FOG // Svalbard-Iceland Part 2

Dave & Taag on the watch en route to Iceland.

July 19, 2018


There has been more wind than the GRIBs have indicated, and for longer. Just a few days ago we started thinking about conserving fuel. Motoring at 1500 RPM instead of 1800 to squeeze our every last hour, thinking it’d be mostly a motorboat ride to Iceland. Right now, at 0700 on a Thursday morning, it’s blowing 15-18 from the NW and Isbjorn is beam-reaching through the mist at 8 knots, urged south by the favorable East Greenland current. We can’t see where we’re going, but we’re getting there fast!

I’ve got half an eye on the radar screen to my right. We’ve not seen any targets. I’m concerned about ice. I don’t think it comes this far offshore of the Greenland coast, but still, in this fog I really don’t want to see it. In the 850 miles we’ve sailed thus far, we’ve not seen a single ship, fishing boat, sailboat or otherwise. Just once a target appeared on AIS, another 14-meter sailboat called ‘Charisma,’ headed north, presumably towards Svalbard, and nine miles off our starboard beam.

Iceland in Reach

We’re inside 200 miles to the Westfjords, and for the first time in over 6 weeks we’re south of 70º North. Today marks the start of our 7th day at sea. 7 extremely calm days at sea, probably the longest calm stretch we’ve ever had offshore. Flat seas, not much wind, but most of the time enough - just enough - to keep the sails pulling and the motor off. I almost wrote that with luck we’ll make landfall tomorrow. I think that’s tempting fate. In any case, even if we made landfall, in this fog we wouldn’t see anything until we touched the dock in the harbor.

I’m excited to be leaving the Arctic. Amazingly, Iceland no longer feels like an ‘Arctic’ country after where we’ve been. Technically it is, but only because of this tiny bird island called Grimsey off the north coast which is just about the Arctic circle. Otherwise Iceland remains entirely below the Arctic circle, and therefore not ‘Arctic.’ There’s been an underlying tension all summer long, which started really last winter in preparing for this trip (in reality, probably all the way back in 2016 when we first launched the passage calendar for this summer). ‘The Arctic kills the un-prepared,’ goes the saying. I’ll be happy when we cross that circle again heading south, yet I know that the upcoming passage, from Iceland to Ireland, has the potential to be the gnarliest of them all.


Damp & Cold

The temperatures are definitely getting warmer. I’ve been outside now without foulie pants or gloves for longer than a few minutes, able to do some sail & line handling without gloves too. We went swimming the other day, and the few minutes the sun poked through, it felt warm.

It’s still really damp in this fog and chilly outside. As soon as the crew comes off watch they retreat belowdecks. Gone are the days of group meals in the cockpit - besides the on-watch crew, everyone else eats down below. The boat feels considerably smaller when you’re restricted to it’s interior. There is less interaction among the crew when only two people are outside at a time. I think it’s partly due to the calm nature of this particular passage - everyone’s mood seems to reflect the grey skies and calm seas. Not in a bad way, just in a mellow sort of way. I admit I’m longing for the days of shorts and bare feet in the cockpit when the whole crew can sit outside and enjoy dinner together. There’s a reason the purpose-built Arctic boats all have pilot houses with windows in them.

Wing-on-wing running down the miles in the Greenland Sea.

It’s getting roll-y now, and in an hour at the watch change we’ll set the genoa on the pole. The wind has been slowly clocking into the north as it’s forecast too. The jib no longer stays full in the bigger rolls with the swell, and it’s starting to feel like a sailboat again down below (last night, before the swell kicked in, we were sailing 7 knots on an absolutely flat sea - we could have been at the dock). We hope to hold this breeze for most of today, but in the long-run, it looks like it might be a motorboat landfall in Iceland when the time comes. I just hope this fog lifts so we can see something!