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Home Inspiring you Navigation Stories CYBEL 17 – Winter in Iceland and back to Brittany

CYBEL 17 – Winter in Iceland and back to Brittany


Un hiver en Islande et retour en Bretagne

July 2022 along the Breton coasts…. Cybèle has just this last week arrived back in its home waters.
Not quite what was planned, but flexibility is a sailor’s middle name!
I think we have more than proven that in over the last few months…
Let’s go back a few months and I’ll tell you all about it.
The previous article told you about the end of our season in Iceland and the preparations for our Icelandic winter.
Remember, we were tied up on a Hafnarfjörður Sailing Club pontoon, in the southern suburbs of Reykjavik.
One of the most sheltered ports in Iceland… Supposedly! We were not disappointed!!!
We really enjoyed our experience, but we wouldn’t do it again, although everything went very well in the end.

December. The month of lights. As beautiful in Iceland as in Norway or Sweden. The Nordic people are very adept at making these dark months as cheerful as possible.
In the trees, the streets, the parks, on the houses, in the gardens, on the lampposts… garlands, lamps and candles are everywhere… You can but admire the meters of lights rolled around trees and branches… imagine the hours of work and patience of those who installed all those lights! The eaves of the houses have hooks for hanging up the multi-coloured lights as soon as the winter gloom appears.

The lighted animations scattered throughout the capital, Reykjavik, tell the Icelandic legends. And as an end to this festive month, Icelanders are used to (and allowed to) launch these lights into the sky, between December 27 and January 7. So there are fireworks from the end of the day. 31st December was the highlight of it all. A continuous show from 6pm, more intense than anything we had seen before, between 11pm and 1am!!!

Fortunately, the lights stay in January. Then the snow came, gradually. It is usually rare around Reykjavik, with a climate that is milder than the rest of the country. Not this year! It fell in abundance on the capital, which found it difficult to deal with, due to a lack of equipment and personnel: COVID has also been present in Iceland. But the snow brightens up these winter days, and is always nicer to deal with than rain. You do have to have crampons though, because the ice is never far beneath the fresh layer of snow…

So we kept busy during our winter weeks, between visits and walks in Reykjavik, the odd evening with friends, few and far between because of the damn virus… car trips to the South-West coast, then at the beginning of March all around the country!
Finally, we delightfully paid tribute to the Icelandic tradition of hot baths:

  • at the public pool near our port, 2 to 3 times a week. A swimming pool at 30°, hot baths at 39/40° – 40/41° – 41/42° – cold baths to set your mind straight at 4/8° and 9/12°, all outside, of course! Every village has its own swimming pool (provided there is a hot spring nearby) and Hafnarfjörður has 3, plus all the ones in Reykjavik. Access is free for anyone over 67 (retirement in Iceland), and very cheap for everyone else.
  • in the private spas that Iceland loves, starting with the famous Blue Lagoon, not necessarily our favourite ultimately.

The weather and wintering on the boat was far from comfortable however. The boat is well heated so we didn’t suffer from the cold. Especially since the temperatures were not extreme at all. Between -5°C and +5° all winter. On the other hand, the wind blows non-stop. Gales came one after the other in quick succession – something not seen “for 20 years” we were told…. Sometimes two a week, up to 75 knots (150 km/h). Drawers locked to starboard and the kitchen at a crazy angle.
Above all, the noise is exhausting and the boat suffers. The hawsers – one of which is 60 m long and is fixed to the quay on the other side of the port – deserve a good retirement before next winter…
It was the wind that usually forced us to stay warm and sheltered, more than the cold or snow, and which will make us think twice before we do it again.

In any case, it is no longer on the agenda. Although we had considered crossing to Greenland and spending a winter in Iceland, we shelved this project at the end of March, preferring instead a tour of Iceland, then heading to Norway probably via the Faroe Islands.
Finally, after Easter holidays in France with the grandchildren, and a couple of routine medical check-ups, the results of one forced us to return. Hence the flexibility…

So, back to Iceland at the end of May, 3 weeks later than planned, with 2 weeks to get Cybèle into her summer clothes and prepare her for the long return journey. We made this choice because Cybèle is our only home, and we will have to spend the next few months in Brittany. At the last moment, we took our Icelandic friend Árni onboard with us so he could discover offshore sailing. He was a great help to us.
From the start we had a series of technical problems – the VHF antenna fell off, but fortunately did not break. The captain broke out in a case of shingles on the 2nd day and is still suffering the effects one month later… he was exempted from night watch and we sailed Cybèle the Faroe Islands in a record 3 days.

We did take the long way around though. If we have to go home, we might as well enjoy it a little. Our first weather window was more favourable towards the Faroes than towards Ireland or the Hebrides anyway.

We anchored at the entrance of these wild islands – recommended although we had to call on some local divers to free our anchor from an old long-forgotten chain – and the next day we entered the very pretty port of Tórshavn, capital of these islands which belong to the kingdom of Denmark.

We stayed for a week and Árni made the most of the time to do some long walks and visits. We looked after the captain and took advantage of the stopover to get ourselves back on track.
We also had to take care of the engine, which didn’t appreciate a fill of dirty fuel…. So until we could clean the tanks out completely, it would have to hold on as far as France, with regular cleanings and changes of filters.
This stopover did allow us another great encounter, with the French crew of the Askell Wenn. Lovely evenings animated by of Árni and Patrick on the guitar. We rediscover the atmosphere of the ports we love so much, in the high latitudes where not everyone wants to go …

We had 3 weeks ahead of us to get back to Brittany. Along with the health of the Captain, the weather didn’t help with rather strong southerly winds…. So we made the most of all the windows when the wind was calm and/or blowing in the right direction to move forward… alas often with the Volvo to help… Anyway, we were quite happy to have managed to keep the engine running.
A first leg to the southernmost island of the Faroes, and off we go again for 48 hours towards the Outer Hebrides. The wind forced us to stop in the middle at Loch Boisdale. A very sheltered and well equipped port, which once again enabled us to recharge our personal batteries.

Time is not extensible, and we had to make a change of crew. Our friend Árni left us with regret to get back to his beautiful Iceland, and the very next day and at short notice, we welcomed our long-time German friend, Bernd.

Both took the flight from Glasgow to Barra. This airport is special as it depends on the tide: the runway is none other than the beach! Quite an experience for our two friends.

With Bernd on board, we set off again for Ireland at the crack of dawn. We hoped to get as far as Dublin, but again, the weather decided otherwise. Finally, we got to Bangor at the entrance to the Bay of Belfast. Another town port, very welcoming and well equipped.

From there I decided to fly back to France to keep my medical appointment, because we knew that we wouldn’t get to Brest in time. I left them a little apprehensively, because the captain was far from being recovered and a long way off his usual form. Luckily, our friend – the happy recent owner of a sistership of Cybèle – is a seasoned and efficient sailor.

And almost in a single stroke, they arrived 4 days later in Aber Wrac’h. Tired but happy! Well done to them!

And huge thanks again to our friends Árni and Bernd for sticking with us on this mad descent! We were able to share with them our experience as sailors and pass on some safety rules and tips that they can use during their sailing, and that they will pass on to others when the day comes.

Like all our crew members, after some doubts about sailing with our cockpit enclosure deployed, they were quickly won over by the safety and comfort it provides.
In the Icelandic sea, in rough, choppy seas, it valiantly defended us against a few intrusive waves… It protected us from the cold, day and night.

We raised the side “skirts” to admire the steep cliffs of the Faroe Islands, and the wild islands of the Hebrides.
And finally, when we arrived in Brittany (back to temperatures we were no longer used to), with all “skirts” folded up or removed, the bimini (this time fitted with NV sunshades) sheltered us from the sun and offered us a welcome breath of fresh air !

Cybèle will pootling up and down the coast – and beaching – at the North Point of Brittany during the summer weeks, probably around Brest.
As usual, you can read more on our blog and/or our private Facebook page of the same name: Les voyages de Cybèle.
After answering the questions, you can follow our journey and chat with us.

As always, don’t hesitate to come and say hello during our stopovers if you recognize us.
We’ll take a picture for NV! You can find us through our AIS on MarineTraffic.

We wish you an excellent end to the season
and happy reading of the NV site
See you soon!
– July 2022 –

Photo crédits:  Valérie Viel – François Dupuis – Árni Áskelsson – Bernd Lienhöft