An amazing sail to Husavik

Saxon Blue's Blog
Harvey Jones and Andrea Stokes
Tue 8 Jun 2010 14:36
66:02.687N 017:20.829W Tuesday morning

Our sail from inside the Arctic Circle down to Husavik was truly amazing. The best day's sailing we've had on the whole trip so far and I think one of the best days on the water I've ever had.

We had a long way to go in fairly light winds so we'd been motoring off the most Northerly headland of Iceland. I was on watch on my own as a pair of tall black dorsal fins broke water just off our starboard side going the opposite direction to us. I shouted "Whales" but we didn't get a second look at them. I think they were probably Orcas but it's hard to be sure.

As we continued on Westwards, we could see some cliffs on a high point ahead of us and realised that they were steep-to so we could get in close. I hoped to see some birds on the point and did we ever! Just off the headland were two high rocky stacks and they were just rammed with Gannets. They were flying all around us and hurtling in to land on the tiniest ledges. Above the stack, they were hanging in the air. An absolutely wonderful sight and my first look up close at a Gannet colony. They are such fantastic birds and I'm always thrilled to see my first one on a trip. With their pointed wings and dagger-like beak, they look streamlined and fly fast. The skillful way they fly just off the water surface is awe-inspiring and their headlong dives deep into the sea are the most spectacular of any bird that I've seen.

Not long after the birds, the wind picked up to around 16 knots and we decided to sail. We had a long crossing ahead of us dead downwind so I suggested to Kali that we rig our full downhill rig. This means flying both our headsails, one each side of the boat, both held out on poles. It takes a bit of setting up so it's only worth it if we're going to stay on a downwind course for an hour or so. Kali hadn't seen the rig before so we spent a while finding the correct lines, manhandling the poles and running the lines and then, once all the fiddling around is complete, we ran out the sails. The effect is instant and beautiful. Both headsails sit completely still at the bow in a shape like an inverted kite. As we were heading into the sun, the whole deck was shaded. The relative wind is low so the boat is quiet and she just takes off. Kali was jumping up and down on the bow throwing her arms in the air and whooping. Being English, I satisfied myself with a faint smile.

We ran like that for well over an hour, then dropped the jib and changed onto a beam reach to pass a couple of rocky islands. It was too shallow to get close. After passing the islands, we dropped the main and just ran under poled-out Genoa for an hour or so as we came into the bay outside Husavik. We knew from the guide that Husavik is the whale-watching capital of Iceland so I was constantly on the look-out for some Cetation action. The views ahead were wonderful. A whole range of snow-covered mountains on the far sided of the fjord. For most of the day, they had a layer of cloud two-thirds of the way up but this burned off as we got closer so, by the time we arrived in the bay, they were almost entirely visible against the pale blue sky.

As we entered the bay, we saw (wonder of wonders) another sail. And then another. The first we'd seen in since the Faroes. One was a Bermudan rig (like ours) and the other was a gaff-rigged schooner. Once we got into the bay, we tacked round onto a broad reach and headed for Husavik harbour. As we headed in, we say a couple of old-style wooden trawlers heading out towards us and it soon became clear that they had been converted into whale-watching ships. They were heading to the far side of the bay where the schooner was and Kali had a look through the binoculars and could see whale blows even at that distance. That was enough. No more thoughts of harbour and dinner, we tacked around, put up full sail and stormed across the bay towards the other boats.

As we approached them, we could see huge whale blows. Much bigger than the humpback that we'd seen in Seydisfjorder. They didn't seem to stay in one place for long, though, and the the whale-watch boats were following them around at high speed. We wondered at the state of the punters who were all stood on deck in strong wind and lumpy sea. They must have been frozen. We decided not to engage in the whale-chasing and just hung around watching. We saw more blows nearby but none near enough to see the whale itself amongst the waves. It was truly magical just sitting there with the mountains behind us and the open sea ahead knowing that these huge creatures were busy getting their dinner.

With the thought of dinner, we decided to leave the whales for another day and set off once again across the bay. This time, we were hard on the wind so had full jib out with reefed main. Saxon Blue was flying. One of the whale boats was also heading in on a parallel coarse so it was fun to watch him failing to overtake us the whole way over the bay. I let him get ahead as we approached the harbour, though, as I didn't want an anxious working boat up my chuff as I diddled around looking for a spot. Just as well as the harbour is really busy. There are lots of docks but a similar number of fishing boats and two floating pontoons given over to the whale boats. We looked at our options, one of which was a space just a bit longer than us alongside a tyre-hung pier. There was a better looking pier but I thought it looked a bit too well-used. As we prepared to go alongside, another whale boat came in and then the schooner - also a whale boat. They shouted for s to come alongside them - which was a lovely gesture - but we thought they'd be out again early the next day so kept with plan A and the main dock.

We came in well into what turned out to be a pretty tight spot and Kali went to thank the whale guys for their gesture and explain why we had declined. They were fine about it and she instantly made friends with the Bosun of the schooner and promised to meet up with him later. He told her that the whales we'd all seen were Blue Whales which explains the massive blow and the speed. They thought our choice of berth was fine and with that, we had a well-deserved and long-delayed dinner before hitting the sack - I was so tired that I didn't even step off Saxon Blue. What a day. Just perfect. I spent most of it just thinking how amazing it was to be here and being thankful that we were.

The next day (yesterday) we just spent doing harbour stuff. We had a lie-in, then Kali and I got everything out of the deck lockers and re-arranged it before putting it all back in again in a different order. We've gained a lot of space and things that we need often are nearer to hand. I damaged a locker lid so we spent some time repairing that - which I have to do some more cosmetic work on later. We had lunch in the town and Andrea spent the day doing video work. Husavik is a funny place. The architecture is mostly Soviet 1950s style but the harbour buildings themselves are lovely. The whale watching brings in the tourists but most of town is very workaday. Everyone is super-friendly, though. The guy driving the loader on the docks drove by and stopped. I thought "Oh no, we're going to get a telling off" but he just handed me a guide to Iceland full of great pictures and said "would you like something to read?"

Andrea and I had dinner together in the whale-watch restaurant which was charming. The building is all wood both inside and out and the food was traditional Icelandic fish. Excellent. I had pickled Trout which was very much like Gravellachs (squashed salmon) while Andrea indulged her every whim with pickled herring served with a glass of the local fire-water which she wimped out of drinking. Not surprising really as you could strip paint with it. Then she had baked Trout while I had Icelandic fish stew which is really a fish pie that's been mashed together and was absolutely delicious. Andrea says she's having that tonight.

After dinner, we retired to the upstairs lounge of the restaurant and Andrea continued uploading her YouTube movies. If you haven't watched them, they give a great impression of what it's like out here. There's even a whale on there! We met up with the Skipper, Bosun and Engineer of the schooner as well and had a fine old time discussing boats, rigs, winds and coasts. Then the Engineer came back to Saxon Blue with us to show us all the places we should visit in the West Fjords on our charts. He's from Isafjordur which is the town out there and it was great hearing the stories of how his grandfather built a house with driftwood that he had to carry over a glacier with two horses and other tales. We're going to visit this area with Cind and John in a couple of weeks so we can't wait.

As we went to bed, it was midnight and still light. The sky was pink around the edges but still blue in the middle. It's really hard to make yourself go to bed as it feels like you should be out enjoying the weather. Then you turn out the light and "click" sleep comes.

We're spending another day in Husavik today. I want to visit the whale museum, Andrea has more art work to do. Washing needs doing. Just stuff.


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