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Day five of our passage across the Atlantic and all is settling into a comfortable rhythm. We have smooth seas and following waves and are cutting through the cobalt seas at a bracing six to seven knots. The sun is shining and all is good!
It’s been more than a week now that we’ve arrived after a straining passage in the lovely bay of Mindelo on the island Sao Vincente, Cape Verde. Here the cobbled streets are crowded with a cheerful crowd of locals mixed with a bunch of often slightly forlorn looking tourists, most of them sailors. The weather is much more benign than in The Gambia, temperatures seldom exceeding 30 degrees, and the eternal trade winds blowing constantly from North-East make even the higher temperatures very comfortable. Here we also find quite well-stocked super markets, wireless internet in the marina, bakeries with yummy pastries for breakfast and busy fish-markets with a variety of fresh local fish – in short, it all feels very civilized and laid back.
As for Christmas: the plan was to have lots and lots of prawns with other snacks for Christmas lunch, and then a big roast for dinner. As it turned out, they only had a two kg pack of frozen green prawns for sale. Surprisingly lots and lots and LOTS of prawns for lunch was too much for the two of us – even though Patrick kept insisting that once he ate 1.8 kg of steaks all by himself. Well, Christmas lunch was extended to Christmas dinner: prawns fried in garlic butter are yummy too! And Boxing Day saw a brilliant roast à la Lewis, delicious!
Although we had to rest for a couple of days afterwards to digest all these goodies, we’re now busy getting ready for the Atlantic crossing. There are a lot of smaller repairs and some big ones to be done, entry requirements for the Caribbean to be checked (having a dog on board does not make things any easier), and of course the island wants to be explored too! We didn’t get much of a chance yet to explore the barren hills around Mindelo, but hopefully we’ll go for an end-of-the-year hike soon to celebrate the completion of one of the most eventful years either of us has ever seen.
Those of you who have been following our adventure might have noticed several points in the trip where we have been landlocked due to problems with our “Perkins” diesel engine. Alas, whilst age lends a certain character to a sailing ship, the passing years also tend to make them temperamental. With our particular old girl the body is holding up strongly but the engine is definitely starting to show signs of wear and tear.
Since starting on this trip we have replaced: the starter motor (worn parts on the bit that makes the engine start), the brackets (the bits that hold the engine onto the boat broke), the air intake manifold (the bit where the air comes in fell off), the flexible coupling (the bit that spins around and stops the propeller from wobbling too much), and the injector pump (the bit that pumps fuel into the parts where it is burnt to magically move the boat from point A to point B).
Following a short journey through Eyjafjörður where the engines performance produced a rather unsettling series of groans, coughs and taps we are, once again, back on dry land performing open heart surgery to try and rejuvenate the poor old engine. This time, the friendly, competent and extremely helpful mechanics at JE Vélanverkistæði (who are also building brand new fibreglass boats, www.sigloseigur.com) have taken the boat out of the water to realign the engine and the propeller shaft. Moreover, they have delicately removed the injectors (the bits that spray fuel into the parts where it is burnt) to discover that (somewhat like the rest of the boat at the moment) they are rather dirty and not moving at all as they should. The result: another few days in harbour while new parts are delivered and the engine can be put back together.
All this is rather dispiriting in a way, though the town of Siglufjorður is a magic place to spend a week or so. However, we do try and see the bright side of things … at the rate we are presently replacing parts we should arrive in Antarctica with virtually a new engine … hmmm.
After one week in Siglufjördur, we finally have a functioning engine again, and are ready to move on. However, being involuntarily stranded here for a few more days than planned allowed us to explore the surroundings and the town itself more and has given us a fantastic opportunity to touch base with locals.
Despite its appearance as a sleepy coastal village, Siglufjördur actually played an important role in Iceland’s recent history. Iceland was one of the most impoverished countries of Europe at the turn of the last century, until the discovery of huge herring shoals at the north coast of Iceland provided the impetus to a new era of prosperity. As the folk of Siglufjördur say “herring was the prince that awoke the sleeping princess with a fishy kiss”… and if the prince had a home it would surely be this scenic little town. Nowhere else was the fishing fleet larger, or the number of processed herring higher. Each season hundreds of thousands of barrels of herring were salted or processed into oil and meal, contributing as much as 44% to Iceland’s income. The town, of course, grew rapidly and flourished providing an abundance of job opportunities for fishermen, herring girls, coopers, mechanics and many more. Indeed the streets of Siglufjördur were bustling to the extent that the crowded main street was compared to the bustling streets of London!
The prince however was becoming restless. In the 1950s the herring started to become less and less – but the smell of herring that hung thickly over the town was likened to the smell of money and the Icelanders were not yet ready to let the prince escape. As the herring shoals became increasingly hard to find new technologies such as the use of echo-sounders to locate the herring school managed to keep the herring coming. As new shoals became available the herring boomed again in the early 60s and Siglufjördur continued to prosper.
But suddenly, it was all over. In 1968, almost no herring was caught, and the bustling factories stood empty leaving the people of the town without jobs. The prince, it seems, had slipped away and Iceland fell into a huge depression that surpassed the great depression in terms of the adversity felt by Iceland people. Fishermen and their families moved away from Siglufjördur, leaving the town to decay. The factories and wharves that once bustled slowly subsided into the sea leaving the town with a downcast air.
But the folk of Siglufjördur are nothing if not resilient. After a period of decline lasting until the 1990’s, local residents banded together with the aim of restoring the former glory of the town. At this point a smaller pool of fishermen called the town home and fishing was still important – following strict quotas enforced by the Icelandic government the herring had returned, though in lesser numbers, and now other fisheries including cod, shrimp and capelin all contributed to the catch of the town. While fishing was never to be as profitable and the great “Herring Adventure” proved, the town had retained its fishing heritage. And heritage had become a lynchpin of the community here. Örlygur Kristfinnsson, the director of the local museum (www.sild.is) was one of the citizens who helped kick-start the rejuvenation of the town by founding a museum focusing on the history of the Herring Adventure. The museum, which is now a central attraction in the town, has won various Icelandic and European awards and paints a vivid picture of the life of the town during the boom. But more importantly perhaps, the development reflects a shift in the lifestyle of the folk here in Siglufjördur. While fishing will always be fundamentally important to the town new opportunities such as tourism are beginning to play an important role. The magic of the town however, is the fact that the history and cultural heritage is not enclosed by the walls of the museum – the history of the herring seems an integral part of the town itself and the people living here.
A long couple of days with lots of jobs done and a few disasters along the way … not least of all a fairly serious galley fire (put out before any serious damage done). Still, we are now equipped with a new radar dome, all running rigging in the mast, new boots, a working stove (again), and brand new lettering proclaiming the ships name.
Today she spied a chimpanzee – up the mast he flew,
So very high, unbound and free, though rather rank it’s true.
He clambered up and threw some tools that clattered to the ground,
He screamed out curses, lost his cool, and made god-awful sounds!
But whilst up high he happened to, fix a few foul faults,
And dragged some clobber up the pole and nailed it down with bolts.
And him he saw a spider spin – a web of silken frost.
The fine white thread so very thin, each stroke so bold embossed.
With tiny strokes she wove a work that stood out clear and proud,
But still the venom fangs would lurk to prick the pushy crowd.
And when the web was woven clear, and the sinners pricked for sin,
The silken lace spelled out a word – ‘twas written “Widdershins”.
And She, She saw a guest arrive to walk upon Her sole.
She saw her lovers work and strive to play the good host-role.
And so She fumed at her lovers slight, Her fever rose with ire,
The jealous rage it sparked a light that lit a furious fire.
The flames and smoke they drove that guest from the shelter of Her womb.
And Her hapless lovers limped back home, to scrub soot up with a broom.
What a day! We’re settled now with a whiskey in the hand.
The mast is rigged, a painted prow, and the fire doused with sand.
We’ve walked more miles with brand new boots, than does our sore feet well.
We’ve painted, tied up, scrubbed the soot, and still we have not fell.
And as the sun … well it doesn’t set … but as it spins around,
We’ll take our rest with the knowledge that: were almost arctic bound.
Today was my last day in Switzerland. While Patrick has been busy setting up the yacht in Tromsø, I was finishing up everything in Zürich so I can leave my old life with a clear conscious. This of course also included sorting through all my stuff and chucking out half of my possessions. It’s quite scary how many unnecessary things pile up when you’re comfortable in a place. Well, that’s all changing drastically now. I’m leaving Switzerland with two bags, one containing all my diving gear, and one all my clothing, camping gear etc. When it comes down to it I guess there’s really not that much one needs, and as long as it’s just Pat and me on the yacht hopefully no one will mind the smell…
Much harder than sorting out what I’m finally going to bring to our trip was saying all those goodbyes to friends and family. I’ve left Switzerland a few times for longer periods before, but I always knew when I’d come back. Now everything is much more uncertain, and who knows where the wind is going to take us in the end. But I guess nowadays the world is a smaller place than it used to be, and it’s easier to keep in touch. So, don’t forget writing me emails, keeping me up to date about office rumors or books I should read, and send me pictures of your kids growing up! I will miss you all!
Oh, and yes: new life, here I come!
Heading to the remote and pristine wilderness we are pretty safe to assume that we will have plenty of fresh clean air around us. But when it comes to diving we will need a little help getting that air into SCUBA cylinders that we can breathe from when exploring the icy waters of the Arctic. Enter the Bauer Junior compressor: today I was happy to receive this expensive and much needed piece of kit to complete our growing array of diving equipment. Thanks to Reef Life Survey, who have generously supplied the compressor, we will now be entirely self-sufficient when it comes to our extensive diving programme exploring marine biodiversity. And note, of course, that it is perfectly colour coordinated with the new Widdershins paint scheme 😉
Upon slipping into the water life here on Widdershins has certainly become more comfortable. No more scrambling down a rickety ladder to fetch water in the eddying snow for me! Indeed the weather seems appeased to see us floating again – the rain, snow, sleet and hail that have been my relentless companions these past weeks have been replaced by clear skies and sunshine. Barely a breeze disturbs the reflected image of the yacht which looks very smart in her new coat of Caribbean blue paint. There is time now to look around me – at the eider ducks paddling amidst the bobbing yachts, the young cod milling around the hull, and of course it’s hard to miss the strident call of the seagulls (no doubt bemoaning the fact that despite a plenitude of fish and potato, the Norwegians have taken to the idea of fish and chips). These next days until Leonie arrives in Tromsø are still filled with odd jobs and preparations, but the frantic pace that drove me until now has been eased, each day’s to-do list is less hectic. For example the main job for today was to try and get some laundry done. Simple you think? Well, actually there are no Laundromats in Tromsø, and it would cost 114 kroner per kilogram to get washing done for me …. The alternative has been a morning ringing out laundry by hand and festooning the rigging of the yacht in wet underwear and socks.
But enough of laundry and Laridae – when are we going to stop talking about adventure and actually go out and do it? Well time is a slippery thing and has a way of unravelling plans – our plans for the next couple of weeks (after Leonie arrives on board on 8 June) includes an appearance for World Environment day, a series of dives for Reeflife survey around Tromsø and a little more shopping and preparation. Given these priorities it looks as if we will be able to steer a course for the north in mid-June. A little later than we hoped but still leaving us plenty of time for exploration!
The date of departure is approaching quickly, and every small support is more than welcome. We are very grateful for the generous donations of Timmisartok, Ingrid Krüger, Beatrice Ngai, Sharman, David and Sharane Lewis, Babette Baltisberger, Charles Suter and Maja Frei. We also want to acknowledge help on the ground in Tromsø, in particular from Kristian and Stian for helping out with some much needed tools. Thank you all for helping our dream to become reality!
The yachts clustered around the boat yard here in Tromsø are slowly starting to slip into the water. The yard is a hive of activity with sparks flying from metal grinders, the incandescence of welders and just a lot of painting, scrubbing, polishing and tinkering as marine folk get ready to take to the seas. Here on Widdershins the list of tasks is starting to shrink and we are making good progress towards making our launch date next week. And then to the blue!