PRINCESS TO NOR­WAY: PART III

Cross­ing the Arc­tic Cir­cle marks new ter­ri­tory for this Princess V39 and her ad­ven­tur­ous crew

Motorboat & Yachting - - Contents - Words & pic­tures John Boyle

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

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