Indeed, the lack of transient dock space and adequate electrical service raises the age-old question of what comes first, the chicken or the egg. Fleming and I met with Iain Macleod, the chairman of Stornoway’s Port Authority, who showed us the city’s plans to expand its small marina to accommodate larger powerboats. But funding for the project is questionable, and the city is not sure there would be enough visiting yachts to pay for such an investment. Stornoway’s limited marina facilities reflect much of what Fleming experienced throughout England and Scotland.
Our first destination after leaving Stornoway was the Faroe Islands, 250 miles north at 62.00 N, 400 miles from Iceland. As we passed the tip of Lewis, our crew of four settled into our ocean passage routine, establishing a two-hours-on-and-six-hours-off watch system. The seas were confused, but running only six feet, eventually decreasing to three feet. After an enjoyable 26- hour passage, we arrived in Torshavn, where the harbor master assigned us space in the center of town across from a delightful collection of coffeehouses, pubs, cafes and hotels.
Again being on the largest private motoryacht in the harbor, we found ourselves the object of much curiosity. Several folks stopped by to inquire about Venture, often expressing their surprise that such a voyage could be done on a powerboat. Indeed, we were surrounded by other adventurers on their way to Iceland and beyond, but all on rugged, well-equipped sailboats.
Until I agreed to join Fleming on this voyage, I had never heard of the Faroe Islands, but this archipelago of 18 islands was a highlight of our voyage. Under control of Denmark, but not part of the European Union, all but one of the islands are inhabited. Most impressive is the system of roads and tunnels connecting 80 percent of the population, which is spread over 540 square miles. Fast ferries connect the remaining islands, and there’s even reliable bus transportation between municipalities. What was once a number of decentralized villages relying on agriculture has become a connected society supporting itself on commercial fishing, fish farming and, to an ever-growing extent, tourism.
We rented a car and spent nearly a week exploring the islands. Rugged and rocky, the terrain is mostly treeless, formed by basalt lava. Originally settled by Irish Monks, the Vikings later colonized the islands. There is a joke among Icelanders that the Faroese are descendants of the Vikings who got seasick on their way to Iceland and jumped ship. Today, the population has grown to 50,000, and while Faroese is the first language, we found most people spoke English.
Kneeling in a field of flowers, in the village of Noródepil, while I composed a photo, I was approached by a large, friendly looking fellow who introduced himself as Zacharias. He lived across the street, and he invited me home to share a bowl of his wife’s “very strong Viking soup.” Zach was a documentary filmmaker on his way to Greenland to shoot a TV series, and he and his wife were most gracious, eager to talk about their Faroese way of life. The Viking soup, a blend of fish, lamb and cabbage, was delicious.
While we could have stayed in the Faroes for weeks, our schedules required us to set course for Iceland, 400 miles to the northwest, and this is where we encountered high winds and the violent, square shapes of these rougher seas. After 40 hours, when we finally found calmer conditions off Vestmannaeyjar, we could now see the mainland of Iceland. Using nautical charts and land maps, we were able to approximate our position to Eyjafjallajökull (don’t even attempt to pronounce it), the site of Iceland’s recent volcanic eruption. Looking through a supertelephoto lens from five miles offshore, I saw the eerie sight of steam and/or ash rising from the cloud-drenched mountains with Eyjafjalla glacier nearby.
Entering the harbor in Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, was a heart-stopper, because a jetty of lava obstructed part of the entrance, creating a narrow, twisting passageway between the high cliffs and black lava shore.
The village of Heimaey was partially destroyed during a volcanic eruption in 1973, but thanks to the heroics of the fishing fleet, everyone was safely evacuated to the mainland. The fleet returned to pump millions of gallons of seawater per day onto the advancing lava flow, finally stopping it before it sealed the harbor forever.
Heimaey is a busy commercial fishing port, complete with oceangoing trawlers and wall-to-wall fish-packing plants. Indeed, this tiny village supplies Iceland with more than 12 percent of its seafood. While the population was friendly and we had a comfortable berth on a floating dock, the odor from the fish plants was too much. With watery eyes and queasy stomachs, we departed two days after our arrival and headed for Reykjavik, 130 miles to the west. Taking a 20-mile detour to the south, we passed the island of Surtsey, which did not exist prior to 1963, when the seas started emitting gases from the ocean floor and a volcano began a three-year eruption. The only ones allowed to land on this dramatically stark island are a handful of scientists studying the process of natural colonization.