As we descended towards the coast, the scenery on the flight to Alta was quite different to that we have seen elsewhere on our trips - on the right of the aeroplane was a relatively flat and rocky barren landscape with small lakes and no sign of habitation (Sweden and Finland), while on the left of the aircraft we could see the familiar sharp-peaked mountains of the Norwegian coastal chain. We learned, from a fellow passenger, that the reindeer would be busy grazing in the streets of Hammerfest, even though the council has built a fence around the town to keep them out, and that it was a very good year for cod, as it had been cold all year, with little plankton about. The new crew of Peter, Jane, David, Rachael and JK set off from Alta to look for both, and to see how far north we could get without making as much distance as North Cape.
But first stop was a little bay called Lokkarfjord which had some low snow and high probability of wild beasts! So we did a bit of snowballing, and then clambered over the rock-jumble to the river which was draining the lush valley, in which the herd of deer were grazing on wild flowers, herbs and chives, with some grass to soften the flavours a bit. At first we were slightly worried the ones with horns might be planning to charge us, but not only did we get away without paying, the bigger deer led the rest of the group off up the valley as we approached.
As we approaced the turn into the next fjord, we noticed a flurry of wings around a small motorboat, which turned out to be another feeding session for the terns and gulls, with large pollock below chasing the smaller fish to the surface, and even jumping out themselves! So we caught a fridge-ful of them before going further around the corner into Oksfjord, which has not only a town, but also a glacier on its western side, with a spectacular hanging ice wall visible from the fjord 1000ft below. We spent a quiet night under the glacier, anchored in the narrow strip of shallow water along the waters edge, and made to feel at home by a local who had come out in his boat to show us the best place to drop the hook. Fortunately, the glacier did not drop on us during the night, so we toured the fjord and then went back to the town for some water and more groceries. It was Friday, so we asked the girl on the till where the party would be that night: "Breivikbotn has a pub in an old cow shed under a house", she told us, "and that should be opening about 11pm. Was that you catching fish at the bottom of my garden last night?" We confessed that it was, she congratulated us, and we headed off towards B-Botn and a barn dance.
This meant out into the open Barents Sea, with swell originating somewhere to the northwest, which was nice for some, and not so enjoyable for others. Soon we closed the island of Sørøya and the mole-harbour of Breivikbotn, just over the hill from the ferry port of Hasvik. The only pontoon we could moor up at was not actually connected to the land, so it was a dinghy-ferry to the pub and back. The barn was done out as a cave and had suitably darkened windows to keep out the night-time sunlight. "Kavern" was on the door, but not in the dictionary, so we suppose this was of Liverpool derivation. The ancient landlady was playing Alma Cogan, Buddy Holly and Jim Reeves, and had presumably done so every Friday since 1960. We fell into conversation with Lisabet, a nurse at the old folks home, Bear Martin, a retired merchant seaman and Arsenal supporter, and Lars Larsen whose birthday it was, and who liked beer and cognac. Unfortunately Lisabeth got a call to go to Hasvik, downed her pint in one, and left us to the tender mercies of Lars and Bear. Lars bought huge quantities of beer for everyone and somehow became mortally offended because our drinking etiquette was not correct. By the time (2am) we were trying to buy ourselves out of the hole with brandy and beer, the landlady shut off the supply, so we invited the Norwegians to join us for a nightcap on the boat. Lars didn't fancy the trip there and back, and went home, but Bear came aboard and had some cake, cheese and whisky to fortify him for the return journey to the land - to cries of "Arsenal!" as JK unsteadily ferried him back to terra firma.
The next morning, we decided to challenge Robin's team in the easterly distance cup, and circumnavigate "Murmansk". ("How many drinks did we have in the Kavern?", you may wish to ask, for Murmansk and back is rather further than a morning's trip). The answer lies in the "s, since "Murmansk" was not much further than across the bay and down 15m. After the cold war ended, Russia started selling off all her armaments. The cruiser "Murmansk" was thereby sold to a PO Box in Liberia, itself owned by another PO Box in India, similarly owned by a metal widget-maker in China, with the delivery contracted out to a tug-boat skipper in Hartlepool called Geordie. All went well with the tow until the Lofotens were reached, but then the hawsers parted company, and, on 20th December,"Murmansk" started to head for home again! The guy watching the screen (in Oslo) of the NATO early warning radar station on the cliff above, when asked whether he had noticed the close approach of a large unidentified ship, said "No - I was reading my Donald Duck magazine as usual". It got nicely wedged bows first into a very narrow slot just off Sørvaer, and is still rusting there today. Surprisingly, nobody could be sued for the cost of salvaging it, as the PO Boxes all vanished, and Geordie's insurance had run out. A private enterprise salvage company even floated it at one point, but the Norwegian government wouldn't pay them to take it away, so they sank it again.
So we had a little tour around the wreck, a few metres from the cliff and the ship, certainly close enough to read the writing on the captain's cabin door ("Do not disturb" - in Russian, of course). A nice chance touch is that the long barrel of one of the three guns in "C" turret still lifts and falls on its bearings as the waves go past - as if giving the finger to ecologists and tribologists both!
The next decision.... should we circumnavigate Sørøya itself, by taking the exposed passage around the outside or stay within the island network and go east along Sørøysund? A peek around the corner revealed a lumpy sea and a north-easterly wind, for a north-easterly course, so we came back around the corner and set off within the sound. Deciding not to risk our virtue in the Hasvik saturday bar-scene, we went on a little further and found a perfect little sandy cove behind an island, with a landing stage, boardwalks across the rocks and barbeques set up for making your own party. Not in the cruising-book, and much improved since the description written in the Pilot.
Throwing caution to the winds, more skin was exposed to the evening sun than ever before on a Voltair cruise, as we all enjoyed a naked gyre and gimbal in the cove, and Peter even went so far as to totally immerse himself and swim at least a couple of strokes before the cold water forced him to stand up and wade to dry land again.
We loved this cove so much that we didn't move on the next morning. Instead, we took a walk across the hill behind the beach, where the reindeer had made paths through the bilberries, heather and short grass. All sorts of wild flowers were blooming there - pink orchids with spotted leaves, blue flowers on long stems like violets, and this bell-orchid which we had never seen before. Any ideas as to its identity? A stream ran down from the mountain above, where an eagle had been soaring the night before. We had a go at damming the stream to make a pool, but the water was so cold it wouldn't have been a very inviting one. A whole raised beach of rounded stones and a sandy outcrop gave indication of a 20 metre change of sealevel over the eons. The view from the plateau above the stream's first cascades were spectacular - all along the coast towards Tromsø were high mountains with glaciers or snow on their tops, while the greens below us changed to turquoise at our anchorage and royal blue beyond. Two motor boats were approaching the yacht! Viking pirates? Sunday strollers like us? They went to the landing stage, checked out Voltair, and left again.
We made our way back to the beach, failing to find the nest of the pair of snow buntings who were crying out in anxiety that we would, and decided on a campfire on the beach and a meal of fried Sei, followed by Hvalbif, with salad and beer.
As we were packing up, so the two boats came back again. One contained Ørnulf,"Eaglewolf", he explained, showing us a tattoo on each shoulder, and his 7-year old, Mats, while the other one contained Eva and Lars, from the boating association. They all accepted our offer of a 'kop kaffee' and a look around the boat, and we passed a pleasant hour entertaining them. We were quite glad they were OK about us using their lovely bay, and they seemed very happy that we were enjoying their facilities. Mats drove the boat away with a new Vendee Globe cap on his head, only just able to see out from under the peak.
Reluctantly, we too left the splendid cove and set the spinaker to drift east. The wind decided otherwise, and Perkins was called into action once again. The anchorage that night was in a bird sanctuary in Kipperfjord and we came across our first non-flying ducks. These gather together in great groups, and agree not to fly off as the boat approaches, but to 'flabble' off at great speed en-masse in entirely the wrong direction to avoid us. Maybe they are the young ones that have fledged but can't fly. We couldn't decide and couldn't get near enough for a positive i/d.
The next morning we first of all managed to set the cruising chute and this time fill it, and when the wind went adverse (as it inevitably did after an hour or so), tried a spot of cod fishing, off a ledge in 30m. Sure enough, up came a 2-pounder after a couple of minutes, then the boat drifted off into deeper water, David had a go, and landed the largest fish we have ever caught! It was almost too much for the rod, the line and the landing net, but we just managed to get it aboard - then wondered how to despatch it, and whether it would fit in the bucket. Peter did a fine job of filleting it, assisted by the rest of the crew and shots of Stolichnaya.
We got to Hammerfest around 9:30pm, just as a wall of sea mist was obscuring the natural gas liquefying plant to the north of the city. We berthed alonside a large Dutchman, and set off up the zig-zag path to the hilltop to see the sun not set, and collect a beer for our reward. We were only just in time, and failed to sign up for membership of the Royal and Ancient Polar Bear Society, as the barmaid was busy trying to close the doors to the pub and go home.
Down the hatch went the beer, and down the zig-zag path went the rest of us. To find reindeer walking up it! Well, there was a nice patch of grazing at the first bend. We carried on down and ate large quantities of cod.
Yesterday the weather pattern broke. We had seen a thunderstorm nearby the previous evening, and yesterday morning it was raining and quite windy from the northwest. At least the wind was behind us for once, so we ran down between Seiland and Stjernøya with only the genoa propelling us. The wind gradually built up until it was a full force 7 and the boat was becoming hard to steer. So another lunchstop at Arøya was called, and we came in (having paused to pluck a quick Sei for starters) to a small marina quite near Alta airport in time for an evening of "back passage stew" and finishing up all the booze.
Our circular saga of 245 nautical miles actually encircled only Sternjøya, but a more interesting and engrossing week on board we have seldom had. Thank you, Norway!
Best wishes from Peter, Jane, David, Rachael and John
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