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 Justine's Journal

CackleTV Productions


Puffin Hunting & tent-breaking gales!
Thursday, July 13, 2006

Well, what an eventful week in the Faroe Islands! I have a lot to write so I'll put it in headings!


After Koltur, we paddled 23nautical miles to Mykines, the westernmost island. We left in quite calm conditions but the wind picked up and this combined with a 2 metre swell gave quite exciting rebounding waves off the cliffs, even 100 metres offshore. Despite this, the tide was behind us and we made good time. The 2-3mile crossing to Mykines is well known for being rough and treacherous. 14 metre overfalls have been seen in this area in a bad storm, so it was with some anticipation (and a lot of fog and rain) that we crossed. We stayed a few miles south of the island for the crossing and avoided the 'scary' area very succesfully. The tide carried us up to the SE corner of Mykines perfectly, and the crossing was a lot easier and calmer than paddling in the clapotis earlier in the day. Once we reached Mykines however the wind picked up again and we were once more in pyramidal rebounding waves. This time we had no tide behind us so we slowly crept along the cliffs to the SouthWest end of the island where we had been told we could land. The 3 miles seemed to take forever, and as we drew closer to where the houses were marked on the map we began to doubt that there would be anywhere to land - it just looked like cliffs everywhere. Just then, a small boat appeared behind us - it was the ferry and we were both very pleased to see it. We watched as the ferry pulled ahead of us and then paused for a while before seeming to disappear into the cliffs. When we reached the entrance to the 'harbour' we could see why the ferry had paused.

A small concrete quay jutted out into the bay, but the swells were breaking onto it, and over it. Waves were also breaking over shallow rocks at different places before the quay and we'd have to weave around the areas of white sea to get there. It didn't look very friendly, but we had no other options ( except for a long long paddle back to another island). In the end we made it through the breaking waves OK, but it was cetainly full of adrenalin. And we were lucky that we arrived when there were still ferry passengers at the quay because several strong men helped us to lift our kayaks out of the turbulent water and carry them up some steps. Then as we were starting to get organised, a man in policemans waterproofs came up to us and said " Come with me, up to the yellow house, we will take care of you". We weren´t sure exactly what that meant, but when we got up to the yellow house, cups of tea were thrust into our hands and we were sat down at a table full of food and ordered to eat. There must have been about 15 people in the house, of all generations, chattering and smiling and making us feel welcome. They told us that in 1988 they hosted a Dutch party of kayakers who landed on Mykines, and ten years later in 1998 they looked after another party of Dutch kayakers ( and 1 of the men was the same). As far as they knew, we were the 3rd group of people to kayak to Mykines. We were 2 years early to make another anniversary, but they looked after us just the same! Alun was happy because he got to watch the world cup final on a big screen TV with the family. We were also given a room to sleep in, and had the chance to take a shower.


We spent almost 2 days on Mykines which is famous for it's birds. It has the only gannet colony in the Faroes and thousands and thousands of puffins. Swarms of them sit on the sea, and stand on the cliff tops. On Monday, we had the chance to go puffin hunting with Karl from the yellow house. Catching and eating birds is traditional on the Faroe Islands, in the past they relíed on the birds as a big part of their diet. They are only allowed to hunt puffins from 6am - 12 noon, but we were up at 5am, to walk up to the cliffs to be sure of getting the best 'seat' for catching puffins. Karl carried a big net on the end of a 6metre pole and he explained to us that the direction the puffins fly in depends on the wind direction and strength. today was a South-Westerly which pleased him. We sat down at Karls favourite 'seat' and hundreds of puffins were circling above in a big group. Karl lay his net on the ground in front of him and held the end of the pole. He was chatting to us about how the puffins seem to know the length of the net and fly just out of range, but he always had 1 eye on the sky. Suddenly, the net shot up into the air behind him, and before I could see what had happened, Karl was pulling the pole through his hands, pulling the net towards him and there was a puffin in it. He took out the puffin and - there is no nice way of saying it - broke it's neck. The bird was instantly dead. It was strange for me to see this, as I felt sad to see such a cute bird be removed from it's natural environment and killed, but I also respect the fact that the Faroese are out there living in balance with nature, killing what they need to eat, honestly and with their own hands. I cannot say it is cruel when I probably eat battery farmed chickens and other animals which have been bred just for slaughter. I don't find out the details of what I eat so it's easier to ignore any cruelty. Also, ironically, the puffins are not doing so well in the Faroes recently, and it's the same story all over the world. The reason is perhaps partly overfishing, and partly global climate change. The seas are changing temperature which means that sand eels and other small fish that the seabirds eat are not doing aswell as they did, or are not as plentiful at the right times. So man as a whole is destroying millions of seabirds by our industrial lifestyle. In this context, and despite not liking seeing the puffins killed, I find that I can't disagree with Karl killing a few hundred puffins, all of which will be eaten. I didn't mean to get into a moral argument here, but it's hard to write about this without giving my opinion. It was also hard not to admire Karl for his skill at catching the puffins. Alun nicknamed him Karl 'Federer' Leonsson for his use of backhands, forehands and slice strokes.

In the afternoon, we watched Karl, his father and his brother in law use specially built machines to take the feathers off the puffins, then chop off the limbs. The puffins will then all be frozen and eaten later in the year. Some will be sold. We had a turn at chopping the limbs off and it's harder than it looks! ( well, thats my excuse). All in all, the Leonsson family showed us great kindness and hospitality, insisting that we eat with them while we were in the island and always keen to chat to us about life in the Faroes. I will always remember our stay with them.

That evening, we got on the water at 7.30pm - oh, the joys of almost no darkness! We paddled 10miles back across to Vagar island. It was a beautiful calm evening and a lovely paddle. We camped at a small abandoned village ( well, 1 house) called Viki ( I think!). It was a bit of a mission landing and hauling our boats over some rocks, but was a beautiful spot.


Next morninig, we crossed to Streymoy island and continued in our kayaks up the stunning west coast. It was a strange experience to feel completely alone on the sea and then as we approached the cliffs, 6 boats full of tourists appeared, taking the sightseers into caves and around sea stacks. It was a truely stunning and impressive piece of coastline with over 400 metre high cliffs for a 6 mile stretch. I also used my new hand fishing line for the first time... and caught 3 fish..... all at once!! It was quite scary trying to pull the fish up and I thought they would pull my kayak into the cliffs at one point! We landed at the beautiful natural harbour of Saxsun in the early evening in increasing winds.... That night the winds got stronger and stronger and stronger..... and I have run out of time so I'll have to continue that story next time I get to a computer....


Blogger Christiaan said...


Very nice to read that everything is OK at Mykines. I'm one of the 5 Dutch guy's who landed at Mykines in 1998. We had a superb time and paddled the southern, western and northern islands. Had to skip the eastern Islands due to our time schedule of 17 paddling days.

Christiaan Jentink

1:22 pm  
Blogger Justine Curgenven said...

hi Christiaan,
That's great that you could read our account of Mykines! Do you recognise the people in the yellow house! It's such a wonderful place, as is the whole of the Faroe Islands. We are lucky to have paddled there before they are 'discovered' by more kayakers! There are a few more photos now on

2:28 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Justine,
Actually the woman in the yellow house (Juliana) was at that time the Dutch consul for the Faroes in Thorshavn, so there was a special banding. My impression is that everyone is still there, although it’s not easy to recall the faces after 10 years. We spent some time on the island due to the weather. We left by seal launching from the rocks with the locals counting the waves. This was completely in stile with our arrival: during the crossing winds went up to strength 9 bfrt, not only the ferry didn’t come that day, the helicopter didn’t fly either. So we where given a great welcome, especially because one of us (Tjaart) had been there before. So Mykines has a very special meaning to us.
I’m not to afraid for lots of see kayakers paddling the coasts of the Faroes: it is a demanding playground for skilled kayakers only and you’ll need a bit of luck with the weather to get around. Not everybody likes to paddle with hats and gloves during the summer months.


ps: I lost my username/password

4:26 pm  

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