Day 17 |
Jul 28, 2008

Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands), Iceland

By Juan C. Restrepo, Geologist & General Naturalist

Co-ordinates: 63° 26.658`, 020° 16.186

This morning, after a rather bumpy night, we woke up to find ourselves surrounded by thick sea fog, something we have been fortunate enough not to find ourselves into too often during this voyage. The temperature was nice, however visibility was poor and there was some rain. After breakfast we all went up on deck and had the opportunity to see the majestic cliffs of Heimaey Island and the twisty, narrow, and new (only 35 years old) entrance to its port. After an impressive volcanic eruption in 1973, the lava flow almost closed the entrance to the port of this quaint fishing village. The locals and the military personnel on the island fought hard, hosing down the lava front with seawater. They eventually managed to contain the advance of it and leave enough room to allow the entrance of ships even as big as the Prince Albert II, and small enough to protect the harbor from the strong easterly winds that often posed a great deal of trouble to fishermen and boaters alike before the eruption.

And so, we sailed into this quaint little town and came alongside. At about 10 am most of us departed on a bus tour around the island, and a few others went for an adventurous and strenuous hike up the Heimaklettur (283 masl) right in front of the pier, under the guidance of our guest lecturer Jon Siggurdsson.

The bus tour took us to the golf course and fairgrounds, then to Herjolfsdalur where ruins from houses dating back to 650 AD could still be seen. Then onto Storhofdi – a viewpoint that unfortunately, due to the driving rain and strong wind, had little to offer. We continued on to Eldfell (Mt. Fire), and climbed a volcanic crater that is only 35 years old. Tephra (fall-out of airborne volcanic material) in tones of black and red composed the slopes of this cone, and in places the ground was still hot. Once we descended on the other side, the buses picked us up and took us to the small and pretty botanical garden of Gaujulundur, located right on the lava field. 

We took the road that leads from the volcano into Vestmannaey town, going over the lava flow. We saw the edge of it and the effects it had on the town (one third of the houses, almost 400, were destroyed). We visited the “Pompeii of the North”, a project that intends to uncover some of these houses, and finally made it back to the ship for a delicious lunch. 

Our historian Christian Walter transported us to the south Pacific with his lecture ²Prince Albert II in French Polynesia². The Prince Albert II sailed away at 4 pm and at 5:15 our onboard photographer Camille Seaman presented her beautiful slideshow of this voyage. At around 6 pm we were sailing around the Island of Surtsey, but unfortunately the rain and poor visibility kept it hidden all along. 

At 7:15, the Captain¢s farewell cocktail was offered at the theatre and both Captain Uli Demel and Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink said a few words and introduced some of the ship’s crew. Awards to crew members of the month were given, and then the Captain¢s farewell dinner was offered.