It was in 2013 that Chris Bashforth suggested sailing to the Lofoten Islands off the coast of Norway, and climbing the shapely peaks there, building on our experience of doing similar in the Hebrides. Inspirational messages were exchanged with photos of the dramatic Lofoten scenery. The plan was to fly to Tromso via Oslo and ‘bare boat’ charter yachts to take us the 120 miles south to the Lofotens. A team was assembled and divided according to diet – one boat for the meat eaters and one for the vegetarians/fish eaters. We would stock up on duty free on the way out given the prohibitively high cost of anything alcoholic in Norway and gather together in the Viking Hotel in Tromso.
And what actually happened …
Piles of duty free were duly gathered and supplemented with local supplies in Tromso but anyone who has been on one of Basher’s sailing holidays knows that aims and plans are flexible. There are good reasons for this. It is hard work and time consuming sailing into a head wind day after day and to sleep well requires a sheltered anchorage, and wind direction cannot be factored into plans ahead of a holiday. Add to this our lack of knowledge of the area and it was inevitable that we would once again make it up as we went along. We had only a few maps which were too small scale for walking purposes and the only pilot guide on the boats was in Norwegian – thankfully we had down loaded the information on to Chris and Gordon’s phones before leaving for Norway!
We headed south from Tromso to Ryoya in Arctic Sky and Klara – two Delphia 40 yachts – and then on to the magnificent fjords on the NW coast of the island of Senja. Rocky peaks of 1000m rise almost vertically from the sea. Quaint small settlements occupy the end of the fjords linked by a superb road network and smart phones work everywhere so it never feels remote. The sailing was more challenging than anticipated with plenty of submerged rocks to avoid but anchoring was easier than in the Hebrides where the kelp can make finding a firm hold frustrating. While sailing down the west coast of Senja the ‘eagle eyes’ on Klara proved to be the best wild life spotters seeing a small pod of Orcas – very rare in this part of the Atlantic in July. The wind was mainly from the north east. On one exiting afternoon it was force 8 gusting force 9 with a 3m Atlantic swell. On the helm, ‘Going about’ felt like turning on the tops of moguls when skiing!
The first of four ‘hill days’ saw us ascend the mountains to the south of Mefjorden. The A Team – Gordon, Stephen and Morten set off to climb Breidtinden (965m) via the south east ridge but had to turn back – not enough gear for what was a serious route. The rest of us climbed a subsidiary peak of 642m, which gave great views out to sea. That evening Arctic Sky had one of many fish suppers thanks to our resident fisherman – Al S – who throughout provided a plentiful supply of Cod, Mackerel and Pollock. This is fishing the way it should be. Hang a line out of the back of the boat at the entrance to a fjord and you have supper for six in less than 10 minutes. Fish is, however, the only cheap thing to buy in Norway.
Further south we stopped in Steinfjordan, where we split into two groups. Chris, Andy, Trevor, Al S, Morten and John did a lovely ridge walk along the length of the peninsula to the south of the fjord over Storbrusen (562m) and Husfjellet (632m) before descending to the village of Skaland. The descent path is known as the Queen’s Walk because the Queens of Norway and Denmark meet each year to climb it to the summit of Husfjellet (they probably put some planks of wood over the boggy bits!) Meanwhile, Al L, Mags, Tim, Gordon and Stephen sailed the yachts around the peninsula to meet up with us before all moved on to the village of Hamm.
Our passage south went as far as Selfjorden on the outskirts of the Anderdalen National Path, and probably our most remote and beautiful anchorage. From here the whole group climbed Luten (739m) via its north and east ridges. Some aspects of the mountains in the region reminded me of the Alps – steep, rocky and requiring the protection of a rope if you are to reach many of the summits. The difference is of course the height – more akin to Scotland so you don’t have to worry about altitude. Thank you Al S, for the lovely supper of fresh mussels that evening.
Heading back north, Arctic Sky visited Andenes on the island of Andoya while Karla made its way to Gryllefjorden. Arctic Sky carried on to Senjahopen arriving at 2.45AM but 24 hours of daylight means no night passages and some very late suppers! Senjahopen is a village of only a few hundred people but has a sports complex with an almost full size football pitch indoors illustrating again the investment made in these communities probably thanks to Norway’s oil revenues from the North Sea. In Senjahopen we took the opportunity to fix some of the many faults on Arctic Sky. John had his first ride up the mast in a Bosun’s chair to fix the wind instrument at the top using the ubiquitous gaffer tape. Our efforts to fix the dodgy depth sonar were less successful.
Our next stop was the island of Kvaloya. On the way we were entertained by a large pod of Pilot whales. Slightly larger than dolphins, pilot whales also play in the water, Mags getting the best photo of a whale belly up doing a 360 degree turn a couple of feet from Arctic Sky. At Little Sommoroy, Stephen and Morten joined local climbers on the sea cliffs above the bay. From the boat the cliffs looked steep, which Morten and Stephen confirmed on their return. Kvaloya is smaller than Senja but contains equally steep and impressive mountain scenery. From Ersfjorden we climbed Hatten (657m) and then scrambled up to the first summit of Storsteinnestinden (800m).
By now the wind was light as we headed for Vengsoy, a short sail from Tromso where the boats were to be returned the next day. What followed was absolutely not in the plan! During the night Klara slipped her mooring and ran aground. The sight the next morning was rather sad. Klara was listing at an angle of about 25 degrees, resting gently on the sandy sea bed. Good teamwork and the help of a local fisherman saw Klara safely back to sea.
Having returned the yachts we had one more day in Tromso doing touristy things and our one and only visit to a pub (half a litre of beer cost about £8!) To sum up, it was a great holiday, with some intended and unintended adventures along the way. But we never got to the Lofotens! There was simply too much to see and do on the way there. Maybe we will get there another time.
Arctic Sky Crew: Chris Bashforth, Alastair Lyons, Mags Fenton, Alasdair Stokeld, Trevor Burrows and John Firmin.
Klara Crew: Tim Martin, Gordon Dalgarno, Morten Hansen, Stephen Moran and Andy Hughes.