Friday, 30 September 2011

Jan Mayen summer


The main objective of this years cruise was to sail to the small island of Jan Mayan

72°00’N 8°30’W and then climb the most northerly volcano on earth Mt Beerenburg, 2277m high. This Plan had been hatched by our new friend Alasdair Flint who sails Sumara his 26’ Vertue to some very interesting places indeed. Over the past few years he has been heading to the northern latitudes including Spitsbergen, Norway and Iceland and this trip to Jan Mayan is following on from these.

Charlotte and I got involved when a good friend Tim Loftus asked if we would like to join him on a trip ‘north’ aboard his beautiful Yacht ‘Thembi’ - a 34’ boat built by Tim (6years ago) and designed by Ed Burnett. How could we refuse! We already had a taste of sailing north as in 2005 we circumnavigated Iceland With Danise Evans on board her 34’ yacht Dunlin and this seemed like another good way to feed the northern desire.


The Plan:

I Sail from Ullapool to the Faroe islands

II Faroe to Jan Mayen

III Climb Mt Berrenburgh

IV Jan Mayen to East Greenland (Scoresby Sound)

V Scoresby Sound to Iceland

VI Iceland back to Scotland

An ambitious plan in two relatively small wooden boats all achieved apart from the Greenland part as there was far too much Ice this year not that it stopped us having a go anyway!

The two boats Sumara and Thembi would as far as passable sail together which worked very well indeed. This resulted in a lot of fun being had whenever we arrived in ports/anchorages. The fun either involved climbing mountains or drinking the odd pint of beer if a bar w

as available!

So this is how it happened:

Charlotte and I met Tim in June to sail Thembi North from Belvacar (near Oban) to Ullapool . 180nm in three very pleasant day sails. This was our first sail of Thembi and she was everthing we expected her to be - a fast and exciting boat so sail but comfy at the same time. We provisioned the boat in Ullapool . Here Stuart Anderson joined the boat making up the complete crew of four. This all went well apart from breaking the conveyor belt in Lidle (Inverness) under the weight of 8 weeks worth of food.

While still in Ullapool we met Sumara and her Crew Alasdair , John and Sarah .

We set sail direct for the Faroes on the 19th June. We first landed in Suduroy the south of the Faroes after a rough 3 day passage in not so useful northerly winds!

Onwards with a fine day sail through the ripping tides, that the islands are famous for, to the smallest capital city in the world Torshavn.

North from Torshavn took us through the narrow passage the splits the islands in NNW direction. Again strong tides and as an extra bonus a low bridge to contend. - we carefully measured Thembi’s mast and found we had four foot to play with, plenty.

One more stop in the north islands before we set sail direct to Jan Mayen.

We left the Faroes on the 29th June and had a very pleasant 6 day sail north. On the 2nd of July we crossed the Artic Circle 66°33’north . Burrr.

On the passage we expected to be confronted by strong northerly winds/gales but instead we had light following winds from the south for a number of days before it went to the north east (the most common wind direction up there)

By now things were getting quite cold and required lots of cloths - for days I had 9 layers on only removing a couple of them to get into the sleeping bag while off watch. Lovely. At this point I should point out some of the many advantages of sailing north:

Its cold so you don’t sweat and therefor don’t smell so socks and underpants can be warn indefinitely.

24 hour daylight -means you don’t have dark night watches. This also aids getting up - your body clock gets so confused, due to all that light, that you don’t know what time it really is! The “Sundip” - as you sail north the sun gets continually higher until the sun is constantly above the horizon, this has the fantastic effect of producing megga long sunsets/sunrises (the two become one in a funny sort of way - a sundip?!) These ‘sundips’ last a long time and seem much more vivid than those encountered south.

Now a disadvantage of sailing north : freezing fog often blocks out all light and sunset/rises!

We spotted the thirty mile long island of Jan Mayan on the 5th july, 648nm out from the Faroe isles. A wind, super chilled by the glaciers, blasted down on us when we arrived which forced us to reef the sails for the final few miles, what a welcoming. A dramatic landfall to say the least - jet black volcanic sands with vivid green moss all broken up with bright white patches of snow. We anchored on the north-west side in Kvalrossbukta (which means Walrus Bay).

The Anchorages are not great - all have a surf beech landing and offer little shelter - you basically anchor on the north side if the island in southerly winds and on the south side in northerly winds. In east or west winds you just hang on as best you can.

Sumara arrived in the anchorage 24hours after us.

A 6 mile walk across the island, to the south side, led us to the Norwegian weather station. Here we met the only inhabitants - all 18 of them. We were very welcomed and even fed a fine meal and given showers.

While we were on the the south side we visited the bay where Tilman beached his boat Mischief to make repairs after hitting rocks off the southwest end of the island. The repairs were unsuccessful and the boat sadly sank 40nm offshore of Jan Mayan - all crew survived the ordeal.

Next came our attack on Mt Beerenberg, this also happened to be the reason for Tilman visiting the island. We moved the boats 6 miles further up the coast to an even more exposed anchorage of Stasjonbukta where we met the Icelandic boat Aura.

After a manic bag packing session we were landed on a beech at the foot of of Mount Beerenberg. Here the team assembled as follows: from Yacht Sumara was Alasdair, John and Charlotte having left Sarah on board to watch the anchor for the 24hours we expected to be climbing for. From Thembi was myself Tim and Charlotte. We had left Stuart aboard to make curry for when we got back. We had a seventh team member Siggi, the nicest Icelandic guy you will meet (they are all good!), from the Icelandic Yacht Aura who we couldn't have done the trip without - he arranged our permits to visit and climb on Jan Mayan and also provided invaluable advice on the best route up the mountain. He runs an adventure company from the north west fjoirds of Iceland (Borea adventures) and had climbed Beerenburg once before.

Aura also did a crew change for Alastair - swapping Sarah for Charlotte. - throughout the trip Alasdair had a total of five different crew on board Sumara.

We started the walk into the Volcano late in the afternoon and set up camp at around 500 meters just below cloud level. After a quick meal, the usual hill food of super-noodles etc, we tucked into our sleeping bags wearing all our cloths as it was dam cold.

In the morning we got up to find the tents covered in a thin layer of ice, nice, and

started the long walk. We climbed another 500m through thick cloud following our noses and occasional GPS way points until the summit revealed itself in perfect blue sky’s. This seemed like a miracle as we had not seen the sun for days let alone blue sky’s. It was perfect - a classic volcano shaped mountain with huge glaciers falling down the sides of it, providing a fine playground of crevasses for us to navigate through. Basically everything we had dreamed about.

Charlotte Watters was first to find a crevasse after which we roped up and moved together as two teams - Team Thembi and team Sumara with Siggi.

By late afternoon we had made our way through steep crevassed terrain up to the the crater ridge where we peered into the spectacular crater itself - about a mile in diameter. Following this we followed the slightly precarious crater ridge and reached the summit 2275 meters at 7pm. The views were just amazing - a sea of cloud lay 1000 meters below us and with no other mountains around we felt on top of the world , and we were.

Our decent did not take long at all and we were back on the boat eating a delicious curry by 1:30am.

While we were up the mountain in blue skies and no wind the boats on anchor had had a far different time - it had been windy, cloudy and the waves had build up rolling the boats about all over the place meaning Stuart and Sarah had not been able to go ashore. Siggi’s Dad on Aura had been flipped in the surf in the Zodiak tender and ended up in the cold drink. It is the only mountain i have been on where as you climb higher the wind decreases .

On the 10th july we set sail towards the Denmark Straight. The plan had been to sail direct from Jan Mayan to Scoresby Sound on the east coast of Greenland but this year the Ice was 100 miles out from the coast stopping us getting in. It looked like we stood more chance of getting into Kangerdlugssuaqu or Anmagaslic further south so thats where we headed with an open mind to stopping in Iceland on route.

As it turned out the Ice conditions did not improve in the days that we were sailing south so we ended up in the North West Fjords of Iceland, this is one of the most stunning areas of Iceland with lots of walking/scrambling and beautiful small towns to visit.

On the 19th July we set off from Isafjorour, west towards Kangerdlugssuaqu (Greeland) as there was a large opening showing on the Ice charts that might just let us into the coast. On the second day out the sea temperature dropped to 1.5 degrees - we soon encountered ice and a family of five killer whales! All this in thick pea soup fog with no radar. The fog lifted to reveal a mass of pack Ice which soon surrounded us. It was a true spectacle to see - the colour’s and shapes were amazing. Still being 150 miles from the Greenland coast there was nothing for it but to turn back towards Iceland but not before going for a row around the ice in the dingy. We had to motor out through a lot more ice than we had entered showing how fast the stuff moves. It was very interesting to meet the ice and we gained a huge amount of knowledge from doing so even though we did not get far in it, the main thing being that a normal yacht will struggle to pass through much more than 3/10ths ice also when exploring iced areas a large amount of fuel is likely to be needed.

We spent the next few weeks exploring the west coats of Iceland including stops in Patreks Fjord, Olafsvik (climbed Sneasfelsjokull), and Reykjavik.

In Reykjavik Stuart had to fly back to Scotland as his time had run out leaving Tim Charlotte and I to take the boat back to Scotland.

From Reykjavik we had planned to sail south then east along to the Vestmann Islands. As we we heading for the islands we encountered a gale combined with a very big sea which we could not make against (we were 15miles from Vestmannaey) . We were pushed south of Iceland for two days before we could make any easting directly towards Scotland.

In the end It took seven and a half days to sail direct from Reykjavik to Ullapool.


A simply amazing trip and in this brief account I have only just skimmed the surface of this adventure. I big thank you to Tim for being the finest skipper around and Thembi who proved herself as a very capable , strong, fast and beautiful boat (what more do you need from a boat?!) - see www.timloftusboatbuilding.co.uk Also Thanks to Alasdair on Sumara who had the original idea for the trip and organized all of the details (see www.sumaraofweymouth.co.uk )

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