12 - The last leg
Saturday 2nd August
The last 24 hours have been extremely bumpy and painful, to the point where we're suffering from both the battering and the consequent lack of sleep. So it's with some relief that we pull into the harbour on the island of Heimaey, part of the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago 15 miles south of Iceland.
Thirty years ago, an eruption began along a 1.5 mile long fissure on the volcano Eldfell ("fire mountain") not far from the centre of town, spewing out lava and a spectacular curtain of fire. Most of the island's 5,300 inhabitants had to be evacuated to the mainland.
Over the course of a couple of months, houses were buried by the lava flow, but when it threatened to engulf the harbour, fire-fighting boats poured millions of gallons of water over it to slow its advance. The resultant cooling not only stemmed the lava's advance, it actually produced a better harbour.
I came to Heimaey 12 years ago, and then the lava still had hot patches, where just below the surface, the rock could be seen glowing red hot. Now, much of it is green, colonised by plants and mosses, and the locals have carved tracks through it to mark where the original streets and houses were, now many metres below the surface. I was also reminded of my visit to the local museum, where the natural history section featured stuffed puffins, and then going to the restaurant next door, where they were on the menu.
We've been warned that we have a southerly wind to look forward to as we head out on our last leg to Cape Wrath, and then on to our first UK landfall in Bangor. At the moment what we have is a northerly, which couldn't be better, and the Icelandic refuelling man seems to think we might have this all the way to Scotland. We always trust our forecasts from Bertie, but in this instance, we wouldn't mind a little local knowledge prevailing.
We won't make our 100 hours by the time we get to Cape Wrath, although provided we manage to arrive by Sunday afternoon / evening, our at sea time won't be much more, and even our total elapsed time from St John's will only be a week, so we're still on course to better our world record transatlantic time from May 2001.
© 2003 Clive Tully
Update transmitted by Stratos Iridium satellite phone.
Lava field from the 1973 eruption on Heimaey: