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The long passage to Greenland and our appointment with death

Just being with my dearest friends was enough to regain my lost hope and energy. I felt regenerated. I had forgotten the difficult times I lived through to get here. It was like I was starting a new trip.

After many days of waiting, in the sea again. Everything was ready for the great passage. Our one and only chance was now. The long-awaited weather window that I had been anxiously looking for for days to make the long passage to Greenland. The barometric low forming at the southern tip of Greenland was heading east and was passing under Iceland without affecting our course.

But we only had about 51 hours to go as then, according to Windy's forecast, a new low was forming just under the southern tip of Greenland which would give 30 knots winds that we would have directly on our bow. And I now had absolute confidence in Windy's predictions since I checked it every time we sailed and it was always very accurate. So, apart from the general anxiety of the long passage, I also had the anxiety of the limited time that seemed to be limited.

Day 19th / Thursday, July 21, 2022 - Time 12:15΄

We were too loaded. Flexible fuel tanks all around. 2000 liters in tanks of 70 to 500 liters capacity, to pulse rhythmically either at the stern or at the bow of the Rib. It was something that certainly did not make us feel comfortable as it was extremely dangerous. However, there was no other option.

Course therefore 257 degrees to Prince Christian Sound a few miles before the southern Cape of Greenland. We left the port of Reykjavik behind and set off to cover 650 gray and cold nautical miles. For many hours we would travel at just 8 knots so as to increase our autonomy. It was the only way we could manage to reach our destination. I had already prepared myself that our purpose was not to reach the destination but to cross the ocean.

I wanted us to enjoy the experience first and foremost, to take in everything the ocean had to offer.

Time 14:15΄ - Position: 64°07'N 22°27'W

We had already 7 hours of navigation. Big swells kept coming on our starboard bow but our course and especially our consumption remained stable. This filled me with confidence and I could now see that we could succeed. We covered 53 nautical miles and burned 149 litres. 2.8 liters for every nautical mile. Of course, we owe this accuracy in our measurements to Furuno's autopilot which kept us firmly on our course despite our very low speed. Every couple of hours I bent over the deck-diary and updated it on our progress. It's something I get used to on big passages because, first of all, I think it's necessary for our safety, but at the same time it's also a wonderful habit or company, if you want, in the vast solitude of the ocean.

Day 20 / Friday 22 July 2022 - Time 00:15΄ - Position: 63°39΄N 25°10΄W

Our course was steady although some short waves on the crests of the swells were quite disturbing. It was past midnight but not quite dark yet. We had as much light as was necessary to navigate safely. But the sky was completely dark due to the black clouds that covered it from end to end. Only to the north was there a crack of light, like a sunset in the general blackness. But it was enough to keep us company and to keep our spirits up.

We covered 92 nautical miles and burned 258 liters of fuel.

Our consumption was now stable at 2.8 liters per nautical mile.

The ocean's insecurity was ingrained in me.

The truth is that the more experience one has, the more insecure one feels.

Because he knows all too well from past experiences how easy it is to screw anything up. Nothing is certain and everything is possible, no matter how hard preparation has been done.

If something happens to the engines or anything that can leave you stranded in the middle of nowhere, an Odyssey with unforeseen consequences is sure to ensue.

Just daring to think about what you're up against in such a possible situation is a huge reason to never venture into the ocean.

The risk we take every time is huge and we know it very well.

But I tried to bury the insecurity and let my emotions freely soak up every moment that the open ocean gave us.

Time 12:15΄ - Position: 63°04΄N 28°17΄W

Everything looks fine now. The engines ran smoothly and our boat was doing great.

Friday was going great just as the weather forecast indicated.

The ocean owed this to us. It was the first time in many days that he has done us a favor. Of course, we still had many miles ahead of us. With 8 knots of speed the route seemed endless.

But I didn't care.

One of the main lessons I learned from this trip was to raise the bar of my limits even more in that wonderful word that goes by the name: PATIENCE!

So determination and patience of mind are the secrets to being able to survive in the ocean.

And there really are many beautiful ways to fill the endless sailing hours.

Apart from the Rib's log that keeps you company, you have unlimited free time which has become so expensive in our daily life.

You have all the time in the world to converse with yourself, to reveal and get to know yourself more deeply, to philosophize about life itself in general.

I still had the luxury of reminiscing and chatting for hours with dear friends who passed away prematurely. We had a really great time with Alexander, Thanasis, Giovanni carving our wonderful memories.

After all, I had dedicated the entire mission to them and I was now there, at the end of the world, traveling with them...

The good weather conditions allowed us to sleep in 2 hour shifts in the cabin of the boat. So when one of the three of us was sleeping in the cabin, the other two were in the cockpit focused on the instruments and the boat's course.

With the exception, of course, of Cris who, as co-pilot, often "stolen" some hours of sleep.

We had 24 hours of navigation.

We have already covered 184 nautical miles and burned 496 liters.

The average liters per nautical mile dropped even further to 2.7.

I was very happy that everything went as planned.

I was no longer bothered by the thick fog that covered everything around us.

We still had 2400 liters for the remaining 564 nautical miles to Nanortalik where we would refuel according to schedule.

I could have increased our speed now, but I didn't.

DAY 21st / Saturday, July 23, 2022 - Time 00:15΄ - Position: 62°26΄N 31°24΄W

We were entering our third day of navigation across the Atlantic Ocean.

And we weren't even half way through.

36 hours had already passed and we covered 278 nautical miles burning 775 liters.

There were still 372 miles to approach the land.

All indications were that, at cruising speeds in excess of 30 knots, we could easily cover them before noon, after which the weather was forecast to deteriorate.

The throttles went back and the engines were now running in the idle. It was time to top off the tanks that were on the cabin roof because from now on we were going to develop high cruising speeds.

However, these transfusions were particularly time-consuming.

I had not correctly calculated this long delay.

And of course we were punished very harshly for it.

Although quite sleepless and more exhausted from the fuel transfers, we were running at 35 knots in a race to catch the low that was developing under the southern tip of Greenland and would give strong winds after noon which would actually find us on our bow.

In the early afternoon we managed to get within about 70 miles of our destination.

But it was too late.

Suddenly, we entered thick fog with the wind raging. The waves raged and pounded our bow mercilessly, lifting it several meters high.

I slowed to 20 knots and attempted open slopes. However, the short wave-period did not allow us to have laminar riding.

It was a real mess in the scary fog.

I couldn't even make out the crests of the waves that were furiously breaking on our bow and washing the cabin roof with many buckets of water.

Moreover, we had already entered the iceberg zone and anxiety was painted on our faces. We turned on the radar and reduced speed back to 8 knots.

The water fights were incredible.

The ocean was once again showing us one of its worst faces.

We had no choice but to grit our teeth and fight hard with whatever strength we had left. We had already exceeded our physical limits and our bodies began to fail us.

Suddenly, just a few meters to our right, I saw a small mass floating.

It was a small and transparent piece of ice, about two square meters, which on one side was visible on the crests of the waves while on the other it was lost in the deep gullies. The shock was huge.

It was our first "acquaintance" with ice and it happened to be in the worst conditions. Not a few minutes had passed and five meters to the left of our bow, on the crest of a wave about to break, a long and transparent large piece of ice in the shape of a five meter dugout emerged from the fog.

Conditions have now become very dangerous.

Shivers began to run through our whole body.

The chances of collision with the floating pieces of ice were great, and this in itself filled us with great anxiety and insecurity.

We had taken hold of one side of the boat and with half-closed eyes anxiously scanned our limited horizon.

One kept watch in front, one to the left and the third to our right.

Visibility was only 20 meters.

We were living moments of incredible anxiety.

We already had three hours of hard fighting in the ocean and we were ready to collapse physically, while our psychology had taken the downward spiral of no return.

Without a second thought, I changed course.

I headed west towards the nearest coast of Greenland which we were less than 15 miles from. My purpose was to enter a fjord where the weather would break to take a few breaths of rest.

But what if the waters of the fjord were frozen?

And we knew nothing about these waters which are uncharted near the coasts.

Many unanswered questions but we had no other alternative at the time.

We were traveling timidly into the absolute unknown.

We were desperately looking for a shelter.

And we were getting closer and closer to the shores without even seeing our "nose".

And suddenly "a light appeared".

We came out of the horrible fog about five hundred meters from the shore.

The sight we were faced with was shocking to say the least!

We did not believe our eyes.

Snow-capped steep mountain peaks and many icebergs along the coasts under a bright sun created a magical and exciting backdrop, while the deep blue ocean had softened considerably.

There are no words to describe the sight that was unfolding before us.

A different world.

Awesomely imposing and very strange at the same time.

Our awe and astonishment made us stand speechless and look greedily in every direction. We could not believe what we saw.

The loud exclamations followed each other.

As if by magic, our incredible tiredness disappeared.

We held on, the waves took us where they wanted, but we stayed to admire unprecedented images that we did not even imagine existed.

With our spirits high again, feeling rested despite the 56 hours we had been on the ocean, we set sail further south for our planned destination.

For the Prince Christian Sound fjord, at 35 nautical miles.

We cruised at 22 knots into the oncoming waves with our eyes one watching ahead for icebergs and growlers and one turning to starboard absorbing unique images.

After two hours, we arrived at the entrance of the fjord, which is considered one of the most impressive in the world.

It is approximately 60 nautical miles long, a few tens of meters wide, while it is surrounded by very high and vertical coasts with mountain peaks reaching up to 2000 meters in height. Many waterfalls fall from a great height, while icebergs are constantly being cut off by the many glaciers that form on its slopes.

It looks like a large and impressive river where, very often, there are strong tidal currents that cause strong waves and carry large pieces of ice.

So here again begins an unexpected and terrifying adventure.

We ran with joy and anticipation to enter the fjord to relax and sleep for a few hours in its calm waters.

From the first few miles, however, we understood that our anticipation was nothing but a summer night's dream.

The waters of the fjord showed us their worst side.

The tidal currents were incredibly strong, creating strong short waves against our course as we maneuvered constantly to avoid the chunks of ice that were coming at us with force. We couldn't believe our eyes and were indignant at our bad luck.

On the other hand, the sight was breathtaking.

I carefully climbed in and sat on the hard top with my legs dangling in front of the windshield. I held a go pro camera in my left hand and a Sony camera in my right, while bolted to the ceiling and between my legs was the mount of a second go pro camera which was recording footage ahead of the bow with the setting sun painting the horizon channel with magic colors.

I had been sitting there for more than 20 minutes capturing unique images.

But as time had passed, the cold became very noticeable now, while the humidity that covered the whole boat started to freeze slowly.

I, however, had my eyes in the cameras trying to record the magical images that alternated before me. So, deeply engrossed in my work, I had not realized the danger posed by the freezing moisture around me.

And suddenly, while I was turning my body to the side to capture the last side shots, as if a pot full of oil had been dropped on me, I began to slide down with terrible speed.

I swung the go pro away from between my legs, slammed into the windshield and with my back now on the roof of the cabin I was gliding rapidly towards the sea, cameras in hand. Everything was so fast that I didn't understand what was happening.

I'm pretty sure my crazy run didn't last more than a second. Without knowing how, completely reflexively, I left the cameras on the roof of the cabin and at the last moment I managed to hook on the stainless bow rail.

Hanging out of the boat, my feet in the freezing and rushing water. I was so oblivious to danger at the time, I was yelling at the crew to "save" the cameras that were sliding back and forth on the cab roof. It was a miracle they didn't go into the water, like the bolted go pro camera slowly sinking into the dark water.

I would lift my head and anxiously watch the cameras move. My mind was on not losing the wonderful shots I had captured.

But I did not realize the enormous danger in which I was.

I will never forget the look of anguish and those screams of Cris.

He was screaming constantly, urging and begging me to hold on tight. I thus began to pull myself together and begin to appreciate my situation.

My feet were already frozen.

I started to not feel them and was trying to pull them out of the water but that tired my hands that were desperately gripping the cabin rail.

Without understanding what was happening on the boat, Cris, in his attempt to come for help, slipped and found himself in the icy waters.

I will never forget that bewildered look of Carlos, who saw his friends in the water and trembled in front of the danger that we ran to be swallowed by the rapids. He was looking at me in front and Cris at the back, looking lost and unable to help us.

I yelled for him to come over and tie a rope to the railing I was holding on to. I constantly urged him not to hurry and I shuddered just to think that he too was in danger of slipping into the sea. I didn't even want to imagine that there was a possibility that the boat would be out of control and that we would all be in the water.

Nightmarish moments were unfolding and only our screams were heard in this desolate and frozen place.

Water temperature at 0 °C. Air temperature at +2 °C.

Luckily Cris, wearing the special orange suit of IMAT that keeps you afloat, being swept away by the rapids, eventually managed to quickly hook up from the catwalk and climb back into the boat from the stern.

But the time had passed and I felt absolute exhaustion.

Carlos was now right on top of me. He tied a rope to the railing and hung it next to me. We tried together and finally managed to make a noose which I would use as a step to get on the boat.

I raised my left leg with difficulty as it felt numb from the icy water.

I put it inside the noose, but unfortunately the noose was too low and wouldn't help me climb up.

The seconds passed nightmarishly.

We pulled the noose higher, but it was still low.

We raised her even higher.

But it was already too late.

I felt that I no longer had the strength to lift my leg for the third time.

I had two chances and they were wasted.

Now my legs felt frozen and numb.

I was holding on to the cabin rail with both hands and touched my head on the tube.

My arms felt like they were giving up on me. I was looking for strength, which was not there after three days of fighting the ocean, during which I slept only a few hours.

I was sure that I wouldn't make it.

It was the first time in my life that I felt like the end had come.

I closed my eyes and thought about my family.

It was a matter of seconds before I gave up.

To let go of the railing and fall into the icy waters.

Cris kept screaming.

He went back to the stern of the boat and urged me to let go of the rail, drop into the water, then catch me as the strong current swept me to the stern.

But I didn't want that because I was wearing boots, two pants, three fleece jackets and a jacket.

I was sure that if I let go of the railing I would go straight to the bottom.

I continued to hold on tooth and nail.

Cris kept yelling and insisting that I fall into the sea.

Finally I couldn't take it anymore and let go of my hands.

I fell into the water.

And while I expected to sink under the weight of my soaked clothes, at the same time I made two desperate stretches and with whatever strength I had left I got up and hooked onto the stern cleat which was very close to the surface of the water.

I felt like I was more than 200 kilos.

Cris and Carlos were above my head giving me courage, holding my hands tightly.

We were all crying and could not believe this whole tragedy we were living.

With no strength at all, almost in a whisper, I mumbled: "I can't even move, whatever you do you will do it yourself".

I don't know how long they tried to pull me out of the water.

It seemed like a century.

At one point they managed to lift me up enough and I felt that my body was lying in the air chamber.

Now it was time to get me into the boat.

I couldn't believe we had made it.

The moments were very intense. The emotion is enormous.

It was the scariest moment of our life.

We have already died once in those dark waters.

We were all crying together, my feet still in the water.

Using all their strength, Cris and Carlos finally managed to pull me out and lay me down on the polyester tanks.

After a few minutes, Cris and I entered the cabin while Carlos stayed in the cockpit trying to pilot the boat safely, going into a small glacier cove that was protected by the channel's strong currents.

But its depth was around 300 meters and it did not allow us to drop anchor so that we could all relax together.

Our torture had no end and continued unabated.

Carlos was forced to slowly move forward and then hold. When the current took him out to the channel, he would put it forward and then hold it again.

This was done all night.

Me and Cris had taken off all our clothes, turned on the heater and scrubbed our legs and body.

We were shaking all over, like fish that have just been thrown onto the deck. The danger of hypothermia was now visible.

In about twenty minutes I started to feel better but Cris had developed a fever and his every attempt to articulate a conversation was a failure as his teeth were chattering loudly at high speed.

I will never forget this tragic image.

It was not only our frozen body but also the strong shock we had suffered.

I laid him down with great effort and covered him with all the sleeping bangs we had.

I begged him not to try to talk but to calm down and sleep.

I also lay down next to him. I felt much better but I had not the slightest strength to move my body even for a moment.

We had to rest as soon as possible to rest Carlos who was all alone at the wheel.

Our minds were constantly on him who continued to struggle with the wild.

We hoped he would hold up.

There was nothing more we could do at this time.

He was very exhausted and obviously in shock, and our lives were completely in his hands.

He had to make it without our help.

He stood tall and for three whole hours he went back and forth in our little shelter, avoiding the ice that was scattered everywhere.

Fortunately I fell into a deep sleep for two hours and was able to regain my strength for a while.

I put on my uniform and went out.

It was now my turn to look after and protect my friends.

Carlos got into the cabin and laid down.

The passing hours continued to be dramatic.

None of us could realize what had really happened.

It was like a bad nightmare that seemed all too real.

I shut down the port engine and kept the other in the neutral position.

Every 5 minutes or so, when the current swept the boat out into the fjord, I put the throttle forward and slowly headed for the glacier at the bottom of the small cove.

Patience again until the current sweeps us out, then forward again.

After half an hour, I started the starboard engine and shut down the port one.

It had now taken it upon itself to keep us safe.

The same movements were repeated over and over for many hours until we all rested and felt better.

This night seemed endless and the minutes ticked by hopelessly slowly and excruciatingly…

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