“North of the circle” – a trip from the UK to Norway’s Lofoten Islands
66•30N and beyond is less ominous than I perceived when I dramatized the voyage in mind. The Lofoten islands were the destination for myself and my crewmate in our 29 ft mono; I forget the make now. Part of me hoped to be hacking through ice flow
s with a pickaxe while my crew mate stood on polar
bear watch, flare gun in hand. Returning home a year later, bearded and sick of seal meat, quite inspired me. As we know, or ought to know, timing dramatically alters our experience at sea. The Arctic in summer, under a sun which orbited our heads endlessly, was mostly pleasant… There was no darkness, therefore no cooling off period. The land was warm, and from its soil came a silent explosion of a trillion shrubs and flowers. The sea kept its arctic-ness – freezing! While not the hoped-for fields of pancake ice, it’s effectively melt-water.
Our crossing from Nesna to Sorvagen began under blue skies, which quickly clouded over. A north-westerly 4 put the wind on a close haul, and the short hull inched into the chop. The near-freezing sea cooled the wind dramatically with the sun gone. It was a draining cold. The type of cold not bitter enough to turn water to ice, but energy-sapping. A bit like ‘wet rain’ – the misty type that soaks everything without really raining. It turned our faces tacky white, lips unable to pukka up to pronounce words. Twice we drove into it for 12hours before being beaten back to find refuge.
Myken is a tiny atoll south of the peninsular tip we headed for downwind. There was somebody to catch a line for us. Amazingly there always is wherever you go in the world. ‘Odd’ is a way of describing this place. Quite barren, with a few locals, maybe 100. 15 are permanent. They’d suit ‘Odd’ too. But then I must have seemed the oddest of all. Perception is no finality. The island bakery was the equivalent of a community center. We found the locals gathered in there having a quiet social. One man and six women, he seemed to have an air of authority in this small world. The rest were quiet while he asked us many rhetorical questions. We stayed for a coffee and a loaf of bread before leaving with more bread and eggs.
Eventually, the Lofoten islands stood over us like a Nordic gods cathedral. I usually feel a sense of ownership out to sea. I’m the tallest thing for miles around, something of symbolic importance against the relative flatness. When some land feature on the horizon draws near, that feeling morphs from one of lordly solitude to one of insignificance. I’m a component of the greater mass. A mass that’s been working all along in its own natural and unnatural processes. Approaching the Lofoten islands, this feeling was profound. I imagine it was like walking toward a boxing ring as the unconfident underdog, closer, closer and smaller.. the mountains are grand. The granite faces descend so steeply into the sea you can moor alongside them, which we did, and jumped in for an Arctic baptism.
We met a group of Royal Marines in the Lofotens who were kayaking and cycling expedition covering the coast of Norway from top to bottom. For a week, we guided the kayakers through the stunning fjords. Following and documenting a WW2 submarine mission, ‘operation Musketoon’, carrying commandos who climbed the mountain ridge by night and blew up the Glomfjord power plant powering aluminum production for the German military. They navigated the unchartered waters blind.
At night the marines camped on the shore while we anchored in the bay. The canned chicken bought for the trip was a smooth solidified mouse that we’d almost thrown up trying to eat on the crossing. It was fit for no man but made excellent fish food. I dropped a four hooked line of the side in Kirkefjord with cubes of this processed atrocity skewered on and pulled up 3 cod within a few minutes. We ate well on the shore over a fire that night.
I have fond memories from our trip to Lofoten. I have more locked away; the vista, the silence, the stillness to be retrieved in the quiet of an evening’s repost.
Sailing is my life’s adventure, my release from the pressures of the moment. My wish in writing this is that my reader knows just how accessible it actually is for those with the will to make it happen.
Sailor by nature and previously by profession. Looking forward to having lived an extraordinary life.