Since our last newsletter, sent shortly after we arrived in Norway, our summer has evolved, some might say degenerated, into the slowest and most relaxing cruising we have ever done—a real contrast to our usual expedition style trips.
Since our landfall in Norway we have traveled just 800 miles up the coast in two months. I have got to the point that I moan and complain if Phyllis (who does the forward planning chart work) says we have to do more than 30 miles in a day. It has been a series of wonderful stops: three small cities, many small communities, and several beautiful deserted anchorages.
I have always said that the best cruising grounds I had seen started at the Canadian border with Maine and went to Cape Chidley at the top of Labrador, but I have to say that Norway makes it a close run thing.
As to the Norwegians, we keep thinking that we have just been lucky to date in the incredible open friendliness that we have experienced. Then we go to the next place and experience the same. I think it really is a national trait. It is also one of the easiest places I have ever been to get things done. Whether business people or bureaucrats they have an open can-do attitude. The first thing they say, when faced with a request, is “no problem” and then proceed to make it so.
It looks as if we will winter here in Tromsø at just shy of 70°N latitude. The harbour master has allocated us what looks like a good sheltered berth in the harbour right downtown next to a luxury hotel, and we have permission from local customs.
It should be quite a winter since this is pretty far north at 200 miles above the Arctic Circle. To put that in perspective it is 400 miles further north than Nuuk, the capital of Greenland and further north than most of Alaska and mainland Canada. The amazing thing is that due to the Gulf Stream they get no sea icing here and the general temperatures are warmer than St. John’s, Newfoundland. However, we are assured that they get plenty of snow, so our cross country skis should get a good work out. There are ski trails just a few minutes walk through town from the boat, and an Alpine skiing area just 5km away, by bus.
The interesting challenge is likely to be the darkness—the sun will set on November 21st and not rise again until 21st January. But there are lots of interesting things to do here. Many of the ski trails are lit, there is a polar institute with a huge library and the town holds a film festival in January.
If we look up at the top of the mountains, which are bare and rocky with the occasional small ice cap, we can believe we are above the Arctic Circle. But look into the sheltered valleys with their small farms and green fields interspersed with deciduous trees, and it feels more like Nova Scotia. A strange, but very beautiful, dichotomy. A few days ago we anchored at the end of a fjord under a rock face towering 1500 feet above the boat, capped with ice. At the head were a few brightly painted houses in a small village. It was for all the world as if Morgan’s Cloud had been transported to some mountain lake.
Now that we have got a winter harbour lined up, we plan to return south to Lofoten, just north of the Arctic Circle. Many sailors consider these islands the highlight of Norwegian cruising, and we certainly agreed with them in the all too brief 10 days we spent there last month. A series of islands stretching about 100 miles southwest from the mainland out into the Atlantic, they continue the theme of visual contradiction that I talked about earlier; craggy, bare rock, mountainous islands surrounded with crystal clear water, and in many places white sand beaches that would not look out of place in the Caribbean. Lofoten is the center of the winter cod fishery and every sheltered cove has a fishing village, sleepy now, but bustling from January to May when the cod strike into the shore.
Phyllis and I plan to indulge our love of islands, particularly ones with wild scenery, for the next month or so until approaching dark and deteriorating weather push us back to Tromsø.
The Norwegian Cruising Guide is a mine of information on sailing in Norway.
For photographs of Norway, visit our Picture gallery.