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Sunday, June 1, 2008, in Rørvik, Norway

Hi everyone. We arrived this morning in Rørvik, still making our way north. Last week, we’d just arrived in Ålesund, so I’ll start from there.

Our first stop in Ålesund’s main town was at the fuel dock, and we moved from there to tie up along the quay far away from the main town docks, which were already two or three deep with weekend visitors. Across the water, sea gulls were chattering at their station on a hotel ledge. Art thought that they were calling out, “Auntie Em! Auntie Em!”

Our part of the dock was nearly empty, and I wondered if this was a place we could find sanctuary when we moved south during the busy, though short, summer holiday season. I learned later that this inhospitable section of quay wouldn’t be a sanctuary for us in any season.

Cunard’s Queen Victoria was in town, as well as the Italian cruise ship Aida, and Ålesund was as crowded as a summer day. We learned from the tourist office that a lot of the activity in town: live music, shops open in late afternoon on a Saturday, and some tours that we’d missed that day – were in honor of the cruise ships, and that would all disappear at sundown.

By five o’clock, the Queen Victoria sounded a horn, and town was sleepy. Furthermore, Sundays are quiet everywhere in Europe. We wondered, over a beer and a bowl of mussels at the head of the harbor, what we should do the next day, and decided we’d let someone else do the sailing and take us to Geiranger Fjord.

A few hours later, we realized that the tides were going to pose a very large problem for us. If we left the boat unattended through low tide, there was a chance – actually a pretty good chance – that the boat could slither underneath the concrete dock up to its lifelines, and then be crushed when the tide rose again. Low tides would occur that night at 8:30 PM and then again at 9:30 AM the next morning. We knew that we couldn’t leave the boat. In fact, we’d have to find ourselves some space on the floating pontoon in town or we’d have to leave. Had the lowest tide arrived in the middle of the night, we’d have to wake up and tend to the boat. So we were lucky that the timing was what it was.

We only had two choices, either to find space on the floating pontoon (which would immunize us to tidal changes relative to the land) or leave. Art picked out a place thirty-five miles away for our escape. Then he found another anchorage only five miles away, which would give us most of the day for the weekend cruisers to depart and for us to find a space.

In the morning, I climbed out of the boat to look over the pontoon. It was quite the gymnastic feat, and I was glad few people were awake to witness my clambering to our toerail, to the bottom of a large truck tire decorating the concrete, to a chain that held the row of tires in place, to the top of the tire, and finally grabbing a rail on the concrete quay and pulling myself up. There was a fair amount of faith in this. If my weight pulled the tire off of its chain, or if my own arms couldnt manage my weight, I’d be in the frigid water.

The floating pontoon was still quite full, with no chance of a large space opening up. For us, it wouldn’t be enough for some boats to leave. We were too big to raft to a smaller boat, so we’d have to be on the inside. But we were also too long to fit into any slot made available by the departure of a column of boats.

I was disheartened. But I stopped one or two of the boaters that were already walking about on this Sunday morning, and they all seemed to think that the pontoon would open up as soon as the other boaters slept off their Saturday night activities. One Norwegian man in particular took up my cause. When Art and I returned to the pontoon a few hours later, we could see him assessing the situation for us, evaluating depths at various locations, asking about departure times, and devising a strategy for us to stay.

We walked into town and had a delightful and nearly affordable lunch, and by the time we came back, the dock was nearly ready for us. Our Norwegian friend negotiated with some of the other boaters on the dock, and eventually, with the assistance of lots of boat owners and passers-by, we docked alongside the pontoon. Across from us, more seagulls lived on another building ledge. This time I heard them say “Auntie Em”, too.

Fire was historically a tragic fact of Norwegian wooden architecture, and one of the worst fires in Norway’s history took place in Ålesund in 1904. Though most of the town was gone, it was soon rebuilt in the Art Nouveau style in stone, brick, and mortar. Now the once-fishing village draws tourists, cruise ships, and yachts to its cafés and shops. In 2007, Norwegians voted it the prettiest town in the country.

We’d spent much of Sunday getting the boat situated on a floating dock. Monday was our first opportunity to do some errands in Ålesund. The morning was rainy and a little cold. We ambled down a commercial street in search of an electrical supply shop recommended by the harbormaster. The fitting we needed was apparently in storage inside the garage. We followed the shop employee to an indoor garage that apparently served several of the office buildings in the area, and he slid open a door to a shed filled with electrical supplies. We found the one we needed, and he ushered us back to the office through a different door. I noticed that he’d left the door we’d used to enter the storage wide open into the main part of the garage.

“Don’t you want to close that door first?” I asked.

“No, it’s okay. I’ll leave it,” he said. “This is Norway.” So it is.

After we got ourselves tucked back inside the boat after lunch, even the brightening afternoon skies couldn’t draw us back outside.

Once we were safely docked, Ålesund offered us an opportunity to travel to a fjord without having to make the 100-mile round trip on our own boat. The tourist office alerted us to a trip that left every morning for Geiranger Fjord. We could have done it on our own, but we’d seen the fjord on the chart. There was a very limited amount of guest dockage in the small town at the end of the fjord, and if for some reason we couldn’t dock there, we’d have to turn around and find our way out. Apparently what sailors do for entertainment to get away from their boats is to go on someone else’s boat.

But we weren’t prepared for the vessel we saw. We thought we’d be going out on a small ferry, or something even smaller for a day trip. But the ship was a cruise ship on the Hurtigruten Line, and most of the passengers were on a week’s visit (or longer) from Oslo to the far north port of Kirkenes.

As we understood this cruise, you’d embark in Bergen and visit many ports on your way north, and visit them again on your way south. The stops you’d make during the daytime in one direction would be nighttime stops in the other direction. But the part we didn’t understand was the length of each stop, which was anywhere from fifteen minutes to forty-five minutes. Maybe the idea was that you’d disembark, visit a town for the length of time of your choosing, and then pick up the next ship on the next day. But people we met onboard reported that they’d wander off the ship on their stops, scurry through the town, and then scramble back aboard.

Passengers had a choice when they visited Ålesund, because the ship would be there in the morning and then again in the evening. Visitors could spend the day in town, or they could stay aboard and visit the fjord. They could also leave the ship in Geiranger in favor of a bus ride back to Ålesund. That tour didn’t seem to leave any time for visits in either Geiranger village or in Ålesund itself, though. The one downside to our fjord visit was that we’d stop at the village on our big ship, but never leave the boat. There probably wasn’t all that much in the village to see, and we weren’t in the mood for hiking, so we didn’t mind.

The fjord came at us in a crescendo. We saw the mountains behind Ålesund as we were leaving as we’d seen them on the way in. The peaks of the farthest ones were snowy bowls. But the channel was wide, good for sailing and commercial traffic, but not a fjord. Skinny waterfalls dribbled down like a tap that was barely open. As we continued on our voyage, the mountains became closer to our course. Waterfalls became more frequent, and then steeper as the mountains got closer and larger. The streams became wider and rushed into the sea with a white wave. Houses appeared in seemingly impossible locations. Crests of snow connected adjacent rounded peaks. By the time we approached Geiranger, we’d been enclosed by mountains and falling water into pristine stillness.

The ride to the fjord had taken four hours, and the ride back was an opportunity to see it all over again, like rewinding a movie. When I returned to our boat, laden with two supermarket bags, there was a tour on our dock, probably the remnants of the land tour we’d dropped off at the fjord.

Another very early departure and we were on our way to Kristiansund. We’d made excellent progress up the coast, even though we’d had numerous lay days. Now we had a travel dilemma. There’s an incentive to make quick progress to the end point of the journey. If you take a two-week vacation, and you’re six days out, you’re reluctant to sail away much more, because every mile out is another mile back. And unlike a car trip, the weather can make a sailing trip very unpleasant. So it’s always our philosophy to sail as fast as possible to the destination, and then work our way back slowly, and in good weather. We want to do that with this trip, too, even though we have five months to accomplish that.

But we were already starting to get ahead of the weather. The weather in Ålesund had just gotten tolerable, but it was still pretty chilly. The weather north of us was still in the single digits in Celsius, not even out of the fifties on the Fahrenheit scale. We had to slow down. It wouldn’t make sense to get somewhere that’s too cold, and then sit there waiting for it to warm up. On the other hand, we’d been in Ålesund for four days already. It was time to move on.

Yet another motor took us to the harbor at Kristiansund. A Russian ship was tied up in the harbor. We tied up at the guest dock in Kristiansund in mid-afternoon, but we both had things to do onboard and left our exploring for the next day.

Kristiansund is a working Norwegian coastal town. It isn’t picturesque, except for the sculpture of the fishwife carrying a basket of real flowers in the main square. It was, though, welcoming and comfortable, and we enjoyed the day we spent there walking around.

We’d been tracking another HR sailboat since Florø, and we invited the owners aboard for a glass of wine after dinner. In many places, the time of this gathering – 7:30 -- would be considered before dinner. But Scandinavians eat at 5:00 or 6:00. We’ve closed restaurants down at 6:30. Mediterranean dinners don’t often start until 9:00 or 10:00, and not only during summer’s heat. So Scandinavia is almost a whole meal ahead of the Med, and they’d be right at home having “early-bird specials” in Florida.

The weather had been frustrating for Art. It seemed to him that the forecasted winds were always in our face, making it impossible to sail, for four days out, and after four days the winds would be great. Then he’d get a new forecast the next day and the winds would be wrong again for the next four days. We never seemed to get to the day of decent wind. Indeed, we’d been able to use the sails only once, on our crossing from Sweden to Norway. I hoped that the northerly winds would hold all summer and push us back down the coast. But it was frustrating for Art to motor for so many miles.

We had in front of us about 150 miles to sail, and we had three days to get there. We could do it in a long day and a short day, or two medium days, or three short days. Our ultimate destination was Rørvik, a small town directly on our course to Bodø. Rørvik merited only a paragraph or two in my Lonely Planet guidebook.

In general, we prefer not to arrive at a town during the weekend, as we’d done in Ålesund, where there was no space for us. But Rørvik didn’t appear to be as much of a tourist draw as Ålesund, the prettiest town in Norway. It also didn’t have nearly the guest space that Ålesund did in its snug harbor.

How those three journeys would be divided was up to us. There was a forecast for the third day for good wind. Even if the forecast held, though, that day was predicted to be cold with a good chance of rain. Did we want to leave a long sail to a rainy, cold day, and run the risk that the winds didn’t pan out?

On our first sailing day, the wind was nearly absent, less than two knots at times. Windmill farms alongside the channel were still. The water was almost flat on the inside passage, rippled like a satin sheet tossed on a bed. It was still a little chilly. At one point, while I was wearing my two hats, I would have been delighted to have another half a hat. For this day, we traveled about 65 miles to a small port called Uthaug, where we anchored among the fishing boat moorings.

We came ashore and walked through the tiny town. The harbor was lined with boat houses that serve the local fishermen. They’d pull alongside and drop off their catch. Some of the houses were festively ornamented with dried cod. At the head of the harbor was a building that was used during the World War II German occupation to hold 195 Russian prisoners. We continued our walk through the residential area, where locals sat outdoors in shirtsleeves. We were still in some of our at-sea clothing, including long underwear. We each must have thought the others were crazy to dress the way they did in this weather.

We anchored out the next night as well, in a cluster of islands called Abelvær only a few miles from Rørvik. The dilemma that day again had involved the promise of wind and the likely failure to deliver. It was dead calm again, of course. The forecast for the next day assured us of rain, but made fewer assurances of wind. As this day progressed, the temperature rose until we’d even taken off the long underwear while we were still out sailing, a first for the season. In the end, we decided that the Sunday winds were unlikely, and the idea of a daylong motor in the rain didn’t have much appeal.

So we anchored out instead of going all the way into Rørvik. First, even a few weekend visitors to Rørvik would fill up the small guest pontoon and shut us out. Second, anchoring is a great choice for a short visit. It’s very easy; there are no fenders or lines, no fees, no rafting, and no noise. It’s easy to leave; you just haul up the anchor and go. And anchoring is simply more solitary, even if there are other boats in the harbor. In this harbor, there were none, and few buildings within sight ashore.

Finally, it’s Sunday, with the rain, and without the wind. We dressed in our foul-weather jackets, overalls and boots. I like wearing foul-weather gear, actually. I feel like I’ve been dressed up to excess by someone else in fear of bad weather, like I am still in kindergarten and I’m put in a snowsuit that adds fifty percent of radius to my body size. We motored for the two hours it took to get to Rørvik and tied up on the guest pontoon with the help of the only other guest in the harbor. Between our two sailboats and a misplaced fishing boat, we took up the entire guest dock.

We haven’t even left the boat yet, so I’ll quit here.

Hope everyone is doing well. Thanks for writing to us.

Love, Art and Karen