It’s the largest animal in the world. Ever. Bigger than any dinosaur. They can be nearly 100 feet long. It’s tongue weights more than an elephant.
It’s also rare. There are less than 200 swimming the North Atlantic.
The chances of sighting a blue whale, even in remote Arctic Ocean around Iceland is rare. There are lots of other whales roaming the waters here. Chances of seeing whales is always high.
There are a number of whale watching tour operators in Husavik, a small community on the western shore of the Skjalfandi Fjord which looks across to the snow covered Víknafjöll and Kinnarfjöll mountains, which I rode by today, amidst bouts with rain and wind. Here in Husavik only one operator is committed to a carbon neutral and sustainable tourist operation.
Led by Heimir Hardarsoii and his partners, North Sailing in Husavik uses only traditional sailing ships, oak schooners or fishing boats for its tours. It is in the process of converting these schooners to electric motors that are charged when under sail and the propeller is set to turn in reverse.The use of electric engines, and oak sailing ships provides a near silent sail which doesn’t disturb the whales and provides for a better experience for passengers.
The seas were rather rough the days I was in Husavik. Warned that more than half of the previous passengers had experienced sea sickness on their journey, it was suggested that a bit of food in the tummy and even a bit of beer is the best medicine to prevent sea sickness. With time running short, and still about half a beer to finish, I was pushed out of the restaurant to board before it was too late. In Iceland, if you don’t finish your beer, that’s okay. The bar or restaurant will provide you with a plastic cup and “bam” you’ve got a roadie.
I felt weird boarding the ship with a beer in hand, but captain Hiemir smiled and as he welcomed me aboard said, “A good idea for the seas today.”
I was able to join Captain Heimir on Opal, a nearly 100 foot schooner built in the 1930’s. We set sail onto Skjalfandi Bay and amazingly he and his team of 4 woman spotter a blue whale just over an hour into our four hour journey and after cruising by “Puffin Island” where more than 200,000 puffins, the whacky and clumsy bird that has a loose lineage to the penguin. There are no penguins in the arctic, so the web-footed puffins are the closest thing you’ll find.
For the next few hours Hiemir piloted Opal to follow the massive blue whale, and giving the some 20 passengers on the ship an up front and close show. How he was able to predict where the whale would go and surface is a mystery, and certainly speaks to the experience of he and his crew.
Often whale watching can get tedious if you never spot one of these glorious mammals, but in Husavik the chances of spotting a whale are huge—but a blue? The odds can be against you. There are many other species of whale that cruise the waters here, but Hiemir and crew chose to focus on this rare sighting.
North Sailing started in the mid-nineties with a single ship and now has eight classic yet restored wooden ships—all of which were once working fishing boats in Iceland. The film crew and I stumbled upon North Sailing as we made our way across Iceland. I had to take the time to join Hiemir and make one of his trips. WE also had a chance to dine at restaurant Gamli Bauker, which sits on the harbor just steps away from where the ships are docked.
During the tour, our capable and immensely talented producer/director and for this shoot, director of photographer convinced all of us that he doesn’t get sea sick, insisting that his time living in a village in Greece and fishing in the mediterranean had given him the stamina and experience to weather the storm.
“This is not the meditereaan,” I warned Panayioti. By the time Hiemir navigated out of the bay and onto the Arctic Ocean, Pan was feeling quest. Dressed in the foul weather gear provide by North Sailing he clung to his camera, often closing his eyes, only to open them when the excitement level rose. “Did I miss it?” he would ask worried. He might’ve missed once, but he didn’t let the seasickness keep him from getting the shot.
There’s so much more to North Sailing’s story and to the charm of Husavik, it’s whaling museum and the friendly people that work and support the fishing and tourism industry.
As I was hanging with Hiemir at the helm of “Opal” I learned he owned a 2001 R1150GS and though he doesn’t get much chance to ride it, he was hoping to make more time this summer. However, in servicing the bike to bring it out of the deep winter sleep it endured in Iceland this past year, a vital part broke when the bike dropped. “There are only two of these bikes on Iceland,” he said, shaking his head. Getting parts for such a rare bike will take time—he thinks that the part will likely arrive just as the riding season, perhaps one of the shortest on exert, comes to a close. With my sights set on Europe, I offered to see if I could find him one and send it on the SMyrill shipping line.
“That’s an idea,” he said.