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Sunday, July 13, 2008, in Eivindvik, Norway

Hi everyone. We’re in a small village called Eivindvik, working our way down the coast. Weather will probably keep us here for several more days. There’s lots of time, though, so it’s no problem. Last Sunday, we were in Kristiansund, where we’d seen the re-enactment of a nineteenth-century battle with the British.

Monday morning, we were under way. The winds would be strong, but they’d be behind us, so we could sail and the seas wouldn’t be uncomfortable. There was a slightly offshore passage for about thirty miles, but that probably wouldn’t be a problem.

It was cloudy, and the wind blew into the cockpit. By this point in the season, a week into July, I was philosophically opposed to wearing long underwear, but mostly everything else went on. Art insisted that he didn't need me on watch in the cockpit, so I stayed below out of the wind.

When I did come up, the seas were rolling. Art was a little surprised that I’d been able to read without getting sick. I was sorry I knew about the seas, that I’d develop psychosomatic mal de mer. In time, we got ourselves in shore again, to the channel between the out-islands and the mainland of the western Norwegian coast.

Cruising in Norway and Sweden offers beautiful and comfortable sailing. The mountains on both sides of the channel provide the sort of scenery someone would film for IMAX. They'd fly a small airplane between the mountains, bank sharply, and you’d feel slightly queasy in your theater seat. But the width of the channel means that there are never high seas, even when the wind is strong. So its the type of sailing that you’d see on some beer ad that almost never happens in real life. In real life, either the wind is too calm to fill the sails, or it’s strong enough, and that makes waves, and the boat sloshes around, and your orientation goes off. Channel sailing is way better.

Traffic was higher in the channels than it had been on our way north, as the Norwegians scurried to their vacation destinations. Though we can’t see the AIS signal of small pleasure boats on our chart (only large commercial vessels transmit their locations), it wasn’t very hard to stay out of each other’s way in the wide channel.

We didn’t think that we could find space again in Ålesund, the “prettiest town in Norway” and a big vacation draw. It was nearly impossible to find a spot there six weeks before the holiday season started. But Art called a hotel that had a dock on the harbor, told them our size, and asked about a floating pontoon and availability. The clerk who answered the phone knew nothing about the dock. She had another person call us back. There was a small struggle in communication, but the man told Art that there was a floating pontoon, and asked about the length of our boat. There was space. We set our sights on Ålesund and arrived at about six.

The hotel dock was set up with pontoons with finger piers. We’d never fit in any of them. Wed thought that we could dock alongside a pontoon, which is the most usual setup for guest dockage. We had to move on. The main harbor, though, was much different from the way it was set up on our last visit. There were lots of floating docks, and even a little bit of space. We poked our nose into one of the gaps, and tied up, with our derrière sticking out into the harbor. It would be an acceptable setup for us for a short stay.

Alas, the stay would be shorter than we hoped. A festival was to begin the next day. All of the pontoon space was already spoken for. Wed have to leave sometime in the afternoon on the next day. That worked for us. We could have lunch in town, go to the supermarket, and look at Ålesund during its summer high season. But the first order of business was to tear off all of the clothes wed been wearing in the chilly sea and wind.

Ålesund’s waterfront was brimming with strollers for several hours, and Art was wondering where they were all going. We finally followed them out and learned that they weren’t going anywhere in particular. Even at 10 PM, it was sunny and still warm, and everyone just seemed to want to be in as much of that atmosphere as possible.

We were still not in sync with the thermostat of Norwegians. In the morning, we stayed below in long sleeves, watching our boat neighbors sitting in the sun in swimwear. Part of that is the perplexing Norway syndrome, in which sun and no wind translate to an increase in season by one: from spring to summer, winter to spring. Because we’d had a gift of a day in Ålesund, we spent the morning walking down the pedestrian shopping street, in a vain search for a lunch spot that we could afford. The only candidates were the two places we’d eaten when we were in town on our last visit, and we returned to a café that we had enjoyed.

By the time we got back to the boat, all of our neighbors were obediently gone, following the instructions of the dock master, who was about seventeen years old and looked a little like Keanu Reeves. We needed to be out by about five, but we left right after lunch.

Again, the winds were kind, and we sailed right away, and for most of our voyage. The sun went behind a cloud just when we turned downwind, and the temperature in the cockpit decreased sharply. As I sat huddled in my zipped parka, a kite surfer swooped by, either swathed in a dry suit, or oblivious to the cold water immersing him, or both.

We wear life jackets whenever we’re in motion, as do most of the boaters we see. This has nothing to do with anyone’s ability to swim. It’s just that the water is very, very cold. Should you fall in, there’s no time for treading water. If you don’t get afloat, and out, you’ll die of hypothermia in minutes. There’s no chance at all that either of us could fall out of the cockpit, and very little likelihood of tumbling overboard in the harbor, but we’re always extra careful anyway. “One hand for the job, one hand for the ship” is the decree if you’re walking around on deck.

There are hundreds of uninhabited islands, or, if you will, very large rocks, that form the archipelago through which we were traveling. One of them was the home of a small tribe of goats, to my surprise. They seemed to have everything they needed; unlimited scrub and rocks to climb.

We ended our day at yet another pontoon affiliated with a small hotel and restaurant. This place was called Rosenlund. The buildings around the harbor were patchy and tired, but had a certain bucolic charm. The hotel looked empty, even though tourist season had definitely begun. The pontoon had plenty of space. The restaurant, the only restaurant on the entire island, would be open only from Wednesday through Sunday, and only after three in the afternoon. I wondered what their off-season hours would be.

Rosenlund’s appeal, like other resort towns in the area, is based on its proximity to the sea and a small sand beach that would be of interest to people who like swimming in bracing weather. And the town had a further draw: King Arthur had been there. I wondered if he’d been the one who’d last painted the buildings for a summer job as a teen in the sixth century. But no, his visit was to a cave on this Norwegian island. If that wasn’t enough legend, he buried the Holy Grail there, along with other treasures. You’d think that would pull in some more visitors, but apparently it’s a better-kept secret than the DaVinci code had been for two millennia. Or maybe people aren’t enticed by the following paragraph in the tourist brochure to go spelunking in this cave:

The cave is 180 metres long, and has got 5 rooms that are separated by long and narrow passages. You need to be dressed appropriately and bring the necessary equipment to explore the cave, since the trip inside includes climbing over walls of 3-4 metres, crawling, and holding on to a rope down a 50 metres long hill…it is said that the English King Arthur buried a lot of treasures in the cave during the 6th century, including The Holy Grail. None of these treasures have been discovered so far, but an exploration of the area is a fun and exciting activity! NB! A local guide is necessary.

That sounded like just the thing to do after dinner. For our evening walk, we took the less-traveled fork away from the cave and towards the town’s small boat harbor for locals, tucked inside its own breakwater. The wind was high, though it was still sunny. Even so, I zipped up my parka over a fleece and wore little fleece mittens. Kids wandered around town in tee shirts, carrying towels. Art assumed they’d been swimming.

This wasn’t the ideal place to have a lay day, and Art learned that the weather was good for crossing Stad, a nasty peninsula that forces sailors to go offshore instead of lolling about in the lovely protected channel. The next morning, we left the dock and sailed right away. It would be a fifty-mile trip to Kalvåg, but good winds were predicted.

Stad was cranky that morning. The winds were strong enough to sail, but not to sail well, and the sea rolled us around mercilessly. Art hoped that I didn’t turn around and see the large waves that were following us, and I didn’t, until I was alone on watch. The winds did pick up, which gave us more stability against the waves, and more importantly, more speed to get out of there. We got ourselves back into protected waters just in time for lunch.

Then the winds died. We decided to go to nearby Silde, the place we’d visited that had a year-round population of twelve. Then the winds picked up. We decided to carry on. Then they died again, just beyond our opportunity to go to Silde. Then they came up, and then fell off. When we’d had enough, we motored to Kalvåg, our original destination.

At one time, Kalvåg was a bustling fishing village, boasting fifty herring salt houses. Now one of them serves as the central desk and restaurant for hundreds of holiday beds strewn about in sea houses and cottages around the area, and another houses the Tourist Center. At one time, seasonal fishermen numbered about 10,000 and harvested millions of tons of herring. There’s still a winter fishing population, which keeps the beds warm from January through March, and a corporate clientele for the hotel whose pontoon hosted Second Wind for the duration of our visit.

The dock was populated mostly with power boats, common in Norway, but unusual in most places in Europe. It’s hard not to conclude that Norwegians have more expendable income for $10 per gallon fuel, or perhaps they don’t mind as much the cost, since it supports local industry. These power boats are almost always equipped with canvas cockpit covers, which stay zipped on, even on days that Norwegians would find stiflingly hot.

The owners of this hotel and pub also owned many of the fishing houses in the area, a total of 250 beds. They’d bought the original building, fixed it up, and added on. They also bought a string of sea houses and salt houses along the harbor. Outside the pub were three large tubs the size of Jacuzzis, filled with salt water and inhabited by lobsters on their way to becoming dinner. The main room included a mooring bolt still affixed to a large rock that jutted through the floor, and a bar made of a varnished wooden boat. Another boat hung upside down from the ceiling. Customers sat in chairs carved from barrels. Barrel-making was a secondary industry inside the herring salt houses. Our proprietor proudly showed us the hewn beams of the building that were axed rather than sawed. We learned later that this building technique was also the foundation in the salt houses.

How we learned about this was in a tour we took around the town, guided by a middle-aged town resident, and accompanied by the young woman who ran the tourist center, who would take over touring duties for the balance of the season. The man was raised in the town, and remembered when there were only about twenty houses in Kalvåg. That’s probably about a quarter of the buildings there now.

Our tour began at the tourist center, which was itself once a salt house. The sea houses were seventy-seven square meters (about 830 square feet), and housed 120 men in each one. At least they’d be warm in there, herring fishermen pressed together like sardines. Our guide pointed out that these men were out for months in the same clothes every day, handling fish and getting drenched in salt water.

One of the houses on the tour demonstrated how the barrels were made, with barrels in various states of manufacture and a fireplace that was used to warm the wood to make it pliable.

We visited a salt house, where the fish were brought indoors and put into barrels with salt between each layer. Apparently there was a sort of hex on women in the salt houses; if a woman stepped over one of the nets or other fishing equipment, it was rendered unlucky. The cure was to import a hooker from Bergen to urinate on it. Rotting fish and aging sea water, unwashed men, urine-soaked nets. Yes, the women must have been clamoring to visit the men in the salt houses in those days.

There were a few preserved boats on display, open, clinker-built wooden structures with a stubby sail and oars that looked only too well used. This was very difficult labor in the most inhospitable of conditions. Then our guide took us to a plastic tub in the corner and pried open its lid. Into a plastic bag he placed four herring and handed them to us. It was a souvenir from our visit.

I wondered how long the herring had been sitting inside this dusty museum, but Art was unperturbed. “The whole point of salting herring is to make it last”, he assured me.

Four fish looked like a lot, and probably would be for people more adept with a fish knife than we are. The only processing that takes place before the herring is salted is that its head is chopped off. As the fish dies immediately upon its removal from the sea (and this description was making me consider becoming a vegetarian), there’s no need to remove its organs immediately. All of that processing would take place after the fish is sent out, in this case, to us. We’d have to cut out the spine, cut off the filets, and take off the skin.

Art’s fishing career isn’t illustrious. “I murdered a fish once” is the only way he’d describe his one foray into fishing early in his sailing days. What he meant was that he’d caught a fish, sawed the head off with a hacksaw and left it in a bucket of salt water, the seas got rough, and he lost his appetite for any of it. His first fish went back into the sea, though in more pieces than it had come out. So he offered to filet our herring.

The filleting knife we have aboard is the same one he bought when he embarked on fishing four decades ago, and I’m not sure that he didn’t get that knife at a yard sale. I think that it might have been used by Herman Melville. He took our four herring out on the dock with a bowl full of fresh water and a silicon cutting board with a drawing of a fish on it. He was pretty good at finding all of the organs and tossing them away. Unfortunately, our dock activities began to attract the attention of some large and hungry seagulls. They stayed at the minimal distance that was comfortable for them, which was slightly less than a distance comfortable for me. When Art tossed fish pieces into the harbor, dozens of gulls descended on them. There were some vicious debates among them about who was to eat the pieces we’d tossed. At some point, wet, large seagulls were flying and dripping just overhead, waiting for us to give them their dinner. I was relieved when we finished this part of the process and took our herring aboard.

Back in the galley, I set out to remove the bones that we’d overlooked in phase one of this project. By the time we had edible herring filets, the meat was about the same amount we’d see in a small jar in the supermarket. But I took them into the galley and followed a recipe I found on the Internet for Swedish fried herring. That sounds exotic, until you realize that it’s essentially the same recipe as for American fried chicken.

It was time to decide whether to leave, and we were again wondering where we’d go next. The decision is always fraught with lots of considerations, whether there will be space in this holiday frenzy, whether we’ll have to sit somewhere for many days due to weather, but also the fact that again we were ahead of our itinerary, and we’d need to slow down.

The weather forecast was not ideal. There would be no wind for the next two days, though the temperature would be pleasant. Then the following two days would be rainy and windy. We��d need to be somewhere. Would we stay in Kalvåg for two additional days for the opportunity to be stuck there for two more? We’d already seen the town. The menu at the one restaurant was prohibitively expensive. There was a limit to the number of times that we could eat $20 hamburgers, the cheapest thing we could find. We decided to leave.

Art found a spot called Eivindvik in the cruising guide. We were developing a routine. Art would mention a harbor while we were sailing, and I’d look it up on the BlackBerry’s Internet browser. If there were some interesting pages, we’d do a more detailed search on the Internet, while we were still underway, on the computer below. Then Art would call the harbor to learn more about the docking situation and the likelihood that there would be space when we arrived. Things had certainly changed from our 2000 cruise in Scandinavia, when we had paper charts, US-based emergency-only phone service, and Internet access only in shoreside cafés.

Theyd have space for us when we arrived in mid-afternoon. We motored in still water through the channel, mountains rising on both sides of us as if we were in a fjord. The skies began to darken.

We arrived just before the skies would open up, and called the woman who appeared to be in charge of guest dockage. We had about five minutes to dock before we’d get soaked, perfect timing. But the woman didn’t come out to the dock to show us where to tie up, and by the time she did, the rain had begun.

It wasn’t her fault, though. She’s not only in charge of the docks; she works in the grocery store on the dock, and she was too busy to come outside.

The dock shed put us was a fixed dock, which creates problems when there’s a tide. Fortunately, someone on the floating dock that just happened to be next to an empty space was just about ready to leave. We waited about a half hour, and then took a place on the floating dock with the other visitors.

Eivindvik, a town of about 250 people, was the center of the Gulen municipality. Its historical significance is legendary, meaning that it's only a legend that something historical happened there. During the Viking times, it’s believed that Eivindvik served as the seat of the Gulating parliament, an assembly between farmers and the king each year from about 900 to 1300 AD. Legislation developed at these meetings had to be memorized by those who understood the law, since writing hadn’t been established yet. This parliament was later moved to Guløy and then to Bergen in about 1300. In Eivindvik’s defense, I don’t think a town would make something like that up. It isn’t exactly the Holy Grail.

There’s a monument and a park on the most-likely location of this most-likely assembly, and apparently there is a summer play where they re-create the rule of King Håkon the Good (Håkon apparently translates to Arthur), who must have presided over the first of these meetings. I’m not sure that his half-brother Eirik, who’d been proclaimed the king after the death of their father, thought Håkon was all that good. Upon the encouragement of his foster father in England, Håkon chased Eirik from the throne into exile, killed or defeated Eirik’s sons, and was subject himself to a violent death at the ripe old age of twenty-seven.

Raised in England, he’s also the king who delivered Christianity to the Vikings in the tenth century. Two stone crosses from early Christianity mark his legacy to Eivindvik and all of Norway. The good King didn’t force his religion on his subjects, and hence wasn’t all that successful at gaining converts. Later rulers destroyed pagan temples and used force on the populace for better results. But Håkon’s mild-mannered approach to proselytizing and to whatever democracy an absolute ruler is willing to muster proved the model for Norway’s representative democracy of today, immortalized in the Constitution as the Norwegian parliament, Storting, or literally, the Big Thing. A rather ebullient brochure from the tourist center sniffed that while Greeks gave us the word for democracy, the actual form of government emerged, unheralded, from medieval Norway.

The two objects remaining from medieval times are these granite crosses, dated to the late tenth or early eleventh centuries, though undoubtedly commissioned by different kings. One is in the church overlooking the harbor, and the other is in a field a short walk away. The cross in the church is in a Norwegian-Celtic style, and the one in the field is Anglican, no doubt the result of good king Håkon’s evangelism. They’re carved into granite, simple and almost childlike, owing no doubt to the newness of their faith and the clumsiness of their tools. There’s something humbling about the work that must have gone into making them. Near the Anglican cross is a spring, which legend claims has curative waters. The historical description tells us that this spring was used for heathen sacrifice, which in those days was just about everybody other than the king and the clergy, so there might be some debate about how curative they were.

Between weather forecast updates and rain showers, we wandered around town and visited a café for lunch. The forecast is gloomy for nearly this whole week. I won’t mind being stuck for days on end. We are well ahead of schedule and this town is charming, if not bustling.

Hope you’re all having summer fun. We miss you and love to hear from you.

Love, Karen (and Art)