11 February 2014

Impressions of Iceland

Among the several voyages I have made in my short-lived seafaring career, the one I remember most was a Summer voyage, in 2004, to Iceland.
Viewing "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty", a few weeks ago, triggered once again a torrent of emotions, when I remembered the vastness of the Icelandic lunar landscape unfolding before me, as I approached the island-nation from the South, nearly ten days later from our departure from Ceuta.
At the time a Captain of a small coastal vessel, casually promoted, for the sake of the world trade, to the select rank of the "oceanic ships", I, too, did felt a bit like Walter Mitty, when he faces the fact that he is, involuntarily, pushed towards a voyage which he isn't really eager to begin.
I, too, was afraid of the unknown, when, reading that nearly-arrived telex, I was informed by the Norwegian commercial operator that, after leaving the Spanish port where we have been in the past two days, loading a cargo of 3600 tons of salt, we should proceed to Ceuta, for bunkering the amount of fuel necessary for the crossing to Iceland. Iceland???... Sh...!!!!
Needless to say, I wasn't jumping with joy. Those northern latitudes are not really cherished by seafarers. We even call the Icelandic sea the "storm magnet", since all the hurricanes developing over the Gulf of Mexico end up traversing the North Atlantic, en route to Greenland, Iceland and Norway, making a lot of damage on the way.
But ok, it was Summer time and, thank God, the guys (and girls) at Bracknell were issuing some good meteorological prognosis. So the apprehension gave its place to curiosity (just like Walter Mitty) and off we went, in our old, but trustworthy, bucket,  leaving our own neighbourhood, for a ten-days loxodromic crossing of the North Atlantic.
But, except for a few days of rough seas along the coast of Ireland, the crossing was a relaxed one and so it was the Icelandic periplus, jumping from port to port, after reaching the island.
The most impressive view of the island is, certainly, obtained while approaching from the sea. The vast mass of the eternal polar cap - the Vatnajökull - dominates the shape of this arid lunar landscape. In this artic climate nearly no vegetation grows, except small grass.
When I phoned my father and told him that I have arrived to an island the size of Portugal with as may citizens as in Madeira, he answered "God, it's almost unpopulated". It certainly is. However, that is also a part of her mystique.
Icelandic heritage is very well preserved by this nation's citizens. Well kept gardens, houses and public places. Streets were perfectly clean and the quality of life had more to do with the American way of life than with the European one. But that has probably changed in the past years, since the americans left from their air force base of Keflavik, in 2006.
Maintenance works on a church, in a small village on the North coast of the island. Although they have freedom of religion, the vast majority of Icelanders - more than seventy-five percent -  are members of the Church of Iceland, a Lutheran body.
Our good old Wani Venture (IMO nº 9117208) discharging part of her cargo in the Northern port of Dalvik on a perfect Summer day.