|Venture to Iceland – part three of a series|
The morning after our arrival in Akureyri we rented a small Toyota and drove out to the Lake Myvatn area. The drive was through huge mountains interspersed with lush farmland in the valleys. Once past the lake we visited areas where steam roared from the ground with a noise like a jet engine which could be heard several kilometers away. There was a geo-thermal power station nearby. We hiked a few miles into an active volcanic area where the air smelt of sulphur and hot springs bubbled from the ground.
On the return journey we stopped at the impressive Godafosse waterfall into which, legend has it, an early Icelandic chieftain threw his idols after converting to Christianity in AD1000. We had dinner at a small nearby restaurant. Every meal we had in Iceland was excellent even in small out-of-the-way places.
Back at the boat we found that the space previously occupied by Polar Bear was now taken by the German-registered, Halberg Rassey sailboat Sagapo which we had first met in Bangor (Northern Ireland) and subsequently also in both Stornoway, and Torshavn. She had been on her way to take part in the Midnight Sun race from Siglufjordur to the island of Grimsey which is just above the Arctic Circle. Unfortunately this year's race had recently been cancelled because of a lack of entries. We talked with the boat owner but he was not too concerned because, for him, the race had just been an excuse to bring the boat north to Iceland. They will be continuing on to circumnavigate Iceland following our route in reverse.
The following day we drove along the fjord to Dalvik and then through a tunnel to Olafsfjordur. The scenery was magnificent with huge mountains, lush valleys and patches of snow quite close to the road. Haymaking was in full swing with the fields full of white marshmallow-type bales. When we reached the small town of Siglufjordur we saw the Swedish boat Muckle Fluga which we had previously seen in Isafjordur. She was waiting for the ice to melt in East Greenland before heading for the Scorsby Inlet in Greenland which is the most extensive fjord system in the world. A resident of Akureyri tried to interest us in making the same trip but, although it was very tempting, we lacked the time because we had promised to have Venture II back in Southampton for the boat show in September.
The season for cruising in East Greenland is very short – virtually just the month of August – and then you are late to travel home unless you leave the boat in Iceland for the winter – which is perfectly feasible and surprisingly affordable.
The next morning David left us to return to England and we were joined by Brian and Val from Canada. Brian runs Delta Marine Services which is an authorized Fleming Service Centre near Sidney on Vancouver Island. Brian is very experienced in commissioning and servicing Flemings not only in the Pacific Northwest but all over the world.
We left Akureyei on July 17th for Grimsey Island 55 miles to the north. The island's main claim to fame is that the Arctic Circle passes right through it. The ferry between Dalvik and Grimsey only runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and we had timed our visit to be over the weekend so that we could use the ferry dock to tie up. We arrived just after lunch and we were soon the centre of attention in this small place with less than 100 inhabitants. A passerby took our lines when we came alongside and soon we had a crowd of men and young boys who all wanted to see the boat. We invited them on board and gave away several copies of Venturer magazine as souvenirs.
In return, one of them generously made us an offer we couldn't refuse which was to drive us round the island. The island is only 2 ½ miles by 1 ¼ but it would have been quite a hike around the perimeter. Our guide took us to the signpost marking the Arctic Circle where we took photos while flocks of noisy Arctic Terns wheeled overhead. There were thousands of puffins nesting in the cliffs which ring the island and I was finally able to take the photos I wanted. He took us to what he called a secret place at the extreme northern tip of the island. To reach it he led us to a spot we would certainly never have found or dared to approach on our own. He took my hand as we scrambled down a precipitous slope littered with loose rocks and we wondered where on earth he was taking us. We rounded an outcrop well down the cliffs and found ourselves in a place that was absolute magic. Towering crags, at least 100ft high, rose sheer from the waves that exploded in sheets of foam around their base. Overhead, countless seabirds wheeled around our heads filling the air with their cries. Flocks of black and white guillemots crowded shoulder to shoulder on a wide ledge while, in every available crevice, nesting kittiwakes and fulmars, many with fluffy youngsters, were almost close enough to touch. It was a wild and wonderful scene that exceeded anything I have ever experienced before.
The following morning we planned to go around the northern end of the island to take Venture II across the Arctic Circle before heading to Husavik. As we were about to leave, the guy who had taken our lines when we first arrived showed up at the dock and asked whether he could accompany us around the island. We agreed and took him with us as we went clockwise around the island going to 66 degrees 34.325 degrees north – well above Arctic Circle. He took over the wheel for part of the way. We saw all the spots we visited on land yesterday but they lacked the immediacy and sheer drama of the time spent on the cliffs.
After returning our passenger to the harbour we headed for Husavik hoping to see the whales for which the place is famous. Sadly there were none to be seen although many whale watching boats were out. We were told in Grimsey that they had gone 40 miles north into colder waters - another manifestation of warming sea temperatures.
The following morning the clouds, which had been hovering since our arrival, suddenly dissipated to reveal a range of beautiful snowy peaks across the western side of the fjord. We rented a car for the day and set out to visit the Dettiflos waterfall billed as the most powerful in Europe. The area around the waterfall was rocky desert but spray from falls watered the nearby vegetation and created a beautiful rainbow in the gorge below.
We had not been able to identify any really suitable ports in the north east of Iceland and, as time was beginning to run short, we decided to make a 130 mile run around the northeast tip of the Iceland to Vopnafjordur well south on the east coast. It was a beautiful sunny morning when we arose at 0400 to take our leave of Husavik. The northeast corner of Iceland lies just south of the Arctic Circle and we crossed the line for a second time and went as far north as 66 degrees 35.55 minutes when rounding it. There seems to be some doubt as to the actual position which changes slightly every year as the earth tips on its axis. The usual figure is given as 66 degrees 33 minutes. This was our most northerly point before permanently turning south and we celebrated by broaching our one, long-held, bottle of champagne and drinking it mixed with orange juice. We poured a generous libation to King Neptune over the side for allowing us to venture unmolested into his arctic domain.
Maybe it wasn't to his taste for we lost the sun and the weather turned grey and overcast. As we approached Vopnafjordur the clouds dropped lower and lower until we found ourselves in fog. The wind dropped to 3 knots and the sea turned glassy. We entered the narrow harbour at 6 pm and passed two large commercial fishing trawlers on the way in. We called the harbour master on the radio but, as was usually the case, had no response. We tied up at a dock protected with rubber tyres and, also as usual, a passer-by appeared from nowhere to take our lines.
Once again we were soon the centre of attention and three guys came by who were clearly more than casually interested in the boat. I invited them on board and it turned out they were from one of the big fishing boats we had passed on our way into the harbour. Their spokesman, who spoke good English, was the chief engineer and he invited us to take a look around their trawler which we eagerly accepted. We walked across to their dock and once inside the ship we were asked to remove our shoes. We were taken first to the bridge and then to the engine room. We were very impressed by the complexity and amount of high-tech equipment. The ship was ten years old and built in Chile. She operated with a crew of 13 and fished for mackerel, herring and whiting. He said that the fish are all moving farther north due to warming sea temperatures and that there is now less ice than previously. This one ship caught 89,000 tons of fish last year but less this year and fishing is completely controlled by quotas. They fish as far south as St Kilda and as far north as the polar ice off Greenland all year round including in the dark Arctic night of winter.
We were invited to the crew mess for coffee and cookies. Inviting visitors on board Venture has certainly provided us with unexpected rewards especially in northern Iceland.
We were underway again the following morning. It was a stunningly beautiful day with a cerulean sky. The wind was 16 to 18 knots but it was from aft for a change and the ride was like sitting in an armchair and, with her long, deep keel, Venture runs straight and true in following seas. Our log passed the 5,000 mile mark before we turned into Seydisfjordur with huge mountains on either side. Snowmelt from the peaks fed many silvery streams in almost continuous waterfalls as they tumbled down the steep slopes.
We arrived at the head of the fjord at 15:15 and saw someone waving at us from a tyre-covered dock. He turned out to be the harbor master and he directed us to tie up where he was standing. Fortunately the tidal range in all these northern and eastern harbours is seldom more than a couple of feet so this type of fixed dock is not a problem. Seydisfjordur is a small town with not much in the way of amenities despite being the arrival terminal for the weekly car ferry from Scandinavia via the Faroes. It was the major allied base during WW2 and the wreck of an oil tanker sunk by German fighters still lies on the floor of the fjord. The ferry arrives at 09:00 on Thursday morning and on Wednesday night all the hotels and restaurants are fully booked. As luck would have it, we arrived on a Wednesday so we had dinner on board that night. We had last fueled in Reykjavik and we needed to top up the tanks to get us all the way to Scotland – and beyond. Once again, we were helped out by a guy who visited the boat. He made a phone call from Venture's engine room and arranged for someone to bring a tanker from a town in the next fjord as fuel was not available in sufficient quantities in Seydisfjordur.
We were now ready to leave Iceland and start our return journey to Southampton but, as always, the weather was the deciding factor. We consulted a number of weather sources but they were seldom in agreement and the forecasts changed almost hourly. Chris finally made the decision to leave at 04:00 on Saturday morning and make the direct 500 mile crossing to Stornoway - bypassing the Faroes to make up the time we had spent waiting and also to get there before the next weather system arrived.
We cleared customs and departed Iceland at 04:40 on Saturday July 24th after spending slightly more than one month circumnavigating and driving through this fascinating country. Our transit to Stornoway on the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides was uneventful but, at 0142 on the morning of July 25th, we crossed our outgoing track effectively completing our circumnavigation of Iceland. We had covered 1,370 miles since were last at this exact point on the globe at 22:30 on June 18th.
We spent a couple of weeks on our way south through Scotland calling at a few places we had missed on our way north including a visit to Fingal's Cave on the island of Staffa. We revisited the remote bothy on the Isle of Jura where we celebrated my birthday. Then, with time running short, we made swift passage through rough seas down the Irish Sea to Milford Haven in Wales and then around Land's End to Dartmouth where they were holding their annual regatta. The celebrations included a magnificent firework display which, being moored right beneath the overhead explosion of colour, felt like a spectacular finale to our trip that had been arranged especially for our benefit!
But there still remained the final 100 miles to return us to our starting point at Shamrock Quay in Southampton. We were lucky with the weather and the English Channel was in a rare benign mood with skies blue and almost cloudless. We were underway at 07:45 and we arrived back at Shamrock Quay at 18:04 on August 30, 2010. Since leaving this spot on April 19th, 134 days ago, we had covered 4,677 nautical miles and been as far north as 66 degrees, 35.55 minutes and as far west as 24 degrees.
One week later Venture II was on display in the Southampton show looking very much like a brand new boat without a single blemish to show that she had just returned from circumnavigating Iceland and been north of the Arctic Circle.