Day 145. Berlevag weather and rest day

Posted by: James on May 25, 2009

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Day 145.1 Older style fishing boats and a wharf in Berlevag harbourI had wanted to spend a day in Berlevag for a few while and it was good fortune it coincided with the fact I had had two longer days paddling and my shoulders would appreciate a day off. I had a lie in and did not get up until 0930.

There was then the inevitable writing and website updating to attend to and this as usual took longer than expected. I was not really finished until 1400. By this time I had also a full wardrobe of clean cloths again.

A couple of people came to the door to chat about kayaks and kayaking, including Bjornar and Arnt. They both lived in Berlevag and had recently started paddling. They also were involved in the Berlevaagnytt.com, an online newspaper for the Berlevag community. We chatted a while.

After that I went to the Fishermen’s café for a late lunch. Unfortunately I was the only guest there and it was very quiet. I went exploring Berlevag afterwards.

Berlevag lived entirely from the sea. The two massive breakwaters allowed the port to exist and the Hurtigruten ferry to dock. Without these the Hurtigruten would not stop and the fishing harbour would be much smaller and more vulnerable to the weather.

Berlevag was ideally placed to exploit the very rich fishing waters of the Barents Sea. The mainstay was cod. There are two type; the less travelled fjord cod which seems to spend much of it time in the fjords like Kongoyfjorden and the migratory cod. This latter type is the more numerous and is larger. It spawns in around Vestfjorden in Lofoten in the winter months and then travels up the coast during the spring. In the summer it goes out into the Barents Sea and then returns to Lofoten area in the winter to spawn again. This is an over simplification off course.

There is also rich fishing for haddock and recently the king crab. There used to be a large lodde, or capelin, fishing industry here also but they have been over fished to dangerously low levels. The demise of the lodde population has consequences for many other species as this small salmon type fish provides nutrition for cod and many other larger fish like herring.

The harbour here seemed a busy place with boats queuing up to land their catch and take on vast amounts of ice for the next trip to sea. Along the wharfs were many small fish processing plants where the catch was packed to be shipped off. When I was there a boat with many tons of haddock was being unloaded.

Berlevag is famous for its male choir. Indeed two films have been made about it. The choir has also travelled quite widely. I was lucky as Monday night is choir practice. I managed to track a member down and he invited me along to the hall for 1930.

I turned up as the 20 odd members arrived. They were big men and looked more like an ageing rugby team, with many beards and shirts with the sleeves rolled up. They were probably the lifeblood of the community. They seemed interested in my trip and most chatted with me. They were a very friendly confident bunch. Before they started one of them introduced their foreign guest and there was applause.

The choir was led by Odd Frantzen. He was a very dynamic and energetic. Apparently one day as an adult he woke to find he could not walk anymore quite suddenly and needed a wheel chair. It could be his energy and passion which led to this choir becoming so successful. During practice he was very precise and picked up on the slightest errors.

Day 145.2 Choir Practice with the members of the famous Berlevag Mens ChoirWhen the choir started it was a magnificent sound. Enough to send shivers of awe down the back of any self respecting Welshman. These were powerful voices. Odd Frantzen despite being in a wheel chair had probably the most powerful and finely tuned male voice you could find. It was a privilege to listen to them practice.

After the practice I went to the pub for a pizza and a beer. There were a couple of the choir members went along also and I sat and chatted with them. There was the endless discussion about when it was best to paddle over Tanafjord with reference to tides, wind and wave direction. Once thing was clear and that was Tanafjord was not a fjord to be trifled with.

I went back to the very good value for money pensionat and looked at the weather forecasts again. It seemed tomorrow morning was windy but tomorrow night was feasible. After that the weather deteriorated for a good few days and I would not be going anywhere for the latter half of the week with gales forecast. It would be good to get to Gamvik before these gales arrived.

It had been an interesting day and I had enjoyed my rest. The highlight was undoubtedly the choir.

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