Sailing out of Reykjavik a brisk wind throws up white caps, but in the lee of the land, the waves are small and the sea slight. With a reef in the main and just the staysail we tack into Hvalfjordur. The mountains each side of the entrance show the lines of eruption of basalt, slightly angled from the horizontal. In the distance a more jagged range stands dark against the sky.

The ship sails calmly, with just a slight roll, a lift of the bows, a wake stretching out behind. But on board there is constant movement. The mainsail lifts and drops, tightening and dropping the sheet and preventer, sometimes enough to draw out a gentle squeak from the block. The slack halliards lift and drop, their tail ends swing like soft pendulums. Shadows trace patterns back and forth across the deck. The mainsail fills with wind, then slackens; reef points flutter out to leeward. The Icelandic courtesy flag flutters from the rigging, the Dutch flag streams out from the top of the mizen mast. The skipper spins the wheel to bring the ship back onto the wind. There is a gust of stronger wind, the ship heels, gathers speed and all movement increases.

It is time to tack. We move to our stations at the foresail sheets and the running back stays. As the wheel goes over the ship comes through the wind in a clatter of blocks and screech of metal on metal as the travellers move across. Heaving quickly, the new windward backstay is set, The new lazy one released and stowed, and the ship takes up her new course through the whitecaps blowing down the fjord.

That was supposed to be the end of this piece of writing, a description of an quiet day sailing. But as we tacked up the fjord, the wind slowly increased. As we sailed from one shore toward the opposite, it also funnelled down through the hills, changing direction by the minute. Clouds gathered over the mountains to our north, a line of cumulus, a rolling coil with a heavy dark bottom. A catabatic wind was clearly dropping down from the cold peaks and adding to the day’s northwesterly. The pleasant whitecaps became full blown white horses, the wind howling through the rigging, water surging through the scuppers onto the deck, spraying up from the bows.

All the light movements I tracked above became exaggerated. The mainsail strained at its sheets; the reef points blow out almost horizontal. Coiled ropes hang at a marked angle to the heel of the ship. From time to time the sun glimmered through the cloud, refracting shy rainbows in the bow spray.

Time and again we tacked Tecla, the new guests getting the hang of the ropes, finding how to balance on the angled deck, and learning where to stand out of the worst of the wind. We found ourselves grinning at each other as we agree that this sailing is exhilarating. One last tack and the skipper called for the mainsail to be brought down. The boom and gaff come down neatly enough, but the heavy canvas blows out to windward, some of us leap onto the coach roof and struggle to get the gaskets round it, to tighten them so it is under control.

Under engine the skipper steers between an island and a spit of land; the crew prepare the anchor to drop. Soon all is quiet.

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