The crossing - Faroe Islands to Iceland escorted by whales

posted on March 18, 2020

We sailed out from the Faroe Islands a calm evening, heading straight North. We expected the wind to pick up shortly, and wanted to gain as much height as possible, to have a favorable wind angle once they picked up. And sure enough, so they did. Text by Andreas B. Heide - Photos: www.tordkarlsen.com

It was time for Turnss (Sandra Ness) to head back to handle onshore operations and time for Barba & the onshore team to prepare for her next crossing.

Later in the night we had steady 30 knots of wind. It was rather uncomfortable, with waves continuously flushing over the boat. Items and crew members were thrown around at times, with some bruised ribs as a result. About half way to Iceland though, we heard the magic words from Diane who was on watch at the time. “Whales”.

From the left, Fabrice, Diane, Hugh and Andreas enjoying the first whale observation of the expedition. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

In a heartbeat, we all crawled out of our bunks and got up on deck. We were met by one of those sights we will never forget. An estimated 2-300 pilot whales cheerfully followed in our wake. The weather conditions prevented us from doing little more then to keep sailing with a good average speed of about 7,5 knots.

A small selection of the pilot whales trailing our boat. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

They tracked us for about half an hour seemingly effortlessly. Fabrice came with wonderful news from the bathroom. Inside the boat we could hear the loud clicks and whistles from the whales. In my opinion, they were clearly finding our presence rather amusing. For all I know this could have been the first time they met with a sailboat.

The distinct backwards swept fin of a pilot whale. They reach up to 7,6 meters in length weighing up to 3800 kgs. They are highly social and operate in pods counting over 100 individuals. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

From a scientific perspective there was little we could do but to observe and enjoy the view. Amongst the pilot whales, we could also see the white sided dolphin, which had eluded us in the Faroe Islands. You often times find the two species together, and my assumption would be that they cooperate when hunting fish. We had hoped to observe this behavior on the way. Fortunately nature never reveals it all, and I will be even more intrigued next time I come across a similar ensemble of whales.

The illusive white sided dolphin. Little is known about this species, including its conservational status. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

After two days at sea we made it across to Iceland. The wind had pushed us off course, and the landfall was made in the Breiðdalsvík, adding about 12 hours of transit to our final destination of Husavik. Little did we care, we had made it across safely in challenging conditions. After two days of waiting on the west coast, we completed the final transit to Husavik, on the North side of Iceland.

This would be our base of operations for the next month, where we cooperate with local scientists collecting data from the whales that resides in large numbers in the bay. Rumours had it that the blue whales were in the area as well. A life long dream of seeing and studying the biggest animal that has ever lived, was within reach. More whale tales to come!

Andreas

White line, outsailed distance from Faroe Islands to Husavik, Iceland. Adding 550 nautical miles / 1000 km to the total of 1050 nautical miles / 1950 km from the point of departure in Stavanger Norway.

One of those nature encounters you never expected, and might never be fortunate to see again. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

Freelance journalist Hugh Francis Anderson (hughfrancisanderson.com) as we approach Iceland, completing his first ocean crossing with flying colours. Flanked by Tord, Fabrice and Diane. Photo: Andreas B. Heide / Barba.no

Our french whale connoisseur from France, Fabrice Schnoller  (clickresearchs.com) enjoying the paysage during an excursion on the east coast of Iceland.

From landfall on the east coast of Iceland. Photo: Tord Karlsen / Barba.no

All good things must come to an end. Shortly after arriving in Iceland, Tord would return to Norway for new assignments. Excellent performance both as photographer and seaman!