The Viking Isles

The seven of us are stood on deck, scanning the water for any signs of depth change. Magnetic anomalies are common up here and we cannot wholly trust our navigation gear due to readings appearing fine, when in fact, they are not. I stand looking into the dark green water willing it to remain deep enough for us to pass.

The stillness of the bay is surreal, almost as if we have sailed into a painting. The only noise audible is the puttering of the engine as we hunt around the channels for our anchorage. The sky silhouettes the hills around us as we prepare the boat for nightfall. Its uncommon to get weather like this up here, this far north.

We’ve been at sea for the past week, dodging storms and planning passages around massive tidal ranges. The surf forecast has been our best friend and our worst enemy, we remind ourselves to enjoy the journey as well as the destination, as travelling on a yacht in the northern latitudes is slow going.

We chose this anchorage because a short sail away lies one of the best waves in the region, a rivermouth lefthander that barrels down a sandbar dredging its way into the bay. Not many people are interested in making the trek out to it, due mostly to expense and logistics. The local airline does not accept surfboards, so that limits numbers sharply. In contrast it is nice to know that anyone who arrives has done their homework, and also put in the hard yards to reach this remote outpost.

Around the corner from this bay is a gnarled coastline full of high class beachbreaks and slabs that are just waiting to be ridden. Access again is an issue, and we assure ourselves that the arduous trip to get here aboard Blue Fox has been worth it, to be able to explore this amazing coastline unhindered.

Around the corner from this bay is a gnarled coastline full of high class beachbreaks and slabs that are just waiting to be ridden. Access again is an issue, and we assure ourselves that the arduous trip to get here aboard Blue Fox has been worth it, to be able to explore this amazing coastline unhindered.

At dawn a storm blows in from the west, and we are again under a grey blanket of cloud. We scout out a bay hidden from the elements, and watch fun peaks breaking with the backdrop of dozens of diving gannets. The surf is mediocre but the surrounding landscape is incredibly beautiful and we trade waves until evening gloom descends upon us.

We awake to a perfect sunrise, blue skies and offshores seem to come hand-in-hand up here. The decision is made to head to a horseshoe cove up the coast. Light land breezes puff into the sails and we arrive to find perfect 3ft wedges bouncing off the cliffs and not a soul in sight. We drop the anchor and paddle into the lineup.

The natural amphitheatre of the bay is breathtaking in its scale, and we surf the fun wedges until the tide fills in and drowns the bank. After a quick lunch we meet up with Jon, who owns and operates a wool mill. He is a inspiration in this age of over processed, preservative packed, quick turn around fabric production and prefers to take his time, quietly going about his business in a manner more suited to his surroundings.

Jon shears the sheep that live on his fields, then dyes the wool with natural colourants, spins the wool into tweed fabric on his homemade bicycle powered overlocker and finally packages it ready for major producers to purchase. We agree to buy some beautiful fabric that he has just finished, which we will use in a limited run of our own.

Back on the boat we stash the fabric safely and set sail, we are bound in destination by tide and wind and opt to head south again retracing our steps slowly down the island chain. We sail all day and during the night are visited by a pod of dolphins, happily riding the bow wave of Blue Fox, squealing and splashing with delight as we make our way southwards towards home.

The homeward leg is long and steady and gives us time to reflect on our adventure, and what still lies undiscovered up in the islands. So many bays we did not get to, so many deep sea ledges and cobblestone points were left untouched. We feel as though we have only scratched the surface, and that a boat is indeed the only way to travel through this region. We all vow to return in spring, when the weather settles enough for us to venture north again.

Words, Barry Mottershead
Images, Christian McLeod