Archive for May, 2009

Day 151. Gamvik weather and rest day

Sunday, May 31st, 2009

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Day 151. Gamvik church was rebuilt after the war to its landmark statusIt was only a force four in the morning but the forecast was for it to increase up to a force six later in the day and increase to a force seven in the evening. After breakfast I went for a walk around the town as it was dry.

There was a lot of activity around the church. The church itself was rebuilt after it was destroyed in the war. It is something of a landmark on it small knoll and was indeed the first thing I saw in Gamvik after the hard paddle across the Tanafjord.

The reason for the activity was that not only was it Sunday but it was Whitsun or Pentecost Sunday. This commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Christ. This is one of the important weeks in Norway for confirmation ceremonies of young teenagers into the church. It seemed there were a few confirmations at Gamvik church today.

As I walked around Gamvik I noticed that it was not as run down as some of the other towns and villages in Finnmark. Generally the houses were well painted and there was some pride in the gardens. The fish processing plant looked a mess though and it reflected the fact that Mehamn some 20 km down the road had all but taken over.

I also saw some leaves for the first time this year. They were on the only trees which were tough enough to grow here, which was the scrub willow. Even the hardy mountain birch did not survive this far north. The vegetation at sea level here is the same as about 1400 metres in Jotunheimen.

I went for an evening walk also got back to the house with the wind increasing as forecast. When I looked at the updated forecast I saw that Tuesday was looking like it was going to be the first day I could move with northerly winds of just force three. Later in the week it looked unsettled again. I hope to move on Tuesday as I could get depressed waiting here in the grey windy weather despite the comfort of the house.

It had been a dull day.

Day 150. Gamvik weather and rest day

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

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Day 150. The three boats which operate out of Gamvik harbour is a fraction of the operation at Mehamn or BerlevagI woke in the morning with the house shaking in the gale. I looked out of the window at the sea. Despite the fact the wind was westerly and going offshore I could see many white caps as the waves left the shoreline. It must have been at least force 8. There was no point getting up too early as I was going anywhere again.

After looking at the weather forecast for the next days it looked very unlikely I could go anywhere for the next three days. This was also how long the only shop was closed for as it was a holiday weekend, so I had to get the provisions for my weather break. Having got them I went back in the gale to the house and made myself at home.

I spent the day reading about the early Norwegian, Russian and Finnish settlers and watching television. I went for a small walk but it was driving rain and not particularly pleasant outside. As the day wore on the wind slowly dropped off but it was still a force 4 in the evening with another gale expected in the morning.

It seemed that Norwegians moved up the coast from Nordland and Troms in the early 1500’s and settled on the coast beside some of the Lapp communities. Many of these Norwegians were fishermen which followed the cod north from Lofoten in the spring season. Sometime later came Russian fishermen also who arrived initially to fish. However the Russians realized there were many items they had which they could trade, like timber, flour salt, wool in return for fish and furs. This was the beginning of the long Pomor trade which saw many Russians settle on the Finnmark and Nordkinn coast. This trade continued right up to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917.

From the late 19th century onwards Gamvik, the now deserted Omgang, and the rest of Nordkinn became important fishing centres. Svend Foyn invented the harpoon and established a whaling station in Mehamn. There were fish traders from all over Norway arriving to buy fish after the Pomor trade ceased. Much of the fish was dried into stock fish making it easier to export. This continued until well after the Second World War when Gamvik started to lose out to the better harbours of Mehamn and Berlevag.

There was even a small copper mine at Omgang but it never amounted to much and was abandoned before the second world war as the deposits proved to be marginal.

Just north of Gamvik is Slettnes Fyr lighthouse. It is situated on a peninsula renowned for waves and currents. It is a 100 years old and was rebuilt after the war when the top half of it was blown up by the retreating Germans. Surrounding the lighthouse today is a nature reserve primarily for wading and coastal birds.

In the evening I cooked a simple smoked cod meal and once the bad weather had put an end to the television reception I went to bed at 2300.

It had been a tedious day and I was starting to get bored.

Day 149. Gamvik weather and rest day

Friday, May 29th, 2009

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There was a gale when I woke. The skerries just beyond the harbour were covered in white explosions as huge 3 metre waves crashed onto them. Somehow there was a large stone cairn on top of the skerries, which must have been there for decades yet had not been hit by the waves which would have destroyed it in no time.

There were frequent showers, some of sleet, which got carried in on the gale force winds from the north. The flags in the town where cracking in the wind. It was no day to go kayaking. What worried me was that the weather forecast showed no respite for days.

I spent the morning and midday preparing and sending a mailshot to some 600 email addresses while sitting in the guesthouse café watching the rain lash the windows and occasionally pausing to watch the waves crashing onto the skerries. This was done by 1400.
I then went to the Museum again. There were settlements in some coastal regions in Koifjord, which I crossed 2 days ago, which go right back to the Mesolithic era (12000 to 6500 years ago) and stone tools, especially of quartzite, were found near these settlements. These settlements continue into the Neolithic era also (6500 to 4000 years ago) where there are more extensive finds of kitchen middens, stone constructions for reindeer hunting and stone storage chambers. These eras are the Middle and Late Stone Ages respectively.
In the Bronze Age (4000 to 2500 years ago) and Iron Age (2500 to 1500 years ago) metal, antler and bone tools became more common and some ceramics were used. The houses in these metal eras also became smaller suggesting people were becoming more mobile as they moved about exploiting different resources at different seasons. However, there is very little from this era found on the Nordkinn Peninsula compared to the earlier stone ages and it seemed the earliest people moved elsewhere.
In the Medieval Period (1500 to 500 years ago) most of the settlement in the region seems to be Lapp. They combined fishing and farming. There are some Lapp labyrinths here from the end of this period around 600 years ago. These labyrinths are close to Lapp grave sites and one can guess they were used for ritual purposes. There is not much history from this period until the Norwegian and Russian traders and fishermen arrived around 400 years ago. I will write more on that later.

The owner of the guesthouse was going away for the weekend and I was the only guest at the guesthouse. As the weather forecast showed no improvement until after the weekend I took a room in a house for up to a few days. This house had three rooms for rent but I was the only one staying there. It had a full kitchen and living room with television. It was also incredibly cheap. I could wait out the forecast gales in it, rather than in my tent. I needed good weather for the next stretch round the Northern Capes, and would be stuck here until this queue of low pressures in the Arctic Ocean had passed, in a few days hopefully.

It had been an easy relaxing day where I did much paperwork and a bit of cultural research. The house was very comfortable and I could easily spend a few days here if need be while the gales blow.

Day 148. Gamvik weather and rest day

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

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Day 148.1 The waves crashing into the harbour did not invite me to go kayaking round the exposed northern tip of EuropeThe forecast today said it would be unpleasant. I did not even need to get out of bed to confirm this in the morning as I could hear the wind driving the rain against the window. It was a strong south easterly wind of certainly force seven, maybe even eight. It was also high tide around 0800 and the small breakwater was taking a pounding with every wave crashing into it sending plumes of spray into the air.

I had breakfast and then went to check the kayak. I had pulled it quite high up but a combination of low pressure and this easterly wind could have caused the sea level to rise another metre. When I got there I found the water had not been far off. I hauled it up another two metres in altitude and placed it beside some upturned boats. It was still full of everything so it was well weighted down for the forecast storm this evening.

I then wrote the blog while looking out of the window. Sometimes if the weather is just on the brink I feel guilty I am not out in it. There were no doubts today. It was a churning cauldron on the skerries outside the harbour. By lunch time I was up to date and then went to the shop and café to have a look around. That did not take long!

Gamvik also had a museum and I went over to it in the afternoon. The museum was the same as Byluft or Berlevag, but had some better displays. One of the more interesting was some details of settlement in the region since the ice disappeared some 10,000 years ago. There have been archaeological remains found at a number of locations in the area dating back to this time. Even since the war there have been some significant demographic shifts with some previously important settlements like Omgang, beside Tanafjord, not being repopulated after the war.

In the evening as predicted the wind swung round to the north more and then increased. The frothing mayhem on the skerries now was very impressive with waves which were apparently 3 metres high crashing onto the rock. I ate the same smoked cod supper as I sat and watched them out of the window.

Sometime after the meal the wind increased again and was up to a force nine. A forced ten or storm was expected later tonight with 4 metre waves at sea. This weather will leave a legacy for days to come with a large swell even if the weather becomes stable. Unfortunately the forecast is not for stable weather but for poor weather for a good few days yet. I might have to move from the guest house to a flat for a few days.

I was a dull, cold, wet day with only the spectacular weather and the museum providing the only real interest. There is more I can say about the areas’ history and wildlife, but I better save something for the next days.

Day 147. Berlevag to Gamvik

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

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Day 147.1 Looking across Tanafjord to the line of cliffs on the east side of the Nordkinn plateau half obscured by the swellI had been watching the weather forecast all day. It seemed there was a weather window of quieter weather from about 2300 onwards for a few hours before the southerly winds returned. After that the forecast made grim viewing with a small storm predicted in a couple of days. If I wanted to leave Berlevag it had to be tonight. By 2100 the flags in the town were hardly flapping anymore and by 2200 they were limp. I decided to go and after packing the kayak pushed of at 2300.

As soon as I was out of the harbour I met the northerly swell which had been building in the strong wind all day. The tide would be out in an hour but there was still a westwards ebbing flow, which would help me some of the way and hinder me the majority of it. The swell was massive with huge rollers coming out of the north. Some must have been a good three metres. With the lack of wind however they were smooth.

I decided to keep out of the mouth of the infamous Tanafjord and make a bee line for the north edge of the fjord on the west side at a place called Omgang. This way I hoped I could keep out of the worst of any wind or tidal streams. It was about 25 km.

The first part of the trip was down the coast along a coastal plain to the base of the steep Tanahorn mountain. By the time I reached it I was already a good few km offshore to the north, of it and could start to peer into the opening of the fjord. On the far side, now some 20 km away was the Nordkinn peninsula. I had a great vantage point to its classic plateau shape from here. It was a 300 metre high flat table top still covered in a fair bit of snow. Hanging from the side of this plateau like a curtain was a vast wall of cliffs.

The swell continued to come in from the north as I started across the fjord proper. There was a slight wind from the south east as forecast and this would help push me along. I was cruising over the fjord at 7 km per hour. It was not until I got to about half way did I start to relax and get a bit less apprehensive about being surprised by weather.

Day 147.2 Looking north at midnight where a slither of cloud blocked a view of the midnight sunThe sky was clearing the whole time and when I was halfway across there was hardly a cloud in the sky. Unfortunately there was just a slither of it in the north so I could not see the midnight sun. I just see its glow on the clouds.

Day 147.3 The Nordkinn is still a fair distance across the infamous TanafjordJust after half way I noticed the wind which was a force two was now a three and had swung round to the south more. I was closing in on Omgang which was at the northern end of the base of the cliffs on the far side. I assumed the tide had turned by now and was flooding into the fjord and against the wind.

The more I paddled towards the base of the cliffs the more the wind increased. I still had about 4 km to go now and it was a force four. This worried me as there were numerous white caps everywhere, especially ahead. I think what was happening was the south east wind was being blocked by the huge line of 300 metre high cliffs which was channeling it northwards. The closer I got to the base of the cliffs the greater the funneling.

The last 3 km were hard. It was a force five with the waves nearly a metre high and breaking frequently. From the north the 2 metre swell was still continuing to pile in being carried by the tide. The tide itself was flowing into the fjord now and was causing the waves to become yet steeper. I paddled hard with a constant eye to my left to see when the larger waves were coming. The left side of my face was getting regularly showered in cold spray and my poggies were filling with water. It was about 0300 in the morning and the tide flowing into the fjord must have been going at full bore.

147.4 A rest in the shelter of the small harbour at Omgang after crossing TanafjordAfter nearly an hour of powerful paddling I was at last getting through the worst of it and only had about half a km to go when I started to get some shelter from the southern wind and waves behind a prominentary. I was now out of the worst of the tidal flow. The hissing of the breaking waves and the wind slowly diminished until it was almost quiet. I then paddled into the small protected bay at Omgang to relax as the last 3 or 4 km were a hard fight. Had the wind strength gone up to a force 6 (12 m/s) I would have been at my limit.

I can now see why Tanafjord is not to be trifled with. There are geographical features which funnel the wind and increase it two or three fold, not least the steep cliffs. I was also told about the high wedge of Digermulfjellet mountain ridge which splits the fjord into two arms further down and this helps to accelerate any southerly winds. In addition there are the tidal currents which are at times quite considerable as inner Tanafjord is a large body of water which gets filled and empties every 6 hours. On the sea charts it is marked as an area with dangerous waves.

147.5 The lighthouse at Omgang in the early morningOmgang was a relief. It was almost pastoral with 3 or 4 small cabins on a grassy peninsula. When I arrived 3 sea eagles took off and started circling. Sea eagles seem to be very wary and take to flight as soon as they spot humans. There was also a flock of about 20 reindeer near the beach. I wandered about stretching my legs and walked over to the small lighthouse before setting off again. It was about 0430 now.

Just to the north of the lighthouse at Omgang there was a strong tidal flow heading east. This was flowing straight into the larger swell coming from the north east. I had to tread a path through here avoiding the places where the swell was slowed so much it broke. I also had to paddle hard to make much progress. Slowly as I pulled my way up the coast here for a km the current diminished and I started to make progress.

The coastline of Koifjorden here was rocky with the occasional boulder beach. Beyond that were undulating hills covered in stones. There were a few valleys coming down from these hills. Down each valley came a strong wind and I again had to struggle up the coast. I could not go too far in as the northerly swell was breaking all the way along the coast here. There was a continual roar and many plumes of spray as the wind whipped the top back off the breaking crests.

147.6 Looking backdown into the windy Koifjord from the sheltered entrance to Gamvik harbourHaving already felt exposed once in the wind this morning I was reluctant to cut across the open Koifjorden directly to Gamvik so followed the mentioned coastline for almost two hours until I approached some islands. I then headed north and with the force four wind behind me. I made quick time surfing the not quite metre waves for 8 km towards the landmark of a white church in Gamvik.

Gamvik was small with a population of just 200. It did however have a guesthouse in a large old wooden building. I spotted it as I came through the small breakwater and headed over. I got there at 0800 but the owner was already at work. His daughter phoned him and arranged a room before she headed off to school.

I retrieved the bare minimum from the kayak had a shower, drew the curtains and crashed out. I did not wake until 1730. When I got up the owner was back and we chatted. He was a nice and knowledgeable guy and prepared a tasty simple smoked cod meal. In the evening I watched the one football game a year probably worth watching. I then wrote the blog after this and did not get to bed until quite late. The weather forecast for tomorrow and indeed for the next few days is poor with gales and even a small storm so I will probably be here for a few days.

It had been an exciting day, or night rather, and I felt I had been tested a little. The kayak felt very good and performed well, but the rudder controls felt sluggish.