16 July 2007

Northern Iceland

This has been a high mileage week, we have sailed roughly 40 to 50 per day and had enjoyable walks ashore. We still have 24 hours daylight, so we can pack a lot in with early starts, late evenings and eating meals underway. We have done so much there is a chance I will forget something! The sailing on this north coast is more offshore sailing than in the fjords, and we have really managed to put Velvet Lady through her paces.

With a forecast of NE wind at the beginning of the week followed by light airs later we decided to start the week by heading to Siglufjord and then go east into Skagafjord. After the morning safety briefings we set off and arrived at Siglufjord late evening. We spent the evening on board ready for an early start. Under blue skies we set off east with the wind behind us. We were broad reaching along the coast and adjusting the sail size when there was a thump, and a rather dazed razor bill landed on the deck having flown into the spray hood. We expected it to leave fairly sharply, but after a quick look around it picked itself a nice sheltered spot on the deck and settled down for a sleep. We quickly named him Rodney and he spent most of the day with us, moving slowly around the boat from place to place. It didn’t seem to bother him when we gybed even though he was sitting rather close to the sheet.

We sailed into Skagafjord and headed towards Drangey Island, which is noted for its bird cliffs. In olden times it was called the pantry of the people because the locals caught birds and gathered eggs. It is known that some 200,000 birds were caught there one spring. Drangey Island is a sheer rock pillar almost 200m high. We drifted within 50m of the rock, being closer than the cliff is high, and studied the cliffs which were lined with just hundreds of birds. We have seen birds from the cliff top, but looking at them from this close up and below was simply awesome. Puffins, Razor bills, Guillemots, and Fulmars, all nested amongst each other on the high steep cliffs. We even saw a person on the hilltop with his bird catching net, but didn’t actually see him catching a bird.

We are exploring this coastline with an Admiralty Pilot, an Imray Cruising Guide and free copy of Aroudrangey cliff 2_1.JPGnd Iceland for tourist information. This book is really useful in pointing out places of interest and often talks about the sagas. Grettir the Strong reportedly came ashore in Reykir after swimming 4 miles from Drangey Island to fetch fire. He is said to have warmed himself in the hot pool on the beach head! We felt we had to have a look and set off in the direction of this beach. We were searching the shore with binoculars, getting frustrated at not being able to find what we were looking for, when from behind a rock appeared a group of people wearing swimming costumes. We had found the hot spring.

We spent the night in the fishing village of Hofsos. Here there is an interesting museum about the migrants between USA and Iceland. We set off for a walk around this pretty town but were ‘attacked’ by arctic terns as we had forgotten to take our stick with us. The locals tell you that if you carry a stick above your head it prevents the arctic terns from coming too close. We will remember one next time.

The forecast for the next few days was little or no wind. We have been trying to get to Grimsey for so long that we decided to use the lack of wind to guarantee getting there and set off on a long motor. About half way across, we had a family of white beaked dolphins play with us for a while, we identified them with our whale book and they all had a clear ‘white strip’ along their bellies. They came and went during the passage. 10 hours and much tea and coffee later we arrived at Grimsey Island and tied alongside in the small harbour.

There is a map in the town showing the length of the walks around the island. We decided to opt for a short evening stroll to the lighthouse at the south end of the island and leave the longer 5 km walk around the north end for the morning. Before setting off we searched the lazarette for a suitable stick, and ended up unscrewing the green handle from the deck brush. At first you feel a bit silly but when you see the other locals and tourists with their sticks you rapidly forget you are carrying it. We set off along the road, and we really did need our stick as there were hundreds of terns trying very hard to persuade us to turn back. Heading out this way we passed the small but pretty church and the houses. There are only 90 people living on this island as of this year.

After an early breakfast we set off towards the footpath around the northern end of the island, and within 5 minGrimsey_church.JPGutes walk there were hundreds of puffins sitting in the grass and on the cliffs just looking at us. They do not seem very afraid and you can get amazingly close to them. The camera was again clicking and I think Rich took his best pictures so far. The walk north is mainly flat and interesting, with all kinds of different birds and the occasional sheep. Not very many terns here and so the stick was kind of redundant. At the north end of the island is a choice, come back the flat route, or follow the steeper cliffs on the eastern shore. We decided that we might as well see what there was, and after a quick picnic at the north end (which is north of the Arctic Circle) we started along the cliff tops. Thousands of birds clung to the cliffs, and whereas there are mainly puffins on the west coast, there were more variety here with razor bills, guillemots, kittiwakes etc. Amongst all of these whilst walking through the fields and the gravel paths we spotted numerous different land birds as well. I would never describe myself as an avid bird watcher, but just walking amongst the sheer volume of birds and having them fly past your ears or below you on the cliff tops is an amazing experience together with the noise of them all chattering away.

The cruising guide describes this island as barren and it is anything but!! It is however off the tourist track. A ferry comes three times a week, and the shop and restaurant opening hours are all geared around the ferry. There was a dishwasher sitting on the dockside which had arrived by ferry and was waiting to be picked up. It was still there when we left.

We had walked across the Arctic Circle this morning and so we felt we had to sail across it and into the Arctic Ocean. We set off and headed north around the island looking at the cliffs and landmarks we had seen from the shore. There is a monument on the land to show that you have crossed the Arctic Circle, at sea we used the GPS to tell us when we there and noted it in the log book. The Arctic Ocean – what does that imply, all sorts but surely not the flat calm sea that we were in as we cruised past the north end of the island.

Up until now, whenever the wind has gone really light we have been motoring towards it, but as we were heading south the wind was behind us and we decided to try the cruising chute. We have only seen it out of the bag once before, when we had a new snuffer bag made for it in the refit. We hoisted the snuffer to discover that the sail was too long in the luff and we couldn’t get enough tension. After taking it down, we discovered that the sailmaker had tied the head of the sail to the basket with a very long strop. We shortened the strop and tried again. This time the sail filled and set beautifully, and in the light wind gave us an extra knot of speed. It is only for use in light weather though, and was not up for long as the afternoon sea breeze set in. We had a great sail in the late afternoon fjord wind down to Husavik. They do a lot of whale watching trips from here and Skalfandi bay is supposed to be full of them. .

Sighting whales is a difficult thing – sometimes you are lucky and there are a whole family of whales who stay and play, but often a sighting is a couple of glimpses of a back and a fin. By the time you have called every one up, the fin has disappeared. There were a lot of false alarms, but we did see the odd fin.

We spent the morning looking around in Husavik and visiting the whale museum. This is a great place with information on whales, migration, ocean currents etc. There were also a few graphs and maps which helped us see where whales were regularly sighted in Skalfandi bay. Before we left the museum we asked again for whale location, and were rewarded with, all over the bay, but mainly towards the far shore.

The wind was gently blowing us on to the quay, and while we organised the lines for leaving, two whale watching boats set out for there afternoon session. We decided that it would not harm to follow them. We set off across the bay and saw a couple of spouts, and a lazy fin. Ahead in the distance we could see what looked like a tail flapping and set off to investigate, a school of dolphins were playing and leaping and banging their tails and having great fun. There can’t have been too many whales where the whale watching lucky to have a ‘really good whale sighting’. We anchored late afternoon at Flatey, an island only 2 miles offshore that the pilot book says was abandoned in 1967, although the houses are still there.

Whilst looking through the binoculars the first thing that struck us was the number of people and work going on for an ‘abandoned island’. We took the dinghy ashore for an early evening stroll and hoping to ask some questions. We passed many people who all appeared in the process of renovating their homes. We were told that the lighthouse was open and we could go in and so we climbed up inside the lighthouse to get a better view. We continued our walk around the island and met a family who were in the process of making a net to catch a puffin. They were very chatty and talked about the island being abandoned and how now all the children of the families that lived there are renovating the houses and using them as summer homes. Oddur talked with great pride about the work he was doing to the house and invited us to have a look. Our motto is exploring under sail and as this seemed like a great opportunity to learn more about the Icelandic people and we gladly accepted. After looking around the house we were also invited us for coffee and as the grill was already on, to sample the puffin with them.

We had a very enjoyable time and lpuffins_1.JPGearnt much about the island and the nature during our visit, including much about puffins. They make their nests by burrowing into the cliffs, and the cliffs are falling away. We learnt that the puffins will all disappear about the 15 August but leave their young in the burrows well fed for a couple of weeks. They then start to make an appearance in the middle of September when they become hungry.

In return for their hospitality we invited the family over to Velvet Lady for ‘English Tea’ the next morning. The family were equally interested in our boat, and our guests, and wanted to find out about what ‘tourists expect’. There are currently no facilities for tourists on the island but Oddur wants to be able to provide a tourist service in the future to encourage visitors especially bird watchers to the island.

We set sail from Flatey at 10 am with 45 miles left to go on our last day to Akureyri. The wind was light, but as it was a warm sunny day we knew that by noon we would have a sea breeze behind us all the way down Eyjafjord. We set off motoring and spent an hour following a family of Atlantic white sided dolphins before the wind filled in. We even saw a whale blowing in Eyjafjord and had one glimpse of his tail. We arrived safely back alongside in Akureyri just as the bells of the church chimed 8pm.

We have surprisingly had no takers for our next 10 day trip and so have decided to spend the time alongside in Akureyri doing maintenance. We have now been in service since the end of April without much of a break and although the jobs list isn’t long, we are going to give the cosmetics on Velvet Lady a bit of TLC that was last on the list for the winter. Hopefully the weather will hold for us to do lots of varnishing and polishing.

We still have a couple of places for the week from 5 – 12 August, and also for the trip from Akureyri back to Reykjavik at the end of August. These are our only two trips left in Iceland this season although we will be returning next season.

1 July 2007

Sailing on the North Coast of Iceland

Special Offer
We are now about half way through our Iceland season and having a fantastic time. The weather has been better than we could have expected, but the locals tell us this is usual. In fact there has been so much sun that Richard now has a sunburnt face and neck, and Lin looks like she has spent a season in the Caribbean she is so brown!
The remaining two long trips in Iceland (10 and 12 day) still have spaces on them so we are offering them at a 20 per cent discount. See the Special Offer pages in ‘Schedule

Our most recent trip from Isafjord to Akureyri has definitely shown us how difficult it is to operate a boat to an itinerary and how flexible we have to be according to the weather not just the weather forecast!! There are however so many options, that we have always found something to do to please everyone on board.
Please be aware that all itineraries on the website are only ideas of what could be done if the weather conditions are ideal.

We set off from Isafjord in a light south westerly to head north then east to Hornvik. The fjord was flat calm and we motored to clear it and pick up the breeze. As we reached open sea the wind freshened and swung to the west at about force 5, after quickly reefing the sails we reached up the west coast of Iceland. By the time we came to the north coast the wind had shifted to the North West and increased to force 6 or 7, we surfed downwind at 10 knots in the rapidly building sea. The waves were pounding against the shore in Hornvik, totally impossible to stay and so we continued for another 40 miles to Trekyllisvik, a pretty well sheltered bay. (The next bay south of Ingolfsfjord on the map)

After arriving so late and having a very hard first day we decided to spend the day exploring ashore. After a 2 mile walk south along the coast from our anchorage we found an outdoor geothermal pool. A mile north there is a campsite. There is a small harbour with a ferry here that takes people to Hornvik and the national park, as this is the end of the road. What a beautiful peaceful tranquil place and considerably greener than the west coast. Not silent though, you can hear the noise of the wind, the waves, the birds, even the lambs. Lots of birds were inquisitive enough to come and look at us, and even land on the deck.

We set off from Trekyllisvik towards the anchorage at Kalfshamarsvik. (Rifsnes on map) After admiring the caves by the lighthouse and the rock formations we decided the anchorage wasn’t suitable for the night and continued on to Skagastrond. Again we arrived quite late in the afternoon. We were definitely the ‘star’ attraction in the town which is not often visited by yachts, and probably none as large as ours. We were asked lots of questions about the sails and the roller reefing and how fast we went etc. The wind blew North 6 or 7 the following day, so we again elected to stay and explore ashore. There are some fantastic walks along the headland and small cliff to the north of the town. After an afternoon walk we decided to relax by having a swim and hot tub at the local pool 5 mins. walk from the boat. This is a very Icelandic thing to do. Each town has a pool and often more than 1 hot tub at different temperatures to relax in. It is easy to forget the time whilst in the tub and we spent over an hour enjoying the warm water.
When we returned to the dock it was a hive of activity. This is a working fishing dock and all the small fishing boats were unloading the days catch and collecting new hooks, lines and fish boxes before heading straight back out to sea. It was incredibly interesting to watch the unloading and sorting of the fish. The birds were extremely interested too!!

guillemot_on_stern.JPGWe set off from Skagastrond in a light north-westerly wind, but with the wind forecast to shift to the North east we decided we did not want to get trapped at the south end of the next fjord and headed straight for Siglufjord. We had a great sail along the north coast, and covered the 60 miles remarkably quickly. The local coastguard helicopter came out to have a look at us, and sat very close above us, we thought he might have been practising hovering for search and rescue.

When we were about 2 hours away from Siglufjord, I thought I could see a whale blowing ahead, huge plumes of water droplets were raising from the sea. Well it was either a whale or a whirlpool; I prefer to believe the first. I was so busy concentrating on watching the spray through the binoculars; I failed to spot the whale that surfaced just alongside us until I heard it, Wow. We realised that we were surrounded by these plumes of water, and I counted at least 8 or 9 whales in different directions. One of them was merely playing by tapping his tail on the water, great to watch but difficult to photograph. They were with us for about an hour and the spot is firmly marked on the chart.

As we arrived in Siglufjord the weather started to deteriorate and rain – the first in ages – we found a nice settled space on the dock, and spent the evening on board.

There is a museum in Siglufjord which is a tribute to the herring industry, and is much larger than you first think when looking at the building and definitely worth a visit. We spotted a new type of bird here and were not surprised to find it was a herring gull.

We left Siglufjord in the middle of the afternoon to head the short distance of 15 miles around the coast to Olafsfjord. The wind had died down during the night and the morning, but we discovered just how sheltered we had been in Siglufjord when we got out in to the big rollers. It is definitely very different sailing along this coast in ‘open sea’ than it has been in the sheltered fjords. We have to give far more thought to the location of our destination. As we approached Olafsfjord the waves were crashing against the harbour wall but once we were inside the harbour we found flat water. We know to watch the waves breaking on the beach and when they have stopped we can go out again.

In all of these working fishing ports we take ‘pot luck’ when tying up that we are in no ones way. We never tie on a dock where there are cranes as they are obviously in use, and try to keep out of the way. Nevertheless, we are aware that one day we may be asked to move. At 6 o clock this morning in Olafsfjord I was woken by the very loud noise of ships engines, and looked out the window to see a very large ship hovering in the dock. Luckily all the deckhands were looking over the opposite side of the ship and we realised that they were tying alongside the dock opposite us. They had only been alongside 5 minutes when they started offloading their catch.
As opposed to the previous ports we have been in where the fishing boats are small and the fish is brought ashore daily to be processed, Olafsfjord is the base for Deep Sea Trawlers, who process their own fish whilst at sea. The fish being unloaded was already gutted, filleted, boxed and frozen ready to be exported in the refrigerated containers Hrisey.JPGthat were on the dockside. The catch was huge, as they were still unloading 12 hours later.

Olafsfjord itself is a very pretty little town and we went off for a walk. We came to a small duck pond, with loads of varieties of duck, and an assortment of ducklings. We also visited the bird museum with a display of over 200 stuffed birds, very interesting as it helped us identify some of the birds we were not sure of.

After spending the evening in Olafsfjord, we made an early start the next day to sail offshore to the island of Grimsey. The weather forecast was for light variable winds and we expected that we would end up motoring. As we cleared the mouth of the fjord, the wind set in at NE force 6 exactly the course for Grimsey, we sailed into the wind for about an hour before realising that it was going to be a very long wet slog – we turned downwind and had a fantastic reach to the small island of Hrisey,(see picture) before stopping in Dalvik for the night. This is again another working fishing town, but as we get closer to Akureyri we notice that the towns are all becoming a little more affluent. The town gives the impression of being much prettier and better kept, with a lot more trees.

There is a small folk and natural history museum which amongst other things has a room dedicated to Iceland’s tallest man.

We spent a pleasant night in Dalvik, before setting off again to see if we could sail to Grimsey, this time the wind was even stronger, blowing force 7 in the fjord, so we again changed our mind and reached across the fjord to Grenivik. We had a quick peek in to the harbour to find that the waves were breaking on the pier, and decided to continue down the fjord to Akureyri and spend the last day of the trip exploring this beautiful city.

We approached Akureyri late in the afternoon, and the town looked stunning set amongst the high mountains. We again became a tourist attraction as we are moored about 5 minutes walk from the high street and our mast is in full view in the centre of town peeking above the trees.

Akureyri.JPG

There is plenty to do from Akureyri, day trips by bus or private taxi to Godafoss, Lake Myvatn and the thermal baths. Many museums to visit around the town, a selection of walks and plenty of bars and cafes to relax at the end of the day. (See Map for further details of route taken)

18 June 2007

Wilderness of the Westfjords

Whilst we were preparing for our next adventure we had many visitors and gained lots of local information. The most valuable sources were: the man who had just sold us diesel, jumped on board and said, if you’ve got a map I can show you all the best places to go. He was followed by the warden of Hornstrandir nature reserve, very excited that we are based here and wanting to show us all the good anchorages, hikes, bird cliffs and other interesting features. These people are so enthusiastic about this secluded part of the country and want to show it off. After descriptions of wonderful waterfalls, glaciers, birdlife, exciting hikes and abandoned whaling stations and more, we wondered how we could fit all of this in to our 9 night trip. Our final visitor on the night before we left was a small fishing boat, wanting to know if we would like some cod. Unsure of what he meant I hesitated, to be asked, ‘we’ve been fishing and have plenty, would you like some’. Well even though the fridge and freezer were stocked full, how could I refuse fish fresh from the sea? In front of me he took a couple of cod out of his ice box, and filleted them for me – they tasted divine.

There are clear blue skies and not a breath of wind on our first morning and so we decide to take the opportunity to visit the island of Vigur (2), 8 miles from Isafjord(1). As we approach this island it is noticeably greener than all the surroundings – that’s the bird manureeider_duck_for_web.JPG Richard tells me. The birds start to circle us whilst we are still 1 mile from the coast. Going ashore in the dinghy you almost feel like jumping in for a swim with the puffins who have come for a look at us. This island has two families who run a farm, exporting milk and eider down. When we arrive, the farmer tells us we are very early for tourists and to be very careful not to disturb the nesting birds. If you scare them off it is time for you to leave!!

We set off to walk and immediately spot a seal sitting on a rock, watching all the birds around it. There were eider ducks nesting at the side of the path and we tread carefully so as not to disturb them.
This was definitely a time to take loads of photos; the cliffs and shoreline were teaming with birds, all different varieties and all getting on well together. There were plenty of birds nesting, and plenty of birds with their new hatchlings. We saw many eider ducks with their tribes of little ducklings behind them. What a place, it is impossible to convey the atmosphere given by all the number of birds chattering, cooing and calling, each with their own recognisable noise.

eiderdown_for_web.JPGThe farmer then showed us his eider down and how to dry and clean it with special machines. This is their livelihood and they take great pride in it. They collect the down daily from the nests – carefully without disturbing the bird. They were very quick to explain that they do not ‘pluck’ the birds and that the down is very different to feathers.

Vigur is a place to visit in settled weather and we did not want to spend the night in an exposed anchorage so we headed to Seydisfjordur, (3) a mere 4 miles away. This is another of the inadequately surveyed fjords, so we approached cautiously and anchored under an eyri where there used to be a small village with a church. It was utterly quiet and peaceful, and we were in our own protected bay. We launched the dinghy again and took it to explore the head of the fjord before returning to look at the church and abandoned farm houses. We met quite a few sheep and lambs on the way.

We set off out of Seydisfjordur, heading towards Aedey and Reykjanes at the East end of Isafjordjup, wanting to take a quick peek into the other fjords as we went. We didn’t get very far, the wind blew up and the fog came rolling down the fjord – the choice was east and fog, west and sunshine. Despite the fact we had planned on going east the weather hinted that it was more sensible to go west and so we headed towards Jokulfirdir and it’s westernmost finger Hesteyrifjord.(4). We motored right up to the head of the fjord where we found flat calm and tranquil surroundings with birds and waterfalls.

After breakfast the following day we took the dinghy ashore. There is an old herring oil factory on an eyri half way up the fjord and we landed the dinghy here. It was interesting looking around the old buildings, trying to guess what they were and how the herring oil was made. It is about a mile walk from here to the village of Hesteyri. This used to be an abandoned village, but now has been revived to look after the handful of tourists that come across in the boats from Isafjord during the summer to explore the nature reserve. Whilst ashore in Hesteyri we saw two new types of bird – ringed plover and a redshank. The flowers are just starting to open, and we saw many patches which soon will be covered with flowers. Walking along the shore was interesting, but on the dinghy ride back to the boat we cruised close to the rocks inshore and watched numerous birds nesting and playing. We also had a seal pop his head anchored_boat.JPGup to find out who we were.

There is now a huge high pressure sitting just NE of Iceland and there is no wind forecast for today or tomorrow. Not much sailing then but we decided to take advantage of the calm and motor around to the next fjord Veidileysufjordur (5) towing the dinghy behind us. I can’t pronounce that, but luckily we have found a new name for this fjord – Whalefjord. As we were approaching the head of the fjord waiting for it to get shallow enough to anchor (no details on the chart again) we saw a disturbance in the water and then a fin. After we had anchored just offshore we sat and watched the whale swimming effortlessly past us for about an hour. The noise of the whale blowing alerted us to where he would surface next but we were still never fast enough with the camera to get a good shot. So much time can be wasted trying to photograph these things, and it is often better to relax and enjoy the experience of the nature close by.

It is impossible to describe the peace, the tranquillity, the atmosphere, the ambience of being anchored amongst birds, whales, snow and mountains. With 24 hour daylight there seems no pressure of time, and the days just slowly drift by. Meals are when you want them, and bedtime is when you are tired. At first you find it difficult to sleep, but then you get used to it. The phones don’t ring and the busy world seems so far away.

Apart from the whales and birdlife, there doesn’t seem much to look at on the shore so we head further into Jokulfirdir to Lonafjord.(6) Both of our earlier visitors described it as the most beautiful fjord with a great view of the volcano. We entered the fjord slowly and gently, again with no detail on the chart, and after inspecting the right finger settled to anchor in the west finger in absolute peace and calm. With the dinghy already launched it took no time to set off for a look ashore. As we approached the head of the fjord we could see that it shallows very quickly with lots of weed – we decided not to land but just to look and come back in the morning at low water when there would be more shore to walk along. Back to the boat and dinner, served up with a glass of wine before turning in for the night

I could see the blue sky and sunshine from my bunk. Breakfast on deck and then ready to go ashore. 10 o clock in the morning, flat calm, blue sky and 24 degrees in the shade – is this really Iceland, definitely suntan lotion and sunglasses today. We took the dinghy ashore and after getting the prop fouled up in all the weed, decided that we would have to go to the ‘eyri’ a gravel spit a little further away. We landed here and tied to a rock before setting off along the shore, and past a waterfall. There are loads more flowers out in this fjord, and the whole area had a completely different feel to yesterday. Sitting on the shore looking at the boat anchored in the bay, I could make out the complete reflection of the boat and the snow covered mountains in the clear water at the same time as seeing the bottom. What could be more perfect? Time for the picnic! We are sitting on a very green grassy hillside, yet opposite us the mountains are full of snow. There is a waterfall running down under the snow, and where the snow has melted it just looks like the footprints of giant troll heading down to the waters edge. (Trolls are often talked about in Icelandic folklore)

puffins.JPGThe high pressure still persists over Iceland, and although not something we had planned to do this trip, the warden had made Hornvik sound so inviting that we decide to head off in that direction. We head west out of the fjord straight into a fog bank, but once we are around the north west headland we are back in blue skies and sunshine. It is really bizarre crossing between these two different weather patterns. We arrive at Hornvik (7) at 10 o clock at night, still broad daylight and are surprised to see the campsite full of tents and the shore full of rafts made of driftwood – must be a scout camp or something similar. This anchorage is not as protected as the fingers of the fjords, OK in flat weather although we rolled all night – wouldn’t really like to be here when it was a windy day. Before we go to bed we studied the hiking map and the hill alongside us, working out the best (and easiest) way to get to the top. Looking at the contours maybe I’ll settle for a walk along the beach and a trip to the cliff with the dinghy – but the others are off up the hill.

We awoke the following morning to a dull and overcast day – with no great rush to get in the dinghy until the weather cleared; we had a lazy morning on the boat with a cooked breakfast. Early afternoon the sky cleared and we were ready to go up the hill. During this delay I have been persuaded to join the climb – after all Richard bought me some new walking boots so I better try them out. We landed on the shore just opposite a small hut, and the track to follow was really clear. Looking up the hillside I found it hard to believe we were going to end up on the top of the mountain. We followed the track, mainly in single file and for the most part it wasn’t too steep until towards the end. I have to admit, I have neither fear about my stability when standing on the deck of a moving yacht, nor any fear of heights when at the top of the mast, but after we were more than half way up looking down the slope to the water below made me concentrate very hard on each step. I guess you are confident in what you are used to. After just over 2 hours we finally reached the top and wow – was I glad I came. The view was tremendous, we could see all along the north coast of Iceland. We lay on our stomachs to look over the side of the overhanging cliff and there were thousands of birds, sitting on the ledges, some of them were disturbed by our presence, but most of them just looked at us. Richard took so many fabulous photos it’s a shame we can’t fit them all on the news page. We continued to walk along the cliff, and paused regularly to look over the overhang. Each time there were more birds, but the type of bird changed as we moved along. Whilst most of these birds are seabirds, we did manage to add a couple of land birds to our ever growing list. We spotted a white wagtail and a meadow pipit.

guillemots_for_web.JPGAfter spending another hour photographing, we decided it was time to return to the boat. The round t rip took us 5 hours, but we could really have spent longer up there if we had gone sooner!! We spent a second night in Hornvik, and this time it was flat calm.

As well as there being little information and charts for various fjords, there are also no tidal streams diagrams so we have been drawing our own. On the trip round to Hornvik, we noted that we had 1 to 2 knots of tide with us all the time, so using this as a guide we worked out when the tide should be with us heading in the opposite direction. Hoping to catch the tide we left Hornvik at 11am

We were right and had another knot of tide with us all the way as we headed back east. We anchored for the night in Adalvik, (8) where there is a beautiful sandy beach and another ‘abandoned’ village that has turned into summer homes. We took the dinghy ashore and had planned to walk 1 mile inland to a lake and see Saebol church. It started to rain so we changed our plans and walked along the shore to the village, before returning to the boat.

Our last morning and we have to leave Adalvik to head back to Isafjord. The high pressure is still sitting over Iceland but declining somewhat and the weather is not as bright and sunny as it has been but there is a slight breeze.

Picture1coomp.jpgWe have plenty of time and so sail past Isafjord (1) to the island of Aedey, (8 again by mistake) where we close in to half a mile off the land and look at the birds. This island is low and green, and although not as many birds as Vigur, there were plenty around. After lunch we turn around and head back towards Isafjord, there is a brief sighting of a whale, and then a new type of bird makes several attempts to land on the boat, including one near miss on Richards head. After frantic page turning of the bird book we discover it is an Arctic Skua.

Back in Isafjord now for a few job days before setting off to explore the north coast of Iceland on our way to Akureyri. This gives us another opportunity to visit the wilderness of the Hornstrandir national park.

There will be another opportunity to visit Hornstrandir national park and the fjords by Isafjord as we pass by on our return sail from Akureyri to Reykjavik at the beginning of September.

More news here in 2 weeks, and the result of the June draw

5 June 2007

With the prospect of a long sail ahead, we set off from Reykjavik towards Snaefellsnessnaefellsnes.JPG at 8 am in a light SW wind with clear blue skies. Even this early in the morning the sun was reflecting off the glacier 60 miles away. As the day wore on the wind shifted West and then North West. We decided to anchor in the lee of Arnarstapi, a small pretty fishing village. Arnarstapi lies south of the Snaefellsnes glacier at the base of a lava field said to be 3900 years old. It is possible to walk along the coastline from Arnarstapi to Hellnar crossing the lava field, more of a scramble than a walk and takes about an hour. This stretch of coast is a protected nature reserve, and the cliffs were teeming with birds.

The new forecast promised northerly gales so we spent a day at anchor chilling, watching the birds and learning to play crib!

The weather is certainly ‘changeable’ here and immediately the gale was over we were greeted with SW winds and blue skies, time to head north to the Westfjords.

The guide book says ‘Birds on cliffs, seals on rocks, white tailed eagles in flight, whales off the shore, Arctic foxes in their lairs, breathtaking landscapes. For centuries people in this westernmost outpost of Iceland – and of Europe – have lived by harvesting the sea and the bird cliffs taking on the challenge of battling with the forces of nature. Geologically speaking this is the oldest part of Iceland at 13 – 14 million years old’

Look at the map for the Westfjords sample itinerary to discover where some of these places are.

As we approached Bjargtanger, the westernmost headland in Europe, and the spectacular sheer cliff Latrabjarg we were surrounded by birds. This cliff is home to the largest seabird colony in the northern hemisphere. This prompted us to bring out the bird books and identification tables to see how many different birds we could spot. Arctic Terns, Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots, Fulmars, Black Headed gulls, Common gulls, Black backed gulls and Kittiwakes all made an appearance – taking photos of them was as much a challenge as identifying them.

patreksfjord.JPGOur first stop in the Westfjords was Patreksfjord, a small fishing community with a population of 600, most of whom came to look at Velvet Lady as she nestled amongst the fishing boats in the harbour. A pleasant town whose economy is based on fishing. As we went for a walk along the beach at low water we saw numerous birds feeding amongst the damp weed and rocks. As well as all the birds we had seen up to now, we added Eider ducks both male and female and an Oyster Catcher with its distinctive red bill to our ever growing list.

Next we headed north to explore Arnarfjord, one of the most beautiful fjords in Iceland. The head of this fjord is split into 5 fingers and set off to explore all of them. This is the least surveyed fjord in the Westfjords and so the charts are quite vague. We identified a rock not on the chart and then failed to spot a rock that was clearly marked on the chart. After first visiting a fjord with a small hydroelectric power station we settled for the night at anchor in Dynjandovogur, ¼ mile from the waterfall.

Time passes without counting the days, and the only reason to know the date now is for working out the time of the tide. After breakfast and in glorious sunshine we set off to explore the remaining 3 fingers, a couple of seals poke their head up to look at us as we are raising the anchor.

Numerous waterfalls and snow capped peaks surround these fjords, and after investigating the first two, we sabandoned_fishing_boat.JPGpent the night in Geirthjofsfjord.

At the entrance to this fjord an uncharted sand spit stretched in front of us, and we went in closer to look at an abandoned fishing boat and fishing hut. Arctic terns and Eider ducks were nesting here, and 2 Whooper swans must also live here as they were in the exact same place when we left the next day. We anchored at the head of the fjord and took the dinghy ashore to investigate some more abandoned huts.

After a peaceful night at anchor, we headed out of the fjord, past the colourful village of Bildudalur and headed north out of Arnarfjord.

Fjord sailing varies tremendously from passage making. On long passages you can go hours without adjusting the sheets. Not so in the fjords as the wind shifts and gusts down each valley. Sheet in, Ease out, Headsail bigger, Headsail smaller – keeps us on our toes and the winches busy but worth the effort as Velvet Lady rockets along in the gusts doing 8 knots in a flat sea. Exhilarating and challenging at the same time. There are also flat spots, and flat days, and we do often find ourselves motoring as the fjords become narrower.

at_anchor_gford.JPGDyrafjord – another indentation in this dramatic coastline was our next stop. We are that bit further north now, just reaching 66 degrees and there is more snow on the hills in this fjord. I say hills; mountains would be a better word as the cliffs tower 700 m high above us. Although these cliffs have a similar appearance, each fjord has its own individual feel. I find myself looking at the headlands and the valleys between them and wondering how they were made. I think I will have to buy myself a book on Iceland Geology next to understand more about the land formation. Our anchorage here was opposite the small town of Thingeyri – it was too windy and unprotected to go alongside the harbour wall so we took shelter behind a long narrow eyri (sand spit)

In the next fjord north, Onundafjord, our anchorage was just opposite the fishing village of Flateyri, where the locals were all celebrating seaman’s day, and the fishing boats were all decked out in colourful flags and banners. While at anchor we were able to admire the birdlife more. We have discovered that the birdlife is so prolific that you don’t really have to go looking for the birds – they are to be found in every fjord, nesting on the cliffs and feeding amongst the rocks on the sea shore.

Whilst we were sitting on the deck we tried to work out what the temperature is. With no breeze and the evening sun shining in our faces it felt very hot – it is certainly warm enough now for me to sail in bare feet and often without a jacket. As we leave we also see that the warmth is having its effect on the snow, with numerous waterfalls of snow melt running down the sides of the mountains Another thing on the list to buy is a thermometer, so we can guage what the temperature really is and keep records for next year.

We sailed north from Dyrafjord to Isafjardarjup, the largest fjord and nearly the end of our trip. We had time for one last stop before getting to Isafjord and so chose Bolungarvik, another fishing village who are also celebrating seaman’s day. motoring_flat_sea.JPG

Just as we are rolling the sails away to approach Bolungarvik we spot a fin, or is it? Yes there it is again. In fact we were approached by a group of 5 or 6 small pilot whales – who played around the boat for a few minutes before continuing on their way across the fjord. A splendid end to the day although they did not stay long enough for photographs.

Bolungarvik is only 13 miles from Isafjord, but with the wind coming from the south east we spent a pleasant few hours tacking up the fjord in the sunshine. A local boat came out to ‘Welcome us to Isafjord’ and then a few more locals came down to the quay to say hello on our arrival. Everyone is so friendly, helpful and interested it is a joy to be here.

Another trip over and a so now we have a few days of jobs, cleaning and preparing for our next adventure. 9 days exploring more of these wonderful westfjords before we set off on our passage to the north coast.

Why not join us this season and experience Iceland for yourself.

21st May 2007

Why you may ask is there a photo of Santa on our news page. santa in the sun.gifWell if you check out our schedule you will see that we have updated it with our Xmas and New Year trips, as well as all our early 2008 Canary Islands trips. These include a couple of 4 night specials for those of you who do not have enough time for a week in January but can squeeze a long weekend. We are also planning our 2008 Iceland season with a possibility of including Greenland. If you would like us to tailor make your Iceland trip for 2008 please contact us before the end of July 2007.

19th May 2007

We are enjoying our time in Reykjavik, preparing for our next adventure, cruising Snaefellsnes Peninsulareyk_harbour.JPG and heading north to Isafjord. There have been many people admiring Velvet Lady whilst we are working on her and when they hear our plans for the next few weeks in the Westfjords we are rewarded with comments like ‘That is a really beautiful area, you will really enjoy it’. The jobs are nearly done, all that is left is a trip to the supermarket (armed with the dictionary) and we will be ready to go exploring.

Welcome to Iceland – You are the first visitors of the season

Welcoming words from the harbour master in Reykjavik

2000 GMT, Sunday 13th May 2007

reyk.JPG We had just arrived having sailed close to a thousand miles from Largs in Scotland. We experienced a mixture of all types of weather but managed to miss the snow. It was cold, but not as bitter as you would expect.

Passage Log

Saturday
All our safety briefings were completed by 10 am and were ready to depart from Largs for Icleland. Our route was to take us south down the Clyde, around the Mull of Kintyre, South of Barra in the outer Hebrides and across to Iceland.
During a lively sail from Largs to Lamlash we learnt about the boat and studied the weather. The evening the forecast for Malin and Hebrides was SW Gale 8 increasing Storm Force 10 imminent, we weren’t going to be going far in that.
Sunday
Using the land to shelter us from the full force of the wind, we sailed North about Arran to Campbeltown. Sitting on the south end of the Kintyre peninsula, this is an ideal stopping point to wait out the ‘storm’
Monday
We planned to arrive off the Mull to catch and use the full strength of the ebb tide. The storm had gone but the wind was still quite strong and as predicted on the nose.
Tuesday
We spent 24 hours beating from the Mull of Kintyre to just South of Barra waiting for the wind to shift – finally at 8 in the evening, the wind finally settled in from the South West and for the first time on the passage let us steer a course straight towards Iceland. We cruised along at 5 knots in fairly light winds and were joined by dolphins for breakfast.Reykjavikweb.JPG
Wednesday and Thursday
During the day the the wind gradually shifted and increased from SW4 to NE7. As the wind increased so did our speed and for 24 hours we reached along at speeds over 8 knots. This far North there are only 3 hours of darkness, but still enough to