There’s hardly anything more compelling and awe-inspiring than seeing and experiencing first-hand the vertical rock face along the shorelines of the Faroe Islands, up close and by boat. It tells a fascinating story of some of life’s truly majestic phenomena including the crushing oceanic powers constantly in process here and the way solid pieces of landmass are slowly but steadily ground down, something that is largely only noticed over time but occasionally happens in sudden erosion events. We had a riveting encounter with the unique shoreline on the west side of the southern part of Suðuroy, stretching from Vágseiði to Akraberg. Going by rigid inflatable boat under the able leadership of skipper Sigurd Gudmundsson of Actionboat.fo, we launched from the inner end of the fjord at Vágur heading out towards Akraberg southeast of Sumba, the southernmost settlement of the Faroes. The lighthouse at Akraberg is apparently a popular place to visit on land as well, and we happened to see some people walking up there.
As we’ve come around to the west of Suðuroy, the shoreline immediately looks steeper and more dramatic. What makes this trip all the more fascinating—and, in this particular case, somewhat tantalizing at times, as the weather remains safe yet tends to be somewhat unsettled—is the fact that we can sail very close to shore through extremely narrow passages on the inside of several series of cliffs, sea stacks, boulders and arches.
Perfectly at ease
Skipper Gudmundsson is mostly focused and quiet. It’s a telling sort of silence, likely masking an endless amount of information that would take too much talk for the occasion. Indeed, what can anyone say to convey the deep sense of respect that makes itself felt in this environment, not to mention the frightening forces at play so frequently here. Can verbal language describe any serious amount of meaning and implications when you’re brought present to such realities? One wonders if attempting to use descriptive words will only spoil that moment of profound acknowledgement of whatever it is. Clearly, Gudmundsson must be fully aware of that, as we the passengers imagine that we can now at least appreciate some bits and pieces of it. “You don’t sail here without absolute familiarity with the waters every stretch of the way,” he noted, “including, and this is crucial, the force and direction of the wind, the current and the tide.”
Problem is, typical of the Faroes and the treacherous sea surrounding the islands, conditions can change with little to no prior notice. “It’s all connected,” Gudmundsson said. “The complex interplay of winds and currents in areas further away to a large degree determine the conditions that arise locally around here. You can’t trust the forecast too much, especially if the weather has behaved in any particular way only for a very short time—you need to make sure it’s been settled for a while, favorably. Even if the wind speed is low, for cruising along the west side of Suðuroy, you want it to come from an eastern or northeastern direction.”
Anything else could spell disaster. But then again, with Gudmundsson’s countless trips through these waters, meanwhile, we feel confident and perfectly at ease.
On board the RIB, the surreal landscapes and rock formations visible from the seaside never cease to amaze. The tall cliff face is decked with arches, islets, boulders in all shapes and colors blending with the gentle but vivid sea waves ever ready to escalate or de-escalate at the bidding of circumstances. Now you see something reminiscent of a giant ancient castle; next, some majestic pillars looking like ruins from an ancient civilization; then there’s faces of some huge human-like beings carved into stone, all the while as the water splashes and bashes underneath, showing off an endless array of enchanting waves while at the same time making all sorts of incredible sounds. Depending on particularities of shoreline terrain, the rumbling, gurgling and hissing noises are accompanied by the screeching and shrieking of birds. Pure magic.
“This bunch of boulders fell very recently,” the skipper noted, nodding toward a point by the shore just a few meters in front of us. “We shouldn’t get too close because you never know; something could be coming down at any time.”
So cliff erosion is an issue here. “The rock face changes over time and we know the ocean is slowly eating away at it. Back in the seventies, this particular section looked different; there used to be a habitat for puffins but it’s disappeared. Beinisvørð also had a big chunk falling off a few years ago.”
On the whole, however, the massive wall of rock is likely to stand for countless centuries more, protecting the island against the unrelenting onslaught of the Atlantic ocean.