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Sunday, May 9, 2010, in Lillesand, Norway


Hi all. Well, we’re back and on the move. Here’s what’s going on so far:

It was starting to get pretty familiar to come back to the boat. Weather, too cold, check. Luggage, too heavy, check. Why did we need to bring 200 pounds of stuff to Sweden, which, it should be obvious, has just as many shops as anywhere else? We rented a car at the usual spot and barely needed the signs directing us out of Gothenburg Airport and onto the E6 towards Orust, where the boat spent the winter.

We’d arrived on a Friday. In a normal week, Friday afternoons are quiet at boatyards. Winter and summer, the workers come in early on Monday through Thursday so that they can get an early start on the weekend. Not this particular Friday, though. The boatyard was a frenzy of boat preparation. I don’t know what it’s like in the winter at Martinssons, but there��s probably a steady and predictable flow of work. But we’re never there in the winter (thankfully.) We arrive with the crowds in the spring, and we return the boat with the crowds in the fall. When we’re there, it’s always the moment that everyone needs their boat hauled that very minute or the moment everyone is ready to go sailing, all at once. The winter of 2010 was a problem; cold weather and snow compressed the spring season even further. As always, we worried that our boat hadn't been launched in time. As always, our fears were unfounded. Our boat was in the water, getting its finishing touches as we came aboard.

It didn't take us long to get out of town. We’d only been aboard for a few days when good weather beckoned and Art saw a window for crossing to Norway. We'd arrived on a Friday, shopped for groceries on Saturday, and eaten lunches out for half a week and our time in Sweden was over. Over and out.

Wednesday evening, we left the boatyard and motored down the channel to get a jump on the next day’s crossing. We anchored just off an entrance to the Skaggerak, for a quick getaway and easy access to the sea.

On Thursday, we left at about 5:30 AM in bright spring light. Every part of me was covered in layers: long underwear top and bottom, a turtleneck, a fleece, leggings and a parka. I measure the weather in hats, and this was only a two-hat day. I left my bank robber ski mask in the cockpit, just in case.

The anchor and chain were muddy, but hauling the anchor was the only task between us and our voyage. The air was cold and my BlackBerry's weather icon showed just below freezing in Gothenburg. We huddled under the cover that protected us from the winds behind us. The sea was flat and we motored westward.

The shining sun created a cockpit greenhouse. Every few minutes I'd unpeel a layer. By mid-morning, it was summer in the cockpit and we opened the cover for some air. The wind was behind us, and without the cover it would have been a chilly motor across. About halfway to Norway, the winds picked up enough that we could sail. The seas remained calm, and we arrived in Arendal, Norway in early evening.

A neighboring sailor took our lines to help us get docked in winds that were starting to get temperamental. Art selected a space downwind of the dock, which would protect us from the coming strong winds, but it would have been hard to get the lines secured on our own. Sailors typically do lend a hand for each other, but we never know what to expect when we’re traveling so early in the season. I should have known that this weather wouldn’t keep Norwegians from the marina. The resident on a power boat nearby was sitting outside without a shirt. I loosened the zipper on my parka.

There’s a big difference between a sailing day in spring and one that doesn’t work at all. The next day was sunny, but very windy. Just walking all around the docks was a balancing act, as the docks undulated underfoot and the wind tried to push you into the sea. Yet as soon as we got away from the sea and into the town, it was spring again.

Locals were still talking about the winter. We met a policeman who invited us to the going-away party for five veteran officers who were retiring. We chatted with him, and we spoke to one of the honorees. As with Scandinavians in all walks of life and nearly every age, his English was perfect. As is common, he had a child at a university in America, and another daughter married to an American and living in Norway. Yes, he’d been a cop his whole life, but he’d been in the US many times and was about to go again.

It isn’t hard to have conversations with folks you just met if you have a lot of weather to discuss. This winter gave everyone stories to retell. The river through Arendal had frozen a meter thick, about three feet. People who normally took their boats to work up the river had to find other ways around town. I shuddered to think about motoring to work in a small open motorboat all through Norway’s winter. I’m in a zipped parka and two hats in springtime. There was evidence of a boat casualty in the marina. A wooden boat didn’t survive the freezing and thawing, sinking in its slip and taking part of the dock with it. The remains were surrounded by a “boom”, which looks like a long swimming noodle in a circle around the area where the boat still lies. The idea of the boom is to contain any oil that might leak out as the boat disintegrates.

This was our third visit to Arendal, a town I like a lot. It’s big enough to support a mall. We know most of the shops by now; they’re in many of the malls in Norway and Sweden. The first time we visited Norway, we’d just picked up our HR46 in 2000. The boat was new; Europe was new; clearing in at Customs was new. We had gone to a street festival and eaten whale sandwiches.

The second time we visited was in 2008, after sailing along Norway’s west coast. Harbor after harbor had been a tiny fishing village, normally with a small grocery store, and slim restaurant pickings. The dollar was particularly weak, and Norway is expensive anyway. We’d struggle to find lunch for two for fifty dollars, and that would often be an omelette, naked, along with water. We couldn’t’ afford potatoes. The east coast is the resort area for Oslo, where many of the people live (there aren’t all that many to begin with.) So after months of village life, it was a joy to see malls, supermarkets, and restaurants with innovative salads and sandwiches. Lunch was still fifty dollars, but at least it was fun. For this trip, we’ll only be visiting the fun part of the coast. And the dollar is a little stronger, so maybe there are potatoes in our future.

On this visit, we didn’t need to accomplish much. The two hundred pounds of unpacked luggage and the grocery trips in Sweden filled up our boat storage and our refrigerator, so we couldn’t buy more if we tried. We just couldn’t pass up picking up some prepared dinner items from Meny, our favorite Norwegian supermarket.

After a day in port, the weather was good for a short trip to Lillesand, about twenty miles south. We left at leisure and sailed right away, even though the winds were light. The trip took most of the afternoon and the winds subsided just outside of Lillesand’s harbor. We could no longer hold the course under sail, so we motored in and docked in a marina still filled with boats wintering in the water. As we walked to town, we noticed another oil-containment boom framing a now-empty slip.

While Arendal is a suburban, year-round town, Lillesand has a Martha’s Vineyard sort of appeal. The main street is lined with shops selling embroidered accessories and art objects. The restaurants along the harbor were serving beer to tee-shirt-clad locals who were delighted that spring had arrived. Farther into Lillesand, there are two supermarkets, but they’re a fraction of the size of the Meny or other markets in larger towns. In any case, we expect a quiet visit: a resort town, off-season, starting with a sleepy Sunday.

We’ll be taking our time around Norway, as there are a lot of extra days built into our schedule until we need to be in Scotland. Write and let us know how you’re all doing. Happy Mother’s Day to all.

Love, Karen (and Art)