After spending a few days in Edinburgh, Scotland, with my wife I boarded a small plane and flew north to the Scottish port of Stornoway in the Hebrides. As I said goodbye to her at the security checkpoint I thought about the transition I would soon have to make, from sightseeing and romantic dinners to passagemaking and watch-keeping. My heart was heavy as I watched her disappear into the secure departure area; I knew I wouldn't see her again for nearly a month.
The journey I was about to embark upon had first begun as an informal conversation at a Trawler Fest event, which then led to a series of email exchanges with Tony Fleming. When he described the voyage he intended to take aboard his new Fleming 65, Venture II, I was immediately captivated. I have a passion for high latitude travel and Tonys proposed route fit neatly into this category: Scotland to Iceland via the Faroe Islands. Although it sounds cliché, ever since I was a boy I've longed to visit the Faroes. While other kids my age were collecting baseball cards I was collecting QSL cards, a form confirmation verifying that one had received a distant radio station, usually by shortwave or AM radio. By the time I was 14 I had a wall full of them and antennas in my backyard that were pushing my fathers patience. After trying for several years I managed to pull in an AM station from the Faroes and get the QSL to prove it. Receiving that card was a huge thrill and a small window into another culture, one that was very different from my suburban Long Island world. Remember, the Internet had yet to be invented, so all I could do to satisfy my curiosity about this exotic North Atlantic locale was look up the Faroe Islands in my junior high school library encyclopedia, pour over my family edition of the Rand McNally Atlas of the World, and dream about visiting this and many other exotic places into which I tuned with my Hallicrafters radio. Im certain that this shortwave radio, given to me by a kindly neighbor, was the catalyst for my now insatiable wanderlust. Now, all these years later, it seemed as if my boyhood dream of visiting the Faroes may finally come true.
The first leg of the journey began in Scotland. This is a land of extremes, and my wife and I reveled in identifying each and every one of them. Its both desolate and picturesque, tides are extreme, the wind and driving rain can howl ferociously and in the same day they may cease, dead calm will prevail, the sun may shine while a blanket of fog envelopes the vivid green landscape. Be warned, hot drinks such as coffee, tea, and soup are served very hot, and the water that issues forth from HOT spigots, its usually a separate faucet, is seemingly on the verge of becoming live steam. Cask ale, thats beer that comes from a barrel located in the cellar of a pub, is served cool; its not carbonated and as such must be pumped or pulled from its resting place. After sampling it extensively I can attest to the taste, it is memorable indeed, as is the single malt Scotch, but thats another story. The people of Scotland are among the finest Ive ever metwarm, friendly, and helpful on every occasion. And, in the port towns they have a strong appreciation for seafarers. The chandlery in Stornoway, the town from which Venture II departed on this leg of her journey, told the whole story. It was all business, real ships hardware and goods, serious foul weather gear, heavy boots, knives, and line. The Royal National Lifeboat Institutes (The RNLI is a sort of volunteer fire brigade for sea rescue. Its highly thought of and with good reason, many mariners owe their lives to the organization and more than a few RNLI members have lost their lives in the line of duty) rescue vessel located on the village wharf told another story. These are hard, unforgiving waters; they require every mariners deepest respect.
The passage to the Faroes was the best kind, uneventful, mostly. Roughly two hours into the passage the hydraulic stabilizer alarm sounded, indicating rising oil temperature. After some analysis it was determined that while the inlet and strainer were clear, the seawater pump was not doing its job. It was decided to drop anchor in the lee of the Butt of Lewis, the island on which Stornoway is located to remedy the problem. Ultimately, we ended up utilizing a spare electric raw-water pump to take the place of the hydraulic one whose impeller had not only failed but melted and congealed within the pump body. After the repair of Venture II (Ill write a full review of this vessel for an upcoming issue of PMM) her four-man crew carried on and made the run in a little under 24 hours. Seas were between 7 and 9 feet although with a longish period and light winds, not terribly uncomfortable for a vessel of this size and design.
Landfall in the Faroes was, at least for me, unforgettable. The islands seem to be calibrated to a Grand Canyon sort of scale, as they rise steeply from the sea to craggy, butte-like peaks, most of which are covered in a carpet of verdant grass, nearly all of which is grazed upon by thousands of sheep. As we steamed into the primary harbor of Torshavn, turf-roofed buildings were easy to pick out, and it was clear that the islands culture retained its inextricable link to the sea, vessels of all sizes filled the well-protected harbor, although nearly all of them were designed for fishing.
From the moment we landed on the town dock until we cast our lines off five days later Venture II was a seagoing spectacle. Faroese people young and old stood on the dock and gaped, cars drove by and slowed as the passengers stared. Some came aboard and knocked on cabin doors and windows at all hours of the day and night (this time of year it never gets completely dark in these latitudes) to ask questions: Where is she built? How many engines and what horsepower? Where have you come from and where are you going? It was clear that vessels of Venture IIs sort rarely, if ever, visited the Faroes.
In order to see as much as possible we rented a car and drove the islands from end to end, logging over 300 miles on the odometer. Many of the islands are laced with and connected by tunnels, some of which travel through mountains and then beneath the sea lanes between the islands. The tunnels are an engineering marvel and each time I drove through one I couldnt help but wonder what was involved in their construction. The rock through which they are bored is so stable that they are unlined, which gives one the feeling of traveling through a mine shaft. Some of the older tunnels, built in the 1960s, are single lane, with traffic in one direction being obligated to give way in turn-out coves carved into the rock. Its a bit hair-raising at first, but the islanders are excellent drivers and very courteous.
The road network is excellent and the quality of the signage and the roads themselves are quite good, in fact they were enjoyable to drive, however, absolute attention by the driver is mandatory. Daydreaming is an unforgivable offense as many of the tracks are carved into steep cliff sides with multiple switchbacks and many sections lack guard rails.
In the next installment Faroese landscape, people, and wildlife.