April 30th, 2014 - In less than one week I will be heading back to the Faeroe Islands for another attempt at rowing from there to Iceland - and then possibly beyond. For the last 18 months I have been monitoring three websites that cover the North Atlantic; www.Belgingur.is, www.yr.no, and www.metoffice.gov.uk. All three seem to confirm that the jet stream is now back to its “normal” position which allows for the prevailing summer-time winds to be more often out of the southern quadrant, rather than out of the north as it was for 2011 and 2012. After waiting for months while in Scotland, and then again in Faeroe, for the winds to swing into the south, it has been heartening to see a more normal wind pattern developing and, at the same time, frustrating because I have not been there to take advantage of those winds.
As I sit in our living room typing this update I am thinking of the list of things yet to be completed before my departure date of May 3rd. That is always the way with big journeys - the list never seems to get any shorter but the days remaining certainly do. There is a pile of gear along the back wall next to my desk: electronics, stuff bags filled with clothing, new water bags for ballast and fresh water, batteries and a wild array of chargers and cables, a new hatch for the boat, new gaskets for the boat, a new sea anchor, two coils of spectra-cord - a super strong yet light weight line for the sea anchors. There are also two new high definition cameras in waterproof housings that GoPro has given me to record the journey. I’ve made one attempt at packing everything up and it seems that it will all fit into one large back pack and one large duffle bag, plus a carry-on filled with the cameras, GPS’s, tracking devices etc. If there is any extra space, I’ll fill it with as many packages of dehydrated food as I can.
This dream of rowing The Viking Stepping Stone Route began about 6 years ago as a question: “I wonder what it would be like to attempt to row from Scotland to Iceland?” After two attempts, and at least reaching the Faeroe Island in 2012, I am now asking the question, “If the winds return to a more normal pattern, could I row and row/sail from Faeroe to Iceland and then continue to Greenland and then onto Eastern Canada?” In 2011 I didn’t have a kite for down-wind conditions, and neither did I have a sail for those days when the winds are abeam of me. Rowing is still the primary source of power but with the huge distances that I am hoping to attempt, I want and need all the help I can get from the wind. Harnessing the wind has allowed me to look further over the horizon and to possibly extend this already ambitious adventure. Greenland and the east coast of North America lie just over the curve of the ocean.
I have about five days of work to do on the boat before leaving the Faeroes: sheathing the front half of the boat in fiberglass and epoxy to provide protection against any ice that I may run into as I approach Greenland, installing a bronze bow strip for added protection in the event of a direct collision with ice, installing a small circular hatch on the large rear hatch so I can access gear in that compartment without having the full hatch completely open, installing a better gasket system on the main hatch, extending the rudder cable into the forward compartment that will allow me to adjust the rudder as needed when I am resting, and finally, installing a new sliding seat with nylon bearing wheels that roll easier and also do not require lubrication or concern for rusting.
While the work is being completed I will be monitoring the weather sites, stocking the boat with local food that will complement the dehydrated meals that I have shipped, as well as those meals I had left over from the 2012 trip. There is also the work of organizing and stowing all the electronics, rigging the sea anchors, filling all the water bags and trimming the boat so she is balanced just right. I’ll be carrying a little over 20 gallons of water in a variety of different sized bags; water for both drinking and food preparation, as well as critical ballast that will help the boat right itself in the event of a capsize. There is a lot of work to do and I am very fortunate to have a dry boathouse in which to do all of this.
Rowing the Viking Stepping Stone Route is something that has grown on me since I first learned of its history while reading The Brendan Voyage written by Tim Severn. Severn and a crew of five sailed and rowed a 6th century Irish curraugh along the fabled route of the Vikings from Ireland to Faeroe, to Iceland and then onto Newfoundland. After the 2011 attempt by the north route of Orkney and Shetland, and then the 2012 attempt from the Outer Hebrides to Faeroe, I now feel like I understand some of what the Brendan crew experienced - rowing and sailing an unconventional boat into the North Atlantic. I have learned a great deal about ocean rowing and have also gained a huge amount of confidence in Northern Reach. I now know what it feels like to row 45 miles a day in the open ocean and I know just how incredibly seaworthy Northern Reach is. I have rowed, out of desperation, for 21 hours out of 24. I have slept peacefully at sea and have awakened to the sun rising out of the waves. And at the end of another day, I have listened to the blow of whales as I lay drifting off into an exhausted sleep.
Six years after asking the first question of “Can I do this?” I am once again ready for another try. I am confident yet cautious, quietly eager to begin, and hoping for better winds in 2014 to assist me in the long crossings that lie ahead. Of course I do not know what lies ahead. None of us do. That is the reason for bold dreams.
If you are interested in following along on my journey, you can click on the Face Book icon at the bottom of the first page of this blog. It is much easier to update my Face Book page than it is to maintain a separate Northern Reach blog. I will be sending full updates from Faeroe as I prepare for the first crossing, and then again if and when I arrive in Iceland. While at sea, I will be sending brief text messages to my Face Book page giving wind speed, sea conditions, boat speed and perhaps a brief outline as to what has happened that day. The reader will be able to click on the Chris Duff Delorme line and a map will appear showing my position with latitude and longitude.
I hope you have enjoyed, as I have, this adventure to date. I do not know where the journey will lead next, but I will do my best to share what lies ahead; the people, life on the open ocean and all that happens between the crests and troughs of this life on the sea.