Saturday, June 05, 2010

Off to Norway!

[Kyle]Our forecast for the passage to Norway indicated 0900 would be a good time for our departure from Gremista. The evening before we spent being entertained by the wonderful crew of Malouine. We got up in time to allow for the 9am start, but the morning weather indicated that waiting until Noon was better as the wind needed a little more time to shift in our favor. Maryanne suggested that, rather than sit around waiting; we could leave at 0900 anyway and potter around a bit. This sounded good to me.

Instead of leaving the harbor via the north entrance, we decided to go out via the southern route that we entered as we arrived in Lerwick and sail around the south and east of the islands of Bressay and Noss.

It was a pretty uncomfortable beat to weather into building seas as we left the protection of Lerwick harbor. We only had to do this for a couple of miles before we could finally ease the sheets and sail downwind to meet our original course to the north of us.

We sailed dead downwind under the towering cliffs of Noss. Noss is where all of the tour boats go to spot birds and other wildlife, like seals and the occasional otter. We saw mostly thousands and thousands of Gannets, swooping and circling overhead, as well as a few Puffins and Guillemots, who got out of our way by diving. Once past Noss, we turned back across the wind for the long leg across the North Sea to Norway.

The wind was right on the beam from the South at just under 20 knots. Just to be safe and to protect ourselves from any unexpected gusts, we put a reef in each sail, making us good until 25 knots. The seas were just at the right height and spacing for us to constantly have one hull on a crest and the other in a trough, making for a pretty uncomfortable ride even though the waves weren’t that large. The sky was overcast and, with the wind added in, we each quickly found that our half-dozen layers of heavy clothing were still not doing the job. On my first off-watch, between the pounding and the struggle to get warm, I probably got only half an hour of sleep. Maryanne had pretty much the same experience in the wee hours on her off-watch.

At least the boat was going fast. We were in about ideal conditions for a Gemini; 20 kt winds just aft of the beam and moderate seas. The misery wouldn’t last too long. During the night (which was still daylight, as the sun was over the northern horizon by no more than 7 degrees), we passed through three different oil fields, each with about a half-dozen rigs. They were lit up like a stadium and looked like mountains on the radar. Even without radar in a bad fog, I suspect the bright lights would penetrate well enough to alert someone of their presence. Maryanne got a call addressed to “Trawler at…” When she answered that we were a sailboat, the guy lost interest. Apparently he thought we were about to cross his gear. I guess the good news is that our lunenberg lens radar reflector makes us look like a big trawler.

As we closed on Norway, the weather got colder and it started to rain. We were exhausted from little sleep and spent each of our watches being kept awake by the cold and the increasing urge to pee, which was a huge pain in those seas with all of those layers on.

Arrival in Norway - a bit gloomy in the rain but look at the colour of the water (no honestly it's fantastic even if the photos don't show it!

When we finally spotted the rocky outer islands of Norway through the mist, they appeared as slightly darker gray figures in a totally gray world. Once we got under the protection of the islands and turned north into the channel separating Fensfjorden and Sognefjoren, our mood improved dramatically. Thanks to the “good” sailing conditions on the crossing, the passage had turned out to be much shorter than we thought. In fact, we set a new record for a 24 hour run; 186.22NM! That will surely stand for many years, possibly forever. To go any faster would require us to carry too much sail for the conditions, so it’s not likely to happen unless we are lucky enough to get a 200 mile stretch of open sea with perfect conditions again.

Our downwind passage took us past picture postcard villages perched atop rocky islets or carved into steep, tree-covered hills. At one point, the cut between two steep islands was so narrow that it would have been a pretty tight fit for two Geminis to pass. As we entered Sognefjorden, Norway’s longest fjord, we were greeted by flat water the same shade of blue as a Caribbean anchorage. Even the rain and the gray skies could not keep the water, which is three times as deep as the deepest part of the North Sea at its deepest point, from looking like it was reflecting a perfect blue sky. It was as if the water shone blue from the depths.

Our first stop was at Leirvik I Sogn, a village so uninteresting that it doesn’t even warrant mention in any of our guides and so achingly beautiful that I couldn’t stop craning my neck and saying “wow!”, the word coming out of my mouth in steady, uncontrollable streams like a baby drooling.

We tied up at the Quay at the Leirvig Kro Og Motell and went to pay our modest fee of 75kr (about $15, £10). We were required to report to the nearby village of Hyllestad to clear customs with the local Sherrif. I asked the lady at the hotel if there was any way we could get there, other than the six-mile walk. She told us the school bus stops just outside our boat and left at 0830. We could take that.


Alrighty, then. The next morning we boarded the school bus and were taken to the school in Hyllestad, which was right across the street from the police station. Well, that and everything else in Hyllestad. Along the way, the most adorable young girl, who didn’t speak English, but managed to impart that she was seven, spent all of her time smiling and waving at us, her blue eyes wide open. These kids have the coolest bus ride to school ever! We passed by impossibly steep hills topping mirror lakes ringed with trees. Waterfalls tumbled down the hills as we wound our way over switchbacks. We came through the last gap and found that Hyllesatad was even more beautiful (that is, less uninteresting) than Leirvik.

Hyllestad lies at the head of a gorgeous blue bay, dominated by a towering 773m mesa called Lihesten. Its summit is called Gygrekheften or Gyre’s Mouth. The town itself is dominated by a picture-perfect stave church and ringed by ever-increasing levels of houses on the hills. I couldn’t help but thinking about how every single one of these houses has this stunning view out of nearly every window. Imagine stepping out of the shower and being able to see the imposing Gygreheften, reflected off the sky-blue bay!

The Lensmann (Sherriff) seemed pretty uninterested in us and cleared us in with little more than a dozen words. He was kind enough to put a customs stamp right in Footprint’s logbook at Maryanne’s request, should it ever be necessary to prove that she left the EU. {Maryanne: Clearly clearing in here seems to be an unusual event. Our giant stack of paperwork had arrived before us and was waiting on our arrival.}

Exploring Norway's Sognefjord

Once we were officially “in” Norway, we decided to have a nice, long stroll around Hyllestad and then walk back to Leirvik, gaping and wowing the whole way, even though by then it was raining pretty hard.

We passed by Norway's largest historical monument - 27km2 of ancient millstone quarry. The museum apparently has a great reenactment crew, unfortunately it was closed as we passed, but we still wondered around a little, and Kyle had me crossing a river via a very narrow and rickety log.

Leirvik and area

We stopped at Footprint for lunch and then headed out for a walk around Leirvik. On a country road up in the mountains, Maryanne spotted a handmade sign that read “HELLEBØ ->” and pointed to a path into the woods. {We had no idea what Hellebo meant, but we were tourists, and there really isn't much signed about here! So an adventure}. After half an hour of squishing through wet moss, we were amused to find that we had been spat out on the other side of the town by the village of HELLEBØFTEN. Of course! Instead of following the bay, we had just taken a “shortcut” around the backside of the mountain to another small town!

[Maryanne]Kyle omits to mention a couple of things in the above. Firstly it was drizzling rain the whole time we’ve been in Norway so far, skies are 100% overcast, but still the place is stunning; I just long to see it all in sunshine. Secondly while in Hyllestad we took a detour around the local (Spar) grocery store (they called it a supermarket, but it wasn’t that big!). Inside we marveled at the costs of everything but eventually found the one thing we’d gone shopping for – Cloudberry Jam. Cloudberries only grow well above 55°North (Canada, Alaska, Scotland, Norway, Russia). In Canada they are called bakeapple, and in Alaska they are used to make Eskimo ice cream (which also includes seal oil… I’ll pass). They are a berry-like fruit (similar in size and make up to a blackberry or raspberry, with just one fruit per stem they grow in bogs, and the best locations are heavily prized and protected by the locals in Norway where they are also known as Multe. One small jar of jam, and three times the price of all the “standard” jams too – 63 Norwegian Kroner (about $9, or £6 – luckily we weren’t doing a weekly grocery shop here, just looking for the one special treat).

{Kyle: Those preserves were very nice. They taste like a sweet peach jam – good on toast- expensive toast.}


Anonymous said...

hi you 2 as ever excellent tales and pictures just wish we could see it all with you you both manage to make it sound so exciting although I could not manage all the walking. Mum

Mommy Dearest said...

Breathtaking. From your narrative, Norway seems quite different from the areas you've visited recently. Well, quite different from any place you have been so far, really. It's quite mountainous with pines that remind me of some of the high Colorado meadows and glens. What is it that makes that water such a stunning blue? Must be white sand below. I'm so happy for you being there!

SV-Footprint said...

Glad you are enjoying the pictures Mum! We are certainly enjoying taking them. We have way too many pictures and our computers are getting very full.

Carla - Norway really is very different from what we've seen. Kyle has also being trying to compare it to places he's been before - his guess is nearer Washington/Oregon - it's very damp here. Kyle and I have both fallen in love with Norway (ranked as the best country in the world to live), and can't understand why anyone would leave. It is so stunningly beautiful where to Norwegians go (abroad) to see beautiful stuff? - Why would they bother?

That colour isn't from the white sand below (as you'd see in the Caribbean etc), as the depth is often 1000's of feet even within a few feet from land! So far we understand it is from the glacial run off, and the minerals contained in suspension in the water, but we can't be sure... Something else to research!