In the Faeroes
July 23rd, 2012 - Going home is the best part of the adventure
It is 5:30am on a drizzly gray day in Iceland. The lettuce leaves in my friend´s Helga and Ingo´s garden are all bent over - blasted by the winds that I had been so concerned about when I had been planning the Iceland crossing. The clock on the wall ticks the seconds away as a light rain strikes the metal roof of the house. Yes, I am in Iceland but I certainly didn't get here in my rowing boat....
The decision to call off the trip was both difficult and in a strange way, an easy decision to make. The difficult part was struggling with all of the attachment and emotions that were, and still are, connected with the trip. The easy part was seeing the facts for what they were - wind and sea conditions that would make the crossing to Iceland foolish and dangerous.
I will always remember sitting in Frodi and Ansa´s kitchen at 10pm talking with Dave Wheeler; connected by cyber space trying to make sense of a massive shift in the wind forecast while the boat lay ready to go down in the harbor. The day had been spent quietly getting both the boat and myself ready for six days at sea. Simply writing that last sentence transports me back to Vestmanna Faeroe......
I am back in the boat, sitting on the sliding seat, unscrewing the hatches and methodically stowing the blocks of cheese on the bottom of the boat where the sea will keep them fresh. All of the freeze-dried meals that will be my sustenance and reward for pulling on the oars for ten or twelve hours are stowed in the higher rowing deck compartment. Fifteen gallons of fresh water in ten different bags are all carefully distributed throughout the boat - water that is both ballast and life support. The sea anchor, which has been dried in the cool wind, is carefully rolled so it will come out of the upper most hatch without fouling and twisting on it's 100 feet of line. I pull the telescopic mast out of its recess and check the three lines, which support it's fragile length when the winds fill the sail. I retape my watch with the broken wrist strap onto the mast and make certain that it is at the right height so I can check it quickly, compare it's time against the GPS reading of distance and then shift my glance to the compass and check the bearing I will be on. I check the rudder action; releasing the line from the jam cleat and letting the bungee pull the rudder all the way to one side, then pull against the resistance of the bungee and lock the rudder in a straight setting. I empty a shopping bag full of Snicker bars into the hatch near my left hip - the compartment that holds all the goodies that I will reward myself with after the first four hours of each day's rowing and then again at two hour intervals. There is cheese and butter and salami - all high fat energy for the long haul. There is also dried fruit, nuts and the candy bars. I have the dried fish that Trondur gave me and a couple of cans of beans that I can eat without having to fire up the stove if the seas are too rough to risk balancing the pot of water over the flame. There is more food on board than I could possibly eat in six days. More water than I could drink. There are enough of both for twelve days - a reminder of how serious this crossing will be. I empty the forward sleeping compartment and pack away in the aft compartment all of my "town things" - my street cloths, shoes, extra sweater and hat, the various booklets and tide tables from the Hebrides and now the Faeroes that I will no longer need. I tidy the boat up; spend hours doing this and that, tightening and checking and rechecking things three and four times. It is deliberate, quiet and anticipatory work. As the hours pass, the boat becomes "tighter" and I become quieter. I am getting ready for what? For every possibility.
Two hours later I am in Frodi and Ansa´s kitchen speaking into the glow of a computer screen and discussing anticyclones, low pressure systems and the winds that are a product of both. I ask Dave how it is that the jet stream has moved so far south this year pulling all of these north winds along with it. He chuckles and says, "That is what we all would like to know." We talk about probabilities; what is the most likely scenario for the next six to nine days. Dave pulls up data that I don't have access to and talks me through what it is he is seeing. He is looking at weather charts, pressure charts and ocean swell reports. I am sitting with my arms crossed, leaning over and staring at the keyboard - trying to place myself in Dave's office with the computer monitors over his desk, the books and reference manuals on shelves above his head. I have sat in Dave's office and in his kitchen. I know the view out his window.
I reach across space and time and hear his voice through the link of technology. What I hear tightens my chest while at the same time, releases me from the heightened state of preparation that I have been in for the last three and a half months. My body already knows the trip is over, but my brain is still in the fight to keep it alive. None of the news I am hearing is good. Some of it is marginal and I can hear myself silently making allowances that could be wrong, maybe dangerously so. I am on the brink of making a huge decision; one that I do not want to make and at the same time, a decision I know only I can make, and one that I will have to accept one way or the other.
Emotions battle with the reality of polar winds and sea states one hundred miles from land. Sitting in the comfort of a home filled with the laughter and screams of happy children in the living room, I have to place myself in Northern Reach, two days into a three hundred mile crossing and imagine a north wind of twenty knots, a pounding five foot wind wave and a two meter north swell. I am human and am attached to what I want to do - to row to Iceland. I do not want to let go of that. I also have the experience of being in small boats on a large unforgiving and, at times, brutal ocean. I know what that feels like. I know the terrible realty of pushing with all of my strength against a force that does not respond or recognize a fight to stay alive. The moment for a decision is coming quickly.
The facts are the facts and there is no room for the emotions that want to sway the decision in favor of going. I sit in both worlds - the past hours of preparation and the present reality that the winds have changed once again and my plans must change as well. Talking with Dave helps immensely in keeping my perspective clear. After a half hour, I hear myself say what I feared when I saw the original wind report on the computer screen, "I'm calling it off Dave. There's just not enough margin of safety in this." And with that, I was drained. The decision was made and there would be no turning back. I thanked Dave profusely, said goodbye and sat looking at the computer……
The next day was spent cleaning out the boat and getting it ready for stowage in Frodi's father's boathouse. Bjerki had offered the boathouse when it looked like there was a possibility that the crossing was in doubt. Now that it was a reality, I had to lighten the boat so we could lift her up into the second floor double doors facing the harbor. Frodi had offered to help me with the preparations. I think he knew, as I explained, that the work would actually be a good way for me to let go of the trip. It was another step - another mini journey along the way.
Pouring out all of the fresh water from the ballast bags was the first and probably the hardest thing to do. Fifteen gallons of fresh clear water - one bag at a time, was poured into the harbour. With each bag pulled from its compartment and poured out, the boat became lighter. And in a way, I guess I did too. I had to let go of the trip. Without water, we cannot live. Without water, a boat is only a boat. It can hold life but it cannot sustain life away from land. Water is such a beautiful thing - clear and strong, gurgling and chugging out of a narrow opening, flowing over the concrete of the slipway and into the fiord.
And now, five days later, after a non-eventful ride on Norrona, the giant white ferry that runs from Faeroe to Iceland, I am getting ready to ride with my Icelandic friend Ingo, to Reykjavik where I will catch my flight back to Lisa and family and friends. Of course there is much to think and to write about: sitting on board the ferry behind plate glass windows and looking out at the sea, turning on my GPS and checking the waypoints at fifty, one hundred and two hundred fifty miles; studying the sea conditions, looking at the wave patterns, guessing the wind speed. The other passengers do not know who I am or why, if they even should notice, that I am looking at an empty ocean with a GPS showing six waypoints along the same route as the ferry. Later, as I clear customs and step onto Icelandic soil for the first time in nine years, I am greeted by Finbar, the Irish sailor. He tells me he took "A right good pasteing coming across. And me in a 25 tonne yacht. I'm glad to see you had the sense to take the ferry. I was hoping you weren't out in that same sea."
So now what do I make of these last almost four months of life? That is a good question that will be with me for a long time. In a way, that question is the same one I have been asked hundreds of times; "Why are you doing this." There are many ways to answer each question. My answer may not be the same one-day from the next, but that does not mean I have changed my mind. It only means I am a new person each day, with maybe a slightly different perspective. The trip may not have gone as I had hoped and planned, but that is what happens in life. I can only speak for myself, but I believe that whatever course life takes us on, if we can at least say, "I lived that portion of my life full and well." Then that is enough.
These past two years there have been countless people who have helped me along my way. These are people who in most cases will never meet one another but who all have one thing in common; each one of you - and I am hoping that all of you are reading these words - each of you made a difference in my life. You offered an open hand in greeting me on piers and docks and floating pontoons from Northern Scotland, Orkney, Fair Isle, Shetland and forty miles out from Shetland, from the bridge of the Ocean West. And when I was forced to turn around last year, you were there on my return journey to Scotland and to my eventual mooring of the boat alongside the sail boats in Ullapool. This year I was once again on the receiving end of the same warm welcoming and hospitality. From Ullapool to Stornoway, to Port of Ness, to the Faeroes and now to Iceland where I am writing this, I have repeatedly been welcomed into your harbours, ships, yachts, homes and lives. I have spoken to fishermen, ship's captains, schoolteachers, and students. I have listened to the advice of seasoned men who have spent their lives on the sea. I have seen the doubt in their eyes and in the way they held their heads. I have heard some of you say, half joking perhaps, that I was crazy but as we said our goodbyes, there was always a firm handshake of good luck. There is the brotherhood of the sea that I feel blessed to have known. There is so much in that last sentence that only those who have ventured out on the sea will know in their hearts. I imagine some of you will nod as you read this and say nothing more; because words cannot adequately describe nor fill the silence of that brotherhood.
What is next? I don't know. When I ask myself that question I want to remember to answer with what I have learned in life….It does not matter what is next, as long as I live it fully and as well as I possibly can.
Now, I would like to thank all of you who have followed this journey and who have offered your support and interest. It has been a wonderful experience for me - full of challenges and rewards. I am heading home with so much to share with Lisa and my family and friends. Going home is the best part of the adventure.
July 15th, 2012 - ...the right decision
Today is still Sunday, July 15th - just hours ago I last wrote of my intentions to head off for Iceland tomorrow morning. I have been tracking the winds every hour for the better part of the last three days. This evening, after a two-hour training row, I came back to my friend's house to once again check the websites for the wind. The southeasterly winds are no longer there..... in their place are the north and northwesterlies that have plagued the trip for the last three months. I called Dave on Fair Isle and we had a long conversation as he sat in his office looking at the latest information. Based on our conversation and the absolute trust I have in his judgment, I have decided to call off the trip. As I wrote earlier, I need six days for the crossing. With the wind out of the north - even if I could sail off course and then back on course as the winds changed, I could not out race a low-pressure system that is developing over eastern Iceland. As if that is not enough, there is a 2-meter north running swell that would further slow my progress.
This roller coaster ride of emotions and energy is taking it's toll on both Lisa and I. It is time for me to put the boat away and just go home. It is a huge disappointment. And it is . It has only been ten minutes since I spoke with Dave. I know that the reality of this decision has not, and will not sink in until perhaps tomorrow. I need sleep and then I need to start looking at all of the work that has to be done before Wed when I will take the ferry to Iceland. Right now, its one thing at a time....sleep.
July 15th, 2012 - Decision time
After almost five weeks of waiting, the winds are finally swinging out of the north, tending to weaken and slowly swing into the south. The wind report for tomorrow is westerlies at about 15 knots shifting to weak northerlies then slowly swinging to southwesterly on Tuesday. Tomorrow's conditions aren't perfect, but they aren't bad. I'll make a final decision this evening after having one more look at the weather as well as calling Dave on Fair Isle. My back up plan is to wait until Tues morning when conditions look even better. My decision to possibly go on Monday is based on getting a little offshore before the really good forecast kicks in. How long the forecasted southerlies will last is always a bit of a gamble. If I put up with a little north wind the first day and still make maybe thirty miles, then I have those miles behind me and I can count them as a bonus. Its all a head game at this point. I have to play all the mental games I can to stay positive.
I'm hoping the Iceland crossing will take about six days. If I can row 40-45 miles each day and then get another five to ten in during the night with either the sail or the kite..... I can make it within that time frame. Right now, my emotions are all over the place...excited to be heading off, tired of being away from Lisa and home, weary from all the questions I am constantly asked, and nervous of course because of the almost 300 mile crossing.
I was out this morning for a last training row and a look at the ocean beyond the mouth of the fiord. As always, as soon as I am in the boat, I settle down and all of the jitters vanish. The forecast called for 20 knots of wind from the Northwest. As I approached the last headland I could see the overfalls that Frodi had warned me about. I purposefully went out to them just to feel the boat in open ocean conditions. Northern Reach is brilliant in how she handles that kind of stuff...she just powered into them, slipped over the crests and dropped into the far troughs. The horizon disappears for a few seconds and then up we go again back into the wind. I'm happy to say that the 20 knots of wind was actually closer to 15. Maybe tomorrow's winds won't be as strong as predicted...or maybe they will be...
If I leave tomorrow, I'll want to be on the water and moving by 4am. I'll be riding the first hour of the rising tide and hoping to get a little push for the next 6 hours. That should take me about 30 miles out by which time the tidal stream assistance will be just about gone when the tide begins to ebb back eastward. That far offshore, the tidal stream is very weak so the ebb tide shouldn't cause me to loose too much speed. If the forecast is correct, the winds should be from the west and I will have the sail up and hopefully getting maybe as much as a knot of assistance across the wind. Just sitting here and writing out the plan actually helps me process what is coming. It is part of the crucial element of having a plan and acting on it. The sea is no place to be if one does not have a plan...and a back up plan. Oars, sail, kite and a steady positive attitude. Use them all and each mile slips away in the wake of progress. I have decided that this is not a 300 mile crossing but rather six, fifty mile days broken into four and two hours shifts of rowing throughout the day.
My plan is to phone Al when I am about half way across so he can update the website and let everyone know how things are going. So until then, thanks to all of you who have been following along on this very slow moving journey in the North Atlantic. We are getting there.....
July 13th, 2012 - The north winds are shifting
Just when I had given up on Iceland and had started making plans to head home, it looks like the north winds are shifting to southerlies. I called Dave on Fair Isle and had a long conversation with him. I am now planning on leaving Vestmanna very early Monday morning in the company of a large yacht skippered by an Irishman. He will very quickly out pace me but it will be nice to have him in my sights for the first ten miles or so. I'll try to do one more update before heading off.
July 8th, 2012 - Another beautiful day in Vestmanna
It is another beautiful day here in Vestmanna Faeroe. And the reason it is so beautiful is that the winds from the north bring clear skies and near perfect weather - except if one is intent on rowing to Iceland.
My routine for the past two weeks has been to check the Faeroes, Norwegian and Iceland wind forecasts each morning, compare one against the other and then pick up my borrowed carpentry tools and go to work as a carpenter rather than an ocean rower. This morning's forecast showed light northerlies until Wednesday, when the winds near Iceland are forecast to reach force 7 - about 28 mph. With a fetch of several hundred miles, those winds will build a four to five foot sea which I would be heading straight into - or more likely, setting out the sea anchor and loosing mileage as the winds drive me back towards Faeroe. And so the story has been - adverse winds either here in the Faeroes or in Iceland. I have been remiss in sending updates to Al and Karen because so little has changed....the north winds are still the issue.
These north winds bring a mixed blessing; beautiful weather that brings a reprieve from the usual mist and fog; however, the sheep can not be brought to the mountain meadows for grazing because it has been too cold and dry for the grasses to grow. The TV news reports have shown farmers very worried about the lambs that have died from lack of good grazing. There is also concern that there will not be enough hay this winter when the sheep are all gathered in from the mountains and spend the winter months inside. My concerns of not getting to Iceland are pale in comparison to the concerns of the farmers.
I have been very lucky to have met a family here in Vestmanna - actually an extended family who not only have looked after my needs in terms of hospitality and meals but also of possibly storing Northern Reach for the winter. Frodi Skuvadal and his wife Ansa, along with their children, Bjarki (11), Sólrun (8), and Tróndur (4) have all been really welcoming. Frodi's father, Bjarki (Little Bear) and his wife Sonja have had me in for meals and telling me stories of the old days in Vestmanna. Frodi's brother Gunnar, runs the sight seeing boats out to the bird cliffs where I saw the basking shark. After two weeks, I feel like a member of this wonderful family. In exchange for all of their warmth, I have been building a small barn in Frodi and Ansa's backyard - a little building that will be used for a meat drying shed with a seperate area where the laundry can be hung to dry when the rains - and the southwest winds - finely arrive. We have also built a small attached deck where the children can play and where Frodi can sit and play his guitar while looking out over the harbour. I am grateful for the work as I have to have something to do while I wait for the winds to calm or to shift.
Today I will leave for a couple of days of island exploring. The tides will be in my favor in about one hour---pulling me away from the sea and deeper into the fiords. I will be back in Vestmanna in two days to again look at the long range forecast and to make the decision as to whether or not an Iceland crossing is possible this year.
June 19th, 2012 - Close encounter with a shark
I am writing this from the village of Vestmannhavn on the west side of Streymoy Island. I left Eidi four days ago with a plan, as I had written earlier, to visit Saksavn if I could get over the bar..... As my travels have taught me, plans are what I have in mind…not, perhaps, what mother nature has in store for me.
On the advice of my fishermen brother friends, I left Eidi at 10:30 on Friday morning, catching the out going tide and pulling for the middle of the fiord to avoid the back eddy against the west cliff. Its all a bit confusing to visualize but after talking with the local fishermen, studying the tide and current atlas, and looking out at these waters for the past four or five days it all made sense to me.
Like any other place in the world, when there is a headland that juts out into a tidal stream, there will always be some confusion of tide. Coming around the headlands on the north of Streymoy is no exception. As I approached the first headland I watched the GPS record my speed...5.3, 6.2, 6.7. I turned the video camera on that Dave Shreffler had loaned me for the trip. Up ahead were cliffs approaching fast. Cliffs with bold vertial faces of black basalt, ringed with white at their bases and crowned with brilliant green tops-over six hundred meters straight up. All scale is lost as there is nothing to really measure such heights against. The sea shifts the boat in cauliflower boils of tidal flow. Puffins dive in panic as I approach- others surface just feet away, orange billed and teary eyed. Fulmars swoop by for one look and then another and another. I am not alone in this magical world of extremes.
The tide carries me past one overlapping headland after another- each one pulling back as I draw even with it, revealing a verdant green hanging meadow dropping straight to the sea, or a narrow indented valley- the amphitheater of green catching the strong morning sun and challenging any seascape to a contest of majesty and beauty. Up ahead I can see the overfalls that the fishermen of Eidi had warned me about. The tide rushing west collides with the bottom and sends the water tumbling and rolling over itself in white breaking crests. I have the GPS on, needing to know when I am in a back eddy or when I have the full power of the tide beneath me. With everything moving so fast, and the massive walls of basalt to my right, it is hard to process the scensory overload. How tall is tall when a basalt wall stands almost 2000 feet overhead...how fast is the 7.5 mph that the GPS is telling me I am going? And what does it matter when the boat is being rapidly drawn into the standing waves? Whether it is wise or not, I look at these four footers and can not but compare them to the overfalls at Sumba - the overfalls I met on my midnight approach to Faeroes three weeks ago. I watch the rapidly approaching water but I am not worried...they are playful and noisey small children compared with the angry giants I met in the dark of that night at Sumba. The tide carries me directly into the overfalls, Northern Reach splitting the waves and throwing white water to either side as she cuts strongly into the confusion. I back off the oars, letting the momentum of the approach pull us through the short stretch of rough water. I look up at the cliff and can't believe how fast we are flying past.....
As I clear the western headland and turn the boat southward, what little wind there was completely vanishes. The last of the morning clouds seems to agree that it is a day to just surrender to....let the sun have it's way for the day. Sunshine, and rapidly calming water that has the appearance of a mountain lake rather than that of the North Atlantic. The northeast winds of all these weeks have indeed knocked any of the western swells down to nothing. I swing further out to sea to avoid the huge eddy that must certainly be there up against the cliff. Despite the utter and complete calm, I still want the tide under me- I want that current helping me move toward whatever is the next shelter further up this walled coast of such heights that one can not but feel the extreme exposure. There is no place to run to if the winds suddenly reappear. And who is to say they will not? I switch the GPS to the map and see Saksavn is another three miles down the coast. Over my shoulder there is no indication of any break in the clffs, but at some point, they will open as I come abreast of them and I will see the opening. Safety, if I should need it is not far away.
For now, I pull on the oars- not a sound as the blades slice cleanly into their mirrored image, pull silently beneath the cold clear blue of the Atlantic, and then, with the slightest roll of my wrist, pop to the surface, leaving small whirlpools that hold the sun in their cupped hands. My progress along the cliffs changes the light and shadow with each minute of riding the current. Arches, caves, soaring white fulmars at a thousand feet against black basalt. My body is flowing with the current beneath us. It is warm- wonderful warmth that I have not felt in weeks. It is quiet- the silence of no wind rushing past my ears. It is strange and wonderful. It is freeing- a freedom my mind needs to wander with. Puffins surface and dive, upturned feathers float on downturned reflections, float on reversed images of the cliff faces. I peel off layers until I am down to a pair of shorts- drinking in the golden sun and feeling it on my back, my arms and legs. I am a lone rower in a paradise of impossible beauty.
I do not know where my mind was--floating perhaps in that nether world between realty and daydream. My alarm system that is normally and always on, was temporarily on standby- lulled by everything that said, "Relax, there is nothing, for the moment, Chris, to worry about."
And suddenly, IT was there.....a huge disturbance fifty feet behind the boat. Across this silken smoothness of blue, were two fins churning the surface- breaking reflection and dreams and closing rapidly. A SHARK...A VERY BIG SHARK. And it kept coming - no need to hurry when so much obvious power was in the gentle thrust of each sweep of that black tail.
I grab the camera before the shark sinks from view, but sinking is not on it's mind. It keeps coming. Closer and closer... ten feet, 7 feet, five, and then finally stopping at three feet behind the rudder - a massive gray shape as wide as my boat and at least as long----no it's longer and wider.....oh my gosh...that is one huge shark.... oh my gosh...what is it....how close is it going to get...what does want???? And what do I do? I stand up in my blue shorts - my shark fighting outfit... This is crazy wild! I take his or her picture as he or she looks at me, at my boat, at my rudder.
What now? I think of the video camera. The shark is drifting back- bored maybe? I have to hold it's interest until I can get the camera off the roof of the forward cabin. I start rowing again- a fast even pace that puts some distance between me and the leviathan. Ten feet, fifteen, twenty-five and then maybe thirty....and then the tails churns the water again. I grab the video camera and untie the tether with shaking fingers- one eye on the approaching dorsel and tail, the other on the stubborn knot. The boat is loosing speed and the shark is coming on slow and purposeful. I free the camera from the tether and as the gray mass closes to within three, maybe two feet of the rudder, I slip the camera into the water beside the boat and point it with a very shaky hand towards the visitor. I mutter under my breath, "This is so cool." The sea is cold on my hand and wrist and after a short time, I slowly lift the camera from beneath the boat and watch as the shark drifts back a few feet and then suddenly decides it has seen enough. It turns sideways as if to let me see how truly long and huge it is, and with a slight roll, the dorsel fin slips away, followed very slowly by the pointed and curved tail. The sea closes over the swirls and erases any sign of what was, seconds earlier, the silent cruising bulk of the shark. GONE. Where? Will it come back? Where?
I am left sitting on the reflections of the cliffs and the feathers with an avalanche of emotions- thrilled, awe struck, slightly shaken, almost numb with disbelief. My vulnerable mind jumps to the "what ifs". And then to the grappling of attempting to measure, quantify, identify. How big, how wide, how silent and powerful. How it so quickly appeared out of nowhere. What was it? When it turned away, it's nose looked sharp like that of a Great White - and so of course I think it must certainly have been one.
I am back to rowing again....I have passed Saksavn - having decided long before my visit with the shark that I didn't want the comfort and security of land on a day such as this. But now, my stoke rate is faster. I am intent on moving the boat as fast as possible toward Vestmannhavn as my mind goes into overdrive with the questions and the possibilities. After a half hour, I am calmed but still pulling clean and fast for sheltered water........
And now, three days after my visitor, I have learned, after talking with and getting several different opinions, that the shark was no doubt a Basking Shark- a plankton feeder known for its gentle demeanor and curiosity and not for it's history of eating solo ocean rowers. The fishermen of old- those who went to sea in the small open rowing boats-feared this giant that can grow to 30 feet, not because it was a vicious killer but because it would come up under the boats to rub it's back on the bottom of the planked hulls.
And so, here I am in Vestmannhavn...there is another story of meeting a farmer in a village some ten miles from here....there is a sea stack named "The Witche's Finger". And there the story of a sunken Viking ship and how this farmer has some planks from this ship in his basement - a ship that sank in 1006AD. The ship was owned by a Viking that had killed a man in Iceland and so, had to flee that distant land. He ran his ship aground and there it lies to this day- twice a year revealed by the lowest tides. Stories and stories and more stories. Too many to write down right now. But while I wait for the winds, I will hunker down in the forward cabin moored to the rowing club's dock and write them in my journal. I need to get back to the boat and call Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle. I checked the weather charts and it looks like there is a possibility for southeast winds......
June 15th, 2012 - A visit to Gjova
I wish I could say that I'm heading out for Iceland but the winds don't want to hear that...
Today is the first day without the north winds. I came into the offices of Salmon Proteins here in Eidi and signed onto the computer for a weather and wind check. It looks like today will be the only day for the next four days when the winds are calm. After that, the winds will be in the north and northwest between 10 and 20 knots. The wind right on the bow is the worst wind possible...so I wait. But I have a plan.
In about an hour - when the tide turns in my favor - I'll row out to open water and head west around the headland, then south about five miles to Saksavn (Saxon). Apparently, the tiny village had, at one time a perfectly protected estuary and harbour for the small rowing fishing boats of old. At some point, a winter storm filled the mouth of the estuary with sand and all but closed the village off from the sea. There is apparently enough water for me to get over the bar if there isn't any swell running. With the winds out of the north and northeast, the west swell has been knocked down to almost nothing. I should be able to get across the bar safely. The back up plan if there is too much swell, will be to continue south to a larger fiord where there is another village with a good harbour. The beauty of the Faeroes is that in the old days everything was done by rowing - courting, fishing, visiting between villages, transporting sheep between the islands etc. Every break in the cliffs or every place where the valleys open toward the sea, there you will find a village and some sort of harbor or rock break where the old boats were pulled up. This is a land settled by the Vikings, the men in those square sailed boats - who also rowed - settled in places where they had easy access to the sea and plenty of shelter from the winds. They were dealing with the same needs as any sailor in a small boat.
Yesterday, I had a plan to row east and then into the next fiord to visit a place called Gjova that I had heard about. I walked over to a fishing boat where two older men were working on the radio antennas and lifeboat - running checks on all the life support gear. I told them what I wanted to do and asked when the best time to leave the fiord would be.... in a broken English and with a look of shock on their faces they made it very clear that "You should not go to Gjova...no, no, not good. The wind and the sea, she is not good. No you do not go to Gjova today...." And then..."You want go to Gjova, we go in my Ford car...my momma she lived in village close near Gjova...we know this village very well....we go in my car, then we come back here....in my Ford car."
So off we go...two brothers and an American who is sitting in the front seat of the "Ford car" that smells like burning oil as soon as we start up the very steep mountain pass that separated the two fiords. The brother in the back seat - the one with the new scar on his chest - he shouts in my ear is that's where they did "HEART SURGERY IN DENMARK!!" And then he shows me the other scar, where the pacemaker is implanted. He is very proud I think....The two brothers are so kind...they tell me more about the history of the area - the salmon in the lake above Eidi, the tunnel for the hydro power, the village where their mother lived and how in the old days, "the people they would hide up here in the rocks when the pierats come." Pierates??? I don't know if they are talking to each other or to me. They are talking VERY loud and I am thinking...Pierates?? "Ya, Ya in the ol days..long time ago." It dawns on me... PIRATES.....yes I have heard there were pirates driven ashore by the winds. Some stayed, hence the dark hair of folks like Linjohn and Sunrid Christiansen - I remember Linjohn telling me his ancestors were probably pirates. And now, sitting in the car and smelling a very tired old engine trying to haul us up and over the mountain, I hear another story of the pirates.
We wind our way up to the height of land - to the base of the highest mountain in Faeroe that still soars above us and whose craggy peak is hidden in a cloud. I am told by the driver that the power poles blew down in winter gale, so now the power is underground....every story comes out very loud and fast - my brain is going into overdrive like the little car, trying to understand what is being said....I think I get the gist of most of the stories.
We now head downhill, the road switch backing in stunning dog legs that reveal more and more of the oncoming fiord and the mountains on the far side. Sunshine blazes on the other side of the fiord - the mountainside a shade of rich deep green with sparkling waters at its base. We drive into Gjova - a cluster of twenty houses maybe - all facing the sea with very narrow roads winding between them - roads that were not built for cars but rather for carts - roads that are steep and twisting between the inconvenience of a tiny black painted house with a turf roof that seems to have been planted right where the road wants to go straight. The narrow road bends around the house and almost runs into another little house. My kind driver misses a gear, almost stalls but soldiers on up the hill, around the next tight bend..."This is a new house...my momma's house was here. This is a new house...not here when my momma's house was here. Up here.. up here, ya ,this stream, this is where they wash the cloths...my momma wash her cloths here..." and then.. "This very old church, very old. I think maybe Danish. Very old." The church looks out on the sea of course...sod roof, black vertical boards with shutters that are below the window and are slid up and locked when the winds threaten the glass. There are few windows on the west side of the small houses..."The vind...vest vind very strong."
On and on we twist till we come to the rocky and narrow gorge where there are two rails and cable used to haul the boats out of the sea and up the steep incline to safety. There is no harbour as such - but there is safety fifty feet above the sea and that is where a Faeroe rowing boat sits in the warm sun. Ah the sun...and no wind behind the high headland that protects this village from the north winds.
There are four Irish men walking through the village with a Faeroe man as their guide. They all met in Ireland at a symphony. Phone numbers and an invitation to Faeroes was extended. Now, years later, the skipper called this Faeroe man and asked if he remembered meeting him in Ireland? "Yes of course I remember. I have been wondering when you might come to Faeroe." The Irishmen have sailed from Scotland - 20 to 22 knots on the bow all the way. They are all retired and out for an adventure. They talk of how beautiful both the country and the people of Faeroe are.... we agree that nowhere on earth can there be any more hospitable people. They are heading back through Eidi and want to see Northern Reach. The Faeroe man has seen the TV coverage and wants to see the boat as well. My "brother friends" think we should go back through the kilometer long tunnel that connects the fiords. I agree - maybe the car would be happier going through the mountain rather than over it.
We arrive back in Eidi and find the harbour almost flat calm - hardly a ripple on its surface. That is a good sign.
So now, today is June 15th and it has been two and half months since I left Port Angeles. So much time as slipped away while I wait for these north winds to stop. But time is not really slipping away Chris...look at what has happened, the people, the cliffs, the food, the kindness of strangers, the talks with the school children, the ride up and over the mountain and hearing the stores in broken English of the driver when he is 14 years old and he goes to Iceland with his father - "fishing the cod". He gets what sounds like appendicitis and the boat has to find an Icelandic port fast...he is flown in a "very small plane to Reykjavik...my pappa he does not speak Iceland but someone comes and he talk with my pappa. I stay in hospital three days then back to boat...very sick." And then..."I have Russian woman - fourteen years now." The car skips a serious beat on a hill. A lower gear is found and the little, smelly car keeps going. The window is down, thankfully. The heater seems to be stuck on high and it also seems to be crossed with the oil coolant system because it's both hot and stinky---but hey, its a ride I won't forget. Stories overlap like time. Winds shift, tides change, the road traveled twists in hanging tight switchbacks...its all connected somehow....the viking settlements, the massive rock that sits along the narrow main road in Eidi - just a little way from the grocery shop. The rock has a rusted metal strap that holds it upright against a stone wall. I ask a woman who is watching four little children all bundled against the cold, "Can you tell me what the rock by the store is?" She tells me in the old days there was a competition in rock lifting and that was the one they used to use....how old it was, she did not know.....stories, stories, stories. I've just hit a key that made all the last paragraph "bold". What is that all about....? It must be time to catch the tide to another little harbour - I'll try to get over the bar…who knows what stories await. I'll let you know.
June 11th, 2012 - The forecast still doesn't look good
Its Monday morning here. I went out for a training row at 6am to test the new wrappings on the oars and also test the new seat.. .all good. The winds are still in the NE and cold. I rowed out to the headland and turned the bow to 327 degrees - my heading for Iceland when the winds allow. A large NE swell was running after weeks of this wind. Black seas lifting and falling. White crashing water around the base of the thousand foot cliffs. The boat is ready and so am I. But not with these winds. The forecast doesn't look good for the rest of this week- winds mostly in the NE, then briefly into the north before shifting again to the NE. The waiting game continues. it is so important for me to stay positive...this is the big step that I've been focused on for three years. Another week of waiting. I play the mental game of "It's just a week out of a three year plan. It'll pass. Patience, patience."
I looked at Sarah Outen's website..she is safely back in Japan, resting and recovering from her ordeal. Her boat is adrift somewhere in the north pacific but the important thing is that she is safe!
June 8th, 2012 - In Eidi, waiting for the winds to change
I am now in the village Eidi - the northern most and closest village to Iceland. Its a beautiful day - the sun dancing off the waters of the fiord in a million diamonds. The trouble is, once again, the strong north winds that tug at the boat as she lies moored to the dock alongside the beautiful traditional boats of the Faeroes. The forecast isn't good - north winds for the next few days. And so I sit and wait.
I spent most of the day preparing the boat for the next leg. I changed the padding on the seat, checked all the wheel bearing and tightened the bolts that hold the seat in place if we get knocked over - I don't think that's going to happen but you have to consider everything. I then emptied the back compartment - took everything out to dry and then repacked everything and added some of the extras that have been in the forward cabin with me up to this time. It felt really good to get everything down to a bare minimum up forward - more room for me. I've been saving about 15 freeze-dried meals in a dry bag back in the stern. They came out and are now in one of the middle compartments - ready for the crossing.
Then it was on to the oars. Before I left last year, I had wound parachute cord around the shaft of the oars where they ride within the oarlocks. I had done the same thing to the oarlocks themselves - creating a sacrificial buffer between the oars and the hard plastic of the oarlocks. After almost five hundred miles, the cord was showing the expected wear - so off it came. I swapped the ends of the cord and rewound it, both on the oars as well as the oarlocks...sitting in the bright sunshine but bundled up - hat over my ears, three layers and a wind breaker on as I carefully wound the layers of cord that will get me to Iceland.
As I sat working, several fishermen drove up and took my picture from their cars... some of the older men don't speak English but have obviously heard and are curious about Northern Reach. They wave, smile and kind of shake their heads. "I think you are crazy" doesn't need a translator. One man came back down a while later, walking down the steel ramp to the dock and shook my hand. The one thing I could understand him to say was "Small boat." Yes it is a small boat. But I tell everyone "She is a good boat."
On my row here to Eidi (Iya) I had to stop just before the narrows where the fiord is only about 150 yards wide. The current surges through here and, like Trondur said "The sea, he is your friend. You do not fight with your friend....." A mile before I pulled over to wait for the tide, I spotted two young people along the shoreline, one a small boy, the other a girl of maybe 16. By the time I saw them and realized they wanted me to stop and say hello, the strong wind had pushed me beyond them. A mile later when I did stop, there they were again - this time with another young lady of about 17 or 18. They welcomed me with their cameras and big, warm-hearted waves. The young woman were from the local rowing club and invited me ashore to see their boat - the one they took first place in last year and the one in which they will compete in tomorrow's race in Runivik - the home village of Jens and Marita. The crew is an all woman's crew, 16-18 years of age. They train and work really hard for the two-month rowing season. A shelf in their mirrored workout room with the six rowing machines is full of trophies. The ladies were waiting to trailer their boat to Runivik that afternoon so I hung around for an extra half hour to meet the other crew and to see their boat out in the sunshine. These young ladies are PROUD of their winning record as well as their beautiful wine colored and polished boat. I'll add some photos in a few days that will hopefully show the boat and the crew who row her. I told them that I was headed for Eidi to get ready for the crossing to Iceland. They knew all about the trip from the newspaper and TV coverage and were so excited to meet me...it was really wonderful to feel their honest pleasure and excitement... In return, I told them that if the winds stayed in the north, I would find a ride back to Runivik to see them compete.
And now as I sit in a sun warmed office of the Salmon Protein building - a business that takes all the innards of the farmed salmon and ships it to Norway as fertilizer - I have met the office manager who is going to Runivik for the same race tomorrow. She has offered me a ride! Funny how things always seem to work out when I don't make a plan.
......I almost forgot....I spoke with all the school children in Toftir yesterday morning. What a wonderful experience that was. The kids were all very polite, attentive and curious about Northern Reach. I talked to them about Dreams, Setting Goals, Self Discipline, Focus and Believing in Themselves and Their Potential. Marita, the head master would translate a word if it were one that the kids may not understand. After an hour, I said good-bye to them and then headed back down to the boat - knowing that the fifth graders would come down in a little while to see me off. At 11am, they all came running down from the school. As I slipped the lines to the dock and set the oars into the oarlocks, they waved and started calling out "Goodbye, Have a Good Trip to Iceland. Come Back Next Year." And then they started singing "We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine....." OK. That's an unusual send off.
On a completely different note...I saw an email post from a rowing association that said Sarah Outen had to abandon her attempt to row from Japan to Canada after getting hit by Tropical Storm Rosie off the coast of Japan. Sarah is fine - fine being relative after getting rolled many times and having her boat damaged but still afloat. I do not know anything more other than she is on board a Japanese Coast Guard vessel and is on her way back to Japan. I have been thinking of her as I row - what an amazing journey she as undertaken. Thank goodness she is safe. Check out her site www.sarahouten.com.
That's it for now from the northern tip of Faeroe... waiting for the winds.
(Note: Some of Chris's pictures from Faeroe are now in the Photo Album)
June 6th, 2012 - From Skalavik to Nolsoy, then to Torshavn
After five days of high winds, I left Skalavik on Monday June 4th at 5:30am. Captain Linjohn Christiansen and his brother-in-law Óla Jákup were on the pier to see me off. What I really appreciated was that they just watched quietly as I prepared the boat...water, food, hatches checked, gear stowed, sailed raised then lowered, spare oars in place and double checked etc.... These men work on the sea. Their ships are massive and mine is so small but it is the sea that we have in common. The sea is unforgiving no matter the size of the boat or ship. These fine men, tough, hard men, stood without judgment and let me do my work. And when it was done; when the little orange rowboat was ready for the sea, we shook hands. And it was hard for me to say goodbye. I am not ashamed to say that tears filled my eyes as I tried to thank them for all they and the village had offered and done for me. Linjohn met my gaze then looked at the sky. Enough was said. The sea awaited.
As I slowly pulled against a large easterly swell and a very disturbed short wind chop, I saw Linjohn drive from the pier to a hillside overlooking the sea. And he stayed there....watching Northern Reach disappear behind the swells.
A north wind slowed my passage to Torshavn and then, made me change my route to Nolsoy - the island just to the east of Torshavn. The wind was too much and the tide was changing. These are waters that can switch from being a hindrance to progress to, a real danger. I made the decision to head over to Nolsoy for my own safety. Four hours after leaving Skalavik I pulled in behind the seawall in Nolsoy and called Linjohn. He had already called the Emergency Rescue Service and prepared them for a possible search and rescue. "If I did not hear from you in one more hour, we would have begun looking for you." Such is the conviction of a captain... he knows the reality of the sea and what must be done when there is a risk to life - perceived or otherwise. Captain Linjohn was looking out for me....
My stay in Nolsoy was very short - less than an hour but in that hour I connected with a man who had rowed a traditional Faeroe rowing boat from Nolsoy to Copenhagen Denmark in 1986. Ove Joensen is something of a national hero. Tragically, one year after his 41-day epic row, he drowned in one of the fiords. What I learned was that he was a fine seaman, a gentle soul who loved animals and children. A passionate man full of life. He was a man of the sea. The attention he received after his trip was too much for him. There is more to this story but it need not be told right now. The first part of the story is what is important, I believe it honors the man. I left Nolsoy thinking about Ove Joensen as I pulled for Torshavn.
I stayed in Torshavn for just one day - enough time to quickly see a little of the capitol of Faeroe and to meet some wonderful people. I was allowed to moor Northern Reach free, thanks to the Harbour Master and Oliver from the cafe next to the visitors dock. I also met Joel Cole, an American wood worker of some notoriety who lives in Torshavn. Joel knows my hometown waters of Freshwater Bay and a tiny little island just at the edge of Freshwater Bay called, Bachelor Rock....what an amazingly small world we all inhabit.
I also met with, and spent almost four hours with Trondur Patursun, the man who sailed with Tim Severn on board the Brendan Voyage. Trondur was a perfect host, offering me wind dried sheep, (which I really like) cheese, bread, tea and dried fish. He is a well-known artist - working in stained glass as well as in painting, and also blacksmithing. He built his home mostly out of drift beach logs. He is a remarkable man - and one who knows the sea as well. After showing me his artwork and telling me about the family farmhouse that is 900 years old, he drove me back to Torshavn to have a look at the boat. This is a man that I respect - as everyone who knows of him does. He is a quiet man. Few words say a lot. One thing he said about the powerful tides around the Faeroes really sticks with me, "The sea is your friend. You do not fight with him. You wait and he will help you." I like that.
Northern Reach is now moored 7 miles from Torshavn in the village of Toftir where, tomorrow morning, I will walk up the hill to the school in my salt stained dry suit, carrying my oar. I want to speak with the children about this trip. I want to tell them how a trip starts... with an idea that grows into a dream. And that dream can become a reality- but only after a lot of hard work and self-dicipline. And how any one can do this kind of thing.... they can dream big dreams. They can dare to challenge themselves to be who they want to be. If one of them wants to write a book, despite barely graduating from high school, like I did... they CAN do this! And they can do so much more. I am looking forward to tomorrow morning!
And then after my talk with the children, I will walk back to the boat and fasten the tether to my waist, go through my safety check on board, and then slip the mooring lines and head toward my final destination in Faeroe Eiði (Iya) a mere twenty miles up the fiord. I will call Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle tomorrow and see what the next week looks like. If the winds are good....then its off to Iceland. If they will be stay in the NE, I will row every day for fitness and once again....wait.
I am sending this update from Jens and Marita Dalsgaard's home. Marita is the head master - the principal of the school where I will be tomorrow morning. Jens is a retired teacher.
And here is something interesting about Faeroe history that Jens shared with me. He came out of his office with a cardboard box which he carried over to the kitchen counter where the evening light streamed in through the window. "I have this from my father's brother. These are his shipping papers." Jens opened the box and pulled out several leather bound books - old leather softened by years of use. The man, Kjartan Dalsgaard, Jens' uncle was born in 1907 and died at 75 years of age in Denmark. He sailed with the merchant navy during WWII and had two ships sunk beneath his feet - torpedoed by the Germans. Each time returning as crew, first mate and later as a full Captain on other ships. One of the books records his awards and ribbons - service in the Pacific war, the Atlantic war, and the Mediterranean war. The Faeroe were never conscripted - never required to sign up for military service beneath the Danish flag. And yet they sailed and in many cases died in service to the Allies. They sailed the ships carrying fish caught in Icelandic waters and taken to England to feed the men and woman of Great Britain. And here is a shocking note: per capita, more men died from Faeroe during WWII than any other country. Jens told me, "Everyone knew someone who was killed."
Jens closed the box and put it away. It will eventually go to Torshavn and be archived. The Faeroe people are proud, quiet people. Jens is proud of what lies in that cardboard box. And rightly so. This is a tiny country where everyone knows everyone else. Jens comes from Skalavik - it is where I first met him and Marita. I have danced the Faeroe Dance with them - not understanding the words but feeling in my bones, in my hands that were held by theirs - the pride they have in being Faeroe. And once again, I am privileged to look at the shipping records of another generation of seamen. Jens' hands holding his uncle's records with reverence and pride.
June 2nd, 2012 - Festivities in Skalavik
I was walking down the now familiar road toward the harbour today. People I have met over the last few days were also out walking - enjoying the sunshine despite the cold north winds. I have now danced with these people, listened as they sang, shared with them their food.
The festivities here in Skalavik will continue for another three days - a free breakfast this morning, a free dog agility demonstration at noon, a free bus ride to the far side of the island, down a very narrow gravel road that clings to the side of the hill and seems to almost hang over the sea. At the very end of the road are two massive, crossed anchors salvaged from a ship that ran aground off the headland in 1896. The ship had set sail from Scotland, bound for America. At some point she suffered rudder problems and turned back for Scotland only to get hit by a November storm and driven north to Faeroe and then onto the rocks that we - the local people from Skalaway and several other small villages - now stood and looked out upon. The two mini buses were packed to capacity with these local people - people who have this connection to the sea - it is in their songs which I heard them sing last night. It is their dances - the Faeroe Chain Dances which the children learn in school - the long stories told in the singing, of ships that come to grief, of others that sail to Portugal with a hold filled with fish - the captain looking to sell the catch for the best price - still other songs that speak about love and the ones left behind while the men sail to Greenland, Iceland or New Foundland. The songs are very long - maybe fifteen minutes, some much longer. Everyone is joined by linked arms in a circle - two steps to the left, one to the right. The circle is brought in close and the dancers are face to face, a foot away, and then back out. Like the swell of the ocean. I cannot understand the Faeroe words but I can dance the dance - indeed I am invited in, drawn into the emotion of the others. In places the dance and the song is robust, arms pumping high with fierce energy. I later learn it is a Viking saga and the song is about someone cutting someone else's head off! Another song is slow and softer - there is more swaying to the song. And there is a glisten in the eyes of some, a tear that tells of the love story. Everyone sings with full voices, lots of eye contact, there is nothing to be hidden. That is not the Faeroe way. Grievances within the village are set aside when the Faeroe dance begins. I am told later that this is the way the Faeroes have survived out here in the North Atlantic - they pull together, hold each other in this bound of singing, laughing, grieving and moving forward. The songs and the dances tell the history of these rocky islands. They speak of the men who have sailed the seas of the world and who are sought after by ship's owners as some of the best ship's captains. The songs are about the sea, about the fishing, about love, loss, about coming home. And then, they are also about distant lands - wars that are not of the Faeroes, stories that have nothing to do with this land but are stories brought back from the lands where the seamen have sailed.
And so what does the dancing and the singing of last night have to do with two mini buses filled with these same dancers and one American rower? It is the respect and the reverence for what has happened in the past. It is the continuation of the stories and of the song. A tragedy of 1896 is still alive. It is not forgotten perhaps because the men of Skalaway and every other village on this, and most every other island in Faeroe, still sail the seas of the world. They are still sought as crew and officers aboard ships owned by the likes of Mersk - one of the largest shipping companies in the world.
And so the village people stand in the sunshine and look out on the sea. They, and I, read the words on the monument. Twenty-eight men lost. One man, clinging to a hatch cover floated for 14 hours, carried by the tides around the north end of the island and then across to Streymoy, the next island. And he is washed ashore at Kirkjubour - one of the oldest villages in Faeroe.
Kirkjubour is the home of Trondur Paturson, the man who sailed in 1973 with Tim Severn on board Brendan, a replica of 6th century St Brendan's leather boat. And what does this part of the story have to do with the surviving sailor? The hatch cover which the sailor clung to, is now the dining room table in Trondur's home. And there is more to this story....Trondur's sister is standing beside me in the sunshine. She has called Trondur and he would like to meet me. I would like to meet him! And so I will row to Kirkjubour when the wind allows. And I will shake the hand of the man who sailed a leather boat from Faeroe to New Foundland.
And now there is a sheep dog demonstration in the field above the harbour. And later there is a choir from Torshavn who will sing traditional songs. And then another dance. So while the winds blow, I will listen and learn and walk with these wonderful people - these people who live so fully and are so vulnerable to the North Atlantic weather and seas. They are passionate people... in song, dance, food and emotion. They are not afraid to sing richly in the company of their people - arm in arm, singing songs they now teach their children so the tradition of the Faeroe Dance will continue, and the connection to the sea and to the past will not be forgotten. And anyone who visits these cliff faced islands with the currents that swirl and rush around the headlands will know when they leave Faeroe that they have seen a land so very unique in this world.
May 31st, 2012 - A warm welcome in the Faeroes
Since arriving in the Faeroes, I have only progressed about 28 miles. Once again it is the NE winds that have stopped me. I am learning that not only in Scotland are these winds unusual. The local fishermen who I have been staying with the last two days, all say this is very strange. "The wind off the sea - this should not be all the time like this."
I left Vagnor on Sat morning - running up the inside of the island on a strong flood tide- 7.5 knots around one headland and then VERY QUICKLY getting spun around in the massive eddy when I tried to cut the tide too soon and turn into Sandvik Fiord. My second try was a lot better and within a half hour I had pulled in behind the seawall in Sandvik and met Tummas Tomsen and his son Heraluver and his wife Heidi. After a quick look on at the tide tables on board Tummas' boat he tells me, "And now we will go for tea or coffee and lunch up at my house. And you will leave here at 12:30 for Skuavoy." Every place I go I am welcomed as if I were family. The Faeroe people are wonderful. They understand the sea - and especially rowing on the sea as this was the way, in the old days, of getting between the islands. Someone placed some photos of Northern Reach and the story of my trip, on the web. Each harbour I pull into, I am only there a few minutes, looking for a safe, secure mooring, when someone shows up, calling out "Welcome to Faeroe. Over here you can tie up."
Rowing between the islands is very challenging... the tides are fierce, even at neap tides. I have to rely upon local knowledge because trying to figure out the tide tables is impossible.
Yesterday, or was it the day before?? I pulled in behind the seawall on the little island of Skuavoy - population 35. At one time there were 150 people living there but all the young people want to live in the large town of Torshavn. I met Meinhard Hentze - somewhere around 70 years old and a retired fishing boat skipper. I sat and listened to so many stories of his life....... gathering guillemot eggs in the '60's while being lowered down the 1200 foot sea cliff faces, fishing in Greenland aboard the Faeroe fishing fleet, "My first fishing job - just up the island, we came back without the boat." The rest of the story came out with a little humor and a lot of Faeroe accent..... "Aye, the boat, she went down and we took to the oars. Everyone was on the dock when we got back. Another story was how they were in a small open boat - "Ah maybe a little bigger than your boat. The engine stopped and we had a NE wind - very strong. It blew us all the way to Mykines and then the tide was against the wind..... it was a long day.. fourteen hours at the oars. Everyone thought we were gone." And speaking of "gone." He was showing me a book on the egg collecting of the old days when the men would lower each other over the cliffs - their feet wrapped in wool slippers for gripping the cliff face. There was a picture of six of seven men, all standing at the cliff edge ready to lower a man with a sheep skin bag over his shoulder that he would fill with eggs. I ask him, "So, all of these men... are they gone?" And his answer...."They are not ALL gone, I am still here. That is me right there. And that one, he is my father. And that one, he is my brother......." And the stories coninue. On and On. Like rowing a boat at sea, the stories are what sets the rhythm of the evening.
And now...two days later I am in the village of Skalavik. I had left Meinhard with the intention of reaching Torshavn. The winds and the tides had other plans. I came around the east side of Sandvoy - the big island to the east of Skuavoy - and the NE winds nearly stopped me. It was a struggle to reach the harbour at Skalaway. I turned and ran with the swell and wind toward what looked like the harbour entrance... its always that way when approaching a new harbour.... what am I looking at? Is that darker gray where the seawall appears to overlap, the entrance? I have to make a decision early so that if I'm wrong, I have time and room to change course. The swell pushes me in fast, the wind is in rushing past my ears - cold, noisy. Where is the entrance? Ah...there it is.... good.....tweak the rudder, pull hard now... line it up. Shoot the gap. Suddenly all the noise and movement drops away and very quickly, I am in sheltered water. I look around, get my bearings, look for the second entrance to the inner harbour and easily see it over my shoulder. Beautiful small fishing boats with the classic lines of the old viking boats are moored to orange buoys. I pull into the inner harbour and sit looking, resting, unwinding. A minute passes and a car almost speeds down the pier. A big man, dark skin, dark hair, jumps out and walks quickly toward where I sit looking up......This stranger, he raises his arms is a warm gesture "Welcome, welcome to Skalaway. We know who you are." This man is Linjohn Christiansen. He is the mayor of Skalaway. I find out later, he is also the captain of the largerst shrimp trawler in the north ocean - fishing out of Greenland. To know more about this man.. go to You Tube and look for "Mighty Ships-Akamalick"
Within ten minutes of tying up, I am in Linjohn's car and heading for his house overlooking the harbour. I meet his wife Sunrid and in another half hour she has a huge plate of fresh fish and potatoes in front of me - fish that comes off the trawler that their son works on. I am still in my drysuit and my hands can still feel the oars.. they are slightly swollen from the crossing four days ago and it feels odd to hold a knife and fork and eat from a plate. The fish is SO GOOD.
I have arrived in Skalaway on the week of a festival of music, sheep dog trials, a big fish diner on the pier, traditional Faeroe dancing...... Where did this day begin? Wasn't I fighting desperately to get around the cliff face just this morning in that tidal rip? Now I am sitting in the kitchen of a family who I have just met and who are offering me a bed, a shower, this delicious meal of fresh fish. I am watching on the laptop, a Discovery video of The Akamalick produced for world television, and the captain on the video is peeling a potatoe beside me and telling me "Tonight there is a dinner for the older people of the village and later the children will dance the traditional Faeroe dances for them. You will have a shower and then we will go."
Later that evening, I am at another house....a tiny lovely house looking out across the fiord that I rowed across this morning... .. and there is Meinhard's village...the cluster of brightly painted small houses, all held by the curve of the hill and looking down on their harbour. It is four miles away but I know that harbour....I know a man and his wife who live in that harbour. I know the currents in that fiord below this house. And now I have met the man and the woman who have invited me into this beautiful home. They are Clare and Paul - Clare is a professional violinist who plays for the Torshavn Symphony. Paul is the orchestrial director, among many other things. He shares with me a video of last year's New Year Symphony. See if you can google it....... it brought tears to my eyes.....so very beautiful...incredible.
There is so, so much more to share..... but right now Sunrid has just put more food on the table.....Oh how I wish Lisa was here.. ........ More later
May 28th, 2012 - ... one of the longest and hardest day of my life...
I am in the village of Vagur on the south island of Faeroe - writing this from Dagfinn Olsen's house - a newspaper reporter, musician and teacher.
After six weeks of waiting, the south winds finally arrived - the trouble is they arrived while I had decided to row to the southern tip of Lewis. It took two days to row back to Port Of Ness, one more day of rest, and then off for the Faeroes on May 23. The forecasted winds were south and southeast for the next week - perfect for the 205 mile crossing.
I have to admit that after 6 weeks it felt a bit surreal to finally pull away from my friends on the seawall and turning the boat northward. The crossing had finally arrived.
I don't know what happened to the Scandinavian high pressure system that was supposed to spin those south winds - the first two days of the crossing were unbelievably smooth - a ten to fifteen foot swell from the west and a 3 to 4 foot swell from the east, but no wind waves at all. The sea was like a billowed silk sheet - just these smooth faced hills of water moving in opposite directions. Gannets and fulmars were overhead every day - swinging by to have a look at the tiny orange boat in their neighborhood.
I had really been planning on using the winds to help me - of course - but no wind is a lot better than a wind from the wrong direction.
My target for day one was to get at least to Sula Sgeir - 40 land miles out. This is the island where since 1500, the men from Ness sail out, land and harvest the Guggas, the young gannets. Dodd's Mcfarland - my friend from Ness has been going out to Sula Sgeir for 33 years. We sat for a long time and talked about what I could expect to see in terms of currents and where I could land if the weather turned against me. Eleven hours after leaving Port Of Ness, I was finally within a hundred yards of Sula Sgeir, accompanied by several hundred circling (and occasionally pooping gannets). I'm happy to say there was only one direct hit.
Another five miles beyond the island and I put the sea anchor over the side, made my dinner and I was asleep in five minutes. Day two was pretty much the same - a lot of very empty ocean, fairly large swell and another 40 plus miles of rowing. Every mile behind me was one less in front of me.
I awoke on day three to a slight NE breeze. What is this?? I called Dave Wheeler on Fair Isle and learned that the high-pressure system had stalled over the UK. The only good thing was that the NE winds were going to be very slight. "OK let's keep going."
Day four was when I left a very dismal recording on Al's phone. I had just awakened, looked out the hatch to see the tops of gray waves cresting and thought "this is not going to be fun." I was rowing by 4:30 - the sun just starting to rise and turning the sky a soft peach color to the east.
Day four turned into one of the longest and hardest days of my life - 23 hours of near constant rowing. Sometime during the day, I slipped into the forward compartment for about 40 minutes of a nap but other than that, I was pulling on the oars. The good thing about the winds that day was that they were strong enough to help... what I have found is that Northern Reach will sail quite close to the wind which is really surprising. I kept the GPS on for several ours during the day watching my speed and knowing that every quarter of a knot was essential. Hour after hour, after hour--- pull, recover, pull, recover - find the rhythm in the swell, let the boat run if it will, pause long enough to let a swell carry her, then reach for that next stroke before she looses her speed.
Now... how does the sail look? Adjust the sheet.
The GPS gives a compass bearing of 9 degrees. I can't hold that bearing and keep any wind in the sail. I have to sail almost 30 degrees west of that. Dave told me to expect a fresh westerly later tonight - that'll push me back on course... maybe.
I have my watch with the broken wrist strap duct taped to the mast in front of me. The temptation is to look at the time too often. Four hours of rowing and I take a rest of 10 minutes - food, more water, a little stretch and back to it. Another two hours - more food and right back to it. On and on it goes. And the weird thing is that I'm enjoying it. I love the feel of the sea, the lifting and falling of the boat, watching the swirl on the oars fall astern as I reach for the next pull. I tweak the rudder, adjust the sail, check the GPS, match my course on the compass and check the time. That is my life on the sea... And where does my mind go? Everywhere. To Lisa especially. I think about what she might be doing - sleeping, working, weeding the garden, going on a hike with our friend Martha Baker. I think about Mike Snook who built the oars that I am heaving on hour after so many hours. Can he possibly know how brilliant they are? I think about all of our friends - my fellow builder friends, my family, nephews and nieces, neighbors and supporters-- they are all part of my day.
It must have been around 8 pm when I first caught site of the cliffs of the Faeroes. A slight fog softened their sharpness but no doubt about it... there they were. I called Dave again and got a wind update-- not good news at all. The NE winds that I had been using were falling away. I could expect a westerly within 6 hours and then fresh notherlies.... 16 hours into the day and I had to make the decision to go all the way to the Faeroes or risk getting blown off shore with the westerlies and then backward with the northerlies.
The sun set about 10:30 - a long slow descent of orange into the sea. For the next hour and half I drew ever so slowly toward Sumba Head - the southern most tip of Soudrey Island and a place that I had been warned of. There are strong tidal overfalls off of that headland that the tidal and current atlas graphically mark in flaming red. GREAT!
By mid-night, there was little light left in the sky and I could hear the hiss and rumble of breakers over my shoulder. I had hoped that the last of the tide would have run its course but clearly that hadn't happened. I was going to have to cross the overfalls with very little light and after twenty one hours of rowing...
In hind site I would have to say that - though it was one of the scariest experiences of my being on the sea - given all of the variables that were a part of that night, in order to land safely, I would have to do exactly what I did. The most direct line to safety, and the closest shelter from the predicted winds was to head straight across the overfalls for the shelter of the cliffs.
I am not going to write the details of being in those waters... I have no wish to over dramatize what I experienced. I also have no wish to revisit it. What I do know is that within ten minutes of arriving absolutely exhausted to the point of not being able to think... the west winds poured over the high cliffs and hit the water with terrific blasts. I don't want to think about what would have happened if I had taken a different course - a longer one, even by ten or fifteen minutes.
Two hours later I was anchored at the mouth of the bay leading into Vangar. I could see the village but the winds were too strong to fight. The sun was just about ready to reappear in the east-- another innocent and stunning morning.
I called Lisa to let her know I was safe and then crawled into my lovely forward compartment.
And now here I sit.... I've made new friends again. And once again, I await the winds. NE winds hold me here for at least one more day... and that's OK. I need to rest. And I need to relax into the reality of actually being here in the Faeroes.......
Thank you to everyone for all of your patience and faith in my journey. Thank you to all of my friends in Ness and in Stornoway and Ullapool. The journey continues because of all of you. And of course to everyone back home!