Sunday, 3 November 2019

Iceland............Finally



Faeroes.

A quick look at the long term forecast was enough to persuade us that we either left with what we had or waited indefinitely for who knows what. So we slipped our lines from Eidi and on 28th June headed out for Iceland. Progress was slow and lumpy, so much so that the early hours I felt I'd had enough - a feeling that hits me from time to time, usually during long passages so this was a tad early. By the following day we were drifting and we tightened the mizzen rigging (using our chain hoist to get the tension)in flat seas and sunshine. By the next day the forecasted winds had kicked in and we pushed north of our rhumb line to try and stay above the low and take advantage of better winds as it went through. We ploughed on under double reefed main and stays'l making reasonable if lumpy progress as the high 30's wind was too far forward for any comfort and eventually we hove to to allow the wind and seas to calm down rather than bashing away. The AIS gave us warning of approaching fishing boats with two projected to come close. Despite several calls on different channels to each of the vessels we had no response leading us to conclude the 80m ships steaming to their fishing grounds at 10k have crews who opt to bank sleep rather keep watch which is a bit unfortunate on the rest of us. But the next ship we called, responded and updated the weather for us, kindly calling back later to suggest we might want to try and head north rather than remain hove to and drift south as that way we would miss the 5 metre seas the front was generating. A kind gesture and we duly set off, hand steering, in order to put more miles between us and the seas. It was whilst we were hove to we bent the first of three bolts on “Stan” the self-steerer. We managed to get the paddle assembly aboard despite the seas (and its weight) where we stowed it below until we could spare the time to repair it the next day. By then both winds and seas had dropped and with a new bolt in place we were able to get everything back together. Not for long as over the next 2 days we bent a bolt a day – something was obviously wrong but we couldn't for the moment see what it was. Unlike the genny which chose a brief increase in wind speed to rip just below a panel close to the peak reinforcement. A bummer as we really needed a lightweight sail in the bulk of the winds we were getting. By now it was late Monday and my mind kept switching between jacking it in and continuing....Bee was philosophical on the surface but deeply gutted that we might not make it but with her quiet support and strength I eventually came round and we persevered. Well persevered is a stretch really as the lack of wind and some kind of circular current seem to keep us trapped in one area for almost a day. In the end we had little option but to motor for several hours to try and clear its influence. As it happened it was a good decision.

We'd downloaded PW before we left and although 4 days old it still bore some resemblance to what we were getting. Based on that we opted to keep sailing south of west in the hope that the winds would become SW which they finally did on Wed 31st. Around 8am that day Bee could clearly see the Icelandic peaks some 50nm away and gradually we closed the coast . Naturally the current was against us and our request to arrive for clearance at a small fishing village whilst not declined was not greeted with enthusiasm and we continued on to Neskaupstadur arriving around 11pm in daylight. We tied up in the fishing harbour, customs were waiting and within the hour we were cleared in.

We liked the town and Iceland too what little we had seen of it. People are friendly but not “in your face”; A fisherman/engineer answered my questions patiently, said he might be able to help sort out the steerer and came down later that evening to look at it. He thought the bearings were too loose, the bolt in question needed to be a size up and we needed to check the alignment.... Not only that but he gave us the use of his washing machine...

The next day we took the self-steerer off, changed some of the bearings and tightened up the bolts that hold them. It was while putting it back together I realised I had stupidly put one of the tufnel blocks on back to front and that was causing the misalignment! Idiot!!! Anyway we sorted everything out, checked it whilst in harbour and it all seemed smooth – the proof would be in the sea trial when we moved on. Before we did that we thought we might move down to the town dock which is more convenient for the town as the katabatic winds were hitting 40k and dragging us (and the jetty we were on) about. Once that calmed we headed down, made a hash of coming alongside and shearing another of “Stan's” bolts in the process. And then a truck pulled up and someone came running over to us....surely not to move us on..No just letting us know we had front row seats for a music concert that night. The music in question turned out to be Viking Metal and luckily for us this was the fourth gig they'd played that day, the audience was very small and 20 minutes later they were packing up and heading home. Never have been a fan of heavy metal and the brief hearing we had a Viking Metal has not changed our minds so we think we had a lucky escape.

Phil and Linda called the following day just as we were clearing off the dock wanting to know where we were and we made arrangements to meet up in a few days in Husavik where they currently were. The winds would be better and stronger further north of us so we motored up the coast to an open bay to anchor. This is an incredible country for back-drops and despite the slight roll we had through the night the anchorage at Horstroend was very impressive. An hour or so of motoring the following morning had us into the wind belt and we were on our way. The absolute joy was the fact that the attention we had given Stan had paid off and we were able to relax and not fret about hand steering. As with most headlands the currents can be difficult in a wind over tide situation so we'd planned on staying at least 5 miles off and thus we found ourselves back in the Arctic Circle, albeit briefly. It was here that we watched the sunset at 1:30am only to rise again 76 minutes later with little change in the daylight in-between. Rounding the headland, heading south, passing islands alive with puffins and into Husavik which claims to be THE Whale watching centre of Iceland as it may well be. 

Certainly there is no shortage of boats for punters to climb aboard to see the whales as we found out when we approached the harbour with cruises returning or heading out at speed. But we found a berth and Phil let us know he'd found a local with a Sailrite who could repair the sail. Roderick is Swiss but has opted to live and work in Iceland and he made short work of the repair that very evening after he'd finished his stint on one of the sailing whale boats. We were back in business. Husavik has a remarkable backdrop - snow covered mountains seem to surround us.

Hannah and Windora left Husavik within an hour of each other. It is a good place to stop; electric and water included in the 2000isk (about £13) a night fee, supermarkets, running trails and, as ever, the most amazing backdrop of snow covered mountains dropping to the sea. 

Flatley
But we were heading across the bay to an island called Flatley with, perhaps a dozen summer houses, church and a community hall but who knows how many thousands of puffins and terns. At each of the landing points on the island a bin with sticks about a metre long for visitors to carry as they wander around the island. They're really needed if you venture into tern territory as the birds will attack anyone they see as an intruder by diving at the highest point – your head unless you're carrying a stick pointing vertically above the head to give them something else to aim for. Our object was to see puffins and we didn't have to go far. Windora had anchored in the pool with a line ashore and we tied to them. Astern the shore was, perhaps, 10 metres away and there were hundreds of puffins stretched along the shore watching us watching them. 


A stroll through the houses and onto the cliffs revealed birds everywhere and we spent ages snapping pics as they sat or launched themselves into space away from us. A nearby island Grimsay, has a huge puffin colony too but the birds don't react to humans in the same way- simply ignoring them for the most part. We assume that with Grimsay being uninhabited the puffins don't see humans as predators whereas here they're closer to human habitation and their need to have puffins as part of their diet.


We moved out of the harbour and onto a convenient quay and both boats left for harbours further west after a day or so. Windora with its powerful engine and 4 blade prop easily leaving us behind as we plugged on in lightish winds to make our way over a headland before the NW winds came in. It was a pity really as the combination of a potential head wind and trying to remain in company meant we missed out on some neat places. As it was we anchored for the night in a bay that on the chart seemed to have scant potential but was very good and apart from a few local skiffs we had to ourselves. The following day we beat down to Isafjorour where we thought Windora might be. The entrance was interesting with the local airfield alongside it and the channel open to the wind but once through we had a large enclosed bay before us and a sharp right hand turn took us down toward the town. The only boats in view were local and it turned out that all the cruising boats, including Windora, had congregated on the docks. Needless to say we opted to anchor where we could lie in comfort and light the wood stove without possibly annoying the neighbours.

By the following day almost everyone had left for Greenland a destination we had in mind but were now unsure of. The ice in Scoresby showed little evidence of moving and the option would be to head further south and it then became a “do we go just so we can say we went” type of discussion……but there was also, for me, the thought do I really want to cross the Denmark Strait twice to simply gain those bragging rights. Undecided to the very end but we checked out. Or tried to. Whereas the other boats US, OZ NZ had been able to check out via the police station we needed to complete a form online and email it and still not sure why. Anyway by the time we left we had little of the favourable tide left, a head wind and a feeling that this wasn’t a good idea. Not a good start. After several hours of tacking we managed to clear the headland, found the wind had veered more to the NW and picked up which put heading directly W to GL firmly off the itinerary. We called the coastguard to let them know our change of plan, they didn’t think we would need to check back in as we hadn’t left territorial waters and only intended to stay another two weeks in Iceland.

We headed down the west coast with a destination in mind and a decent breeze.
As night fell winds were gusty but ok but with a headland to round we were torn between staying as close as we dare and standing off to avoid the dangerous squalls that can be generated by the downdrafts. In the end we chose a middle path and suffered for it as the winds picked up dramatically leaving us scrambling to reduce sail. Once past all calmed down and became enjoyable. By now we were about 10 miles north of Reykjavik but our destination lay 15 mile up a fjord that ran NE-SW but promised excellent anchorages. We’d never intended to go to Reykjavik but did pass a town (Akranes) with a bay with potential before we turned for the fjord. Of course with fjords and mountains it is almost a given that whatever the wind the terrain will cause it to funnel and, in our experience, always towards you. So it was and what may have looked like a decent sail turned into a war of attrition as we beat our way up this narrowing stretch of water. We had one possible anchorage earmarked that was half way up but we could see as we drew closer it was a non starter; a second one we came across that was much better but by then only a few miles from the destination so kept going by now having to motor tack as the tide was now ebbing adding its influence to the 30k gust coming off the snow covered mountains. Time passes of course and we were finally able to make our way into a sheltered bay where we anchored around midnight exhausted. The following day we moved a few miles to a much more sheltered cove, Hvammsey, where eider ducks were bred. Not much evidence of them but we could see on the shore one of the famed Icelandic “hot pots”. 


We launched the dinghy and rowed over to find a 2 metre diameter circle of stones overflowing with water provided via a hose pipe. Within the circle for several boulders for the bathers to sit on and we decided we’d give it a go, keeping the towels close for when we beat a hasty retreat from the cool water. How wrong could we get? The water was more than warm it was hot and getting too close to the end of the hose proved very uncomfortable. Steam could be seen coming from a nearby patch of ground (bit of a giveaway really) and several pieces of wood in that area were charred. 


We sat there gazing across to Hannah with yet another backdrop of dramatic mountains around us and marveled at our good fortune.

A few days later we beat our way back down (see what I mean?) and anchored off? the town we’d past on the way up. Launched the dinghy and rowed in with the diesel jugs to find some fuel. We tied up and asked a couple of chatting guys where we could get fuel and were ushered into a pick up and driven 200 metres to a nearby garage before being driven back to the pontoon. Such kindness.

One of the benefits of cruising Iceland is the ability to use our UK sim as although not part of the EU it is included when it comes to charges and we were able to readily access weather info. It seemed no matter where we where we always had access to a phone signal and Iceland probably has one of the best signal coverage we have experienced anywhere. Of course the population lives along the coasts, well west, north and east coasts with little if any along the south so logically that's where the towers would be but we never failed to be impressed. Anyway armed with latest forecast and updated before we drew clear of the land we felt we had a plan that would see us riding the grips from Iceland down to St Kilda a 600nm journey toward the SE. Part of the problem was the 40 mile chain of rocks and shoals that stretch just west of south from the headland we were now passing. The grids lay to the west of them and our track took us slowly on a diverging course to the point that we ran out of wind, drifting and ever more unhappy with our lot. We struggled on, making then losing ground but slowly making toward St Kilda. It was always going to be a gamble as the anchorages are on opposite sides of the island and not protected from all directions so not an ideal end to a week long trip. As it happened we got to 105nm from the island when the winds switched to the east, picked up and we decided to keep heading south and take advantage of a beam wind. To windward lay the Outer Hebs, mainland Scotland with Ireland further south….our choices looked limitless but a persistent and stiff easterly kept us firmly offshore but first we had to steer clear of Rockall Bank where depths rose from 2000+metres to 200 metres and the sea would react accordingly. We plugged on, passed the bank with a few miles to spare, drifted then picked up a favourable wind out of the west. By now we were some 30 nm off Donegal and pushed on thinking we’d get to Baltimore before resting up and then heading back. And we might well have done had not MetEirann come up with an approaching front that would generate SW50k and further strong winds behind it. Initially we thought we’d head into Ventry Harbour but snuck through the Blaskets and made a beeline for Valentia. We’d used both anchorages before but in a SW wind the Valentia anchorages offers a heavily tree covered hilly surround and we knew the holding was good and there we went and stayed whilst it blew. At anchor all was calm, the clouds racing across the sky the only indication that something was happening outside. As it went through the wind veered a little to the WNW and a swell could be felt rolling Hannah as we lay at anchor. We moved across to anchor, just, in the lee of Beginish Island the trip across demonstrating just how strong the winds had been blowing as wind speeds exceeded 30k and we rounded up in spray before motoring in as close as we dare to the beach. A good length of chain deployed and we were well dug in albeit with our stern a little closer that we wanted but comfortable. The winds continued to blow and we were happy in the knowledge we chosen to come in to shelter rather than pushing on further offshore.

Leaving was a tad difficult as the NW wind can make the entrance uncomfortable to get out particularly in a wind over tide situation. We were lucky in that the wind was only 10-12k but even so with a foul prop we struggled to exit the narrow entrance and the minutes passed as slow progress was made. Once clear we had a further few miles of motor sailing to clear the headland before we could turn on a more southerly course. Good progress was made, perhaps the best since we had left Iceland some 18 days or so ago and we discussed keeping going over pulling into Baltimore and exploring the surrounding area. In the end we decided to keep going, the winds were reasonable and mostly in our favour with the possibility a stiff southerlies in a day or so. Pushing on, we aimed for a point that would take us south of the Scillies and thus give us a better slant for the Lizard. The tides would still be an issue but not as much as the ebb closer to the mainland might be and we duly rounded the Scillies and altered course for the Lizard. We closed the headland and to our surprise and joy we actually managed to get the timing right for the flood and were carried north and onto Falmouth. Not without incident of course as the weather worsened and we ended up pushed further off the sheltered coast and among the anchored ships in heavy rain at night.

We spent a week or so in the Falmouth area, meeting up, by chance, with friends from way back before taking a favourable if light wind back up to the Plymouth area. Cawsand for the night then up to the Lyner before hauling out at Southdown to get the weed and barnacle offer hull and prop. Constrained as we are by draft we either had to rush through things in 5 days to make the next springs to each our berth or wait till the end of the month and chose the latter allowing us to get more done. We arrived back at the quay around 7am but found our new berth and when settled it was nose down as the bottom was obviously hard in places. Once the water had gone Bee went into the mud to try to clear enough to get us level whilst I got a last coat on the deck. To no avail as the tilt was still uncomfortable but able to take advantage of Nick and Nadja’s absence we were able to use their berth and spent days clearing rocks, cement and lumps of metal to make a cleaner berth. 


 It was an awful job; thick, gloopy and very smelly mud that clung like a demented tentacle to legs and footwear, Bee, who gets tunnel vision when working, was deaf to my whimpering entreaties that I really was stuck and barely spared a glance in case her manic attempts to clear the rocks should be slowed down by a millisecond. It took about 30 minutes for her to accept that my struggles were getting nowhere and she reluctantly abandoned digging out rocks to digging out my trapped left leg immediately returning to her more important work once she’d cleared enough mud for me to be able to haul my leg free. I guess she chose to wear my trousers the following day as her fee for the rescue. That and the fact her own clothing was still soaking from the previous days attempt to hose the mud off before we dared wash them. Bee, who is an indefatigable worker is also, unfortunately, prone to covering herself in whatever she happens to be using; anti-foul; Stockholm tar and in this case the mud. At one point I thought she was using the waders I’d borrowed but it was just my trousers now covered from ankle to waist in mud. Along with her arms, face, hair….well you get the picture.

On the next set of springs we moved back into our berth but found we still suffered from a tilt and spent another day or so digging around the hull in an effort to make a decent flat spot to sit. But it is much better than when we first arrived and the slant is bearable.

So that’s it and we ‘ll be here for the winter. Several storms have already come through the last over the w/e and hitting almost 50k where we are. No doubt more to come.

Some memories comes to mind…..we’re on our way south somewhere on the trip from Iceland. The forecast is for increasing winds sometime overnight and we decide to reef before nightfall. It only blowing 20 odd knots with a bit of sea running but we rather get it done in daylight. I go forward to lower the main and find the throat jammed….nothing I do makes any difference and we realise that the block that controls the topsail outhaul has fouled the throat halyard and jammed it. With no way of lowering the main Bee opts to climb the mast hoops whilst I keep the tension on the tops’l halyard. Her journey up was slow and controlled as she balanced speed against a pitching, rolling gait but once the two lines were separated she was down the hoops faster than I’ve ever seen it done, harness off and the job completed before the night fell. Good job done. You might wonder why it is Bee gets all these difficult jobs and the answer is simple enough. She takes the view that if she falls and goes overboard then she believes I have enough skill to get her back whereas the other way round would see me lost as she doesn’t feel confident enough in her ability. Hmm long term readers may well remember that when I fell overboard Bee did in fact get me back…….twice!

The Lampre fish that attached themselves to the hull for several days cleaning us of whatever delicacy they'd decided we had and watching the gannets trying to work out a diving angle that would get them a meal whilst avoiding the self steering rudder.

And the two birds that arrived separately, blown from a far shore by stiff winds. One made it aboard where it remained for several days refusing any food but trying to rest before attempting to fly away....it looped round and came back on then tried again and landed, exhausted in the water. The look on its face and the panic thrashing of its wings as it tried desperately to reach the safety of the boat was heart breaking and somehow we managed to stop the boat and rescue it with our net. Sadly we're not sure either bird survived...

  

Millbrook