Volcanoes and Gueysers

Summer 2022
John Andrews
Tue 24 Jun 2014 19:25

I think Iceland is the most dramatic country I’ve visited. It is literally being torn apart, sitting as it does on two tectonic plates that are drifting away from each other. You are able to stand on the North American Plate which is drifting westwards and then step a few yards and be standing on the European plate which is drifting eastwards. The result is that molten magma is being drawn from deep inside the earth to fill the gap and the consequences are everywhere to be seen. Volcanoes, alive and dormant, hot springs, bubbling mud, geysers, lava flows – a geologist’s heaven. We hired a car for a couple of days and visited some of the most spectacular sites near Reykjavik. The blue lagoon is the most extraordinary sight, with its eerily blue water contrasting with the black of the volcanic lava, spoilt only the tiniest bit by the geothermal power station which I believe is the cause of the strange blue colour of the water. Our drive the next day was the so called ‘Golden Circle’, stopping at a number of sites on the way, including the impressive geyser that shoots water and steam up to 50 metres into the air every few minutes or so. After the stupendous waterfall at Gullfoss, my map reading took one of its more erratic turns, and led us onto a dirt track that took us up towards one of the remaining ice caps in Iceland. It was a strange, almost desert landscape and with the sun finally out, we were able to get a fine view of the glacier way above us. Even the long-suffering driver who had to negotiate the potholes and slithering corners conceded that views were spectacular and possibly worth the detour. The adventure also explained the ‘gravel’ insurance John had been persuaded to take out and why the car was covered in little stickers marking the spots of paint damage incurred by previous drivers.

After retracing out track and a few more false turns, we found ourselves back in Reykjavik and making the final preparations for our departure to Greenland. We were slightly bemused when a man sporting a life-jacket came down the pontoon, accompanied by a man with one of those hairy boom microphones. It turned out he was the coxswain of the local lifeboat, and was making a video for yachtsmen who were preparing to sail in arctic waters. Would we mind if he was filmed on our boat, making last minute ‘safety’ checks. Well, we all want our little moment of glory, even if it’s for the boat and not for us per se, so the answer was ‘yes’, of course. He quizzed John a bit on all the special preparations he’d made and then went all over the boat, being filmed pulling on various straps and bits of rigging and pointing out items of safety equipment, including the two handsome ice poles that John has fashioned from pitch pine. We were very pleased when he pronounced that our boat was well prepared for arctic conditions.

Life in Iceland has continued to be as sociable as ever. Andrew and Maire Wilkes invited us on board for drinks and a wonderful array of canapés. Also there was Egill Kolbeinssonn, an honorary RCC member, who last winter invited Tim, my brother and Maria, his wife to Iceland for Tim to give his lecture on taking Mina2 down to the Antarctic. The following night, we booked a dinner table for 10, the three of us, Egill and his wife, Andrew and Maire, and Nick Pochin and his crew, Magnus and Laura who had arrived the previous night. They have spent the last few seasons working for Skip Novak on Pelagic Australis, Magnus as skipper, taking clients from Ushuaia in Argentina down to the Antarctic. Nick is sailing on his own this season, and is employing Magnus as an ice pilot with Laura as crew. Although the other two boats are  not planning to go through the North West Passage, we will be sailing in company for the next few weeks.

The forecast seems good for the next few days for going to Greenland, so it is likely that all four boats planning to make the passage will be leaving some time tomorrow, Monday.