Archive for May, 2009

Day 141. Kiberg to Vardo

Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Distance 12km | Time 3hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 141.1 Rounding Kibergneset in uncharacteristically benign weatherIt was sunny when I woke up 0700 and it looked like the wind had dropped off. I got up immediately and started on breakfast. The tide turned at 0900 and started to flow into the fjord again. I wanted to be going round Kibergneset at slack water so had to be single-minded with the packing. Jon got my drift about the tide and moved quite quickly also.

We eventually set of at 0900. The weather was much improved. Most noticeable was the temperature which was about 5 degrees. It was almost warm after the last bitterly cold days. The wind had also dropped off to a force 3, if even that.

We paddled out of the harbour and rounded the southern end of the peninsula. The sea had a large swell, which was a bit confused but otherwise it was benign. As we paddled north to Kibergneset the swell got larger but it was still benign. We were lucky. This is the most Eastern mainland point in Finnmark, and indeed Norway and sticks out into the Barents Sea creating some strong tidal currents. When the weather is bad this can be a fearsome place.

At the point itself I sported a couple of puffins. It was the first time on this trip I had seen these comical, but tough, little birds. I hope they are the first of many as they brighten up even a grey day.

The huge golf ball listening station in Vardo soon came into view. Vardo was built on an island lying of the east coast of Varanger. It is further east than Kibergneset point even. Despite its remote location on the small island it has an excellent harbour. People have exploited this for centuries and Vardo claims to be one of the oldest towns in Norway dating from the 13th century. This is difficult to imagine today in a town with a diminished fishing industry and high unemployment.

Day 141.2 Jon paddling ahead in the big swell towards VardoIt was about 9 km from Kibergneset to Vardo. The whole journey was broadside to the swell which was at times very big. Only occasionally would one of the crests of the wave break and this would just be a small white cap. By and large it was a bumpy but easy ride. Jon and I would frequently be out of sight of each other due to the swell.

As we approached Vardo there must have been a tidal current running west to east across the south of the island. This current ploughed straight into the incoming swell and made the waves much steeper with more frequent and bigger white caps. This only lasted for a km and then we were into the sheltered bay on the south side of the H shaped island with the houses in the middle.

Day 141.3 The Promomuseum in VardoI went to collect my packages and Jon went to find out about the Hurtigruten ferry. The town seemed very quiet and everything was closed. Someone told us it was a holiday, namely Ascension Day, and everything was closed. May in Norway is one long string of holidays; perhaps more than a Japanese worker gets in a year!

I did manage to find out the rudder parts had still not come to Vardo and it was the only town the post office was not duty bound to deliver the 24 hour service in 24 hours due to its remoteness. I did locate the flares however only to find out they were the wrong type and were huge and impractical. I returned them at once to the office and will contact Kirkenes for a refund and draw a line under this time wasting exercise. As regards the rudder I will just have to squander the good weather and pick it up tomorrow. I will probably take it and fit it when the weather deteriorates sometime as I can see it taking a while. I could not even do any shopping for provisions for the next leg as all the shops here were closed. Because of all this I found a cheap hotel room and took that until tomorrow. It pains me to squander good weather.

Jon decided to take the Hurtigruten to Tromso so after a burger we carried his boat to the quay and then when the ship arrived a 1600 we carried it on. It would take about 30 hours to get there. Jon was good company and very easy and laid back. It had been good paddling with him over the last days and seeing some of the north Norwegian towns and villages with him. Hopefully I will catch him up again sometime on the coast south where he will probably be sitting in front of a huge fire on some beach.

Day 141.4 Kittiwakes nesting on purpose built ledges on the museum in VardoAt the hotel I did some cloths washing and wrote the blog. It was a friendly place with a few Americans who were working at the gold ball radar station. It seemed to be the biggest employer in the town now. Although Vardo is an island it is now connected to the mainland with a 2 or 3 km tunnel under the seabed.

Today had been a great paddle, followed by frustrating events. This is why I am insistent on quality and reliability as it is so difficult and time consuming to repair things when they break. I am not sure if Smart Track rudders fit the bill, but will reserve judgment until I see what their customer service is like. Luckily I had Bjornskayaks in Tromso to help me out on this problem.

Day 140. Skallelv to Kiberg

Wednesday, May 20th, 2009

Distance 29km | Time 10hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 140.1 Looking past some dring cod towards the final headland of the dayWhen I woke at 0300 the tent was flapping a bit. When I looked outside I saw the wind was a force 3 or maybe 4 from the north east. Unfortunately this was exactly the direction I wanted to go. Still I could make an early start and I should get a little help from the outgoing tide for 3 or 4 hours. With a bit of luck I hoped to make Vardo.

By the time I had breakfast, dismantled the camp and packed everything into the kayak it was already past 0500 when I set off. It was a bitterly cold morning at zero degrees with a force 4. I wrapped up well today with two leggings and four tops under the drysuit. I tried the neoprene gloves but the wind chill soon froze my fingers so I put the poggies on and pulled the balaclava down.

It was a slow paddle along the coast as I slowly clawed into the wind. My speed was just 3 km an hour. This first bay had an enormous amount of Eider ducks collected together in a raft. As I approached the whole raft took off. There must have been at least 200 of them.

Rounding Komages point and heading north to Komagvaer brought me a taste of what to expect for the rest of the day. The point itself was quite choppy with at least half metre waves most of which were breaking or about to break. It must have been the ebbing tide against the easterly wind.

It was an uninteresting shoreline with very shallow land sloping up from the coast. The waves made it more interesting but it was becoming a wet ride and it was still zero degrees. I stopped just after Komagvaer on one of the beaches each side of this hamlet. There was a fox foraging on the beach and a sea eagle. This was the first of about 10 sea eagles I saw today. Most were perched on an outcrop or pillar of rock observing the world go by and hoping for something to scavenge. Their distinctive stance makes them appear more vulture like in profile.

I continued slowly up the coast towards the point of Langbunes. Jon said he was camped here. After a while I saw his kayak and tent and went over. It was a boulder beach so I did not land, but we shouted a few words over the hiss of the surf. I said I was going on to Vardo. Apparently it was already 1000. I assumed Jon would take a sickie today.

Day 140.3 A Golden Plover in the village of KibergLangbunes is a small peninsula and I had to round it. At its point the waves were now a good metre and quite a few were breaking. The water was sweeping up the desk and then spraying into my face and chilling it. The wind was now a force 4. To the very far east there was some rays streaming through unseen gaps in the cloud but everything I could see was overcast.

After Langbunes point I got some shelter in the bay where I did not have to fight that hard to make progress. However soon enough the bay ended in another point which I had to battle round. By now I reckoned the tide had turned and I had both the wind and the tide against me. The waves seemed to be getting bigger at each headland. The next bay was Kramvik bay.

I paddled into this bay and beached the kayak on the sand. I needed a break and to make a couple of phone calls about the rudder. As I beached I noticed there were sea eagles to my west and reindeer on the beach to my east. To complete this Arctic scene there were large drifts of snow down to the beach and some chunks of ice washed out of the river.

I made the calls, had lunch and set off to Kiberg where I would rest again before the final intended leg to Vardo. As I got to the peninsula of Kramvik I saw Jon come crashing through the waves. He was enjoying it and the baggage loaded on the decks did not seem to hamper him. We waved but we too far apart for talk. I tried to keep up but he was on a mission and blasted in to Indre Kiberg Bay and landed. I got there a few minutes later but indicated I would go to the next bay and the village of Kiberg.

I paddled out of the gusty, but flat, bay toward the large waves at the headland. They seemed bigger than anything yet. There was an island which I could sneak through the inside of through a channel. The other side of the channel was mayhem. The waves here were two to two and a half metres and every second one was breaking on top. I went crashing through getting water sweeping into my chest. After a couple of 100 metres I was through and could aim for Kiberg breakwater.

This two km was hard as the waves were still two metres, but only a few were breaking. It was probably a force 4 still. The kayak kept turning away from the wind and waves in a vaning (as opposed to cocking) action despite me having the skeg right up. The resulting paddle was a near continuous set of sweep strokes to keep broadside to the weather and head to Kiberg. It was almost impossible to turn into the whitecaps when I saw them coming. This kayak definitely needs a rudder.

I finally pulled in to the harbour sheltered by the breakwater. It was calm here. It seemed to be high water. I calculated that to set off now to round Kibergneset point would have meant quite a big sea about to hit an ebbing tide. The result would have been big, steep, breaking waves. I was not keen, especially as I had already been paddling for 10 hours. So I beached the kayak.

I went up to the only shop in the village of some 100 houses and found a cheap room. I sent Jon a message I would stay here and hope he would enjoy the run into the village through the two and half metre waves. A fisherman chatted with me in the shop and say it was best to wait until tomorrow on a flowing tide and lighter winds as forecast. That clinched it.

Jon arrived quite exhilarated by the last section and decided to take the room. We unpacked the kayaks into a wheel barrow and took everything some 400 metres to the simple lodging. It had a lounge with tables and kitchen and it also had showers.

Day 140.2 a view across some of the harbour at Kiberg with one of the wharfsIn the evening I went for a walk through the village. There seemed to be an air of decay here also. There were some 20 houses on the road to dereliction and everything needed a coat of paint. On the wharf one of the sheds roofs had collapsed. It had the air of a village in decline.

It had been a good day despite the weather. I was getting a lot of confidence in the stability of the kayak especially with the final seas today. However I just had 29 km to show for a lot of effort. Having my hands in poggies all day and the state of the sea mean I didn’t take and photos until I reached Kiberg.

Day 139. Skallelv weather and rest day

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

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

Day 139.1 The estuary at Skallelv and some buildingsI woke at 0630 after a good sleep in the tent. However there was the sound of drizzle on the tent. When I looked outside I realized it was a very light hail, a kind of frozen drizzle. It was perhaps zero degrees and the wind was still a good force 3 from the north east, exactly the direction I wanted to go. It did not invite me out of the tent and I went back for what turned out to be another 2 hours sleep.

At 0830 the situation was the same. It was bitterly cold in the wind. I checked the weather forecast and it pretty much said it would remain like this for the day. I could easily have paddled in it but it would not have been pleasant and the coast would have gone by very slowly indeed. In a hard 6 hours I would have probably made it to Kiberg and 9 to Vardo itself. I was not keen to paddle, but to stay in the tent would have felt like I was taking a “sickie”.

I waited until midday and it was still the same so I decided to take that “sickie”. It would give me the opportunity to try and figure out how to use the basic functions on the GPS and rest my shoulders which had not been too taxed since Skogoyvaer.

In the afternoon I went for a walk around the village. There were perhaps 40 houses here but only 20 seemed to be lived in. the remainder were either now just holiday homes used for the weekends and holidays in the summer or simply abandoned, a couple were even derelict. Indeed the village had a feel of decline to it.

The estuary which was on the south of the village carried the ice cold water down from the interior to the coast here. It must have brought huge amounts of sand in its time as there were extensive beaches on both sides of its mouth. There were lots of old sheds along the bank but many were derelict. There were also large chunks of ice still from the very recent winter.

Day 139.2 A whale skull in a garden at SkallelvThere were some interesting things in the village. In one garden I spotted a whale skull. I think it was from a minke whale sized whale. The blowhole was clearly visible in the top of the skull.

The sea was scattered with the occasional white capped wave, but most of all it still felt chilly in the north east wind. I was glad I was on land and reasonably well wrapped up as I made my way back to the tent.

Day 139.3 The small quaint church at Skallelv was Spartan and Calvinist insidePassing the church I had a look inside. It was very Spartan with simple painted benches as pews and very little other adornments. A vestibule was stacked with a jumble of chairs. It gave the impression that the remainder of the congregation here had come to accept that this community was moving to the larger towns and it was only the old who were left.

Back at the tent I got a phone call from the helpful Bjorn of Bjornkayaks and he had dispatched an entire footrest and peddles assembly to Vardo by express post, together with a couple of tools I needed. It would get there tomorrow before me. What service! In addition the nomadic smoke flares had now been retrieved off the Bugoynes bus and are on the Hurtigruten ferry to Vardo also, and they too will be there before me.

I wrote the blog and then had an early supper and bed time. Hopefully I will be able to sleep after the lazy day today. Naturally tomorrow I intend an early start as the weather forecast is good for Thursday when I hope to set off north from Vardo to travel along the exposed Osthavet coast.

It had been a lazy day. Perhaps I needed one but had not really earnt one.

Day 138. Ekkeroy to Skallelv

Monday, May 18th, 2009

Distance 24km | Time 6.5hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

Day 138.1 Possibily Stints on the intertidal shore line along EkkeroyI got up at 0730 and started breakfast straight away. Jon was not far behind. The weather was still overcast and the north east wind was still blowing but it seemed to be more of a force 3 now. After breakfast I went to try and pay the cabin owner but he would not accept. So I volunteered to move about a ton of rubble into a tractor bucket, which he as an 78 year old would have struggled to do. He was very pleased.

This took about an hour and he then drove the tractor off. Meanwhile Jon was packing his huge pile of belongings. I took the opportunity to find some more foam and cut it to shape and fit it into the kayak footwell as a footrest. With all this faffing about it was not until 1130 that we were finally ready to go.

There were a lot of older houses here and some derelict remains of German occupation. Apparently the Germans had not burnt Eastern Finnmark when they retreated but destroyed the bridges. When they reaches Tana they destroyed this bridge also, over a large river. Then the order came to burn Eastern Finnmark to slow the Russians but the bridges were destroyed so the Germans could not re enter Eastern Finnmark and it was spared.

The tide was still coming in when we set of and had about 2 hours to go so we would have the wind and tide against us. Initially however we went round the south side of Ekkeroy and so was quite sheltered. The south side of Ekkeroy was a bird colony of some 20 to 50,000 kittiwakes. They were nesting everywhere it was steep enough to afford some protection from the marauding weasels and mink which would steal eggs and chicks. As the cliffs were striated there was plenty of nesting opportunities.

Indeed it was not only weasels and mink but also humans who collected the eggs and Jon met someone with a whole bucket of them last night. The black back gulls used to nest here but they moved off to the island of Lille Ekkeroy when the weasels and mink got too numerous.

Day 138. 2 The kittiwake colony on the striated cliffs on the south side of EkkeroyWe paddled into the wind under the cliffs with all these birds quietly observing them. There was a lot of courting and mating going on and many squabbles. At the east end of the Ekkeroy, which is connected to the mainland by a sandy isthmus with a road, was a sea eagle. It flew off as soon as it saw me. There were also numerous small sandpiper type of birds which I think are Stints along the shore pecking in the wet seaweed

From Ekkeroy we crossed the bay to the fishing hamlet of Krampenes. The wind was a good force 3 directly against us. I paddled slowly to wait for Jon who had much wind resistance on his decks. After some two and half hours we pulled up on the beach for lunch. We found a sunny spot out of the wind.

Day 138.3 The hamlet of Krampenes with its bright houses and almost redundant fish drying racksKrampenes was a typical hamlet of this coastline. It had some 10 houses each painted different colours and each surrounded by an array of sheds. There were some drying racks here with a few cod drying on them but it seemed fishing as a profession had pretty much died out here.

I was concerned at the slow progress I had been making over the last few days and decided to push on and leave Jon to potter along at his own speed. He was on tour to photograph, write and saunter along the coast while I had more of a mission and was faster in my more suitable kayak. So we said goodbye on the beach.
Jon is planning to skip much of the north and will probably go to Tromso and start again so I might catch him up. I hope so and he was good easy company.

I set off straight into the force 3 heading towards Komagvaer. I had the tide with me now but it did not compensate the wind. As I went down the coast it got quite choppy with waves of almost a metre. The kayak performed well in them and sliced quietly into them. After 2 hours I reached the point of Skallneset.

The wind was not abating at all and it was slow work clawing myself into it. I decided not to cut over the bay but to follow the coast north. It would also show me how well the kayak performed with the weather coming sideways. The waves were only a metre and very few were breaking but the kayak rode them well without any hard chined surprises.

I saw another eagle as I went past a couple of derelict looking houses near the shore. There was then a long bay of sand and mostly cobbles which went the 5-6 km all the way to Skallelv. The wind was still a good force 3 and I decided not to struggle into it for another 3 or 4 hours to Komagvaer, but just to camp here. I felt fine but it was already 1800.

Day 138.4 Approaching the village of Skallelv amidst a bleak backgroundI paddled up the small river estuary and then beached the kayak in fresh water. I carried everything up in one go and then returned for the kayak and carried that up. Within an hour I was in the tent with the stove going. My feet were freezing as they had been wrapped in my wet wetsuit boots all day and despite 2 socks and the drysuit were numb. The temperature was around zero

I made a couple of phone calls about the rudder but only managed to speak to a kayak dealer in Tromso. He was Bjorn of Bjornskayaks. A more helpful person one would be unlikely to meet. He would send a whole peddle system for the smart track rudder by express post to Vardo which could even arrive before me. Payment would be sorted out later with the UK. Absolutely marvelous.

I then started to cook supper and write the blog. I was refining the seating positions and writing and uploading procedures and things were getting easier by the day as I got to grips with it.

It had been a cold windy day. One of many I am sure. Progress was limited by the late start and the headwind. The scenery apart from the cliffs at the bird colony was really quite bleak. It must have been a hard life to fish from these hamlets for previous generations.

Day 137. Bugoynes to Ekkeroy

Sunday, May 17th, 2009

Distance 24km | Time 5.5hrs | Ascent 0m | Descent 0m

day-1371-our-host-in-bugoynes-in-the-traditional-nordlands-bunad-ready-to-celebrate-17-mayI did not get to sleep until 0100 last night due to writing. It was difficult to keep track of time as it was light all night. So this morning I did not get up until 0830. It was an absolutely stunning morning with a reasonably calm sea lapping at the golden sands below, blue skies and a warm bright sun. It is east to see how this place can attract tourists in the summer.

There were a few things I had to attend to on the kayak. The seat needed moved and I had to borrow an Allen key. I had to grease the zip on my dry suit and cut the neck seal back by at least 2 cm, and I had to find a replacement footrest as the polystyrene was from a fragile fish box and was falling to pieces. In the end I went back to my foam paddle float and a foam mattress until I spot something more substantial on a beach. All this took a few hours. It was difficult to hurry in the fantastic weather and setting.

It was also 17th of May which is Norway’s National Day. Norwegians are very patriotic. Not in a sinister or aggressive way but in a very comfortable way. They have a strong sense of belonging to the country and are justifiably proud of it and their place in it.

A lot of preparation goes into the 17th of May but one thing above all is a spring clean. Winter has gone and the gravel on the pavements, the litter uncovered by melting snow, even leaves and twigs in the garden has to be tidied up. The whole country gets a polish in the weeks before, with gangs of school children helping to collect litter and the fire departments hosing down the streets.

Once the country is clean then the flags come out, the Bunad, or national dress, gets unpacked and the country is ready to celebrate liberation from Sweden in 1905 after centuries of Danish and Swedish domination. Brass bands march, there are various parades, everybody is in a good mood and a fair amount of alcohol is drunk. This year the flag waving will be extra vigorous because Norway just won the Eurovision Song Contest the night before and it is a competition which Norway still takes seriously.

day-1372-crossing-the-varangerfjord-to-vadsoOur 17th of May was going to be on the water. I was going to paddle with Jon today across the fjord and up the coast towards Vardo. We were ready to go at 1130. I was horrified at how much stuff Jon had. There was way too much to go in the boat so he had 3 bags on the deck. It was not possible to paddle the approaching Osthavet, Nordishavet and Lopphavet coasts with such baggage. The wind and waves would blow one off course and rip it off. Today though there was no such problem and it was peaceful, quiet and sunny day.

day-1373-jon-crossing-varangerfjord-with-the-south-varanger-coast-in-the-backgroundThere were a few eider ducks when we came through the small collection of islands and started across the Varangerfjord. The town of Vadso on the other side looked much closer than the 13 km it was. It also looked a large town, like Kirkenes. We headed to the east of it and the village of Kiby. The view ahead was of the flat snow covered Varanger peninsula and was quite tame compared to the view to the south. Here I could look down the dark rugged coast broken by deep fjords. It looked like a postcard and a lot more impressive than when I paddled it on my first day.

After some two and a half hours we finally beached on the sandy but small beach at Kiby for lunch. A guy from Vadso came and chatted with us when he saw the kayaks as he did a bit himself. Foolishly I forgot to ask him on a recommendation to camp in some 20 km. We set off again around three with the skies darkening and the forecast north west breeze beginning to blow.

Despite the wind directly against us which must have been a good force 3 we made good time. The tide was still going out and it made up for the headwind so we still kept a speed of around 5 km. My kayak sliced through the water cleanly and I was pleased not to get facefulls of spray. Jon, with his decks piled high struggled a bit and I pulled away.

day-1374-possibly-a-flock-of-purple-sandpipers-searching-in-the-intertidal-zoneI passed numerous small coastal hamlets, all had brightly coloured wooden houses and were surrounded by bleached sheds and small racks for drying fish. Most had a small beach or bay but no real jetty so launching days would have been limited for fishermen here. As I paddle close to the coast I saw a large flock of Purple Sandpipers (I think) and various groups of smaller waders which I assume were Stints. Otherwise birdlife was quite poor.

As I approached the island of Ekkeroy, which is connected to the mainland by a narrow spit of land with a fantastic beach on it, I thought it best to wait as the wind was up to a force 4 now. I pulled into the harbour at the village on the island. It had a huge wharf built on logs and sticking out into the bay. It looked old and traditional. Jon was only some 10 minutes behind and it was nearly 1800. We decided to stay rather than continue for another 2 hours to Krampenes.

day-1375-approaching-the-old-wharf-and-fishing-works-at-ekkeroyWe pulled the boats up, and unpacked them onto the wharf. It seemed the buildings were hibernating waiting for the tourist season to begin in mid June. Then they would open again as a café, restaurant, museum and what looked like a bunkhouse. Nothing was open. There were a few cabins in the village and we knocked on a door. Yes he had a cabin we could have cheaply. It was a perfect alternative to a tent on this cold windy evening.

I got myself sorted out and started on the writing straight away at 1900 to get it out of the way. I was finished by 2100 and could then enjoy the evening.

It had been a good day. The 24 km was not that impressive at all however and with the weather set to deteriorate in a couple of days I felt I had squandered a few hours. Still I had had a nice morning in the charming Bugoynes and a nice paddle. Ekkeroy was a nice place to stop.