Monday, June 26, 2006


<-- Hofn town, VatnaJokull Glacier background

The Sun’s up at midnight!

Icescapades: No such word in the dictionary but sounds about right. An escapade in Iceland. Sure I’d been to Iceland before, landing at Reykjavik, near the main City of the same name, Capital of Iceland. My previous visit was a brief two day affair and I did not get beyond the little city. I would categorize it as the cleanest, neatest and prettiest city compared to any other and I’ve been around to compare. Normal ferry flight includes a landing at either Rey or at the nearby Airport of Keflavik with longer runways and better handling facilities.

It was summer that time as it was now, June 2001. Don’t be fooled, summer here does not mean tee shirt and shorts kind of weather for the likes of you and me, although for the pale Icelanders, this is as balmy as it gets. The best part is that the Sun stays up all day and all night during summer. I remember the previous landing I made at Rey around 0100 in the morning and the sun was still up. I remember the Loftleider Hotel on the Airport has rooms with no windows looking out and many hotels in Iceland, I was told, had windows looking into the passageways inside. That’s because it is tough to sleep with the Sun up all the time during summer and the sun down all winter! The same goes for most of Northern Europe, Northern Canada, and Russia et al. I was somewhat familiar with his, but my poor co-pilot, I’ll call him copi; boy did he have a tough time sleeping.

A brief weather description. Temperature between 10 and 12 degrees Celsius at the warmest. Longest length of sunshine 24 Hrs 00 Minutes. Length of Day: 21 Hrs 03 Minutes. All real data. You get the picture.

Hofn? What’s there to stop for?

To begin at the beginning, after sloshing around in the chemical that was supposed to sanitize our boots, Customs Iceland came over and stamped out passports and asked where were going. I told him that it was going to be Keflavik next after re-fuelling and depending on the weather, go across the drink to Eastern Greenland. Customs chap told me it was too bad that we’d had to sit out the weather in Keflavik because the weather was very poor between Kef and Kulusuk (Eastern Greenland) and we should expect a couple of days delay, what with our primitive instruments, lack of weather radar, nothing to say about the de-icing system that we did not have in the first place.

Customs second guy mentioned that it would have been worth staying here in Hofn for a couple of days and slipped in a piece of information that they had the largest glacier in Europe. And that we could visit it too. OK, I don’t need any more incentive. Kef is nice but jut plain, boring, flat and we’d be holed up in the Hotel with nothing to do, here’s a better alternative. “Saar, lets stay here and visit the glacier”, said my co-pilot. The weather was fine in Hofn, perfect for an outing. That’s what we did and let me tell you, this was the best decision I had made all through this trip, except for the one I made to shut up and not throw tantrums when we facing Gen Mushy guns on the tarmac at Karachi, sneaking into Pakistan without a transponder, as they accused, trying to fly low and low over Pasni and Gwadar (Naval Air Stations). That’s another story and I’ll come to that some time.

Back to the Iceland story. So, we moored the plane and went off to town in a cab and the cab guy also said that he was a travel guide and that he operated one of those big wheeled, high sitting All Terrain Vehicles that did the tours of the sulfur springs, volcanic areas with lava flows and all that. Sold, we told him, come back and pick us up in an hour. He dropped us off in the Hotel, this one had windows, real large ones in every room and due to our sudden arrival, they could manage a double room and copi and I had to share the same. Fine by me, just watch out for the loud snoring, I told the first mate.

Air Attack!

Cabby came back and picked us up and said we’d have a long drive of a couple of hours to get to the glacier located at a place called Vatna Jorkull. He started talking, nice chap with the gift of the gab and a mean streak to him which will come out soon. Hofn, he said, meant harbor. They were seafaring people, what else and probably descended from the Vikings. They’ve got the looks and I can’t contest that. The drive was among the most scenic ones I have ever taken. Picture this, lush green fields, neat farm houses and Icelandic horses running around. The horses are really beautiful with long manes that hang down their shoulders like a long haired girl, with the hair swirling in the wind. Real beauties, these horses and same goes for the local girls!

We came up on a clearing and cabby stopped the car. He said he had a surprise for us. We followed him lamely, hands deep in our jacket pocket to keep off the chill and came up on a depression in the ground. The depression had matted dry grass and contained two largish grey-brown colored eggs! Before I could draw in my breath at this wonderful sight, I spied cabby taking off in the direction of the car while copi and I gazed. Next thing I know is that I hear a high pitched shrill scream; I look up and see a large bird diving at me. A whack on the head with its wings and I was on the ground, looking to scramble away. The first bird was joined by its mate in the aerial attack. Copi had run to the car meanwhile and locked himself up.

I am a nature lover, animal freak and so on, that made me bring out my camera from my jacket pocket and while the bird was diving, I took a photograph! I have saved all this, including the eggs and the bird diving and the entire trip on film and I hope to get these published soon. Anyways, back to the birds, I managed to evade anymore of the hits and made it back to the car with grass all over me. Cabby was laughing and thought it was very funny. Indeed, I had fun and copi’s face had turned white. The birds, I was told, come from the spitfire family (what a name!) and they are seabirds, like sea eagles. I’d be better off not messing around with them. Apparently mama and papa bird guard their eggs and jointly raise their young.

My Names Bond, James Bond

We reached a water body; a large lake formed by the melting glacier, with large and small ice pieces floating by, turns into a stream and empties itself into the cold Atlantic. This is the famous glacier lake, made more famous by the James Bond movie “A View to a kill” starring Roger Moore as 007 and Grace Jones, who comes up in a mini submarine in the glacier lake, chasing Bond with obvious intent to kill him. Roger Moore stayed in Hofn during the shoot and this gets mentioned to everyone who makes it to the VatnaJokull glacier. While we were there, we could see pieces of the glacier break and fall into the lake with a loud splash.

There were little ducks in the water near us, with ducklings. I picked up a piece of ice to chew on and copi borrowed my camera, took my picture eating ice, tripped on a small rock and lost control. The camera went out of his hands and fell on another piece of rock. Tough things these Nikons, it cracked a bit near the film counter window and not much else happened to it, lucky me, didn’t want to loose photos of the spits diving at me trying to make a hole in my head. Copi dropped my camera twice on this trip and I had to bandage it after the final one with brown duct tape. A small shack with a wooden patio served some excellent coffee and with the warming sunshine, we basked around like fur seals for a while before heading back to town. That night copi could not sleep, even with the curtains drawn, there were minor gaps through which sunlight filtered through and that kept him awake. Kept me awake too, with all his tossing and turning through the night, no scope for me to snore. He had the blanket over his head as well and when I asked him, he said “I can’t sleep during daytime saar”. Daytime indeed, it was 0300 AM.

Copi’s survival

The next day we spent wandering around, looking for something non-Icelandic to eat. With all due respects, Icelandic food is very funny to taste and takes getting used to (to put it mildly). Copi thought he’d die if he had to stay here longer. His last statement after last evening’s dinner had been “Saar, everything I put in I feel like puking out”. Although a fish and meat lover, there wasn’t anything on the buffet spread last night that he could stand. He stuck to breads and butter and a bit of soup and only a little bit of that. I managed to sample everything but did not enjoy any of it, not even the desert. We found, in the town of this size, we can’t have anything else other than Icelandic.

If you thought McDonalds, Pizza hut are all over the World, forget it, I’ll show you places where they have not even heard of such things. Indian food? Forget it, this is one the many places they had never seen an Indian before until copi and I landed up. Went to a Bank, changed some money to some more funny ones and hearing that the weather may clear up over the Greenland area in the next day or so, we decided to fly to Keflavik to better food and copi’s survival.


Athul said...

24 hrs sunlight ,,, coooooool .
would like to experience that someday .

Ur cab guy is an intresting guy , that was a nice surprise to know a bird closer even though its bit the hard way .

from here i get a feeling that co pilot is a must in all the way , in ur case if u dint have a co pilot then u must have fely very bored without anyone to share ur situations .

Looking forward to see ur experience in PAKISTAN ,

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Actually Athul, I did not need a co-pilot on this ferry but this guy was young, earnest, interested and I thought it was a better idea to take one along for company, as you mention. Things were fine till we got mid way. After that, he was still nice, but could not share pilot work load, he'd be sleeping all the time in the cockpit while I flew, talked on the radio and navigated. I had to hand fly this airplane for nearly 11,000 nautical miles because, i think I mentioned this, there was no auto-pilot installed in this machine. I took him to give him experience and I think he got that and he was thankful for that. It's not everyday that people get a chance to do something like this, specially in our field. I gave him a chance and he's doing OK now, still picking up skills, I hope.

With regard to the pakistan experience, thats coming up. I have this trilogy to finish and then I'll be traveling a lot and won't have time to write so much. I have that T-28 flight to do and blog a short piece on that. So, lets see...
Thanks for your comments as usual.

Athul said...

Hi sir ,
i have no flying experience as such , but still imagining someone giving full attention for 11000 nautical mile is huge ,
i believe without auto pilot the work become even harder as we have to depend entirly on our skills and ground controls , and if weather is bad then our intuition as well .

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

You are right Athul, it is physically demanding work when hand flying an airplane that distance and thats one of the reasons for taking a second guy along so he can wrestle with it. he did for some time in the begining but his body-mind started to do a non co-operation movement with him and he was not able to get over so many time zone changes.

As for ground control, there is none. We are only in radio contact to provide position reports in case we are having trouble, ground control can mobilize search and rescue. Otherwise, ground control really has no control over your flight. Many times, over the North Atlantic, we lose radio contact with the designated control on VHF and HF. At those times, it is common to relay reports through someone else. For example, a Boeing 747 of an Airline flying at 38,000 feet (example)will be in radio touch right through the North Atlantic route and we talk to them to have them relay our position report fromour low altitude. They relay the same and get back to us saying that control has copied our message and expect us to relay at the next compulsory reporting point. Just more info for you to understand about aviation.

Nikhil Joshi said...

capt. murthy,
the one problem that's always been a concern for pilots and ground control alike is the communication problems between the both of them during a flight like you have described in the last few blogs which spans a lot of continents and thus, different dialects and much different accents. how do you overcome those hurdles?

Oh, and is your schedule of being in mys july end still hold good?

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Hi Nikhil, accents are sometimes impediments like the Scottish one across the Atlantic, but they are not that serious. It is the lack of communication coverage that is the problem and we have solved that issue by relaying reports. Since North Atlantic traffic is quite a lot, especially Airliners flying at high altitude, it is not really a problem. Also, position report is only to let the control know where we are and what time we are going to be at the next reporting fix. Again, this is only for search and rescue (if you go down in the Atlantic, it may take hours at the least, for some one to find you and several hours for a rescue ship to come across). Controlers can't do anything else with the information.

I put up part 3 of the crossing just now, please read that as well. Part 4 is almost ready and since I will be leaving Mysore on the 1st to go to Singapore and the US, I will post the final one in the next day or two. Do you have a number to call or e-mail? my e-mail:

Vijendra Rao said...

Now, let use have something from you about the kind of fitness levels pilots maintain.
You look pretty fit. Why 11000 nautical miles, you would even do 24000 nautical miles, if there is no night, but only light.

Blog-Capt. Anup Murthy said...

Pilot fitness levels are important when doing ferries such as this one. In most modern Airliners and corporate jets (Including the Premier 1 -fast Jet from Oz)is automated to such an extent that work load is lesser. Here, there are no power assisted controls, no heater, no pressurization, no autopilot, no weather radar and get the picture.

Actually night flying is pleasant, a lot of us prefer to fly by the moon! What gets to us at the end of long flying hours in a slow noisy Aircraft and with all the turbulence is actual physical and mental fatigue. On this ferry, we took long breaks because of the physical demands and my copi, flying abroad, for such long durations, could not have been able to handle it without such breaks. He had a tough time to handle it even with the breaks! At that time, he was in his late twenties, slim and trim to look at.