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Iceland 2016 – Day 7

June 9th, 2016

Thursday, May 12, 2016 – The day starts of a bit rushed as we need to meet our kayak guides at 8:30. The restaurant at the hotel would not normally open until 8:00, but the fellow we had checked in with last night agreed to have breakfast available for us at 7:30. The lady, perhaps his wife, was setting up breakfast and seemed a bit surprised when we showed up at 7:30. She did open the door and allowed us to get started, but then she disappeared, perhaps to have a few words with her husband who had forgotten to mention the early start.

With breakfast complete, including the strong european coffee, we are on the road by 8:00 and get to the kayak office by 8:30. We were on time but it was an hour before the group (our family of four, another group of three, and three guides) was all set to go. From the start it seemed very disorganized. They wanted us to change into some heavy wetsuits, but one person told us to leave a baselayer on under them and another told us to put the wetsuit on first. Verbal instructions were unclear what to pack, what to wear, what to leave, etc… We finally wound up in wetsuits, boots, and a baselayer top. Vicky was fortunate enough to grab her backpack containing a change of clothes. The boys and I left our clothes at the office as we were told, “Your things will be safe here.”




WIth everybody geared up, we leave the office in a small van around 9:30 and arrive at the launch site about 10:30. The guides give some instructions to our group on how to escape the kayak in the event that we tip over. This involves vigorously pulling a strap forward on the spray skirt which is sealing our lower body into the kayak. But if we can, we should just hold our breath and wait until he can get to us and flip the kayak back over without us having to exit. This would help in keeping the inside of the kayak and part of our body somewhat dry.




It is now after 11:00 and Vicky and I took the one double kayak. It has a bit of an issue in that the front seal to the storage area is missing. Basically there is a large gaping hole in the front of our kayak through which water could splash in on top of Vicky’s legs. A plastic garbage bag and a piece of rope are used to cover this hole, but I am sceptical. At the last minute a guide comes over with a seal which seems to loosely fit over the hole; I’m still not convinced this will truly keep the water out, but the seas don’t seem that bad, at least where we are in the protected area of the fjord. Once in the water, I drop the rudder and off we go. It was not long before the cable connecting the right foot pedal to the rudder snapped rendering the rudder totally useless. After this we were zig-zagging all over the place as the kayaking had a tendency to pull to one side or the other. We would take several strokes together then I would have to correct heading which would slow the kayak down. Oh this might be a long trip over to the island. At this point our guide is probably 100 meters in front of us and I am thinking to myself, “If this thing flips, I am not going to just sit there and hold my breath.” Adrenaline would certainly rushin and help with releasing the spray skirt and survival instincts would certainly help me get out of this thing, but I wonder how long could I hold my breath. Before I even complete the thought, someone else in the group flips over.

On our way to Vigur Island, we have the wind in our face. It was hard work to cross the fjord once we left the protected area. But we zig-zagged back and forth and finally made it with the group to the other side with only one person taking a dunking in the near freezing waters. The next phase of the journey would be to cross the channel to the island. The guide tells us, “Don’t stop paddling or the wind will push you back and it will take much longer to get there.” Looking on the bright side of things, we took comfort in the fact that we would have the wind at our backs for the return trip.

The channel was even more challenging than the paddle across the fjord but soon we approach the island with everyone having stayed dry this time. We have a choice to paddle around the island and then have lunch, or alternatively, eat lunch and then paddle around the island. I am starving at this point and I would really like for someone to take a look at this rudder problem, but the group opts to paddle first and then have lunch. This was probably the best plan, but I was not exactly happy about it. The trip around the island did reward us with sightings of varieties of ducks, geese, puffins, arctic terns, and even some very curious seals. The waters on the lee-side of the island are surprisingly calm and the wildlife was certainly entertaining, so perhaps things are looking up.




Lunch wasn’t much to speak of, some hard bread with some hummus and vegetable stuffing, but I was too hungry and tired to care. While we are eating our lunch, someone mentions that one of the guides has a thermos of hot tea, but I am too late and it is gone. Eating on the rocks near the kayaks, we spot a whale in the distance and hear the periodic blowing as it comes for air. After lunch, we walk up to the local restaurant, which is not technically open, but one of the guides has gone up to talk to the proprietar. They treat us to some coffee and hot chocolate – I combine the two to make a hot mocha… Oh, that hits the spot. We relax in the chairs on the porch, protected from the wind with the sun shining on our faces. The restaurant owner invites us to the barn to see the new born lambs, including one that had been born that very morning. Yes, this is nice.


Relaxing in the sun, drinking hot mocha, and taking in the scenery, I am beginning to feel more myself. Then one of the guides notice a shift in the winds and they announce, “OK, time to go!” It takes a few minutes for people to use the facilities as we all know it is going to be a long paddle back, but soon we head for the beach. We get geared up again and into the kayaks. As we begin crossing back across the channel, we do notice the winds had definitely picked up causing a significant increase in the waves. Carla, one of the guides, told us to keep paddling to maintain forward momentum which will give us more stability. This is difficult as the temporary repair job on the rudder has already broken again. All the while waves are crashing from the side over the kayak. The two foot waves (which are huge in a kayak!) were crashing over the boat and rocked us from side to side. As we feared being dumped into the icy water, Vicky and I were paddling for all we were worth. Sometimes the paddle would dig deep into the oncoming wave and sometimes it would miss the water all together. “Keep forward momentum”, I repeated to myself.

The shift in winds and outgoing tide from the fjord made the return trip extremely difficult. While Vicky, the boys and I made it across, somewhat following Carla, and without incident, we were exhausted having been pushed to our limits. Carla left us in a somewhat protected area at the lip of the fjord and then went back to see about the others. As it turned out, the others in our group were not so fortunate. Erin got caught in a riptide, paddling and paddling in the waves, but not going anywhere. Harrison, her husband, then tipped while trying to get the guide’s attention to help his wife. Halcomb, one of the guides, comes to his rescue and manages to get the kayak back upright and Harrison back in the kayak, but with a significant amount of water in the bottom. In the meantime, Chris, not our Chris, had tipped his kayak and was hanging on to the kayak and his paddle bobbing in the rough seas. Halcomb finishes up with Harrison, then comes to his rescue, but things do not go smoothly. Chris, who is a medical student, was approaching hypothermia. His intense shivering and lack of dexterity make getting out of the water very difficult, and Halcomb is already fatigued. During the course of the rescue, Halcomb loses his paddle, and attempts to raise the other guides on the radio were going unanswered. By now the entire group scattered all over the place. Eventually Halcomb raises his dad on the radio who came to the rescue of the shivering Chris and the paddleless Halcomb in a zodiac.

While all that was going on, Vicky and I had yet to cross the fjord. The crossing shouldn’t be as bad as the channel crossing, but with the outgoing tide and the wave still hitting from the side, it will not be easy. Soon what remained of the group gathered and it was time to again time to enter the battle with the wind and the waves. We took comfort in seeing our boys out in front of us paddling safely to the take-out spot. Again I repeat the mantra, “Keep forward momentum”.

After 5 hours of paddling we finally make it to the takeout spot. Vicky is shaking with exhaustion and Chris is shaking from the cold. Vicky grabs her backpack and makes her way to a small shed to change into her dry clothes. Carla is gracious enough to offer Chris her jacket. Chris has been fighting off a cold even before the Iceland adventure had begun and being wet and in the whipping wind is definitely not a good idea. He find a warm spot out of the wind next to the wheel of the van, and the rest of us load the kayaks up on the trailer in preparation of the drive back to Isafjordur.

After the hour drive, we get back to the kayak office and the rest of us change into our dry clothes. All of us are seriously ready for some dinner. A small crusty sandwich only takes one so far. Fortunately, Vicky had selected a restaurant, Tjöruhúsið, that is claimed by some to be “the best fish house in all if Iceland.”

Again, we are the first patrons of the evening giving us any seating opportunity. There aren’t any windows to speak of so we just pick a table and have a seat. The tables remind me of wooden picnic tables or something you might find in a German festhaus.

The waitress comes to our table and lists of the fresh catches of the day – there is no other menu. Vicky Chris, and I all ordered the halibut (you know, just for the “halibut”) while Jason ordered the salted cod. We were surprised to find that dinner included a fish soup which was in a tomato based cream soup. This hot soup did a lot of good to warm our chilled bones after today’s adventures. The second course was a plonkfish stew that has the consistency of mashed potatoes.

The main course came out in a huge skillet with enough fish and potatoes to feed six. While the four of us are examining the skillet trying to figure out which fish is which, the waitress arrives with a second skillet explaining that the first skillet was the halibut and the second had the salted cod. While I was overwhelmed with the amount of food on the table, Jason proclaims, “You can always eat more fish…” It turns out we couldn’t. We were all stuffed to the gills and sadly some of the dinner went uneaten.

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