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Sunday, May 18, 2008, in Bergen, Norway

Hi all. We’ve made a lot of progress in one week, about a third of the sailing we’ll need to do to get above the Arctic Circle. Our plan is to get north as soon as we can, weather permitting, and mosey our way back down for the rest of the summer. We’ve been daunted a little bit by the knowledge that our northernmost destination of Bodø had some snow a few days ago. Well, here’s what we did this week.

We left the HR dock at 4:30 AM on Monday, ready for a long crossing to Norway. The weather was ideal for sailing: lots of daylight for an early start, strong winds behind us, and low seas, considering the wind. After motoring out of the Ellös harbor, Art hoisted the jib for our downwind journey. We were dressed for cold weather, and needed every item of clothing that we had on.

I had long underwear, top and bottom, a turtleneck and leggings, a fleece shirt over the turtleneck, fat socks, and a ski jacket. Art was dressed similarly. We both wore gloves meant for snow skiing, and we each sported three hats. The outside hat was a wooly watch cap standard for sailing. Next in line was a Patagonia-style bonnet with thick insulation. Our innermost hat was a ski mask that covered our heads in some space-age warm material, with little air holes at the mouth, and a little beak at the nose. We looked like Alaskan bank robbers.

The sail was spirited. I would have been happy to have more clothing on, if it had been at all possible. I’d taken some seasickness medication, and slept for a good deal of the morning. After I emerged, we’d each find reasons to go below, and tried to thaw out a bit while we were out of the air. Lunch wasn’t exactly restful. Each of us found a place to hunch over, brace ourselves, and consume something. Neither of us bothered with a beverage. The seas were behind us, but they occasionally were ten feet high, and disruptive to walking around down below. Art was happy to be sailing. I was happy not to be seasick. But it wasn’t the pleasant sailing experience of postcard photos.

We’d thought about visiting Mandal, a port on the southern coast of Norway, but decided instead to anchor short of there and head out again in the morning. By the time we anchored in a quiet cove called Uvar, Art had already seen a forecast of very calm winds in the morning. Normally, such a forecast wouldn’t necessarily inspire us to travel, but there was a section of Norway’s coast to contend with nearby. This cape was extremely unpleasant in northwest winds, and that was the forecast as far out as we could see, on every day after the next day. We decided to press on.

Again, we began our trip at 4:30 in the morning. Days in Norway are long in mid-May, and we were determined to get as far north as we could before the longest day of the year. We’d be traveling the same coast on the way back, so we didn’t worry that we’d miss some fantastic city on the way north.

On our second day at sea, the winds were calm and the sea was virtually still. Though the air temperature was probably about the same as the day before, the absence of wind made the air feel nearly as warm as our days in Sweden had been. By lunchtime, Id peeled off nearly an entire winter wardrobe and was left in a turtleneck and leggings over my long underwear. I even had the gall to take off my socks. I felt as though I could be headed for a beach. Art was less buoyant than I was, as hed always rather sail than motor. As the day progressed, it didn’t look like we’d be able to sail at all. But a current was with us, and we managed to cross some miles off our cruise itinerary.

Just before we approached Stavanger, our destination, Art pointed to the tops of mountains in the distance, which were covered with snow.

The main harbor of Stavanger is an hour’s ride through channels. Stavanger, like all western Norway ports, is an oil center, and large cargo ships were strewn around on both sides of the channel. We entered the tiny visitor’s harbor, and barely found enough room to pull up alongside the dock. During the summer, boats would dock fore-and-aft to moorings laid in the middle of the harbor. We’d never fit under those circumstances. We wouldn’t have fit even now if a powerboat hadn’t been willing to move slightly to give us room to squeeze ourselves into the rest of the quay.

Stavanger was enjoying some recognition in 2008 as the designated European Capital of Culture. I only knew one thing about Stavanger before I arrived, because I’d seen a television documentary about some public art called “Broken Column”. By the British artist Antony Gormley, the work comprises twenty-three statues of bodies (cast from the artist’s own body). They began their display on the beach, but now they’re all over town, one at a time. They’re in a museum, in shops, outdoors, and one is in a private home. Each sculpture is placed 1.95 meters (the height of each statue) below the one placed before it. Thus the column, which covers the area, is broken. So I was delighted to see that one of the statues, in fact the flagship one, peered over the harbor where we had just docked.

It was already evening, and the quay was filled with Norwegians enjoying a beverage in the spring air after the workday. We didn’t leave the boat, and had a quiet dinner and welcome sleep.

We arose reasonably early, though not as compared to our previous two 4AM days. It was time to enjoy Stavanger. A swan was asleep, curled into itself, at the head of the harbor. Steps leading from the statue led into the harbor. I learned later that those steps had been built for the ducks that lived in town.

As we stepped off of the boat, I was greeted by two young men, both wearing overalls of red, with the bib down. The legs of their overalls were scribbled with permanent marker. I said hello to them and asked about the pants. They were high school students, in their last weeks before graduation, and everyone in the class wore these pants and had their friends sign them, like we did with pictures in our yearbook (a concept, incidentally, they’d never heard of.) I told them that it was like signing the cast on a broken leg, and they acknowledged that Norwegians do that, too. They gave us business cards, another tradition of high school short-timers. These cards have their photos on them and some text as well. One card’s text was in Norwegian, and generally incomprehensible to me. The other student’s card said “love is in the air”, which I understood. We walked with the students back to their school at the cathedral up the street, and they explained about the blue overalls and the red overalls (determined by course of study), and the various unusual sights that we might see. Indeed, we saw the first one moments later, when we watched three young women walking their pet fish on leashes outside the school. These were real fish, who were clearly not amused by this tradition.

We walked through a neighborhood of brightly colored houses to find the oil museum by the harbor. The building itself is designed to resemble an oil platform. Oil is the mainstay of the economy in Stavanger, as for each of the port cities on Norway’s west coast. Norway is second only to Saudi Arabia in oil exporting. The museum was sleek, informative, and structured. Though it was evidently funded by oil interests, much of the controversy about the industry was openly addressed: the danger to employees, the destruction of habitats in oil accidents, global warming, and the dilemma of what to do when all of the oil is used up.

After lunch in a French-style café, we walked back through town toward the boat to visit Norway’s oldest cathedral, a large Gothic/Norman building first founded in 1125. Fire destroyed a good deal of it in 1272, but it was restored, and has been changed very little over its long lifetime. The cathedral’s patron saint was St. Svithun, who was canonized in the ninth century. His arm is reputed to have been one of the cathedral’s original relics.

The interior of the cathedral is beautiful and haunting but relatively spare, with paintings of notables who were dressed as if posing for the Dutch Masters. A beautiful stained glass window shimmered at the front of the church. Carved and painted wooden objects were all around.

Our final sightseeing visit for the day was to check out the canning museum. Before oil, the economy of Stavanger ran on sardines. Stavanger was once home to half of Norway’s canning factories, and one of the largest of them was turned into a museum. At first glance, it appeared that the factory simply closed up in place and a few signs were put around the room. But it became apparent that the infrastructure was in place specifically to demonstrate the entire process: how the cans were made, how the sardines were smoked, how management watched the operation. The second floor had exhibits of the charming labels that were affixed to the cans. These labels often became collectibles and were traded by children like baseball cards.

All day, we’d stop back at the boat for one reason or another. One reason I’d had for two days was that my BlackBerry hadn’t worked at all for data since I’d arrived in Norway, and my admittedly small reserve of patience was wearing very thin. Apparently neither of the two service providers in Norway who had roaming partnerships with AT&T was willing to take me on as a customer. I’d stop back at the boat to communicate with AT&T using email, or Skype, or simply to check the email accounts that I could no longer see on my device. Finally, finally, email started to arrive. It had been a long two days for me.

Our last errand was to look at a marina on the other side of town. We weren’t optimistic that we’d be able to find room in Stavanger during high season. But the marina on the other side didn’t look very promising either, and its location was inconvenient for a visit. We’d need another plan.

It was time to leave Stavanger for Bergen. The next day would be a good day for travel, and after that, there was weather we didn’t like as far as the forecast could see. Also, we wanted to be situated somewhere to celebrate Norway’s National Day, which was in two days.

It was another 4AM departure for us, without much wind. Still, the air got very cool in the morning. Weather forecasts in this area always look odd to me. I’m used to forecasts that sound like “morning: 40, afternoon: 55, evening: 50.” In Norway, it’s more likely to be “morning: 40, afternoon: 50, evening: 55.” The late-day temperature is always the highest of the day because the sun is up so long, yet the morning is always really cold. So it was pretty cold, even though we’d been in as many layers as we could muster. But by nine AM, it got so balmy that I could take off one of my three hats.

We motored out of the harbor and into a protected channel up the coast. There was a ten-mile stretch that was offshore, but there wasn’t much wind and the seas were calm. It was no problem for us to stay out of the way of the many commercial boats, probably supporting the huge oil industry, that cover the west coast of Norway.

An AIS system onboard that works with the VHF radio can show us large vessels in the area, and give us useful information about them, such as how big they are and when they will hit us if we don’t move away. Art was taking a short nap when I spotted an oil rig in the distance. Somewhere near the rig – which for some strange reason wasn’t on the chart -- AIS showed me that there was also a large commercial vessel that was coming at me at nine knots. I simply couldn’t see that boat. But I kept having the strange feeling that I was making fantastic progress at approaching the oil rig. By the time Art woke up, we were close to the rig. Close enough, in fact, that I could see the hint of a bow wave in front of it. That rig wasn’t shielding a boat. It was the boat. Now I’d seen everything: a portable oil rig.

The scenery got taller and prettier, and more snow-capped. It began to occur to me that we’d be seeing fjords in the near future. The weather changed hourly. When it was shady in the cockpit, or the wind blew by, we’d put all of our polar clothing back on. When the sun was out, we’d shed layers.

By the time we approached Bergen, it was foggy and a rain fell as if we were being sprayed by a mister. It was no surprise to find precipitation in Bergen; it’s the wettest city in Norway, with 275 days of rain a year. It was a surprise to see absolutely no space in the large town harbor for us. We should have known that we weren’t the only boaters that might want to celebrate National Day in Norway’s second largest city. And for once, we hadn’t established a backup plan, a place to anchor not far away, in case we couldn’t find dockage. It was already about 8:00 PM and we were soggy and a little cold. We really didn’t want to have to leave Bergen looking for shelter that time of night. But the harbormaster came to our rescue, finding us a spot on a nearby commercial dock. He told us to find the tall ship and dock behind it. And there was the stately white Statsraad Lehmkuhl, one of the tall ships. And we’d be its short neighbor.

We tied up with the friendly help of crew from the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, put up the canvas cockpit cover that we affectionately call “the house”, and thereafter got bombarded with a soaking rain, perhaps just to validate our decision to get settled in as soon as we did. It had been a long day. I didn’t even have the energy to cook an easy meal, but I certainly didn’t have the energy to leave for a restaurant. Somehow we each cobbled together a dinner that worked for us, did some of the tasks that had been building up on our lists, and went to bed.

I’m not going to tell you about Bergen yet. I’ll save it for next week. Hope you’re all doing well and that you’re warmer than we are.

Love, Art and Karen