A Sailing Voyage To The North Of Norway (Guest Blog)
We met Mike and Liz in Bergen at the start of Rampage’s cruise to the North Cape. Trinovante and Rampage then met up several times as both boats sailed north.
There are several sailing holidays you can join onboard Trinovante in the north of Norway this summer (2011).
RAMPAGE TO THE NORTH CAPE OF NORWAY
Mike and Liz Taylor-Jones
(Rampage is a 43 foot Bermudan yawl original condition designed by Arthur Robb, built in 1961)
The seeds of this voyage were sown in 1961 when Mike, in his ‘gap year’, sailed to Greenland with the mountaineer and explorer H W Tilman (as detailed in Tilman’s book Mischief In Greenland). Greenland’s magnificent ice cap, mountains, glaciers and fjords left an indelible impression on Mike, who always dreamed of making another similar voyage. However by the time we were retired the only Arctic scenery within the scope of a normal summer cruise seemed to be Norway.
We left Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex on 16 May with a strong crew: the two of us and three sailing neighbours and forecasts of strong southerly winds, decreasing. We began the rolling watch system with 3 hours on and 4½ hours off. The wind picked up again next day and in the big following sea Rampage rolled
uncomfortably. After the gas-rigs off Norfolk it was an empty scene and we saw only two fishing boats on the Dogger Bank.
Land fall In Norway
Ahead of schedule after a fast passage averaging 6 knots, we went into the Hardangerfjord and as we motor-sailed deep inland we were thrilled to see the sun gleaming on distant snowfieldsand splendid waterfalls crashing down the vertical cliffs. We tied up at Norheimsund 4 days and 575 miles from Walton.
Two of our crew left us in Bergen but one kindly stayed on to help us round Statt, the notorious headland on our way to the North (in fact it is probably no worse than Portland Bill, but very exposed compared with the sheltered passages inside the islands, the ‘Inner Leads’, found along most of this coastline).
Our last crew left from Ålesund and we pressed on, alone covering about 50 miles a day We had read that the coast from Rørvik to Bodø is considered by Norwegians to have their most dramatic scenery and wanted to have time to explore the many islands with extraordinary shaped mountains.
Puffin Island of Lovund
On Saturday 13 June we made the passage out to sea to the puffin island of Lovund. The island was beautiful with a dramatic peak and steep scree slopes where the puffins make their burrows. Next morning we had a long walk with marvellous views and lovely colours, and saw hundreds of puffins, like squadrons of model aircraft, flying at terrific speed out to sea and back again to collect fish for the partner sitting on the eggs.
Arctic Circle and Selsoyvik
That afternoon we crossed the Arctic Circle, 66°33’N, We moored at Selsøyvik, a remote island trading station now being restored, with a shop that sold everything. Our lines were taken by a Viking woman with long blonde hair in bunches – Kristina, from Sweden, who lives for most of the year on her 20ft boat and is a fascinating person. She is a writer, and in midwinter she rents a holiday house on the westernmost island of Norway where she is the only inhabitant. She showed us her boat, which she had refitted herself and which contains everything she owns and everything she needs for extensive cruising.
Now we were heading for the Svartisen Glacier, and set off for the Holandsfjord with glimpses inland of the Svartisen Icefield and numerous snow-capped peaks, appearing and disappearing in the swirling black clouds. There was lots of snow but no glacier as we motored to the head of the steep-sided, tree-clad fjord. Then round a bend we could suddenly see the Svartisen Glacier, blue even without the sun.
We moored to a pontoon at the head of the fjord. Heavy, overnight rain cleared in the morning and we walked a couple of miles on a track, passing a turquoise lake, to the foot of the glacier. The ice has retreated in recent years and was now about 600 feet above us. There were paint way-markings for a long way, and chains between stakes to pull ourselves up the wet, ice-polished, smooth rocks and soon we were touching the glacier. We picnicked beside it, towering 20 feet above us, and filled some containers with 1000-year-old ice for our evening gin and tonics.
The colours in the caves and crevasses were the deepest blues and greens and the ice was clean and clear with big crystals.
Back to the boat and now the intermittent showers were dying out, the sun shone, and the colours were superb as we sailed down to the sea and anchored in a little sheltered bay with views back to the immense snowfield.
At the head of the small bay, and due north of us, was a low causeway linking the hills on either side. The sun set behind the hill on the west side but was still shedding a golden light on the hills opposite. I decided to stay up till the sun appeared in the gap over the causeway and, just as we had predicted, it appeared, due north, at 0100. The boat and cabin were filled with amazing golden light. The excitement of the midnight sun has to be experienced to be understood.
The sun didn’t dip below the horizon for another five weeks.
By now we were beginning to get the hang of Norway and the contrasts with life in the UK. We appreciated the extraordinary helpfulness of the people and their very necessary resourcefulness in what, in the north at least, is still very much a frontier society, relying on self-help. We enjoyed the honesty and trust that small populations still have – boat club premises with showers, laundry and computer unlocked and unsupervised, and always an honesty box for the mooring fees and showers.
Mooring up was easy as every village has a pontoon for the use of passing vessels. These were usually commercial fishing boats or small private motor boats, and there was always room for us as the fishing season is early spring for cod and autumn for herring. Charming anchorages were plentiful,
Fish For Dinner
Though totally inexperienced, we were also prepared for catching cod. Our first attempts at fishing only brought up seaweed. However once we crossed the Arctic Circle we started pulling them in, and in the Lofoten Islands we had our biggest catch ever – two fish on one line, 32 inches and 27 inches long and, we guessed, about 20lb in weight. It took four of us four days to eat them, but even at the end they were still wonderfully fresh compared with what we are used to in Britain. Northern Norway, and particularly around the Lofoten Islands, is now the only major cod fishery left in the world. Norwegian fisheries sustain a catch of 3 million tonnes a year, about half of it cod,for a population of 4·5 million.
Traditionally the cod is dried on racks in the cold wind until it is hard and stiff, known as‘stockfish’, the export of which to Europe and Africa gave Norway its wealth in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The Lofoten Islands
On Midsummer Day, 22 June, we reached Bodø where we had arranged to meet two new crew for a week’s cruise to the Lofoten Islands. The Lofotens have, as well as cod, the most spectacular picture-book Norwegian scenery, with precipitous mountains rising sheer from the sea and colourful red- and yellow-ochre painted wooden fishing villages clinging to the shore.
We explored fjords with steep walls of bare rock, sometimes scored with horizontal ridges by glaciers during the last ice age. North of the Lofotens we had our first close up sighting of a sea eagle diving for fish among a flock of shrieking gulls. On a glassy calm morning, with hundreds of puffins floating around us, we took the exposed route outside the island of Senja, which presents a spectacular wall of mountains to the sea and has deep fjords with tiny isolated hamlets at their heads. Later the wind came in and we had a brisk sail under cruising ’chute to the sheltered harbour of Sømerøy. This has lovely cold-water coral beaches,
The North Cape (Nordkapp) was ‘discovered’ as the northernmost point in Europe by the English explorer Richard Chancellor in 1553, while looking for the North East passage. Of course the Sami (Lapps) had herded their reindeer there for hundreds of years before that, but it remained outside European consciousness for long afterwards.
It is a fine, bold headland with a 1000ft vertical cliff, well north of the tree latitude – the only living things to be seen were the reindeer, grazing like mountain goats. We reached it on 9 July after 54 days and with 2126 miles on the log. At 71°11’N we were 1100 miles from the North Pole and 1300 as the crow flies from home. Ironically it was a clear, sunny and very warm day, and we anchored in the deep bay of Hornvika just beyond the Cape. This is where tourists used to be brought in the old days – they were dropped off on the beach to make the steep climb to the top of the cliff. Nowadays the cruise ships go to the port of Honningsvag and passengers are bussed to the headland 15 miles away. Our crew were offered the old route, so struggled up the old path in the surprising heat of the afternoon.
Before they returned a dense low fog-bank came in from the sea, and as we motored out into it the fog was penetrated by the deep note of a ship’s foghorn. Turning hard to starboard, after a few tense moments we were pleased to see from the AIS that they had done the same – radar reflectors do work after all! We passed at a safe distance, port to port, seeing only the shadowy outline of a cruise liner’s bow. On the way back we had some glorious, almost warm, weather as we passed the Lyngen Alps, and three days later were back in Tromsø.
Mid August found us back in Ålesund, where we were joined by our last crew for the voyage to the Shetlands. We had a good run the first day, with clear views of the snow-capped peaks as we left Norway behind. Later the cloud and rain came back, and at 1700 those of us offwatch below heard Ann shout ‘dolphins’ in a voice of disbelief. I wondered if it was worth getting up, but there was something odd about her voice so I did, to see about twelve killer whales swimming very close alongside the boat. Those nearest to us were young ones, 12–15 feet long – sometimes they swam together in twos and threes skimming the waves and leaving a splashing wake, sometimes they dived under the boat. There was a very large fin about 200m away, probably the leader of the pod, and soon he smacked his tail on the water and they were gone. Ann felt so emotional about the sighting that she could hardly speak.
Land Fall Back In The UK
By the next morning the wind had backed and strengthened, and by midday was gusting up to force 8 and Rampage was surfing at 10 knots down the huge waves.Crossing wave-trains producing pinnacles of foaming water, and when our bow wave met one of these peaks it crashed into the cockpit drenching everyone. By evening the continuous heavy rain stopped and the sky cleared, and we were able to watch the acrobatics of skuas, gannets, terns and fulmars as they tried to fish amongst the waves. After it got dark we soon picked up the light of Muckle Flugga, and in the early hours made Balta Sound on Unst, the northernmost Shetland Isle. It had been another quick passage, 42 hours and 244 miles out from Ålesund.