crew blog Leg 2 – Iceland

Oct 26, 2023

After some vaguely Scottish dancing with the locals to a live band in Tobermory, we set sail for Iceland. With engines on against a gentle headwind we passed Ardnamurchan Point. We cruised side by side with C11, my boat on Leg 1. There were small groups of guillemots bobbing in the waves making their croaking screeches, mostly mothers and their young, but we noticed those groups growing into larger clusters of several dozen.  

Then young dolphins joined us in groups from our starboard quarter, both to play at our bows and then to join the guillemots between our boats. It was if we were herding a shoal of fish between us. Suddenly the sleek, majestic backs of a couple of whales appeared with their blunter dorsal fins, set well back on their bodies: Minke Whales! Possibly three or four before suddenly the show was over. 

The passage to Iceland was uneventful really. Two passages of sailing, one in slight seas and the other through slamming waves, but between those passages, quite a lot of motoring. So different from the Round the World races! 

After ten watches, with the hours of darkness becoming merely hours of dusk, we arrived in Vestmannaeyjar. 

It was a dramatic entrance with the vertical, bird filled volcanic cliffs to starboard and the industrial structures of a modern fishing port to port. That afternoon I climbed one of the overlooking summits with a couple of crewmates. There were ladders and passages with ropes and chains over the tricky bits, until the steep grassy route to the summit: stunning views over the harbour, bays, rocky inlets and neighbouring peaks, each of which, like all the surrounding islands, had s hut perched somewhere! 

Back down in time to visit the municipal baths; the most welcome hot shower, a quick swim, then outside to the hot baths, steam room and waterslides. Bliss! 

The next day we hired bikes to cycle to the puffin colony on the far side of the island. Some great views along the way, our first puffins, some steep climbs and then an outstanding view of the cove with a very lively population of puffins, seating peacefully on their pinnacle territories, leaping off to perform exercise lap around the bay, small wings flapping furiously, then landing with their splayed orange feet braced ahead of them, brightly by the sun, to land as they stalled. Couldn’t be more endearing! 

The next day was too stormy to set sail, so I set off with James, Eilidh, Christian, Rolph and Jody to climb the the peaks and ridge of the summits of Vörðuskeggi, Eyjafjallajökull, Hvannadalshnúkur. Five years ago, and with appropriate footwear I might have accompanied James and Eilidh on the final steep scramble, but with winds whipping up, and over the ridge, I acted my age! 

We still had time to visit the museum dedicated to the massive eruption of Eldfell in 1973. Built around the remains of a home that had been excavated from under 15 meters of lava. The story is a dramatic one of human resilience, in the face of the tremendous powers of nature. The eruption lasted for over five months and buried those houses that were not destroyed under metres of ash. 

On the fourth day the sea state was deemed too rough to sail into, so I climbed the highest volcano on the island, Helgafell, with great views of the crashing waves, then eating our snack lunches in the peace and wildflowers of the crater. 

Back to the dock via the sweet black replica chapel at the harbour entrance, and the fort which had failed to defend the inhabitants from Algerian raiders and slavers 300 years ago. 

On the fourth day, we finally set sail for Reykjavik, motoring most of the way in calm seas, but enjoying a great period of sailing in sunshine with the wind on our beam during our afternoon watch. That night we had our first glimpse of fire burning several miles inland. Not a forest fire but Iceland’s latest volcano! A distant but spectacular display of fire and sparks flying brilliantly in the wind! 

In the early hours of the morning, we motored up a long, whale fjord, north of Reykjavik, where apparently convoys had assembled in safety during the war and were soon ferried by our little dinghy to the Hvammsvik hot spring baths. A series of hot spring baths leading down to the sea, the lowest getting flooded at high tide. Rather more luxurious and manicured than when nature simply supplied the hot water, but tasteful and wonderfully relaxing. 

I am now in the National Gallery Reykjavik and looking forward to hiking to the volcano tomorrow.  

Edward Gildea – SKIRR Adventurer 2023