NORDIC LEGENDS
Yachting World|November 2021
THE BLEAKLY REMOTE FAROE ISLANDS WERE THE STUFF OF SAILING FAIRY TALES FOR KILA ZAMANA
Kila Zamana

“Stop filling the boat with cheese!” I exclaimed to Paul, as he stowed a massive food shop in Ponta Delgada ahead of what would be a nearly 2,000-mile passage to the Faroes. Tons of cheese, marinated Azorean peppers and pasta were tucked into every corner around the boat. It felt far more than needed.

“Don’t scoff at me, you won’t like the groceries in the Faroes. Plus, the cheese will be useful,” he points out.

The Faroe Islands are a subarctic archipelago of 18 islands rising dramatically out of the North Atlantic, three to four days sailing between Scotland, Iceland or Norway. Culturally they are a split between Gaelic and Old Norse, and, just like the Azoreans, the Faroese aim to be a self governing nation. For cruisers the islands are usually a short stopover on the way to Greenland or Svalbard, yet the islands have always had a particular allure of being somewhat ‘terra incognito’.

The first three days of our passage from the Azores to the Faroes were spent blue sky beam reach sailing, followed by 15 dark days of slow progress, almost all sailing into easterly winds through an eternity of fog interrupted by dead calms. It felt like we were crossing over from our sun and light-filled world into an alternative universe, where the Norse mythological beasts Sköll and Hati devoured the sun and chased after the moon. All celestial light was gone, and the ocean was completely lifeless.

It was day 18 when a pack of pilot whales greeted us and we finally caught sight of land. The autopilot began beeping insanely, alarming us that it had lost course. The southern Faroe islands, Suduroy and Sandoy, are known for aggressive tidal currents; we made just 30 miles in a day as we zigzagged to our destination in Tórshavn.

DAYS IN THE MIST

Anyone who cannot be happy without sun every day has no business being in the north. Our sun-yellow 50ft steel-hulled expedition yacht Malaika was the only thing that shone, bringing a little warmth during white-out days in Tórshavn marina. Tórshavn is a city just like any other, and a busy one. All I wanted to see was the drama of the wild Faroes terrain, but the mist made it impossible, keeping the islands shrouded in mystery and whispering to me ‘discover slowly, don’t rush’.

I had a couple of hours to settle into the Faroese climate before our crew’s arrival to explore these islands by land and sea. I had intentionally invited Luke, a true explorer in spirit, who has been sailing with us for three years. He brought his team of three girls, ready to hike through rugged trails. First, we needed fresh food. When I went out to the market to get supplies I was astonished by how few masks were worn. “Oh, we simply trust you’re not bringing the virus,” the fish lady said, selling me freshly caught haddock from a bucket in the rain.

Harsh Covid restrictions didn’t exist in the Faroes. The ability to smile at others was positively empowering. Here, every day was filled with small concerts and events: from singing in a cave in Nolsoy island to sailing regattas inside the fjords accompanied with buffet suppers and fireworks. While lockdown has been a shock to many countries, the Faroese have generations of experience living as an isolated community. In these small communities the culture is stronger when people work together rather than work against each other.

The crew arrived on a wet, drizzly and foggy day, so I baked fresh haddock in citrus herbs to warm their souls and our galley.

UNKNOWN QUANTITY

Planning our weeks in Faroe Islands, I initially didn’t quite know where to start. My partner, Paul, had spent seven years sailing in Antarctica, and wasn’t happy to be in the north again. This trip was my heart’s calling, and I felt responsible for the idea. I had well prepared notes and maps after months of research, but I didn’t want to start my journey counting ‘places to visit’ from the guide books. I believe the best way to experience a place is through local communities and events that unveil paths completely outside mass tourism. The most intimate connections form very slowly, so I shouldn’t expect too much from the first time. As a visitor you have to earn their trust.

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