David and Hilary joined us on a fine sunny warm Monday evening in Alta. It was June 24th, mid- summer’s day according to some. The fjord stretched out to the north of us; beyond that a cluster of mountains settled on the horizon. Towards 11 p.m. (midnight Norwegian Standard Time) a crowd of locals gathered on the quay with cameras and drinks to admire the view and celebrate the moment when the midnight sun was highest above the northern horizon. As they departed, another group assembled who did the same thing around midnight Norwegian Summer Time. Actually, since we were at E 23 degrees 14.644 minutes, true astronomical midnight was 11:33 pm. Norwegian Summer Time, or so Robin rather pedantically observed. Sextant observations of the sun’s elevation at the time showed it to be 3 degrees 54 minutes above the horizon. That put us a few miles north of our charted position – it just shows that you cannot rely on good chart work these days – and the GPS must have been dodgy too.
The following morning we had to say Goodbye to Clive who was off to cook a barbecue at the Parish Camp. And then we set sail North. Yes, actually sailing! Although it did not last as long as we would have liked, we did make good progress, finally anchoring in Never Fjord after being buzzed by the local kids in their outboard dinghies. An eagle nested nearby. Tides now started to come into the reckoning, forcing an early start to catch one going NE through Kvalsundet. We had our bacon and eggs under way, lazily beating up Sammelsundet, having made our rendezvous with the tide. Later that day we sighted a sail on the northern horizon, the first one since re-joining the boat at Finnesnes. Lunch was taken in a small cove surrounded by the remains of a deserted village and a few stray reindeer. In the early evening we slipped through another sound, Havoysundet, with two knots of tide under us and stopped for the night on the SW tip of Masoy.
Masoy, in common with most of the province of Finmark, was forcibly depopulated by the Germans in 1944, who rightly feared a Russian invasion. (Russia is only just over 100 miles away). The Germans took the people away with just what they could carry and then burnt everything down – houses, quays and even churches. Nothing was left, whether it could conceivably assist the Russians or not. All that there is today has been built since the war – mainly in the sixties – with government and Swedish money. A church similar to the one that was lost has been created, but the original statuary was irrecoverable. Today there are around a dozen inhabitants, and we met three of them – but none who spoke English, so conversation was a little stilted.
Tides forced another early start, and soon we were ripping down Mageroysundet at 9 knots over the land. A Hurtigruten ‘ferry’ tried to ram us by turning hard to port as he passed, but we were too quick for him. By coffee time we had discovered the quite large town of Honningsvag. This is where the cruise liners put down their passengers for the bus trip up to Nord Kap and its museum. For us it was one of the few places where water could be taken on. But they did not make it easy. Voltair had to back into an angled quay behind the pilot boat hut, and although she is getting better at this, she still does not like it – especially with a side wind.
Watered up, we set-off again. For a while we were even able to sail. By lunchtime we had reached our most easterly point, off Helnes, the eastern headland of Mageroy - 26 degrees 14.043 minutes east of Greenwich. Even the East Coast of Crete was west of us now. Voltair had sailed Europe’s Longitudes from Irelands western isles almost to the Russian border. But now we turned north-west and caught our first sight of Nord Kap in the afternoon sun. In line with the cunning plan for the day, the tide turned west with us and helped push us round the next headlands.
Then we were able to gaze up at the thousand foot high castellated top of one of the world’s great capes. On the top we could just discern, as tiny blobs, the people who had come by car or bus to share the experience. To our north was nothing but 1,300 miles of Arctic ocean, half of it possibly covered in ice, leading to the Magnetic Pole. For a moment we may have been Europe’s most northerly people.
We drank a tot of owner’s whiskey and offered one to the weather god, who, despite our occasional complaints, had enabled us to get here fairly well on time. The crew’s idea that Robin should be cast adrift in the dinghy in order to Photograph Voltair with Nord Kap in the background was rejected by a small majority, as was the counter-proposal that we should all go skinny-dipping. We’ll leave that to John and his crew.
But Nord Kap is not the most northerly headland in Europe; that distinction is held by the less spectacular Knivskjaerodden a few miles to the west. That’s where the lighthouse is. But there were no tourist buses there; just the cormorants and us. So Voltair’s most northerly extent, until John passes this way, is N 71 11.3.
Then everything changed. Within yards we were plunged into deep fog banks; visibility reduced to 100 yds or so. Now, suddenly, we were navigating through a rock garden almost blind. With the radar on, Hillary peering out though the side curtains, David calling the depths, Chris on the helm and Robin studying charts, GPS’s (both of them) and the Radar image, we groped our way from navigational marker to navigational marker until finally the entrance to Gjesvaer came into view. As we passed between the entrance markers we were able to get a fix on the local discrepancy between the chart positions and the GPS positions – not inconsiderable! Gjesvaer claims to be the most northerly port in the world – and quite possible is. There was a fire burning when we arrived; one of the inhabitants seemed to have chosen to celebrate our arrival by burning down his house. A little extreme, we thought, but then anyone living here must be attracted to extremities.
After seven weeks of North-easterlies whilst we plugged remorselessly Northeast, we were looking forward to a nice gentle spinnaker run all the way back to Alta. We had earned it; we deserved it. So the gods delivered a South-westerly. And not just any South-westerly; by the afternoon of the following day it was a gale-force South-westerly. What had we done to deserve this? Did the weather god not like Laphroig? Or had he woken up with a headache? Fortunately by the time that the gale had reached its peak, Voltair was had reached Havoysund and was leaning against the outside of the end pontoon in the harbour with her crew ashore buying strawberries and cream for tea. Dominoes, roast beef, whisky and an early night followed.
In the morning, we caught the last of the favourable tide out of the sound and made over for the deserted village in Reinsund for lunch. We were surprised to find a couple of small fishing boats already there. Just on the rocky outcrop near where we had anchored was an old hut; a privy perhaps we thought; one that had once been used by the villagers. But just then one of the fishermen came over the hill carrying two buckets of water, whilst the other brought a bundle of birch rods. Both then stripped naked and went into the hut and steam emerged. After a while they both came out and lay on the rocks ‘sunbathing’.
“You are velcome to join us” they shouted, “but sauna is cooling, so come quickly!” Then they plunged, still naked, into the icy waters. Alas Chris and Robin had the alternator half dismantled by this stage, but David and Hilary could have gone. For some inexplicable reason they chose instead to take the dinghy on a trip around the inner pool and to conduct an archaeological examination of the old village. What a missed opportunity!
The alternator was back in place, and just about to be tested when a strange apparition emerged over valtair’s bows; a helmet sprouting reindeer horns! David and Hilary had found a couple of herds of reindeer and come across the spot by the beach which they seem to have used to rid themselves of last years growth – if that is what reindeers do. They returned with a bundle of horns. They also returned with the results of their examination of the deserted village. Apparently there had once been a ‘U’ shaped harbour, with substantial installations and a railway track. It looked as if everything had been destroyed violently – probably by the Germans, as they retreated before the Russian advance in 1944.
The afternoon turned fine and we passed Hammerfest to port and made for a wild anchorage on the Southeast side of Soroya. And then we got the much-looked-for Spinnaker Sail to the South beneath cloudless blue skies. A day for shorts and tee-shirts and lazing on the fordeck. That evening we anchored in a lovely pool with a waterfall, which Hilary used to replenish our fresh water supplies. The chill glacier melt went perfectly with the malt whisky which Robin enjoyed on their return. At 1 in the morning, it still seemed to pleasant to want to go to bed; so Robin was sitting on the stern reading his book and sipping whisky when a couple of splashes alongside announced the arrival of a shoal of fish. Three casts of the rod secured four of them, which were despatched, gutted and in the fridge before you could say ‘Rick Stein’.
And thus we returned to Alta, where we ate the fish, made an enormous amount of washing up and said a sad goodbye to Chris.