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Norway? Why Norway?

I have been thinking about ‘doing’ a circumnavigation and to build up my experience have been looking to sail longer and longer passages. For me preparation for a marathon begins with a walk for the Sunday papers and builds from there. So, when a long- time sailing buddy was musing about going back to a hotel in Leikergaard, Norway, where he witnessed the moon landing in 1969, I thought, why not?

Being greedy and wanting to do some winter sailing, I delayed Nelly’s lift out until June this year where the good weather working like a man possessed made for fast progress with the necessary maintenance work.

New features included the fitting of a Monitor wind vane steering gear. I did all the heavy thinking and supervising whilst Ian Pollard got on with the doing bits stopping once to say, John, if thing don’t improve soon, I am going to have to ask you to stop helping me.

The day of departure was calm, warm quiet and windless. Nelly slipped through the water at 7.5kts assisted by tide. Some nine hours later the a SW’ly wind came up and it was time to get the cloth out starting with the cruising chute. We changed as the wind grew and veered inti the NW and N. Through 14 to 17 kts, fantastic going like a train, then through to 25 and stayed there or at above for the next four days. Nelly was heroic, the crew, including myself for a short time. less so.

I began to forget what David’s face looked like as for those three days he was constantly showing me his bum and soles of his sailing boots as he leaned over the rail hoping for death.

Once passed the coastal bits the place empties of vessels apart from the oil rigs and it was a case of getting down and sailing the boat and what was after the third day feeling a bit like an endurance test.

Self-steering gear was an absolute dream. Other than the cat’s cradle of string for the tiller, using it meant running free without having to use the engine to charge batteries, the Rutland generator giving enough power for fridge, nav kit and lights.
In light of the heavy weather I made the decision to veer towards Stavanger, making land fall in beautiful Skudeneshavn.
Picturesque wooden homes right on the waterfront and moored up in the heart of the town. Clean, light and mostly not bouncing around. Priorities, hot shower and catch up on the missed meals and sleep.

The arrival made the journey worthwhile. In telling my wife I opined that this must be akin to childbirth, you know, forgetting the pain because of the gift of the present. I thought the phone line had dropped out as it seemed to go quiet and curiously cooler for a short while.

Next up Haugesund and Bergen.

Making for beautiful Skudeneshavn
Looking astern
Skudeneshavn port
Waterfall on approach to Sondal
Sailing into Mordor
View from Malmangernuten
Just as the storm drew in

Skudeneshavn to Haugesund

The wind has been standing persistently in the north and northwest with little sign of abating. The good thing, from a sailing perspective is, notwithstanding the wind, the waters remain relatively flat so it is possible to make some really good progress, unless of course your destination lies in the eye of the wind.

En-route we passed numerous waterfalls cascading off the hillsides and into the channels, many of which read no depth on the echo sounder. Waters are really clean and clear. Navigation aids are a mix of clapperboard church type buildings with lights, small round white towers with conical red/orange caps and the occasional, almost invisible-until-you-are–on-top-of-them-poles.

There are a profusion of islands, islets, rocks and submerged humps around anyone of which are secret bays with communities huddled around their water frontages. Their brightly coloured and individualistic houses and boat houses standing directly on or near to the shore.

People on the whole very friendly, most speak English and are fiercely proud of their country but not in a nationalistic manner.
Interesting approach to Haugesund
, insofar that most the town comes down onto the waterfront with the various frontages competing for patronage and its usually a case of tying up alongside and hopping off. They must have been tipped off that we were coming as all the premium spots had been taken. We were relegated to the cheap seats but still only a short walk into town which, had the tired feel of Margate about it except with Scandinavian style.

We brought excitement to the crowd and received applause all round as I limbo-ed Nelly’s 14m mast under a bridge of 13.5m. I gave them my raffish Roger Moore raised eyebrow glinting steely eyed look of a man at the roulette wheel in Monaco, in return they gave me the, ‘we think you are a lucky arse’ look.

Some slight niggling mechanical issues developed. Not as much of the water as I would like is staying on the outside of the boat and the bilge pump has decided to take a leave of absence.

Phoned the boat doctor Ian Pollard, who dispensed sound advice and reassurance, ‘ No you are a lucky arse and don’t use the big spanner. Work to do in Bergen.

From Haugusson trotted up towards Bergen a mix of sailing and motor sailing into the fjords proper. The high mountains, low clouds, grey light and slight autumnal chill made it feel as though we were sailing into Mordor. Would not have been surprised to have seen the odd Orc never mind troll. The precipitous hillsides abound with lush vegetation and waterfalls. Ice and snow could still be seen on the higher peaks.


Sailing into Mordor

Following the guide book, we headed for Royal Bergen Yacht Club where reportedly the welcome is warm and facilities excellent. Getting there was interesting for which read occasional anxiety. Skinning between the narrow gaps is disconcerting for an east coast sailor where being that close to the bank invariably means the risk of grounding. Not here, closing within metres of the shore, the depth gauge still reading tens of metres depth under the boat. The charts both electronic and paper are littered with rocks awash. Some are ‘awash’ at 49 metres whilst others are at 0.5metres with nothing other than getting into the detail to differentiate between them.

On arrival, a club member told us that the visitor berth was located on K so we duly hunted for K in the direction indicated whilst all the while the width funnelled down to a dead end. It was at that point that I realised the member had said quay and in Norwegian it sounded like K. Pressure on a space just tight enough to slot in with a bit of handsome manoeuvring. Usual situation, a brilliant bit of boat handling witnessed only by me and a disinterested seagull.
Ultra-modern clubhouse all smoked glass and clean open spaces. Cranes and winches on hand for use by members to lift their own boats and masts and pull away on the club tractor and trailer. Their boats were a range of sizes and ages, mostly the bigger expensive heavy stuff but not brand new. Their owners make the most of their archipelagos and fjords running north to the Lofoten Islands and down as far as Keel in their summer months.

Not many folks about so decided to stay the one night and press on to Bergen city proper.

Arrival in Bergen and secured a quayside berth right in the heart of the city on the waterfront. Whilst once at the heart of the Hansiatic trading empire, changing times now place a heavy reliance on the frequent and numerous cruise ships.
The main route from the cruise harbour to the city is lined with tourist boutiques, cafes, bars and authentic local trade goods. This meant that every few hours the disgorged masses would tramp past the berth. So, moved off to find solitude.
Whilst the guide claims that Bergen has a marina, it is not in the sense that we might know i.e. a secluded and controlled area with relative quiet, convenient access to lavatories, showers and power.

The new berth had power via a pay meter whilst the lavatory and showers were accessed via a nightclub between the hours of 0800hrs and 2030hrs. It’s true they were wondering why I was jumping up and down outside the door first thing in the morning when there was no music. Nature cannot be denied!

Looking to take advantage of the local cafes and bars for a sneaky call of nature is difficult as all the doors have coded keypads the numbers for which are given on your sales receipt after making a purchase. Ate fresh fish at their fish market, delicious and quite different to the fare at home and made the mistake of having a couple of beers. First meal and drink off the boat. The beers were £10.00 for just under a pint. I cried. Norwegian government and social policy does not like alcohol and so restricts the sale and taxes it heavily.

At our new mooring on a warm Saturday afternoon night a powerboat came in carrying a party of three men and three women. They tied up and got down to the process of partying hard like Vikings of old. The whole place was at it, going hammer and tongs until 5 in the morning to a backdrop of 1970s and 80s pop music. On the powerboat, two stalwarts were drinking speaking with the sincerity and volume that only the drunk can manage as we let slip the lines at 06.30hrs headed for Rosendal and Sondal.

Departing Bergen and headed for Rosendal with two new crew members David’s children, Louison and Ferdinand. Dodging the fast ferries that transit between the islands we arrived at Rosendal This gave us all the opportunity to climb one of the local mountains. Malmangernuten at 1850 metres. As much a challenge to say as to climb. As we were slogging our way up the side we were passed by several locals, one a rather brisk looking septuagenarian lady who seemingly skipped past. She told us that she climbs the mountain daily and that this is a popular past time with the locals and it helps them to stay Fricke’ or spry, fit and healthy.


Stunned by the faith affirming views we wearily made our way back down the mountain buzzing with a sense of accomplishment, wholly shattered and deserving of the hot showers and huge meal of pasta later that evening.
Early morning departure for Sondal just a short jaunt further north east and the promise of being able to walk to a glacier.


Waterfall on approach to Sondal

The approach to Sondal is sign posted by an impressive waterfall cascading two hundred metres into the fjord. Three boats were on the serviced berths at Sondal so we went alongside the settlement pier with its honesty box.
The route to the glacier is well signposted and the clouds parted at various times allowing the glacier to become our fixed point of navigation as we made our way towards it.

Having gone close to the foot of the glacier and traversed the melt water river at its foot, it was time to head back. Time and the weather windows were closing in and it was time to move back towards Bergen to put the children on a flight home and for us to prepare ourselves and the boat for the trip home. There was a sense of trepidation and excitement at the prospect of the return. Having suffered on the initial crossing, David was particularly determined to make a good showing for the return passage. We entered the North Sea proper from Korsfjorden and shaped a course for Utsira, needing the scratch that itch of curiosity having heard the name on shipping forecasts over the years. Transpired that is only a small place and one wonders why both north and south Utsira get mention when only a couple of kilometres separate the two. An early morning departure from South Utsira and we were bound for Tananger to sit out a passing weather trough before running for home.

Strong westerly sped us on our way and we were soon reefing down to two reefs in the main and staysail only. We held this for the next two days with little need to touch a sheet whilst the wind vane steering holding us to a good course.

The weather and sea felt very much the same as the initial crossing but we were unhappy with the dropping barometer and ill looking skies. I decided to call one of the larger nearby vessels to see if I could get a weather forecast. My Vesper 860 AIS transponder enabled me to identify a suitable vessel, the cruise ship, Aurora. They told us of that force 7 gusting 8 winds were to be expected in sea areas Humber and Dogger and wished us good luck and safe arrivals.

Forewarned we began to hunker down. Hot meal and ensuring everything was properly lashed down and secured. Heavy cloud ushered in a phenomenal lightning storm, lightening crossing and tearing the skies horizontally and arcing into the sea and there we were sat underneath a large lightening rod. All the electronics were switched off, batteries isolated and portable nav-aids put into the oven in the hope that it may act as a Farady cage. Whether it would help or not is a moot point but being purposeful helped.

Underneath the cloud, the downdraft built the wind to 37 knots. The seas grew. They came galloping towards the boat like a monsterous second row falling onto a full back. Nelly rose nobly to meet them or as many as she could. She was outfoxed by the occasional wave seeming to come more on the beam than over the bow. These rogue waves slammed into the boat with tremendous rig juddering blow dumping a bath load of water into the cockpit making the drains snort as they sought to deal with the volume.

The wind came up so quickly and was much more than anticipated. I considered reefing down further but ruled it out on the basis that we were fine to the wind, the rig and canvas were strong and conditions as such did not warrant the personal risk.
By the time we got to the Humber/Thames sea area border, the weather had subsided significantly to the extent that we had to motor through large parts of the oil fields and the attendant traffic of barges, tugs guard ships and ships transiting the TSS schemes. The AIS was of great assistance with the information and data given helping to confirm what was being observed and more importantly what presented a risk to us.

Completing this and popping out near the Sunk TSS light vessel made us feel as though we had broken the back of the journey and as if to confirm this the wind dropped into the south west and held at 17 knots to 20 knots enabling us to sail all the way up the Crouch almost up the fairway marks.

Snuggling into our home berth gave both a sense of anti-climax and accomplishment. The anti-climax was acknowledging that we had to turn to our daily lives and that again ploughing the salt furrows as Jack London describes would be deferred for a new season. An accomplishment to have safely completed a 1200-mile round trip and there is something about the regard and goodwill that yachties hold for those who go beyond our shores.

For more tales of the adventures of Nelly click here.

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