Monday, July 18, 2011

Fair Isle

Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the United Kingdom.  Located in Northern Scotland between the Orkneys and mainland Shetland it boasts approximately 55 permanent inhabitants.  The entrance to the well protected harbor was a little precarious but we made it through and tied up to the dock.  There is a bird observatory just next to the harbor and we popped in there to check if we were docked in the right location as we were the only boat in the harbor.  We were told that we were welcome to join for dinner but needed to let them know early in the day. 

Fair Isle is a beautiful, windswept cliffy island with sheep clinging to the cliffs just like in the Faroer.  ‘Don’t they ever fall off?’  we asked one of the islanders.  ‘Oh, yes, all the time’  she said.  ‘ Look, there’s one on the beach over there.’ We took a long walk and bumped into a father and son who had flown in in their plane.  They were staying at the South lighthouse and managed to cadge us an invitation to dinner.   Stunning vistas and friendly people at the lighthouse. 

On our second day on Fair Isle we were informed that there would be a wedding that evening and all people on the island (including ourselves therefore) were invited to attend.  We pulled out our fanciest duds and headed up to the church a little dubiously, wondering if we were really invited or if they were just being polite.  We were warmly welcomed by the happy couple, the family and the rest of the islanders.  The musicians that were booked to play that evening were unfortunately unable to fly or boat in due to the weather conditions (a common occurrence).  This did not phase anyone as there were so many musical people present that a rather professional sounding group was assembled and they played throughout the evening.  Emma made a friend in the daughter of the school principal.  Seb and Macsen wandered home about 2330 and Emma and I stayed and danced and played until 0200! She has never been up this late in her life.
What a wonderful balance of resourcefulness, creativity and patience people need to have to live in this wild and beautiful place.
We leave Fair Isle with the very strange knowledge that this will most likely be our last stop before arriving back in the Netherlands.

Faroer Islands

We studies the charts and did lots of calculations before making the trip to the Faroe Islands.  The Faroe Islands are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic approximately halfway between Norway and Iceland, north-northwest of mainland Scotland. The islands are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.  These islands are also known for having some of the most complex current and tidal flows around and between the islands and good preparation is mandatory to navigate safely, comfortable and with some speed. 

We had a beautiful trip through the  Westfjord and around to the capital Torshavn, mostly with the current with us varying from 3-5 knots.  Huge cliffs loom above us as we navigate through the fjord, each one populated with little white flecks that a peek through the binoculars reveal to be sheep.  Apparently the local farmers scale the cliffs every spring to carry the sheep up to these grazing grounds. 

Close to Torshavn, we ready the boat to take the sail down in very calm waters.  We experience the tidal effects in the extreme when suddenly the water became choppy due to a tide rip and Seb lost his balance and fell backwards over the safety railing…overboard!  Fortunately he was wearing his lifevest and a lifeline otherwise he would have toppled overboard and in the choppy, freezing cold waters it would have been very difficult to pull him back on board.  It was a shock that reminded us of the importance of sticking to the rules (always wear a lifevest and lifeline if you go on deck) even in seemingly benign conditions. 

Once again, in Torshavn we were met by the unique kind of friendliness that only an island can offer. The local captain asked us to join him on his next cruise to help him man the boat for a group of tourists.  One of the Sea Shepard boats was motoring around the harbor.  When asked by one of the tourists what it was doing the captain replied “They are trying to stop us from killing the whales” She replied, “Oh, I thought they were taking care of the sheep.”  We chuckled. 

We rented a car in Torshavn and spent a few wonderful days cruising along the rocky coasts, taking long rambling walks and marveling at people mowing their rooves.  It is very popular to have a grass roof in the Faroer and these do need to be maintained. 

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Húsavík to Sedysfjordur was a slow, wavy, upwind and motoring for 200 nautical miles. We arrived at about 1am on August 1st and tied up in a misty, foggy and almost dark night. The darkest we had experienced since halfway from Newfoundland.  The fjord was clouded in fog and the weather was rainy so we were not much impressed with the surroundings.  The addition of sunlight the next day showed the pleasant town in a much gentler light and we headed out to find the swimming pool.

The weather was beautiful as we left Iceland, drinking hot chocolate topped with whipped cream in the cockpit as we motored out of the fjord.  Relatively fast and uneventful trip to the Faroer Islands with wind against but rapid enough.


Húsavík was the first place in Iceland to be settled by a Norse man. The Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson stayed there for one winter around 870 A.D. The name of the town means "bay of houses", probably referring to Garðar's homestead, which may have been the only houses then in Iceland.  We were drawn to the town by the promise in the pilot that Husavik is located near Europe’s best whale watching. 

We tied up to the public dock in this charming town, a cosy harbor full of interesting (primarily wooden) boats surrounded by beautiful hills covered in bright blue and purple lupins (apparently a highly invasive non-indigenous plant but beautiful). 

In Húsavík we spent a relaxing week either in the swimming pools or exploring the wonderful walks in the hills. But the best think about Húsavík was the boat full of Norwegians (the only other visiting boat in the harbor) with whom we spent almost every evening at a picnic table on the dock between our two boats sharing stories, laughing and philosophizing deep into the night.  These men were really adventurers, waiting for the ice to clear for a trip to Greenland, and they had many wonderful stories.  We became particular friends with a man called Edvard, a writer with a lovely deep voice and a wonderful way of taking you deep into his stories so that it felt as though you were experiencing them with him. 

Edvard interviewing Rhiannon for the Norwegian radio

Arctic Ocean

On our way to a little island called Grimsey on the North of Iceland we were honoured by a visit from Neptune of the North. He joined us to celebrate our crossing of the polar circle (66 33 44N) and entry into the Arctic Ocean. Macsen was a little scared of him but remained polite throughout his visit. The appropriate libations (Laphroaig) were liberally poured overboard in thanks for our safe passage.
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Some Laphroaig whiskey for Neptune of the North

Saturday, July 16, 2011


No visit to Iceland is complete without a frolic in the snow…even in late July.  The 75km long Isafjardarfjup is the largest fjord in the region.  Craggy mountains, precarious sea cliffs and plunging waterfalls ring the wonderful uninhabited Hornstrandir peninsula.  It consists of 570 square km of tundra, fjord, glacier and alpine upland protected as a national monument and natural reserve.   There are 4 smaller fjords snaking out from the Isafjardarfjup and we chose the most remote one to anchor the Pjotter.  

After a day spent wandering through the tundra and frolicking with the monkies in the snow Seb and I sat in the cockpit enjoying a glass of wine.  It was about 11pm and Seb and we were still marveling at the 24 hour daylight when I saw a brown shape moving along the side of the fjord. A peek through the binoculars revealed a lovely browny-black Arctic fox weaving its way through the shrubs.   So there we were, completely alone, anchored in the middle of the field, surrounded by cliffs covered in wild flowers and snow,  enjoying wonderful weather (relatively speaking), and watching this little furry wonder going about its business.  Not a bad spot to find yourself in on the 5th anniversary of your wedding day.

Friday, July 15, 2011


After a 166 nautical mile motor sail through little wind along the dramatic coast we turned the Pjotter into the Sugandafjoerdur to the little town of Sudureyri.  In addition to the stunning location, sandwiched at the point of the 13 km long Sugandafjordur,  the town is also notable for being a forerunner in Iceland in sustainability.  Sudureyri gets all its energy and hot water supplies from sustainable sources.  The villages’ prime fishing grounds lie close to shore so little fuel is used to power boats and traditional fishing methods mean that the natural balance of the fish stocks is not endangered.  

Seb was invited out for the day on the Gestur Kristinsson, a 37 foot fishing boat skippered by a local fisherman named Höskuldur and carrying one additional crewman named Niels.  The three of them motored out of the protected harbor at 0530 in the morning and returned with 2,4 tonnes of haddock, cod, catfish, monkfish and sole at about 1700.   Emma and Macsen and I hurried out to meet them on the dock to watch the fish being unloaded.  Seb was jubilant and full of tales of the 18km of line (18,000 hooks) sent out from the boat, the complexity of gaffing so many fish,  catching a monkfish with a mouth as big as his own head, taking stitches out of Niels’ thumb and many more.  After the fish were hauled out and weighed we ushered a rather fishy smelling Seb back to the boat carrying a huge monkfish tail and a good size sole.  He spent much of the rest of the evening filleting and together we rigged up a drying frame for the leathery monkfish skin, a strange and interesting souvenir.   We finally settled in for a delicious meal of monkfish and rice at about 10 o’clock in the evening.  

The monkeys and I had spent the day wandering around the village and soaking in the swimming pool and hot pots.  The pools are outdoors and from their warm waters you can hear the sheep baaing and can watch them scrabbling around on the steep cliffs above. Rather pleasant.  We topped our day with an ice cream (we are in Iceland after all) before heading back to view Papa’s catch.    

                                          "I am going fishing!"

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reykjavik and the Golden Circle

Thanks to an abundance of geothermal heat, swimming is a national institution in Iceland, and nearly every town has at least one sundlaug (heated swimming pool).  In our first five days in Iceland we went swimming outside almost every day and ate a total of seven ice cream cones per person.  We never achieved this quantity of swimming and ice cream eating in our time in the warmth of the Caribbean. The weather was very sunny and relatively warm (between 8-15 Celsius) and the hot pots (thermal pools) were delicious.  After 9,5 days at seas we felt in need of a little pampering and touristing so we rented a car and headed out on the Golden Circle to see the major sights in the area.  The countryside is stunning with huge rocky cliffs and bright green hills leading down to shining lakes and fjords.  The South coast was bleak with black evil lava rocks lumped across the landscape giving the place a mysterious and wonderful feel.  You can easily see why stories of trolls and fairies and other wonderful creatures abound in this landscape.  The countryside is relatively untouched and there are few houses (over 35% of the 320,000 Icelandic people live in Reykjavik) but the tourist hot spots are crowded.   

Our first stop was Geysir, location of the mother of all geysers after whom all other geysers in the world are named.  Geysir used to shoot up 100 metres but over the years visitors have thrown stones into it and now it only spouts a few metres high.  Sometimes people do things that aren’t very clever.  Just next to Geysir, however, is Strokkur and this one shoots an impressive 25-35 feet of water and steam every 8-10 minutes.  It was hard to drag the monkeys away.  They would wait eagerly and then throw their hands in the air with a big ‘whooaaaa!’ whenever she blew.

The Blue Lagoon is a field of milky blue water glowing and steaming in the middle of a black lava field, impressive.  The spa area consists of a huge rocky pool heated to 38 Celsius by the Svartsengi geothermal plant. Our hotel was locate 600 m from the lagoon and the path us led through an eerily beautiful lava field.  Each day the walk would take a little longer as Emma and Macsen honed their troll and fairy hunting skills.  There were hundreds of exciting little nooks and crannies in the moss covered lava that they peered into each one hoping to make friends with the little folk inhabiting them.  We spent hours floating around the pool, eating ice cream in the water (nothing is closer to heaven for a 3 and 5 year old) and smearing the silicon mud on our faces.  Seb and I both tried a floating massage and had our tense passage-weary muscles rubbed while floating around outside in the huge warm milky bath.  After two days we headed back to the Pjotter glowing warm, relaxed and with skin as soft as a baby’s bottom.  

St. John’s to Reykjavik

Imagine our dismay when, about five days into the voyage, we learned of an approaching low pressure system that promised very heavy winds (35-50 knots!) and waves to match (up to 22 feet!)…not something we were keen to experience.  Although it never looked as they we would be anywhere near the middle of it we were uncomfortable even to be on the periphery of such as system.   Our options were to turn East, adding several hundred miles and 3-4 days to our passage or banking that the winds would remain steady enough to continue our rapid progress straight ahead to arrive in Iceland ahead of the system.   After carefully studying our forecast information we agreed to keep our course and minimize our time at sea. The forecast 15-20 knots of wind SSE-SE delivered and we managed to keep our speeds over 7 knots for the last 5 days.  Our average for the entire 9,5 days crossing was 6,8 knots!!!  All in all it was a physically comfortable and enjoyable crossing with steady winds and minimal seas.   Mentally it was much more trying but regular weather updates and emails from friends and family kept our spirits up most of the time.  The monkeys were an absolute joy and remained positive the entire time, pretty incredible for two young children kept in a small, wobbly enclosed space for days on end. 
At 1200am on July 12th, exactly 9,5 days from departure, we tied up our Pjotter on the public wharf in Reykjavik.  Two very pleasant and efficient customs agent were  on board within an hour and we checked in with them while sitting outside in the cockpit and completed all of the paperwork in the midnight sun. After a very brief but highly enjoyable ‘ aankomst biertje’  we settled with great relief into our finally still bed.