Lighthouses and shelters, Iceland's lifesavers

Isolated within the limits of the Arctic polar Ocean, lost in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, Iceland is subjected to particularly difficult climatic conditions. In this island of a few 100.000 square km, the sea plays a key role : respected because it helped the country live for centuries, but also dreaded, here much more than anywhere else… The fishing industry indeed always occupied an important place in the Icelandic economy. The ships must however skirt dangerous coasts but also undergo a climate, not only very violent, but especially recognized for its unforeseeable character. After all, Icelanders say that if somebody does not like the weather outside, they should wait for five minutes!

Phare de Thordvaldsfjall

To protect the fishing vessels and their men from the constant danger coming from the sea, the country had to quickly put up an important and powerful network of lighthouses and refuges : while the first guide the ships by informing them of the coast's dangers, the others will be used as shelters to the shipwrecked sailors…

Most of the lighthouses are characterized by sharp colors : orange for the majority, while some are more simply painted in red and white. All were built on strategic areas on which their function depends : some show the entrance of important fjords where ships can find refuge, while others, perched on the peaks and cliffs of the island, announce the coast's dangers. Thus, the lighthouses and beacons of the Icelandic shoreline protect, guide and reassure the sailors in bad weather. It wasn't always the case…
Phare de Dyrholaey, Islande   Phare de Bolungarvik

Formerly, straw fires lighted up along the coast were guiding sailors to the port. What saved many ships wrecked some others… It was indeed not rare that the inhabitants of the poor and isolated coasts light fires in danger zones to attract the ships. The boats thus trapped were crushed on reefs and stranded in the shallow waters before being plundered, not only of their goods, but also of their own wood… The wood of the boats was indeed collected by the inhabitants who benefited from this rare product for all kinds of constructions. Fortunately, these hard and dubious times are quite over today. Electricity shines since a long time the Icelandic lighthouses which today, for the majority, are completely automated.

The ocean represents the principal source of wealth of Iceland, but remains a dubious ally and often murderer. In spite of safety progress on ships and trawlers, the fishermen's life remains indeed constantly threatened by the elements. Powerful currents surround the island, like those coming from Greenland which push the icebergs towards the North coast.

  Côte de Malariff, Snaefellsness

Lastly, the Icelandic climate is more unforeseeable : it is not rare to go from a beautiful sun to a violent storm, before finding a rainbow in the sky, all that in less than ten minutes!

Phare de Latrabjarg, extrémité ouest de l'Islande   Grand phare de Malariff

For this reason, Iceland also organized an excellent network of refuges and storm shelters, intended to protect from the violent whims of its climate. Thus, throughout the uninhabited coasts of the island, shelters called “Storm Shelters” are spread every fifteen to thirty kilometers. The latter guarantees a minimum protection for the people who take refuge there.

Refuge de Haedalvik, Horn

  Langanes storm shelter

Easy to locate with their orange color, these huts and shelters were set up to help fishing and sailing shipwrecked men, but also hunters and hikers mislaid in the storm.

Sometimes in extreme situations, these refuges shelter, warm-up and even allow the stranded men to eat a little bit. The huts were really built in order to protect from all kinds of emergencies.

  Refuge pour tempête, Dritvik

Refuge des West Fjords


Thus, one can find covers, clothing of replacement (trousers, socks, wool sweaters, rain jackets and even boots), as well as survival food for several days.

With that, a small first aid kit is added, a heating stove, sometimes doubled with pans and kitchen utensils, but especially a VHF radio, making it possible to call for help when the storm dies down!

These storm shelters are an essential relay to the lighthouses network built throughout the coast. Powerful, this system of help and guidance already saved many human lives.

Phare de Skardsvik,   Reinir, Islande

Alone in the middle of the Arctic storms, this small country had to adapt to its isolation and difficult climatic conditions. In Iceland more than everywhere else, luck does not have its place and nature is queen. Failing to overcome it, Icelanders understood a long time ago the need of putting all the chances on their side to protect themselves from this furious nature. In spite of everything, they know that on a stormy day, when the wind goes insane and that cold paralyses, they can count on the lighthouses and shelters, true guards and lifesavers of their island and its inhabitants.

Phare balise de Stikkysholmur
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