Thursday, 19 October 2017

The Arctic again....


Having negotiated the Yell Sound we left on an evening tide with a reasonable breeze and sunshine. Opting to sail under mizzen and heads’ls we had one of those experiences that come so rarely aboard a boat, relaxed, comfortable with interesting navigation that, on arrival at our next anchorage, we thought we should retire as it could never get better than the last couple of hours. 
But we’d found our way into a gem of an anchorage, Burra Voe on Yell, well sheltered from everywhere but the SW, a small marina and a scattering of houses that make up the settlement. There was even a derelict Grade 3 listed building for sale to whet our land urges and we spent a peaceful couple of days there which netted us a goodly supply of driftwood for the stove. 

But time was running away and we were bound for Lofoten via the Norwegian mainland and so positioned ourselves up on the coast at Balta Sound on Unst to sneak across in a weather window. The window proved to be a cracker as, with a reefed main and genny, we covered 151nm in a 24 hour period at times exceeding 8 knots. Of course the wind eased, the murk and rain descended and closing the coast increased the amount of traffic. The AIS proved invaluable and when a target indicated we were going to get very close we were able to call the vessel by name and ask if they were aware of our presence, by now under 2 miles. They weren’t, could see no evidence of us AIS(?) and after requesting a repeat of our lat/long said only a faint trace of a target was showing on their radar. By now we had a visual on them and warned them  to maintain their course and we'd pass starb'd to starb'd. Soon after passing they called us back asking how we knew their vessel name and suggesting, with good humour, that we may find it worthwhile to invest in a transceiver.... It was meant well but it reinforced my belief that ships are more reliant on AIS than radar these days and that they expect everyone to be similarly equipped. There is a very good article on the AAC site about recreational AIS that is worth reading. It may be a members only page in which case if you aren't already it may pay you to join - $19 a year I think?
We cracked on and slid into our first ever Norwegian anchorage: Haroeydsundet; well sheltered with neat houses around the edge, fishing boats tied up and an air of quiet prosperity. As ever after such passages our thoughts and actions turn to the basics: fire and sleep. We’d arrived. Over the next few weeks we would be working our way north, taking advantage of the inside passage which gives great shelter from the sea whilst still allowing you to sail. Except, as with winds in any higher latitude there’s either too little or too much and another truism we seem to have discovered: favourable winds are never as strong as forecast whilst unfavourable ones inevitably are stronger. The forecasts are given in Norwegian understandably enough but a quick vhf call will get you an English version. Whatever we began heading north, pulling into Honningsoeya on the second night. Leaving the following morning I stupidly went the wrong side of a green starb’d marker. 
Port marker...obvious really!

Stupid because the “pole” marks are a little like signposts in that they clearly point to which side you should be on and I’ve been back on this side of the ocean long enough to get the rules right…..luckily the water was deep enough and we got away with it but I had to warn myself to take more damn care in future!! The days followed on; the anchorages varied but for the most part were normally easily found at the end of a days run. One thing we were grateful for is our gaff rig as many bridges are a mere 16m high, about 52’, and any Bermudian rig boat of any reasonable length had to take the long way round!

July 13th was a frustrating day as the winds were heading us and strengthening. The possible anchorages turned out to be a mere slit and rolly to boot leaving us with little choice but to beat onwards but once we were able to free the sheets the wind died of course. The anchorage, on the southern end of Kvaloeya was ok, suffered a little from rolling but we were now into real island country where the route slid between rocks and islands turning through the compass in order to make a safe passage. 

Eye marked with a bulleye
Many of the anchorages had succumbed to mooring buoys or small marinas and many were tiny with mooring rings hammered into the rocks for boats to tie off to and reduce swinging room. 

One such place was near Jensoeyholman and very restricted. We chose our spot carefully, the winds were light and we were confident of staying off the rocks. 

Rapidly launching the dinghy and we headed ashore to harvest several useful looking logs for firewood, returning with a 3metre plus length that we hung over the dinghy stern to transport it. Then dragged it ashore to a beach area so I could split it into shorter lengths. Our first landing on Norwegian soil! The following day we made it up to Rorvik and took the opportunity to get some fuel. The fuel dock was easy to approach and tie up to and the guy selling fuel extremely helpful. We’d only just finished paying and started moving the jugs and realised he’d shut up shop and left - we’d arrived minutes before he closed for the w/e. Sometimes a little luck is needed as we were about to find out. We motored north to what looked, on the chart, a sheltered cove with reasonable depths. It was but it also had a small marina, with small, narrow pontoons and after circling a couple of times we decided to carry on with Plan B. I say this loosely of course as it had to hatched on the hoof as it were and involved several hours motoring. The next fjord entrance had the inevitable fish farm which are pretty well marked (and need to be as they’re not small) and the trip along the fjord was several miles but the anchorage was just great. Excellent holding with only a couple of houses overlooking the shelter. As with every place we’d anchored no one pays you the slightest attention and you go about your business as though you’re invisible…. The following day we headed up to a place that looked as though it would offer good shelter, passing several anchorages mentioned in the pilot book. Of course when we got there we found out why it didn’t merit a mention as large “NO ANCHORING” signs were on display as power cables ran underwater to nearby islands. Another Plan B came into action and we motored around the corner to a narrow but deep river for the night. Onwards, ever onwards as by now we were within 100 miles of the Arctic Circle and we anchored in Hjartoey for the night but were soon joined by 2 small powerboats. This is an anchorage that is overlooked by the Seven Sisters, a nearby mountain range, although much of it was hidden by mist or fog, We were also nearing the ??? glacier. The scenery was becoming very mountainous, cruise ships increased but almost every yacht we came across was heading south… 

The glacier is pretty spectacular even from a distance of 15 miles and we felt little need to join the throngs of vessels making their way down the fjord to get a better view. Some of the communities we passed were relatively small but a large town was clearly visible as we cruised by which all added to our growing feeling of disconnect which I’ll come back to later. The mountains had steadily become higher and although we could see it and recognise the fact it wasn’t until we got back to the West coast of Scotland that we appreciated just how high they were. 
Marking the Arctic Circle

As we closed the Arctic line we smelt the unmistakable odour of a farm! The scent of cow manure drifted across the boat, a sure sign of how benign the temps are around here we thought. By now the number of yachts were increasing quite rapidly including a number of UK boats; charter and super yachts amongst them, the majority of which were heading south.

On the 24th July we crossed to Lofoten which had been one of the aims of the trip…it’s hard to justify our disappointment I think. We had been thinking about heading to Norway for at least a decade and in that time have traveled to other northern areas, principally Labrador and Greenland. Labrador is, for us, the benchmark by which we “judge” our cruising grounds; its wildlife; solitude; scenery etc. It is a remarkable place whereas Norway had little wildlife or solitude to hold us. We have been spoilt I know and when we arrived in Lofoten we both knew that we would go no further. Possibly had we arrived here first and then gone north from there we may have found what we were looking for; had we headed straight for Norway rather than wander the offshore islands off our own country we may have had more time although that’s a poor excuse. Whatever after a couple of days we turned and began our journey south; looking for different places to stop, different routes to follow. Sometimes we were successful and once we had one of those, hopefully, never to be repeated sequences. We'd been looking for somewhere to anchor that wasn't in the pilot we approached our first choice though a narrow channel the sky grew increasingly dark and a squall was obviously lining itself up.... the room inside was tight but possible but no sooner had we made our turn so we now faced the way we'd come in when the squall exploded with torrential rain and gusts in the high 30's. It was made worse by the fact the wind had completely switched direction and was now blowing hard into the entrance. We struggled out, blinded by the rain and using the radar to keep track of where the rocky shore was. As we cleared the channel I turned to port, trying to keep several hundred metres off the lee shore and struggling to get the speed above one point Bee, who was trying to watch our heading through the solid rain shouted she thought the wind was backing but it wasn't; just my inattention had allowed the head to fall off toward the rocky shore. We plugged on, very slowly but at least maintaining a distance from the disaster that waited us off to port. In the end, of course, the squall passed through and unable to find anything satisfactory we turned and motored past rocky shoals and outcrops to the nearest anchorage mentioned in the pilot book,Sjoyea. By the time we arrived several hours later it was getting on for 11pm but the wind had died and the sea calmed down which was just as well as the entrance is possibly 15m (50') wide , very hard to identify, involves crossing a bar with a sharp turn to starb'd the moment you're through and as you make the approach the mind (or mine anyway) was screaming "don't do it don't do it".  The anchorage has a small marina, perhaps half a dozen boats on mooring buoys and looks, on paper, to be a tad open to the swell but in reality the rocks and small islands that exist around the 3 gaps break everything up. In the end we found it to be one of our favourites with excellent shelter and holding. Getting out was interesting and it is certainly not one to attempt with any sort of swell  but by Aug 3rd we’d called in at Rorvik once again, fuelled up and began the journey south. The winds looked to be fairly light so not really what we wanted to hear but we had to deal with what was and made our way out through the islands to the open sea. Shetland lay 480nm to the SW and looked like being a slow haul…