Husavik is a small town, mostly noted for it's excellent whale museum and popular whale watching tours. Like many places in Iceland, there's a strong history of whale hunting, but many of the locals are starting to prefer to bleed the tourists dry rather than the mighty mammals that come to the local waters, and who quite frankly have much more right to be there than any human being putt-putting about on their fishing boats.
But enough of politics and personal opinions (although if I can't put my own opinions in my own website, where can I put them??!). We arrived in Husavik on yet another gloriously sunny afternoon, and went straight to the whale watching booking office to see when the next tour was going - in about 15 minutes was the response!
Tickets purchased (around 54 euros each, I think), we parked Moglet around the back of the main road and made our way back to the dock. Although the sun was still making a valiant effort, the wind was bitingly cold so we wrapped up in plenty of layers and waited for the excitement to begin. The guide on the boat was pleased we were such a small group - only 8 tourists compared to the 35 that packed out the boat on their morning run - which meant he could just talk to us normally rather than use the PA system. The boat was licensed to carry up to 50 passengers, and at two trips a day, each person paying 54 euros, that's a nice little earner!
Making our way our of the harbour, I was very pleased to see the water was nice and calm, and the guide promised us that as far as they were expecting, the weather should stay good for us for the rest of the trip. There was no particular fixed timeframe to the trip - he said sometimes they were our for a couple of hours, and sometimes for as long as four, depending on the weather and how willing the whales were being. With only three or fours hours of proper daylight left to play with, I hoped the whales weren’t feeling particularly camera shy.
With a 45 minute journey out to the area where they’d spotted whales earlier in the day, we all settled down to try and find a spot out of the wind, scanning the waters for the first glimpse of any kind of whale. We could wander around the deck or head on up to the viewing platform above the captains cabin if we wanted. I didn’t, but naturally Jason did!
Making our way out to the middle of the harbour, the mountains in the distance came clearer into view, their sprinkling of snowing showing why the wind was as cold as it felt.
With all those pairs of eyes scanning in every direction, it wasn’t long before we had our first sighting - a couple of cheeky Minke whales.
Minkes are just about the most common sort of whale to see in these parts, but we were hoping to see something a little larger, maybe the humpback that the boat from the morning had seen. Nor were we the only boat in the area having similar thoughts - apart from the chugchug boat we were on, you could pay twice the price and go steaming out from Husavik on a fast RIB, resplendent in your very own borrowed thermal jumpsuit to keep out the hypothermia. Unfortunately you also had to be strapped down like you were on a ride at Alton Towers and stay in that position for the whole time you were out on the water, which didn’t really appeal to me. The speed and the manoeuvrability of the RIB meant they were able to cover more area in their search, as well as get closer to the animals when they surfaced, but I still think I’d rather be on the old fishing boat. For the vast majority of the time we were out on the water the RIB was never far from us, which leads me to wonder whether the extra money you pay is just for the fun of the ride, rather than any enhancements it brings to the whale watching trip. Takes all sorts, I guess.
The whale didn’t stay up for long - apparently two or three breaches of a few seconds a time is the average, and then maybe 10 minutes underwater for a humpback. So once he disappeared for the third time we all went back to scanning the waves for the next ten minutes, waiting for him to reappear. Jason was still up in his lofty perch, this time with video camera in hand - wearing a borrowed hat from the boats stocks as he managed to forget one of his many items of headgear. This one he refers to as a ‘cake hat’- the spacious capacity allowing for snack stowage :-)
With the RIB prowling around and clouds gathering in the not so distant distance, I started to wonder whether the whale had been scared off by all the commotion and that was all we were going to get for the day. The other boat was heading off away from us and towards the mountains, making themselves look very pretty against the failing sunlight (probably for the benefit of the camera boat trailing them the whole trip!) but luckily for us they were heading in completely the wrong direction and had no chance to interpose themselves between us and the whale as he came up again for a second look around - right next to our boat!
First it starts out as little more than a ripple on the surface, and then the ripple turns into more of a bump with a shadow underneath the surface, and then before you know it, there's a whale swimming along next to you!
Unfortunately the RIB and it's passengers missed much of this whales display, and for us it marked the highlight of the trip. With the sun fast going down and the little warmth of the day disappearing along with it, the captain turned our boat back towards Husavik and home. Jason spotted a couple of Minkes in the distance on the way, but nothing else could compare with the humpback popping up so close to us, almost in defiance of the ‘superior’ abilities of the fancy little RIB :-)
Back on dry land we popped into the whale museum, but as they were close to closing we decided to leave it for another day. The lady behind the counter happened to be the one who looked after the local campsite though,
so Jason checked with her that it was ok to stay there, which it was. Once we got there, we found to our delight that although the campsite was technically closed, it still had the water and electric turned on, a waste point where we could empty tanks, and even better it had a room with a washing machine that wasn’t locked! No tumble dryer unfortunately, but off-season you can't get too picky about these things.
We’d spotted a supermarket in town as well as a restaurant, so decided to treat ourselves to a meal out. We’d braced ourselves for scary prices based on what we’d been led to believe about dining out in Iceland, but were pleasantly surprised to see costs only maybe 10% more than what I’d expect to pay in the UK - fair enough really when you think about the isolation of these towns and how far their supplies have to travel to reach them. Plus the food was excellent and the service just as good, so all in all a very pleasant way to end the day.
Tired and full and with no washing up to do, we headed back to Moglet. We’d already decided to stay another day to take advantage of the washing machine as well as do some shopping and maybe investigate something that looked suspiciously like a coffee shop that sold delicious home made cakes... It's a hard life :-)