Voyage Journal 7809 Day 16

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Day 16 - July 27, 2008 - Grundafjordur, Iceland

By Claudia Holgate, Environmental Lecturer

Weather: 19 degrees Celsius, few clouds and light breeze
Co-ordinates 64° 55’ 31’’N, 23° 14’ 83’’W

This morning we arrived at Grundafjordur, where, after breakfast, we jumped onto Zodiacs for a short ride into the harbour. Even though we were on Zodiacs, our landing at the jetty meant that it was a dry landing and we didn’t need to worry about Wellington boots. We were split into two groups and each group got onto their own bus for a magical tour of the Western Snaefellsness peninsula.

On our way to our first stop today, we saw pyroclastic lava flows on either side of the bus, including the Snaefellsness Volcano, which is referred to in Jules Verne’s book Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Much of the lava flows are covered in moss and lichen, giving the black rock a green or yellowish-beige hue. On arrival at our first stop, a beach with spectacular lava formations and breaking surf, we could see the remains of the British trawler Epine GY7, which was wrecked off the coast on 13 March 1948. This beach also has a set of stones used as a selection test for men who wanted a job as a fisherman on the rowing boats. To be an oarsman, one had to be able to lift the 54kg stone to about hip height to prove one’s strength. Many guests tried to lift the heaviest stones, and we all agreed that it was fortunate that we didn’t have to row the Prince Albert II. While on the beach, we looked up to see a beautiful ice halo around the sun, creating a magical atmosphere.

We then went off to Dritvik, where we headed towards a stone monument of a man, which reminded many guests of their extraordinary trip to the museum of phallology. After this, we went down to the cliffs where we saw a fantastic sight of hundreds of thousands of nesting Kittiwakes, and, at one of the cliffs, we had a close up view of Kittiwakes feeding their chicks of all ages and sizes. The highlight for many of the guests was the blowhole, which was a fair distance from the cliff face and, if one was patient enough, would gush water up through a hole in the rock probably more than 50m above the sea. The arches formed by lava and erosion were also spectacular. The highlight for some of the birders was watching a snipe doing its display by drumming (spreading its stiff tail feathers while swooping in the air, causing a whistling noise).

Too soon, it seemed we had to go back to the bus for our last stop at a little black church and the beach of Rhyolite. This beach wasn’t black like the rest of the volcanic beaches, but rather a yellowish colour from the Rhyolite rocks, which provided a nice contrast to the black volcanic rock we had experienced thus far. Once again, it was a birder’s delight as we saw a Rock Ptarmigan on one of the small lava outcrops. Shortly before having to leave, he came out into the open and showed us his splendour.

It seemed too soon to have to go back to the ship, as everyone was enjoying the spectacular weather and fantastic conditions, but we had to make our way to our next stop, Heimaey, so off we went again.

In the afternoon, we were treated to a talk by our guest Icelandic lecturer, Jon Sigurdsson on the origin of the volcanoes at Heimaey and Surtsy. Those lucky few guests who were out on deck in the late afternoon had a brief glimpse at what we believed to be sperm whales in the far distance, but they dived before we could make any announcement.

On the whole, it was another enjoyable day in Iceland and we are all hoping for clear weather to be able to enjoy the spectacular vistas that will greet us on our arrival at Heimaey.

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