Foreign Shipwrecks in the Faroe Islands

Many ships have wrecked in the treacherous waters around the Faroe Islands. The stories and relics of these tragedies are scattered throughout the islands, their memory seen in places ranging from folk songs to the church silver of Viðareiði, and even in the ancestry of many Faroese people living today.

The following is a small sampling of notable foreign shipwrecks in the Faroe Islands:

A map showing the years, names, and locations of foreign shipwrecks in the Faroe Islands.

Notable foreign shipwrecks in the Faroe Islands.

The bell in Tórshavn Cathedral was taken from the wreck of the Norske Løve.

The bell in Tórshavn Cathedral was taken from the wreck of the Norske Løve.

In 1707, the Danish ship Norske Løve was traveling from Copenhagen to the West Indies when it ran into trouble. The big, 36-cannon ship was hit first by lightning, then by a breaker, and finally sank in Lambavík on New Year’s Eve. Approximately 100 men survived, but the ship was buried by a landslide in the night and lies now under both water and earth. The ship’s bell was recovered and is the main bell in Tórshavn Cathedral to this day, and a chair can be seen in the Blásastova museum in the village of Gøta. One of the votive ships in Tórshavn Cathedral is a model of the Norske Løve, said to have been made by one of the sailors rescued from the wreck. There is also a Faroese ring-dance song about the sinking of the Norske Løve.

Crashed and abandoned foreign vessels have often proved beneficial for the Faroese people, as useful goods and building materials would wash ashore. For example, the village of Mykines received goods from the shipwreck of the Dutch ship Walrechen in 1667 and an abandoned lumber boat in 1819, and when an abandoned Norwegian boat carrying a large quantity of timber drifted to shore in Árnafjørður in 1875, the local cost of wood fell dramatically.

In 1742, the Dutch ship Westerbeek shipwrecked on the west coast of Suðuroy, in a place called Lopranseiði. Travelling far off course in a dense fog on their way home with spices from Ceylon, the Westerbeek was caught and wrecked between a steep cliff and a line of skerries. Ten of the crew, who were sick and lying in bed at the time, went down with the ship, and another man died while trying to escape. But the other 80 men on board managed to reach safety by climbing the steep cliff and the broken mast of the ship. Faroese people from Vágur helped rescue them, and most of the men ended up spending the winter in the Faroe Islands.

The Westerbeek is one of the most famous shipwrecks to have happened in the Faroes. There is a Faroese book about the incident, and also a ring-dance song, Visen om Westerbeek. There are many stories about men from the ship who settled in the islands and left descendents. However, one of the only verified stories is that of Berent Schouten, the ship’s carpenter, who had a daughter with a girl from Vágar. Many Faroese people descend from Sunneva Barentsdatter.

The village of Viðareiði, where the British ship Marwood stranded.

The village of Viðareiði, where the British ship Marwood stranded.

In 1847, the British ship Marwood was on its way from Africa to Liverpool when it lost its rudder in a winter storm. After drifting for three weeks, the ship was stranded near Viðareiði. The people of the village helped to rescue and care for the crew, and the British government later thanked them with a gift of fine silver, which can be found in the church of Viðareiði today.

In 1895, the British ship Principia was traveling from Dundee to the United States when it caught fire in bad weather. The crew attempted to turn back towards Scotland, but the ship crashed in Søltuvík off the island of Sandoy. Only one man survived, lying on a wooden hatch for 14 hours until he was rescued in the village of Kirkjubøur. The hatch he clung to is now used as a table in Kirkjubøur’s Stokkastovan, the oldest house in the Faroe Islands.

In 1918, the Danish ship Casper was bringing a cargo of salt from Ibiza to the Faroes when it was driven onto the cliffs of Lítla Dímun, the only uninhabited island in the archipelago. The six members of the crew, including the badly injured captain, managed to reach first a narrow ledge just above the surf, and then a cabin partway up the island. They found matches, fuel, and a lamp, caught two sheep and a sick bird, and survived there for 17 days before they were discovered and rescued. One of the sailors settled in the Faroe Islands permanantly.

In 1941, two British ships sank in the Faroe Islands. The first was the Lincoln City, an anti-submarine warfare trawler in the British Royal Navy. It was bombed in an air raid and sank outside of Tórshavn, killing all eight men on board.

The cliffs of Svínoy in Fugloyarfjørður, where the Jólaskipið met its end.

The cliffs of Svínoy in Fugloyarfjørður, where Jólaskipið met its end.

The story of the SS Sauternes is one of the saddest in this list. The steamship was coming into the Faroe Islands laden with supplies including fuel, Danish currency minted in the UK for use on the islands, and Christmas presents. The locals called it Jólaskipið, the Christmas Ship, and were eagerly awaiting its coming.

The Sauternes was not made for the conditions of the North Atlantic, but in wartime, compromises must sometimes be made. A storm was rising as the boat reached the Faroe Islands, and the ship could not reach Tórshavn. The crew telegraphed their position to the Naval Headquarters in the capital. At that time, they were in Fugloyarfjørður, the narrow stretch of water separating the small islands of Fugloy and Svínoy in the northeast. However, the Naval Headquarters believed that the ship was in the similarly named Fuglafjørður, which is a safe haven protected from the open sea, so they ordered the Sauternes to drop anchor.

The storm intensified, and the Sauternes sank as locals looked on helplessly from shore. All 25 passengers and crew were lost, and only 6 bodies were ever recovered; these were buried in Klaksvík. The Faroese have never forgotten the Jólaskipið, and there is a book about the tragic event. The wreck occurred the same day as Pearl Harbor, another tragedy on another archipelago on the other side of the world.

In 1957, the Icelandic trawler Goðanes crashed into a reef as it entered Skálafjørð on Eysturoy. The Faroe Islanders wanted to rescue the crew, but they didn’t have the necessary equipment, and the captain died in the accident. Afterwards, Slýsavarnafelag Íslands, the rescue association of Iceland, donated rescue equipment to the Faroe Islands, inspiring the establishment of rescue organizations around the islands. A formal rescue service was established in 1976.

In 2007, the Russian trawler Olshana ran aground at a reef called Flesjarnar on its way out from Kollafjørður. “Flesjarnar” is a dangerous reef lying in the waters between Streymoy and Eysturoy, and it has sunk many boats throughout history. Olshana’s entire crew was rescued, but the trawler sank immediately when it was pulled off the reef the next day. Several ships now rest at the bottom of the sea in that area, many carrying significant amounts of oil.

Screenshot from the BBC's timelapse of the eclipse.

The Faroese Solar Eclipse of 2015

Today a total solar eclipse occurred in the skies over the Faroe Islands and Svalbard.

Approximately 8,000 visitors came to the Faroes for the eclipse, the largest number ever on islands on the same day. It was also the largest number of foreigners in the Faroes since the British occupation during WWII. Every flight seat and hotel bed was booked, some up to ten years in advance. Concerts, parties, and other special events were organized to make the most of the special eclipse energy.

No fewer than forty airplanes, big and small, used the airport at Vágar today. A 45-meter MD83 from Denmark became the largest airplane that has ever landed in the islands.

The big day dawned cloudy and wet over most of the Faroes, dampening the experience for some eclipse-seekers. Others were thrilled just to experience a sudden, deep darkness in mid-morning. And for the lucky few who were able to witness the full eclipse, this corona was said to be extraordinarily beautiful.

Timelapse of the eclipse over Tórshavn:

The Total Eclipse, as seen by a plane over the islands:

On seeing and filming the eclipse, Faroe Islander Zacharias Hammer wrote, “The 20 seconds I was able to see the full solar eclipse through the darkening clouds this morning, are written as if with runes in my memory.”

(Tey 20 sek. mær eydnaðist at síggja fulla sólarmyrking millum myrkrekandi skýggini í morgun, eru sum skrivað við rúnum inn í mítt minni.)

News media from all over the world wrote about the solar eclipse, and therefore about the Faroe Islands. CNN even sent Tamara Hinson to write an article called “Out of the shadows: Solar eclipse shines a light on Faroe Islands.”

Personally, I’m torn between being pleased that the rest of the world is taking notice of this amazing place and being frustrated that it took a total eclipse of the sun to get it on their radar.

But what a day for the islands!

Parrot Time – Faroese Edition

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

Norðragøta on the cover of Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

This month, my love for the Faroe Islands had an exciting new platform — a special issue of a magazine!

Parrot Time is a linguistic and cultural emagazine published bimonthly by the Parleremo language learning community. The magazine’s editor-in-chief, Erik Zidowecki, contacted me based on our conversations about the Faroe Islands to ask whether I would be interested in helping him put together a special issue focusing on Faroese topics. Naturally, I was very excited to work on the project. With the help of four Faroe Islanders, we published eleven articles on subjects ranging from summer festivals on the islands and the new feature film Ludo to the presence of Danish in Faroese life and the Faroese perspective on the whaling controversy. I’m very happy with the way the magazine came together with such a wide variety of pieces and beautiful photographs.

From my article "Coming Home to Faroese" in Parrot Time's special Faroe Islands issue.

From my article “Coming Home to Faroese” in Parrot Time’s special Faroe Islands issue.

Coming Home to Faroese” was my main feature story for the magazine. By exploring the richness that learning Faroese has brought to my life, I wrote about the challenges and rewards of learning a language with a small number of speakers. Here’s an excerpt:

“I remember how it felt to speak Faroese down in Copenhagen, to navigate through the crowded city and yet feel as if I had never left the islands when I heard the language I had learned to love so well. The Danes and other foreigners that passed were none the wiser that something didn’t add up, that I was an imposter, that I didn’t belong. In a way I did. In that moment, I felt I could just glimpse, just taste, that feeling of being a part of something… smaller. Something more intimate. Of what it meant to know just from a language that you were home.”

The readable PDF version of the magazine can be viewed for free at the following address:

In the Wake of the Grind — Who’s Who

In the wake of all the recent whale hunting action, there are now a surprising number of involved parties in the Faroe Islands. Here’s a little “Who’s Who” and update about each of them!


Vice Magazine – Ed Ou and Elise Coker

A duo of journalists have been spending a few months in the Faroe Islands to create a documentary about the whaling for Vice magazine. I have followed their postings in various Facebook groups and even had a chat with Ed myself. I am very excited to see their documentary, as I believe it will be one of the most balanced explorations of the grindadráp tradition to come out in international media so far.

Here you can listen to an interview conducted by Kringvarp Føroya with the two journalists.

The two were, of course, happy to have been in the islands during the Sandoy grind, where they gathered a lot of footage. They have also met with many Faroese whalers, families, and various other parties in their attempt to portray the multiple sides of the issue. Ou says that while the grindadráp itself will be the single biggest focus of their work, “we’re also showing other things, like daily life, we’re showing grocery stores, just people doing their thing, music, all that stuff… and that will like hopefully put the grind into context.”

Ed Ou and Elise Coker filming for a Vice documentary about the Grind.

Ed Ou and Elise Coker filming for a Vice documentary about the Grind.


“The Propaganda Busters” – Tony Marano and friends

"The Propaganda Busters"

“The Propaganda Busters”

American right-wing vlogger Tony Marano, or PropagandaBuster, has come to the Faroe Islands to show his support for Faroese whaling and disdain for the Sea Shepherd Organization. Marano, who is also very critical of many domestic issues in the United States, first attracted a large following for his videos when he came out in favor of Japanese whaling and other nationalist issues. Naturally, this made him very popular with a large segment of the Japanese population. Marano was even offered a Book + DVD deal, which has been released in Japan under the title “The Speeches from Texas Daddy.”

Marano had already attracted the attention of many Faroese with his posts and videos calling Sea Shepherd “the clowns of the floating circus.” His visit to the Faroes has been advertised in the Faroese media since its announcement. Since coming to the islands, he has been welcomed by the mayor of Tórshavn, Heðin Mortensen, and Hans Jákup Hermansen from the Faroese Whalers’ Association among many other Faroese.

Marano has spent a lot of his visit looking for and confronting “clown cars” full of Sea Shepherd volunteers.

While some grindadráp proponents are in fact against the Japanese whale hunt and disagree with Marano’s views on that issue, and others simply find Marano’s approach overly silly or “cheap”, others find him hilarious and are happy to see Sea Shepherd getting some harassment of their own.

Patrick Corsi wrote in the Facebook group, Whale Wars Faroe Islands / Hvalakríggj í Føroyum:

“I must say that although Tony is giving them back some of their own medicine, and in a funny way sometimes, I find his approach a bit cheap, turning this whole affair of the grind & Taiji into a circus act, when it’s something very important to the Japanese local fisherman and the locals of the Faroe Islands; I believe it deserves more serious and respectful consideration than clowing around like Tony is doing. I’m starting to feel that he’s just going from place to place looking for controversial subjects to fuel his “Texas daddy Propaganda Buster blog / business than doing it out of genuine concern for the locals of Taiji or the Faroe Islands. Well, just saying that won’t help me make new friends I suppose, and sorry Tony if you read this; at least you’re out there while I’m back home not helping much, but I prefer to be honest than to make new friends or holding back what I feel about all this just to be popular on Facebook, haha. So everyone & anyone I have offended, please forgive me for my respectful honesty.”

To which Anker Eli Petersen replied:

“Ahh well, humour is one of many means to fight fanatism. And I have to admit, that I find Tony’s satire quite amusing. Especially when he calls them “girly men” – an insult to the phony “bad-ass” image tey (sic) try to create for themselves. :)”


Faroese Public Opinion

Most Faroese people were happy to see a successful grind take place on Sandoy on August 30th. Some were almost as happy about the police actions against Sea Shepherd — when volunteers from the organization tried to interfere, which is illegal under Faroese law, several were arrested and Sea Shepherd boats were also seized.

Coverage of the event from Kringvarp Føroya -- click image for their story.

Coverage of the event from Kringvarp Føroya — click image for their story.

Katrin Petersen, a mother of three who lives on Sandoy, told me:

“Yes, I was there (at the Grind). And this time I also took some whale meat as well. I have otherwise been a pretty strict non-Grind-eater for many years. Because I was thinking of the contamination (of mercury). I thought that, “as long as I am of childbearing age…” But you know — these Sea Shepherd people provoke me! They shouldn’t be the ones to decide, whether we eat grind or not. And I am NOT against the killing, I have only been concerned about eating mercury…

So, I ate a meal of pilot whale for the first time in years — and mamma mia, it was delicious!

I think that the grindadráp went well. And also the work of the police went well. But — I think, it can’t go on like this, that we have three helicopters and 20 policemen there at the grind! So — it went fine, but I’m a little bit worried about the next time, the next year, and the next 5 years…”

(In the Faroese Original: Ja, eg var har. Og hesaferð fekk eg grindapart, eisini. Eg havi annars verið nokkso strict ikki-grindaetari í´nógv ár. Tí eg hugsi um dálkingina. Havi hugsað, at “so leingi eg eri í aldri at fáa børn…” Men veitst tú – hesi SS-fólkini provokera meg! Tey skulu so ikki gera av, um eg eti grind ella ikki. Og eg eri IKKI ímóti drápinum, eg havi bara ikki hug at eta kyksilvur….

So eg át eina grindamáltíð fyri fyrstu ferð í áravís – og mamma mia, tað smakkaði væl!

Eg haldi, drápið gekk væl. Og eisini arbeiðið hjá løgregluni gekk væl. Men – eg hugsi, at tað kann ikki blíva við, at vit hava 3 tyrlur og 20 politimenn við í grind! So – tað gekk fínt, men eg stúri eitt sindur fyri næstu ferð, næsta ár, og tey næstu 5 árini…)

Some Faroese are opposed to the whale hunt, and may stand with or separate from Sea Shepherd on the issue. After the grind on Sandoy, for example, I saw one Faroe Islander post an image of a famous Faroese waterfall, but with the water photoshopped to be blood-red like the sea becomes at a grind.

The Faroese media has also outdone itself with its least newsworthy Sea Shepherd story yet. Apparently, one of the Sea Shepherd volunteers had the audacity to hide… a geocache?

Must have been a slow news day.


Sea Shepherd

Captain Paul Watson, for his part, has written the following about the grind on Sandoy:

“What we observed and the documentation we have secured is priceless. The publicity from the arrests has been amazing.

The Faroese police in the beginning saw the potential consequences and they said that it was best if a Grind did not take place because otherwise it would play right into Sea Shepherd’s hand. They were right.”

He also happily posted a political cartoon that was drawn about the event on

”The objective of Sea Shepherd is to get the Faroese people caught in all the traps that they lay out in front of us."

”The objective of Sea Shepherd is to get the Faroese people caught in all the traps that they lay out in front of us.”

Not only did Watson appreciate the publicity and footage from the Sandoy grind, he was also able to identify further silver linings in the situation:

“…Now that this slaughter has taken place, we can mention that over the last 85 days, Sea Shepherd boat crews have deflected three pods of whales away from the island before the killers could spot them. Unfortunately covering 18 islands is a difficult task, but I am proud of the fact that our volunteers saved those whales and made a valiant attempt to save these 33.

The positive side of this encounter is we now have evidence to implicate the Danish government and Sea Shepherd will take this evidence to the European Parliament to demand that action be taken against Denmark for collaboration with an illegal slaughter of whales. No European member of the EU may be involved with whaling, and although the Faroe Islands are not a member of the EU, they receive massive subsidies from the EU through Denmark. The Faroese may be exempt but Denmark is not and now we have the evidence that pilot whale blood in on the hands of Danish sailors and Danish Police. What is rotten in the Faroes is also very much rotten in Denmark.

Sea Shepherd Update: A Tale of Two Grinds

Faroese Whalers: 1 — Sea Shepherd: ???

The occupation of the Faroe Islands by Sea Shepherd has continued throughout the summer. From my perspective, there has been surprisingly little actual conflict. Until August, most of the interactions between the Faroese people and Sea Shepherd were petty, as Faroese people would accuse Sea Shepherd of minor crimes and mischief and share photographs of them driving and sitting around. Sea Shepherd volunteers, for their parts, seemed to be rather bored by the lack of action. To the surprise of many, they didn’t even disrupt Ólavsøka, the Faroese national holiday.


Our photoshoot in Tjørnuvík, which was filmed by Sea Shepherd for unknown purposes.

I myself was filmed by Sea Shepherd activists while taking photographs one day in the sea by Tjørnuvík… which had absolutely nothing to do with whaling. I can’t wait to see this footage show up in some sort of propaganda. I’m genuinely looking forward to it.

In the last month, however, things have really heated up…

July 30th, 2014
Sea Shepherd prevents a possible Grindadráp at Haraldssund

First, there was a pod of pilot whales sighted at Haraldssund on July 30th. Because Haraldsund is not an approved whaling bay and the weather was terrible that night, the decision was made to wait until the morning to decide what to do with the pod.

Even then, some Faroese believed that the decision had more to do with fear of Sea Shepherd than with practical concerns. For example, commenters on Norðlýsið wrote:

Screen Shot 2014-09-05 at 12.51.05 PM
My translation for non-Faroese speakers:

Kristian Olsen: Why not just say it how it is? You don’t dare to take the pod, what a bunch of idiots, it’s an embarrassment to call oneself Faroese these days. 😦
If it isn’t wise to go with small boats, so much the better, because therefore the SS boats can’t go either! And one would easily be able to stop all of the SS people south of the tunnel so they can’t disrupt anything… no, what a shame I say. And there are very many who agree with me about this.

Pauli Steinberg: Kristian, sometimes it’s worth it to use your head. I hope of course that we have many grindadráp this year. But tactically, I think it would be fortunate, so to say, if no grinds happened while the SS people were here. They came here and thought we were barbaric, undeveloped vikings who killed whales with our bare hands. Almost all of them are going back home with completely different thoughts about us. No, I think that we should be kind and hospitable with the SS-ers. The grind which is possibly coming in to Hvannasund should be observed and sent out again, because we are a people who study whales, we are used to doing that. And let the SS-ers go home happy with their weeks in the Faroe Islands. But I also think that the political authorities need to stand up and prevent such people from invading our land.

Ólavur Petersen: It’s a nice thought, Pauli Steinberg, but the only thing that would accomplish is that Sea Shepherd would say, “No whales where (sic) killed in Faroe Islands while we were there,” and if we let this one go, they will be right. To make it so that Sea Shepherd is right is one of the worst things we can do.

Katja Eyð Rafn Kristinnsdóttir: Pauli Steinberg and they will come back again for the next many years with the same thought. So no grind the next 40+ years.

This is Haraldssund, where the grind came on July 30th. The causeway completely blocks the channel between the open ocean and Klaksvík, so the whales could not have been driven in towards a whaling harbor. The possible plan the next day would have been to drive the whales back out towards the sea and around the island of Kunoy (on the left).

This is Haraldssund, where the grind came on July 30th. The causeway completely blocks the channel between the open ocean and Klaksvík, so the whales could not have been driven in towards a whaling harbor. The possible plan the next day would have been to drive the whales back out towards the sea and around the island of Kunoy (on the left).

The official decision was to wait until the next morning for a decision on what to do with the grind… if it hadn’t swum out to open sea on its own by then. But that night, the Sea Shepherd crew took their boats to the scene and chased the pod out into the open sea despite the bad weather. Many commented that it must have been everything they had hoped for — the successful prevention of a grind at dramatic personal risk. Such interference is against Faroese law, and Sea Shepherd was therefore reported to the police.

Livar Nysted, a Faroese ocean-rower and artist, watched most of the situation unfold from the mountains. In an interview with the Faroese media about the incident, Nysted complained that nothing was done to prevent Sea Shepherd from driving the whales to sea, and said it was unbelievable and embarrassing that “70 hippies” could “put us in our place.”

Grind-free seas off the village of Æðuvík. No grindadráp occurred during my two-and-a-half month stay in the Faroe Islands.

Grind-free seas off the village of Æðuvík. No grindadráp occurred during my two-and-a-half month stay in the Faroe Islands.

August 30th, 2014
Grindadráp on Sandoy:
33 Whales Killed, 14 Sea Shepherd Activists Arrested

The showdown both sides were waiting for finally occurred last week. A small grind of 33 whales was sighted, pursued, and slaughtered on Sandoy. The Sea Shepherd volunteers on Sandoy went to the sea to try to prevent the grindadráp and were arrested by Faroese police with help from the Danish navy.


The arrest of 14 Sea Shepherd activists generated a lot of international media coverage. As The Telegraph reports:

“Fourteen animal rights activists have been detained on the Faroe island of Sandoy in the North Atlantic while trying to stop a controversial dolphin hunt, their organisation has said. The activists were detained on Saturday when attempting to save a pod of 33 pilot whales, members of the dolphin family, as the mammals were driven to shore to be killed by waiting hunting parties, according to environmental group Sea Shepherd.

“The 14 have been under arrest since Saturday, and three of our boats have also been seized,” Lamya Essemlali, president of Sea Shepherd France, told AFP.

Large numbers of pilot whales are slaughtered each year on the Faroe Islands, an autonomous territory within the kingdom of Denmark. The method involves the mammals being forced into a bay by flotillas of small boats before being hacked to death with hooks and knives.”

It should be said that the method of killing described by The Telegraph is in direct opposition to how the Faroese say the whales have been killed there for many years. According to their laws and animal welfare regulations, “a regulation spinal lance must be used to sever the spinal cord, which also severs the major blood supply to the brain, ensuring both loss of consciousness and death within seconds. This, in addition to the supplementary use of the traditional whaling knife, if necessary, is the most efficient and humane means of killing beached pilot whales safely, with many participants involved at the same time.” (

The Faroese say they are continually researching and implementing new technology and methods as they seek the most humane way to kill the pilot whales for their own consumption, and compare their methods to those used in commercial slaughterhouses.

Those further interested can also read Killing Methods and Equipment in the Faroese Pilot Whale Hunt, the English translation of a working paper by Senior Veterinarian, Jústines Olsen, originally presented in Danish at the NAMMCO Workshop on Hunting Methods for Marine Mammals, held in Nuuk, Greenland in February 1999.

A release from the Sea Shepherd organization about the event states:

“Despite being a member nation of the European Union and subject to laws prohibiting the slaughter of cetaceans, Denmark has officially shown its support of — and now direct collaboration with — the Faroese whalers by sending the Danish Navy to defend this archaic, mass slaughter of whales in the Faroe Islands alongside Faroese police.”


Update: See what the August 30th, 2014 grindadráp meant for the Faroese people, Sea Shepherd, and others involved in the Faroese whaling controversy.

The Sandoy Toilet Paper Crisis

In all of the petty exchanges between Sea Shepherd and the Faroese this summer, the Sandoy Toilet Paper Crisis was probably the biggest and the strangest.

"Sea Shepherd steals on Sandoy" coverage by

“Sea Shepherd steals on Sandoy” coverage by

It all started when the mayor of Sandoy, Brandur Sandoy, posted a sign saying that Sea Shepherd was no longer welcome to use the facilities. He claimed that Sea Shepherd had been misusing the facilities and had stolen toilet paper and other items.

However, I have not read that he had any evidence for these claims. And the way that wrote about the closure made it sound as if it had more to do with opposing the Sea Shepherd organization’s work than about a scarcity of toilet paper.

My translation:

“In addition to using and misusing the hall, they have also stolen toilet paper and other things in the building,” he said.

Brandur Sandoy, who is also a member of parliament, personally thinks that the government has been unbelievably passive on the topic of Sea Shepherd, which he is seizing.

“We win nothing by letting ourselves be oppressed and watch, while Sea Shepherd drives the pods of pilot whales back out to sea, so we can’t get them.”

Brandur Sandoy says, that he plans to do that which is in his power to do in order to show the parliament that the Faroese in the question of Sea Shepherd ought to have been handled otherwise than it has been until now.

(- Umframt at tey bæði hava brúkt og misbrúkt hølini, hava tey eisini stjolið wc-pappír og annað í húsinum, sigur hann. Sjálvur heldur Brandur Sandoy, sum eisini er løgtingslimur í samgongu, at landsstýrið er ótrúliga passivt í málinum um Sea Shepherd, sum hann tekur til. – Vit vinna einki við at lata okkum kúga og hyggja at, meðan Sea Shepherd rekur grindirnar út á hav aftur, so vit ikki fáa fatur í teimum.

 Brandur Sandoy sigur, at hann ætlar at gera tað, hann er mentur, fyri at vísa løgtinginum á, at føroyingar í spurninginum um Sea Shepherd áttu at havt handlað øðrvísi, enn gjørt hevur verið higartil.)


The Toilet Paper Scandal

The Toilet Paper Scandal

In response, the Sea Shepherd land crews on Sandoy denied the claims and said that while there was a shortage of toilet paper in the facility, it had nothing to do with them and they had in fact been bringing their own toilet paper to use there.

The Sea Shepherd members then bought 200 rolls of good toilet paper and tried to give them to the mayor of Sandoy. They claimed the move was a goodwill gesture, but the way Paul Watson wrote about it made it clear that it was intended to humiliate the mayor. He titled the post:

The Great Sandoy Toilet Paper Scandal

Or How to Deal with a Constipated Mayor who is Simply Full of Shit.

Paul Watson then spent several paragraphs mocking the mayor for misspelling the name of the organization on the signs, where it was written “Sea Shepard.” As far as I know, Paul Watson does not speak or read Faroese, but he felt that it was fair game to mock a Faroese person’s spelling in English.

“Amazing that he could not spell Shepherd being that he lives on a group of islands called Faroe and Faroe means “sheep” and there are more sheep than islanders in the entire country. For future reference Mr. Mayor think of Sheep herd and simply drop one “e” to get Shepherd.”

He then wrote that when they tried deliver the paper,

“Mayor Brandur was not very grateful. In fact he was downright grumpy and seemed to be somewhat constipated, which of course was understandable, seeing the hygienic pickle he was in. He locked himself in his office or maybe his bathroom and would not come out, hoping that every one would go away.”


The mayor, Brandur Sandoy, told about the exchange but strangely avoided using the words toilet or paper:

“Yes, they were here in the municipality, but they got the same answer as before — that they are not welcome to use our facilities. That, which they had brought with them, they were asked to take with them again when they left.”

(Jú, tey vóru her í kommununi, men tey fingu sama svar sum áður – at tey ikki eru vælkomin at brúka fasilitetirnar hjá okkum. Tað, sum tey høvdu við sær, vórðu tey biðin um at taka við sær aftur, tá tey fóru.)

The mayor said that the facilities in question were being closed anyway, now that the peak tourism season has ended.


Minor Update:

In a letter to Oyggja Tíðindi where he argued that even bad publicity for the Faroe Islands is better than no publicity, Ingi M. Helmsdal wrote the following:

"An Interesting Toilet Paper"

“An Interesting Toilet Paper”

“Shortly after there was a grind on Sandoy, and the police sent many helicopters and officers to support the grindadráp, but truthfully also to search for the vanished toilet paper roll, and we have heard, that a diver found this roll on the bottom of the sea, unused. The foreigners undoubtedly felt threatened, and therefore they threw the toilet paper in the sea without using it. Today it is quite valuable, and could doubtlessly be resold abroad.”

(Stutt eftir var grind á Sandi, og løgreglan sendi fleiri tyrlur og løgreglufólk fyri at stuðla grindadrápinum, men sanniliga eisini fyri at leita eftir horvnu WC-rulluni, og vit hava hoyrt, at ein kavari fann hesa rullu á havsins botni, óbrúkta. Tey fremmandu hava ivaleyst følt seg hótt, og tí hava tey blakað WC-rulluna til havs, uttan at brúka hana. Í dag er hon sera nógv verd, og kann ivaleyst seljast fyri mill. Uttanlands.)


When it becomes very difficult to separate truth and satire, you know a situation that started out silly has really gotten ridiculous.

From Island to Island

Not content with visiting 16 islands and an islet in the Faroes, I planned a long way home, postponing my return to the mainland by two weeks and stops on the islands of Amager and Zealand (Denmark), Great Britain (England and Wales), The Isle of Man, and Ireland. Just as I had done on my way in through Norway, I kept my eyes and ears open for traces of the Faroe Islands in its neighboring countries.

First Stop: Denmark

Copenhagen Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and Faroe Islanders often joke that Copenhagen is the largest Faroese city, since the population of ethnic Faroese there is higher than that of Tórshavn. Logically, then, I expected it to be easy to find the Faroese here. And it was… and wasn’t.

First, I tried to find some Faroese people. This task was much harder than I’d anticipated, because so many of the Faroese residents of Copenhagen were on summer holiday at the time — in fact, most of them were visiting their family back home on the islands!

Still, I found myself joined by a whole Atlantic Airways flight of islanders going the other way — and I even knew many of them personally. And so I had the surreal experience of traveling, for however short a time, with Faroese people and speaking with them in Faroese while the Danes carried on around us, not understanding more than a word here or there. It was an oddly cozy feeling.

Through the wonders of the internet and multi-degree connectivity, I’d also managed to track down two Faroese women currently residing in the city – Heidi and Krista. Heidi invited me to temunn and breakfast at her home, and gave me insight into how she has carried her Faroese identity while living and, to a large degree, assimilating into Danish society. Krista and I spent two fun evenings together while we chatted about her own life and plans. Krista has been in Copenhagen for a far shorter time than Heidi, spends most of her time with the Faroese people living there, and plans to return to the Faroe Islands as soon after getting more work experience in Denmark.

It was also fashion week, and among the other big names being interviewed live and broadcast on a big screen in the city center, I saw a name and a face that was by this time familiar: Barbara í Gongini, a famous Faroese designer.

Aside from the Faroese themselves, there was little in Copenhagen to remind me of the Faroe Islands. The land was flat, the buildings tall, the streets busy, the sky startlingly big and blue after spending time in the misty Faroese mountains. Oh, and it was hot. I broke out pieces of my wardrobe that hadn’t seen the light of day since I’d packed them optimistically into my suitcase in May.

Faroese House Copenhagen

The Faroese House in Copenhagen

I made a map of Faroese places and things I might be able to see in the city. There was The Faroese House, a cultural meeting place and cafe; it was closed for the summer holidays. The “Faroese student ghetto” of Øresundskollegiet was likewise empty for the season. I found nothing Faroese in the Danish National Museum, which returned most such artifacts to the National Museum of the Faroe Islands several years ago. A search for Faroese restaurants, or even a restaurant serving Faroese ingredients, revealed only that Tórshavn’s beloved sushi restaurant, Etika, had tried in 2010 to establish a Copenhagen branch; despite some good initial reviews, it had not even lasted a season.

I took a walking tour of Copenhagen, which started outside the City Hall. Our guide proudly told us that the polar bears on the hall’s roof were there to represent Greenland, a Danish territory. As we started walking, I asked her to please point out to me if we passed anything related to the Faroe Islands.

She answered shortly: “No. There’s nothing about the Faroe Islands.”

“Okay,” I began, “Thanks anyw — ”

“In fact,” she continued, “I don’t really know anything about the Faroe Islands. At all.”

Most of the Danes I met were not so abrupt. Still, if my summer plans came up, most didn’t comment at all. Some said it was interesting in a tone that told me they thought it was anything but. There were exceptions. I met another journalist who had been living in Greenland, and we were eager to hear about each other’s work. And one young woman excitedly asked me if I was Faroese — she had spent time in the Faroe Islands, and recognized my sweater.

On the whole, the Danes just didn’t show anywhere near the interest that the Norwegians had back in Bergen, which I found a little bit strange considering the relationship between the two nations.

Second Stop: Great Britain

Cotswolds Islands

I was one degree and ten minutes away from a Faroese man in Oxford. They get around, I’m finding. I met a Cuban man in my hostel, and when he heard why I was in Europe, he threw up his hands in astonishment. “Seriously?” he asked, “I just found out about that place ten minutes ago! I was talking to this awesome Faroese guy at my conference. This is too weird.”

The British occupied the Faroe Islands during World War II and left behind an airport, a strong tea-drinking tradition and Cadbury chocolate. But the cultural exchange was mostly unilateral, and the rest of my connections to the Faroe Islands on Great Britain were comparative. The apologies the locals made for the changeable weather made me smile that one-upping smile. The sea felt so warm. The houses and gardens looked so fine and pretty, even in the small villages of the Cotswalds and the mountains of Wales. The land just seemed so safe, protected, and fertile compared to what I had come from.

A language geek as ever, Welsh fascinated me. I saw more of it than I expected to — just about everything written was bilingual — but I didn’t hear any of it until I reached northern Wales, where I was happy to hear it spoken much more, and by all generations, in Caernarfon. The scarcity still made me a little bit sad. There, I thought, but for the grace of a thousand kilometers of salt water, or some truly commendable island obstinacy, goes Faroese.

Third Stop: The Isle of Man

Isle of Man Faroe Islands

I stayed with a family in the Isle of Man who positively astonished me with their knowledge of the Faroes. They asked me intelligent questions about the political system, showed me an old book with photographs of artist Tróndur Patursson harpooning a whale, and expressed avid concern for the puffin colonies on Mykines.

Now, this family was most likely exceptional in this regard: not only especially intellectually curious but specifically about topics that would pull the Faroe Islands into their view. The two island nations are, after all, linked by many obvious political and cultural parallels, varying degrees of Norse heritage, and, especially intriguing to my host’s father (a part-time ornithologist) large populations of sea birds.

The Isle of Man is much bigger than any of the Faroe Islands, and it’s only the one. It was hard for me to buy, comparatively, the word “isolated” describing any of the Manx settlements. The people of Man have a few towns that could reasonably be called cities, albeit small ones, with multiple pubs and Chinese and Indian carry-outs… and lovely, brooding castles. They’ve also got much larger expanses of flat, fertile land as well as trees and forests. Despite some resistance, English has almost completely overtaken their Manx language.

But when I stood on the shore, the strength of the wind took me by surprise and the crashing surf revealed the fury of the full force of the Atlantic, even on a mild and sunny day. And I thought, yes, these islands are close cousins, after all.

Fourth Stop: Ireland

Ireland Faroe Islands

Once I read a long scholarly article that promised to examine the historic cultural relationship between Ireland and the Faroe Islands. It basically concluded there wasn’t any… and wasn’t that strange? Okay. So I didn’t spend much time looking in that direction.

Irish Gaelic, which seems to be doing okay, gave me yet another reminder of how amazing Faroese is doing for such a small language. For my next visit to Ireland, I think I better head to the Aran Islands, which I was able to glimpse not too far off the coast of the Burren. They’re as Gaelic as Gaelic comes, everyone says — that little bit of saltwater separation having a powerful preservative effect.

The Irish landscape was broader and flatter and more forested than the Faroese, once again (it doesn’t take much.) To give credit where it’s due, I experienced more changeable weather in Ireland than anywhere else I’ve ever visited, including the Faroes. So many of these Northern European countries tell the same jokes — “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” But only in Ireland did I really experience, within the hour, sunshine turn to black skies and driving rain and back again.

The Cliffs of Moher, apparently Ireland’s second most visited tourist attraction, were lovely. But I’d seen just as good in the Faroes and not had to share them with hundreds of Chinese and Midwestern American tourists. And the Irish are going around claiming they have the highest sea cliffs in Europe. You can Google it and see.

“As high as the Cliffs of Moher (217m) are,” our guide said proudly, “they are not the highest in Ireland! For that, you’ll have to go to Sliabh Liag (601m), which are the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe!”

Now, I happen to know that the Faroese Cape Enniberg, which also claims that lofty title (they discount Norway’s Hornelen for not being vertical enough for proper cliffs) rises 750 meters above the sea. When I questioned the guide on the matter while the rest of the bus was going to the bathroom, he sort of deflated.

“Maybe my facts are wrong,” I offered. “I’m not very good at remembering numbers.”

“No, no, you’re probably right,” he said. “This is just what we learned in school…”

I doubt he’ll change his rehearsed speech on the matter. After all, how often is someone going to know enough about some little nowhere islands to call him on it?

180° – Reflections from Half a World Away

My summer in the Faroe Islands is over, but much remains to be done. I left the Faroe Islands a few weeks ago, and after detouring in Denmark, England, Wales, Man, and Ireland on the way home, I’m finally back in Missouri.

There’s still a lot of summer left here — and here, summer means the concrete’s so hot you can watch your footprints disappear in seconds, sweating is natural and welcome, and the lake water’s so still and warm, you can almost fall asleep in it, lying on your back beneath the stars on a sultry dark night.

Summer in Missouri -- what's always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

Summer in Missouri — what’s always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

It’s been a strange transition.

I was able to readjust to some aspects of life off the islands (trees, large buildings, busy roads…) along the way, but it still hit me surprisingly hard to look out of the window of my Chicago – St. Louis flight at endless, hazy blue and realize that it wasn’t the billowing sea I was looking at, but land… an unimaginable amount of solid land.

And then there was the moment I stepped out of the airport — still clad in jeans, wool socks, hiking boots and a long-sleeved shirt (though I had taken my heavy sweater off moments earlier) — and into what felt like a solid wall of heat and humidity. I found myself gasping for breath. The heat index on my first day back reached nearly 42 C.

In quiet moments, I’ve felt a strange longing for the cold blue fog of so many summer nights in Gøta.

And this from the girl who, just a few months ago, had a secret fear of falling off the islands — so unused to the lack of a whole continent as a cradle. The girl who once saw a photo of Greenlandic children wearing thick sweaters in July and swore, shivering, that she’d never live in such a terrible place. The girl whose only reference point, the first time she was enveloped by a rush of bright summer mists, was the cinematic white-out that signals entrance into some other, higher dimension.

Summer in the Faroes -- an experience I would never have imagined.

Summer in the Faroes — an experience I would never have imagined.

I guess I’ve come 180 degrees… and back again.

Though I’ve now left the Faroes behind me physically, I doubt I’ll ever get them out of my mind or my heart. I certainly hope to maintain a lifelong connection with the nation and with the wonderful Faroese people who welcomed me into their homes and lives.

More immediately and concretely, I am not yet finished with the project that took me to the Faroes this summer. I had more I wanted to see, do, process and share than I could ever have accomplished during my short stay. So as the summer progressed, I made the executive decision to focus on the first two.

Over the next few months, I will be editing photos, transcribing interviews, thinking, and writing, writing, writing. Rather than being the end of my Land of Maybe blog, my homecoming is closer to a beginning. So please stay tuned — there’s so much I can’t wait to share with you!

Faroese High Summer

High Summer has come to the Faroe Islands. The yellow buttercups and marsh marigolds have been joined by white clover, purple ragged robin and lacy umbels of angelica. The days are at their longest, the hills at their greenest, the weather at its finest — but keep calm, we’re still talking Faroese standards.

The Faroese version of a "Beach Day" at the G! Festival -- not exactly for the Miami crowd!

The Faroese version of a “Beach Day” at the G! Festival — not exactly for the Miami crowd!

Yesterday the G! Festival began in earnest, my lovely host family finished painting the upstairs and the outside furniture, and Norðragøta was loud with the sounds of seagulls and drunk festival-goers, our house full of guests stuffing themselves on bollar and home-made rhubarb jam, and hundreds of sheep baaaa-ing as they were herded down off of the mountain Tyril to be sheared.

House Painting in the Faroes

Painting houses in the summer weather.

As Jonhedin Herason Trondheim told me at a G! Festival planning meeting, “Yes, our summer is great. And it’s long. But it’s short and we have to fit in festivals, painting our houses, everything!”

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Is it any wonder I’m struggling to find time to update my blog?

G! Comes to Gøta

The G! Festival, one of the biggest and most anticipated music festivals in the Faroese summer, takes place each summer in my own home village of Gøta! There’s camping in Norðragøta, a few events in Gøtugjógv and the bulk of the action will happen on the stages of Syðrugøta, just a short walk away.

Preparations for G!

Preparations for G! in Syðrugøta

The main event begins today, but the festival spirit arrived yesterday afternoon with the most eager of the campers, who line up in anticipation of the opening of the camping area, sometimes 6-7 hours early (even though there is plenty of room for everyone!). Some of the groups have camp names, like “Flower Power” (who decorate their tents with flowers) and “The G! Spot” (what a pun). This year, like last year, the first campers on the scene were “Skopunhagen” who entertained other early arrivals with beer contests and quizzes before taking their rightful position at the very front of the line.

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

When the gates open, there is a mad rush to select the best spots and pitch your tent as quickly as possible. The frantic, confused efforts made it fairly clear that most of these people had not used their tents before and had also done a fair bit of pre-gaming. But that’s just part of the fun!

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

Residents of Gøta (except for yours truly, who was out in the field getting trampled to bring you these photographs) watched from windows and streets throughout the village, taking their own photos and videos of the “Tent Village” that springs up over the course of an afternoon to join Gøta every year for G!

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta