Whales and Gales

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Strong winds and gales have been with us all the way on our passage from Reykjavik to Northern Ireland. Until we reached the North Channel we did not see less than 25 knots on the anemometer, more often than not 35 knots and occasionally even 55 knots. This wet and windy ride was also fast and exhiliarating with Velvet Lady reaching along at speeds up to 10 knots. After 6 days we are now ‘resting’ in Bangor, before setting off again to Plymouth tomorrow. We were not the only ones on passage from Iceland southwards, roughly half way across we were surrounded by pilot whales. For approximately 2 hours these pilot whales were overtaking us down both sides, some of them merely feet away from the side of the boat. At any one time there were about 20 in view, their speed and motion creating even more waves than the gale itself!! Sitting watching them was a mesmerising experience. These are John’s best photos, enjoy.

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The sky ablaze with Northern Lights on our recent trip!

 

It is very nearly the end of our season in Iceland, and our last 12 day adventure has given us the opportunity to re-visit many of our favourite places as well as some new ones as we sailed from Akureyri on the Northern Iceland coast back to Reykjavik.

It may be the end of August, but the weather was glorious and sunny for our first day sail – unfortunately we lacked a bit of wind, but we motored out of Eyjafjord enjoying the scenery.  Our luck was in as we approached the pretty island of Hrisey, as our humpback whale from last week decided to pay us another visit.  We spent about an hour watching him before continuing our journey up to Siglufjord.

The high pressure system that we have enjoyed all season has finally moved south, and with it situated over Ireland, the low pressure systems are directed our way.  We spent the day in Siglufjord avoiding a North East gale and pouring rain, before continuing our passage to Hofsos.

We had a great sail from Hofsos across to Strandir, and with another gale forecast decided to anchor in Ingolfsfjord, described by the pilot book as a safe haven in any weather.  What a good job, the barometer crashed 26 millibars in 18 hours and the wind blew from the SW, first 20 knots then 30 then 40 then topped out at 57 knots.  The last time I saw that much wind and spray I was in the southern ocean!!  Velvet Lady was perfectly happy lying to her anchor, whilst the rest of us watched in awe as the sea state picked up so much we could see rainbows in the spindrift. 

We played cards, listened to music, told stories and finished last weeks Guardian crossword – still the wind blew.  The wind finally tapered off late afternoon, the sky cleared and with the sunset the moon and stars appeared.  The barometer rose just as quickly as it fell, and by midnight, it was flat calm in the anchorage and the sky was ablaze with the greenish hue of the northern lights.  What a mix of weather in 24 hours. 

We continued our passage westwards in favourable winds, sailing past the magnificent Drangajokull glacier, past the bird cliffs at Hornvik, past the golden sandy beaches of Adalvik and into Bolungarvik, a tiny fishing village just south of Jokulfirdir.  After a quick look around and stock up, we nipped across to Jokulfirdir and anchored in our favourite fjord, Lonafjord.  When we visited here in June, there was so much snow on the ground we were limited on where we could land in the dinghy.  This time the boys were able to take the dinghy all the way across the east side of the bay, and climb up the hill alongside one of the many waterfalls. 

Sadly with a timescale to keep to, we needed to keep heading south and have to leave further exploration of the westfjords to our adventurers next season.  We stopped at the fishing villages of Flateyri and Patreksfjord on our way south, before our final overnight passage to Reykjavik.  After a season of 24 hour daylight, we are just getting used to having a few hours of dark again.  As it went dark, it was eerie to be able to see the glow of both Reykjavik and Keflavik from more than 50 miles away.  They lit up the sky like an early dawn.

We are now in Reykjavik and preparing for our ocean passage home to UK.  We are sad to be leaving Iceland after having such an enjoyable summer, but excited about starting our winter programme which takes us south to Spain, Portugal, The Canaries, Madeira and the Azores.  See our website for more details.

We will be returning to Iceland for the summer in 2008, and the programme will be on the website shortly.

Whale Watching in Skalfandi Bay


The sun shone brightly the first morning of this, our last 10 day Adventure. With a mixture of nationalities on board, Italian, Canadian, Finnish and British we set off motoring north out of Eyjafjord.  We were all looking forward to sailing as much as we could – our total mileage for the trip was 360.   We experienced a whole mixture of weather from flat calm, where we were able to admire whales at very close quarters, followed the following day by beating to windward in a Force 8.  The guests assured me that they found both experiences equally exhiliarating.

Our first night we spent in Olafsfjord, a pit stop really to prepare us for our sail to Grimsey Island.  There was a fraction too much north in the wind for us to sail in a straight line to Grimsey so we decided to head north to the Arctic Cicle, and sail for a time in the Arctic Ocean.  As we crossed the arctic circle we were caught in a squall with freezing cold wind and spray, making the trip as authentic as we wanted it to be.  A very enjoyable experience as we knew it was only for an hour.  A few dolphins joined us on this passage and kept us entertained.  The adult puffins have mainly left Grimsey now,  but we saw a few new borns taking their first steps and trying to fly. 

We sailed from Grimsey to Husavik, in a very good wind until the last hour.  As soon as we started motoring we decided to go and investigate the spot where at least 3 boats were hovering and came across a pair of very friendly humpback whales.  It was just awesome having the whale surface within feet of the bow, and getting ‘soaked’ in whale spray.  With the flatness and clearness of the water we were able to watch the whales under water, their fins almost touching our keel.  It was almost too mesmerising to give up but eventually the need for dinner made us continue our path to Husavik.

After a morning visiting the whale museum we went back out on the lookout for whales across the bay.  We had initially planned for today to be a whale watching day, after yesterdays experience, any more whales today would be a bonus.  By now all the crew knew what to look out for, and it wasn’t long before we had spotted the spout of a whale in ‘Harry Humpbacks house’.  We mark the spot on the chart whenever we see a whale, and these whales were within half a mile of where we saw our humpback last week.  This time there was a pair and a single, surfacing at different times – we split off to watch the single as the other boats followed the pair.  Half an hour later one of the humpbacks was leaping from the water being very playful.

We spent the night at anchor, in a sheltered bay opposite the tiny island of Flatey.
The forecast for Wednesday  was not so good, the weather map, the telly and the locals all told us of strong south westerly winds, and the barometer had progressively dropped overnight.  With an offshore wind, flat sea and no lee shore we decided to go for a sail and see how we got on.  We set off in flat sea, blue sky, everyone oilskinned and harnessed up feeling a bit overdressed.  The wind gradually increased to 30 knots and we enjoyed a fantastic sail.  We had a short squall of 40 knots, great to write in the log book, and then ended up the day motoring after the wind gods flicked a switch and turned the wind back off.

The rest of the week the wind was back to its regular force 3 – 5 and sea breeze.

This westerly wind did mean that it was prudent to revisit Husavik and spend the night in a sheltered harbour, giving us yet another opportunity to look at whales

We eventually cleared ‘whale fjord’ and sailed to Siglufjord, then Hofsos.  The wind was always forward but we carried full sail most of the week and rocketed along at anything between 6 and 9 knots.

We are always having new experiences, this week it was sucking jelly fish up into the sea water intake of the generator and having to change the impellor.  Twice!! 

Our last day sail of the week into Eyjafjord started under bright sunshine.  But the wind fizzled out at about noon.  We drifted for a while, and motored for a while waiting for the sea breeze to fill in.  Whilst we were motoring a humpback whale surfaced right under our bow.  We watched him for 10 minutes before continuing on towards Akureyri. 

Yet another trip has come to an end, where we have enjoyed good sailing and good company and made more new friends.