Swimming Across Fjord at Speed of Cow

The cover of the book about the swimming cow, Sundkýrin …

The cover of the book about the swimming cow, Sundkýrin Sæunn.

Vala Hafstað

Sæunnarsund, an annual swimming event, was held in the West Fjords last Saturday to commemorate the heroic act of the cow Sæunn that swam across the fjord in 1987, Morgunblaðið reports.

A total of 28 people participated in the event by attempting to swim across Önundarfjörður fjord. Of those, 23 managed to swim from Valþjófsdalur valley to the town of Flateyri – a distance of about 2.5 km (a mile and a half).

Hólmfríður Bóasdóttir, one of the participants.

Hólmfríður Bóasdóttir, one of the participants. Photo/Halla Signý

The story behind the event goes like this:

In 1987, the farmer at Neðri-Breiðdalur in Önundarfjörður fjord was forced to put down some of his cattle, due to new laws regarding cattle quota, according to Vísindavefurinn . One of the cows he sadly had to put down was one by the name of Harpa, although the cow was in good health.

Harpa was therefore transported to the town of Flateyri, where she had an appointment with the butcher. Approaching the door of the slaughterhouse, she broke loose and escaped. She ran to the shore and set about swimming across Önundarfjörður fjord. Miraculously, she made it across in about an hour.

The farmers on the other side of the fjord, at Kirkjuból in Valþjófsdalur valley, were informed about the situation. The decided to reward Harpa for her perseverance by purchasing her and allowing her to start a new life at their farm. They appropriately renamed her Sæunn, meaning ‘the wave of the ocean.’ Sæunn thrived at the new home and gave birth to a calf eight months after arriving there, meaning she was already pregnant during the swim. She lived for six more years after the ordeal.

Sæunn inspired author Eyþór Jóvinsson to write the children’s book Sundkýrin Sæunn (‘Sæunn the Swimming Cow’) in 2020. The book is illustrated by Freydís Kristjánsdóttir.

Most of Saturday’s swimmers crossed the fjord at the speed of a cow – in about an hour. This was the third time the event was held.


Light rain


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Light rain


10 °C