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Sunday, June 29, 2008, in Bessaker, Norway

Hi everyone. We’re in a small harbor called Bessaker, anticipating unfavorable weather for a day or two. We’re heading back south around Norway’s coast. Last week we were at our last stop in the Lofoten Islands, a beautiful harbor called Reine.

We’d seen the royal yacht as we approached the harbor, so this would be the third time that our holiday destination intersected with the Queen’s, first at the Art Festival, then in Kabelvåg, and now in Reine. A large, well-appointed inflatable zipped by us as we were approaching the harbor, and then stopped at an entrance somewhere outside of our view on the royal yacht, suitably named Norway, in Norwegian. It zipped into town later while we were on our introductory walk. But we never saw the Queen on this occasion. I thought that ironic, as the name of the harbor reine is the word “queen” in French.

For the first time in days, the morning sky was blue and unbroken. But Art was troubled by the forecast. The day was due to deteriorate. There were winds in the morning, but they’d dissipate and rain would arrive. Wherever we landed on this day, we were likely to be there for four more. We were in Reine, the main attraction of which was that it was beautiful. But the town itself was a thirty-minute walk from the harbor, and from harbor guides, town included a supermarket and not much more. On a rainy, cold day, it wouldn��t be tempting to invest in the walk. There was a restaurant at our harbor, but even the inexpensive specials were beyond what we’d want to pay for lunch. We looked into the idea of ferries to some of the other, more remote harbors in the Lofotens, but the timetables didn’t make sense for us. And we weren’t ready to make an offshore trip to another Lofoten harbor, only to get shut out as the day got rainy with only a crossing back to the mainland as an option. We decided to use the favorable winds to cross back to the mainland.

It was a great sail for most of the day, though the chill of the wind from behind sent me below under a blanket and sent Art into his long underwear. In the afternoon, the winds decreased, as forecast, and it began to rain. We arrived at Stott, where we’d anchored out the day after we’d climbed on the glacier. So Stott was a sanctuary on two separate visits. This time we found a space at the guest dock.

Our plan was to take a lay day, because the forecast was terrible. But we could travel between the islands and the coast of the mainland in weather that would have stopped us in port had we stayed in the offshore Lofotens.

The skies cleared up considerably, so we took a walk through town after dinner. The settlement was barely populated outside of summer vacationers. In 2004, there were three students in the school; two years later the school closed. Norwegian schools had just let out a few days earlier, so the summer travelers hadn�������������t arrived either. Houses were strewn on land as haphazardly as the wild flowers that rimmed the road. The town had a disheveled but homey appearance. The school building looked ignored after two years of disuse, with wild grass at a high level on the soccer field, and swings and a sliding board looking forlorn for lack of the company of children. I hoped that the summer visitors would play in the schoolyard. There didn’t appear to be anything else around to do anyway. There was a fish processor on the harbor. The building at our dock housed the post office and a general store, but that was the extent of commerce in Stott.

Art struggled to get Internet access and finally downloaded some weather information. There were three possible onboard sources of Internet access, and none of them were connecting. Even my BlackBerry would lose consciousness every few minutes.

The forecast said that the rain would stop in mid-morning. Then the next several days would be rainy and cold. We could stay, but there would be nothing to do outside, and nothing to do on the boat. We decided to move on and take our lay day some other time.

Art found a protected harbor about twenty miles away. A small hotel had several guest pontoons and offered wireless Internet service, useful in case ours remained elusive. Though there didnt appear to be anything else around, and no town to speak of, a hotel always means that there’s a restaurant.

We were able to sail again for most of the day. Within a few miles of our destination, the winds died and rain arrived. We hid under the dodger. Then, miraculously, the rain stopped just before we needed to get out from under cover and dock.

The entrance to Rødøy was dominated by a mountain. The side overlooking the channel was rough and bare. To me, it was chiseled into an elephant’s face in profile. Just beyond the face, though, bright green shrubbery covered the rest of the mountain, as if it was a fuzzy shirt up to the elephant’s neck. It was an elephant chia pet, but a hundred stories high.

We docked at the Klokkergården Hotel and got settled. There were three or four other sailboats at this remote harbor. The water under the pontoon was clear and turquoise, shallow for this area, and with a sandy bottom, also a novelty. The hotel itself only seemed to have about a half dozen rooms, though its restaurant could easily accommodate twice as many patrons. But it wouldn’t be easy to draw a local clientele, because Rødøy seemed very quiet. We learned later that the hotel is open year-round and attracts some business conferences.

All afternoon the skies alternated between showers and clouds. We walked around the immediate area in between laundry loads and rain, and checked out the dinner menu at the restaurant. It was a splurge, but we hadn’t been off of the boat for a meal in several days, so we decided to go for it.

The restaurant had hired a guest chef for the summer, the owner of two restaurants in Sweden. His menu was limited, but intriguing. Art began his meal with cured reindeer meat with horseradish and cream cheese wrapped in a flatbread, and mine began with a slice of phyllo-covered custard with smoked salmon. Art’s main meal was a white fish in a cream sauce, garnished with fresh capers, and accompanied by a delicious bean we’d never seen before and a potato puff. Mine was braised venison, served in a vegetable sauce and accompanied by red cabbage slaw and a potato gratin.

The next day was cold and rainy, and we left the boat only once, for lunch, because you don’t trifle with lunchtime in port when the restaurant is steps away. We defrosted the refrigerator, were otherwise mildly productive, but spent the day the way a normal person would on a cold, rainy afternoon, watching television and playing unabashedly on the Internet. I looked out at the other guest dock, where a couple on a fishing boat took advantage of a lull in the rain to go to sea, clad in tee shirts. Art watched the weather carefully, because the next day could turn out to be a duplicate of that one.

It wasn’t. It was overcast and cold, but not raining, at least much, when we left the dock at 6:30 AM. It was two-hat cold, with long underwear quite necessary. Sailing was possible immediately. I retired belowdecks in the morning as I wasn’t really needed in the cockpit and the cabin was out of the following wind. I had a new theory about keeping warm as we crossed back over the Arctic Circle, and that was to be vigilant about the weak link of chill. When my feet felt cold, I put on fleece boots that made me look like one of Santa’s helpers (who was not all that far from home.) When my hands were the coolest part of my body, putting on gloves warmed up everything else as well. It’s amusing to develop these theories, but it’s bothersome to have chattering teeth in the final days of June. At least we were headed south. We remained under sail for the entire voyage to Sandnessjøen. This made Art happy. The sun peeked out for a few moments in the afternoon. This made me happy.

On the way, we passed one Navy vessel – who paid no attention to us at all – and two cruise ships. One was the Hurtigruten, a familiar sight on this coastline. The other was the P&O Arcadia, an eleven-deck British luxury cruise ship. Seeing the Arcadia minutes after the Hurtigruten went by demonstrated how enormous the Arcadia is. At 951 feet (290 meters), it’s close to twice the 445 foot (135.7 meter) Hurtigruten size.

We’d passed Sandnessjøen on our way north. It was behind the mountains known as Seven Sisters. At the time, we couldn’t make out how to count to seven peaks. The tourist office in Sandnessjøen had a handy guide for us, numbering the peaks on the silhouette for us. We’d seen six. They’d counted the double peak on a single mountain as two peaks. So again I disagreed that it was the Seven Sisters. It was more like five sisters and a pair of conjoined twins.

I wasn’t sure what to expect of Sandnessjøen. Half of the text about this town was devoted to driving forty kilometers to Tjøtta for a ferry to that cave drawing of a skier that had been the model for the Olympics in Lillehammer. We’d anchored at Tjøtta on the way north. Now we were in the place where the recommendation was to go somewhere else that was a jumping-off point for yet somewhere else.

But the town was charming, though petite. A pedestrianized shopping street lasted for the two or three blocks that made up the downtown area. The tourist office was helpful and friendly. We visited the whole of Sandnessjøen in an hour or two. For our lay day, we would indeed do an excursion, by ferry, to look at puffins on the island of Løvund.

Puffins were a common sight to us, paddling around at sea. But they’re little, and very skittish, and always dove underwater well before we could get a good look at them. Maybe if we saw them on land, we’d get a better look.

Every April 14, and the date is so reliable that a tourist industry has evolved around it, the puffins arrive at Løvund to breed. About 200,000 birds nest on the island. The parents share the hatching and feeding responsibilities and are lifelong partners. They only produce a single egg each year. One puffin goes to sea to bring back sand eels for the hatchling. Their peculiar beaks are suited to carrying a dozen sand eels, and up to five times that number. Their short wings beat very fast in flight, and are well-adapted for underwater operation, where the method of travel is a variation on flying, using their feet as rudders. Because of this peculiarity of design, puffins were once viewed as a cross between a bird and a fish. Catholics in those days pounced on this opportunity to declare that puffins were thus fit fare for the Friday meal.

The ferry dropped us at Løvund at about one in the afternoon, so our first stop was lunch at the restaurant of the rorbuer (fishing cottages) in town. We chose the regional fish cakes, a specialty of the hotel. Fish cakes in Norway have a rubbery consistency. They aren’t like crab cakes, or salmon croquettes, on the inside, regardless of their preparation. The normal cooking makes them hot, but they seem somehow uncooked. These were different because they were pan-fried rather than the street food, which seems sort of poached, or boiled. We agreed that the cooking method was an improvement. So the sautéed version was a happy departure.

We took our happy departure from the restaurant and walked a kilometer or so to the path that took us close to the rocky hills where the puffins nest. We were told that the puffin population was very low this year. I asked a couple that was heading back from a visit to the mountain whether they’d seen puffins, just as a formality, assuming that the answer was “yes.” It wasn’t, surprisingly.

The path was described as “rough” in the cruising guide, and there was mention of a rope. Art’s interpretation was “Oh, they probably just mean that there’s a little barrier so that you don’t get too close to the puffins.” Mine was “Oh my god, we’re rappelling again.” We were both wrong.

The rope looked like a handrail, but it was actually a necessary tool for pulling ourselves up the last third of the path. There were times I had to leave its security, because the path was simply more than arm’s-length away. There was a point when I didn’t trust myself to stand and walk, so I climbed on all fours. There was some moaning. I distracted myself by dreaming up innovative ways for Art to pay for making me do this.

On the mountain, black dots were flying about, but the puffins were no closer to us than the rubber duckies we’d been seeing from the boat. And they were in flight, so they were harder to see. Occasionally, though, one would fly in our vicinity, and the silent mountain made it possible for us to hear the flapping of its wings. For a little tyke, that sound was loud. It was a whoosh, the sound of a fan, or the jet engine for a plane that’s the size of a puffin.

The day had warmed considerably, and the sun was welcome. We relaxed on a rock and listened for tiny jet engines. When we’d had our fill, we returned to the hotel for a cup of coffee and back to the ferry for our return trip. When we got back to the boat at about 10:00 PM, it was still as sunny as any spring afternoon.

The constant light was affecting my circadian rhythms. Most nights, we closed all of the curtains and blacked out the overhead hatch in the aft cabin to dull the light to make it possible to sleep. I can fall asleep at night in any situation: light, noise, sitting up, no problem. I can’t nap, but nobody sleeps at night better than I do. Art’s a great napper, but he needs the illusion of nighttime when it’s nighttime. But if I wake up and it’s always light, I lose all sense of how long I’ve slept. On this night, I awoke to morning light and looked at the wall clock. It was 10:30. Art was already up and doing something in the main salon. I’d overslept, but I felt refreshed and ready for the day.

Then I realized that it was still PM, not AM. I’d slept for a half hour. It was like being in a sensory deprivation chamber, except it’s the opposite. There’s a constant sensory experience of light, never with a bookmark of darkness to distinguish one day from another. Clearly I wouldn’t be a good candidate for the space shuttle. Especially if it required climbing.

We were moving on, towards Rørvik. The morning was bright and so warm that I took off my long underwear as soon as we left the dock. That turned out to be a little bit optimistic, though the skies stayed sunny and that makes all the difference in Norway. We motored all morning and took a leisurely downwind sail, once we selected a destination that was an anchorage, and there was no need to rush to arrive there.

The anchorage was called Sørgutvika, a place so protected that we barely saw the entrance before we were on top of it. A gray-beaked puffin – maybe a juvenile – paddled around the deep outer harbor. A heron loped about in the inner harbor, alive with the cacophony of seagulls. Though there were fewer than a dozen homes in sight and on the surrounding mountains, a ferry stop stood grandly at the entrance. Around the harbor was a microcosm of our season: tourists clad in sleeveless linen walking a dog onshore as I unzipped my parka for harbor, fishing boats at rest at their boathouses and on moorings, the inhabitants of two recreational vehicles fishing with rod and reel at a fish house. Adjacent to the muscular fishing boats, the recreational fishermen looked hopelessly underpowered for the task.

There were light winds the next morning, but we had all day to go fifty miles, so we loped along under sail. The clouds looked ominous all day, but we escaped rain, and the air was cold but we were dressed for it. A rainbow stretched across two islands like a suspension bridge, muted pastels against the gray-black of the sky behind it. In late afternoon, we pulled into Bessaker harbor, a tiny town with the prerequisites for a bad weather stay: a guest pontoon, a restaurant, a grocery store, and Internet access.

Just outside the harbor, a wind generator farm overlooked the very sea whose floor made Norway the second-largest oil producer in the world. Why would Norway, with its tiny population and efficient oil technologies, have so many wind generators in service? Because they have a national policy that promotes sustainable energy. Norway’s fuel prices to its inhabitants are the same as in the rest of Europe, so they foster the kind of conservation efforts and new technologies that are prevalent elsewhere in Europe. There’s something sort of virtuous about that.

I have nothing to tell you yet about Bessaker, because we haven't even stepped ashore.

Love, Karen (and Art)