Vestmannæyjar, Iceland (Westman Islands) September 2011
Ferry to VestmannæyjarThe brand-new ferry dock in south Iceland cuts the ferry trip from 3 hours to 30 minutes.
Landeyjahöfn ferry dockOpened in 2011, the brand-new terminal is a source ofcontroversy. Engineers arguethe wrong location was chosen.The harbor silts up andrequires dredging, and theterminal is now too shallow forusing the larger ferry.
Vestmannæyjar in the distance – strong winds blew ash from the 2010 Eyjafjallajökulleruption off the glacier and into the atmosphere, creating a smoky haze.
The mountains of Eyjafjallajökull recede as the ferry heads to Vestmannæyjar. Rough seastoss us about, eliciting shrieks from a girls’ soccer team.
1973 EruptionAt 1:45 am on January 17, withoutwarning, a brand-new fissure openedjust east of town. The five-month longeruption led to the evacuation of theisland as ash and lava buried the town.By the end of the eruption, one-third ofthe town was under lava and the brand-new volcanic cone of Eldfell stood onthe horizon. The island also increased insize on the eastern shore, a reminder ofhow volatile the Earth really is.
Locals battled an estimated 30 milliontons of lava as they watched theirhomes burn. After the eruption, most ofthe evacuated population returned, butabout 1700 people decided to remainon mainland Iceland. The growing lava field threatened to completely cut off the harbor – critical to the town’s economy – so they frantically pumped seawater to cool the lava. Now Heimæy has a better protected harbor than before the eruption. Photos from Folk Museum in town library
Colonies of birds flock to Vestmannæyjar, including puffins, which had mostly migrated forthe winter by the time I visited.
A series of islands trail off Heimæy to the south. Somewhere out there is Surtsey, the islandthat formed almost overnight with a explosive eruption in 1963. Surtsey is now a UNESCOsite used by scientists for research.
Brimurð beach – where Algerian pirates attacked the island in 1627, killing, pillaging, andkidnapping 242 islanders as slaves. A disaster in a community of only 500. They eventuallyraised money to buy the freedom of 27 of their kidnapped neighbors.