PRINCESS TO NORWAY: PART III
Crossing the Arctic Circle marks new territory for this Princess V39 and her adventurous crew
In the third part of this series, John Boyle’s adventure culminates in him and his crew crossing the Arctic Circle in their Princess V39
Don’t miss puffin arrival day! the website had screamed at me when planning this trip. “On April 14, 200,000 puffins descend to nest on this small grasscovered island.” It now being April 29, Lovund became another essential stopover on our route north on board my Princess V39 Cecienne. It was late in the evening when we tied up to the visitors’ pontoon, so at dawn the next morning we started hiking, following the signposts towards the puffins. About a mile or so along the road we checked with a passing islander that we were going in the right direction. Yes we were – but there was nothing to see. The puffins hadn’t arrived. Whether it was because they simply didn’t know they were expected on April 14 or the stocks of the sand eels in the seas around the island on which they feed had collapsed, we’ll never know, but for some reason they hadn’t shown up yet.
As we got closer to the Arctic Circle, we started wondering exactly what it was. The first intriguing fact we discovered is that although its given latitude is 66° 33´ 39”, this isn’t actually fixed. It’s position depends on the Earth’s axial tilt, which means that it is currently shifting northwards at a speed of about 15m every year. But a more pressing concern for us was would we recognise the moment we entered the Arctic? It proved not to be an issue – a monument on a lone rock showed us that we were crossing the Arctic Circle. High fives all round, and keep running north.
At our anchorage that evening, crossing the Circle had to be recorded in another way – jumping off the stern into the sea. Probably my shortest swim ever! But we’d made it: a crazy plan hatched beside the pub fire in Cornwall six months ago had become a reality.
WORTH THE WAIT
Norway is far closer to the UK than the Med, but few boats ever venture there. The longer I spent there, the more I questioned why that was the case.
It’s an incredible cruising ground – deep fjords run more than 100 miles inland, innumerable offshore islands mean that there are hundreds of miles of sheltered cruising opportunities along the coast, and the lure of the north, with its iconic coastal towns and villages, majestic scenery, spectacular mountains, and clean clear waters, is simply unavoidable.
By now, I had come to realise that Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. Okay, it doesn’t quite have the Mediterranean weather, but thanks to the Gulf Stream, the climate is not truly Arctic. And in midsummer its days never end.
The further north we voyaged and the closer to the height of summer we were, the longer the days became. We were now in the land of the midnight sun, and although still several weeks from the summer solstice, the sun never really seemed to set.
Boats are an integral part of the Norwegian lifestyle. Along the fjords, just about every property has its own jetty or boathouse. Tiny islands will have houses on them; larger island communities rely on their boats and ferries for every essential. Commuting to work by boat is commonplace. Because of impassable mountains and fjords sometimes slicing as far as 100 miles inland, transport of goods by sea is far more sensible and cost effective than by road. Fishing boats large and small exploit the rich cod stocks of these northern climes, while the sheltered waters of the fjords and inner lead are a pleasure-boating paradise. Sail, waterski, windsurf, jetski; there is unlimited space to enjoy any and every watersport.
There is also an exceptionally good infrastructure to support this boating lifestyle. We never once needed to rely on the extra fuel that we had brought from home. Even the tiniest islands and harbours had credit card-operated 24/7 petrol and diesel pumps.
By now, I had come to realise that Norway is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet
I’d been worried that we might not be able to achieve our ultimate aim of reaching the Lofoten Islands simply because of a scarcity of places to refuel, yet even out of season, my pre-trip concerns proved unfounded.
British harbours and marinas could learn a lot from this. Even in Cornwall, one of the UK’S prime boating destinations, there are so few marine fuel outlets – and even fewer with 24/7 availability – that at times I have had to arrange rendezvous with tankers in order to refuel.
IN SAFE HANDS
Navigation among the countless islands and rocks of many parts of the inner lead had also been a concern before the trip. And particularly should our electronic navigation system fail us, forcing us to rely on paper charts. But I needn’t have been too worried; since the Vikings, seafarers have been roaming these waters, and every hazard or significant feature is well marked, either by traditional buoyage systems, lights, or some intriguing and uniquely designed lighthouses.
In fact, cruising these sea routes and channels was a thrill – sometimes the wide fjords or channels between mainland and island were like a smooth and straight motorway. At other times, weaving around islets and charted hazards was an exciting challenge. The general pattern was to follow the inner lead running the length of the coast, the protected north-south passage, which every now and then is crossed by a sea lane where ships emerge from ports and cities deep inside the fjords and cut across the lead heading for the open sea.
In this maze of channels, the cruising prospects are endless. On our voyage we saw a great deal, but barely scratched the surface of what Norwegian waters have to offer. Just one fjord alone – Norway’s longest, the Sognefjord – slashes inland through spectacular mountain scenery for over 110 miles and reaches depths of 1,300m.
On our voyage north, we had planned another unmissable detour to be made into the fjords to the Svartisen glacier. This is just one tongue of Norway’s second-largest glacier that in total covers around 370 square kilometres, and at only 20m above sea level, is mainland Europe’s lowest glacier. It’s hard to imagine that once most of northern Europe was covered by glaciers like this, which created so much of our landscapes today. Spectacular though this is, I was troubled to see that even though only early in the year and not at the height of summer, the extent of the glacier here appeared less than the photos I had seen in all the guidebooks I had read – a visible and tangible sign of the reality of global warming.
We pulled into the marina at Bodo shortly before midnight, although still it wasn’t truly dark. And at dawn, the sun picked out the snow-capped mountains of the Lofoten Island chain lying tantalisingly on the horizon. Our final destination was just an 80-mile crossing away… Next month The Lofoten Islands welcome us with open arms
Island life, Norwegian style
Cecienne makes the most of the glacial waters
Even the rockiest of outcrops are home to some form of dwelling
John watches the plotter carefully while picking his way through the islands
Just one example of the varied lighthouses protecting this coast
Svartisen glacier is a still a majestic sight despite the visible signs of global warming
Stabben Lighthouse dates from 1867