Adventure and Opportunity – by Shelagh Smith, W.O.M.E.N. member and former board member
There´s a little town on Snæfellsnes called Grundarfjörður where you can take a boat trip to see puffins. Nothing new about that in Iceland, but what is very interesting is the fact that the boat crew are all women. And what is even MORE interesting, is that this all-female boat crew are also all foreign women living or working in Iceland.
Joséphine Mayr is a French/German tiny house builder and also the captain of a beautiful old oak boat called Láki which she sails to the nearby Melrakkaey island to see puffins and other seabirds. Her passion for all things wild started very early in life and has led her onto many exciting trails. One of these trails reached Grundarfjörður where she works as a whale guide and skipper. Josephine has always been obsessed with whales. She created a life-sized pencil drawing of a fin whale for an art project while studying which took 127m 2 of paper, had 96m 2 of drawing and was 29m long!
When I asked her why she wanted to be a captain, her reply was that she loved boats, the sea and marine wildlife. Captaining allowed her to be in control of a boat, on sea and to see whales and birds all at the same time while getting paid for doing what she loved! She took her captain‘s licence in the United Kingdom as English is easier than Icelandic and a British licence is more recognized worldwide. I was in awe at how she navigates the nooks and crannies of the jagged coastline of Melrakkaey, getting up as close as possible so that the passengers can get an ideal view of the puffins lined up like sentries on the island cliffs.
Sandra Hörbst hails from Austria and is a seasonal worker on the puffin and whale watching trips. Ever since she was a child she has been enamoured by whales, especially after receiving a book on whales from an aunt. Sandra went on to study Marine Conservation and is also an avid lover of birds. Her main job is as a whale guide in South Africa where Southern Right whales are prominent. Sandra likes to get out of her comfort zone every now and then, so when the opportunity to work in the chilly north presented itself in the form of a job offer in Iceland in her off-season, she took it. She came to Iceland and has just started her 4th season in Grundarfjörður. I noticed how the passengers were transfixed by her knowledge of the birdlife they were seeing as well as her passionate concern for the health of the ocean and its inhabitants. Sandra is also very good at handling the ropes!
Markéta Posseltová´s passion for orcas is what brought her to Iceland. She found herself looking for a place where she could live her dream rather than be afraid of a war in Europe. Markéta comes from Czechia and the war in Ukraine was too close for her. While working as a housekeeper for a guesthouse in Iceland, she wrote to several whale watching companies asking for work. One answered that she could start right away and so she moved to Grundarfjörður. She acquired the necessary qualifications and is now a whale watching guide and does puffin trips when needed.
All three women are very happy with their jobs and their life in the Icelandic countryside. They
agreed that it takes a mixture of knowledge, passion, timing, a little bit of luck and a HUGE amount
of determination to get what you want. It seems like that combination definitely works for them!
If you are interested in seeing puffins on a charming boat with a delightful crew, Grundarfjörður is
around two hours‘ drive from Reykjavik. It makes for a perfect day tour.
For more information go to lakitours.com