Archive for May, 2009

Day 146. Berlevag weather and rest day

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Distance 0m | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 146.1 Fish is the lifeblood of Berlevag and here are large tubs of newly landed haddockWhen I woke in the morning the flags were flapping wildly in the wind. When I went out to have a closer look I could see I was not going anywhere in the near future. The harbour was full of small breaking wavelets and if I peered through the gap between the arms of the breakwater I could see some large breaking waves. It was not a morning to cross the difficult Tanafjord.

I went for another walk about town and down to the fishing wharfs. A boat had recently landed its catch of fish. Cod is the mainstay but occasionally they migrate away from the vicinity in the summer and it is more sensible to fish for other species. In this boats case it was haddock. There were 6 large tubs of it with at least a ton in each tub.

These fish were caught using longlines. Each long line had perhaps 1000 hooks and a number of baited lines were set out. The lines were left for a few hours and then retrieved later. Nets are also used but apparently many fishermen prefer the longlines as they are not so indiscriminate in their catch and spare the fish which are not ready to catch yet. This long sighted approach is rare and commendable in today’s world.

After the walk I went to the museum. It had all manner of artifacts but was perhaps not quite as good as the amateur collection the old Sea Lapp had at Byluft on the south side of Varangerfjord which I visited some 3 weeks ago. What this museum concentrated on was the breakwaters.

Without the breakwaters Berlevag would quite simply not exist. Its harbour is fully exposed to a north easterly wind. On a few occasions when there was a fishing boom in the late nineteenth century storms pulverized the whole fishing fleet assembled in the bay.

It was decided to build the breakwaters over 100 years ago to allow the easy access to the rich fishing just off the coast at Berlevag. However the water was deep and the breakwaters had to be about 700 metres long each.

For the next 75 years the people of Berlevag built the breakwater with a pause for the German occupation. After the war the construction project continued in earnest. A 5 km railway was built to bring massive rocks from a quarry to the breakwaters. Huge concrete blocks were also cast to line the outer walls. However a storm in the late 1950’s shown the construction to be too lightweight to withstand the huge waves, some 8 metres high, which flung the 25 ton blocks about and punched holes in the arms.

day-14Day 146.2 Some 10,000 tetrapods line the two massive nreakwaters in Berlevag-some-10000-tetrapods-line-the-two-massive-nreakwaters-in-berlevagBerlevag then used a French idea to line the breakwaters. These were tetrapods; a four legged, 25 ton block of concrete. The tetrapods not only locked together but their shape dissipated some of the wave’s impact. The concrete foundry now switched to making these and over the next few years produced some 10,000 25 ton tetrapods. In the 1970’s the breakwaters were finally finished. At their base on the sea bed they are over 125 metres wide with only the 25 metres showing above the surface.

It really was an impressive project which was undertaken by this small community to ensure its survival. Its legacy has been to encourage a strong community spirit, pride and confidence which give the town and its people a strong character epitomized in its friendly people, successful choir and well kept buildings.

Even during the German occupation Berlevag was a thorn to the occupying forces. When they retreated the Germans took revenge in burning the whole town flat. Not even the church was spared; which was usually the case. The cranes used to build the breakwater were also destroyed during this time.

When I returned to the tidy comfortable pensionat the wind was increasing. A few bins were blown over and small gravel was been whipped up into the air. The flags were cracking in the wind. The harbour was quiet with none of the fishing boats setting out.

The weather forecast predicted the weather would calm down around 2200 and then remain passive for about 15 hours before it started to blow again. Then the wind would return with a vengeance for a few days with a minor storm forecast. The weather forecast was usually spot on and I was starting to trust it.

I had a few hours to kill until 2200 so went to the library and then to the pub for a pizza. At 2100 I returned to the pensionat. The wind was indeed decreasing rapidly and the flags were hardly moving and by 2200 they were completely still. I decided to go for it and started packing. I set off at 2300.

It had been a nice relaxing cultural day. However I think I had really done all I could in Berlevag and another 3 days here would have seen boredom set in.

Day 145. Berlevag weather and rest day

Monday, May 25th, 2009

Distance 0km | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

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, 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.

Day 144. Makkaur Fyr to Berlevag

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

Distance 45km | Time 8.5hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 144.1 Makkaur Fyr lighthouse lies on a wild exposed coastI had a good sleep. When I woke at 0700 I got up to start paddling but the weather had changed. It was pouring sleet and rain. The shed gutters were spewing out huge amounts of water. There was just a slight breeze. I decided to write up yesterday instead of setting forth in this miserable weather. Perhaps by the afternoon things would get better. The advantage of paddling up here in the Arctic is that is can set off when you want without regard to limited daylight.

I grabbed another hours sleep before I had breakfast, the same old staple of syrup covered roasted grain and powdered milk. It is much tastier that porridge. The rain and sleet showed no sign of stopping so I started the writing. It took a couple of hours and I was done by 1100. The weather was improving as I wrote and when I was done there was just the odd shower. I took a small hike up to the lighthouse to have a look around. It was a very solid stone building with the rotating light in a short tower.

By 1230 the weather had improved sufficiently to start packing and begin. There was a sea eagle perched near my kayak which disappeared as soon as it saw me. As soon as it was airborne a raven went out of its way to go and pester it. The huge eagle was no match for the fast and acrobatic raven and retreated out of the bay with the raven still harrying it.

I adjusted the rudder slightly to try and bring the rudder controls on the peddle forward more, which meant tensioning the wires more. Then I slid the half loaded kayak on wet logs to the thick layer of sea weed near the waters where I could drag it. The tide was starting to come in and as I packed the last I was afloat and it was about 1400.

Day 144.2 The days journey with the spectacular Vesteneset in the middle distance and Kjolnes in the far distance above the bowThere was a slight breeze against me and the tide was also against me. It was not like the north shore of Varangerfjord where I felt I was paddling in treacle however and I made reasonable time. I quickly made the entrance to Batsfjord where there was still a lot of snow. I did not go into the fjord but just cut across its mouth for 2 hours to reach the point of Vesterneset on the other side. Here there was still a current against me despite the fact the tide should have turned. The wind had by now completely disappeared and the sun was out. It was a glorious day again.

Day 144.3 The spectacular cliffs at the Eastern entrance to Kongsfjorden by VesternesetVesterneset also marked the entrance to Kongsoyfjord, more of a large open bay with a few islands than a classic fjord. It was known for its rich marine life and even coral and it a diving location. The eastern entrance to this bay was very dramatic and looked like it was off the front cover of a Tolkien novel. A dark,wet, smooth, rock towered what seemed like 200 metres almost vertically with the occasional needle and spire which had resisted erosion. I was going to land here but there was no chance. It was still sunny but there were clouds quickly forming on the Berlevag peninsula on the other side of the fjord.

It was about 15 km across the fjord here to a dark prominentary on the other side near Nalneset point. I decided to make for this and set off at once. The clouds gave me a bit of urgency and a light wind soon started to push me. It addition I think the tide must have changed also as I was making about 8 km per hour for the first hour. By then I was half way across and could see if any bad weather was arriving I would make the other side before it reached me.

Day 144.4 Halfway across Kongsfjorden with Nalneset point below the prominentaryThe second half of the journey was much more sedate. There were many puffins here and I think they must have been nesting on one of the islands in Kongsoyfjord which was predator free. They were not forming huge rafts of a thousand or so but many groups of ten. Occasionally there were single ones. These would be the most curious and would almost swim towards me to investigate. I had my lunch here as I drifted through these groups.

It was only when I reached Nalneset that I noticed the tide. The surface of the water became glassy again as the wavelets disappeared and the large wallowing swell suddenly got steeper in places. I was carried round the point and into a bay called Sandfjord, which I could see had a huge sandy beach. I did not go in but crossed the mouth heading for the tower of Kjolnes Fyr lighthouse.

Day 144.5 Riding the tide  north to Kjolnes Fry lighthouse with dramatic clould overheadThe tide was with me here and I made good time along the coast. There was a little rain from the dark skies and a couple of squalls of wind but the tidal current carried me through all this and soon I was approaching the lighthouse. Away from the cliffs and mountains around Sandfjord the cloud vanished again and I was reaching for the sunglasses.

Day 144.6 Kjolnes Fyr lighthouse just 6 km from BerlevagKjolnes Fyr was a more traditional lighthouse. It was a tower built on a rocky spit. There was a road to it and the keepers houses looked in good order so it might have been manned still. There was not as much tide as I had expected or hoped and I had to paddle round the rocky spit. Once I was round it I could make out Berlevag quite easily. Beyond that I could see the Nordkinn peninsula. Between the two was Tanafjord.

I could have easily landed here but it was just another 6 km and with a clear glorious windstill evening and a slight current I thought I would just push on for an hour and not get to Berlevag too late to find a cabin. It was a very pleasant cruise along the coast for an hour and I was soon paddling through the gap in the massive breakwater which made Berlevag harbour. Just behind me was the MS Nordlys one of the Hurtigruten ferries. I had to sprint across the harbour to keep out of its way as it was closing fast.

I beached on the sand where the river entered the harbour and went up to the camping and pensionat. I had been in the kayak for eight and a half hours non stop, which is testament to its comfortable seat. There was a number to ring and it was only 2230. I phoned it and he had seen me come into the harbour. Within half an hour I had everything carried up and was in a very comfortable, well organized, artistically decorated, tidy and reasonably priced pensionat, with a super kitchen, nice showers and great washing machines. It was owned and run by a Swiss German pair.

I cooked a meal, had a shower, sorted my stuff out, put on a wash and crashed out at 0200. Tomorrow I was having a free day in Berlevag and it was also the weekly choir practice tomorrow which I wanted to see.

It had been another great day with clement weather and great scenery topped off by many puffins.

Day 143. Vardo to Makkaur Fyr

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

Distance 58km | Time 12hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 143.1 Just passing the headland of Blodskytodden on a grey morning with Harbaken prominentary above the bow in the distanceThe alarm went at 0300 and I got up at once and went to have the breakfast which was laid out. It had finished it just as the north going Hurtigruten ferry arrived at 0400. By the time I had packed up the boat and set off the ferry had long gone and it was already 0500.

As I paddled out of the harbour entrance the south east breeze started to give me a small push. Initially I went between the main island and Reinoya island. Reinoya is rich in birdlife and attracts many international birdwatchers, who sometimes see the rare migrant also.

The large swell of a couple of days ago has gone from three metres to one metre. It was coming from behind me, as was the breeze and as the tide was ebbing in the direction I was going. I was doing about 8 km an hour and if I sprinted about 12.

From the north tip of the main island I cut across the sound to the jagged grey rocks and boulder beaches at the point of Blodsyktodden. This was a rugged and wild coastline. On reaching the point the view across the open Persfjorden opened up with the rounded prominentary of Harbaken some 20 km across the fjord.

Initially I started to head across the fjord to a great rock edifice near Seglodden and then I was going to follow the dark rugged steep coast a bit before cutting across the fjord again to reach the once thriving and now abandoned village of Hammingberg and the Harbaken prominentary. However the conditions were so favorable to cut across the fjord I just set a course for Harbaken.

Hammingberg was a village which was abandoned some 40 years ago when Norway was poor and the government withdrew support for services like keeping the road open in winter and schooling. As a result people left and the 10 odd houses here now are summer cabins. It would not be allowed to happen in today’s Norway with its bursting coffers.

I had been in the kayak for 4 hours when I rounded Harbaken prominentary and headed for Skjavika beach. there were a couple of sea eagles having an ariel fight here with one no doubt chasing the other off it patch or partner. Also for the first time this trip I saw some seals here.

Day 143.2 The raised boulder beach at Skjavika looking out across the mouth of SyltefjordenIn the sheltered bay I found a spot to land and went ashore to stretch my legs and shoulders. This was at the bottom of a series of raised beaches, as indeed is so much of the coastline here. The land has risen many, many metres since the weight of ice sheet disappeared some 10000 ago years ago and the beaches formed at the then sea level were simply elevated. The current beach I was on merged with previous beaches into a long shallow slope of bare boulders and cobbles. It was strewn with drift wood and I contemplated a fire.

I had no water so went for a walk to find some however the whole landscape was so boulder strewn and porous, even in the gullies which came down from the plateau above, there was no chance of finding any. There was an old sea cave at the base of a cliff now far above the ocean.

Day 143.3 Crossing Syltefjorden with the gannetry of Sytlefjordstasuren in the cliffs on the centre leftOutside the bay was Syltefjorden, which is a steep sided inlet some 10 km across and 30 km deep. On its far and northern side is a long line of cliffs and buttresses. One of these was buttresses is separated from the rest by a steep chasm. This is Syltefjordstauren. It is a haven for sea birds as the steep chasm prevented any predators preying on chicks and eggs. It was about 20 km from me and even from here I could make out the paler coloured rocks which would be covered in guano or bird droppings. This bird colony is especially known for its gannets. Unfortunately visiting this colony would have been a considerable detour so I skipped it.

I headed straight over the fjord with the wind behind me and the negligible current against me. On the north side was a bay called Russevik which I had been warned was a rough place to land and poor place to camp. To the east of this bay was a headland called Syltefjordklubben, also with a prominentary on it, which I headed for. As I paddled the grey drab morning was replaced by an advancing curve of perfect weather which was nothing but blue sky and sunshine. It was still too cold to take the poggies of my hands though.

The trip across this fjord was fast and easy. The wind which was a good force 3 gave me an extra 2 or even 3 km per hour. All sorts of sea birds came to investigate me, especially gannets which circled above me, judging me with their piercing eyes. There were also quite a few puffins, Tysties and guillemots.

day-1434-the-wild-coast-from-syltefjordklubben-to-korsneset-with-the-stormollvika-bay-on-the-leftAs I went round Syltefjordklubben the swell and waves hit the flooding tide and this slowed them considerably making them much steeper. The momentum of the upper part of the wave carried them on while the bottom part slowed, so there were tumbling white caps everywhere. They were smallest near the shore where the current was less so I could paddle a less bumpy path here but had to remain vigilant for skerries which could suddenly erupt when a larger swell rose up on them.

Day 143.5 Stormollvika bay with the huge pile of boulders forming the km long beach.Once I was passed Syltefjordklubben and into quieter waters I headed along the coast and into Stormollvika bay. Here I found a sheltered spot to land and sneaked in. The steep beach here was a vast pile of boulders, it was km long and seemed to loom over me up to a height of 25-30 metres. If I camped here and the wind changed to north I would be stuck, imprisoned by huge dumping waves onto this unforgiving beach which would make short work of fibreglass. There was not a hint of that now in this quite glorious sunshine. For the first time since Bugoynes a week ago it was almost warm.

I lingered a bit on this beach but did not bother looking for water as despite the map showing a river I could not see one and assumed it was under the boulders which stretched for a good few ankle twisting kilometers. It certainly was a wild spot. I also wanted to stretch and wait for a while until the tide slowed otherwise the next headland, called Korsneset, could be bumpy as it was a bit more exposed than the previous ones. It was just across the small but remote Makkaur-Sandfjorden.

After another hours pause I set off and crossed this small fjord in glorious sun. I reached the headland quickly and the anticipated current and choppy water were almost gone. The tide must be turning and the water slack. I soon saw the lighthouse at Makkaur some 5 km along the coast. With the wind behind me still it look less than an hour to reach it. By now the sun had veered round and was almost in my face. It was so bright with its reflection from the water also I think you would get snow blindness without glasses.

Day 143.6 The Makkaur Fyr lighthouse with the wrecked bow of a ship hurled up the rocks in front of itOn the rocks below the lighthouse was the bow of a large ship. It was shocking to see just how high above the current sea the waves at the time had carried this massive iron edifice before smashing into smaller pieces. After the wreck I paddled into a bay where the lighthouse was. I would be able to get out here and I did.
The Makkaur Fry lighthouse was the lighthouse itself, two accommodation buildings for previous lighthouse keepers and numerous sheds. I had a look round and then prepared a meal in the shelter of a shed in the sun. my plan was to have a bite and a couple of hour’s siesta and then continue through the evening and night to Berlevag. I laid out the foam mattress and sleeping bag on a grassy patch and slept. It was just 1800 but I had been up since 0300.

The sun must have cooked me in my bag as when I woke at 2100 I was hot and confused. The wind was still in my favour, but the tide was just about to turn against me again. Suddenly the bravado of paddling to Berlevag disappeared and I decided to stay. I found a shed which was open and had a table and chair. It was rustic and mostly clean. I am sure no one would mind me sleeping here rather than putting the tent up. The whole lighthouse complex here was now automatic and unmanned.

I pulled the boat higher and took out a few more possessions from the boat and made a base in the shed. It was nice to be able to use the table and chair. In a way I was squandering a perfect paddling evening, but I had also just used a perfect paddling day to the maximum. There is no great hurry as the quicker I get to Oslo the quicker the paddle tour is over.

It had been a perfect day. Paddling paradise!

Day 142. Vardo weather and restday

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Distance 0km | Time 0hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 142.1 Looking east across Vardo harbour in the eveningThere was no hurry this morning as the shop and post office did not open until 0900. So I got up at 0800 had the hotels buffet breakfast with is spread of pickled herrings and then went down to the shop at 0900.

The rudder parts had not arrived as suspected but should come at 1100 when the next delivery arrives. I phoned the post office enquiries and they said it would definitely come at 1300. There was nothing to do but wait and hope one of them was right.

I then went to the Hurtigruten office to sort out returning the flares and was surprised to hear they had already gone on the north going Hurtigruten ferry at 0400. They would be in Kirkenes soon. I phoned Umex who sold them to me and told them they were on the way back and could I have the 1200 kroner back. It was in my account with half an hour which impressed me.

At 1100 I went back to the shop and post office and they now said it would be here at 1300 after the postman collected it from the airport. I bought food for another three days as I already had 3 days worth. The next shop was Berlevag and I hoped to be there well within 6 days.

I went for a wander around town. There were lots of shops which had closed down in the recent past. Some even had dated stock behind the dusty windows and peeling paint walls. It looked like someone just locked it a few years ago for the evening and never opened it again. Others were completely empty. In the main street there were about 15 shops still functioning and 10 closed or bankrupt shops. This place had obviously fallen on hard times, but people were optimistically hoping the Barents Sea oil pipeline would come ashore here if oil production ever started. Indeed a well known Norwegian businessman had started to buy large tracts of land to develop industrial buildings.

At 1300 I went back to the shop and post office and lo and behold the rudder parts were there. By the time I got back to the hotel and started to fit them it was already 1400. Not only had Bjorn of Bjorns Kajakks sent the correct parts but he also sent the tools to fit them and some silicon to make sure the screw holes were watertight. This was a tremendous service. It took me another 2 hours to complete the job. When I was happy with it I posted the old parts and the tools back to him. I am highly indebted to Bjorn for this service as Tiderace kayaks in England were just too far away to be effective.

I then started to investigate some water ingress into the cockpit. I thought it was through a porous spraydeck or down the rudder control pipes. However I found the cause was actually the almost hidden external seal between the cockpit and the deck. It had not been sealed. I used the rest of the silicon from Bjorn to seal it. As it was inaccessible I could not get the silicon nozzle to the joint and had to use my finger. It was a messy job but will hopefully do the trick.

The tide was half way out and by the time I set off it would be well out meaning I would have to paddle against the current up the coast to Hamingberg. The silicon did not have a skin on it yet and the spraydeck rim would stick to it and it threatened to rain soon. All these factors added up to staying another night in Vardo and leaving early tomorrow morning at 0300 with the falling tide and the northwest current.
After a delicious salted cod with bacon dinner, a local dish, I wrote the blog and then crashed out at 2300 with the alarm set for 0200. I could see the tide outside the window slowly enveloping the rocks as it came up the foreshore.

It had been a wasted day really. The weather was perfect for kayaking however I am glad that is the saga of the rudder sorted out and hopefully I have solved the water ingress into the cockpit also. It is Full Steam ahead now along a spectacular, but exposed, coast for about 125 km, to remote town of Berlevag and its famous male choir.