Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Complaints from our crew

Shimshal anchored Lonafjordur

Helen and Dave, our long suffering crew, get the en suite forward cabin on Shimshal as Sally won't go near this luxury apartment once the boat starts to pitch and roll. We tuck ourselves into our aft berth which is much snugger in a rough sea and is only one step away from the heads which is always handy when maladies de la mer strikes. 

The only other down side of our forward guest berth is noise and this morning our crew were awakened at dawn, which is early in these latitudes, by ice on hull and anchor chain. Sure enough we found Helen padding the deck in her Paisley pyjamas surveying this morning's scenic miracle. Ice had formed all around us and as Shimshal swung on her mooring the whole hull resonated to the tune of a myriad splintering shards glistening in the morning sun. The anchor chain cut through and flicked chunks of ice, sending them skittering across the ice ahead. 

We awoke to a thin film of ice in Lonafjordur

Very chilly and surrounded by ice

High on the slopes above the anchorage our ski tracks of the previous day were lit up by the early morning sun. Another Arctic marvel.

Perfect snow conditions makes for great skiing

Given the perfection of the morning we didn't take our crew's complaints too seriously!

Looking south from the head of Lonafjordur

Sunset in Lonafjordur


If yesterday was paradise today must be heaven!

A cool breeze from the east kept Shimshal taught on her anchor and we decided to move to the other arm of the fjord which promised calms and an even more spectacular setting. The anchor came up easily with a big dollop of mud attached and a fair bit of kelp and we nosed cautiously out of our uncharted bay into the next one to the west. 

As we crept into the centre of the picture perfect mill pond a strange new noise came upon Shimshal. It was a thin layer of surface ice striking the hull as we inched towards our chosen anchorage in 8 metres and 200m form the shore. The anchor went down and set instantly.

What a place! Surrounded on three sides by mountains plastered with snow from shore to summit and behind us the the long reach of Lonafjordur leading down to the shimmering  Drangajokull Icecap in the distance. It was mirror calm with the reflections only occasionally blurred by the faint rhyme of ice which bloomed like mushrooms on the sea's surface.

As if the geographical wonders weren't enough Helen spotted a bird of prey drop it's prey from it's talons as we approached.

After a whirr of photography it was time again for the hill. Helen scrambled up a ridge which was the only one to have lost it's snow. Dave dropped Sally and me off with our skis at the same place and we quickly set off diagonally on the snow skinning easily on slightly softer spring snow once more. Soon the gradient steepend and we zig-zagged up to gain a higher plateau that rose slowly to the flattish summit at 460m. We sat on rocks drinking in warm sunshine in our astonishing situation. Blue fjords, rolling snow clad peaks and far to the south the distant icecap.

The skiing was a delight too as the sun had softened the snow and once again we swooped down pausing only to admire our wiggly tracks and to blast away with the camera. All too soon we were back at the shore and loading the dinghy for our trip back to Shimshal for home cooked hot dogs and a celebratory cup of aero press coffee.

As if that weren't sufficient superlatives for one day it just got better and better. In the warm afternoon sun my cockpit wiring project (solar panels) went well and the evening brought even more scenic wonders. A touch of gold added colour to the reflections and then the long northern twilight faded, by mignight, into the short arctic night.

Sunshine, scenery, skiing, isolation, fine food and gorgeous coffee at Europe's most distant and remote outpost. Today we got the lot.

Sometimes you have to just pinch yourself!

Shimshal anchored at Sopandi

I am sure Sally never believed that a Spring cruise from Reykjavik  to go ski touring in the far north west of Iceland would be either fun or possible. To be honest I doubted it too. We had heard tales of folk pinned down in northerly winds in Reykjavik for a month at a time and here we were trying to combine a yacht delivery with a ski mountaineering adventure in an impossibly short 2 week vacation.

Today was the day we had to pinch each other! Last night we spent at anchor in the uncharted Lonafjordur. The northern lights were switched off as it never really got dark but the day dawned bright, crisp and sunny with a faint breeze from the east. Helen and Dave were on hand to act as dinghy support and to look after the boat whilst we were ashore so we were able to head for the hills with no nagging worries tugging us back to the boat. Everything was perfect.

Skis go on just above the high tide line

Helen dropped us off near the head of Skopandi where the snow came down to the shore and so we were able wear skins and skis from start to finish. With unbelievable luck we found the snow to be in perfect spring condition so no need to slog away breaking the trail through breakable crust and other ski touring nightmares. We skinned to the head of the Loch and crossed a snow bridge over a steam which we followed for a while before re-crossing it higher up. All around the scenery was fantastic with snowy white peaks all around, blue sky and blue fjords.

Aurora dropped off a snow shoe party just after we set off on skins

Crossing our first stream

We climbed easily up a snow bowl and then traversed onto a high ridge where we left the skis and walked on verdant mosses and lichens to the summit. Far below, anchored well out in the fjord, was our boat and we called up Helen on the VHF who could see us from the sea.

By now the cloud was bubbling over the windward ridges and the main summit a couple of hundred metres above us was already swathed in swirling mist. So, when we got back to the skis, the skins came off and we swooped effortlessly down the perfect spring snow stopping only to take in the stunning scenery and fantastic isolation of our situation.

Shimshal now a distant spec at anchor at Sopandi

We left the skis a little below the ridge as a rock band barred the way

Shimshal now tiny below

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A radio call to the boat saw Helen quickly into the dinghy to collect us and take us back to Shimshal for lunch swinging gently at anchor in a sparkling fjord surrounded by glittering snowy mountains just 13 miles south of the Arctic Circle. 

Things don't come much better than that.

Fantastic snow

Ski Boots of and Sea Boots on

Sally & Helen

Back on the boat after a perfect ski trip

Friday, 22 April 2016

Reykjavik to Grundarfjordur and on to Isafjordur

Over night passage north from Reykjavik

Visitors Pontoon at Grundafjordur

Wet day in Grundafjordur

Departing Grundafjordur at dawn

Dave Holden

Dave and Helen Holden

Passge from Grundurfjordur to Isafjordur

Along side the pontoon in Isafjordur

Reykjavik to Grunafjordur

After 8 months in the her Reykjavik berth Shimshal slipped quietly out past the Opera House and set a course for the headland 70 miles to the north west. It was sunny but the afternoon air was chilled by a gentle north easterly breezed which gave a definite wintery feel to match the snow laden mountains surrounding the Flaxafjordur. 

The breeze filled and after half an hour we were speeding north at at 7.5 knots on a broad reach and with a flat sea. Better than we could have expected.

We kept surging along until we reached the headland when, predictably the wind rose and we took in some sail. By now spindrift was lashing us off the icecap and we crept north through the small hours of the morning before turning east for Grundarfjordur and being headed by the wind. The engine came on at 0430 and the rest of the morning was spent punching into a steep chop and a rising wind. After 20 miles of slow progress it was a relief to buck south into the harbour and find shelter despite a down-pouring of sleat as we docked.

The harbour masted directed is to a 25m floating pontoon and took our lines as we arrived. No charges. Not even for electricity which we used in abundance because, once again, one of electrical systems was not charging. Dave and I spent 3 hours checking wiring and relays before spotting that the engineer in Reykjavik had removed the alternator fuse for reasons unknown. An easy fix once the cause was discovered.

Ashore we had a warm welcome from the cafe who directed us to the hotel for showers and a hot dunk in the outdoor hot tub. No geothermal power here so the town's swimming pool was closed for the winter. In the evening snow plastered peaks emerged from the mists and The precipitous Kirkfjell stood proudly over the town.

The next day we sailed at 0630 on a pristine, clear morning.