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Sunday, August 3, 2008, anchored near Lillesand, Norway

Hi everyone. Last weekend, we were just leaving Haugesund, and now we’re on the east coast of Norway, near a coastal town called Lillesand.

The one attraction that we had missed last week in our day trip to Avaldsnes on the island of Karmøy was a group of menhirs, or monoliths, known as “the five naughty virgins.” The epithet was ordained, shall we say, by the church, with an accompanying legend, something about maids turning to stone. I couldn’t help noting that the name itself is a bit of a contradiction in terms, unless the true name is “the five naughty former virgins.” But the original purpose of the stones, according to archaeologists, was probably for telling time, not making it.

We left Haugesund on another summer day with no wind and motored along the island of Karmøy the short distance past Avaldsnes, to the southernmost town, Skudeneshavn. I forgot to look for the virgins who are now relegated to life beneath a suspension bridge. Instead I looked around for heather, which is abundant in the area. I didn't know I’d been looking at heather moors rather than pretty purple wildflowers until I saw in a brochure that one of the towns had a heather museum. I wouldn't visit one, as the concept of a museum for a wild plant is a bit too “big yellow taxi”, when they paved paradise and put up a parking lot for the tree museum.

Skudeneshavn’s harbor was surrounded by white wooden houses, and the old town is one of the best-preserved in Norway. Its 18th and 19th-century homes are original in the old town, which has the second-place title in the “best-preserved Norwegian towns” competition. Skudeneshavn prides itself that it’s been named the Norwegian Summer City in some other sort of contest. So Ålesund was named the prettiest city, Reine, the most scenic city, and now Skudeneshavn, the summer city. I was beginning to wonder if Norway’s third major industry after oil and cod was making up contests for cities to win.

There wasn’t any space in the harbor, even though we’d seen a lot of boats on their way out. Luckily, we were able to raft to a sailboat, and the family aboard told us that they’d be leaving in the afternoon. This looked like an ideal place to spend a few days. There were shops in town, a picturesque harbor, and a washing machine only steps from the dock. We took our first pass at sightseeing during the window of time we had before our neighbor needed to leave and we’d get his space.

We had time to take a short walk around the town, have lunch at the local pub, and get back to the boat in time to help our dock hosts get underway. That’s when Art noticed that the tide was kind of low for us to get any closer to the dock. We’d been lucky, actually, to have a boat to raft to, as he’d shielded us from running aground. We looked around at the harbor and realized that we’d have to go somewhere else. The only dock in Skudeneshavn that we knew would have enough depth was filled with boats. Well, at least we’d seen the town. There wasn’t much else to it.

Our next destination was another island port called Kvitsøy. This sounded sort of ethnic to me, the way that Art has renamed many of the Greek islands (Matzos, Nachos, and the real island Karpathos, which Art thinks belongs on a Seder plate.) But Kvitsøy is really an archipelago, one island for every day of the year. We only needed one for that day and maybe the next day.

The channel into the harbor is marked by red and green numbered buoys that are very short distances apart. This is unlike most harbors in Norway, which, other than the occasional jagged rock submerged only by inches, are very deep up to the shore. But the land was nearly flat, and that portends shallows near the shore.

We entered through a very skinny cut and stayed close to the center of the channel. This harbor was significantly more crowded than Skudeneshavn had been, with boats rafted two deep on every iota of guest dock.

Our summer in Norway was beginning to take on biblical proportions: No room at the inlet. And there were still two weeks left of summer holiday and several weeks more of weekend cruising for most local sailors. We decided to anchor at the end of the harbor. If space cleared for us, we’d take it. If it didn’t, we could stay anchored all night in the predicted calm weather, and leave in the morning.

Transported by our underused dinghy, we went into the town and took a short walk. This town didn’t have the same charm as did Skudeneshavn, nor the infrastructure. Commerce included a tiny grocery store, closed for Sunday of course, and three different kiosks nearly adjacent to each other that sold ice cream. Ice cream is a wise investment for the Norwegian summer. They don’t seem to eat meals, at least any of the times that we might consider mealtime. But by ten in the morning, mostly anyone walking on a sunny street is sucking on a cone of some sort, and there’s another spate of cone-guzzling that goes on from about six in the evening until we go to bed. But all throughout the day, people eat ice cream in whatever circumstances they used to smoke cigarettes. Art’s a big ice cream eater, but he limits his consumption to once a day. I have to conclude that it’s all part of Norway’s need to make any summer day as big as it possibly can be, because you never know when they’ll all disappear.

There were no gaps in the multi-layered docking on the guest dock, and we started to wonder whether there would be enough depth for us, even if all of the visitors up and left at the same time. We were happy to be anchored in the predicted calm conditions, and we rose early and pulled up our anchor without awakening or disturbing anyone.

Art had mapped a southern route out of the harbor, avoiding the skinny channel in which we’d entered, and careening around Kvitsøy’s pinball game of islands until we found clear water. The winds were predicted to be weak and from a bad direction, and though we sailed for a few hours, most of the day was a motor. The course was offshore, so I was secretly relieved that the sea was rippling instead of rip-roaring.

Gone were the mountains and the rocky fjords. In their place were rolling farmlands, patches of bright, manicured green bordered by the deep green of mature trees, and the smell of fertilizer wafting out to us a mile offshore. The hills in the background were a muted purple, which gave the scene the appearance of a watercolor painting. Something was grazing on the bright green carpet of grass. I picked up the binoculars for a better look. I saw bodies and legs, but I still wasn’t sure. The animals kept their heads to the ground. Cows? Horses? Anteaters?

Our route planning had become focused only on finding space. The destination took second place to the likelihood of available dock space. We began to eliminate possible places to visit if they appeared to be popular, and worried about the weekends more than any other days. We were actively looking to find places that nobody else wanted to visit. This probably ensures that we’ll never be candidates for jobs at Lonely Planet or Rick Steves.

This coast, the southernmost part of Norway, was very appealing to Art. He was certain that people only used this coast as a stopping-point to stay overnight or wait out bad weather before moving on to the places we’d just visited. Somehow, he used the sailboats that had been passing us in the opposite direction offshore as examples supporting his hypothesis. I wasn’t sure that the fact that someone left a harbor was proof that they had only been there under duress, but I was happy to see that he was less anxious about the prospect of finding space in Egersund.

The ride into Egersund is a few miles long, so for that reason it’s probably not the place you’d stop overnight on your way somewhere else. At the harbor entrance, there’s an enchanting statue of a diver who appears that she’s about to head out into the sea.

There was a large space on the guest dock that would accommodate us, and we tied up, with a bit of help from passersby on shore. Minutes after we’d claimed the spot, another sailboat rafted to us. By nighttime, we were four deep. Well, if Art was right, everyone would be gone the next day, except us.

Egersund was the site of a Christian church as early as 1292. The main church in town stands in the same place today. Our dock lay next to it on the same spot that the Vikings had based their own ships and the king’s collecting house once stood.

The town is best known for its well-preserved wooden architecture from the nineteenth century. By the last iteration, they most probably were very good at building, or rather rebuilding. There had been a large fire in 1843, which burned down most of the downtown buildings. They rebuilt the town, in wood, with a slightly different design. In 1859 it burned down again. In 1862, the town burned down again. This time they rebuilt it with very wide streets, to avoid another inferno. This time, it apparently took.

As Art had predicted, all of our rafters were on their way by nine in the morning. Our day was filled with errands and a trip to the best supermarket we’d seen outside of Bergen. Our stroll through the old town used a guided walk that the tourist office had provided. While none of the purported “wide” fire-protective streets was very wide at all by modern standards, one of them was artfully bisected by linden trees. The main shopping street was pedestrianized and indeed somewhat pedestrian, but appealing nonetheless. Fuchsia in deep pink and dark purple burst from hanging pots on the streetlights and balconies of second stories.

Norway is bright and colorful in July. Now I understood why town squares had been filled with flower vendors every day for months. I’ve concluded that Norway only gets a short window of time to be a postcard, and Norwegians see to it that photographers aren’t disappointed.

I wasn’t disappointed in the weather. We’d had a string of sunny days, and each of the last three or four made it into the 80s F (or mid-twenties C). Art was actually eager for the days ahead where we’d get cloud cover. In the meantime, we pulled out the clothes that we thought we’d never use before we’d get back to the Mediterranean: for me, sandals, shorts, a camisole with no backup jacket, and my bright teal straw hat to keep the sun at bay.

The next day wasn’t as sunny or as warm, and we filled the fuel tanks and motored into moderate headwinds out of Egersund. Our plan was to spend two days on a leisurely pace to Mandal, and then find ourselves a bit of dock space that we could hold onto through the weekend.

The entire trip was a bit offshore, and the winds were a little stronger than the forecast. Seas and cool weather aren’t a good combination for me, and I nearly succumbed to seasickness before we turned inshore again and ducked into an anchorage for the night.

The anchorage, with the gnome-like name of Ytrekalven, was a perfect place to decompress for me. The entrance was a tiny cut through rock a thousand feet high, yet the depth was still a hundred feet, the extension of the granite walls on both sides. Though there was still cloud cover above, the granite shimmered pink. We proceeded into the farthest cove of this island burrow and dropped our anchor. It was nearly impossible to discern the entrance to the anchorage from our position, and the protection it offered was infinite.

We took up most of the swinging room inside the anchorage. There’s an unwritten rule in Norway that the boat that arrives in an anchorage first owns it, and over the next few hours several powerboats poked their noses in to have a look around, and left. Whether they left because of this etiquette, or because they wanted to have a place to themselves, we wouldn’t know.

The morning’s departure was very early, all the better to get offshore and around the cape of Lindesnes, the southernmost point of Norway. Winds generally start off light and pick up during the day. I wasn’t eager to hide from waves for a second day. As it was, the winds stayed light, the sea was still, and we arrived at Mandal by noon.

The long guest dock had some visitors, but just as we arrived, a good-sized power boat left an ideal spot for us to dock. We’d arrived in time to have lunch ashore, and the day was another sunny, warm delight. The spot we chose was on a main square surrounded by white clapboard buildings.

I was immediately enchanted by Mandal, and not only because I liked my lunch (though that was sometimes sufficient.) The seaside street and the parallel shopping street one block inland were cobblestone and decorated with purple and pink and white blossoms, as a carpet on the medial strip, blanketing a concrete wall, and hanging from street lamps. Strollers dotted the seaside promenade, as well as joggers and recreational cyclists. If we had to be stuck in Mandal for days on end, that would be fine with me.

We had nothing to accomplish but enjoy Mandal, and we were successful. One of our walks took us to the 800-meter-long sand beach, which is certainly the largest in Norway. A sandy beach is a rarity anywhere in Europe. Most Europeans think that it’s a successful beach day when they find a rock that doesn’t poke them too much in the back. Other walks took us into nooks and crannies in town, all lined with white wooden houses.

A jazz band played Summertime to the indifferent crowd in the main square’s two restaurants. Nearly all of the seated patrons drank beer and wine; all of the passersby ate ice cream. Again. I posited a little math problem: if people spend as much time outside as possible in the summer, and three-quarters of everyone walking around is eating ice cream any time of day, then how much ice cream does each person eat in a day? Ten servings? Do Norwegians eat ice cream all summer and then swear off of it when the sun isn’t out? What sort of diet is beer and ice cream, anyway, and should we abandon our salad-and-fish regimen for it to look lanky and Nordic?

Art was heartened to see that this resort town, crowded with drive-in visitors on Saturday, didn’t fill the guest dock on Saturday night. This was very good news, because our course was to take us north on the east coast of Norway, closer to Oslo, into more densely populated areas. We were pretty tired of worrying all day about the night, every time we went out sailing.

The weather wasn’t great on Sunday, but it was time to move on. Our destination was about 40 miles away, an anchorage in an island near the town of Lillesand. There was a six-foot (two-meter) swell on our downwind sail. The winds were light for the first few hours and then picked up. Art manned the helm, but I stayed below and tried to keep warm. I know all the conditions that lead me to seasickness, and I was determined not to give in.

We arrived at the harbor at about one-thirty, in a bit of a drizzle. Scandinavians really don’t like to anchor out, even when the anchorage isn’t extremely deep. Here was an example. A dozen boats, weekend visitors no doubt, were in the harbor. None were swinging from an anchor. Most had tied by the bow to a rock and then dropped a steadying anchor from the stern. Others tied bow-in to a short wooden dock that was apparently the only civilization in sight. There was a mooring with a hook on it in the center of the harbor, and one courageous sailboat tied up to that while we were there. We’d prefer to use our own anchor and chain, because you just never know what the condition of the stranger’s ground tackle is under the water. The weather changed every half hour or so, drizzle, then sunny, then cloudy and cooler, then a shower, then sunny again.

Tomorrow we’ll go in to Lillesand and try to find dock space.

Hope you’re all doing well. We miss you.

Love, Karen (and Art)