Al Fresco dining in the Arctic

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Dinner in the cockpit at 9pm arctic time! 

After 6 days sailing on our first Lofoten Islands trip Rich said ‘I like it here, I’m glad we came!’

I’m not surprised.  We sailed 240 miles, visited 10 picturesque harbours and anchorages, were chased by a pod of killer whales, watched majestic sea eagles soaring in the sky, anchored in tiny coves next to white sandy beaches, motored between towering cliffs down the majestic trollfjord, dined in the cockpit 3 evenings, watched the sun dip behind a hill just before midnight and enjoyed ourselves in the good company of our guests.

The weather makes any trip, and to be perfectly honest it was miserable on the day Liz and Dave joined.  The forecast suggested that there would be less rain on the Lofoten side of Vesteralen, and that the wind would veer round to the west, so it made sense to go for a long sail on the first day and get ourselves west to Reine.  Although it was dull, the rain held off and the wind was steady so we had a fast sail often reaching at 8 knots. 

We had a second fast sail the second morning to Nusfjord, a tiny pretty little place, nestled in a narrow fjord.  We tied alongside a 72’ ex challenge yacht now called Polar Bear, and discovered that I had taught the owner and the skipper to sail in 1991, what a small world.  Polar Bear used to be called Aviva, and is probably remembered as the boat that Dee Caffari sailed single handed around the world in 2002. 

It is always great to meet other yachtsmen and share knowledge.  I spent a long time talking to the guys from Polar Bear, who had also spent last season up north and they told me of a fantastic anchorage with sea eagles in Lille Molle.  We tried it later in the week  and they were right!

It was certainly the right decision to sail clockwise around the coastline.  The wind veered daily and allowed us to sail on a beam reach most of the time.  Our pattern became early breakfast, sail in the morning and stop mid afternoon. Walk ashore and explore a bit before  meandering amongst skerries to an evening anchorage.  Dinner was often quite late at 9pm, but still in bright sunshine.  After the first day, the skies cleared, the sun came out and we had temperatures in the 20’s.  The locals assure us that it does get even warmer. Whilst sitting in T shirts it is hard to believe we are in the Arctic although no one has been brave enough to swim yet; Rich and David went paddling to land the dinghy on a beach, bracing !

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All of the places we visited were picturesque, but different, varying from tiny fishing villages nestled amongst high mountains on the Lofoten islands side to low islands with green pastoral fields and lots of trees the mainland side.  There is so much choice of where to go that deciding where to go is often the hardest part of the day.  Rich and I spend hours pouring over the charts and the pilot books looking for options, and then making final decisions based on the current wind and predicted wind to ensure best shelter. Although there are two pilot books in English, they are written for boats a bit smaller than us and often talk about anchorages that are only 2 m deep – not good when we need 2.4m, so we are also using the Norwegian equivalent of an Admiralty pilot book for big ships called Den Lorske Nos, it is a great book with chartlets and pictures, but is only in Norwegian, so our small dictionary is quickly becoming well thumbed.  Luckily the text is fairly repetitive as regards vocabulary for harbours, so it is not too tiresome.

We’re full for the next two trips, but still have 2 places left for the last Lofoten Islands trip.  Why not join us and enjoy a fantastic Arctic experience.  It really is spectacular.

Arctic Norway

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After 5 and a half days and 900 miles of fast sailing from Oban, Velvet Lady raced across the Arctic Circle.  We had made stops in Tobermory on the Island of Mull and Torshavn in the Faroe Islands to break the passage, and had been counting off the Latitudes ever since!  Oban is at 56 degrees, Torshavn 62 degrees.  The Arctic Circle is at 66 degrees 33 minutes North.    Every watch on deck we seemed to need more and more clothes to keep warm in the polar wind!

As we finally crept in between the islands, the rain showers gave way to sunshine and revealed the stunning scenery.  Dramatically high hills still with a dusting of snow on the top. 16 hours after crossing the Arctic Circle, Velvet Lady was secured alongside a rickety pontoon in Engen in Holandsfjord; looking out at Engenbreen, a tongue of the Svartisen Glacier.  The Svartisen glacier is Norways second largest ice field, with an average height of 1500m, but some tongues lick right down to nearly sea level making it the lowest lying glacier in Europe.  I have been here before with the Challenge Business, but that did not stop the first view of the glacier taking my breath away as it glistened in the afternoon sun.  I knew that there was a track up to the glacier and that it was possible to climb right up to the ice, so after a little exercise to get our legs working again that’s what we set out to do.

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The glacier has receeded quite a distance since I was last here in 2002, so the climb was a little bit longer than I remembered. We might have needed lots of clothes to be sailing offshore, but as we walked higher and closer to the glacier we found that we needed to peel layer after layer of thermals off!.  By the time we had reached the glacier we were down to T Shirts.   As we arrived by the ice, a very hardy group set off on a ‘guided ice walk!’ Sitting eating our sandwiches at the base of the glacier we could see right over the glacial melt water lake to Velvet Lady, a speck in the distance.  

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We had made such good time in our passage to Norway, that we had enough time to meander between islands and negotiate some very narrow gaps between rocks for the remaining miles to Bodo.  With good clear visibility, we also managed to get great views of the higher parts of the glacier as we were sailing away from it. Navigation here keeps us on our toes.  To negotiate all the rocks and islands we use very detailed 1:50,000 charts, and seem to need a new one every 2 hours! 

As we approached Bodo from the south, we could make out the snow capped mountains of the Lofoten Islands on the western horizon. They look very much how I remember them and  incredibly inviting! Looking forward to next week and visiting them again.