Newfoundland to Iceland

For 10 days we docked in Saint Johns, Newfoundland the capital of this lovely Canadian island, waiting for a window to cross the Atlantic ocean and make our epic passage to Iceland. Jay had been looking at the weather patterns for the area we were to sail through since before we even left Newport, Rhode Island in order to get acquainted with the patterns of highs and lows in the area during this time of the year. After 7 days in Saint Johns we saw a window and got everything ready but the night we were to leave Jay went to check one more time the grib files because there seamed to be a low brewing over Iceland and he wanted to see if it intensified or faded away. Thank goodness he checked, he came back and said “we cannot go yet”, the low was forming into a nasty storm which lingered over Iceland for the next week with winds up to 60 knots, we would have sailed right into a disaster if it weren’t for Jay’s acute instincts. So we remained at Saint Johns for another few days until we got bored and ansi and so decided to start hoping our way further up north in order to get closer to our destination and see more of Newfoundland. By now we were even considering hoping to Greenland in between these constant lows that were forming in northern Canada and coming down the Labrador sea around the southern tip of Greenland and then up to Iceland.

We left Saint Johns Friday September 26, 2014 after midnight which technically made it Saturday and therefore safe to leave harbor, obeying the old sailors myth never to leave port on a Friday. We pushed off the dock and sailed out the narrows, it was a beautiful calm starry night. We ducked into Catalina Harbor south of Cape Bonavista 12 hrs and 60 nm later seeking protection from a low that was going to blow over us. We found a large empty pier and sailed up to it, tied on and began another of our multiple parties we were now often throwing while we awaited for small storms to pass over us. After about 20 hrs we continued N by NE for the next 2 days, both nights we encountered gales with sustained winds of 30 to 45 knots. On our second night we tried to enter Goose Cove but it was blowing too hard and the harbor wasn’t protected enough for us to anchor so we sailed right back out and hove-to for the night until day break when Jay began to approach Saint Anthony a bigger and more protected harbor a bit north. Saint Anthony turned out to be a lively fishing town of 2,500 inhabitants, all extremely friendly. We found a free dock in between fishing boats and though it was very early in the morning we had a handful of people in cars come up to say Hi!, they had seen us sail into the harbor and were wondering what a sail boat was doing this far up north this late in the season. Right away a man offered to drive us into town so we grabbed our dirty laundry and packed into his warm car. After a lavish breakfast out we sat at the library to check email, social media and of course the weather. No sooner had we arrived and I was looking forward to some land activities that Jay turned to me and said “our weather window is now, we have to leave asap”. The next day was Thursday so we had to leave before midnight of course.

We had a wonderful short visit in Saint Anthony and again prepared ourselves for the crossing. Jay loves to leave port at night, usually around midnight so there we were preparing things while the girls were already tucked in and fast asleep. We celebrated our last evening by having lasagna, the famous Coconut CrockPot lasagna. Time flew by and it was nearly 2 am when we pushed off the dock, I asked Jay if this was okay since technically it was already Friday, he shrugged his shoulders and said “it’s only a myth”, but I believe that this idea has changed and he has begun to believe that there is some truth to this myth. It was a cold but clear starry night and as soon as we were in open sea dolphins came about the boat to give us a farewell, a great omen we thought.

The first day we made good time though it was very cold as we crossed the labrador current, about 45-50˙F / 5-10˙C inside the boat, we made about 180 nm. Sunsets and sunrises began to get very long, you start to notice a change around 2 am but the sun doesn’t finally come out until about 8 am. The evenings are a torture for Jay who has to drive all night because the battery isn’t strong enough to use the autopilot but as soon as the sun hits the solar panel he is free and able to turn it on and climb into bed. I make breakfast as I stand watch though there is nothing to watch for, there are no freighters in these waters, no fishing boats this time of the year, no icebergs (we hope), and definitely no other sailboats.

On the second day the wind began to diminish and an endless calm began to set in. We made only 40 nm on day 2 and between days 3 and 5 averaged between 70 -100 nm per day. The calm really set in after day 5, on day 6 and 7 we averaged 30 nm but at least the water got about 7˙F warmer as we left the Labrador current and it got up to 58˙F / 15˙C inside the boat. We laid in a calm under Greenland and we got as close as 130 nm from it, even at suck great distance and through fog we could make out this massive land of tall frozen cliffs, it was eerie so we tacked to make some distance from it. Jay’s frustration grew as the calm set in over us, the girls on the other had came out of there “caves”, their warm bunk beds and began a normal life of playing and coloring, they even watched a movie with popcorn one day. I was able to keep up with chores like bailing out our flat shallow bilge that seams to fill up with just a few waves coming over the decks and in through the mast head, emptying trash cans and throwing our compost overboard, washing dishes and cooking. Taking french showers and grooming a little as well.

“A calm for these many days, in this part of the world, this time of the year, is unheard of!” our Captain yelled and added “I am NEVER leaving on a Friday again!” Jay had to find other ways of keeping busy as to not loose his mind. He fixed the toilet hand pump which seamed to be stuck, he even put up the flews and started a fire in the stove, this was a really nice treat after days of being cold, it also dried out the boat and the light at night was most pleasant. Here we were in the Atlantic ocean, close to the Arctic Circle with water that looked like glass under a full moon with not a cloud or a sound about, it was a time for reading, sleeping, painting, playing and cleaning. But it was also a time for worrying, not knowing what lied ahead or even worse what was going to come in behind us, the calm before the storm, so we were psychologically preparing for the worse but we were lucky that when the wind started filling in it was from a low that passed bellow us heading toward England and even though it gave us head winds they didn’t get higher than 25 to 30 knots.

Now the slow ascension to Iceland began, we had to tack our way there, like climbing a tall mountain. The wind was coming directly from Reykjavik, our destination and it did for the remainder of our passage. “This is also unheard of for this area” yelled the Captain once again, the wind never blows from the East it is usually quite the opposite and blows Westerly and if it does blow from the East it is for a short time as a low pases by but this low held for days bellow us and moved from west to east very slowly, needless to say the Captain felt unlucky once again. Messenger did it’s worse time ever on this passage, usually she makes 150 nm on average in 24 hrs but she averaged 100 nm on this passage, her VMG was only about 4 knots. But regardless of the numbers, to me it is miraculous what she and her Captain accomplished and once again they have brought us to yet another magical place safe and sound.

Messenger headed upwind with 3 reefs in her main and with a storm jib for most of the time, at times there where squalls after squalls and Tormentina, the storm jib, went up and down a handful of times. Perhaps the only good thing about sailing up wind is that Messenger can sail itself with the tiller tied and this is what she did for days on end while Jay just laid in his cot reading and sleeping, about every 12 hours we would tack.

After 14 days and 8 hrs we arrived in Iceland, “Land ho!” yelled the Captain and as soon as we got into the lee of the Island where the water was flat and the boat was no longer healed over the party began, it was about 4 am, dark and cold but it was a clear calm night. I remained inside my warm bed, cuddled with Caribe while Sol and Luna began their celebration by drinking Ginger-ale and eating powdered milk mixed with sugar, a true Costa Rican treat when Jay yelled to us to come above deck and see the Aurora Borealis welcoming us to Iceland. I did not want to get out of bed and so I said I would see it all winter long, Sol and Luna were in awe and told me I had to come out that it was spectacular, all the screaming woke Caribe up and she wanted to see it. So I finally got up and I am so glad I did because it was the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. It spanned our entire port side from bow to stern in an arch like a rainbow but much wider, nearly covering half of the sky, there where many hues of blues and greens and to our starboard side lay the lights of the city of Reykjavik, the most northern capital in the world. What a welcome to this magical island of ice and fire.

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