Almost the Northern Lights
I’ve always wanted to see the Northern Lights, but when my wife and I went on a transatlantic cruise last year, although we were due to visit three ports in Iceland, it was early September and far too early in the year for the right conditions.
We put those thoughts to the back of our minds for a future holiday.
There was something a little surreal in crossing the North Atlantic in a boat called the Caribbean Princess.
On leaving Southampton we sailed to Bergen in Norway and then on to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. Finally, we arrived at our first port of call in Iceland, Akureyri. We had booked an excursion to see the puffins on a private island just an hour away from the port by boat.
When we got to the pretty island we discovered, however, that puffins can only be sighted in the mating season and that was several months ago. We were disappointed. The island is also has a reputation for providing down from the eider ducks and we visited the installation and saw how the islanders gathered the feathers from the Eider ducks and produced the down for bedding and clothing. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a duck in sight, just wisps of plumage, stuck to rocks here and there. The only high point of the day were some delicious home-made cakes and pastries and a welcoming coffee. We were frustrated and disappointed.
On returning to the boat we complained and obtained a partial refund and a sympathetic ear.
Our ship then sailed North-West, crossing the Arctic Circle and heading for Akureyri. There’s something magic about being so far north. It transformed the holiday into an adventure. We all received a certificate to attest to our achievement and we can hang it with other certificates we have received in the past, like going through the Panama Canal and crossing the International Date Line.
After an excellent dinner, we strolled along the deck to the theatre and watched another show before heading up to the buffet for a snack before retiring for the night. It’s a hard life cruising.
The Captain made an announcement over the ship’s speakers and said he had received a Northern Lights alert and that therefore there was a slight chance of seeing this magical phenomenon.
Excited, we headed to our cabin and, luckily, I had packed a tripod. I mounted my camera on the tripod and opened the sliding doors to our balcony. In my excitement, I’d forgotten that we were North of the Arctic Circle and I was met with a blast of icy air. It was blustery and very cold. I shut the sliding doors and wrapped up as warm as I could then headed back out with my camera and tripod. I wanted to photograph the sky, so I fumbled in the dark, using the light of my mobile phone to illuminate the dials and buttons of my camera to pick the best settings to catch the lights.
Once everything was as ready as I could make it I looked upwards to the arctic sky and waited. It was partially cloudy which was not a good sign but I persisted, shaking more from the cold than from the excitement of the moment.
I spent more than an hour in the freezing cold. Although my camera was secure on the tripod, the wind made the tripod tremble and we were, after all, on a moving ship. They weren’t the best of conditions to take good pictures of the Aura Borealis.
I managed to take many blurry shots of stars and vague glimmers of green and blue in the arctic night, north of Iceland.
It wasn’t a total disaster, taking into account the time of the year, and the conditions of the ship.
I call it an Aurora Borealis taster, and I look forward to future visits.
This time on dry land, and in the right season.
So that’s how I almost saw the Northern Lights.
This is the ninth in a series of travel tales :
8. The Bali Run