Marlow Explorer 72E - "Azura"
Owners of "Azura" document their travels along the Swedish West coast to Norway and further on via the Lofoten Islands to the Polar Circle and the North Cape.
Hello MARLOW Friends,
Since May 01, we have started our second long sea voyage leading us along the Swedish West Coast to Norway and further on via the Lofoten Islands to the Polar Circle and the North Cape.
Our first leg lies already behind us – we reached Oslo, where we had already been in 2008. At that time, we took the Color Line ferry from Kiel and arrived in Oslo after one night of sleep. This time we are underway on our own keel and took it really easy. From our winter storage location in Rostock, we shortly touched the Danish village Klintholm and continued along the Swedish West Coast from Malmö to Strömstad. We saw all kinds of harbours from small picturesque beauties to townlike commercial harbours.
Also, the weather gods provided us with many facets of their broad repertoire. Springtime type weather with decent warmth, blue skies, and beaming sunshine alternated with autumn-like temperatures, rain showers, and strong winds. In Marstrand (Sweden), we could not even dock the boat in the harbour right away since the storm was too strong once we had finally made it the harbour master let us take off again since he was afraid of his swimming pontoons.
In Falkenberg and in Fjällbacka, we visited Swedish friends and spent some wonderful evenings with them. Also, the first guests of our 26 passengers in total have already contributed to a permanent change onboard. In Oslo, we met our Norwegian friend Gunnar who not only reserved a wonderful docking place for us in Oslo but also lead us through the festivities during the National Holiday on May 17. Later he spent some days with us onboard our AZURA as well.
Beate and Martin, who had accompanied us from Gothenburg to Oslo, went back to Kiel with the MS „Color Magic. “After two days of togetherness with Jutta, we have taken new guests on board who will accompany us from Stavanger to Bergen. There we plan to arrive at the end of May, and among other things, we will see the Canadian „Cirque Eloise“ on tour in Norway. Hopefully, we do not get more wind…
Best regards until our next report,
Jutta & Thomas
MY "AZURA“ (MARLOW Explorer 72E)
The sun is shining on us while we say “Good Bye “to Oslo in front of the spectacular opera building. Our second leg will at first lead us South again through the Oslo fjord and then continue along the Southern Norwegian archipelago. Only from the most Southern tip of Norway near Lindesnes – I call it the “South Cape“ – we slowly start to climb up in the right direction: NORTH! Here the archipelago is almost gone, so we have a number of open and unprotected days in front of us. The irruptive strong westerly winds cause quite a bit of motion of the sea. Therefore not every section of our tour can be filed as a “coffee and cake event“ if that translates…
But there are always two sides to a coin. While we are seeking shelter, we reach the harbour of Flekkefjord, which otherwise would not have been on our list of destinations. We find a pretty sympathetic small town with strong Dutch influence from the past in the middle of a scenic mountain landscape. A surprise and high point for me and my second passion “railroads“ becomes the “Flekkefjordbanen“ – a wonderfully traced 10 miles branch line with about 20 tunnels cut into the rock by hand and a partly steep slope. The traffic was closed in 1990, but the rails were not abandoned. Today the whole track can be traveled by a gang car, which, especially in the pitch black, ice-cold, and water dripping tunnels, turns out to be some kind of a test of courage.
In the “oil metropolis“and “cruise ship city“of Stavanger, our next guests come on board. Also, the spare parts from China that have followed us from Oslo finally make it. These two small o-rings must have cost a fortune of logistics costs. Stavanger impresses us despite (or because of?) the Pentecost holiday with its deserted town center. At first glance, we believe in a vivid city until we find out that the crowds are not natives but cruise ship passengers. Once the huge ocean liners – we count five in two days – have left the harbour, the city falls back into a deep sleep.
Therefore we skip our scheduled “day of rest“and continue via Haugesund to the Hardangerfjord. Within one day, the landscape changes fundamentally from a flatter coastal structure to an impressive mountain environment. On the summit of these 1.200 to 1.600 m high mountains, we still have a lot of snow – and it keeps snowing. Also, in Norwegian terms, the year has been far too cold so far. This finally motivates us to a marvelous trip on to the Folgevonna glacier covered with ice and snow. After half an hour by taxi from Jondal through up to 25 feet high snow walls on both sides of the road, we reach the foot of the glacier at 1.200 m (4.000 ft) height where the ski lift is running, and snow is falling. In summer, athletes from all over Europe come here for training on the unique summer ski track – now we only find a bunch of well-trained young Norwegian nature-boys.
The weather remains a potpourri of everything. If you want to take pictures, you have to be alert and watch for the sun. Thus we still manage to get some interesting snapshots. The strong coastal winds do not do any harm in the world of the fjords, so the motion of the sea is not a topic here at all – at least not for our MARLOW Explorer 72. As we approach Bergen, our Danish friends reveal that it is raining there almost all the time. Therefore one says that the children in Bergen are born already with rubber boots on their feet. To underline this fairy tale, Bergen welcomes us with a heavy rain shower, which turns into a permanent rainfall later. Thank you so much – there was no reason to do this since we would have believed the story anyhow…
The old harbour of Bergen offers another surprise for us: it is completely crowded. After our recent experiences, we would not have expected this at all. In consequence, we cruise around for almost two hours, dock at the “Clarion Hotel“ and get chased off, talk to the harbour master several times and finally end up at the rotten pier of an office building. It is difficult to get on land; we have neither water nor electricity – but the most spectacular view of the old town of Bergen. The wooden Hanseatic core called “Bryggen“ has become part of the UNESCO World Heritage program since 1979. All in all, Bergen appears cultivated, vivid, charming, and juvenile to us – even the falling rain cannot damage this image.
On the next day, the weather – thank God! - remains dry, which motivates us to a trip with the mountain railway on to the “Floyen. “ From the top of Bergen’s house mountain, you enjoy a spectacular view over the city and harbour out to the open North Sea. To mark the occasion, a Jazz trio is performing on the summit with clammy fingers – just another set of nature-boys! While some of us visit the art museums dominated by Edvard Munch, we all watch the sensational performance of the Canadian “Cirque Eloize“in the Grieghallen. Norwegian‘s famous composer Edvard Grieg was born in Bergen and, for some years, conducted the “Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra“which just celebrated its 250th (!) anniversary. Bergen, for sure, is a highlight and will be very well remembered during our trip back.
Best regards until our next trip report,
Jutta & Thomas (at the moment in Maloy)
Our Norway tour remains a mix of fun and hassle with nature. Besides the windy, often cold, and rainy weather, the Atlantic ocean demonstrates in a still rather gentle manner that in case of emergency, it should not be taken lightly. Just the rolling free waves stand here all the time and seldom match with the wind direction. In those areas not protected through the Norwegian archipelago, this swell is already sufficient to change the easy and enjoyable atmosphere of sailing the fjords into an unpleasant event. We have a lot of respect for the elements, and we understand very well that in the main season, the Norwegian SAR is offering a convoy service for pleasure boats around the most exposed areas.
Even the big and apparently unshakeable coastal cruisers of the HURTIGRUTEN line stay in the harbor if the weather conditions become too rough – regardless of the timetable. In this context, it may not appear as a joke that Norway is planning the first tunnel for seagoing ships at the most dangerous peninsula of Stadlandet. Even freighters and the HURTIGRUTEN liners are supposed to pass through this gigantic construction. At a length of about one mile, a huge hole will be drilled through the rocks: 90 feet wide, 40 feet deep – and about 120 feet high. Construction is supposed to start in 2018 – the costs are estimated to roughly 150 m$. We have passed this section successfully already once but will have it in front of us once more on the way back…
Nevertheless, we have a reason to celebrate: for the first time, we have crossed the polar circle at 66°33‘55‘‘N. For your orientation: Scotland, the Shetlands, Faröer as well as Iceland and even Nuuk – the capital of Greenland – are lying south of us already. We are on the latitude of Alaska and Siberia now – it is only the Gulfstream causing a different climate in Northern Norway. We have never been so far up North – neither with our MARLOW Explorer "AZURA“ nor otherwise.
The growing distance from home is showing up in several ways. We are reaching the edge of the ASTRA footprint – a European television satellite. In harbors surrounded by high buildings or in the fjords with steep mountains, we do not receive a signal anymore. Also, our barometer, which gets the time via radio automatically from Frankfurt, has started to show strange numbers. It is not the battery as assumed first, but our distance is surpassing the range of the radio transmitter.
Also, the depth meter is demonstrating that we are not sailing the shallow Baltic Sea anymore. We are crossing extremely deep fjords with depths of more than 2500 feet. Although RAYMARINE is only guaranteeing correct data up to around 600 feet, the instrument is really doing a good job and has shown depths of more than 2000 feet already – according to the sea chart; this was also correct. Going North also the tide keeps growing. While in Southern Norway, like in Northern Denmark, there is almost no tide, we have reached about 7 feet by now with the North Cape forecasted at about 10 feet. Docking the boat is still no problem since most of the harbors are offering floating pontoons. But in some of the narrow fjords, the tide can cause strong currents and sometimes swirls.
Southeast of Bodö, where I have written this report, you find the Saltstraumen, which is the world’s strongest tidal stream. Every six hours with a speed of up to 20 knots, more than 4000 million cubic feet of water are pressed through the two miles long and only 500 feet wide sea gate between Saltenfjord and Skjerstadtfjord. The fast-flowing waters and huge swirls represent a paradise for anglers hoping for a quick success – not quite without reason.
Meanwhile, we are hoping for a soon weather change which has already been forecasted several times. According to the latest weather report, we can expect better weather in the Lofoten with temperatures around 55°F. Great - that would be twice as much as we are experiencing at this very moment…
Jutta & Thomas
LEG 4 To The North Cape
Our new crew from Bodö also brings better weather on board. We leave the harbor with the wind still somewhat fresh but under a blue sky and beaming sunshine. As soon as we round the Island of Landegode, the snowcapped summits of the Lofoten show up on the horizon. Grouped like in a semicircle, they lie widthways in front of us. With growing proximity, the islands emerge majestically from the Norwegian Sea as if somebody had taken up the Alpes and spread them back into the sea with the gesture of a sower.
For almost six hours, we are allowed to enjoy this marvelous scenery before we reach our next destination Honningsvaer. This small group of islands just off the coast and dominated by dried cod is pitched as the "Venice of the North“ – advertising seems to have its own laws. But the small fishing harbor is really cute, and besides some shops still, open on a late afternoon, it hosts a sensational fish restaurant bearing comparison with any superlative. If you like fish soup, reindeer carpaccio, whale steak (by the way counted as meat), or bacalao (dried cod), you fully get your money´s worth.
We take pictures from all sides of the huge frameworks on which the cod is dried for quite some time and read a lot about its origin and importance. We come across the interesting statement that many worldwide expeditions, but also the supply of battling troups in the past, would not have been possible without dried cod. In times before the invention of cans or refrigerators, dried cod was the first food that could be taken with them over long times and distances, thus ensuring an independent feeding of the people. Due to a strongly declined cod population, the classical dried cod has become rather expensive and therefore has lost the image of being a poor man´s food. In restaurants of today, dried cod is offered in different ways of preparation as a delicate starter or main dish. It passed our gustation test with flying colors.
My generation will never forget June 17, which for decades, used to be the National holiday of Western Germany. June 17, 2015, will never be forgotten by the AZURA crew. It is one of these days where everything seems to come together as if things happening have made an appointment with each other. The weather change has finally happened now. We leave our small fishing harbor with the sun shining plus some small white clouds and reach Svolvaer – the administrative center of the Lofoten – under a clear blue sky. After six weeks of sailing, this is the first day creating something like a "summer feeling. “ The place is part of the HURTIGRUTEN route, but like many Norwegian midsize towns, it rather belongs into the category "quadratic-practical-good. “ On the other hand, the setting with the Lofoten mountains as a background, a gorgeous view on to the sea and the opposite coastline make this place absolutely spectacular.
Today we have a meeting with the German team "Baltic Gentlemen“ – a group of three men who, together with more than 130 additional teams and their Mercedes-Oldtimer-T-Model, take part in the Rallye "Baltic Sea Circle. “ The mission of this "Northernmost Rallye of the World“ is within only 16 days to complete a trip of about 5,000 miles in an oldtimer without GPS, navigational systems, or highways through ten different countries – including Russia. Starting from and ending in Hamburg, the destinations comprise cities like Copenhagen, Stockholm, Lofoten, North Cape, Murmansk, St.Petersburg, Tallinn, and Kaliningrad. The overall goal is to collect charitable donations for social organizations, with each team having its own agenda.
Our meeting with the three "Baltic Gentlemen“ works out fine and is a lot of fun – the gentlemen can tell a lot about their trip already now. For the first time since we left Germany, we can use our flybridge for an entertaining coffee break. We say goodbye to each other in the best of all spirits before the gentlemen have to move on to a gathering of all Rallye teams on the nearby Island of Gimsoya. Just as we are ready to leave the harbour, two customs officials show up to our total surprise. They ask to come on board and check our boat and documents – the check during immigration to Russia last year was a complete joke compared to that. The friendly explain to us that after our entry into Norway, we should have contacted immigration and customs since Norway is not part of the EU. Indeed we skipped this process half-consciously and a half due to circumstances like weekend and National holiday in Norway. Now our fate takes its course. The two officers have to report to their boss and will come back to us. Until then, we are not allowed to leave the harbor.
After one hour they come back with four people – not a good sign. The main topic is the alcoholic beverages onboard. Norway is a rich country due to its oil fields in the North Sea and has the highest cost and price level in all of Europe. This is the main reason for the very strict rules regarding the import of beverages and food. We have to compile all alcoholic beverages in one location, forming an unbelievable pile which we have never seen before like that ourselves - wow. Then we are allowed to keep the open bottles and the thin quota for the five people on board. The rest is confiscated, taken away, and will be destroyed – about 150 bottles of finest wines meant as a supply for our five months journey with about twenty-five visiting guests (grief). The only good news is that at the starting point of our trip it was much more, so we had a nice time during the last weeks at least.
When the officers leave, they ask us to wait for the police. Based on the report from customs, they will charge us with a penalty fee – probably tomorrow. Until then, we are not allowed to leave the harbour. All four officers say goodbye by a handshake, thank us for our understanding and apologize for not being able to treat us differently than others. "Others“ means mobile homes or sailors who load their vehicles up to the limit in order to use the alcoholic reserves as a currency for paying all kinds of things.
In the late morning of the next again sunny day, two friendly gentlemen wearing uniforms come along, ask about our journey so far, admire our ship – and hand out a legal document in the Norwegian language. The decisive number is printed in bold letters, easy to find, and does not need any translations: 18.000 NOK ( about 2.300 $). After payment at the local police department of Svolvaer, we will be free people again and are allowed to continue our voyage. My question of whether we can pay with our credit card is brightly affirmed. At that time, I was not yet suspecting that the payment process would turn out to be not as easy as the two smiling custodians of the law were trying to make them appear. But this is another story…
We finally set out in marvelous weather conditions – the sun is shining so brightly and innocently as if she would not have done anything differently during the last weeks. Through the Oyhellesundet, we are heading for the famous Trollfjord. This is kind of a dead-end street on the water with almost vertical 3,000 feet rock formations to each side and a barrier of snowcapped summits upfront. This is a view that no one seeing it will ever forget. Even the HURTIGRUTEN liners go in here despite the narrowness almost not allowing for a turn of these coastal cruisers. We keep going North, and in the afternoon, we suddenly get very strong winds and respective waves – the wipers keep running all the time. Obviously, the high mountains are acting as a blast pipe for the fjords – we have had similar effects on several passages.
After a night in the middle of nowhere called Risoyhamn, we reach Andenes at the Northern tip of Andoya Island. It is only here that the underwater topography allows for water depths of several thousand feet very close to the European continental shelf. This is why the whales of the Northern seas are coming so near to the Norwegian coastline. We make use of the opportunity and, with our AZURA, follow the former fishing trawler today used for "Whale Safaris“ – with whale guarantee! The trawler is led by a very experienced captain using a sonar instrument that can hear the clicking noise of the whales within a circle of about 2 miles.
Once a whale has been located, the ship approaches very carefully and very slowly – sometimes in vain. The whales come to the surface for about fifteen minutes to breathe before they dive down again to find food. Within this time, you can watch the well-known fountains when they blow out the air and finally the tail fin when they begin to dive. This moment very often comes as a surprise and is over rather quickly so that taking a picture of this event is almost a piece of art requiring a considerable amount of attention – and luck. On the next day on our way to the small Island of Husoy we have to cross the same sea area again and are lucky enough to watch another two whales in the wild – an impressive experience for us Baltic Sea experts where the biggest animal spotted in the sea had been a porpoise.
Tromsö is the name of the next and last major city on our way to the North Cape. She is advertised as the "Capital of Northern Light, “ but for this spectacle honored with the yearly "Nordlysfestivalen“, we are here at the wrong time. So we take a back seat with the Arctic Cathedral built on a hill across the sound in 1965. Today it is the town´s somewhat futuristic landmark the charme of which is unfolding specifically through the light incidence inside. For the first time in our lives, we visit a concert with Norwegian music that only lasts thirty minutes and starts at 11:30 pm. At the end of a wonderful performance, we step out of the cathedral exactly at midnight, finding the waters, the snowcapped mountains, the city on an island and the long but filigree fjord bridge below us – and look directly into the warm midnight sun that gives the day no end. No one remains untouched by the magic of this moment...
More as a memorable joke, someone gives me the four "Viking Laws, “ where paragraph three says: "Be a good merchant. “ Obviously, the Tromsö community administration has taken this to their heart since they present us an invoice of more than 2.000 NOK (about 250 $) where besides the normal harbour fee an "Entry Fee“ of 296 NOK and a "Flat Fee“ for the water of 262 NOK stand out. On the positive side of the equation, the flat fee includes 10.000 l (2.600 gals) exceeding our capacity only by the factor of five. But this is not the whole story yet: for filling in the water; they only offer a huge hose (type fire brigade) and a clumsy metal adapter that does not fit into our small inlet. As a consequence, we have to use our own water hose and with duct tapes of all kinds construct some kind of provisional connection, which hopefully is not blown away by the water pressure in the first second. For this outstanding service, the city of Tromsö is charging us politely with another 547 NOK called "Connection Fee Water. “ Gentlemen, this is really great - the Vikings would certainly have appreciated this process and nominated the administration for the Nobel prize in economics!
Besides the main cities of Norway whose names are well known to us (although we still keep learning where they are exactly located), we are making for smaller ports not having had any idea of their existence before. Some of them you do not necessarily need to remember, but here and there we find some positive surprises. Alta, at the end of a fjord with the same name and not in our route list in the first place, turns out as such a light bulb moment. This small town is located a little offside and hidden, which may be the reason for HURTIGRUTEN not going there anymore for years. Some friends who sailed the Norwegian coast from North to South last year gave us a hint to visit Alta as a stopover.
A small but well-kept yacht harbor is greeting us with a narrow entrance, and one single guest pontoon, which you can only reach with an abrupt ninety degrees turn to port immediately after the entry. To the center of town looking like designed on a drafting table, we have to walk uphill quite a bit. But contrary to our expectations, we find a fine vivid restaurant with good cuisine. After a nice dinner, we start to get interested in Alta. The first surprise waiting for us at the end of the pedestrian area is the brand new "Nordlyskatedralen“ from 2013. Its modern and striking architecture reminds us of an unsymmetric sheet of paper half-rolled and standing up vertically into the air. In the symbolic tower, a golden ladder is stylizing the way into heaven, while the interior is dramatically illuminated through well-arranged indirect lighting. Generally speaking, besides the huge traffic infrastructure with its numerous tunnels and bridges, Norway´s architecture demonstrates its sense of modern design, especially in the new churches, art centers, and museums.
Alta also offers a well reputated archeological outdoor museum showing up to 6,000 years old rock reliefs from the stone and bronze age worked into the hard sandstone. The more than 4,000 reliefs were found just in 1972 and became part of the UNESCO World Heritage in 1985. It is the same type of quartzite that also has a long tradition as construction material and became a famous export product, for example, used at the Tokyo airport.
In sharp contrast to this museum stands the Tirpitz museum a little outside of Alta. You learn a lot of new things about the sea battles of WW II, which I am much less familiar with as with the war events on land. Basically, I am not particularly interested in military stuff at all but after skipping every "sea mine museum, “WW II museum“ etc. (there are a lot up here – every town seems to have one) I finally decide to visit the privately run Tirpitz museum near Kjafjord where this huge battleship was stationed in 1943 where she was attacked by the British forces several times and severely damaged. In the fourth attempt, she finally was sunk near Tromsö.
This museum visit touches me as a somewhat strange experience: a grey and rainy day, a taxi driver who hardly speaks English and does not find the drive to the museum, a happy young man at the entrance not really fitting into this panopticon - and me as the only visitor. Thus I am sitting alone in the projection room and look at British documentation of the events. Northern Norway was obviously strategically important for two reasons: one expected a possible invasion from here, and there were huge convoys from the USA to the Soviet Union around the North Cape protected by British marine forces. An unbelievable amount of people, resources, intelligence, and courage finally ended this insane war. Sometimes it is hard to believe that these things happened just seventy years ago. To me, they seem to stem from a different age – almost as distant as the stone age rock reliefs.
Also, in Hammerfest, the "Reconstruction Museum“ reminds us of the severe WW II consequences for Norway. It does not accuse but describes in a mere factual manner the literally complete wipeout of the city. The pictures strongly remind me of the photos in the Hiroshima museum in Japan. Apparently, this happened to many places in Northern Norway – the dimension of the destruction was completely unknown to me. If you wonder why you mostly find functional postwar buildings there – this is the main reason. Together with the historical documentation of the WWII effects, the museums also shed critical light on the home history and the longlasting suppression of the Sami people, which are settling in parts of today´s Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia. Last year in Stockholm´s Wasa museum, we already recognized the strong rethinking regarding the protection of ethnic minorities.
After we had to squeeze in another day of rest due to wind and rain, there is only one leg left between us and our big goal, "North Cape." The weather is still rainy and partly foggy as we leave Hammerfest. At this very moment, we only can hope that the sea conditions will allow us to go around the North Cape on the Barents Seaside. And this time the weather gods are finally with us: the rain stops and the fog clears away shortly after we pass MS "Europa“ – the uncrowned queen of exclusive cruising. As even the sun comes out over a calm sea, we decide to take the course around the North Cape. We are fully rewarded through a spectacular view to the North Cape plateau steeply towering out of the Barents sea by more than 1.000 feet. This perspective is very rare – even the HURTIGRUTEN passengers do not see it since their route leads around the south side of Mageroya Island.
We are not climbing in the mountains, but we can imagine that we have similar feelings now, like after reaching the summit. Even the fact that geographically the North Cape is not exactly the northernmost point of the European landmass cannot curtail our emotions. This bean counter type way of looking at it cannot harm the grown myth of the North Cape at all. For us, it is just great having reached this location despite all adversities – and this even from an angle which remains locked to most of the "normal“ tourists. On our way around the cape, we get another privilege watching thousands and thousands of puffins on a huge rock – as an add-on, so to speak. These very pretty birds are normally living on the water – they only come here for breeding. They are sitting so close to each other from a distance; you perceive the whole rock as being white.
Thoroughly happy and perfectly satisfied with what we have achieved, we reach Honningsvag in the late afternoon. Here the HURTIGRUTEN liners, as well as numerous cruise ships from all parts of the world, make this small harbor one of the most visited places in Norway. We join the steady tourist stream and experience the North Cape for a second time – now from the land. The obligatory photos with the famous globe are part of our standard program as well as a small glass of Prosecco on the success of our "modern adventure." Now there are "only“ another two and a half months, 2.500 nm, and almost twenty more visiting guests in front of us before we will reach domestic waters again!
Best regards from the North Cape,
Jutta & Thomas
AZURA travels in Norway
The pictures were all taken in the afternoon hours of June 19 while Jutta and Thomas were following a whale-watching trawler. The trip started and ended in the port of Andenes, which is located on the most Northern tip of Andoya Island. This island belongs to a group of islands called Vesteralen, which are located north of the much more known Lofoten islands. In that area, the whales are just a one hour cruise away from the coastline. So you do not lose the spectacular background by having to go out too far.
You will see a moving AZURA in front of a snowcapped Norwegian silhouette with the sunlight coming from the right angle, making AZURA beam on the dark blue waters of the arctic sea.
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