Archive for July, 2011

I think we may have a Plan?

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

Sumara moored in front of the fantastic new concert hall

Sarah has caught her flight back to England and Gudrun has now arrived in Iceland. Charlotte flies out on Sunday. Ray arrives on the evening of 3rd August. It’s quite complicated!
The weather doesn’t look brilliant but there does seem to be a small window of opportunity on Sunday to get around the Reykjanes headland (but now Monday may be better). My friend Jon who used to be an Icelandic fisherman came to visit on Thursday evening and we chatted about the sea area. Jon has experienced 18m high waves just off the headland in no wind – gulp. In a strong south westerly it can be really truly nasty. The south going tide is not as strong as the north going one so it is pretty important that we clear it in one hit. It is coming up to the strong spring tides too. The ideal situation seems to be to arrive at the north tip of the headland at high water with a reasonably strong north easterly or northerly wind. That should allow us to clear the 18nm run south to Reykjanes before the foul tide. It looked like Sunday morning would be a suitable time to get underway but the depression is moving west so Monday could be better. Sumara would then stop at Grindavik on the south coast which is near to the airport to pick up Ray. Thembi may try to get to the Vestmann Islands or stop with us. Thembi may even leave today but it is too late for Sumara to catch the tide. More bad weather is due so we will keep a very close watch. The south coast of Iceland is notoriously dangerous. The high mountains are fronted by long low areas of soft glacial sand which is indistinguishable from the sea and doesn’t show on radar. The tide sets heavily towards the beach. Many ships have mistaken the wet sand for sea and abandoned their ships. It is the walk across the sand to the refuge huts which normally claims the lives of the seaman. The ships rarely break up in the soft sand. It is our intention to head south away from this coast before setting our course for Scotland.
We are still hoping to visit the Vestmann Islands but if time is too tight we will at least see Surtsey. This is the new island formed in a recent volcano eruption. Only scientists (and Tillman?) are allowed to land there as they are studying the way vegetation and life get a hold on new land. If Sumara doesn’t leave on Sunday Gudrun will take us for a drive to her birth place and to see her plot of land. We Skippers are being a bit indecisive but it’s a tricky call.

Louise Bourgeois

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

“Bursting Body” 1948 – Louise Bourgeois.

Tim and I went to the Island National Gallery on Thursday. There was an exhibition by Louise Bourgeois and some of her pieces felt strangely familiar. There were disturbing nightmarish shapes. Many were ghastly un-namely things of no colour and some were puce. Frightening bulging shapes bursting out. Then I remembered Tim’s splendid duff that we had last night!

It’s all change.

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

A Russion Raft in Reykjavik attemping to Circumnavigate the North Pole – and you thought we were crazy.

Stuart has now left for Ullapool. He really enjoyed the trip but commitments back in Scotland meant that he needed to fly back. We will miss him. Stuart’s industrial yellow Wellies were often the only way the Sumara crew knew where the Thembi crew were. They could be spotted from several miles trudging through the moss on the hillsides around the anchorages. It was strange that on the single occasion when Stuart wore “proper” climbing type boots he got blisters.
Last night we were invited to “Beer ‘n Bergers” on Thembi which was “nailed down” with a massive duff in true Tilman fashion. It was a seriously good duff with bits of ginger, well done Tim. There was a degree of excitement about the evening as we had failed to check in with customs in Isafjordur and they weren’t too happy about it. Thembi had actually tried but the local officers were on holiday. The Reykjavik Customs Officers said they would come and see us between 2100 and 2300 and we must be onboard. Because of the danger of polar bear attack in Greenland I am carrying a .375 rifle and because of the possibility of a serious accident on Beerenberg we have stocks of morphine in the first aid box. It could have been tricky! When I said I was carrying a rifle they simply asked if I had a licence to which I said “yes” and that was that. They were very friendly but customs are taken much more seriously in Iceland than many other countries and it is worth trying to search them out immediately on arrival. They also like you to log in with the Coast Guard and give a passage plan.
Now I am alone on the boat in a windy and drizzly Reykjavik. The crews have hired a car to see the sights but I felt I needed a “Boat Day” to tinker with things and look at charts etc. I think I have slightly miscalculated the amount of time needed to complete the voyage so I may push on to Vestmann Islands or Grindavik and meet with Ray there. Laundry is the next task, the Laudrymat Café has WiFi, fantastic coffee, a bar and a restaurant so it’s no hardship really. Tonight Icelandic Jon, who sailed on Sumara in 2006 from the Faroes to Iceland is coming to visit. It will be good to meet up again.
Tomorrow Sarah flies back to England and Gudrun flies out. It’s all change on Sumara!

Girlie Talk

Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

The antedote to Girlie Talk

I’ve got the solution to the girlie talk. Ear defenders and a copy of Earthmovers Monthly. Perfect. I think Charlotte has gone shopping for nail varnish remover again.


Tuesday, July 26th, 2011

Thembi overhauls Sumara en route to Reykjavik.

Now I’m sitting in a cosy cafe sheltering from the gale. We moored outside the new concert hall next to Thembi at 0230 this morning before the wind got up. It was a grand sail but the wind eventually dropped off. There were continuous gale warnings on the VHF so we decided to start up the engine rather than hang around. But would it start? Nope. It would have made a good start to a naff horror movie. In any case after a bit of a prod around the electrics we tried again and it eventually perked up. I think it was just playing a naughty trick on us. A good reminder to make sure you always have a plan B.
I’ve just had a tour of the new concert hall which surely must make the whole trip tax deductable.
I think it cost 260 billion Islandic kroner, a snip.
It is warmer here but the nights are getting dark for a few hours.

Race before the Gale

Monday, July 25th, 2011

Position N64,41.41 x W023,51.10 Wind NW F4
Thembi and Sumara left Olafsvik at midnight in order to use a short weather window to get us to Reykjavik. Sumara is currently of Malarrif with full main and a poled out genoa making 5kts on the log but punching at least one knot of tide. It has already taken 12 hours to get here beating our way out of the fjord and around the headland. There is a gale forecast for tomorrow afternoon but the wind is due to shift to a south east head wind in the morning. We really need to sail Sumara as efficiently as possible to get to shelter in time. We still have 59 miles to go and this good wind is forecast to die off before settling in the south east. It will be touch and go. We will investigate refuge ports just in case we get clobbered. Just had lovely pancakes for breakfast thanks to Sarah. Charlotte and Sarah had a great watch, changing sails, gybing, poling out, cleaning and then making breakfast for me! It’s tough out here.

Sent at 12.57GMT 25th July 2011

Boring Bit about Ropes

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Sumara Moored in Dunstaffnage the Week Before Leaving

There has always been a debate about mooring warps. Should they be nylon or polyester? I fall generally into the polyester camp, but only just. Nylon is a bit lighter, a bit stronger, and a bit more stretchy. It does absorb some water and becomes weaker when it is wet but even then it is still as strong as polyester.
The reason I err on the side of polyester is because I find the stretch on nylon is just too much. Last night we were sweating long 16mm Octoplait lines off to some fishing boats in a full gale. On the bow I had a nylon warp and on the stern I had polyester (both 16mm Octoplait). In the strong gusts the nylon would keep stretching until the yacht relied on its fenders. The stern line held us off and there was no snatching.
My standard mooring lines are three strand classic coloured polyester. They are a joy to splice, soft to handle and they look traditional. The springs stretch just enough to absorb all the shocks but not so much that the yacht surges or moves position to bump into other yachts. I tighten my springs right up and keep them as long as possible but leave my bow and stern lines a bit slack.
Sumara currently carries 100m of 16mm Octoplait in polyester, 55m and 45m of 16mm Octoplait in Nylon, in addition to a 60m three strand kedge warp and her mooring warps. I like the long warps to be Octoplait construction because it flakes down like chain into their rope bags without the need for coiling.
So my choice is polyester because I get more control to position Sumara in heavy weather and the rope construction and length is adequate to prevent any snatching.
You never know when it might kick up a bit!


Sunday, July 24th, 2011

Getting Sandblasted on the Long Walk in.

The Summit of Snaefelljokul – Honest

Position N64,53.76 x W023,42.20 Wind SE Gale Force 9
It was not and good day to go sailing or climbing so we decided to go climbing.

On Saturday we woke at 0700 after a disturbed night on the tyre wall. The wind had really got up and we were being blown against it with such might that even my Uber Fender wasn’t able to cope without much line tweeking. We brewed up a large pot of coffee and made bacon, tomato and banana sandwiches. I have Peter Mercer to thank for the suggestion of adding banana to our bacon sandwiches. They tasted very good indeed. At 0900 the Thembi crew arrived ready to tackle the climb up Snaefelljokull. At over 1400m it is about the same height as Ben Nevis but with a much longer walk in. It is also one of the seven “Power Centres” in the world. We inquired what kit we would need and were told to bring ice axes but not crampons. As the Thembi crew are our climbing mentors we probably would have put on our swimming gear if they suggested it.
By 0930 we were heading out of Olafsvik towards the hills. I have been learning a lot about being in the mountains on this trip, it is great to have really experienced mountaineers to learn from. Although the Sumara crew didn’t let the side down, after walking for a couple of hours, Sarah said “I’ve got a map”. The Thembi crew were wowed with amazement “A map! That’s amazing, let’s have a look. Wow!” Sarah, got out the free tourist office map and we all stood around staring at it. They were suitably impressed with Sarah’s efficiency. Dan put it in his pocket but I never saw it again until I asked where exactly we had been in the bar afterwards. It seems the way to tackle these mountains is to enter two waypoints into a handheld GPS (although Tim will have nothing to do with such gadgets). The first waypoint is the summit of the mountain and the other is the boat. Every time we think we are lost a GPS is warmed up and they say “Head that way a bit more”. It seems that geological features are just tackled as they come along.
The dirt track was windy, very windy indeed! If I could have persuaded Sumara Charlotte to take off her boots she could have sandblasted her toe nails and saved the bother of the search for acetone. I took a little video. Stuart walked past the camera, then a huge cloud of dust flew across the screen and Stuart re-entered the screen staggering backwards! The wind was stronger on the track than it was once we turned off across the varied terrain towards the summit. I really enjoyed the day despite the wind. There was some pleasant glacier walking with a bit of axe work on the steeper bits. After six hours we reached the summit and the supposed entrance to the centre of the earth. The thick cloud meant we couldn’t see anything at all so we took the team photos and started to descend. I learned the correct method of descending steep ice slopes. Apparently you just ski down in your climbing boots shouting “Yippee!!”, as the gradient levels off you change from skiing into a manic uncontrollable run and finally make a secure stop by falling flat on your face. I’m pretty sure Dave Hollinger taught us a different method but I could be wrong.
At 1845 after 9 ¾ hours of walking we arrived back at Olafsvik were the skippers went off to check the yachts and the rest retired to the bar for a well deserved drink. We haven’t been following the news but when we saw the Icelandic flags at half mast we inquired why. We were all deeply shocked to hear about the awful news from Norway, a country which is home to so many of our friends and which has always treated us so well. We retired to our yachts in a sombre mood.
Before going below we added some long mooring warps to the fishing boats to help haul Sumara off the wall and one of the kind fisherman from the “Karl Magnus” lent us two massive fenders. Despite the foul night of furious winds and rain we all slept snug in our cosy berths.
The weather looks bad for Sunday but there is a small window of opportunity to leave for Reykjvik on Monday before more fierce weather heads our way. I think we will head off very early in the morning.

Journey to the Centre of the World

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Sailing Towards Olafsvik

Descend into the crater of Yocul of
Sneffels, Which the shade of Scartaris
Caresses, Before the kalends of July
Audacious traveller, And you will
Reach the centre of the earth. I did it.
Arne Saknussemm.

So we are now moored on the tyre wall at the base of Snaefell Jokull. Our long warps are weighted by my splendid bronze chum and a water carrier to compensate for the large tides. Snaefell is the volcano in Jules Vernes tale “Journey to the Centre of the World”. It is still regarded as one of the great “power centres” of the world. I suppose as we didn’t get to Greenland the centre of the world be a reasonable substitute.
Thembi stopped of at Patreksfjordur and are now on their way to join us so I am looking forward to their tales of the ice closing in around them and killer whales. They, of course it goes without saying, climbed a little mountain yesterday. Hopefully we will climb Snaefell tomorrow.
Today we are having a relaxing day pottering about. We have just had a swim and hot tub. Every Icelandic village has a great swimming pool and a hot tub so it makes cruising here rather civilised. The Icelanders are always very kind and helpful. When my credit card didn’t work in the ATM they invited me in to the bank, gave me coffee, and spent half an hour on the phone trying to repair the machine. OK, they never got it to work but it was an impressive effort. Despite being in one of the “power centres of the world” there is a power cut now. The big Iceland Geothermal Company is in financial trouble, maybe they have decided to stop making electricity.
Now that I am outnumbered by women on the Good Ship Sumara I am getting concerned about the amount of “girlie talk”. I may have to ration it if it doesn’t get under control soon. Charlotte has been to the chemist to try to buy some nail varnish remover. Surely she realises we are on an expedition. If she needs acetone it should be bought in 5 litre cans under the pretence we are using it to soak some engine parts otherwise all our creditability will be lost.
A gale warning has just come in on the Furuno Navtex from Greenland giving 15 metres per second for the area where we would have been had we continued on to Greenland. 15m/s is a force seven – “Sea heaps up, white foam from breaking waves begins to be blown in streaks” according to Beaufort. Add to that the latest Danish Ice Chart which had the ice closing in and getting more compact and throw in dense fog for good measure and I think you will agree that our decision to retreat was a sound one.
But we have the charts, the ice poles and the rifle plus a lot more knowledge. Already plans are forming up for another attempt in a few years time. Charlotte is very keen on trying the inland waterway route between Murmansk and St Petersburg. So maybe we could visit Greenland in August when the ice will be clearer, over winter in Iceland, then head off to the North Cape and down the waterways to St Petersburg and winter again in Sweden. Oh dear, I really must stop all this. What’s wrong with Salcombe?

Ice and Whales

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

Position N65,35.66 x W024,41.75. Wind Flukey SW F1-4
I am feeling a little bit sad that we are not going to see Greenland. Perhaps we should have pushed on but decisions needed to be made and I think it was the correct choice. I would hate to need to seek assistance if we made a hash of it. Thembi spent a few more hours in the ice and were rewarded with a pod of killer whales. Their VHF tranmission was rather broken but the words “Adrenaline rush” made it through, so they will be chuffed. Charlotte and Sarah saw a MASSIVE whale on their watch which they later identified as a sperm whale. We had lots of dolphins too. The wolf fish we were given by Jon made for excellent eating with the remains making a Thai fish soup. Sumara is now heading for Olafsvik. We are being swept by a strong tide around the headland off Bjargtangar at the moment. There’s another 50 miles to go. Hopefully we will make it to the harbour before the stronger headwinds set in. Thembi may stop off at Patreksfjordur en route.

Sent at 07.15GMT 21st July 2011