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Tecla Sailing Programme 2019 - Coastal Iceland

Tecla in Iceland

Try the Original Icelandic Sailing Expeditions in NW Fjords in 2019

Tecla was the first Classic Sailing tall ship to see the potential of longer voyages in Iceland with her first summer season in 2015. After 3 years exploring the West Coast of Iceland and running voyages out of Isafjordur in the heart of the NW Fjords, her Captain’s and crew have really built up some expertise in the Icelandic coastal sailing grounds, anchorages, walks ashore and culture. Each year Tecla’s skippers and crews have refined the spring and summer voyages into adventurous mini expeditions that reflect their love for this wild and beautiful country.   

When Vikings set forth from Norway to find new lands, they chose the West Coast and NW Fjords of Iceland as the best safe harbours for their longships. The Viking's that settled permanently in Iceland thought they had found paradise compared with the near vertical land in Norway. In Briedafjordur and the NW fjords were sheltered anchorages, a myriad of islands, rich flat meadows, abundant fish in the seas and cliffs full of seabirds. The NW Fjords are still a safe haven away from the rest of the world, and it takes miles of precipitous dirt road for tourists to to Isafjordur from the famous Icelandic ring road.

Sailing across the Breidurfjordur in West Iceland
Sailing across the Breidurfjordur in West Iceland

A Good Chance of Seeing Whales

The North and West Coast of Iceland is one of the most reliable places in Northern Europe for whale watching, especially if you want the chance to see larger whale species. Out to sea from the NW fjords the cold East Greenland current collides with the warmer water of the Irminger current, a branch of the North Atlantic Drift. This attracts many large sea mammals like Fin whales, Sei whales, Humpback whales and Minkie whales. The waters around North West Iceland are very rich and make up for a diverse foot chain. Sperm whales are attracted to the squid feeding of the plankton. Killer whales come to feed of the large numbers of salmon, mackerel and herring. The nutritious waters also atract the many seabirds. Arctic, and long tail skua’s chase the Arctic terns and Kittiwakes. Puffins Guillemots and Razorbills dive for the sand eels.

After spending the better part of the week exploring the fjord system we end our trip back in Isafjordur. Hopefully this is not the end of your Icelandic adventure. There is much more on offer and easy to combine after a week of sailing!

Humpback tail by Tecla guest Manuel Cerrudo
Humpback tail by Tecla guest Manuel Cerrudo

Iceland - A Naturalist's and Bird Watchers Paradise

As well as coastal seas rich in cetaceans and fish, Iceland is a stopping off point for a wide variety of birdlife. Even those who cannot tell a gannet from a seagull, may find themselves developing an interest in ornithology...or at least reaching for a bird guide. Around 70 bird species breed in Iceland and over 370 different species have been spotted here. There are millions of puffins here in the summer (roughly May to August), skuas and terns that will dive bomb you if you get too close to their nests. The Barrow's Golden Eye, Great Northern Diver and Harlequin duck are common in America but Iceland is a good place to spot them. Gyr Falcons have been in Iceland for centuries and much prized for falconery accross Europe. They love the plump Ptarmingan for their supper! White tailed eagles are now protected in Iceland with about 65 breeding pairs and have wing spans over 3ft. 

Iceland has plenty of bog and marshland so there are many waders, geese and ducks. The high cliffs of the Western fjords, and islands like Grimsey are best seen by boat and the sheer numbers will blow your mind - guillimots, brunnich's guillimot, fulmars, razorbills, gannets and kittiwakes all nest on precipitous ledges. The Arctic fox is the largest land mammal and has protected status in the Hornstrabdir National Park ( see Tecla 6 day voyages based from Isafjordur.

Black guillimot by Debbie Purser
Black guillimot by Debbie Purser

Carved by Glaciers and Volcanoes

Iceland sits on the mid Atlantic Ridge and is still an active volcanic area with occasional lava and rocky bombs spewing skywards. 'God's building site' is still being made and recent upheavals and lava flows create both stark and beautiful landscapes. Vast areas of black sand outwash plains contrast with blue ice glaciers. The snow or icecap topped mountains hide softer scenes of lush wild flower meadows and isolated farmsteads. Iceland has some of the biggest waterfalls in the world and the gorges they carve down through are epic in size and make the terrain even harder to traverse....unless you can sail around to the next fjord and valley or ride the shaggy Icelandic ponies.

Iceland – Summer climate & Midnight Sun

Much of the land 'North of the Wall' in Game of Thrones TV series was filmed in Iceland, but in summer the fertile landscape comes alive with flower meadows, fresh water off the glaciers creating huge waterfalls, hot water geysers and geothermal natural pools to bathe in. You can find patches of deep snow and glaciers all year around but it is not the icy wasteland that many suppose. The population of Iceland is very small and there are few roads, so almost everywhere is off the beaten track.  In early summer you will be able to walk in daylight or sunset pink skies during the night.  As the sun sinks low in the sky it first creates a golden light which is magical for photographers.

Glowing low evening light in high latitudes
Glowing low evening light in high latitudes

 

Explore the Wild West Coast of Iceland 2019

There are only two based Iceland voyages in 2019, due to Tecla's exciting voyages to West Greenland and an attempt on NW passage in late summer 2019. The first is along the West coast of Iceland to the NW Fjords. The second is in Tecla's favourite Icelandic sailing ground around Isafjordur and Hornstandir Nature Reserve.

Trekking on Snow Mountain Peninsula - Snaefellsjokull.

Leaving Reykjavik Tecla will set sail towards Arnastapi at the foot of Stapafell on the South Coast. Arnastapi offers some excellent hikes up to Snaefellsjokull. This three peaked glacier rises 1446 metres above sea level and is famous for being the location for Jules Verne book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. There are plenty of caves in the lava pipes so you can see why he was inspired to tell a tale of a journey deep underground. There are crevasses in the glacier, so any walk on the ice will be subject to local conditions and advice.

finding the snow in iceland
finding the snow in Iceland

Vatnsfjordur Nature Reserve

It is only a short hop by sailing ship to Vatnsfjordur Nature Reserve. Endless hiking opportunties abound along the shores of Vatndalsvatn with rich bird life to observe.

Across Briedafjordur and Sub Arctic Islands

There are 2700 islands here and many were inhabited due to the large number of fisheries. Tecla aims to visit the island of Flatey was the site of a 12th Century monastery and was a major cultural centre until the 1800's. Today it is a perfectly preserved example of what an Icelandic village used to be like. The lsand is not inhabited by many all year around but many families spend their summer months restoring the timber houses of their ancestors here.

Erik the Red & Land of Viking Sagas

North of this you enter the land of Viking sagas with turf roofed longhouses and the home of Erik the Red and Leifur Eiriksson. Icelandic is Europe's oldest language, so what you hear ashore is closer to the old Norse that Vikings spoke than modern Norwegian. The population today has a very modern, chic outlook in Reykjavik but in the rural hinterland and coast they endure pitch dark winters and enjoy the summer burst of energy created by living in the land of midnight sun. It shapes their character and links them with their past. Icelandic sagas tell the tale of Viking's arriving here and making Iceland their home. After centuries of warring the Vikings created a huge amount of early literature and written stories so you can really connect with the lives of sailors and first settlers that lived around 870 BC.

big sea cliffs in Iceland

Isafjordur Voyages 2019 - Iceland's NW Fjords

Explore the remote Icelandic coast from a unique perspective and the gateway to the spectacular floral Hornstandir Nature Reserve, only accessible by boat. This adventure is a great way to combine a longer stay in Iceland, the distances between the stops are not huge, but the rewards are great. Arctic Foxes, whales and the variety of birds living together with the flora and the geology of the landscape create a dramatic scenery. Sailing amongst the towering cliffs and in the waters around North West Iceland on a traditional ship is simply the best way to visit this fascinating country. 

The Vast Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Isafjordur lies within the Westfjords and as a gateway to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The vast nature reserve was left abandoned in 1950 and left to look after itself. There are no roads to this reserve, making the ship the only possible way to explore this magical place. The flora and fauna which has grown wildly there since it was left to nature with 260 flowering plants and ferns provide a great hideout for the arctic foxes. 

On a sailing voyage, we never use the word itinerary, as skippers will always be aiming for the best sailing and shore landings for the forecast and most idyllic or sheltered anchors and ports. They are as keen as you to include some of the highlights described below, but you must go with mother nature, not fight her. The description below is based on what we think might be possible, based on past trips, or experience, but nothing is guaranteed on a sailing voyage.

Foxes in wild flower meadows in Iceland

Western Fjords

Setting off from Isafjordur, the Tecla will enter a larger fjord system called the Isafjardarjup. At the center of these fjords lies their maker, the glacier Drangajokull sits just under 1000 metres and watches over the blue waters below. The glacier once covering the land trapped the volcanos below. In this way, the magma below the ice formed the table mountains, now iconic to the area. After the retreat of the glacier the fjords where carved and are still being shaped by the fury of the North Atlantic. Drangajokull is no longer a calving glacier, and has terminal moraines at all its fjords. Making the navigation tricky at some spots and depending on the weather and wind forecast we will shape our course through the fjords. 

gaff ketch Tecla anchored off Adey lighthouse in NW Iceland
Gaff ketch Tecla anchored off Adey lighthouse in NW Iceland

Hornbjarg

The main destination during the week is Hornbjarg and its towering bird cliffs, it is home to many sea birds during the short and intensive summer like Razorbills, Guillemots, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. A walk up the cliffs is breath taking and gives a view into the Greenland Sund and over the bay and mountains to the East. After an exhilarating day of sailing on the Greenland Sund, Hesteyri offers a splendid anchorage. On the banks of this shallow fjord we find the remains for a small settlement. The old doctor’s house is converted into a dormitory and serves the best Icelandic pancakes! Further into the fjord, an old chimney gives away the location of the old whaling factory. The Norwegians built the factory but did not run it very long. It was soon transformed into a Herring processing plant and in use until the late 1940’s. Hesteyri is not completely abandoned, the elf’s still have their throne overlooking the Westfjords. Glowing in the purple of the Lupine it is a truly magical place.

With the Tecla we will visit unique places that cannot be reached by anything but boat or ship.  The road (mostly gravel track) around Iceland was only completed in 1975, and the NW mountains and fjords were one of the more tricky regions to link up. The absence of fertile lowlands and difficult mountain terrain forced the first settlers to look to the sea for their livelihood. Without any regular contact with the outside world a unique culture developed. Belief in monsters, evil sprits  and ghosts was stronger here than anywhere else in Iceland. The area gained a slightly bigger population at the height of the fishing boom years but now wilderness tourism is part of the economy here.

Fjord sailing - Iceland style
Fjord sailing - Iceland style

 

WINDS, WAVES & WEATHER

Influenced by the warm Gulf Stream and prevailing South West winds, Iceland's oceanic climate is surprisingly mild for the latitude. The Icelandic language has words for the eight different strengths of wind from logn (calm) to rok (strong gale) so it is unlikely you will be short of wind for sailing. The mountains can create both shelter and strong gusts but if the wind and swell is off the land then the seas in the fjords and close inshore can be surprisingly flat. Most the major fjord mouths do face West so in a gale from this direction, the ship will need to hide up one of the numerous side branches of the whole fjord sysyem.

goose-winging down the coast on Tecla or wing on wing for the Americans
'Goose-winging' down the coast on Tecla, or 'wing on wing' for the Americans

 

 

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