This is the 3rd in a 4 part blog about our Iceland trip. Click on the hyperlinked text to navigate to the other blogs.
3. Sailing Out of Husavik in the North
This was my answer to Dave when he asked what our plans were for northern Iceland, 'Let's take a 2-masted schooner into the Arctic Circle.' Once agann, see what happens when you look for tours using the words 'epic' or 'extreme' in the search bar.
Edge of the Arctic Expedition with North Sailing
We flew from Reykjavik to Akureyi on Monday, July 7th and then drove from Akureyi to North Sailing's offices in Husavik. Over dinner and drinks that evening, we met the 3-person crew and 9 other passengers for our voyage on the Schooner Hildur. During dinner, Captain Hörður informed us the same trip from the previous week had been cancelled because of strong winds from a hurricane that passed through the North Atlantic. Although the seas might be 'a little rough' we were still heading out the next morning. My only thoughts were, 'Thank God we got the motion sickness patches to prevent nausea and vomiting.' Check out their website for great adventures if you travel to Iceland (North Sailing).
Our itinerary for the trip included stops at Flatey Island & Grimsey Island; a pontoon ride to the Grimsey cliffs to observe nesting bird colonies; and a sail north above the Arctic Circle.
Even when docked, the schooner was a thing of beauty. Originally built in 1974, it was rebuilt in 2010 and converted to a 2-masted schooner for North Sailing.
Our 'spacious' accommodations for the 2 nights and 2 days are shown in the deck plan. Our cabin (A3) is denoted with the arrow. We were lucky, cabin A3 had a small window with a view of the main deck.
So describing our living space as a 'cabin' might be an overstatement. Dave used a few other choice words to describe these accommodations. Dave volunteered me to sleep in the top bunk which provided about 5-6 inches of space above my head. It could have been worse - we could have had the coffin-link bunks (B above) that were located in the saloon and galley!
After the introductory dinner, we gathered our belongings and settled down for our first night in the boat. The dining area will seat 13 people for breakfast? Hanging by our door were the jump suits to keep us warm and dry while we were on deck.
First thing in the morning we set-off to sea with Captain Hörður navigating from the stern.
As soon as we were out of the harbor, the sails went up. Dave (hooded) helped raise the sails.
The wind took over!
At the start, I wondered how we'd pass the time, but honestly it flew by. It was incredibly relaxing and therapeutic just staring out to sea, gazing at the changing coastal landscape, and watching the boat rise and fall with the waves. The long summer daylight hours made it easy to lose track of time and we didn't care.
It was going so well I until we heard the Captain yell out, 'Hold, hold, hold!' It was a split second before it registered but our hands immediately reached for something to grab. Suddenly the ship's bow raised so high that all we could see was sky, then just as suddenly the bow dipped and all we could see was water. It felt like we were on a roller coaster going down that first huge hill. After things settled down, the Captain explained a rogue wave he could not see until the last second hit us on the port side. He estimated the wave was about 10 meters or 32 feet high. Everyone was safe, but what an experience!
Amazing views from the Hildur as we traveled the North Atlantic.
After a few hours at sea, we approached Flatey Island.
Flatey is the only inhabited island of the 3,000 small islets dotting the section of coastline. Nowadays it is mainly inhabited in the summertime by families returning to their old homes owned by relatives or descendants of the former inhabitants.
During the winter there are only a handful of residents living on the island. Talk about idyllic pictures of a remote island.
This small church was built in 1960 and continues to be used for special events. Notice the birds - more on that topic soon!
Nature lovers and bird watchers flock to Flatey for the volcanic landscape that provides plenty of nesting places for the 50+ bird species that nest here including Arctic Puffins and Arctic Terns.
Just look at these adorable Arctic Puffins. Such quiet and peaceful creatures not bothered by our presence.
Then there was the Arctic Tern otherwise known as 'nature's fiercest parent'. The Tern is a small bird about 12 to 15 inches in length and weighing about 3.5 ounces.
It makes the longest migration of any bird in the world. It travels about 44,100 miles annually in its migrations from Greenland to Antarctica and then back.
Arctic Terns are incredibly aggressive and fiercely defensive of their nest and young. They will attack humans and large predators that come close by, usually striking the top or back of the head. In fact, they’re so ferocious that other bird species will take advantage of their protective cover by building their own nests nearby.
To remain safe during our visit we were each given a 3-4 foot long stick to carry above our head.
Artic terns will dive bomb and attack the highest point on an intruder. But our guide requested that we not swing the stick to avoid injuring any bird. Again, notice the birds swooping down in the one below.
After a few hours exploring the island and birds, it was back to the boat and more of our Day 1 journey.
Once again it was wind power for our journey to Grimsey Island where we would dock for the night.
However, before we got to Grimsey, it was time to catch dinner. It took no more than a few minutes to get a bite on the line. With several of us fishing we had plenty of cod for dinner.
Here we are, approaching Grimsey Island, the home of less than one hundred people - and one million seabirds.
Grímsey is the northernmost inhabited Icelandic territory located about 25 miles off the north coast. The Arctic Circle currently runs through the island, a feature which draws tourists to the island. Did you know, due to long-term oscillations in the Earth's axis, the Arctic Circle currently shifts northward by about 48 ft per year? Sometime during the 21st century the Artic Circle will no longer pass through Grimsey.
After a cod chowder dinner, Dave and I walked around the island.
While the summer solstice had only recently passed, the sky was still light late into the night. I'm not sure what time this photo was taken but it gives you an idea what life is like on an island that sees very little darkness until late July.
We were up early for breakfast, cast off from the dock and headed to Grimsey's eastern coastline and cliffs for birding.
The bird life is flourishing due to several reasons; rich fishing grounds are close by, there are no rats or mice are on the island, and hunting of the birds and collection of their eggs has been reduced to a minimum.
We anchored just off the cliffs. and in groups of 3-4 boarded a small inflatable pontoon boat to get closer to the shore and really observe the bird colonies.
On the pontoon ride we saw black-legged kittiwake, razorbills, and thick-billed murre.
The sounds of the birds was almost deafening. Birds were perched on every nook, and ledge.
Here's a quick video from the pontoon ride that gives you an idea about the sound level for the birds nesting on the cliffs.
The Captain maneuvered the pontoon as close to the cliffs as possible.
Schooner Hildur looked so small when we were out on the pontoon.
Back on the ship after a great excursion to the cliffs.
No sooner had Dave and I returned from the pontoon excursion when a whale breached within 50 yards of the boat.
While we waited for the last pontoon group to return, Dave started to fish and managed to catch a cod that was so large the Captain offered to cook it at his restaurant so everyone could have a last dinner together.
After the pontoon rides were completed, Captain Hörður sailed further north to ensure we were above the Arctic Circle (latitude 66° 33' 39" N). Even though we were above the Arctic Circle on Grimsey Island, we celebrated crossing the Circle on the Hildur with shots of schnapps.
The weather for the return trip was great. Seas were calmer and temperatures were warmer. No need for the jump suits as we headed to Husavik.