The Voyage to Jan Mayen

Will was waiting on the jetty in Husavik to greet us after the long, seven-hour scenic drive from Reykjavik, and it was with some relief that we decanted ourselves from the hire car packed to the ceiling with luggage and enough fresh food to last the entire voyage. The sun was still warm and unaccustomedly high in the sky for that time of the evening; a reminder of how close we were to the Arctic Circle. This made unpacking and storing our gear on Integrity a relatively quick and easy task. Will had already unpacked the crate and prepared for sea. Then he hit us with the news that there was a weather system approaching that made conditions favourable for an early departure: the following morning rather than the more leisurely plan for later in the week.

Stowing supplies on Integrity

We quickly settled in for our first night on board as a quintet and got a first taste of what was to come as Paul commandeered the tiny galley and cooked a surprisingly good evening meal on a temperamental two-ring paraffin cooking stove. Paul’s fractious relationship with the stove was to become one of the highlights of the voyage for me. I will never forget the look in his eyes when he saw burning lighter fuel dripping onto the wooden deck. Looking quickly to me, we both realised the risk of having an impromptu Viking funeral pyre at sea so surreptitiously set about extinguishing the small fire under the stove with damp tea towels until it was out. Disaster was averted and no one, including Will who was only standing two feet away with his back turned towards us, was the wiser (until now…)

Paul and Will

As predicted by our frighteningly accurate meteorologist back in the U.K., Chris Tibbs, the wind veered to the South East so we hurried about our chores the next morning. Will then gave a cockpit brief with a large-scale admiralty chart that made Jan Mayen look quite close; not the 350 nautical miles that laid before us. This may not sound far, but when your average speed is 5 knots (nautical miles and hour), that’s nearly three days at sea moving at the pace of a steady jog.  Will concluded his pre-sailing brief with his two ‘golden rules’; don’t go overboard and don’t ever shout. We nodded in general agreement and compliance, yet I felt slightly unsure if that meant we couldn’t shout if someone went overboard.   

On Wednesday 15th May we set sail from the beautiful whale-watching capital of Iceland, Husavik, full of excitement and anticipation. Before reaching the open sea, there were a few essential checks to be done, namely confirming the accuracy of the compass, and rehearsing man-overboard (M.O.B.) drills while under sail. We took turns at being at the helm for the latter, which only served to reinforce Will’s first golden rule. The time taken to turn Integrity around to pick up a man overboard from the freezing water would almost certainly be fatal. From then on, I practically crawled around on the upper deck on all fours with my umbilical safety-clip securely fastened to a running line. To watch Will and Arthur move about the deck, climb the rigging, or balance on the bow-sprit ‘whiskers’ without so much as a life-jacket was a terrifying sight, particularly if their recovery relied upon us less experienced sailors carrying out the M.O.B. drill in less than two minutes. I sincerely doubt that even a highly practiced America’s Cup crew could execute such a manoeuvre in time. 

Husavik harbour

By early evening we had crossed the 66 degrees North line of latitude and into the Arctic Circle.  We settled into our watch routine of two-hours each at the helm, except for Will who was on call at any time for sail changes and decision-making.  With two and half days ahead of us, we needed to pace ourselves after a busy couple of days. This was short-lived as in the early hours of Thursday morning there was a plaintive call for Will to come up on deck.

After investigating, we discovered a problem with the rigging. The metal joint (gaff jaws) that allows the gaff to move independently to the mast and mainsail, had sheared. We needed to lower the mainsail to inspect the damage properly and Will disassembled the metal components to take below and think about what to do next. In my mind, this was a catastrophic failure, which would mean we would soon be returning ignominiously to port. Yet, after boiling the kettle and leaving Will to his thoughts, the cabin was soon filled with the noise and smell of metalwork. Will managed to fashion a running repair by drilling in new boltholes and grinding the bolts down so they wouldn’t interfere with the swinging action. It was a remarkable feat of engineering that was soon put to the test as we hoisted the mainsail and continued sailing to Jan Mayen.

Mapping the route to Jan Mayen

Justin Holt

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