From Iceland — The Metaphysical Art Of Sailing The North Atlantic. Sailing From The West Fjords To The Faroese Islands; There And Back Again In One Piece

The Metaphysical Art Of Sailing The North Atlantic. Sailing From The West Fjords To The Faroese Islands; There And Back Again In One Piece

Published September 1, 2009

Photo by
Marc Vincenz

The Sea, the Sea, the Unending Sea

There is something elemental that happens when you face an unbridled
ocean. It’s something so primal; it affects the very core of our DNA.
Herman Melville wrote: ‘[The sea] is the image of the ungraspable
phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.’ How bloody apt he was.
Stare that roaring North Atlantic straight in the eye from the edge of
a sailing boat, no land in sight, watch it breathe, swelling in and out
like the gigantic living creature it is, and you truly realise who you
are; and it ain’t that much, believe me.

Straight into the Unbridled

Ísafjörður’s Borea Adventures and their ship Aurora are a must for
anyone who wants to experience adventure on the North Atlantic, in the
Westfjords, Greenland, the Faeroes, or even all the way to the Arctic
(they scaled the 2770m active Beerenberg volcano on Jan Mayen just last
year). Think an Icelandic version of Jacques Cousteau, only without the
woolly red caps and the beards, and you’re getting warm, only sometimes
they sail straight through blizzards and alongside icebergs.

Sigurður Jónsson (Siggi) and Rúnar Karlsson procured Aurora from Sir
Robin Knox-Johnston, the first man to single-handedly circumnavigate
the globe non-stop. Sir Robin conceived the Clipper Around the World
Race, in which Aurora raced four times. The lady Aurora is quite a
lass; and, as I find out the hard way, she knows these waves and winds
by their first names. Aurora is presently the only deep ocean sailing
boat of its class in Iceland, now in her fourth summer of adventures on
the high seas.

“We see Aurora as our mothership, our portable mountain cabin. During
the day, our tours set out across wild country, but in the evening, our
guests come home to a piping hot stew,” says Siggi, Aurora’s seasoned
skipper. “Our philosophy is threefold: firstly, to be one with
nature—the elements, the wildlife; secondly, to learn about local
cultures—the food, the life around the fire; thirdly to experience
nature through outdoor activities—sailing, skiing, kayaking, climbing,
hiking. We try to make it a complete experience. And, being that it is
an adventure, there’s always something unexpected. But of course,
that’s part of the fun. Aurora never stays in one place too long. The
adventure, you see, always continues.”

Speaking from personal experience by now, I ask, “Do you often see
people go through some kind of personal transformation by the end of
the trip?”

“Sometimes when they board, you see this strange glimmer of surprise on
people’s eyes, like: Are we really going to sleep there? Is the toilet
really going to be working? Or perhaps there’s a snowstorm outside, and
for a moment they’re wondering what the hell they got themselves into.
Normally after three days or so, people start to find the rhythm. On
their third or fourth day, they’re enjoying it more than they thought
they ever would.”

“But oftentimes,” says Rúnar, “when they leave, they’re sad it’s coming
to an end. I don’t know if you’d call it metaphysical, but we often get
people telling us that the trip has somehow given them some new insight
on things.’

G-Forces, the Bends, then, finally, Bliss

Looking back on the three and a half days spent sailing from Húsavík to
Fuglafjørður in the Faeroes, I can’t help but smile. I could never have
guessed what it would be like shooting across the icy Atlantic. Most of
the time, there was nearly no sleep at all. In a bunk with a safety
net, if tied properly, you won’t fall on the floor like I did; but try
and find a sleeping position with Aurora pitching, tossing, rumbling,

Leaving Faroes Marc Vicenz

Sometimes, when she’s sailing at twelve knots or more, it sounds like
someone is desperately shaking a maraca directly over my head all
through the night—only they have no bloody sense of rhythm. There are
times when I want to stick up my hands and give up and beg Siggi to
pull in at the nearest oil rig; of course, between Iceland and the
Faeroes, there’s nothing at all, just rolling ocean, killer whales,
skuas and kittiwakes swirling on updrafts. And when it rains and the
waves rattle over my back as I stare out at sea transfixed, all I can
think of is my warm bed at home, far away.

The first leg of the trip starts gently, not much wind, so we chug
leisurely from Ísafjörður crossing the bays of Fljótavík and Hornvík,
get daringly close to a number of bird cliffs, including Straumnes, and
Hælavíkurbjarg where I snap some killer shots of kittiwakes, arctic
terns, tons of guano, and a the occasional bobbing puffin. Of course
many of us know of the puffin problems in the Westman Islands, but
later, when I visit the tiny island of Nólsoy in the Faeroes, I learn
from a Danish taxidermist that puffins all over the North Atlantic are
facing serious issues—apparently there are not enough sand eels to go

My first real test of courage is the overnight sail to Húsavík; this
cost me three or four bruises and a fluttering heart. I kiss the dock
when we arrive, but after a few glasses of wine I am ready to tackle
the big crossing. Watching humpbacks and minke gleefully blowing their
saltwater jets across Skjálfandi bay helps steady my nerves too.

Now we are finally crossing the great expanse of ocean. In my mind, I
liken it to traversing the Sahara. Three and a half days of 30 knot
winds, sometime five metre squalls—well, at the time, I believe it’s
nearly the end of me; in actual fact, it’s just the beginning. When we
finally reach the tiny fishing village of Fuglafjørður on Eysturoy’s
east coast in the Faeroes, I crack open my best bottle of whiskey and
celebrate—the whole bottle. If ever there was an initiation on becoming
a man, this is it, only for me it’s twenty years too late. Still,
better late than never. Finally, I can get on with what I’ve come for,
to explore the Faeroes.

Island in the sun marc vincenz

A Faeroe Shimmy and Shiboodle

For the next five days, all is smooth sailing, and on the second day,
when we leave Fuglafjørður to Klaksvik in the Northern Islands, the sun
comes out and all the grassy-mossy cliffs in the Faeroes shimmer. Even
the sheep look virtually spiritual. The Faeroe people are beyond
hospitable and talkative; and just like Icelanders, they’re a
well-travelled and curious bunch. Most speak excellent English. Often
in these small villages when I look for a pub I’ll ask a local, and
they’ll say, “What do you need that for? Just knock on the nearest
door, they’ll give you a coffee, a cognac and some chocolate biscuits.”

Thorshaven house Marc Vincenz

This proves to be entirely true, for in Tórshavn, while meandering the
winding lanes in-between quaint, grass-roofed houses, I stumble across
a local poet who invites me back home for a couple of beers, a poetry
reading, and a gift of two of his collections. Towards the end, he
tells me he’s looking for a manager, so maybe he has an ulterior
motive. In Tórshavn there is no shortage of great restaurants, bars,
pubs and coffee shops. There’s plenty to see here, and you can easily
spend days checking out museums and wandering the cobbled alleyways, or
squelch over the moorlands of Stremoy to the famous Kirkjubøur where a
medieval cathedral looms in the middle of the village. Everywhere we
see teams training for the Tórshavn Festival races in their typical
six-man rowing boats called seksmannafar.

Gota Church Marc Vincenz

From Tórshavn, we move on to Gota to experience the G!Festival, where
many Faeroe bands such as Teitur, Orka and Lena Andersen are headlining
(Eivør Pálsdóttir is conspicuously missing this year). The festival is
a like a mini Glastonbury, with tents and seagulls whirring overhead
for scraps, red sunsets, and mind-blowing music. We’ll be doing a full
report on the festival and a Faeroese take on Icelandic music in an
upcoming edition of Grapevine.

The day after the festival, I’m invited back to Sigvør Laska, Eivør
Pálsdóttir’s manager’s place, for brunch. Sigvør produces the dreaded
Faeroe speciality, wind-dried mutton (skerpikjøt), which looks much
like Spanish Serrano ham but tastes more like old shoe soles (not
surprising the literal translation is ‘belt’s meat’); it kind of rounds
off my experience here. As I walk down the hill from Sigvør’s house,
through the waterlogged grass and past dozens of hearty Faeroe sheep, I
remember I’m sailing back to Iceland tomorrow and about to see my new
friend the North Atlantic again.

Boy Swimming 2 Marc Vincenz

Not quite to wax lyrical, but there’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s
cold, it’s uncomfortable; at times you might imagine a killer whale
could reach over the side of Aurora and tug you in at any minute. But
join Siggi and Rúnar in any of their adventures on the high seas and I
guarantee you, you’ll come back an entirely new person.

In the words of Herman Melville in Moby Dick: ‘Methinks that what they
call my shadow here on earth is my true substance. Methinks that in
looking at things spiritual, we are too much like oysters observing the
sun through the water, and thinking that thick water the thinnest of

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