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Sunday, July 6, 2008, in Kristiansund, Norway

Hi everyone. We’re working our way down the west coast of Norway, and finding better weather, most of the time. Last week, we had just arrived in a town called Bessaker.

Our first official act in Bessaker was to join a dozen German tourists in the bar to watch the final match of the European football championship between Germany and Spain. Germany is always one of the best teams in the world, but they lost this one 1-0. That’s a very normal score for soccer, so most of the ninety minutes you watch the teams go up and down the field and rarely kick the ball close enough to the net to make the goalie have to work. Every time Spain did this, though, the Germans would gasp. Other than that, the room was rather sedate, I thought, for a sports bar.

When the restaurant-bar at the dock is the only activity in town, it’s not a surprise that our next outing took us there again, this time for lunch. We’d asked about lunch during halftime the night before, and the chef suggested – for want of an actual menu – that we might like the salmon. When we discovered that there was a printed menu available midday, but salmon wasn’t on it, we mulled our other options. Then we heard a voice from the kitchen, and the waitress said to us, “Oh, we thought that you said that you’d want salmon!”

The proximity of a washer and dryer induced us to do laundry, but there were no other reasons to venture off of the boat, as the rain alternated between misty showers and downpours for the entire afternoon.

According to our calculations, the schools in Norway had been out for a week or so, but we hadn’t seen a lot of vacationers around. We’d still been able to find dock space just about everywhere we went. When we’d arrived in Bessaker, there was one available side of one floating dock, and we’d taken up just about all of it. Finally, a boat came in and rafted to us. This is how dock space is maximized in Northern Europe. One boat ties to the dock. A smaller boat ties up to the boat thats already docked. A yet smaller boat does the same. For us, this can be problematic, because we can’t raft to a boat that’s smaller than we are, and there are few boats in this area that are our size or larger. But we hadn’t yet been relegated to rafting to a commercial fishing boat.

By evening, there were five boats rafted together, all descending in size, like a duck and her brood floating on the water. I’d expected that the harbors would get crowded as it got to be summer holiday time, and as we moved south, and I knew that we’d be gaining better weather at the expense of finding space.

The skies were blue and the air was fresh in the morning. All five of our rafted friends left our side, probably delighted with the southerly winds that would push them north. We were heading south, waiting for the north winds to return the next day. So we had another lay day at Bessaker.

Primarily a boat day, we each had a list of chores. Mine was short and easy, as always. I sewed a fraying flag, finding it hard not to look like a new-age Betsy Ross with the American flag flung across my lap. Art worked on a perplexing fresh-water leak that he was now almost certain originated in the aft shower. We worked on filling up everything that wasn’t topped off: water, refrigerator, fuel. The fuel hose was so close by that we didn’t have to leave our spot to retrieve it.

For recreation, we looked to the hill that overlooked the harbor. It wasn’t a mountain. Furthermore, there were steps leading up the steep side of it. I can do steps. I just pretend it’s a Stairmaster. I probably could climb Everest if someone would just put steps and a handrail on it.

The steps were steep and shallow, but they only covered about 10 meters (30 feet) of vertical climb. Then the path began. It was a typically narrow and grass-and-root-covered path, but the incessant rain from the last two days had made it a sea of mud. We decided that it wouldn’t be a good idea to continue, and we took our walk horizontal, beyond the edge of town, along the country road.

We left Bessaker in the morning, a sunny, chilly day, and were able to sail for most of our trip. The sail contributed to the chill in the air by shading its own half of the cockpit. By afternoon, I noticed that I had a favorite point of sail on the high, unshaded side of the boat. Then I started to suspect that the captain was engineering our path to his own evil ends. As I force him to do all of the other unpleasant tasks aboard, I simply put on more clothes.

We arrived at Konegsvoll, an inlet with a floating dock attached to a campsite. Half a dozen kids in swimwear were playing and fishing on the long, empty side of the dock that we were eying. Their parents were similarly clad, and I realized that I was seriously overdressed. As soon as we got some lines on the dock, I began removing layers of fleece.

One of the children was holding a gasping mackerel by the gills, over a puddle of blood congealing on the dock where the fish had changed little hands. We secured the boat, and then set about on a futile quest to find a dockmaster or an honesty box that had been described to us by another visitor. When we returned to the boat, the fish was lying alone on the dock, making another red puddle, still gasping.

We left in the morning and began to sail again immediately. We’d sailed virtually the entire southward return from the Lofoten Islands thus far. The weather was hot, then perfect, then cool; the day was a haze of donning and removing garments. But it was possible to be comfortable in the air all day.

The wind was directly behind us, and we fidgeted with the sails about as much as we did with our outerwear. We were main and jib, wing and wing, main alone, in light winds, strong winds. At one point the winds were strong and ahead of us; the level of heel was just below my complaint threshold. There was a moment of motoring when the winds simply died momentarily. It was a summer of sailing in a single day.

Our sail ended at an anchorage near Kristiansund. We’d been in Kristiansund earlier in the season, and it was a good spot to stop under any conditions. But we wanted to meet three new conditions: to find a Volvo Penta service shop to change the engine oil and filter, to stay out of weather that would arrive in a few days, and to find a weekend harbor that was unlikely to draw vacationers in search of nature in the form of the Lofotens, or charm in the form of Ålesund. The Norwegian cruisers were out in force, and we knew that this week was the beginning of a five-week nightmare of crowded guest harbors. Kristiansund was a working town, a place I hadn’t found a single photograph to take. But it was well-equipped for a stop, with a good restaurant for lunch, two excellent supermarkets, and a launderette at the guest dock.

Our strategy was to arrive at Kristiansund’s guest dock at midday on Friday. The idea was to give the boats that had stayed overnight time to leave, but arrive before the boats would come for the next night. We’d be taking up about a third of the designated guest space. So for Thursday night, we anchored in nearby Jetkvik, which sounds more like a fast-food chain than a placid fishing harbor. We were nearly alone in there, except for the first American boat we’d seen since we arrived in Norway.

In the morning, we motored to Kristiansund and stopped just outside the Volvo Penta shop. Art turned off the engine, and we drifted in the harbor until they were ready for us. They helped us tie to a floating dock that was about half the length of the boat. The service was accomplished, and the whole process took the rest of the morning, as we’d planned. We’d be in good shape to find space on the guest dock.

But the space that was available wasn’t enough for us. There were half a dozen powerboats on the dock, and on one side, we might get in if one boat was willing to raft to us. He was, and most of the boaters on the dock were available to help us, and him, with all of the lines. In the end, the boat we displaced was able to move to the other side of the dock.

We already had a favorite restaurant in Kristiansund, a place with a daily special that was within our budget. On this day, it was reindeer cakes, which weren’t really cakes, but they weren’t really burgers, either. In fact, they were just like Norwegian fish cakes, with that poached consistency, only they were made of meat. But we were hungry, and they were tasty, if not crunchy. I was pretty sure we’d be in line again the next day, and the next, for whatever the chef wanted to offer. Our plans went a different direction, though, on the weekend.

Kristiansund was almost completely destroyed in 1940, with about 900 homes burned down as a result of the bombing of the town by the Germans. So it’s been rebuilt in the nondescript architecture of most of Norway. Many houses are in the colors of a child’s crayons, and the scene is pleasant, if not striking. One building that remained from the eighteenth century overlooked the guest dock, and even that building was somewhat austere. But the unadorned architecture of Norway is consistent with the Norwegian character: strong, but not ostentatious, capable but not arrogant. The municipality stretches across four islands, and the boats that constantly travel between them constitute the world’s oldest ferry service.

Apparently our timing coincided with a battle with a different enemy in a different era. Kristiansund was in the midst of celebrating the 200th anniversary of a decisive battle (or at least a skirmish) with Britain during the Napoleonic Wars. This occurred while the Danes and Norway were already united in hostilities with Sweden. The British sent a ship to Kristiansund harbor, but it was turned back by return fire from the shore. We got to see a reenactment of this very battle on a lovely summer Saturday.

There was no mention of the upcoming celebration on posters, or in the brochure about the town, or anywhere. We only realized that something was up when we heard cannon fire. That’s not normal in a fishing town on a weekend. Art said, “If there’s going to be a war here, we should find out about it and leave.”

We’d had a normal Saturday morning. Art got a haircut at a salon near the marina. There was a Saturday flea market on the main square in the harbor, a common occurrence in European towns. On the harbor side of the square, a statue called Klippfiskkjærringa (The Klipfish Wife) serves as the town mascot, a worn-looking woman awaiting the return of her husband with the cod (klipfish is dried cod) that will support them for another year. The sculpture was a gift to the town in 1992 on its 250th anniversary. The last time we’d visited, she’d been carrying fresh flowers in her sculpture basket. This time, the square was alive with a sound system, gleefully playing 1960s American rock and roll tunes.

On the nearby quay, there were small cannons set up and facing the harbor. Soldiers in red uniforms began to drift into the town square to await the official opening of the festivities. We wandered over, too, and I interrupted two soldiers to ask about the event. Their uniforms looked very much like those from the Revolutionary War, with impressive hats that were probably better for morale than they were for protection. They told me that they were re-enactors, and that the battle would begin at 1 PM, in about an hour.

Art was impressed by that. “It’s really civilized that the British have notified you exactly what time they’ll arrive.”

“Yes”, said our re-enactor. “War has certainly progressed in two hundred years.”

We decided to eat street food in the square while we waited for the event to start. We walked to a kiosk where a Filipino man and woman were selling skewered grilled pork in a delicious soy-based barbecue sauce. I asked two people behind the kiosk whether they spoke English before it dawned on me that English would be their native language. We collected our lunches and sat in the main square, listening to oldies. They played “The Great Pretender” and “Bye Bye Love”. Then a cannon went off on a balcony overlooking the square, scattering something all over the crowd. Lollipops. Apparently the plan was to pellet the British with lollipops. It’s actually a surprise that you can win a war by pelting the enemy with sugar, but perhaps that’s the long-range plan against America, too.

The lollipops (which turned out to be caramel candies after all) rained down on the crowd, with children gathering up what they could. I estimated that only about a third of the candies that had been loaded into the cannon ever made it to human consumption. The rest unwrapped themselves in the air and fell on the square, or shattered on impact into a hundred pieces, or dribbled back into the balcony when the explosives didn’t project them sufficiently into the crowd. So the happiest revelers were the seagulls, who found even the tiniest remnants of caramel and didn’t seem to care how unsanitary they were. The disc jockey put on a new song: “Lollipop”, by the Chordettes.

By 1:15, the enemy was nowhere in sight. Art wondered aloud whether such a breach of etiquette was permitted. But they finally arrived, flying the Union Jack and dressed a little like pirates. I wondered if I should make an announcement that the people around us shouldn’t get confused, that we were Americans, and that we had been fighting the British at the same time, just for solidarity. But I kept quiet.

The British vessel allowed the soldiers to fire at them as they sailed across in one direction and then in the other, and then scurried away to great jubilation among the townspeople. Especially Art. He was getting cold and wanted to go inside the mall across the street. On our way out of the mall, we saw that a long line of nineteenth-century Norwegian soldiers had formed at the fast-food kiosk on the harborside street. What did they want to eat after enduring the exhausting battle? I looked at the sign on the kiosk. Fish and chips.

In the afternoon, we visited the Mellemværftet (The Middle Shipyard) Museum. Located not very far from the guest dock where we were, the path to the museum was lined with wild roses whose fragrance was intoxicating as we passed. Founded in 1856, this shipyard was in operation until the end of the 1970s, and some restoration work appears to go on there even today. The boatyard maintained Kristiansund’s fleet of sailing ships – and converted some of them to steam when sailing was no longer commercially viable. We took a tour of the buildings, including a machine shop, a carpenter’s shop, a shed, and the marine railway outside. A system of pulleys, powered by a single engine, ran most of the motorized equipment in the yard. All over the docks adjoining the museum are wooden ships, carefully maintained, with enough varnish to make Art quiver in fear at their maintenance.

Sunday in Kristiansund, as in most of Norway, is quiet. Few restaurants bother to open and those that do take their time about it. The restaurant we liked on the harbor street wasn’t offering lunch at a price we were willing to pay. After some searching, we found a café for lunch, and spent the rest of the day amusing ourselves onboard. The strong winds for which we were sitting tight arrived in the afternoon, but a day that began chilly and misty became sunny. A powerboat on the guest dock is using its onboard wood stove, filling the air with a rustic fragrance. We won’t decide until morning whether we’ll leave or stay in Kristiansund another day. I’m content either way.

I hope that you’re all having a fine July 4 weekend. Thanks for writing; we love to hear from you.

Love, Karen (and Art)