T'aint fair, but then, fare is just something you pay on the subway.

We currently are sitting in the Crow's Nest, Kathy nursing a Mohito while Keith composes on his PDA. Tonight is another formal night in the dining room. The theme is French, and Kathy just can't wait for those snails. Keith is hoping for a well done steak.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 05 - Red Bay, Labrador

5am, and nothing in view but fog. Our GPS tells us we are in the Straits of Belle Isle, which separates Newfoundland on the south from Labrador to the north. The GPS tells us we are hugging the south side of the Strait, despite the fact that our destination, Red Bay, is on the north side. We presume that this is due to some sort of traffic separation scheme. The Strait is one of two main entrances to the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the St. Lawrence River.

6am: the fog cleared for awhile, and we had a magnificent view of the Labrador coast to port. The starboard shore, while closer, remained completely occluded.


Labrador Coast in View

6:10am The portside view just disappeared again.

6:15am, the Labrador coast is again in view, and we are just beginning our turn port, to cross the westbound lane and enter the harbor. There's not much traffic either way. I recall reading that the St. Lawrence Seaway traffic has diminished in recent years, as the size of ocean going freighters has exceeded the capacity of the Welland Locks that bypass Niagara Falls. As we cross the Straits, we see our first iceberg!


Iceberg in View

As was the case yesterday, we have such fond memories of our prior visit that we do not wish to spoil them with a less than perfect reprise. I guess we will just stay on the boat and eat our way through another day.

In the meantime, a bit about Red Bay. At the beginning of the 17th century, Red Bay was the largest whaling center in the world, attracting ships mostly from the Basque region of Spain and France. Today Red Bay is a Canadian National Park and Historic Site, with a quaint little fishing village nestled alongside.


Approaching the Village of Red Bay

Our prior visit was aboard a tour bus operated by an enterprising guy named Danny. Our Winnebago caravan parked across the water at St. Anthony, and Danny took us on an overnight to Labrador. We fondly recall the trip to Red Bay, at the end of the paved road, especially the (free) (NPS) water taxi ride to Saddle Island. We also recall the low, rugged, thinly vegetated hills, left practically naked by the receding glaciers except for a scale of lichen.


Saddle Island


Glacier Scraped, Lichen Covered Labrador Rock

But perhaps the most intense recollection is Danny's music. Danny had installed his own custom sound system in his bus, with speakers everywhere. For two days, we were treated to an almost continuous stream of "Newfie" music. At the time it sort of got on our nerves, but eventually grew on us, and we still listen to the CD's we bought in Newfoundland.

Finally, about 7:30am, we approached the shore just outside of Red Bay and dropped anchor. It was almost scarey how close the captain approached the shore. We're sitting in the Crows Nest, about 200 feet aft (behind) the bow. Our GPS tells us that we are about 400 feet from shore, which means the bow is only 200 feet from the rocks. We then drifted back a few hundred feet, then began to swing. I was not clear at what point in this process the captain dropped the hook. I can only say how thankful I am that there is essentially no wind. Later in the morning the stern swung inshore. I didn't drag out the GPS, but I estimate our stern rail was no more than 100 feet offshore. The hills along shore are quite steep, so I'm guessing that the bottom drops off quite sharply offshore. If this is the case, then it may be that we need to me close in for the anchor to find bottom.

Red Bay Anchorage


Red Bay Village


Feels Like We Could Step Ashore

If any of you are still with us after breakfast, we now have moved to the pool area. The roof has been opened partway, so the soothing Labrador breezes filter through. We sat for a couple of hours, while Kathy read and Keith composed, and read. By that time the haze disappeared and the sun shone, emphasizing the verdant green vegetation and the brilliant white icebergs, and shore side houses. By this time the crew also had the poolside lunch set up. How could we bypass this opportunity? The poolside lunch theme today is Indonesian. Some of the selections were excellent, particularly the shrimp salad. Afterward we snuck into the Lido ice cream bar for a good old fashioned chocolate sundae.

Following our daily afternoon nap we wandered up to the Crow's Nest, where Kathy imbibed her afternoon drink while Keith listened to the drama on the VHF. At this point the reader is supposed to ask "what drama?". It seems a part broke in the stage lighting a couple of days ago, causing magicians and comics to be substituted for the regularly scheduled evening entertainment. Replacement parts were procured immediately by the home office, and shipped to Red Bay to meet the ship. It's just that the shipment was a bit late, delaying departure by a couple of hours. Keith was amazed how much VHF chatter this generated, between the bridge and the tenders (who's going to stay behind at the dock to take delivery, between the bridge and the gangway (do we leave it deployed until the last tender returns, or do we pull it in and hoist the tender with crew, spare part and all); between the bridge and the port authority (changing the ETD (Estimated Time of Departure)), between the bridge and customs (we aren't officially cleared until that last tender driver is aboard), etc. Honest to gosh, folks, there was constant chatter for the two hours of the delay, dealing with all this red tape.


Another Happy Hour in the Crow’s Nest

After the late departure, we elected to dine in the cafeteria, so Keith could watch us sail away (the view from the windows in the cafeteria, and the poolside areas, is almost as good a s the view from the Crow's Nest observation lounge).

We planned to sit on deck, outside our cabin after din-din, but quickly changed our plan after sampling the 45deg. temperature and the 20 knot breeze.

And then to bed!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings, Day 04-Bonne Bay, Newfoundland

Is it haze, or is it fog? Or is it thunder and lightning? It definitely was the later when it woke Keith at 5am. But that’s ok. Keith wanted to be early this morning, to watch our approach to Bonne Bay. In the haze and the rain.

Bonne Bay is a deep, fjiord-like inlet into the highlands of Gross Morne National Park. These highlands are a northern extension of the Applachian mountain chain. They exhibit the typical soft, wooded, well worn aspect that characterizes the entire chain.

Gros Morne means "brooding mountain". There is something almost spooky about approaching such a vista in a gloom, with lightning flashing in the background. I must say that the Crows Nest provides the perfect platform for viewing this scene!


Brooding Mountains

While cloudy, rainy weather may seem a downer to some, it somehow fits with the character of these hills, and almost seems to enhance the pleasure of the visit. Particularly since we hadn't planned to go ashore here, having explored the area with WIT in 2006.

We have very fond memories of our prior visit. On that trip we were fed and entertained at Bonne Bay by a local senior citizens group, who worked extremely hard to see that we campers had a good time. It was totally charming to have a group the age of our parents make utter fools of themselves, just to make us laugh. Lord, those seniors could dance!


A 2006 Photo of Gross Morne, With Sunshine


Approaching the Town of Bonne Bay

Port Map


Another Tender Port

Back to the room at 8:30, to find Kathy just arising. After a courteous wait, Keith lost patience and went alone to breakfast at 9. Kathy joined him about 15 minutes later. Why, you may ask, couldn't Keith wait another 15 minutes? Because Keith started waiting for breakfast at 6 o'clock, that's why.

Since we are on the topic of breakfast, this may be a good point to talk a bit about shipboard food. On the whole it's mostly good, but somewhat variable. Some stuff is really good, and other just so-so.

Every day (so far) the breakfast buffet has featured "fresh" fruit, excellent smoked salmon with onion, lemon & capers, as well as other standard breakfast fare such as bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, omlettes to order, toast, pastries, etc. Also offered are eggs benedict, floentine (benedict style but with spinach instead of meat), italian (marinara), scottish (eggs & salmon) and other variations on the eggs benedict theme. There also are cheese and cold cuts, as well as a curious mix of yogurt, raisins and oatmeal for those with a more European taste.


Eggs Benedict, Six Ways

After breakfast we relaxed with a good book & a cuppa until movie time for Kathy, at 11 . Keith went to the room & napped until luncheon at 1, followed by reading an composing (well, how did you think these got written?). Are we beginning to see a pattern here?

Mid afternoon was passed in the hot tub, then off to a lecture at 4. Birds and fishes of the North Atlantic. Then up to the Crows Nest to hear live music and view our departure from Bonne Bay. In 35 days we spend only one night in port, so there is a departure almost every day. Kathy has given Keith permission to view half of these departures, then eat in the cafeteria. On alternate days, we will spend the departure hour dining in the dining room. There is only one kitchen, so the same food is served both places, but sometimes Kathy likes to be waited on. And she deserves it.


Keith Relaxes in the Hot Tub.


Professional Hosts Dance With Single Ladies in the Crow’s Nest

After dinner it was off to bed, so Keith could arise early for our approach to Red Bay tomorrow morning.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Voyage of the Vikings Day 03 - Land Ho!

We awoke this morning to look out the window and see land approaching. This was significant of two things. First we were approaching our destination for the day, Isles de Madelaine in the Gulf of the St. Lawrence river. Second, the fog had lifted.

Having visited much of Atlantic Canada more than once in our motorcoach, we were not all that anxious to debark and tour the island. Particularly not when the fog rolled back in shortly after we arrived.

This is one of the destinations where the port town, Cap au Mules, does not have adequate dockage for a vessel the size of the Massdam, so we anchored and tendered. This means that the ship is stopped in the middle of the bay, held in place (hopefully) by an anchor. We are fortunate to be here in calm weather. The bay is completely open on the east side, vulnerable to a good old fashioned nor-easter such as we experience in the Northeast from time to time.

Approaching Isles de Madelaine, Just Ahead of the Fog

Cap au Mules Map, Showing the Harbor and the Anchorage

Because we are floating in the middle of the bay, not attached to land, it is difficult to step off the boat and land on dry land, so to speak. To address this issue the ship carries several (relatively) small boats on deck. These small boats are about fifty feet long and will carry as many as one hundred fifty passengers back and forth to the dock. The small boat is called a tender; hence the process is called tendering.

Maasdam Tender


Tender Dock on the Side of the Maasdam Hull

It's fortunate we weren’t strongly interested in this particular port because shortly after we arrived the fog rolled back in, which would have seriously inhibited sightseeing. After a very long, leisurely breakfast, so long that we shut the place down, we moved our operations out by the pool. It was warm enough to open the sliding roof, making poolside an extraordinarily pleasant place to relax. Kathy read, while Keith wrote, and took some photos.


Kathy Reading Beside the Pool

All good things must end, and our morning idyll ended when the movie theater opened at 11, and Kathy disappeared. Keith visited our cabin to grab some toys, then sat on the aft deck to read and listen to the radio. What's playing, you're supposed to ask. Keith's Radio Shack scanner tunes the marine VHF band, so he listened to the bridge talking the tenders through the fog. Some of the tenders have radar, but most do not. The position and course of the tenders that don't have radar is tracked using the radar on the mother ship. Based on this information, the mother ship provides steering guidance to the tenders on the VHF radio. Meanwhile, the cruise director is coordinating the activities of her onboard staff on channel 72.

Following late lunch in the Lido, we power napped a couple of hours, then ascended to the Crows Nest to imbibe while watching a gaggle of local pleasure and workboats ogle the monster invading their waters. Fortunately, by this time, the fog had lifted and the sun was playing peek-a-boo.


The Sun Attempting to Shine Upon Us


Local Sightseers


Happy Hour in the Crow’s Nest

We again dined in the main dining room. Our dining companions are two couples. One a retired sales rep and school audiologist from Minneapolis, who now reside in Naples, Fl and a retired engineer/stock broker and his music teacher wife from Idaho, who are transplanted to Arizona.

Kathy and Dinner Partners Mike, JennyJoe, Audry, and Dennis


Formal Dining Accoutrements

All four seem to be interesting and intelligent people, so our dinner conversations have been informative as well as stimulating.

After dinner we spent a few minutes in the Explorations Lounge, finishing off this missive, then to bed. Keith wants to be up early tomorrow to view our approach into Gross Morne.

Don't touch that dial!