“…just watch them swing with the wind out to sea.”

The Icelanders are a mild people, but they often let us see their Viking roots. In 1973, when Eldfell on the island of Heimaey erupted, they didn’t squeal and sail away; they held off the advancing lava with fire hoses. Last week, Jon Eiriksson, who ferries tourists to the tiny northern island of Drangey, demonstrated his own Icelandic fortitude:

“I thought I’d do some fish angling for dinner while the people were on the island. I turned the boat around as usual and was going to step on board when I slipped, fell onto the pier and from there into the ocean.”

“The boat was loose and drifted away from the pier. I thought it was rather silly to be there like a fool with people on the island and no boat, so I decided to swim after it,” Eiríksson said. He caught the boat after 20 meters but was unable to climb up the stairs.

The “Earl of Drangey” then fell into the ocean again so he decided to swim ashore and then his boat followed. “The boat just offered its right bow to me where I was sitting on the cliff so I could walk onboard like a gentleman,” he explained.

“I thought it was kind of it, not every Skagfjordian stallion would have done the same [Skagafjördur is famous for its horses]. I then sailed the boat back to the pier and had put on my flotation suit before the people came back onboard, like nothing had happened.”

As Iceland Review points out, there’s local precedent for Jon’s hardy swim. Grettir Asmundarson, the greatest outlaw of the Icelandic sagas, hid out on Drangey with his brother and a moping slave who failed to keep the fire burning. Lacking a boat, Grettir decided to swim to the mainland for fire:

Grettir prepared for his swim by putting on a homespun cowl and breeches, and having his fingers wrapped up together. The weather was good, and he left the island late in the day. Illugi throught his voyage boded ill.

Grettir swam into the fjord with the current behind him, and it was completely calm. He swam vigorously and reached Reykjanes when the sun had set, then went up to the farm at Reykir and bathed in the hot pool there, because he was quite cold.

The distance between Drangey and Reykjanes? Nearly four miles.

If you’re an Icelandophile, keep an eye on the Iceland Review Web site for other stories with saga angles, such as updates on the excavation at Mosfell, the farm where the notorious Egil Skallagrimsson spent his later years. Archaeologists haven’t yet uncovered Egil’s famous buried treasure—or, if they have, they’re not saying. In the meantime, you can order Egil’s soft drinks through the mail. I’m partial to the pineapple mix—because nothing says “dangerous Viking outlaw” like the syrup-sweet snap of tropical fruit.

3 thoughts on ““…just watch them swing with the wind out to sea.”

  1. If you haven’t read John McPhee’s “The Control of Nature,” you must do so immediately. The Heimaey story is one of the three essays in the book, which is about man’s attempts to control, defeat or hold back natural forces. Though the project was referred to by Icelanders at the time as “pissa on hraunid” (I trust you Scandinavian scholars will know what that means) it turned out to be a complete success, as you indicate.


  2. Steven, thanks for the heads-up on the McPhee book, which I hadn’t known about. I visited Heimaey in ’98, and a stroll around the eruption site only made me more impressed by how the islanders reacted.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s