SKIRR: The adventures behind the photos

May 13, 2024

Elemental landscapes, imposing icebergs and rainbow roads; the images captured during last year’s SKIRR Adventures expedition to the Arctic Circle are as vibrant as they are diverse and captivating. 

The saying goes that a picture tells a thousand words and there is nobody better placed than Emily Caruso, professional sailor and SKIRR Skipper, to share the tales behind some of her favourite photos from the high latitudes. 

Ahead of this year’s expedition, which will see Emily return to lead one of the boats for the first three of the five legs, we found out a little more about the context of the adventures from behind the lens. 

Photo 1: The Polar Bear Iceberg

Image: The Polar Bear Iceberg by Brian Carlin

“This photo of a small iceberg – which also looks like a polar bear if you tilt your head to the side – was taken by the drone as it floated past our yacht, CV11, while we were anchored off Tasiilaq, Greenland” enthuses Emily from her home in Somerset. 

“I love the difference in colours of the blue and green. This variance, I am told, is due to the differing levels of salinity – it’s more dense in certain areas as it melts. At least – that’s what I am told!” She adds.

The shot was taken during Leg 3, The Greenland Explorer, which runs from Reykjavik – Tasiilaq – Ísafjördur. As Emily recalls, it was the first time they spotted an iceberg: “We had seen the first iceberg of the trip when we were about 70nm off the coast of Greenland. That was so exciting. It was right on the horizon and it looked very bright blue but then as we got closer the light changed and the colour changed with it. So I think the first one was the most memorable and we took about 800 photos. But then the next one comes and it’s even better! And the next is even better again!

“We didn’t have fog to contend with – which is unusual for that area as the Greenland current mixes with the warm air, but we kept the radar on regardless as we operate lookout by all available means. It wasn’t too hard to spot as we had good visibility. We had whales pop up – there would be a blow, then a fin, then a tail. It was just like being in Narnia. Like we’d sailed into a totally different environment which was so alien and so beautiful. It’s very difficult to convey the feeling in words but we didn’t even need to discuss how incredible it was amongst the crew, as we were all just part of it and felt it together.

“The weather that day was sunny, but it wasn’t cold. The water was four degrees but the sun was out with blue sky and we were wearing t-shirts. You don’t associate that weather with Greenland – which is, I suppose, scary in some ways but you do get days like that.”

Image: The polar bear shaped iceberg with CV11 in the background, taken at sea level by Brian Carlin.

She added: “What’s really interesting is that the drone has given such a different perspective. It looked totally different at sea level. I think that’s why it’s my favourite photo,  and the beautiful thing about icebergs, they are constantly evolving and changing. Looking at it from another angle is quite profound I suppose.”

2. The Ice Boot

Image: The Ice Boot by Emily Caruso

There are a number of extra considerations when sailing in the high latitudes, Emily explains: “Icebergs are moving all the time, so we are constantly on anchor watch – even in the daytime. 

“These icebergs are one thing, but there’s the little growlers and bits of ice in the water that we need to watch out for. You’re not likely to drive into a giant iceberg like this one but the growlers are why we have people up on the bow, keeping a watchful eye on your surroundings. The bit you can see of a growler is probably about the size of a desk in your office –  but of course ⅞ of it is under the water. So, you need to remember what you’re looking at! It’s ice but the impact would be like driving into rock, so keeping watch really is paramount. That’s the reality of expedition sailing like this.”

She adds: “There is a series of these taken when the icebergs started getting more intense. This is one I took that looks like a boot.”

3. Scoresby Sund mountains

Image: Scoresby Sund mountain range by Brian Carlin.

“The colours! There is no filter on this at all, it was the most beautiful soft pink landscape.” Says Emily. 

Emily and her crew visited Scoresby Sund – a large majestic fjord system on the eastern coast of Greenland – during Leg 4. She says: “You’re in a remote place anyway but Scoresby Sund felt really, really remote.”

Recalling the evening this photo was taken, she says: “We had all been below having dinner, I think, when I popped my head up. I immediately got the crew to come up and take a look – it was almost surreal. 

“The light and colours are different at that latitude – they are softer. It would probably look like regular mountains with snow on if you were viewing them from here on the UK’s south coast but it looks so different and so magical up there. It was incredible to see the landscape that way.”

4. The Blue Nose Ceremony 

Image: The Blue Nose ceremony on board CV11. 

A touch of Navy tradition was another highlight of the SKIRR Adventures expedition for Emily: “We did a blue nose ceremony. You can do these to mark your seafaring journeys across the Arctic Circle, a bit like when you cross the equator or the International Date Line.

“It was the first Arctic Circle crossing for everyone except for one crew member who had crossed into it once before whilst working on a ship. Seeing it from the perspective on board a yacht is very different to a cruise ship or liner. I think sailing brings you closer to the elements than is possible on those bigger ships and boats. It’s integral to the SKIRR experience and a big part of what makes it so special.”

The latitude of the Arctic Circle is approximately 66° 34′ N and it was a moment which was as special for Emily as it was the crew: “When we went across the actual line of latitude it was the middle of the night. Ricardo Rorato (First Mate) and I were trying to get the latitude exactly on a photo at the nav station. That year, Ricardo and I had been across the date line, the equator and arctic circle all within four months!

“So rather than doing the blue nose ceremony there and then, we waited until we reached Scoresby Sund at anchor and all had the blue noses on, had fun and dinner together to celebrate. It was a great part of the adventure when we all came together.”

5. Sunsets in Oban

Image: Sunset in Oban taken by SKIRR crew. 

“The sunsets in Scotland are like no other. They are incredible. When I talk about this amazing photo of it setting over the marina and it sounds like just another sunset…but it truly is incredible.” Says Emily. 

Sunsets aside, the western coast of Scotland, which is the end destination for Leg 1, delivered as much charm as it did adventure. Emily added: “We saw whales off the Scottish Coast which was a highlight – and of course the colours of the houses in Tobermory are so iconic. It really is a fantastic way to see Scotland. You become part of the environment rather than being a visitor to it.”

6. Puffins and Volcano Eruptions 

Image: Puffins in Vestmannaeyjar

“During Leg 2, we stopped in Vestmannaeyjar, a small island off the coast of Iceland. It was stunning – and home to lots of puffins.” says Emily.

She continues: “As is the way with expedition sailing, sometimes you need to work around the weather and we were stormbound there for three days. During that time, we found a bar called the Puffin Bar – it was so cool. They had big TVs which you’d typically expect sport to play on – but they had a live feed to the active volcano on the Reykjavik peninsula. 

“That was the first time that we knew something was happening and then, when we sailed around the corner, we spotted an orange glow in the sky from the erupting volcano. We were too far away to see any detail but knowing it was erupting gave a real sense of the environment being alive.”

7. Húsavík

Image: Húsavík by SKIRR crew.

When sailing in areas such as the high latitudes, crews are at the mercy of the elements. When it comes to schedules and ports, there is often a need for flexibility and route changes. However, as Emily found out last year, this can prove to be a great thing. 

“We stopped at the beautiful Húsavík anchorage at the end of Leg 2 and again in Leg 3. I’m really pleased we added this into the itinerary – the crew loved it and it was a great one to revisit.” explains Emily. 

She adds: “It’s only 16 miles from Reykjavík and it was a really nice experience to add in – the crew enjoyed visiting the geothermal pools too.”

8. Pride in Reykjavik 

Image: Flying the rainbow flag for Pride in Reykjavik.

Last but not least, Pride and the rainbow road in Reykjavik was a highlight for Emily. 

Says Emily: “Iceland has rainbow painted roads as part of their LGBTQ+ inclusivity. We saw a rainbow road in Vestmannaeyjar first and then there’s also one in Reykjavik and our stop coincided with Pride day so we flew a rainbow flag to support it. It was a really nice example of how Iceland as a nation is really nice, friendly and helpful. I loved Reykjavik!”

Emily will be departing Gosport, UK, on 27 June 2024 to embark on the first stage of the SKIRR Adventures expedition. Speaking about why she is keen to return, she says: “A large aspect of it is the people – we really did have a great time. I tend to prefer warm weather sailing but I really wanted to go back and do it again. I want to go back and see what’s changed – even just in a year. It’s a total juxtaposition but I found Scotland, Greenland and Iceland all so magical. 

“I’m also looking forward to going to Falmouth which I went to as a child and it’s a fantastic sailing town.”

This year’s expedition will return to Clipper Ventures HQ in Gosport on 19 September 2024 after covering around 4,500NM. 

Want to experience the magic of the Arctic Circle for yourself? There are still spaces available for this summer’s expedition. To find out more and sign up, enquire today.