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Opal

If you want to experience the high Arctic, trek amongst the tundra, sail under towering granite spires and marvel at icebergs and glaciers, then the Opal is a popular choice. A proven ocean going vessel, her schooner rig is elegant and her square sails give you an excuse to climb aloft. As soon as the sea ice melts Opal sails across the Denmark strait for Scorseby Sound to base herself in this extensive 350 km long fjord system for the short but stunning Arctic summer.

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  • Length overall: 108ft (33m)
  • Length on deck: 79ft (24m)

 

  • Year built: 1951/1973 - 1981
  • Vessel type/rig:Gaff Schooner 

 

  • Guest berths: 12
  • Crew berths:    4

 

Or Expert View: What Opal Does Best

Schooner Opal exploring Scorseby Sound, East Greenland

Based in East Greenland for the Arctic Summer

If you want to experience the high Arctic, trek amongst the tundra, sail under towering granite spires and marvel at icebergs and glaciers, then the Icelandic fleet of Opal, Donna Wood, and Hildur are definitely the experts. As soon as the sea ice melts they sail across the Denmark strait for Scorseby Sound and base themselves in this extensive 350 km long fjord system for the short but stunning Arctic summer.

Of the three ships based in Greenland, Opal is arguably the most elegant sailing ship: A proven ocean going vessel, her topsail schooner rig feels more like a tall ship and her square sails give you more of an excuse to climb aloft. The beauty of the 7 day expeditions on Opal is you can fly in to a small airstrip near Ittoqqortoormiit and enjoy flat water sailing and some fantastic trekking ashore. The wildlife is not as prolific as Antarctica but you might see polar bear, walrus, musk ox, arctic foxes, ptarmigan, divers and a variety of seals.  Debbie from Classic Sailing office sailed in Greenland with her new found Icelandic friends a few years ago and the scenery blew her away.

"If you mix the granite spires of Patagonia with the Dolomites, the dazzling flora of Iceland and the ice sculptures of Antarctica....then you are close to the beauty and attraction of Scorseby Sound. It was ridiculously warm and sunny on my trip so I even swam back to the ship ocean after some of the best trekking I have experienced"  Debbie Purser

 

Wilderness trekking in East Greenland. Living on sailing schooner Opal
The guest crew wilderness trekking in East Greenland

Whale Watching Skippers & Greenland Guides

The family run business that runs Opal, Donna Wood and Hildur love restoring wooden vessels and are internationally renowned for their whale watching day sails in Iceland. All three ships are out there in the remarkable Skaljfandi Bay, Iceland from March each year, as it is statistically the best place to see whales in Northern Europe. Consequently the same captain and crew on Opal in Greenland in high summer can tell you a lot about cetaceans and bird life as it is their daily task to educate their guest crews.  In addition the ship carries a guide who can look after you ashore in Greenland and tell you about the wildlife, glaciers and icecap, and the local Inuit culture. They are required to carry a gun ashore for protection from polar bears. Your voyage is outside the National Park so the local Inuit still hunt. Polar bears are more common further North, where there are no humans at all but they have been spotted on Hildur's trips, and they do come South for food. Hildur has a zodiac ships boat on stern davits for quick launch and on a Greenland voyage so it is no trouble to drop guests ashore for an evening walk, and almost every other day when you are not sailing there is a longer trek. 

Opal is 'Carbon Neutral' for Whale Watching in Iceland 

Opal has an electric engine that can be carbon neutral in sailing grounds with reliable winds. When the ship is sailing fast her spinning propeller can re charge batteries. Even if the winds and boat speeds are not high enough for charging, on trips out of her home port she can top up batteries from the geo-thermally generated Icelandic National Grid at night. Unfortunately in Greenland the winds are more fickle so these remote expeditions are harder to offer as low carbon adventures.....but the technology keeps improving and Opal is determined to be at the forefront of green transport developments.

Polar bears are rare in Scorseby Sound but this one was pretty close
Polar bears are rare in Scorseby Sound but this one was pretty close

Ski-ing, Mountaineering & Small Group Adventure

Opal has spacious accommodation for 12 and communal areas so she is popular with Universities and research organisations that want to hire the whole ship for polar or wildlife research. Combine this with her handy home location on the North Coast of Iceland and you have a vessel for clubs or groups of friends who want to go off the beaten track in Iceland or East Greenland. The only snag with this is you have to book early if you want a whole boat charter.

If you don't want to organise an expedition yourself, she has a couple of tried and tested 5-7 day adventures which can be available for individuals or several small groups, using the ship as your base and sailing between landing spots as much as possible:-

Ski to the Sea in Iceland with a ski mountaineering guide. We give you the opportunity to explore the peaks, valleys and fjords of the Hidden Land. With no roads or way of access in the winter and spring seasons, the sea remains the only way to visit the area, offering peaks that rise over 1000 metres and snowfall of epic proportions. Each day the schooner anchors in small bays and coves along the north shore of this spectacular mountain range and then the day is occupied with skiing fresh tracks. 

OR

Week long expeditions in East Greenland, sailing and and trekking in the spectacular Stauning Alps, led by polar explorer Vilborg Arna. There are only one to two dates a year for this incredible expedition, usually in August. (The vessel used for this expedition varies between Opal, Donna Wood or Hildur)

mountains in East Greenland

A WILDERNESS ADVENTURE

Where ever you live and what ever your expectations are be prepared for wilderness adventure on schooner Opal. The backdrop of Greenland, floating Icebergs, wildlife and sailing provide the mix for a very memorable voyage.

Expect Mountanous landscape carved by ice. Greenland is all about awesome scenery on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Fjords over 1km deep, glaciers tumbling off the Greenland icecap, rocky spires and granite walls as good as any in Yosemite or Patagonia. Apart from the inuit in Ittoqqortoormit  and your fellow crew you may never see another another human being. Greenlands silence is profound except for the crack and groan of an iceberg flipping over and is as loud as an avalanche.

Despite hundreds of glaciers carving into the fjords, the sea temperature can reach 12 degrees celsius and after a  breathtaking walk under a hot and cloudless sky you may be tempted to have a swim in the Arctic! Certainly something to boast about when you return home to your family and friends! 

Schooner Opal under sail

SAILING STYLE

As the Greenland high pressure generally brings good stable and dry weather where the winds can be light or flat calm be prepared to grab every opportunity to set those sails. For those with no sailing experience these fjord voyages is ideal for novice sailors and provides the perfect introduction to sailing a large wooden sailing ship without seasickness worries.

The crew will teach you how to set the sails and handle the ropes.  How much you get involved in the sailing, keeping lookout or steering the ship is very much up to you and the mile making is very much in daylight during the Arctic Summer as there is virtually no night until you get into late August. The Icelandic crews are used to offering hospitality and educating guest crews about nature and wildlife, rather than sail training so you may learn more about safety in the mountains than man overboard drills.

If you are a purist sailor who hates to reach for the engine switch, then this is probably not the voyage for you as the narrow parts of Scorseby Sound can be flat calm, or so filled with small bergs in a narrow space it would be impossible to weave around them under sail.

For nature lovers, walker and ornithologists this expedition provides world quality pioneering walks in a wilderness that few humans have ever stepped on. Evidence of Inuit summer hunting camps can be found  amongst the large footprints you are likely to see of the Musk Ox.

Accommodation on Schooner Opal

Opal has a lot more space than her sister ship Hildur but both ships have loads of wooden character, oak beams, Icelandic good taste in furnishings and fittings, soft lighting and cosy features to create your comfortable expedition base. 

On Opal there is a navigation deck house with seating for 6 persons with big windows to see what is going on outside, as well as a spacious saloon to seat 12 plus crew.  Below decks North Sailing have fitted her her out with typical Icelandic good taste, using lots of wood and doing nothing to detract from the solid wood construction of this massively constructed schooner. There are 5 cabins. The guest cabins are mostly two person cabins, some with wash basins.  

There is a separate galley (see photo) and 4 professional crew berths. 

Schooner Opal accommodation-cabins
Double bed with single cabin and two twin cabins

Mostly 2 person cabins

The Opal has six double/twin cabins plus crew facilities. The bunks have reading lights and some cabins have big skylights.

The ship has three bathrooms, two showers. She comfortably fits 12 passengers, plus her crew.The majority of customers with Classic Sailing come as individual travellers, and skippers will alway try and allocate bunks in a fair way to maximise privacy for men and women.  Sailing by its nature is communal and working and living together is part of the experience.

photo right is a cabin with double bunk and single above.

Whilst there are 2 showers onboard Opal, which are available most of the time, please understand on Greenland Expeditions water supply can be limited, therefore we will kindly ask you to adapt to life on board with your crew mates.  Fresh water is from tanks or created by watermaker from seawater.

Linen, warm bedding, blankets and a set of towels is provided so no need to bring a sleeping bag.

Kit List for Greenland Voyages

Please understand, the space onboard is limited, also for luggage storage (please do not bring hard cover luggage). You will receive an info sheet indicating your bunk once your reservation has been confirmed and booked. 

single pilot berth on Opal
single pilot berth on Opal

 

Communal Spaces on Opal

Apart from the action and relaxing on deck there is a lower saloon - close to the galley of course. There is also a seating and coffeedrinking areas in the deckhouse at deck level so you can check the ships position on the chart, keep warm and see out the large windows if you are missing something on deck.

Opal main saloon
Opal main saloon
At deck level there is a deckhouse with seats and tables on schooner Opal
At deck level there is a deckhouse with seats and tables and windows to the outside world

Food & Drink on Board

Our fullboard service includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. We have put a lot of care in planning supplies and your meals. Occasionally we also serve a light snack during the day, and snacks are also available upon request. Soft drinks and water are available at any time and alcoholic beverage/liquor is for sale onboard at a reasonable price. After you confirm your booking, a Medical Information sheet will be sent to you, gathering information on your health and/or allergies for various foods.

In Greenland there is only one small village for hundreds of miles so each week fresh food is flown in from Iceland for your voyage.  Organic lamb, heaps of salmon, every sort of yoghurt and plenty of fresh vegetables, wild berries and salads are supplemented with Arctic fish, the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread. You will have a chance to eat a typical meal in a local Inuit home too.

Debbie from Classic Sailing sailed in Greenland in 2012 on Hildur and was deeply impressed with the catering in such a remote location and the barbeques were amazing.  There is a chef on board.

 

Opal accommodation - galley
Opal galley is next to the saloon but you can often eat on deck

Acessibility onboard and agility needed ?

Please be aware, the staircases to living quarters have steep stairs but with good railing and parts of the ship have a low ceiling so mind your head. You should also be aware, that transfer between land and schooner Opal is operated by zodiac rubber dinghy (there are no harbours in the whole of Scoresbysund area), so no gangway.  You can join in the sailing, rope handling, steering and help with chores or maintenence but it is not compulsory. Part of the expedition is walking ashore in rugged terrain with a guide.  This is a remote area so please talk to us if you have any medical or fitness concerns.

A BBQ ashore created by the chef. Scorseby Sound Greenland with Icebergs
A BBQ ashore created by the chef. Scorseby Sound Greenland with Icebergs

Opal - Ship Specification

Opal is solid oak with a copper sheathed hull. She was converted to sail in the 1970's and crossed the Atlantic 8 times whilst under a Danish Flag. Now she makes a regular crossing from Iceland to Greenland for her Arctic Season.

Built Germany/ converted to sail 1952 1971
Length overall 108ft  32m
Length on deck 79ft 24m
Beam   7m
draught    
displacement tonnage   127 ton
Two masted schooner - sail area   380 sq m
guest berths for expeditions 12  
day sail max guests 60  
crew 4-5?  

Traditional and Cutting Edge Technology Combined

Opal was originally a Baltic fishing vessel built in 1952. This strongly constructed wooden ship was converted to a blue water sailing schooner in Denmark and her oak hull has copper sheathing. Her Icelandic owners have fitted her out for colder climes. As a company specialising in whale watching they are keen to convert all their wooden (motor and sailing) vessels to electric engines and carbon neutral propulsion. This is easier to do for day sails in Iceland as they can re charge batteries in port with a plug into an national grid powered by geothermal energy. Opal has a silent running electric engine when there is no wind, and can re charge the batteries when under sail (read more below).

Iceberg sculpture from Opal's decks
Iceberg sculpture from Opal's decks

Towards Carbon Neutral Whale Watching

Opal has been fitted with a unique hybrid propulsion system that allows running the ship on renewable energy instead of fossil fuel. When Opal is in home waters running short trips Opal runs on electricity from batteries, which in turn are charged in harbour by green renewable energy from the Icelandic energy grid. In close contact with whales, and with little wind, only electricity is used for propulsion. Offshore on longer trips, if the ship is sailing fast the propeller functions as a turbine to produce electricity for the batteries. In Greenland the winds are mostly too light for this so we can't claim she is totally carbon free here....but its a start.. 

Icelandic Skippers from a Family Business

Our Icelandic sailing partners run four wooden sailing ships and several large wooden fishing vessels converted to whale watching so they have a big pool of potential charter skippers at home in Iceland with good customer skills and lots of wildlife knowledge. The skipper rota for the Greenland voyages is much coverted and you will often find one of the directors of the company as the Captain.

How are they Crewed Professionally?

The family run business, based in Húsavík, North Iceland have now have a fleet of ten wooden vessels. Most the ex oak fishing boats are used for daily whale watching trips along the Icelandic coast and attract dedicated crew from all over the world, who want to work in wildlife eco tourism and raise public awareness about Cetaceans. 

The family run business, based in Húsavík, North Iceland have now have a fleet of ten wooden vessels. Four sailing ships and 6  sturdily built oak fishing boats are used for daily whale watching trips along the Icelandic coast. They attract dedicated crew from all over the world, who want to work in wildlife eco tourism and raise public awareness about Cetaceans. 

Schooner Opal is the biggest and has been operating in Greenland since 2013. Gaff Ketch Donna Wood is the next largest with good accommodation space and classroom areas for expeditions and scientific research. Schooner Hildur is the smallest schooner and was the first to pioneer voyages in Scoresby Sound. As soon as the Greenland sea ice retreats, Opal, Donna Wood and Hildur give up their whale watching and North Iceland tours and head North to Greenland to their summer base in Scoresby Sound.All three will carry a skipper, mate, cook and a guide as a minimum.

 

North Sailing Skipper

All the members of the crew pride themselves on consistently offering outstanding quality experiences from the welcome on board, the quality of the food provided and the sailing adventure - meeting all expectations. As very few people outside Iceland speak Icelandic (similar to Viking Old Norse) all the crew are used to communicating in several languages and English is the common working language for the crew on board. These voyages are popular with Germans, French, Austrian, and Swiss as they love the great outdoors and mountain trekking so German can be a common language socially too.

Captain coming to meet us after a trek to a glacier
Captain coming to meet us after a trek to a glacier
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