Paddling Across the Arctic Circle

Sincere apologies to those who've checked this site for updates. I'd been filing photos and text almost daily using the Flickr mail-in service. But nothing appeared! What a waste of time and effort all around. I've yet to investigate what went wrong, but I'm not pleased.

Anyway here, in order of their being sent, are my posts from our Norway trip, with only slight editing from the originals.

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In Norway
I'd always imagined that starting the holiday with a long ferry crossing, rather than a plane ride, would set a relaxed pace. Rather than frantically mucking about in crowded airports, we'd just drive to the quay at Newcastle and.... sit in the baking sun for two and a half hours.

The boat was late. But the captain has made up time on the overnight crossing. We saw several oil platforms pass by the window. I asked Liz at breakfast, "Is this better than air-travel?" "I'd like it to be", she replied, "but I'm not sure. Depends upon how much time you have".

This is a very popular route. Consequently, there was a bit of a crowd on board. But since everyone has a cabin, we could retreat to there. I'd been worried the thrum of the engine might keep us awake, but we had no problems there. The cabins are spartan but very comfy.

Everything is priced in Norwegian Kroner (NOK) and while not cheap, it's not completely exorbitant either. Last night, an All You Can Eat buffet (so beloved when we were Pacific Crest Trail Hikers) with two small bottles of mineral water cost £46. But then a meal for two in Glasgow costs that much, and we're a captive market. That said, the duty free shop costs more than our local supermarket.

Kayakers considering this trip would be advised to go for a cabin with a window if at all within price range. It's only about £15 more than a windowless box. Unless you're going to spend the entire trip in the bar (unlikely when a bottle of beer is £4) the cabin-and-view is a nice place into which you can retreat.

Save some cash by bringing all food and drinks on board - we wish we'd brought more than one cool bag. On the return we'll have the stove & tea bags too. Oh, breakfast tea was awful but the coffee is OK. The boat has called at Stavanger and Haugesund before we leave it in Bergen.

Then we begin 1,115km long drive north to Nesna where we'll start the paddle. Depending upon the number of stops we make for tea-drinking (own brews), we expect to get there either late Sunday or early Monday.

At The Start
So this is it. My God that was along drive. And so slow.

Twenty four and a half hours after driving off the DFDS ferry we were waiting for the small ferry to take us to Nesna and the start of our trip. My eyes are a bit bleary, so please excuse the typos!

I'd been warned Norwegian police liked their radar traps and handed out steep fines. And the speed limits are very low. Motorway speed is below 60mph and open road even less. So getting around takes ages.

We were through customs and driving at 5pm yesterday and, with a swift stop for salad dinner, kept going until about 22.30. We slept in the back of the car, rather badly actually. At 05.30 we were driving again, passing through Trondheim around 11.00. So that was five and a half hours yesterday, twelve hours today.

The character of the drive is interesting and changed constantly, but after a while you've seen almost every combination of tree, rock and water that's possible. But the driving is very easy and we've shared the load. The only down side is we have it all to do in reverse in about ten days.

I doubt we'll get on the water until later tomorrow as we've things to do in Nesna. But frankly, I can't wait to start paddling. This evening I paid a visit to Magne with whom I'd been in touch before coming and who'd copied me a huge stash of charts. He runs trips from here and also rents kayaks and kits.

Three German paddlers are also here with exactly the same plans as us, so I suspect we'll see a lot of them.

They've had a great summer here but the tourist season is winding down now. The low cloud hides the mountain tops and there's a feeling like autumn is coming.

Day 1 & 2 Tomma & Lovund
The cliffs would be teeming with puffins had we been here a few weeks ago. As it is, we've just seen the occasional straggler on the water, the others having left to spend winter at sea. High above our heads, occasional groups of small birds with a fast wing-beat still head to and from the cliffs. Perhaps they're not all at sea yet.

The scenery here is utterly superb. Distant islands rise from the horizon, either dome shaped or fractured into splintered peaks. We've been through a maze of five thousand tiny islands which makes Arisaig look like a beginner. It's been very useful to have the GPS loaded with Norway topos (thanks Erling!).

We started slow yesterday taking two hours to pack and not leaving until 14.00, which meant we caught the tide. 17.7 km later we pulled into a bay on the south end of Tomma just as the sky was darkening. We had the tent up and gear inside just in time. The wind rose and the rain followed. It didn't stop until some time in th early hours.

We started under heavy cloud, and I made a few navigations errors, switching between GPS, maps and charts all on different scales and often with different names for the same places!

By afternoon the sun was out and we crossed flat calm water to Lovund. The maze of islands acts as a huge natural breakwater, so we saw now swell until we were on the very outer edge, the west side of Tomma. 36.7 km today. Here we found a bay and set up camp. Three German kayakers pulled into the bay shortly after. We met them in Nesna and seem ok.

Day 3 - Luroya
The elegance of a sea kayakers' campsite!

We'd just hung out the washing on this isolated island, stripped naked and washed off four days of paddling sweat and salt, when a fast ferry zoomed by. We'd dived into the tent before they were flashed.

Back through the island maze today. Great view of the glacier in the distance. We might get underneath that soon. Well, not literally.

Tough head-wind all day so slower progress but still managed 36km. It also made the sea a little more interesting which was good. Our German friends were just getting up as we left, and they didn't plan to paddle as far. Picked up two bad cuts on index and second fingers of right hand where I tore them on barnacles.

Looking back we've covered a lot of water from Lovund to here. Tomorrow we might give ourselves an easier day. Erling is texting us weather reports and it looks more settled after tonight, gusting F6. Apparently we're getting the best weather in Norway.

Day 4 Kvitingen (Arctic Monkeys)
Liz has just been out fishing from my more stable Quest. She can see lots of crab and fish through the beautiful clear water, but they're not interested in her lures. The water here is astonishingly clear, meaning the bottom is visible, even at some depth.

Two porpoises played around her boat, unusually gregarious, while se drifted.

A short 18.5km day today, mainly due to a late start. A bit of first aid on my cut hands was required with electrical tape keeping everything in place. Got on the water at 12.25 but only planned a short paddle. I though there was a monument at the Arctic Circle en-route, but it's on an island much nearer the mainland. And it's not on the actual circle. Fancy that.

There was no wind, but we rode the stonr north going tide all day.

After lunch at 14.30, just before slack water, we crossed 66d 33.380m and entered the Arctic, the first time for both of us. Which is surprising since we like cold places and met on expedition in Alaska.

We planned to spend the night on Hestemona but it was just 16.00 so crossed to this tiny island by 17.00. While I set up camp, Liz went out fishing. I better get the pasta out...

Day 5 & 6 Rodoy & Skarsfjord
Low on battery so no photo. Amongst many sea eagles yesterday and this morning. Aborted first crossing to mainland in rough sea but made it second attempt.

Fjords not as great as islands, so planning to head for ferry port at Gronoy and back to car tomorrow, then off to find even more islands around Sandesjoen.

We caught the fast boat on which the kayaks were stored precariously. Back in Nesna we were passed on to some friends of friends in Sandersjoen, then out onto some superb islands.

But that's another story.

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