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Danú of Galway En Route Home after Successful Scientific and Mountaineering Expedition to Scoresby Sound in Eastern Greenland

20th August 2022
Danú of Galway in Rodefjord, eastern Greenland
Danú of Galway in Rodefjord, eastern Greenland (Photo Paddy Griffin) Credit: Paddy Griffin

Irish yacht Danú which set off on a scientific, sailing and mountaineering expedition to the Arctic last month has reported a highly successful trip to the world’s largest and deepest fjord system, Scoresby Sound in east Greenland.

The group of independent adventurers on board the 13m (43ft) steel ketch led by NUI Galway scientist and mountaineer Peter Owens has now reached Iceland on its return passage south and departs for Ireland early next week, weather permitting.

The crew took daily sea and freshwater samples to assess the extent of microplastics in northern waters, and also collected information on new anchorages, which can be added to sailing guides.

Owens and crew members Paddy Griffin, both from Kinvara, Co Galway, and English sailor Richard Darley, experienced challenging weather during their passage north to Iceland from Kilrush, Co Clare.

Irish adventurers Paddy Griffin, Peter Owens and Richard Darley of Danú, bound for GreenlandIrish adventurers Paddy Griffin, Peter Owens and Richard Darley of Danú, bound for Greenland

Heavy Atlantic waves smashed one of the yacht’s windows en route, and they had to effect temporary repairs.

The crew had to fix Danú’s engine in Husavik on Iceland’s north coast, and then spent time analysing daily ice charts sent from England to plan their passage further north. Paul Murphy from Carran, Co Clare and Dublin mountaineer Sean Marnane joined the crew in Iceland.

“We took a chance and left for Turner island on the eastern coast of Greenland, which was very wild and remote,” Owens said.

“From there we headed for the settlement of Ittoqqortoormiit, formerly known as Scoresbysund or Sound, where we got a rifle in case we needed it for polar bears,”Owens said.

“Every day it was never above five degrees Celsius, though it didn’t snow, and when we sailed into Scoresby Sound there was fog and we saw what looked like a bank of cloud ahead of us - but in fact it was pack ice,” Owens said.

Eielson glacier in Rype Fjord (photo Paddy Griffin).jpgEielson glacier in Rype Fjord Photo: Paddy Griffin

Icelanders had told him several weeks before that it was one of their most unsettled summers in 30 years.

“We waited several days in Jameson Land, an eastern Greenland peninsula, for the ice to clear, we anchored in a very remote place, and we took another chance and sailed south, motoring along the edge of the ice – though for a while there was no lead, no openings, and a lot of running on engine only as there was very little wind,” he said.

“We had to go back, wait several more days, and then we found the whole system had changed, there was no ice and very large icebergs which came and went in Scoresby Sound,” Owens said.

“We spent the next few weeks in this area, visiting a series of remote anchorages and surveying each one around Milne land and Renland,” he said.

“We also took sea and freshwater samples for assessment of microplastics, in a research link up with Trinity College, Dublin’s Centre for the Environment,” he explained.

Owens and Sean Marnane tried three different areas for climbing, adding a new 10-pitch route above the Skillebugt fjord anchorage on the south coast of Renland. It often took hours of scrambling up scree rock to reach the base of routes, Owens said..

Danú then circumnavigated Milne Land, a large island within the fjord system. Owens and Marnane, who had the use of kayaks to gain access to the mountain routes, ascended to the summit of Hermelintop.

The 1172m-high peak, which offers a panoramic view of the confluence of three ice-choked fjord systems, involved ascending a spectacular and enormous gully that “went on for miles and terminated not far from the main summit”, Owens said.

Danú of Galway in  Romer Fjord, its first anchorage in Greenland (Photo Paddy Griffin).jpgDanú of Galway in Romer Fjord, its first anchorage in Greenland Photo: Paddy Griffin

The yacht was in its last bit of concentrated ice as it sailed around Milne Land. The ice was “constantly cracking, forming, changing and emitting big, loud bangs”, he said.

“It sounded like a rockfall in the Alps, so we would be climbing and would hear this loud bang, and I’d be waiting for something to fall on me – but it was just the icebergs,” Owens said.

“After that, we could see a weather window and thought it would be a good time to start heading back, so we returned to the Ittoqqortoormiit settlement to leave back the rifle – which we didn’t have to use,”he said.

“The pure expanse of the whole place was wonderful, and we could spend a lifetime exploring this region, but given the time we had, we are happy with the outcomes,” Owens said.

The crew “worked very well through the highs and lows of Arctic travel”, he said.

“We didn’t have a watermaker on boat, so we resupplied with freshwater from streams,” he said.

“We did see other boats occasionally, but if you found yourself in trouble, there was nobody physically living there to help and no emergency services,” he said.

“We didn’t get to wash for two-and-a-half weeks, and our first shower was in Ittoqqortoormiit,” he said.

“It took us two-and-a-half days to return from Scoresby Sound to Iceland, and two of our crew then flew home from Reyjkavik, as pre-arranged,” he said.

After another crew change, Danú is preparing to head further south to Ireland, and to Parkmore pier in Kinvara around the last week of August, weather permitting.

Owens is a mountaineer sailor with many years experience. He and his wife Vera Quinlan, and two children, Lilian and Ruairí spent 14 months sailing, climbing and hiking around the Atlantic several years ago.

The Scoresby Sound expedition aimed to be self-sufficient in the Arctic, with a strict policy of “leave no trace” on the environment,

Owens thanked the expedition sponsors, the Gino Watkins Arctic Club awards, the Ocean Cruising Club challenge grant and Mountaineering Ireland.

Danú of Galway in Skillebugt Fjord (photo Paddy Griffnin).jpgDanú of Galway in Skillebugt Fjord Photo: Paddy Griffin

Published in Marine Science
Lorna Siggins

About The Author

Lorna Siggins

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Lorna Siggins is a print and radio reporter, and a former Irish Times western correspondent. She is the author of Search and Rescue: True stories of Irish Air-Sea Rescues and the Loss of R116 (2022); Everest Callling (1994) on the first Irish Everest expedition; Mayday! Mayday! (2004); and Once Upon a Time in the West: the Corrib gas controversy (2010). She is also co-producer with Sarah Blake of the Doc on One "Miracle in Galway Bay" which recently won a Celtic Media Award

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Marine Science Perhaps it is the work of the Irish research vessel RV Celtic Explorer out in the Atlantic Ocean that best highlights the essential nature of marine research, development and sustainable management, through which Ireland is developing a strong and well-deserved reputation as an emerging centre of excellence. From Wavebob Ocean energy technology to aquaculture to weather buoys and oil exploration these pages document the work of Irish marine science and how Irish scientists have secured prominent roles in many European and international marine science bodies.


At A Glance – Ocean Facts

  • 71% of the earth’s surface is covered by the ocean
  • The ocean is responsible for the water cycle, which affects our weather
  • The ocean absorbs 30% of the carbon dioxide added to the atmosphere by human activity
  • The real map of Ireland has a seabed territory ten times the size of its land area
  • The ocean is the support system of our planet.
  • Over half of the oxygen we breathe was produced in the ocean
  • The global market for seaweed is valued at approximately €5.4 billion
  • · Coral reefs are among the oldest ecosystems in the world — at 230 million years
  • 1.9 million people live within 5km of the coast in Ireland
  • Ocean waters hold nearly 20 million tons of gold. If we could mine all of the gold from the ocean, we would have enough to give every person on earth 9lbs of the precious metal!
  • Aquaculture is the fastest growing food sector in the world – Ireland is ranked 7th largest aquaculture producer in the EU
  • The Atlantic Ocean is the second largest ocean in the world, covering 20% of the earth’s surface. Out of all the oceans, the Atlantic Ocean is the saltiest
  • The Pacific Ocean is the largest ocean in the world. It’s bigger than all the continents put together
  • Ireland is surrounded by some of the most productive fishing grounds in Europe, with Irish commercial fish landings worth around €200 million annually
  • 97% of the earth’s water is in the ocean
  • The ocean provides the greatest amount of the world’s protein consumed by humans
  • Plastic affects 700 species in the oceans from plankton to whales.
  • Only 10% of the oceans have been explored.
  • 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean each year, equal to dumping a garbage truck of plastic into the ocean every minute.
  • 12 humans have walked on the moon but only 3 humans have been to the deepest part of the ocean.

(Ref: Marine Institute)

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