Venture Cruises To Iceland - Part Eight
VENTURE II Heads from Acureyri to Seydisfjordur
It was very early on Sunday morning July 11th as we made our way 30 miles down the long Eyjafjordur to Akureyri, the second largest town in Iceland and the capital of the north. Even this late in the summer, the town was backed by snow capped peaks. We tied up alongside a tyre-clad wharf but the tidal range here was only about 18" so this was not a problem. Moored on the other side of the wharf was Polar Bear - a 72' ex-BT Global Challenge boat. This tough yacht has sailed around the world three times and on this trip is heading first for Jan Mayen Island in the far north to take a group of experienced climbers to climb the volcano. She will then be heading for Scoresby Sound in East Greenland to allow the same climbers to scale some sheer - and hitherto unclimbed - granite peaks accessible only by boat. She had arrived here from Newcastle in the UK and in the evening she left for remote Jan Mayen Island 300 miles north of here. Some folk are truly adventurous!
The harbourmaster in Akureyri was especially helpful and even had a custom adapter made up for us to be able to connect the shorepower. When we came to leave we found we had only been charged $11 per night including water and power.
The following morning 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 AD 1000. 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 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 the race had been cancelled this year because of a lack of entries. We talked with the boat owner but he was not too concerned because, for him, the race had only 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. This tunnel was single track with priority against us. We took the sign-posted road to Siglufjordur and soon realized that it was not the main route shown on the map but we decided to keep going and glad that we did. 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 fjords there. A resident of Akureyri tried to interest us in making the same trip but, alas, we had no time. 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.
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. Snowy mountains appeared on either hand through gaps in the clouds and we passed a small cruise ship on its way in. 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 kids 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 offered to drive us around the island which we were very happy to accept. We later found out that he was the owner of the largest fishing boat on the island. The island is only two miles by one, 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 100 ft 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 seen before.
He showed us all over the island and he told us that he was the boy mentioned in the guide book who had alerted the islanders to the presence of a polar bear on an iceberg that had floated across from Greenland and grounded on the island. He was seven years old at the time. He also told us that there is now much less ice than previously and he confirmed that the driftwood we could see on the shore had come from Russia - although there was now less coming than before.
The following morning we planned to go around the northern end of the island to take Venture across the Arctic Circle before heading to Husavik. As we were about the leave, one of the men who had been the first to come on board when we first arrived showed up on 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 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 whale watching boats were out. We were told in Grimsey that they had gone 40 miles north into colder waters in another manifestation of warming 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 in another attempt to reach 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 the falls.
We had not been able to find any recommended ports suitable for us in the north east of Iceland and as time was beginning to run short we planned 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 is changing 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 he didn't like it 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 usual 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 ship which we eagerly accepted. We walked across to their dock and once we were inside the ship were asked to remove our shoes. The ship was very clean and well organized. 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. They 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.
We were invited to the crew mess for coffee and cookies. Having 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 beautiful blue 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. Venture's log passed the 5,000 mile mark before we turned into Sedisfjordur 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 1515 and saw someone waving at us from a tyre-covered dock. He turned out to be the harbourmaster 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.
Sedisfjordur 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 0900 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 0400 on Saturday morning and make the direct 500 mile crossing to Stornway bypassing the Faroes to make up the time we had spent waiting and also to get there before the next weather system arrived. Despite reports of rough conditions out at sea, the weather was beautiful during our two days in Seydisfjordur with clear blue skies. It was actually warm enough, for the first time on this entire trip, to sit in the cockpit in tee shirt and shorts.
We cleared customs and departed Iceland at 0440 on Saturday July 24th after spending slightly more than one month circumnavigating and driving through this fascinating country.
My next blog will cover our ocean passage from Iceland to the Hebrides and the remainder of our trip from there back to Southampton to prepare VENTURE II for display in the Southampton International Boat Show.