The brochure for North Sailing states that, since 1995, there has been a 98% success rate at whale sightings. Even I—a girl from Las Vegas who avoids gambling—know those are good odds, even though there is no guarantee of spotting a whale.
The sun was bright, and I hesitated as I slipped on my long underwear. Would it be like the day on Grimsey, when our visit to the Arctic Circle was so hot I had stripped off nearly all the clothes I’d worn and ate ice cream as I stood at 66 degrees north? I know when I get hot, I can always take clothes off, however, and I also know that when I’m cold and don’t have clothes to put on, I’m just downright cranky. And with that, I turned my buff into a beanie, slipped on my gloves and zipped up my windbreaker atop a full set of long underwear, pants and a long-sleeved shirt.
North Sailing, an Iceland whale watching company based out of Húsavík, is easily found by spotting the bright yellow flags. I booked tickets in advance, which is recommended, but they can also be bought onsite if there is room aboard a ship. The company runs several ships, each with a different tour. We were bound for Náttfari, a beautiful ship built in 1965 that resembles the Iceland herring boats used in the 1960s and 70s. I walked up the wooden plank onto the ship and immediately claimed a spot at the bow, ready to scope out whales.
Our guide suggested we borrow a pair of company-issued overalls to put on over our clothes before we got too far out into the water. “It might be warm in the harbor, but you’ll probably be cold once we reach open water,” she warned. And so I worked my already overdressed body into a too-big pair of navy blue overalls. Better safe than sorry, right?
Whale watching is a funny venture. Immediately after pulling away from the harbor, everybody glued themselves to the edges of the ship, squinting into the distance—some with binoculars—hoping to catch a glimpse of an unusual wave or strange pattern on the surface of the water. They point and whisper, eager to be the first to spot a whale. Then, one by one, they turn from the railing as the act of looking, searching and pointing becomes fruitless and sometimes even frustrating. Where are the whales?
And then, about a half hour into the ride, someone throws an arm out and yells, “Over there!” Bodies poured to the spotter’s side of the boat and our guide, who had taken a seat in the crow’s nest so she could see in all directions, pulled out her binoculars and looked in the direction of the outstretched finger. “That’s a minke whale,” she announced, and everyone pulled out their cameras to take a photo as it came to the surface again. And again and again.
Before long, minke whales surrounded us on all sides. Soon a new fluke was spotted in the distance, and we all mentally added the humpback whale to our lists of spotted sea creatures. They floated on the surface, spraying water out of their blow holes before flipping their flukes and diving deep into the chilly waters.
Minutes turned into hours as we spotted and pointed out more and more whales both near and far from Náttfari. The sun was bright on the water and I was thankful for the extra bulky layer, which added a bit of protection against the breeze.
And then the prize of the day surfaced. The blue whale is the largest animal on the planet. Weighing up to 190 metric tons, these beasts rarely jump completely out of the water, though it does happen occasionally. When it breached, there was no question that the blue whale was incredibly huge, though we could only see a fraction of what was obviously a massive animal.
Three incredible types of whales and one warm, dry, bulk-free body later, we were heading back to the coast. We sat on the wooden benches of the boat, sipping hot chocolate and watching the water go by. Now that the prizes had been spotted, the rail was basically vacated as people tucked their binoculars and cameras away and prepped to leave the boat.
A 98% success rate is good odds for a lot of things. On this boat, in these waters, this whale watching experience had far exceeded any odds—and expectations—I could have set.
For more information, visit North Sailing’s website.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of North Sailing but all opinions are my own.