The Greenland Insular Shelf!

This image represents satellite measurements of sea surface temperatures (courtesy of

This morning, the s/v ArcticEarth crosses the edge of the Greenland Shelf (see Tracking ArcticEarth).  The vessel left Camden, Maine two weeks ago and tonight is at the dock in Qaqortok, Greenland. As some of you may know, Greenland is the world’s largest island. In oceanographic terms, an “insular shelf” is that that portion of an island that is submerged and covered by relatively shallow water.  The insular shelf is the place where the meltwater from the great Ice Sheet mysteriously mixes with the saltwater. How does this mixing influence the Labrador Current?

Joining the ArcticEarth’s Captain Magnus Day and Mate Julia Prinselaar for the transit from Halifax Nova Scotia is 23-year old Julius Wirbel.  After completing an offshore training program on the Isle of Wight in the United Kingdom this winter, he is seeking some truly spectacular offshore sailing experience. What better than two weeks aboard with our veteran Captain Magnus Day and mate Julia Prinselaar? (Julia interviews Julius below).  I was on board for the first leg of this voyage, with Josh Povec and Eli Kao -both of whom are assisting with the communications part of the overall ArcticEarth expedition. Under wind power, we left the outer islands of Penobscot Bay in our wake, including Hurricane Island.  This is the home of the Hurricane Island Center for Science and Leadership, an exciting organization under the very inspiring leadership of Bo Hoppin. Seeking to find out how the world works through science, Hurricane is also exploring our role in it, and “how then, should we best act?” [full disclosure, I am finishing up my service as Board Chair, an opportunity for which I am very grateful].

(l to r) Senior Compass Light Producer Josh Povec, ArcticEarth Captain Magnus Day, and Compass Light Producer and Writer Eli Kao.
Julia looking up as the earth and the moon and the clouds position themselves such that we witness a Blood Moon lunar eclipse! (photo, Josh Povec)
Magnus and Julia at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax.

Josh, Eli, and I got off the boat in Nova Scotia, leaving Magnus, Julia and Julius. Two days after departing Halifax, and many miles offshore, Captain Magnus becomes weak and feverish. Sure enough, the long fingers of the pandemic have reached the ArcticEarth, despite our quarantine protocol and isolations from known cases.  He tests positive. Julia steps up and very ably assumes the watchful overview while Magnus spends a couple of days resting.  And Julius is a champ! A stopover in Catalina Harbor Newfoundland allows time to assess whether anyone else will test positive, as well as to complete some boat maintenance and the final remaining item on our MECAL inspection as a “Category Zero” vessel; demonstrating the capacity for pulling an unconscious person out of the sea. Category Zero simply means that a vessel is certified by the strictest maritime regime on the planet to go anywhere, in any waters on earth.

When all seems ready -and Magnus recovered- ArcticEarth begins the 900-mile crossing of the Labrador Sea.

Julius Wirbel dons one of ArcticEarth’s eight cold-water survival suits, then Julia and Magnus fish him out with a specially adapted “cargo” net.

A side note of personal remembrance. Catalina Harbor was once a stop for another expeditioner and old friend, who sadly passed away not long ago.  In 1990, Dick Wheeler (the Auk Man) pulled his sea kayak ashore here on his voyage re-tracing the migratory route of the flightless Great Auk. Humans infamously caused this bird to go extinct in 1864. Dick started his trip on Funk Island, further north of Catalina. Working with Chris Knight, I started filming him as he made that rough 40-mile crossing from Funk to mainland Newfoundland, for a film about extinction and the disappearing fisheries (PBS Nova). Dick often pointed out the dark side of the collector impulse of the scientist, painfully apparent on that day in 1864 when the last two sightings of living Great Auks was recorded. In a tragic irony of human selfishness, “the last two Great Auks were too valuable to be left alive.” Their egg was stepped on. I miss Dick and his playful and defiant humor.

Pass the Mic

Based in/from Cologne, Germany. Julius Wirbel recently completed a bachelors degree in information systems. He’s currently in a gap year and plans to start a masters degree in data science later this year. He was brought into sailing at a young age by his family. This spring Julius completed four months of sail training in the UK and received his commercial Yachtmaster Offshore certification.  NOTE: ArcticEarth is offering individual berths this fall for those (age 20 to 70 and fit for sea) seeking experience offshore Labrador and Newfoundland.

ArcticEarth Mate Julia Prinselaar spoke with Julius on board the boat last week, offshore between Newfoundland to Greenland.

Julius Wirbel at sea (photo: Klaus Wirbel)

Julia: Tell us about your experience on ArcticEarth thus far.  [Julius]: It’s a unique opportunity, a long offshore passage to quite a remote area to see some pretty cool places, which few people get to do. The second thing is getting experience on how to run a boat on longer passages, kind of short-handed because we’re just three people. Working with Magnus, who’s very experienced, I’m learning as much as possible about running a boat which builds on my knowledge to do long legs on my own. I do like your relaxed way of running the boat. The two of you work very harmonically together, and I find it very easy to participate in that. You’re both super professional about the projects on the ship, how you go about it, and it’s also quite a lot of fun on board. I like that. I feel very welcome.

What are your observations about the boat ArcticEarth? It makes a very robust impression. On deck and below, you’ve got loads of places to hold onto. The Treadmaster deck gives so much more grip even when it’s completely wet. I was totally okay when I was on deck checking the rigging and sail trim. Overall, ArcticEarth is very well maintained, it’s in great shape, it’s very comfortable, the bunks are super comfy. The cockpit is very nice and big, and I really like the deck saloon approach because you’ve got great visibility and it’s a very nice place to come in and hang out. We have very nice evenings sitting around the table, it’s a good place to have meals, and it’s just an awesome place to come in during the middle of a watch to warm up. I love the reading nook off the galley, especially the Refleks heater in the center of the boat, getting that natural radiant heat, it just makes it a very homey place.

What are you learning?  Well.. going on a night watch alone in very unfamiliar place… actually, a combination of so many things — getting used to working as a crew, getting used to working in a watch system, learning when to go to sleep so you’re rested enough to make it through your watch; also when and how much to eat to keep yourself energized in a pretty cold climate. And how to gear yourself up. Also loads of communication, doing watch handovers, and going over standing orders with the skipper. Magnus does explain stuff very well. Most systems I’m pretty familiar with because we have a similar set up on our own boat, it’s just all bigger and a bit more complex. I also like talking to you [Julia] learning about how to prepare food and victualling, what kind of planning goes into provisioning a boat, and everything around crew and care of people on board – it’s been a massive help.

What are your thoughts about the ArcticEarth mission: “to deepen engagement and access to Baffin Bay and the Labrador Sea, within a planetary context?”  Most of what’s happening with our changing planet is generally known now, but that knowledge is nonetheless often expressed as abstract science and statistics. Placing people there to witness melting ice, talking with local people to hear how the changes will impact them and their livelihoods.  These are the people most affected now.  It’s good for people like me, who are ‘city nerds’, to get out and have these listening opportunities. Abstract science is totally valid but there is a need for storytelling through personal experience.

What are your future plans?  It’s all a bit undecided. For this year it’s definitely loads of sailing with my dad …double-handed, and bringing my mom along and showing her some of the things I learned training as a Yachtmaster and some of the stuff I learned on this passage. I’m also super grateful for the chance to go along with you guys and to be on a vessel to go to Greenland. I want to go to school, but I think that doing this kind of stuff, doing deliveries, maybe a bit of seasonal work if I have time, that might also be the way for me.

Discoveries & Arrivals