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The logistics of getting three Worcester Divers to Bognes went smoothly enough - flights to Trondheim, overnight train to Fauske and then a Norwegian express bus brought Simon, Trevor and John G to a drizzly rendezvous with JK who was just mooring Voltair to a handy buoy when the bus arrived at the ferry-station. Enormous quantities of diving equipment, cameras, wine-boxes and beef were dinghied across to the yacht, the weather cleared up enough to permit the surrounding 3000-4500ft mountains to put on one of their "Now you see me, now you don't" displays, and we set off for the first dives.
Tysfjord, where we did the pickup, is Norway's deepest fjord, so in settled conditions one might expect to do a wall dive on a cliff face rising 500m from the water, and descending a further 400m into the water. However, it was a bit blowy, so we put JG and Simon in on the lee side of a reef which broke the surface. They reported water at 8.5degrees C, good clarity, few crustaceans, plenty of shoaling fish, a monkfish which enjoyed the hospitality of JG's goody-bag, a thornback ray, which escaped Simon's camera, and no Trolls. The weather deteriorated during the dive, and we couldn't get in for the second dive as planned in the force 6-7 westerly that was blowing, with very rough seas. We found shelter by running down the side of Baroy, through some small gaps in the island "skjaer", the skerry belt that lies around much of the Norwegian coast and protects it from the worst of the weather, and into a calm lagoon near the mole harbour at Skarstad. A large rock near the lighthouse sported a couple of steel "fortoyningsbolter", one with a heavy green warp on it with an eye for a yacht's warp, so a quick dinghy trip saw us moored fore and aft with the stern to the big rock, and our bow anchor in the sandy bottom to stop us swinging about. Trevor went in for a bimble and to check his equipment over, but JK settled for gin rather than diving. Trevor returned an hour later with splendid shots of angler fish, anemones and flatfish, but without any ingredients for dinner.
On board, chicken and spuds were roasted and consumed, wine flowed and, all of us short of sleep, we turned in early around 1am, rain lashing down and the wind still blowing strongly. As the tide came in, a veer in the wind started waves coming around the point and it became quite difficult to stay in the bunks with the heavy rolling of the yacht. Simon met JK around 04:30 in the cockpit, and we put out another 10m of anchor chain, which stopped the rolling a bit, for a while anyway. About an hour later, I was woken by the keel hitting rock. Leaping from my bunk straight to the wheel, I fired up the engine, and after the second "bump" we were already motoring away from the rocks. I thought the wind had changed a bit more, and that we had swung around on the warp, but what had actually happened was that the big green warp had broken, the anchor had dragged, and we were 200 yards down the harbour on a lee shore. Fortunately our mooring warp, now trailing around us, did not go into the propellor, or else we would have been in deep doodoo, and we were then able to recover the warp and anchor and attempt a new mooring in the harbour. With the wind still high, and little room to manoevre, we settled on going alongside a small trawler that was moored up there, and soon we were safe again, with the heart rates back to normal.
After breakfast and a quick dip under the yacht to check for any damage underwater (fortunately it was very slight) we set off for Breidvik, a large broad bay to the northeast, which should be protected from the wind and wave, and which showed a wreck symbol near the western shore. The fishfinder found the wreck on the first pass, the second pass put another X on the screen and the shotline was sent down between the two. JK and JG were first to dive, and found a small lighter on the bottom, partly full of scrap-metal, and mainly full of saithe/coley about 12" long. The stern had some excellent plumose anemones, two big flatfish, head to head on a sandy patch, a carpet of purple maerl as far as the eye could see, and some odd bits of wreckage sticking up from the bottom. JG found a wolf-fish under one of these - a big blue face with large teeth where there should have been a nice smile, but we left all these wonderful things there for our photographers to record on their dive. A beautiful glass-clear hydroid, just like a delicate glass daffodil, stood up from the seabed at the bow, and another big topknot rested on the port side. Orange fingers, their large open polyps feeding on the passing plankton, graced the deckwinch, and comb-jellies with rainbow cilia bumped into our masks as we swam along.
Trevor and Simon dived it again after we had blown the bottles, finding neither topknot nor wolf-fish, but getting a good shot of the glass daffodil. We tried for rod-fulls of fish after the diving had finished, but it was so windy it was really difficult to keep the boat still long enough to get the hooks to the bottom. We settled for a couple of medium sized coley, which Trev filleted while we retrieved the shotline.
With half the jib up in the force 6-7 westerly and the engine on we made our full speed of 6.5 knots towards Narvik, arriving at Ankenes marina, just short of the town, around 7pm. We had a poke inside, but it was a) full, b) shallow and c) very small for manoevering in a force 6, so reluctantly we left to look for a berth near the harbour office, where we had to go on Saturday morning to get our diving permits. Narvik harbour itself turned out to be completely hostile territory for a small yacht. There were plenty of jetties, but all were quite open to the wind and wave, and there were no floating pontoons, only jetties with wooden piles at 6-foot centres, and ladders few and far between. So we took the third alternative and motored another 3 miles around the airport to the other small marina at Vassvik, to the east of the town. This, according to the chart, had a very shallow entrance that we couldn't attempt for a few hours, so we anchored near a jetty for a while and went and checked the depths in the dinghy with the lead-line. It looked like we could get in OK, so we crept in and found a nice berth on the visitors pontoon. The clubhouse of the boating association had been rented out for a family party, so there was no welcoming bar or hot showers.
The next morning, the weather having cheered up a bit, we took the 2 mile walk over the hill to town and the harbour office. We had been told of draconian penalties for those diving the wrecks of Narvik harbour without special permission from the Harbourmaster, and that we had to have special insurance in case of environmental damage, and be in company with at least one Norwegian diver. Needless to say, we didn't plan quite a lot of the above, and were quite worried in case we ended up with severe damage to our wallets! Trevor carried our documents-sack, loaded with passports, yacht papers, insurance policies, BSAC qualifications books etc.
We found the town is not at all the seafaring/arctic frontiersville we half expected, with every other shop selling rope, paraffin lamps and spare parts for skidoos or chainsaws; instead it is full of 'designer interiors', luxury kitchen shops, hair "salongs" and fast food outlets, but - as seems usual in Norway - few Norwegians. We walked down the hill, past the war memorial statue outside the war museum, along a footpath with a turf-roofed hut at the side of it and a memorial chapel opposite, under the railway lines and across the main road, drivers slowing down to allow us to cross with almost excessive courtesy.
The Harbour office was on the third floor of a formidable concrete block on the quay. 60's style steps and handrails guided us upwards past the Customs department and Seaman's registration centre. An open doorway was to our right, net curtains decorated the main office, closed on saturdays, in front of us. What would be our reception? A bearded Norwegian with gold braid on his epaulettes answered our calls of "Hello"....
Will the fearless four be shown the front door? Will Voltair be impounded with a chain around her keel? Will affidavits have to be signed and witnessed by legal eagles? To find out the answers to these and other vital questions..... see our next publication, now published - just click here
Best wishes from John G, Simon, Trevor and JK