Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

27 June 2011

Nusfjord Redux

Gonna post this one from the hip...

Sitting in the sun on the dock in Nusfjord. Something about Polar Bear and this place...we seem to have great weather when we're here. The dock swarms every half-hour or so with busloads of German tourists: overweight, chain-smoking, letting their litter blow randomly around in the light breeze, and sporting sweaters and jackets despite the brilliant, warm sunshine. They wander the docks and restored buildings for 20 minutes or so and then they depart, leaving a blessedly tranquil, smoke-free vacuum in their absence.

Sunny skies in Nusfjord...again. Gotta love it.

We arrived around 8am after a 10-hour motor from Sagfjord. And despite the fact that I usually detest motoring, last night's run was a delight. After we got underway -- anchor raised, mainsail hoisted -- Mike and I took the first watch: from 11pm to 1am. We made our way away from Brigadoon, past Trollvika and out into Nordfjord, westerly past a series of low-lying, rocky islets (called "skerries" in the Norse/Shetland parlance). The going was so mellow and with little to do that we let Boogie sleep in an extra hour: the kids among the guests are bunking near their area and made it difficult for Boogie and Marlies to get any rest. The majority of the Polish guests stayed on deck for the majority of our watch, but they were mostly up on the foredeck smoking or down below getting more coffee (though I have no doubt the mugs they were using contained a more potent potion); they were especially animated when we got far enough west that the peaks of Lofoten appeared on the horizon, backlit by the orange sky of the midnight sun.

And that's what made last night's watch so memorable: the light. We emerged from beneath the low clouds in Sagfjord to find a mid-level overcast layer stretching from northwest to southeast. It obscured the sun as it eased steadily toward the northeast. But as the clear conditions overtook more and more of the sky, the soft, warm-orange light of the sun shining in the north began to reach into more and more nooks and crannies. First the peaks south of Bodø picked up the sun, their high-altitude snowfields bathed in a sweet alpenglow. Then some of the midrange peaks began to glow. A bubbly cumulus cloud over the Lofoten would explode in a bright white as the sun hit it, only to taper off first into a fiery orange before settling into that same soft pink of alpenglow. It wasn't the directly viewed midnight sun that many visitors crave. In fact, it was far better, with more varieties of color and hue than direct light could offer.

Additionally great was the chat Mike and I had as we motored along. We covered a lot of ground, especially about our various outdoor interests, and he painted a vivid portrait of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides -- so much so that I may have added a new destination to the must-see list.

On top of that, the Poles stayed out of our way despite staying up quite late. The bigger payoff, however, came this morning, when a majority of the group slept right through our entrance into Nusfjord and even past the point where we tied up to the dock and settled in. The business of securing Polar Bear took place quickly and efficiently as a result, and now they've gone off on a hike, granting still more peace and quiet.

So today's agenda for me will likely include a little yoga or stretching (these pipe bunks are doing a number on my back), a bit of work on the boat, and a hike or paddle later on. And then for dinner this evening, the dockside restaurant here in Nusfjord is going to prepare the halibut caught last night in a buffet-style meal for us all. We'll hang out here for the night and figure out what to do later on, after Boogie and Marlies wake up from some long-sought sleep.

26 June 2011

Norwegian Brigadoon

True to plan, Boogie, Marlies and I were up at 5am raising the anchor and heading north. Boogie and I stayed on watch as we made our way to Sagfjord, the next fjord north of the Eidet area we enjoyed last week. The weather was raw -- cold and wet -- but it never really rained, and with little to no wind. The grumpy weather seemed stuck on the mountains of the mainland coast -- offshore, over toward Lofoten, blue sky and puffy cumulus clouds could be seen. But we were bound for the overcast...and it turned out to be a good call.

At the head of Sagfjord, we anchored off a little village whose name I have no way of discerning from the charts we have. And in fitting fashion, in finding this town-off-the-map, we may have found the Norwegian Brigadoon.

Norwegian Brigadoon, found at the head of Sagfjord

The village consists of a couple of dozen houses (some of which are quite nice), a dock and a two-track dirt road linking them all. Cultivated fields cut from low hills of northern forest mark the village's home in the larger wilderness, and smooth, rounded granite walls with occasional sharp, jagged peaks ring the perimeter.

According to one local, the families here all live in Lofoten during the winter, where they work the cod fishery and make a decent living. In the summer, they settle in out here, away from civilization and in the peace and quiet of their own high-latitude escape pod. There are a handful of cars -- old Subaru Brats and other relics with no registration or plates or any official license -- brought here by boat since there's no road out. And residents use a high-speed boat to get to Bodø when they need medical attention or for whatever other reason they might need to hit town.

The falls at Trollvika in Sagfjord

About three kilometers toward the sea from the village, the cove of Trollvika features a waterfall that courses in four steps from the mountains above (fed, according to the charts, by a glacier up high). Rather than plummet over a precipice, the water spreads out over the granite in thin, white fans, looking a lot more like a bridal veil than any of the waterfalls called "bridal veil falls" that I've ever seen (c'mon, admit it: you've seen at least one waterfall somewhere called by that name).

On top of all that, the youngest and most aloof of the Polish kids, the only one who didn't catch a fish at Mannbåen, hooked and landed the first halibut -- the grail for anglers in these parts -- of either Norway trip. Running 18 to 20 pounds, the fish was the topper of a great day for all: kayakers had nice water and all proved capable under Mike's tutelage, hikers wandered the village...and now the anglers are happy too. The parents in the group are also psyched that this kid in particular managed to nab the great catch.

The plan now is to have supper on the hook here, and then we'll head out of Sagfjord and head west, across Vestfjord and back to Nusfjord. We'll make the trip overnight in about ten hours or so, during which time (I hope) our guests will remain below and out of the way. They definitely dip into the sauce early and often, I suspect, and with the thought that we crewmembers don't notice.

I'm no teetotaler. We all know that I have an affection for quality spirits. But when at sea, alcohol is verboten. It just is. Too much can go wrong, especially when you don't know what you're doing and aren't totally comfortable on a boat. And those operating a boat can't have their focus diverted by knuckleheads bouncing off the walls after a few shots of vodka or a couple of bottles of wine. So I really hope this group settles in for the evening trip (and that they remember to set their leecloths: it looks like we might have some wind funneling in from the outer waters which would permit a bit of sailing for a change...fingers are crossed).

Our current guests also have an obstinate streak that makes for challenging situations on board. Despite repeated reminders that here, cut off from societal constructs, water and electricity are commodities to be conserved as much as possible, they continue to do things like leave lights on and let the sink run when washing dishes. The generator is on despite the hours of motoring this morning that filled our batteries. And we're already running low on the first of our four enormous water tanks -- and we're not even 24 hours out of Bodø. So as I mentioned earlier: this could wind up being a long week.

In any case, I should be able to publish these posts sometime tomorrow from Nusfjord. And a beer -- since we'll be tied to a dock and not at sea or on the anchor -- will be nice. Cross your fingers for me/us...

PS: Apologies if the photos are a bit shaky. It was pretty dark under the overcast as we motored past the falls, and here in Nusfjord is too sunny (good problem to have) for me to see the screen well enough to judge photo quality properly. I'll fix all this when I'm indoors again in Bodø.

Lofoten Week No. 2

Started our second of two week-long cruises in northern Norway yesterday. Polar Bear has been chartered for the week by a pair of families from Poland, and all 12 guests arrived on board over the course of the afternoon. Boogie did his introductory speech explaining safety procedures and welcoming the visitors, and we were off on the 13-mile motor to Mannbåer, site of our first-night anchorage out with last week's Scottish guests.

We motored because there wasn't a breath of wind as we made our way north from Bodø. Not even a puff. The Vestfjord waters were an unbroken sheet of black glass. The air was warm despite a mostly-overcast layer of clouds and it was a quick run.

After we anchored, a light breeze picked up from the south -- onshore for this particular anchorage. That meant that if we dragged the anchor at all, we'd be in danger of winding up on the nearby shore. So we would indeed be posting anchor watches for the overnight period in spite of Boogie's earlier expectations that such watches would be unnecessary. And with just four crew -- Boogie, Marlies, me and Mike, leader of last week's Scots and a kayak/fishing guide -- that meant hour-and-a-half stints between 11pm and our 5am departure. Mike took the first watch; he was going to be up for a bit anyway, cleaning the cod he'd helped the guests catch upon our arrival. I lined up for the second watch and turned in for a little less than two hours of sleep.

I woke at 12:30am to the sound of voices. Several of the Polish men were still awake, chatting and having a few drinks around the table in the saloon of the boat. So much for my peace and quiet, I feared, but the last of them turned in at about 10 past 1, thank goodness. And the wind has remained out of the south, though very light, so the watch was indeed necessary. We have 8.3 meters of water according to the depth gauge and I'm on until 2am.

Hoo boy. This could wind up being a tiring week. I may have had a hard time understanding what the Scots were saying, but there's no danger of me following even a single word of the Polish flying around the boat now. Or of getting to be as comfortable and friendly with these guests as I wound up with the Scots. The adults in this group are off on their own trip with little interest in being part of what makes the boat operate. Instead, they constantly smoke cigarettes on the foredeck and were drinking before we'd even left the dock (alcohol while we're underway is definitely not allowed). Meanwhile, of the four kids (ranging in age from 8 to 15), two are shy to the point of being mute while the other two are just very quiet. All of the guests perked up when they started catching some good-sized cod just minutes after settling into the cove here at Mannbåen, but other than that, they do what they want, when they want -- safety protocols (and courtesy) be damned.

The plan as of last evening is to depart this cove around 5am and head for a fjord north of Eidet, the place we wound up the last trip with the Scots. We'll get there mid-morning and get the group out kayaking, fishing, hiking, and will spend Sunday night on the hook there. We'll get up Monday morning and head across the Vestfjord directly to Nusfjord and Lofoten. The forecast is for light winds, but we're still looking for well-protected areas where these beginning kayakers can be safe; more open waters such as those we took the Scots to would be dangerous and could even prevent these guests from kayaking at all. We'll hop from place to place until Thursday or Friday morning, when we have to be back in Bodø in order to make airline connections.

Polar Bear is already operating more smoothly than last week, simply due to the departure of Boy Wonder and Mr. KIA Crewman. Sure, we still get the amusing bickering between Boogie and Marlies -- they'll get a post to themselves at some point: their back-and-forth badgering calls to mind, well, a married couple; indeed, they sound like a couple who've been married for decades, not a mere 11 months -- but there's a clear chain of command and not several would-be captains. Mike is great fun and chips in with everything; he was completely in his element when we arrived, helping the anglers young and old get lines out and fish in. He was especially helpful and encouraging with the kids, and their faces lit up like neon when he'd help them catch some very nice cod -- but he still enabled them to have the accomplishment and pride of doing the actual work.

So here we go: another week with a full boat. Exacerbating the close quarters is a profound language gap and an aloof (even standoffish) attitude from the guests. Should be educational for all involved...

24 June 2011

Takin' Care of Business

A couple of procedural points:

* Blogspot won't let me upload videos so I'm putting some of them on my Facebook page. However, I'm not posting many because a) I suck at shooting video, b) I haven't had time to play with my editing software yet so said crappy videos don't get shortened before they get posted, and c) videos on Facebook take for bloody ever to upload. I'll play with the editing software in late July when I'm back in the U.S. for a couple of weeks; I'll also look into a YouTube channel or something to which I can post future vids.
* I've learned that I can alter the post times manually so I'll now post 'em in the order I write 'em, rather than doing a whole day's worth at a time. Due to our itinerary, I don't have connectivity very often so I upload a batch whenever I get back to town.
* This one is for you, Mom: the photos in the blog posts should -- SHOULD -- be able to be enlarged. Simply click on them and they should come up sized for your browser window...and you should be able to make the photo full-size by clicking on the photo itself once it's open.

23 June 2011

There is Magic on Earth

Polar Bear at anchor in the Nevelsfjord near Eidet

Another 3-4am anchor watch. But again, truth be told: the peace and quiet (snoring from throughout the boat notwithstanding) of an anchor watch is worth it.

I went for my longed-for hike yesterday afternoon. It was great to stretch my legs and the scenery on shore was lovely (and again, very Alaska-esque). Spongy bog and muskeg terrain made for a slog, and between the countless watercourses wending their way down from the high country above and the rain-laden trees and undergrowth, I was soaked through in very short order. My hiking sneakers and socks were inundated so that every step was like walking on a sponge -- while wearing sponges on your feet. The volume of water contained by the Earth in this habitat -- in the streams, the bogs, the swampy areas, beneath the hummocks of grass -- is just inconceivable. How much fresh water is there on the planet if all similar terrain at similar latitudes holds similar amounts of water? It staggers the mind.

The flowing water in the area made its way to the sea in many thin cascades that bounded down smoothed-rock mountain slopes of a glacial cirque. Beneath the slate-colored ramparts, the streams gathered into one fast- and clear-flowing torrent in a green plateau of small bushes and thin stands of trees. This creek launched off the ledge and down the final few hundred feet of elevation in a series of loud waterfalls, eventually entering the saltwater at the head of the fjord in a broad fan. While waiting for Boogie to pick me up in Polar Bear's dinghy, I watched several sea trout feed on the detritus carried down from the high country, including one fish that launched itself a good foot-and-a-half clear of the surface in a tail-wagging feeding frenzy.

As Boy Wonder had said, there were several moose-hunting stands in the area. From down low, near the sea's edge, to midway up the cirque, I must have seen half a dozen in just a short time. All were well-built and commanded great views of the terrain before them; I climbed one and found a plastic chair and a .30-06 casing. Unfortunately, the evidence I saw of the moose themselves was limited to tracks along the shore and one pile of moose nuggets.

Later this morning, we'll fire up Polar Bear's engines and head out of this fjord complex and down the coastline back to Bodø. The weather remains truly crappy, with low skies, high winds and periodic sheets of rain, despite a rapidly rising barometer. I suspect that unless things finally clear, we'll find strong winds and potentially lumpy conditions out in the open water. We'll tie up to the public dock in Bodø for the evening and the guests (along with Boy Wonder with his puppy dog, Mr. KIA Crewman, in tow) will depart on the afternoon flight on Friday. Boogie and Marlies and I will have a short time to get Polar Bear cleaned, provisioned and ready before the next set of guests arrive late morning on Saturday for the second of our two cruises here in northern Norway. I'm told these guests are two Polish families, with kids as young as 10, so a more conservative approach to the week of travel will likely be in order, especially if the weather remains this challenging.

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22 June 2011

Summer Solstice...and Back to the Mainland

Time for another anchor watch.

Upon leaving Trollfjord, we retraced our steps toward Lillemolla but kept right on going...for another 70 miles or so back across the open water to the mainland. With gale warnings in the forecast, Boogie wanted to get back to within striking distance of Bodø in case things got really nasty. So we're now anchored at the head of a fjord near a tiny settlement named Eidet. It's not far (as the crow flies) from Mannbåer, our anchorage last Saturday, but this time we're on the other side of the mountains from the open water, the fjord we're in having snaked east and south and back around west.

And as if in response to yesterday's observation regarding wildlife, once into this fjord we were surrounded by a pod of pilot whales, some of whom swam quite close to the boat. And after they'd wandered off, a couple of otters could be seen on shore along the waterline. Boy Wonder says there are several stands for hunting moose in the canyon above our anchorage, so I'm hoping a hike might reveal one of those critters.

That might happen. We're not heading anywhere later this morning. Instead, we'll stay on the hook here and people will kayak and fish in the protected waters, or hike on shore, while up along the ridges and out in the open water, the storm rages. You can see the low clouds racing over the mountaintops above, and yesterday's sail including a raucous stretch near suppertime when we bounced and rolled beneath low skies and cold rain while running under yankee sail alone. Poor Marlies was cooking a huge pot of noodles with peanut sauce while Polar Bear rocked from side to side through 90 degrees or more.

Given the crappy weather and a change in the watch, I adjourned to my bunk around 6pm and observed the solstice all snug in my sleeping bag with the lee cloth securely fastened to keep me in my bunk rather than on the cabin floor. I plugged in the iPad and noise-canceling headphones, listened to some music and, shortly after the 6:16pm solstice, nodded off for an hour's nap. Then it was up for the remainder of the run to this anchorage, which we made at about 1am this morning. A long day, to be sure.

But later today is all about having fun, so once this watch is over (in 10 minutes) I'll head back to bed knowing that I won't have to get up again in less than an hour to shove off. Instead, I'll tuck in and sleep as long as my body (and the noise of 15 other passengers) allows.

I just poked my head out of the hatch to check our position (all good) and noticed a couple of tiny spots of blue sky scattered in among the scudding clouds. A waterfall can be heard from the thick, green woods on shore. And the broad, rocky cirque that forms the headwall above the canyon is littered with gossamer waterfalls as well; it's all quite lovely (yet again), so, yes: I'm thinking a hike will be in order today. Who knows? Maybe I'll even conjure some more haiku.

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Haiku on the High Seas

We've been seeing a lot of these jellyfish on our journey this summer

I met a German woman named Lynn on the dock shortly before leaving Nusfjord yesterday. She asked me about the iPad case I was using (I was on deck, checking email one last time just before Polar Bear sailed) and we talked about the various accessories available to those who've devoured the Apple Kool-Aid over the years. I mentioned that I also used the bluetooth keyboard (I'm using it now) when I was writing and that took our brief discussion into literature. Language segued into poetry which segued into haiku.

So while Polar Bear headed out of Trollfjord today I sat on the foredeck, pulled out my little moleskine journal (thanks, H) and dabbled. Bear in mind: while I love poetry, I'm a horrible and completely incompetent poet. "Roses are red, violets are blue" would be an epic were I to have penned such verse. And bear in mind, too, that I regard this blog as simply me puking on a keyboard. So what better than a pathetic attempt at poetry in a post of proverbial vomit?

What the hell?! I'm having fun on this trip; writing poetry is good discipline; and Trollfjord was a lovely, peaceful place with which quality haiku-writers could do wonders. And dammit: this here be my blog. So, you've been warned. Here goes:

Trollfjord waterfall:
downy flow in emerald wall
To or from heaven?

Journey to Trollfjord
Sky and earth, water and rock
paint your name on cliff?!

SoCal sprawl, decay,
Graffiti on Trollfjord cliff
(semi-obscure film reference...go with it)

Slate seas and gray skies
Mercury is falling fast
Gale warnings are up (or: Hatches are battened)

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21 June 2011

The Fjord of Trolls

Yes, Trollfjord. The fjord of trolls, I guess. A tourist destination, nonetheless, due to its beauty. So much so that the regional ferry, the Hurtigruten, and cruise ships divert into this two-kilometer cleft while on their runs.

As you enter the fjord, the waterway narrows to just over a hundred yards wide. The vertical cliff faces leap out of the water and tower over the boat, while wispy waterfalls cascade from the heights in a series of steps until they reach the sea. Carried on the wind are the songs of unseen birds; perhaps it's just wishful longing on my part, but one song heard several times sounded suspiciously like that of the canyon wren.

Three-quarters of the way in, the fjord widens a bit and the walls slip back away from the water, enabling one to see the high peaks and snowfields that feed the waterfalls. One creek enters the fjord at its head, beside an improbable home and what looks to be a small hydropower facility. Also improbably, many years' worth of morons have painted their names and nationalities and boat names on the cliff walls, the graffiti as out of place here as a condom vending machine in the Vatican.

Also improbable about the whole of this Norway experience thus far is the dearth of wildlife. Since our sea-mammal welcome to Bodo, we've seen a few breeds of seabirds and little else. No whales or dolphins, no seals, few visible songbirds and certainly no megafauna like wolves or mountain sheep or bear. I know I compare Norway to Alaska too often (wrongly and unfairly, I admit), but knowing that such animals don't even exist in the landscape lessens the experience. It's as though there's one piece missing smack dab in the middle of the jigsaw puzzle, and even though you correctly placed 9,999 of the 10,000 pieces, the picture is an imcomplete one.

We did see half a dozen sea eagles as we left Lillemolla this morning. They launched from the rocks along the shore as we passed (they seem to be much more skittish than the bald eagles back in Alaska) and in no time at all soared to great heights, circling on the updrafts in front of the island's cliffs until they were just large specks on the cloudy sky.

Now we're idling at the head of the fjord. A handful of guests have gone ashore for a short hike while another handful are fishing from the dinghy. I don't know what the current game plan is but I'm hopeful we'll do something to observe this evening's solstice. I always try to mark the solstices and equinoxes, no matter where I am; it's the last part of my so-called Zen Taoist New Testament pagan belief structure and part of my insistence that, regardless of ideology, race or nationality, we are all still human animals and part of this self-contained life-support system we call "the universe" and "Earth." And the summer solstice is especially noteworthy here in the land of all-night winter darkness: having the all-too-brief light present 24 hours a day is worth celebrating.

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What is the Sound of One Chain Dragging?

It's the day of the summer solstice (1816 local time), and as you can probably guess from the time, I'm on the 4-5am anchor watch. We're in a lovely little anchorage off the south shore of an island called Lillemolla. There are half a dozen smaller islets that form a ring of natural shelter at the foot of thousand-foot cliffs. Sea eagles work the area, casually gliding in the breezes beneath the cliff wall. And off to the west, the city of Svolvaer (Lofoten's capital) is visible several miles distant.

We anchored last night just before midnight in a fresh easterly wind beneath a light drizzle. In the past four hours, the rain has departed, the cloud cover has risen and the wind has swung 180 degrees to the west. As a result, Polar Bear is in the process of swinging too, so anchor watch consists of monitoring the depth meter and two different GPS units, along with a couple of visual points on the island, to make sure we keep enough water under the keel.

The peace and (sort of) quiet at this hour is delightful. It's not as quiet as one might think: the snoring from every single quarter of the boat is staggering in its volume. How anyone gets any sleep with another human being near them is beyond me. And given the brisk breeze, I'm sitting in the cabin as I type, so the aural assault is relentless.

But the sound that's interesting right now is that of the chain dragging as Polar Bear slowly swings to a new position downwind. You'll hear a gust in the rigging, hear the water pressure increase on the steel hull, and then the sound of the links tumbling across the seafloor. It's a slow process, slow enough that we'll likely be safe over the remaining hour-plus before we raise the anchor at 6am and head to Trollfjord...

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20 June 2011

Dateline: Nusfjord, Norway

The village of Reine in the Lofoten Islands

19 June
We motored the few miles from Å this morning. Got an 8am start while the Scots slept; we would have sailed -- the wind was great -- but on that angle of sail Polar Bear would have heeled over at a nice, sharp 45 degrees or so…and all of the Scots on the port side of the boat would have rolled right out of their bunks.

Our arrival was observed by everyone in this picture-postcard village. They all turned out to watch Boogie maneuver the 72-foot beast of a boat into an insanely narrow harbor. I'd have never tried it, not with the narrow waterway, fishing/tour boats already tied up on one side and a shallow spot right in front of where we wanted to tie up. But credit where credit is due: the boy pulled it off.

The fishing village-turned-living museum of Nusfjord

Upon arrival, everyone took off to explore the village. It's actually an ex-fishing village that has been preserved as a tourist destination and historical spot, complete with refurbished fisherman's cabins you can rent, tours you can take and videos of the area's history you can watch. All for a price, of course; and in Norway, the price is quite steep. According to the young guys working in the bar, there are 35 residents -- up from 16 a year ago.

While the now-awake Scots dispersed for an afternoon of kayaking or fishing, I threw on a pair of swim trunks that looked like a painting by the bastard child of Jackson Pollock and Gauguin (but they're the lightest shorts I have) and my Keen hiking sneakers and took off up the one road into Nusfjord for a run. I went about five miles (turned around at the 3-plus kilometer mark) in 41 minutes and felt surprisingly good...not bad for having not run since February in San Diego and for the weather being as hot as it was. And bonus! My knee only ached during and after the run.

I got back to the boat and wandered over the grass-covered rock outcropping to which we were tied (visible on the left in the video I hope to post) and, after much waffling, dove my hot, tired, sweaty ass into that icy fjord. To be honest, it wasn't THAT cold -- bearable but not mindlessly comfortable, cold but not frigid -- and about what I expected. Made my legs and feet feel better, that's for sure, and cleaned the muck of the run right off.

Then I took 'er easy in the afternoon, sippin' a beer in the sun on the restaurant's deck while I got caught up on the world via my laptop. And while I pondered a bunch there, getting sunburned here at the top of the world, I believe I'll keep this post to a travelogue. There will be time for philosophizing later on.

PS: Tried to upload a video I took from the bow as we entered the harbor at Nusfjord but Blogger won't have any of it. I'll try it on my Facebook page.

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19 June 2011

Comes A Time

19 June
For the first time on this trip -- so, just over a month in -- melancholy has set in. I'm really missing Alaska this morning.

The feeling was undoubtedly set off by our morning motorsail northeast from Å. There, the mountains along the coastline rise steeply from the sea, with a narrow strip of land at the base that provides just enough room for a road and several small villages scattered along that road. The mountains themselves taper from the white of snow at the peaks to the slate and gray of rock forming the upper third, and finally the emerald of lush vegetation covering the lower flanks. Streams and waterways have cut fjords and valleys that provide glimpses back into the heart of the island.

It all recalled Alaska so much that I started thinking about what and whom I've left behind, and what I gave up to come chase this dream. So much so that I even started thinking along the specific lines of, "Well, when I get back to Alaska..." and "I shouldn't have done that" or "I should have done this." It's true: I was second-guessing some of my recent choices to the point where it seemed that I was about to test my theory that I'd rather regret doing something than not doing something.

Not that I have regrets. Yet. I'm still very much into this voyage and I'm happy about the direction my life is taking right now; I remain optimistic that the boldness of my actions is creating opportunities and situations that are where I need to be going at this point in my life. And I'm very happy here in the Lofoten Islands, which are truly spectacular (think: outer coast of the Kenai Peninsula or the northern coast of Prince William Sound...only there are fantastically picturesque little villages, a la Halibut Cove, scattered here and there).

It's just that I miss Alaska and all that my life there entailed. The visual cues of this faraway place put my mind and heart back in my homeland.

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File Under "Irony"

18 June
On a 2-3am anchor watch. An anchor watch entails sitting around while everyone else sleeps, making sure the boat doesn't drag its anchor and move on its own into a perilous situation. Sounds dreadfully dull and, if we're being honest here, it's all that and more. Except this anchor watch.

Anchored up in a bay called, I believe, Mannbåen, about 13 miles northeast of Bodo. We motored here yesterday after an invasion of nine guests (eight Scots who are members of a kayaking/outdoor group) and made this short jump in order to get out of town. And here in this small bay, at the base of a sheer cliff protecting our northern flank, looking east up a fjord with Yosemite-like peaks and cliffs lining either side, it was the right call.

Especially sitting here in the cockpit alone. The peace and quiet and solitude is exactly why I head into the outdoors, be it in a boat, on foot, on a plane or any other method. And this particular moment might just be the best moment I've had since I joined Polar Bear more than a month ago in England.

Just three hours ago I crawled into my bunk and amid the cacophony of 15 other people (especially a bunch of Scots on holiday who've been cooped up in planes for many hours) enclosed within the confines of a sailboat, plugged my noise-canceling headphones into my iPad and fired up an application, Ambient. I still have no idea when or why I downloaded the freebie app, but trying to fall asleep in that craziness made the benefits of an app that plays peaceful sounds of birdsong trilling alongside a running river painfully clear. The name of the program? Paradise.

The sounds were indeed peaceful, serene and (thankfully) sleep-inducing, but true paradise had arrived in the form of an hour-long watch, alone, with the midnight sun shining on the snow-dappled peaks and flanks of island mountains all around me and as far as the eye could see. The sound of the ankle-high waves 300 yards distant have replaced the recorded river and real birdsong cascades from the trees just beyond the shoreline. A whisper of breeze flowed past my earlobes, generating a pleasing whistle and a gull splashed in the inky-black water just feet away and looked at me as though expecting a handout. We shared the moment and he went off to more productive locations.

Paradise? No, it's not on a digital tablet, thanks. I've found it in Alaska, in New England, the Rocky Mountains and countless other places. And now it's all around me here in a Norwegian fjord at two in the morning.

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15 June 2011

Midnight Sun Above the Arctic Circle

I went to the bar on the top floor (the 13th) of the Radisson Hotel for a glass of wine last night and...oh, what a view! It reminded me of the view from the Crow's Nest in Anchorage (atop the Captain Cook Hotel) except Bodo has a lot more charm than Los Anchorage (everyone knows I love Anchorage but that's not much of a stretch, really). Anyway, here are some iPhone photos (complete with a few funky reflections off the windows) of the scenery here in Bodo last night. So with apologies to Ed McMahon: heeeeere's Bodo!

Looking southeast, out over the airport (and airbase)...

...then east over the football (soccer) stadium to some neat-looking peaks (gotta be some climbing out there)...

...and on to the northeast, where you can see the big, snow-covered mountains in the distance... over the harbor and the mountainous islands just northwest of town...

...and finally south over the small-boat harbor and the islands through which we came from Shetland on Monday.

"Sunset" at this latitude at this point in June means the sun dips behind the mountains to the northwest for a bit.

Self-portrait in the midnight sun. The '80s tune "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" fits at this latitude.

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14 June 2011

Dateline: Norway

The Norwegian coastline from several miles offshore. Bodo is vaguely visible on the waterline in the distance

Arrived in Bodo, Norway, (posts written en route are below) yesterday evening right after dinner. And appearances have turned into reality: it truly is stunning here...helped by bright, warm sunshine. Alaska-like mountains cut by fjords, offshore islands rising out of the sea, dolphins and whales bounding around the bay...I could get used to this.

It is, however, incredibly expensive. Eight bucks for a beer; $18 for a rum-and-coke! But the people are friendly and enjoying the northern summer with its 24-hour sunshine. All eight crew members adjourned to a waterfront bar upon arrival (I had a shower in the harbor facilities first: $5 for 10 minutes) where a couple of serious drunks took a liking to our group and provided some serious entertainment: tall tales of the area's fauna, sparking up a joint on the patio, stumbling to get refills.

Approaching Bodo...a little closer this time

The bartender was a Brazilian guy named Tchiago who came to Bodo a few years ago to play professional soccer a collegiate career at UC-Santa Barbara. Now he tends bar while he starts up a surfing service in the area. You got it: surfing. He gave me the beta on breaks and a place the rents boards and wetsuits out in the Lofoten Islands -- where we're headed on Friday for the first of two, one-week cruises -- so I'm cautiously optimistic that I can grab a wave or two while I'm here, though I can only imagine how expensive a rental board will be.

The Bodo harborfront in warm sunshine

One other observation: in addition to being a lot like Alaska -- think Seward or Valdez, only Bodo is a MUCH bigger city -- it's also kinda like San Diego: fighter jets take off from the nearby airbase pretty much constantly.

The Bodo Welcoming Committee

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13 June 2011

Progress Toward Norway

Land ho! A few Norwegian islands (Myken and others) are visible, about four miles off the starboard beam. And still we motor on, 60 miles or so from Bodo.

I woke a little while ago after sleeping for a few hours following another boring 2-4am watch: more motoring, mainsail banging around in the wisps of wind coming from astern, in drizzle and fog and cold. While a drag, that watch couldn't hold a candle to the goat rodeo that was my previous watch at 6-8pm yesterday evening.

Mr. Know-it-all Crewman -- who is, it should be pointed out, my watch partner -- and I had cooked and served a pretty damned good chili con carne dinner at 6pm (tasks such as cooking and cleaning are preassigned by watch on a rotating basis for the duration of the trip) and were on watch, aided (?) by the boat's owner, henceforth known as Boy Wonder.

Boy Wonder is a nice guy. He's in his 20s or 30s, fit and earnest, and he works hard on his boat/business. Sadly, he has the attention span of a sparrow and the patience of a teenager. In fact, in a lot of ways he seems like a teenager, hence the nickname. Back in Newcastle he was notorious for starting a job -- stowing the anchor in what passes for a bow pulpit, for instance -- and leaving it midway to go tilt at another windmill. Often while in mid-sentence. Combined with Mr. KIA Crewman's insistence on constant tinkering, a dangerous nervousness ensues.

We were, once again, motoring along with the single-reefed mainsail sheeted mostly amidships. The wind was light and all over the place; the sail was hoisted mostly for stability and centered to keep it from banging around in the puffs (potentially damaging the sail).

The wind seemed to steady a bit from the starboard quarter. Boy Wonder sprung into action, assisted fervently by Mr. KIA Crewman. They unstrung the preventer from the starboard side: they took the long line that runs from the cockpit of the boat forward to almost the bow and back to the boom, where it is shackled to a line from the aft end of the boom to prevent ("preventer"...get it?) the mainsail from crashing back in toward the boat when it's slung out wide over the rail. The preventer does that on Polar Bear by running through a series of blocks, under spars lashed to the deck, and under and over a series of sheets and other control lines.

The dynamic duo got the preventer from the starboard side and restrung it on the port side, they eased the mainsheet and pulled the mainsail out to port (I must confess: I helped), the better able to catch what wind was blowing from the starboard quarter.

Once the sail was set, we paused and dared to hope: sailing, perhaps? Please? Marginally. The engine was still creating most of our forward progress, and when eased, the true wind was clearly not as strong as thought -- nor from the direction it had seemed. But we persisted for a bit, which was no small feat since we were also headed into a surprisingly big, locally generated northerly swell. Let's just say: there was a lot of banging around.

After about half an hour, the wind was coming from more directly astern so we brought the mainsail back inboard and secured it a bit (whereupon Mr. KIA Crewman took it upon himself to go to the boom and rescrew the shackle I'd secured when we took the preventer down; I wasn't aware that turning a screw was such technical work). But a half-hour after that...

The wind was now freshening, declared Boy Wonder, this time from the PORT quarter. He and Mr. KIA Crewman sprung back into action, reversing their earlier action and moving the preventer back to the starboard side. This play I sat out; the wind was clearly doing what Marlies had said it was doing when she went off watch at 6pm: it was light and fluky, rising for a few minutes only to fall again after getting everyone's hopes up.

Once the main was swung out to starboard we did indeed seem to have several minutes of pretty steady wind. Call it: seven or eight minutes. At which point Boy Wonder called for the yankee, the larger and forward-most of Polar Bear's two headsails. Once unfurled, the yankee filled and helped the boat hit 7.1 knots, a speed called out by Boy Wonder, standing wide-eyed and grinning in the cockpit as he lowered the RPMs on the engine. What he'd failed to notice was that we hit that speed using full engine revs and while sliding down the backside of one of the large swells.

No matter. Time for the other headsail, declared Boy Wonder. At least when he and his sidekick unfurled the staysail, it was Boy Wonder who did the unfurling -- Mr. KIA Crewman, as has been the case, wasn't strong enough to pull the sheet enough to get the sail fully deployed.

By this time, no longer sliding down the backside of a large swell and with less power coming from the engine, Polar Bear was now slower than she was when the circus started: we were doing 5.1 knots, according to the instruments. On top of that, now the sails were banging around like a spastic rhythm section, not helping the speed at all and likely damaging some very expensive pieces of canvas. Boy Wonder begged off with, "I've never seen the Norwegian Sea this calm;" Mr. KIA Crewman sat eagerly by the mainsheet, recoiling any line within reach; I sat there disgusted, wondering how long it was going to be before the ruckus brought Boogie up from his bunk.

Not long. We usually wake him up (his watch is after mine) half an hour before the switchover. He came up at about 7:15pm, looked over the scene and disappeared below to get his gear. When he returned, I asked him if he was now on watch. He said yes, to which I said, "good, then I'm now off-watch." Boogie nodded, clearly understanding my frustration. I went and dealt with the tasks that get done at a watch handoff -- filling the day tank with diesel and making an entry in the logbook -- and went back to bed since I was on again at 2am.

What could I do? It's Boy Wonder's boat. Whether he's on watch or off, he can do whatever he chooses. Hell, if he wants to sink the damned thing, that's his prerogative. If he'd just stayed below while Mr. KIA Crewman and I were on watch, we'd have stayed consistently in the mid-sixes for speed instead of lowering to the low-fives. We wouldn't have wasted a lot of energy. And while we would have remained boringly motoring, we wouldn't have increased our frustration at the lack of wind (and my frustration with one-quarter of our crew).

So while the 2-4am watch was perhaps the coldest I've endured thus far, it was blessedly peaceful after the 6-8pm silliness.

Nearing Bodo with the engine still clanging away and a full set of sails (unfurled both headsails about half an hour ago, right before my 12-3pm watch ended) -- more comedy but we are finally getting a bit of lift from a small breeze.

The mountains inland have come into view and their snow-covered flanks are bathed in bright sunshine -- apparently we're under a marine layer of fog and mist.

What we can see already is stunning. It's very Alaska-esque, even from this distance, with tall, steep mountainsides that emerge from the clouds to plunge straight into a dark, cold sea. Green swaths cut through snowfields, accentuating the juxtaposition of the high alpine with sea level: just about my most favorite scenery in the world.

And we're not even there yet (still another three hours or so). I'm very much looking forward to exploring.

12 June 2011

9-12 June 2011

9 June
I'm sitting beside the companionway looking southwest to the northernmost point in the United Kingdom: Saxa Vord on the Shetland Island of Unst. The first-quarter moon sits low over Unst, in the twilight of a northern sky whose sun set just a short while ago. Despite the still-bright northern twilight, the moonlight shines off the sea. Moonlight on the water...a lovely sight. The full moon in another week will likely be the last full moon we see for a couple of months (if we haven't already traveled too far north in the next few days to see it); the solstice is in 12 days.

To the lower left of the moon, there's a lighthouse on a rocky islet just north of Unst that's visible. That islet is known by the wonderful name of Muckle Flugga. I am not making that up. What a great name! And what a great sight it must be to southbound sailors.

We've been motorsailing since leaving Lerwick this afternoon around 1:30pm. It was a lovely trip -- despite the sound of the engine -- under warm, sunny skies and light breezes. A nice end to our time in Shetland.

We made our way north past Symbister (where we spent last Thursday night) and at the island of Yell, turned a bit east to head outside and run north alongside the islands of Fetlar and Unst. Upon reaching Saxa Vord about 45 minutes ago, we turned a bit east; next landfall: northern Norway.

It's good to be sailing again, good to be at sea again. I dug Lerwick and will definitely return, but the urge to get moving and head for the next spot was strong. It's that same urge that is the principal challenge thus far in my journey.

There are two reasons for this journey. One is to see places such as Shetland, that have been in my imagination for a good chunk of my life, and make them real to me. The other reason is to learn as much as I can about operating a modern sailboat. I can sail, I know that; it's dealing with the minutae of keeping a boat operating -- and operating well: safely, efficiently, fast -- that I need to learn more about. And Boogie and Marlies, the skipper and mate, respectively, and my friends, are doing a great job of sharing their knowledge and experience with me at every possible turn.

The thing is: this is a commercial venture. Boogie and Marlies are here to run a charter yacht with paying guests. There's only so much bandwidth they can spare in such an operation to educate a knucklehead like me. So sometimes I wonder if I might be better served just buying my boat and learning by doing. Hopefully it wouldn't be learning the hard way because the implications of "the hard way" on a boat are frightening. And I'm very aware that I might know just enough to get myself into trouble but not enough to get myself out.

11 June
Didn't pick up the iPad yesterday at all. Sue me. Right now, enduring a dreadfully boring motor on a freakishly calm Norwegian Sea. We're paralleling the coast of Norway headed north, now about a hundred miles offshore of Trondheim. Spent a bunch of time yesterday afternoon dancing around a couple of ships towing seismic gear (ie: looking for oil) who pushed us a ways off course. The irony was that given our mutual courses at the time, if they'd just let us continue on our original heading, we'd have never intersected, never had to stay in touch on the radio, and never had to do any do-si-do in the middle of the freakin' ocean! Argh!

The flip side of that annoyance was this morning's 4-6am watch. Rapture! The Norwegian Sea was calm then, too, but the wind was brisk enough to power us along at 7.5 to 8 knots. We were sailing close-hauled and it was then you could see that Polar Bear was made for upwind sailing. The balance of the boat going to windward is impeccable: get the boat tracking on course, remove your hands from the wheel, then keep an eye on it and touch it up every now and then. A sheer joy to sail under such circumstances. And the break from the rumble and grind of the engine was a relief. Keep in mind, also, that at this latitude, we're already into the all-night daylight, so that high-latitude summer twilight that I adore back in Alaska surrounded us and engulfed the sea from horizon to horizon. A wonderful two-hour watch.

The earlier-mentioned watch Thursday evening was lovely too, despite the motoring. The moon, the north coast of Unst, Muckle Flugga. Speaking of which: is Muckle Flugga the greatest name, or what? I've made it my new exclamation -- stub your toe, yell "Muckle Flugga!" and a) feel better instantly, while b) offending no one. What a deal! I'm also thinking that now I'll need to meet a nice girl, get married and have a kid, just so we can him or her Muckle Flugga Smith. Has a nice ring to it, don't ya think?

Back to the present, we're laboring along in the counter to this morning's watch. This is what Polar Bear was NOT made for: she has an undersized engine for her enormous bulk (50-plus tons) so we're doing 5-and-change knots right now (with a little bit of northerly swell slowing us too). Polar Bear could use another 50 percent in horsepower...or better yet, an engine off a supertanker. We had the bottom cleaned in Lerwick after the slog from Newcastle; the divers spoke of an inch-plus-thick layer of barnacles on the hull, with another wavy, green beard of plant growth on top of that. Even with that gunk (mostly) gone, Polar Bear is still no speed demon under power. Simply put: we're not setting any records (almost typed "ain't" there but I know certain friends who detest that word) so even though we're a third of the way to Bodo, it's gonna take us a while to get there.

We are, however, approaching the artic circle. That imaginary line lies at 66 degrees, 33 minutes north latitude; we're currently at 63 degrees, 30-and-change minutes, which puts us inside of 180 nautical miles (1 minute = 1 nautical mile; 60 minutes per degree of latitude). At this pace, we'll cross the line in a little less than 36 hours. I've never been above the arctic circle so I'm quite looking forward to that. Our destination of Bodo lies just north of that line so Monday/Tuesday will be a momentous day for a couple of reasons.

On the home front (ie: here aboard Polar Bear), the scene remains much the same. We plug along on our separate watches: eating, sleeping, reading, sleeping, sailing, sleeping. We've seen one whale (a minke whale) and numerous schools of feeding fish (likely mackerel), so it's been a bit of a dud trip from a wildlife standpoint thus far. Even the bird life has tapered off: periodic visits from fulmars is about it. Still, the high latitudes and being at sea...I dig it out here.

Boogie and Marlies continue to be exceedlingly accommodating and helpful -- and encouraging -- regarding my education. The situation is interesting because for this leg, we have the owner of the boat on board. So while Boogie is the skipper, the owner has strong opinions too. Mix in another crewman with a strong urge to act on his own -- oftentimes counter to the plans of the official skipper and mate -- and it's like there are three or four (three if you count Boogie and Marlies as one) skippers on board. Makes for a bit of a goat rodeo at times.

12 June
Still motoring along in the Norwegian Sea. We're closing on the arctic circle, despite a couple of detours around more ships towing seismic equipment. We'll reach the line tomorrow; I've dared folks to jump in the water when we cross and if anyone calls my bluff, I will do it (provided I can borrow someone's big, fluffy towel; all I have are my small, chamois, travel towels). Stay tuned.

Had a delightful, if boring, motor watch this morning from 6-9am: bright sunshine and blue skies. That followed a dreadfully rainy, cool and dreary slog from 10pm to midnight last night. Gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.

Mr. Know-it-all crewman continues to try my patience so I'm getting a lot of practice counting to ten. I'm going to start counting in foreign languages -- gotta learn Norwegian ASAP and Icelandic in the coming weeks -- so this guy could prove a help after all.

09 June 2011

Departure Imminent

10am local time here in Lerwick; ETD is now 12noon. Forecast is for light winds for several days; hopefully they won't be so light that we're motoring a lot. But as with any sailing trip: what we see is what we'll get.

A quick hodge-podge of photos from the past few days here in Shetland...

The Isle of Noss

The bird rookery on the Isle of Noss: all those white dots are birds and nests

Overview of Lerwick Harbor from Fort Charlotte

The Lerwick skyline

Pedestrian streets in Lerwick

Cannon's-eye view of the water in front of Lerwick

Lerwick City Hall

It was Royal National Lifesaving Institution open day on Saturday in Lerwick. Serious lifeboats over here.

Helicopter low pass

Alternate views of history: over here, John Paul Jones is a "renegade."

Scenes from Symbister, Whalsay, Shetland

More scenes from Symbister

And still more scenes from Symbister

Scalloway Castle

Waterfront garden in Scalloway

Found my relatives in Scalloway

Enjoying a pint in the pub in Scalloway

08 June 2011

Last Night in Lerwick

8 June 2011

Lying in my bunk on Polar Bear's final night in Lerwick. Just had yet another wonderful meal -- though the least great and most expensive of our time here in the Shetlands -- and the northern twilight at this late hour peeks in the hatch above. I've really dug my time here in the Shetlands but it's time to go.

What is it about here that I've enjoyed? Among other things, the region is starkly beautiful. It's a bit like Alaska (as I suspect all such high-latitude places are to some extent) but it's more civilized, to a certain extent (British folk laugh when you say you consider the Shetlands civilized). There are roads, cultivated fields, towns, societal plusses such as museums and restaurants and culture. But there's also brutal weather, cold water, rugged landscapes, hard people and a long journey to get to mainstream civilization. The Shetlands are like a grown-up version of Alaska: the roughness is still there but there's an appreciation that maybe you've earned some of the good things at this point in life. I will definitely come back here someday.

And when I do, I'll be sure to do more exploring. The old saying about cruising is that it's really just a case of performing boat repairs in scenic locales; we're not doing any repairs, per se, but there's still a ton of work to do. And it never seems to be that we can do everything in the course of a day and have another day to go exploring. I'd have liked to have gone for a hike or rented a bicycle, and there are a couple of brochs -- Iron Age ruins that are world renowned -- hereabouts that would have been great to visit.

I did head over to the west side of this island a couple of days ago. A quick cab ride over to the Atlantic Ocean side brought me to the village of Scalloway, home of the appropriately named Scalloway Castle. Built in 1600 by Patrick Stewart (who knew he'd done anything before "Star Trek: The Next Generation"?!), what's left of the stone fortress looks out over a natural inlet from the sea and was cool to wander around. You could really get the feel of what it was like: the rooms were restored well and the sense of festivities in the great hall was really palpable. The village itself had a nice hotel/restaurant where we enjoyed a couple of pints in delightfully warm sunshine before returning to Lerwick.

I've already mentioned the great food here; that's another plus to Lerwick. And the downtown region really is quaint and cute, with stone buildings (including a city-hall clock tower on the hilltop overlooking the harbor that rings out on the quarter-hour with EXACTLY the same timbre as the bells at my prep school back in New Hampshire), slate-covered pedestrian-only streets, and friendly, open locals (including, it must be pointed out, far more attractive women than the 10-times-larger Newcastle area had on display; must be the Nordic blood from way back).

But it was here on the dock in town where I had my first experience with what it's like to be an American abroad in this day and age. We moved Polar Bear back to the floating dock yesterday afternoon, after an enormous Princess cruise ship left (the cruise ship launches use the pontoons so we visiting yachts have to move while they're here) and one of several Norwegian sailboats tied up a few feet in front of our bow.

I was securing the lines on the dock when the captain approached. He was an older guy with a stereotypically colorful sweater and wool captain's hat and, seeing my Alaska magazine T-shirt and hearing me speak asked, "Are you American?" "Yes," I replied. "And the captain's Dutch," I said, pointing to Boogie up on deck, "and the boat is English." The guy sneered and stepped past me to talk to Boogie; fine by me, I was busy and could have cared less about the sudden thaw in the guy's demeanor.

He asked Boogie if he spoke German -- in German -- and when Boogie said yes, continued on, saying that German was easier for him...and that this way the American wouldn't understand, would he? I looked at him, paused for a second and deadpanned, in German, "a little." I then told him, also in German, that I had lived in Germany 20 years ago. The guy looked like he'd seen a ghost before catching himself up and, mock-saluting me, said in English, "You must be a soldier then" Rather than throw him in the harbor I simply said, "No, a hockey player" and went back to the lines.

So's time to head back to sea. I'm anxious about not getting to more fully explore this area that has quite definitely captivated me; I'm longing to get out and do/learn more about operating a modern yacht; I'm getting grief from Euros (another Norwegian sailor at dinner a week ago started in on the whole America/Obama/wars/Afghanistan thing after a few drinks so I'm a little nervous that this is gonna be the response once we reach Norway); and it's just plain time to move on to the next place. I'm on this trip for adventure -- to see new places -- so let's go.

Game plan is to head out around 10am or so tomorrow (Thursday); should be in Bodo, Norway, sometime Monday. With four watches to cycle through, I'm hoping to get writing more during my down times. I'll post all that once I reach Bodo. I'll post this right now and get some photos up in the morning before we leave.

From Last Week

Jotted this stuff down late last week but never posted it -- I was expecting to get back to it and finish/improve it. But it's now been so long that...$#%$% it. Here it is; take it for what it is: notes and gibberish.

2 June 2011

To paraphrase the bumper stickers: New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Symbister.  

That's right: Symbister. Not far from Isbister, Skwa and Clett (you don't even wanna know the pronunciation of that one). This small settlement is on a slope overlooking the harbor that opens to the northwest. Beside the road snaking up the hill, lambs actually gambol. They do; it's true. Wildflowers bend in the relentless breeze and from the top of the hill, the views in all direction (beneath the low overcast) are spectacular.

It was on that relentless breeze that we sailed over from Lerwick today. We slipped what was left of our docklines -- the chafing done by the concrete pier was shocking in its efficiency -- under a fierce westerly. Before Polar Bear had even left the harbor, the bimini had to be removed and stowed below lest it wind up kiting over Bressay Island and on toward Norway.

The sea was relatively flat despite the solid 30-plus knots of wind as we rounded north of Bressay. We unfurled about 75 percent of the staysail and were ripping along, doing a good 7.5 knots toward our destination: the isle of Noss, just east of Bressay and site of a huge bird rookery in the cliffs overlooking the North Sea. Nearer the cliffs, the swell increased a bit out of the south, and after checking out the thousands of birds -- on the cliffs, in the water, gliding around on the wind -- we tacked and bore off toward the north and Whalsay Island. 

3 June

Dinner interrupted last evening's typing. And a wonderful dinner it was: immediately after tying up in Symbister, a local fisherman stopped by to inquire about Polar Bear -- and drop off a bag of monkfish he'd just caught. Boogie worked up the fish while Marlies worked up some voila: a really nice dinner aboard. Anyway...

So, yeah: after Noss, we bore off toward the north before a pretty fierce wind: steadily in the high 30s and well into the  40s. The highest gust we saw was 51 knots. But because of the wind direction -- from the west, from over the so-called Mainland -- the water surface wasn't too lumpy. Yes, we shipped a lot of water, but mostly from waves hitting the rail just so; there wasn't really any swell to speak of and it was actually a quite comfortable ride. 

01 June 2011

All Good Things...

The rain started overnight. A light, misty drizzle when I awoke around 3am; a wind-driven torrent coming down the open companionway when I awoke around 7am (before anyone asks: I closed the hatch). I wandered over to the Lerwick Boating Club for a hot shower and it's just nasty out, as you can see from the "after" photo (to yesterday's "before" shots) at right -- more of what I expected weather-wise from this North Sea archipelago.

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