Iceland - Land of Ice and Fire
Famous for that volcano that no one could pronounce but erupted spectacularly in 2010 and stopped the Northern Hemisphere's planes, Iceland is enjoying the attention it deserves. A remarkable country sitting on the Mid Atlantic ridge where the earth's crust is constantly growing. The steaming lava fields and volcanoes create some of the newest land on the planet, yet the Icelanders speak the oldest language in Europe, little changed since the first Viking settlers. The language might be old but Iceland is changing fast. Reykjavik is a throughly modern city. Good design is everywhere - tasteful restaurant interiors, chic guest houses, designer outdoor clothing and a really well set up tourism industry for visitors who love adventure and outdoor pursuits. Almost everyone speaks English and the public transport works well for independant travellers.
Travelling around it is also easy to see why Icelandic saga's about the first Viking inhabitants and the wild landscapes they lived in were the inspiration for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings books. If the snow capped black mountains look vaguely familiar it is because Iceland recently featured as the backdrop for the 'Game of Thrones' TV series. Iceland was voted favourite European Tourist destination of the year in the 2012 Guardian Travel Awards and has become a popular and off beat destination that holds many surprises. One of them is the great summer sailing on the NE coast in one of the best whale watching locations in Northern Europe - Skjalfandi Bay.
Iceland for Whale Watching
Sailing holidays are quite rare in Iceland, yet the coastline has some amazing fjords, coastal mountains and small fishing ports like Husavik. North East Iceland has another secret too. It has one of the best, most reliable whale watching sites for big whales in Europe. The bird life all around the coast and glacial outwatch plains are an ornithologists delight too.
If Iceland appeals to you then squeezing in a few days on a beautiful traditionally rigged schooner run by Icelanders will give you a real taste of this rugged and individualistic nation. The food on board is great with lots of fresh Icelandic products and North Sailing run their own excellent resturant and a small cafe on the waterfront.
Ultimate Nature Trip
If you love the great outdoors then the beauty of Iceland is that most the small 320 000 population live in the city which leaves some of the best wilderness areas in Europe to explore. National Parks abound in the ice and fire carved landscapes around the mighty Vatnajokull Ice Cap. There is virtually no pollution and all the energy is either geothermal or hydro electric. Drinking water comes from pure glaciers, fish is caught in unpolluted streams; the organic lamb and cattle graze on fields which are untouched by fertilizer. National Parks have a network of trails and remote campsites, yet are served by regular buses. Many small scale family tourism and craft businesses provide easy to book adventures from white water rafting to pony trekking on viking bred horses. The waterfalls are like Niagra without the tourist trappings. You can walk right to the edge of Dettifoss or Gullfoss any time of day or night....if you dare.
Introducing Our Iceland Sailing Specialists
New to Classic Sailing in 2012, but old hands at exploring the Arctic and Icelandic waters under sail, we are thrilled to be able to offer a series of unique short breaks from Iceland to the edge of the Arctic Circle, plus sailing and ski-ing voyages in the coastal mountains of Iceland on wooden schooners Haukur and Hildur.
Established in 1995, this family run business was the first to run regular whale watching tours from their home port in Husavik, NE Iceland. Three generations of this local family are now involved in the running of the business, which has grown rapidly each year and is now a leading light in tourism and Icelandic culture. They have restored two wooden schooners Hildur & Haukur and a fleet of historic wooden fishing vessels that now offer a range of sailing, wildlife and whale watching tours on the edge of the Arctic Circle. They have won many tourism awards in Iceland and internationally and Classic Sailing also offers their seven day East Greenland Sailing Expeditions each summer.
The Whales of Skjalfandi Bay
The 6 vessels of North Sailing in Husavik run continual 3-4 hourly whale watching trips from Spring to Autumn and since 1995 have a success rate of 98% for spotting whales and dolphins in this 8 mile wide bay. One side of the bay has majestic mountains which are snow capped even in summer and the rivers from the glaciers create currents and nutrient mixing that attracts a wide range of cetaceans. Typical species spotted include some of th biggest whales on the planet: Blue Whales, Fin Whales, Humpback Whales, Spern Whales, Sei Whales, Northern Bottlenose Whales, Killer Whales, Pilot Whales, Minke white beaked dolphins, and the tiny harbour porpoise all frequent the bay.
Bird Watchers Favourite
Within Skjalfandi Bay you might see Red necked Palarope, Arctic Skuas and Great Skuas, Razorbills, Brunnich's Guillemot, Black guillemot, puffins, fulmars, arctic terns, Eider Duck or Kittiwakes, Gannets plus rarer migrants.
Icelandic Schooner Voyages
Our Icelandic partners are offering four different types of voyage:
2 Day Edge of the Arctic Taster
3 Day Edge of the Arctic & Siglufjordur Taster
5 Day Ski to the Sea Expedition (NE Iceland in Spring)
7 Day East Greenland Expedition (Arctic Summer exploring Scorseby Sound) - see our Greenland pages
The Edge of the Arctic - 2 day Voyages
The 2 and 3 day tasters are designed to fit the Eagle Air scheduled domestic flights from Reykjavik to Husavik in remote NE Iceland, and back on the last evening.
These small 22 seater planes are easy to book on line and only take 45 minutes to cross this mountainous corner of Iceland. Don't forget to book the minbus transfer from the small landing strip to Husavik town.
You can also take a more leisurely route by hire car (6 hours) or coach.
You have time to settle into your new home on wooden schooner Haukur (or sister ship Hildur) and explore the town as the ships have their own jetty in the cete of the harbour. The evening meal on the first night is not included but there are some lovely resturants on the harbour front like Gamili Baukur (15% discount) with its fresh fish menu, sun terrace and cosy wooden interior and a Whale Museum to visit.
Enjoy 2 days sailing accross Skjalfandi Bay looking for whales and then boldly set off into the north westwards into the Denmark Strait to the island of Grimsey. This inhabited island is within the Arctic Circle so you will earn your Arctic Circle Certificate as a momento as well as learning to sail a traditional gaff rigged schooner. Unlike the shorter whale watching trips there will only be 12 guest crew on Hildur or 11 on the slightly smaller Haukur so there is more focus on the sailing. Get close to the thousands of birds on the cliffs of Grimsey in the schooners zodiac dinghy and try icelandic scnapps whilst awaiting supper on board watching The skies in the land of the midnight sun are a delight for photographers and the ships traditional rigging provides a great foreground for memorable photos. On the voyage back to Husavik the next day, you will sail to the deserted island of Flatey and also past the island of Lundey where hundreds of puffins breed (early summer).
The Edge of the Arctic and Sigulufjordur - Longer 3 Day Tasters
The voyage follows a similar itinerary to the 2 day voyage but sails from Grimsey to the mainland and the cultural fishing town of Siglufjordur. Iceland's history is totally shaped by sailing and fishing so to understand the country this Herring town in the far North is not to be overlooked. The route covers some of the best whale watching waters in Northern Europe plus a dramatic mountain backdrop.
Ski to the Sea - Sailing and Ski-ing in Iceland
Based on cosy and well heated wooden schooners Hildur or Haukur this unique adventure uses the local sailing expertise of North Sailing and a leading Icelandic mountain guide company with certified ski guides.
Explore the peaks, valleys and fjords of the ' Hidden Land' - the mountainous and deserted peninsula between Eyjafjordur Fjord and Skjalfandi Bay. With no roads or way of access in the winter and spring seasons, the sea remains the only way to visit this amazing playground with peaks rising over 1000 meters and snowfall of epic proportions.
Each day we make land fall in small bays and coves along the north shore of this spectacular mountain range, skiing fresh tracks accompanied only by our ever changing shadow as the never setting arctic sun, makes its round in the sky. At night we enjoy good times and great food on board our floating hotel, anchored in a secluded bay, or at the small pier on Flatey island, once a thriving fishing village but now a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers alike. We cross the Arctic Circle as we set sail for the island of Grímsey, Iceland’s most northerly settlement where we visit the small fishing village and explore its coastline. Ski to the Sea is a unique adventure for those seeking new horizons, exploration and adventure of a lifetime.
This is ski touring and you will need a certain amount of specialist kit like ski touring skis - either telemark or split board (?) and skins for working your way uphill in pristine terrain. These mountains get snow in fairly epic proportions in Spring.
The voyages are for 5 days and open to groups or individuals.
Ski to the Sea Voyages - descriptions, dates and prices
Off the Beaten Track in NE Iceland
Debbie from Classic Sailing office spent a couple of days back packing in the Jokulsargljufur National Park after sailing from Husavik, so you can talk to her on 01872 580022, or we can ask our Icelandic friends about the best adventure operators to contact for non sailing activities.
There are good daily bus links from Husavik or Akureyri to the national park and attractions like Dettifoss and Lake Myvatn. The most well known attraction is Dettifoss waterfall which spills 17 700 cubic ft of water every second into a deep gorge. Below this world wonder is Iceland's longest river canyon and there are great trails and campsites along its banks. Dwarf birch trees. lichen, moss, and delightful smaller waterfalls are the softer elements of the landscape, whilst the main river valley looks like a mini grand canyon...but with a lot more water. The river is the outflow from the second biggest ice cap in Europe and you really don't want to fall in it ! Paths are well marked but it is easy to imagine you are Lawrence of Arabia one minute amongst barren sand deserts and Stephen Maturin from Master and Commander the next - as you stride over lava flows and marvel at weird basalt rock formations. Much of the interior is old lava flows but in summer they are colourfully carpeted in heather, juniper and blueberry bushes. If you don't fancy walking the sturdy Icelandic Horses offer trekking around Husavik and in the National Park.
Summer Expeditions to East Greenland
Iceland is ideally placed to launch summer expeditions to East Greenland. A few days tough sailing from Husavik accross the rough Denmark Strait and up the iceberg strewn coast of East Greenland and schooner Hildur can be in Scorseby Sound. This 350km long fjord system is frozen all winter but makes a superb sailing ground in the brief Arctic summer. Our larger Icelandic schooner Hildur runs week long expeditions In East Greenland where you fly from Reykjavik to Constable Point at the entrance to Scorseby Sound. Why not spend a week in Greenland on an Icelandic crewed boat combined with an Iceland holiday. The working language on board is English. Icelanders have to learn Danish and English at school.
Photo: Schooner Hildur's mate is Reimey from New Caledonia. How a South Pacific Islander ended up on an Icelandic whale watching boat is a long story. Reimey hopes to be back next summer on the Greenland Voyages.