Orkney

The distance from Scalloway on Shetland’s west coast to Kirkwall on Orkney’s Mainland Island is almost 90nm. Our plan was to sail overnight and arrive at Kirkwall the following morning. Although we would have liked to have stopped a night at Fair Isle, located between Shetland and Orkney, the forecast conditions didn’t work in our favour. Nonetheless, sailing conditions were good and with a south-east breeze 10-15kn we made good time. The seas were lumpy, particularly as we crossed the strong current flowing east towards Sumburgh on the south point of Shetland. From there we had around 50nm to reach the northern Orkney Islands.

Midnight in North Sound, Orkney

As we navigated through North Sound the current of up to 2kn was against us, but once through the narrow Lashy Sound between the islands of Sanday (east) and Eday (west), we were lucky to have arrived at the right tide and spurted along the strait at over 12 knots. We had thought of anchoring at the Bay of Carrick in Calf Sound and grabbing a few winks before continuing in the morning, but as we’d entered on an ideal tide we decided to make the most of the speed and continue on. Despite entering the sound at midnight, there was just enough light to see the islands.

Balfour Castle

With a flood tide still in our favour and running east, we crossed the firth and skirted the eastern coast of the isle of Shapinsay. From here we rounded the south coast and headed west through Shapinsay Sound in time for the flood to ease, with less than 2kn against us. Crossing ‘the String’ we arrived at Elwick Bay at Balfour on the south of Shapinsay and anchored at 2am. Balfour Castle was just visible on the hilltop overlooking the quiet harbour. It was light enough to see what we were doing and gradually becoming lighter. The two moorings at Balfour were occupied so we dropped the pick a little farther inside the bay. Conditions were calm and peaceful and I was happy to get some sleep, at least for a few hours. The bay was calm the following morning and after reviewing the tidal information, we decided to leave around 8am for the short 3nm trip to Kirkwall.

Click on the image to read the article

Upon entering Kirkwall Harbour we could see our good friend Brian of “Coruisk” waving us in. We hadn’t seen Brian for over a year and it was good to see a familiar face. Not long after arriving we were approached by a Senior Reporter from the local newspaper “The Orcadian”. He had already done his research on Blue Heeler from our blog after spotting us on AIS, and thought a visiting Aussie crew would have a story or two to tell.  Blue Heeler and Coruisk first met in Sri Lanka in 2014 so it was serendipitous that we should both appear in the same article.

Kirkwall is a pleasant town to stroll around. At least two cruise ships arrived each day increasing the town population by 150%. Orkney Fudge, Orkney Ice-cream, hot pies, tasty meats and treats and souvenirs can be found along Broad Street. Highland Park whisky is distilled on the island so we bought a bottle to try a few drams. There are enough pubs around town to grab an ale and steak pie or perhaps just an ale; a small Seafarers Centre providing help for international seamen supported by an op shop; and standing high above the main street is the impressive St Magnus Cathedral built between 1100 to 1400AD. The Kirkwall Museum is free to enter and has informative displays of neolithic times to the 20th century.

Stromness, at the opposite end of Mainland, is a bus-ride away and can be reached via Skara Brae or directly. The small village is situated along the length of a long coastal road bordered by historic homes, museums, local shops, harbour cottages, and various eateries. A feed of fish and chips and it’s back to Kirkwall.

The Orkney islands are known for their remarkable neolithic ruins – Skara Brae, Maeshowe, Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar and Stones of Stenness to name a few on Mainland.  The ancient Standing Stones of Stenness and Ring of Brodgar have stood for thousands of years dating to roughly 3,000BC to 2,000BC.

The Ring of Brodgar has the third largest diameter stone circle in the British Isles and is classified as a ‘henge’. We couldn’t access the Ness of Brodgar as excavation is currently underway and it won’t be open to the public until early July.

Stones of Stenness and a woolly ewe

In the same locale are the Standing Stones of Stenness. The stones within this ring are taller than those at the Ring of Brodgar, standing up to six metres high.

Within walking distance from the Standing Stones is the Maeshowe Visitor Centre where you can join a guided tour of the Maeshowe Tomb. It’s not possible to visit the tomb on your own so best to book for the tour online.

Maeshowe Tomb, Mainland, Orkney

This tomb is fascinating – built circa 2,500BC, the mound rises over seven metres from the surrounding field. The entrance to the chamber is low so you have to bend right over to walk in for ten metres or so. Photos aren’t allowed within the tomb, and with the group limited to 20 people, the tour guide had our full attention without people taking distracting selfies. Around the rock walls of the chamber is Norse graffiti which the tour guide translated. Many of the Viking inscriptions were written around 1200AD and the guide’s translation was quite humorous.

Waiting for the bus

Taking the bus out to Skara Brae is around an hour from Kirkwall. Skara Brae is located on the west coast of Mainland. Even if you’re not into neolithic archaeology, the completeness of the remains are significant given they are 5,000 years old – older than Stone Henge and pyramids of Egypt. The stone buildings are close to the water’s edge and I wonder where the beach was when they were built. A storm in 1850 uncovered the stones and since that time the site has been preserved and is recognised as a remarkable example of how our ancestors lived.

All is peaceful now at Scapa Flow – Scapa Beach, Mainland, Orkney

Jump forward a few thousand years. Orkney was a major strategic location for British military during the two World Wars. To the south of the Orkneys is Scapa Flow – a large body of water with access for trading and war vessels over the years.

On June 21st 1919 after the armistice of the Great war, the Scuttling of the German Fleet took place. This is yet another fascinating wartime story. Of the 50 ships scuttled that day by the Germans, eight ships remain on the bottom of the flow. We arrived the day before the 100th anniversary and Kirkwall and Stromness held a number of commemorative events including the Kirkwall Pipe Band performance down Broad Street.

Later at the start of WWII in October 1939, the HMS Royal Oak was sunk by a German U-boat at the eastern end of Scapa Flow. After the sinking of the Royal Oak, four causeways were built with the intention of protecting the anchorages of Scapa Flow. These causeways, built by Italian prisoners of war, now cater for tourists buses and local traffic.

After crossing one of the causeways to the small island of Lambs Holm, is an ornate Italian Chapel. Built from two Nissen huts, Italian prisoners used limited materials to create a extraordinary chapel in the wilds of Orkney. Above the alter, prisoner and artist, Domenico Chiocchetti, recreated an exquisite depiction of Madonna and Child. The walls and ceilings of the chapel are painted to look like tiles. Really amazing!

During our stay strong westerly winds pinned Blue Heeler on the dock with our fenders about ready to burst. Other days were sunny and some a little drizzly; either way the temperature is steady at between 12-15degC – somewhat cooler than the heatwave happening in Europe.

So after a pleasant week exploring Kirkwall and surrounds, the forecast showed one day of favourable winds so we took the opportunity to depart before the westerly wind resumed.   It wouldn’t be long before the westerlies returned.

Until then…

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Shetland

Da wind flans in frae Fitful Head
Wast ower fae blatterin seas,
Bit never da lang, lang lippen’d sail
Whaar lycht an lippnin dees.
- From the poem "Flans Frae Da Haaf"

by Laurence Graham
Anchorage at Papa Stour, Shetland

The Scottish archipelago, the Shetland Isles, are comprised of 100 islands and skerries; sixteen of which are inhabited. The low wind-swept islands have no natural forests, although archeological evidence suggests the islands once had shrubs and trees – willow, birch and hazel. After thousands of years of habitation, using wood for shipbuilding, construction, and firewood the islands stand bare and exposed.

The Atlantic Ocean pounds the west coast, forming high sea-cliffs and breeding holes for the many sea-birds that populate these northern isles. Strong currents flow through the straits and around the headlands on the east-flowing flood and west-flowing ebb. Getting the time and weather right to transit is the key to a successful voyage.

From Lerwick we headed north with the goal of rounding the lighthouse of Muckle Flugga – the most northerly lighthouse in the UK. At midday we departed with a westerly breeze. Passing through the narrow strait between West Linga and Whalsay the current was against us at 2.8kn, but eased once through. We timed our entry into Bluemull Sound well, catching a 2.5kn current to travel along at 8.5kn arriving at Cullivoe by early evening.  There’s room to anchor to the north of the fishing wharf, but there’s plenty of kelp too. The next morning our anchor came up in a ball of kelp, but we had no issues with dragging and the muddy bottom seemed to hold well.

 

 

I suppose it was optimistic to think the conditions up here would be pleasant for sailing – a quick whizz around Muckle Flugga then back south wasn’t to be. At 60 degrees North we’re in the high latitudes and the weather changes regularly up here as it rolls in from the North Atlantic.

The Arctic Circle is a mere 360nm north of us (66 degrees North) and we are 1,800nm from the North Pole. By comparison in the Southern Hemisphere it’s like being 1,300nm south of Melbourne.

So the weather forecast wasn’t ideal for rounding the top as a low pressure system was coming in fast with the intention of keeping us holed up for a few days. Wind against tide would cause rough seas, so we headed south to an anchorage at South Ayre where we stayed for a few nights. On the fourth day another forecast south-east gale was announced by the Shetland Coast Guard on VHF 16 so we decided to move to the anchorage at Lunna Voe.

 

Shetland Bus Memorial, Scalloway

The Shetland Bus was a nickname for a special operations group which linked mainland Shetland and Norway during WWII. On 9th April 1942 Nazi-Germany invaded Norway, which triggered a swift response from the French and British. The operations were initially coordinated from Lunna House, which overlooks the anchorage at Lunna Voe. The objective of the operation was to provide arms to Norwegians and to extract Norwegians who feared arrest by the Nazis.

Vessels used for the hazardous operation were initially fishing vessels but later in 1943 larger, faster navy vessels were deployed. The brave crews were generally local fishermen and sailors – tough and hardy with local knowledge of the seas.  This is an amazing story of endurance and determination. The Scalloway Museum has a whole section dedicated to the men and women who took part in this extraordinary episode in recent history. A memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives making the treacherous North Sea crossing during WWII stands along Main Street near the Scalloway Hotel.

 

Eshaness Lighthouse, Shetland’s wild west coast

The gale passed over and by 9.30am the winds eased and the tide was in our favour so we left to ride the ebb tide flowing west. The day brightened up – blue sky, and winds no more than 20kn. Once out of Yell Sound we headed south and had a good sail along the western coast. By the time we’d reached the Eshaness Lighthouse our bearing was southerly and the wind was on the nose, but we had no choice. The wind wasn’t so strong at first, but then picked up to around 23kn true, slowing our speed as we bashed into the short waves which washed over our bow and the windscreen. Rather than fight the tide and rough seas on the western side of Papa Stour we navigated the strait between Sandness and Papa Stour to enter the southern anchorage. Once over a shallow bar entry the depth was good and we anchored in around 6m with kelp.

 

 

A cheeky seal swimming through the kelp

Papa Stour is a popular island for visitors to explore archeological ruins and sea-life, and has a small population of twenty or so people. Evidence of prehistoric settlement from around 5,000 years ago is dotted around Papa Stour. A reconstruction of a traditional Norwegian Stofa, or Viking house, is located along the road in Da Biggins.

The following day was sunny and breezy so under the watchful eye of a nearby seal, we packed our raincoats, launched the dinghy and headed ashore. Among the stone ruins and small fishing boats, woolly sheep took a break from nibbling grass as young lambs frantically wiggled their tails while suckling their mother’s milk.

 

Bird attack!

There’s no 4G signal from the anchorage but once up on top of the hill we had good signal to pick up the latest weather files and check our emails. While up on the hill one of the large seabirds took me by surprise and swooped me! The bird, a Great Skua, has a reputation for dive-bombing those who pose a threat to their nest. The bird would glide towards me, staring straight at me, then buzz my head. I held my left arm up as a sacrificial offering and tried to capture a photo from the Nikon in my right hand. I didn’t think for a moment it would hit me, but you never know. By comparison, an aggressive Australian Magpie will attack until blood drips from your hairline.

From the top of the hill we walked along the short airstrip following the stone dyke, passing along the few houses until we reached the ferry dock. The grass in the fields is green and spongy, almost golf-course quality grass, and the heathland is covered with tiny coastal flora.

The next day after clearing the kelp from the chain we motored along for four hours in light winds until we arrived at Scalloway on the west coast. There are a couple of options to berth the boat at Scalloway and we chose to tie up on the hammer-head of the Scalloway Boating Club. At the bar we met some locals and had a couple of pints while our laundry went through its cycles. The boating club welcomes visitors and has showers, washer/dryer, and is a five minute walk into Scalloway.

 

 

Scalloway is much smaller than Lerwick, and there are a couple of convenience stores, the Scalloway Hotel and a few shops, but the local bus goes to Lerwick too. The Scalloway Museum is worth a visit and has an interesting section on the Shetland’s prehistoric history, stories of witches and witchcraft, as well as the history of fishing and whaling in this region. The main attraction of the museum is the role of the Shetland Isles in WWII and the Shetland Bus. Shetland has a long history with Norway. Place-names and local dialect are influenced by old Norse words as Shetland and the southern Orkney islands were once a Viking stronghold. This infusion of Norse culture is celebrated by Shetlanders and many Norwegian flags are on display around the town.

 

Scalloway Castle

Next to the museum is the old Scalloway Castle built in the 1500s. The castle was the home of Patrick Stewart, the earl of Orkney and Shetland. Known as ‘Black Patie’, he was notorious for oppressing the people of Shetland, but eventually got his comeuppance and was ultimately executed.

So now that we’ve had a taste of the Shetlands, a weather window has presented itself this week and we’ll make our way south to the Orkney’s. As it’s our last night in the Shetlands, we’ll have a beer or two at the club tonight. The June solstice is upon us and the daylight hours will begin to diminish. While I’m still waiting for summer weather, already it feels like we have only a short time left before autumn.

 

 

Until then…

 

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North Sea: Passage to Shetland Isles

Behold The Hour, The Boat Arrive
– Robert Burns, 1791


Behold the hour, the boat arrive;
Thou goest, the darling of my heart;
Sever’d from thee, can I survive,
But Fate has will’d and we must part.
I’ll often greet the surging swell,
Yon distant Isle will often hail:
“E’en here I took the last farewell;
There, latest mark’d her vanish’d sail.”
Along the solitary shore,
While flitting sea-fowl round me cry,
Across the rolling, dashing roar,
I’ll westward turn my wistful eye:
“Happy thou Indian grove,” I’ll say,
“Where now my Nancy’s path may be!
While thro’ thy sweets she loves to stray,
O tell me, does she muse on me!”

 

North Sea – Image from WorldAtlas.com

The North Sea is bordered by Norway and Denmark, Scotland and England, and further south borders with Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and France. This stretch of water, also part of the Atlantic Ocean, is notorious for rough, steep seas and gales that appear from nowhere. We’ve watched the weather patterns carefully over the past few weeks to gauge when a crossing would make sense, and the time was right. From a quiet anchorage 15nm from Bergen, the crossing to Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Isles, is 195nm. Blue Heeler stayed at the anchorage a couple of nights before crossing.

 

Image from ‘Windy.com’

Low pressure systems roll up the North Sea frequently and we hoped to catch a ride on one.  Cyclonic lows travel in an anti-clockwise direction in the northern hemisphere, so our plan was to sail on the southerly winds, then pass through the calmer centre of the low as the wind shifts, then catch the northerly winds on the other side of the low. The surface pressure charts indicated this particular low wouldn’t produce heavy winds (nothing over 25kn), however, these systems can change quickly so we always prepare for whatever it brings.

Port tack with southerly wind

After a few miles of bashing into 15kn southerly winds, we turned and headed west on our course. Reefed sails kept the boat moving along comfortably with winds piping up to 25kn at times, but generally staying around 20kn from the south. This was a great start for us and we settled into the trip. I had to think back to when we last had swell – I believe it was back in 2017 when we arrived in the UK. Since then we’ve pretty much done sheltered water sailing. At first I really don’t enjoy when the boat heels, but after a few hours my sea-legs are steady and I can relax a bit. It was a little lumpy but fortunately neither of us gets seasick.

Starboard tack – northerly winds

So a bit of good planning and excellent weather forecasting gave us the sail we had hoped for. From 12.30pm on Tuesday we sailed along in 18/22 knots for around 13 hours, after which the winds eased as we entered the centre of the low. The wind began to shift slightly north, and eased to less than 10 knots from behind, so we motorsailed a few hours until the backing wind turned northerly. The final leg of the trip was between 10-15 knots on a beam reach. Perfect! 

Midnight arrival in Lerwick, Shetland Isles

We were delighted to actually arrive at Lerwick harbour before midnight, 35 hours after we departed Norway. (For those interested, we primarily use Weather4D and refer to the atmospheric models ICON-EU and Arpége Global, although ICON-EU was more accurate on this occasion. We also refer to ‘Windy’ as a general reference, plus local weather sites such as MetOffice, YR.no or DMI from Denmark).

The last time we did an overnighter was from Riga to Tallin almost a year ago. Like last year, darkness came on slowly after midnight; even then remained a semi-darkness until dawn began after 1.30am. At 11.30pm on approach to Lerwick we could easily see the island and had no trouble rafting up to another yacht within the small boat harbour. The header image at the top of this post was taken at 11.30pm.

Lerwick has two boat harbours for visiting yachts – Victoria Pier and the Small boat Harbour. With a strong north-easterly forecast the next day, we chose the small boat harbour and at midnight quietly rafted up to a 12m yacht already docked – we didn’t want to wake their sleeping crew. 

We awoke the next morning to a cold and dreary day. At the port office the friendly lasses took our harbour fees then went back to the boat for our traditional overnighter breakfast of bacon, beans and eggs. Later that day we had a couple of other yachts rafted up to us.

After a couple of days aboard, I need a long walk to stretch my sea-legs. Along the flag-stones of Commercial Street I spent some time peering into shop windows and poking around the op-shops on the lookout for a bargain book, or perhaps something warm to replace something worn. Later than afternoon we went out for a pint at the Douglas Arms hotel at the northern end of town and bought some fish and chips to eat back at the boat.

 

 

The weather was lovely on Friday with blue skies and warm sun bringing people out of their homes and washing drying on lines. We walked to the Clickimin Broch – A ‘broch’ is a round stone construction only found in Scotland. The Clickimin Broch and surrounding structures are quite exceptional remains considering they are dated between 1000BC to 500AD.

Clickimin Broch, Lerwick

Conveniently, across from the ancient ruins is the not so ancient Tesco Superstore. Here we bought goodies that we haven’t seen since leaving the UK in April last year – Branston Pickles, meat pies, Scottish lamb steaks, and a couple of small jars of the black gold – Vegemite! I have to say that shopping is a little easier and quicker than over the past year, as I don’t have to translate ingredients!

After dinner we walked the short distance to the Lerwick Boating Club. The club welcomes visitors to their bar and also offers their shower and laundry facilities to visiting sailors. The walk to the club passes by the ‘lodberries’ – these are enclosed courtyards with wooden doors leading down to the water – from a former century when boats were the means of delivering goods.

World Ocean Day is held annually on 8th of June – it’s a day to celebrate the ocean and raise awareness of we all rely so much on oceans to survive. Most people don’t even think about the ocean, but as you can imagine, we think of it every day. Here’s a little more about the wonder of oceans.

In Lerwick on World Ocean Day, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) held their annual Open Day at Victoria Pier. The volunteer crews of the RNLI provide a 24 hour rescue service around the treacherous waters of the UK and Ireland, while also providing education and instruction to anyone considering going out to sea. We had a look around the Lifeboat and chatted a while to one of the coxswains. Amazing work these volunteers do! The RNLI is mainly funded by legacies, donations and fund-raising events such as today. It’s reassuring to know they are there to help, although I really hope I never have a need to call them.

Supporting the event, the local Firemen, Police and Coastguard teams had their vehicles and equipment on display, inviting kids with painted faces to clamber inside trucks, police vans and the RNLI lifeboat. A number of singers and musicians played throughout the day from a small stage and a fund-raising marquee setup by local ladies sold sandwiches, RNLI souvenirs and raffle tickets. I bought a stack of raffle tickets and a couple of RNLI tea-towels, while Wayne paid a gold coin for his chance to win a bottle of whisky if he could tie five different knots in under 19 seconds. He came close, but alas left empty handed!

The weather is a little windy this week, but soon we’ll depart Lerwick and sail north around the islands. Now that we are no longer in the sheltered waters of the Baltic, we must take the time to study our tide tables to make sure we ride the floods and ebbs that flow around the skerries and through the straits of these northern isles.

 

 

Until then…

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Norway: Bergen

Blue Heeler took almost two months travelling the 900nm or so distance from Flensburg to Bergen. Along the way we’ve visited picturesque anchorages, fishing villages and high walking trails with incredible panoramas.

Bergen is our final destination in Norway before heading across the North Sea to the Shetland Isles. It is tempting to continue north and cross into the Arctic Circle, but we have to be realistic with our forward plans and start heading south again to warmer climates. Our home in Australia is still a long way off.

 

Bergen, Norway

We arrived in Bergen on Thursday, Ascension Day. In Norway, schools, businesses, and shops are closed with only a few small convenient stores and cafes open. It’s common for Norwegians to take the Friday off a well and have a four-day long weekend, and on Friday the boats started filling the harbour.

Bergen is very touristy and fjord ferries the main attraction. Even in late May, the town is bustling with tourists. The fish-market at the end of the harbour offers local seafood at crazy prices – crays, salmon, whale meat, sea urchins – a plate of fish and chips can empty your wallet of around 30 Euros.

A trip up the funicular to Fløyen will have you waiting almost an hour even with a pre-purchased ticket bought online so it’s quicker to walk up the hill. Up on top however there are plenty of hikes of different grades to get away from the masses. Up the top are excellent views of Bergen and surrounding islands of all directions. The walk down the hill back to town takes around 35 minutes.

There are many restaurants, cafes, and souvenir shops around the waterfront and it’s no secret the prices are exorbitant for an average meal in Norway. We were happy enough to have a beer on the boat with a packet of chips and watch the people go by.  (For cruisers, payment for the dock is easy through GoMarina and everything is included in the NOK300 fee, including electricity, water, washer/dryer – no wifi though).

Bryggen

Bergen was founded around 1070 and buildings and churches from that era are dotted around the town. Bryggen, the famous stretch of Hanseatic commercial buildings on the eastern side of the Vågen harbour began in the 1300s and was added to the UNESCO list for World Cultural Heritage sites in 1979. Bryggen attracts thousands of tourists so be careful to watch out for selfie-sticks or you could lose an eye!

The weather wasn’t so favourable, unlike last year – 1st June 2018 I’d jumped into the 17degC water in Sweden as the weather was quite warm. This year is much cooler and very wet – the temperature around 10degC and the water about the same. No chance I’ll go for a dip in Norway!

With so many boats visiting over the long weekend, it wasn’t long before Blue Heeler had a neighbour tying up to our cleats, then another tied up to our neighbour. Rafting up is fine and unavoidable in busy harbours, so long as those rafting up don’t decide to stay up to 3am smoking, drinking and clambering all over our deck! At one point we looked up through the saloon hatch as an overweight guy crawled under our vang placing his full weight on the hatch. Bad form!

Buarøyna, Norway – waiting for the weather to cross the North Sea

On Sunday we were keen to leave the goings-on around the dock and head back out to a quiet island. Fifteen miles south of Bergen we hooked a stern mooring and tied up to a dock at Buarøyna. This island was one of a number of German forts along this coast built in 1941/42 and the bunkers scattered around the island are well preserved. A walk around the island is interesting, poking in and out of the bunkers.

One of the apps we refer to – Windy

The heavy rain continued, but in between showers we prepared the boat for crossing the North Sea – bikes stowed in the aft cabin; Windpilot vane and rudder prepared;engine checks; list of rescue and coastguard information at hand; grab bags; stowing anything that moves; and regularly checking the forecast.

The trip is less than 200nm so only a two night trip. Our plan is to ride the back of a low to make the most of a southerly breeze, then pass across the top of another low to sail a north-easterly breeze into Lerwick. That’s the plan anyway, and after watching the weather in this region, it could change quickly as lows can roll up from the south quite quickly.

Have we enjoyed Norway? Yes, of course. The west coast fjords are spectacular and the ability to pick and choose where we stay and where we visit makes this an unforgettable visit. Norway is often acknowledged as expensive and while that is generally true, for a visiting sailor it needn’t be too expensive as long as you stock up before you come; buy only what you need; avoid buying alcohol and eat out sparingly!  Grocery prices were around the same price as Australia in most cases, and berths were usually around NOK180 per night (A25) for a 12m yacht and never more than NOK300 per night (A$45). Sailing in pre-season April and May has benefits as many of the places we stayed didn’t charge anything, or at least had off-season rates. The summer season is generally 15th June to 15th August.

So today we leave to cross the North Sea and return to the UK and EU.

Until then…

 

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Norway: Fuel, fjords and Finding Nemo

Northerly headwinds or lack of wind hindered our progress for a week or so. We had no choice but to motorsail from Egersund and around the top of Stavanger along the southwest coast of Norway. Travelling on the Saturday of the Constitution Day long weekend, the weather was warm and the air very still. Choosing a suitable anchorage north of Stavanger (identified in the Harbour Guide), we motored along only to find the chosen anchorage filled with weekend sailors. No problem as two miles along we found a quiet bay – Litlevag – where we dropped the pick for the night.

Fishing harbours typically have cheaper diesel than marinas or guest harbours. Such was the case at the fishing wharf at Skudeneshavn at the south end of Karmøy which sold diesel for NOK10.49 per litre (A$1.73/litre), a big difference from NOK12.60 at Egersund. That’s the cheapest we’ve seen anywhere in Norway so we added 300 litres to our tanks.

The North Sea offshore oil and gas industry is apparent along these islands, with semi-submersibles, jack-ups and other support vessels in various states of construction or engagement filling the small harbours.

Filling propane cylinders in Norway isn’t so easy, especially without a car. So when the opportunity arises to fill our cylinder(s) it makes sense to do so. Dropping anchor at the north of Karmøy, Wayne paddled the dinghy and took the gas bottle across to Hagia and the LPG Norge filling station. When he came back he said the attendant was stoked as he’d never seen an Aussie pull in for LPG! We hadn’t used much gas since filling the bottle in Flensburg but it was good to top it up anyway (FYI around NOK25 per kg).

Haugesund Gjesthavn

Filled with diesel and propane, we continued motoring north and entered the channel into the town of Haugesund. The southern bridge across the channel has a vertical clearance of 22m and the guest dock on the eastern bank has plenty of room. Paying for the berth was super easy through the GoMarina app. Overnight fee of NOK155 was pretty good, plus an extra NOK50 if we needed electricity, but we didn’t. Apparently a nearby hotel sells shower, toilet and laundry tokens but we had no need for those either. Haugesund has a long shopping road/mall offering the usual – stuff for interiors, clothes, cafes, etc. – there’s even a good chandlery/fishing store at the wharf.

As we still have a few weeks in Norway, we decided to travel into the Hardangerfjord and hike within the Folgefonna National Park.

Gorgeous azure waters within the fjord

The forecast was for heavy rain for a few days so we stopped at a small island, Lykelsøya and tied up to a floating pontoon in around 14m depth. The day we arrived was very warm (24degC), the sky was blue and the cold azure water looked stunning.  It was obvious to us that such a warm day would be followed by a front, changing to cold and rainy soon after. Unlike us, the 14degC water temperature was enough to allure three young boys from a small dinghy. Daring each other to jump in the water, they laughed and shrieked as their skinny white bodies dived below and quickly shot out back onto the dock.

Lykelsøya – floating dock yet to be placed for the summer crowds

Last summer’s hiking tracks through the scrub had disappeared and have yet to be established at this time of year. We tried to hike around the island we didn’t get far into the bush. I got some nice photos of the boat though.

Workers have been busy placing wooden boardwalks around Lykesoya

Just before we went to bed I flushed the toilet and on the third pump the intake blocked! Bugger! Wayne took the pump apart and water flowed through just fine. To be sure there wasn’t a small obstruction (sometimes even a small shell), we used the bicycle pump to blow air down through the hose and successfully heard bubbles outside, indicating no blockage. So the blockage had to be in the white pipe from the pump to the toilet, or at the toilet itself. Wayne took the white hose off and peered into it, then pumped water through it. A small fish about 4cm long flew out onto the floor! We had found Nemo! Later that afternoon we sucked in another Nemo, again blocking the intake. At least this time we knew what the problem was and quickly fixed it. It’s much better than having a blocked outlet!

So after two days of bucketing rain holed up watching movies, reading books, finding Nemo(s) and listening to news via podcasts we were ready to continue our journey.

Rosendal – Blue Heeler tied to a hammer-head dock

From Lykelsøya with light winds, we motored 15nm to Rosendal, a popular tourist town in the summer months and an access town to the Folgefonna National Park. This time of year the marina was empty, except for a couple of other yachts and small local boats. Payment for a berth is easy using a credit card payment machine located in a small white building nearby. Cost was NOK250 per night (A$40) plus extra for electricity and showers. The amenities are first rate and I took the opportunity to do some laundry too.

Rosendal, Norway

Old church, Rosendal

View from hikers cabin, Rosendal

Rosendal has some excellent hikes, but with limited time and more rain forecast for the following day, we didn’t go far, walking up the hill overlooking the town for some great views. The trail passes over farmer’s land passing docile dairy cows as they munch the lush green grass.

Sild in the Hardangerfjord, Norway

We stayed just one night then continued the following day to the island of Sild. (Sild is Norwegian for herring). We thought we had the place to ourselves, but just as we arrived so did another power boat. The stern mooring is so far away that our 20m line wasn’t long enough. After snatching the mooring with my mooring hook, the guy, already docked, then helped me with the bow lines. After which we extended the stern line a little more. I don’t understand why the moorings need to be so far from the boats. Water depth was deep enough for our hull right up to the dock. There are not too many anchorages within the fjords. Depth not far from the banks can drop down to 100m in no time at all; the centre of the fjords can be up to 800m deep. It’s easier to take a berth or tie up to a dock.

Rickety wharf at Sundal, Hardangerfjord, Norway

From Sild, the tiny village of Sundal is just over 6nm east. Blue Heeler was the only boat in town, and probably the first yacht for the season. We tied to sturdy posts that hold up a rickety dock. There is a floating dock for the summer season visitors, but it is still stored out of sight and won’t be deployed for another couple of weeks. Depth at the dock was 2.5m and we arrived at low tide (tide range is around 50cm). Within the park are a few people in campers and caravans, but the kiosk hasn’t opened for the season either. Nonetheless, we had electricity at the dock and hot showers in the ablutions block.

View looking south over Sundal, Norway

Access to Norway’s third largest glacier can be reached via Rosendal and Sundal within the Hardangerfjord. I’d already planned on a hike through the Bondhusdalen valley and after a quick lunch, we headed out into the Folgefonna National Park.

View looking north from Sundal to the Folgefonna National Park

From the Sundal Camping ground the walk to the head of the trail and car park is around 20 minutes. From here another easy “green” route, 35 minutes to the Bondhusvatnet lake, with stunning scenery all the way.

The next leg of the trip is medium “blue” grade – this track goes further in to the moraine fields (Vetledalen) under the Bondhusbrea Glacier. The trail was rocky at first giving way to wet and muddy farther along with small bridges to cross creeks. On the northern side of the lake is a pebble beach and from here we continued along until we reached the glacier’s moraine field. A photo from 1997 showed the glacier much bigger, but now, 22 years later it is visible only at the top of the mountain.

The walk back to the boat took just under two hours. Later than evening Kenneth, the camping park manager, came by and collected NOK130 for our nights stay. There are plenty of longer and harder hikes around the park including guided tours that cross the glacier, but these don’t commence until mid June.

Dilapidated dock at Godøysund Hotel

Next morning we threw off the docklines and motored west and ended up berthed against another rickety dock at a dilapidated and derelict hotel at Godøysund. Peeking through the windows, I could see old printers, computers, and other items; tables, chairs and curtains still in place, while plates and other crockery are smashed on the floor. Apparently it was closed in 2016 and it looks like they just walked away leaving all the stuff inside to ruin. I imagine there may be sheeted beds upstairs too. Spooky!

Now we are nearing the end of our trip in Norway. Bergen is 30nm north and we are watching the forecast to gauge when we may cross to the Shetland Islands.

But first we have to reach Bergen.

Until then.

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