Shetlands And Iceland, 2003

Well, we finally made the break from Norway and leaving was as hard as we expected it to be. Especially since we left the coast at Ålesund, one of the most beautiful of Norwegian cities and especially beautiful in the long golden light of late evening with a perfect rainbow framing the city thrown in for good measure!

However, knowing that if we lingered another day a weather change would make the trip to Shetland to windward instead of with the wind, we made up our minds to go to sea; and we did have a very good two day sail to Shetland, arriving in the early morning of Saturday, May 24th.

Our first impression when approaching the coast was how flat and monochromatic it looked after Norway. Our hearts fell. But, on entering the harbour of Lerwick, we were encouraged to find several sailboats flying Norwegian flags already alongside the new floating dock. Hearing Norwegian spoken and learning about the close connections between Norway and Shetland also helped make the transition easier. Not only was Shetland part of Norway until 1469, there are many words similar to Norwegian in the Shetland dialect, and the ‘Shetland Bus’, a Norwegian partisan operation during WWII, was based in Shetland.

After several days acclimatizing to a new place, figuring out where to go and what to do, and stocking up on food and drinks, we were very happy to welcome our friends Ivar and Emely from Tromsø on board for 10 days. Their visit made the transition from Norway to a new place much easier.

The next month we spent circumnavigating Shetland. Impressions:

  • Walking is easy, except for dealing with the omnipresent sheep droppings which cling to boot treads like glue, and so we wandered over many miles of Shetland hills, choosing our anchorages based on the walking potential of the area.
  • Things are seriously old in Shetland, in fact, there are stone ruins as old as the pyramids.
  • Shetlanders are some of the friendliest people we’ve met anywhere. Wherever we went we were welcomed—someone to help with our lines, a free laundry experience, a newspaper interview, a tip on a rowing regatta, etc.
  • We were amazed at how inexpensive things were (after Norway); another thing which helped make the transition from Norway a bit easier!
  • It rains in Shetland, it rains a lot!

All in all we came to like and enjoy the Shetlands very much. The highlight was a day spent at a rowing regatta for traditional Shetland six-oared open boats called yoals with tough but friendly competition between about twelve communities. There were races for teenagers, women, men and masters but our favorite was the men’s masters event announced as the race for ‘grey hairs and nae [no] hairs’. All of the racing took place in a bay wide open to the full fetch of the North Atlantic—a tough breed these Shetlanders.

After a month cruising the Shetlands and after spending 4 days riding out a gale in Baltasound on the northernmost island of Unst, we finally got a weather window that got us all the way to Seydisfjordur on the east coast of Iceland. Once again Faeroe got the miss but we hope to make that a destination for a cruise someday.

East and north Iceland are very different from the other parts of Iceland we have seen—much greener, more lush. People have been very welcoming, with someone to grab our lines in almost every community we have stopped at and invitations to visit the local swimming pool (swimming is a national pastime in Iceland and almost every community has a heated pool). Again, however, we’re short of time and have had to dash to Isafjordur, on the northwest coast and our jumping off point for southeast Greenland. We are hoping to make Iceland a destination someday instead of a rushed passage stop.

The fact that it is presently blowing Force 8 all around Iceland was another reason for us to rush to this good harbour before the weather went to pieces. We are snugged down now and getting ready for what we hope will be our fourth trip to Greenland and third exploration of the southeast coast. We are also looking forward to spending the next two months with Ted, our friend and crew, who also accompanied us to Svalbard last summer, and who is expected to arrive in the next few days.

Right now the ice conditions look very good on the southeast coast, much better than they were a month later in 2000. Will this be the trip when we finally reach Ammassalik? We’ll keep you posted!

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Meet the Author

Phyllis

Phyllis has sailed over 40,000 offshore miles with John on their McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, most of it in the high latitudes, and has crossed the Atlantic three times. As a woman who came to sailing as an adult, she brings a fresh perspective to cruising, which has helped her communicate what they do in an approachable way, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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