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Sunday, June 15, 2008, in Svolvær, Norway

Hi everyone. Well, we’ve arrived at the northernmost destination of our trip this year, the capital of the Lofoten Islands, a lovely place called Svolvær. Last week, we’d just left the Svartisen glacier on our way to Bodø, on the mainland of northern Norway.

My requirement for a place to stay the night after we walked the glacier was simple: I needed an anchorage, not a dock. I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stand up once my muscles began to contract, and spending ten minutes setting up fenders and lines and jumping onto a dock were simply out of the question for me for the rest of the day. Art found me the perfect anchorage in the harbor of an island called Stott. We’d be able to leave first thing in the morning and arrive in Bodø sometime on Sunday.

Before anchoring, we motored into the snug inner harbor to take a peek at the floating pontoon for guests. Then we edged inside the skinny channel back out to the outer harbor, where we were all alone for the evening.

The motor to Bodø began early and we arrived at the guest dock at 9AM. That’s a little early for a Sunday morning. The guest dock was certainly spacious, but it was filled. But that wasn’t because Bodø was such a popular weekend spot to visit; only three of the boats along the dock appeared to be occupied. The rest appeared to be boats left over from winter storage, and a lone fishing boat, all unoccupied and not likely to be freeing up dock space soon. We rafted to another sailboat, hoping that the facilities would improve.

They didn’t right away. The harbormaster hadn’t come up with any solutions other than to wait for space, and the two boats on the dock that appeared to be actual visiting boats both told us that they didn't expect to leave until two days later.

Most of the guest dock had no power or water hookups on the portion where we were situated. And the boat to which we’d rafted was pulled far from the dock by the current winds, so it would be very hard for us to get on and off the boat. At this point, we were without electric, unable to step ashore, and paying a fairly steep fee per night for the privilege. So far, we didn’t feel very welcome in Bodø.

Eventually, though, we rigged up a fender step onto our hosting sailboat, got ourselves ashore, and wandered into town. Sundays are a tough time for a town to present itself, and Bodø was quite shut down. Even the supermarkets closed for Sundays. The tourist information center, co-located with the bus terminal, was open and helpful, though we didn’t have many questions. Our lunch in a café on the main square was a delight, and we hoped that we’d begin to warm up to Bodø once we got settled. The weather forecast was awful for as long as we could see, rain, cold, strong winds. In fact, Bodø is one of the windiest cities in Norway, a peninsula jutting out to the sea. It would be nice to put up our dodger cover, but we needed to wait until we were in a more permanent berth. The best bet for that was in two days. We decided to use the rest of the day for chores on board.

When we got back to the boat, the harbormaster hinted that there might be space for us in the right spot as early as the next day, so we were encouraged. Instead, there was a knock on the hull before the afternoon was up (of course, above the Arctic Circle in June, afternoon lasts a very long time). The fishing boat had left, presumably for his normal space, which had probably been engaged by a visiting boat. There was a space, it wasn’t raining yet, and there were sailors on the dock to help us tie up. Bodø had set out the welcome mat.

It’s a good thing that we had people on the dock to take our lines. The wind was pushing us off of the dock, making it a challenge for Art to get the boat close enough for me to jump off with dock lines. The space vacated by the fishing boat left only inches of space on bow and stern between our boat and its neighbors. Somehow, with help, we managed to parallel park (no, there isn’t really such a thing in boating), get our lines secure, and we connected to electric power. Now we could stay for a week. And we might have to. But we were well ahead of schedule; we’d beaten summer weather to Bodø. The high temperature wouldn’t reach 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit) all week. My preference would be to stay put.

Each of us had a backlog of errands for Monday, when the shops would be open. We hadn’t been in a city in weeks. It had been a week since we’d been at a proper supermarket, and there had been an unusually high number of onboard lunches, which is something that I, the cook, monitor with great attentiveness.

Bodø isn’t really a tourist destination, but it’s a pleasant place to visit. It became an official township in 1816 and grew suddenly when herring appeared in its waters. Then the herring subsided, and eventually Bodø found its footing again with shipping and commerce.

But its strategic position made Bodø vulnerable to attack by the Germans during World War II, and in 1940, most of the town was leveled in only two and a half hours. About seventy percent of the residents had already been evacuated, but 420 of the 760 homes were destroyed, and most of the rest were damaged. The rebuilding of Bodø changed its look completely.

Art stayed on board the next morning completing some maintenance tasks, and I underwent some maintenance of my own at a nearby hair salon. We met for lunch in the downtown mall Glashuset, a glass superstructure enclosing dozens of shops and one of my favorite supermarket chains, ICA. We spent the afternoon on board organizing our infrastructure, I in the galley, and Art at the PC. He’d had a bad upgrade experience with our backup laptop, and in the process the entire unit was demolished and reformatted. It took the better part of two days, but he got it completely functional again, with the help of online software support, and our perennial lifeline Google.

I was having my own technology problems. One week earlier, the trackwheel on my two-year-old BlackBerry simply wouldn’t click. Though the device could limp along with a minor reduction in functionality, I apparently use my BlackBerry so much that I wear out the hardware. There was no way I’d survive its limitations for four more months. Within moments of its demise, I purchased a replacement on eBay and had it shipped to my mother, who, like all mothers of very lucky children, jumps into service when her child is in need. My parents sent the unit from the local DHL facility to a Bodø address I’d found on the shipper’s web site. I’d requested and received alerts from DHL every time the package moved six inches from one place to another, and in the afternoon, I received the notification I wanted, that the BlackBerry had been delivered. Now my job was to find the place and retrieve it.

The winds were strong in the morning, and a little sea pushed us around at the dock. I was really happy that we were content to sit for as long as we needed to, because I felt immobilized. I wouldn’t have even wanted to leave the boat, but I had a mission. My replacement BlackBerry was across town, and I needed to get it.

We walked to the shipping end of the harbor and recovered the package. It was cold and dreary and windy, and we wasted no time in returning to the boat. Mid-day, I suggested that we stay aboard for lunch, an offer I never make. The winds kept up all afternoon, slamming our fenders into the floating dock, and bending one of our stanchions in the process. It began to brighten a little bit late in the day, but we were happily cocooned by then.

Morning was bright again. It was chilly, but sunny, and by noon there was warmth in the air. We found a building nearby to make us both happy, a large marine store for Art on the ground floor, and a cafeteria specializing in regional food on the second floor. After lunch, we took a bus across town to the Norwegian Aviation Museum, which chronicles Norway’s development of aviation. The exhibits cover both commercial and military aviation, with planes of all types dangling from the ceiling. One of the exhibited aircraft is a U2, the US spy plane that was at the center of an international incident in 1960. The spy plane was specifically developed to fly very high and above Russia’s ability to shoot it down. So we were trying to surprise them with our new technology. But they surprised us with theirs, because by 1960 they’d developed the capability to shoot the plane down, and they did, taking the pilot Gary Francis Powers prisoner. Bodø has a special connection to that incident, as the city was to be his destination on the flight from Peshawar, Pakistan. Of the 3800-mile flight, 2900 miles were over the Soviet Union.

The last day we stayed in Bodø was a bit less windy, but cold and dreary. With no more errands to run, and no more sightseeing to do, we spent the day as residents rather than tourists. Art pored over weather forecasts to figure out which direction to go when the weather would finally get better the next morning, a Friday.

Our first plan was to go north about 20 miles to Kjerringøy. This town was apparently created around an old trading post, which, as far as I could see, had been turned into a souvenir stand. But there was dockage available, and a cheese factory tour, and it was a little closer to our destination of the Lofoten Islands. This plan only lasted most of the day, when Art was able to get better weather forecasts.

In a few days, the weather would get very bad. And it could stay bad for quite a long time. So we were faced with deciding where it was we’d most like to be stuck. There wasn’t much in Kjerringøy. We’d be safe, but imprisoned. We decided that we should use the one or two good days in front of us to cross to the islands.

It wasn’t a long trip to the Lofoten Islands, but the weather on the two upcoming travel days would become windier as the day grew longer. Part of the problem with too much wind is that it makes for uncomfortable sailing. The other problem with too much wind is that it makes for dangerous docking.

Our second plan was to cross to an island called Skrova, a stone’s throw from the main Lofoten town of Svolvær. Skrova would be an acceptable place to be stuck, and it was only a five-mile motor to Svolvær. As we headed towards Skrova, it dawned on us that we could still visit Skrova from Svolvær by ferry, and we’d already be docked and snug for whenever the bad weather would come to us. If we went to Skrova first, we’d have to go through all the docking and undocking only for one night’s stay. And there was no guarantee that the weather would be this favorable for another twenty-four hours. We turned a few degrees to the west and pointed to Svolvær’s guest harbor. A sea eagle turned in parallel to our course as if to direct us.

The Lofoten Islands archipelago stretches more than 100 miles as a finger of Norway wagging southwest into the Atlantic. Its mountains form a wall of jagged peaks that seem almost cocky, as if they know how photogenic they are, with bright green springtime splashed across their faces and some still wearing their winter berets of snow. Svolvær isn’t the only town with a name ending in –vaer; the term means “fishing area”, and fishing still beats tourism as the Lofotens’ economic mainstay.

Latticed racks that would cover a football field greet you in the Svolvær harbor. We’d just missed the end of cod season. It seems that the only time that the fishermen don’t work is the season when it isn’t torture to be out on the water. Facing the cod racks with outstretched hand is a statue called “Fisherman’s Wife” (the artist is Per Ung) on a tall pedestal, looking out to sea, awaiting the return of her loved one and the bounty that will support their basic needs in this harsh environment. The fishing life is tough on everyone.

We’d been lucky with finding space all season, and our luck held in Svolvær. There was just enough dock space for us on the guest pontoon, if we’d swerve around the shallow part at the end of the dock. Though we’d begun our trip in many layers of clothes, beginning with our well-worn long underwear, we’d unpeeled down to a single layer by the time we arrived in harbor. We docked underneath a café (it was low tide and the café would be nearer to eye level in six hours) where islanders had packed the outdoor tables.

There were more reasons to rejoice about our decision. Moments after we took the long empty space that remained on the guest dock, another boat arrived; we’d come just in time. We learned from other boats on the dock that most of them were there for the weekend. Saturday would be no time to be looking for a harbor. In fact, this particular Saturday was the beginning of an art festival in town. And to kick off the ceremony, the actual Queen of Norway would be there. We’d picked the perfect time to come to Svolvær.

I’ll end here, and tell you about the Lofotens in my next note.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Love, Karen (and Art)