Greg Bertram cruises up the Norwegian coast from Stavanger to the Lofoten Islands to explore the land of the midnight sun
Lofoten Islands: Sailing where the sun never sets
Approaching the end of the turquoise coloured Holandsfjord we had, at last, a full view of the majestic Svartisen Glacier glistening in the warm, late afternoon sunshine, writes Greg Bertram.
It had been a truly memorable day on passage from Herøy, passing the famous Seven Sister mountains and then the Arctic Circle monument, a large silver globe mounted on the island of Vikingen.
As for the Land of the Midnight Sun, however, it is constantly moving so we ended up celebrating our entry to 24-hour daylight a few miles north of Vikingen.
The day was full of views of jagged snowcapped peaks and numerous islands, some small and others dramatic, such as the island of Hestmannøy, and then Rødøy with its distinctive lion shape.
At the top of the fjord there is a small guest pontoon.
We tied up alongside Ataraxia from Oban before her crew, with typical Scottish hospitality, invited us for drinks aboard and introduced us to one of Ernest Hemingway’s favourite drinks – the Dark and Stormy – chilled with glacial ice.
They were on their way south, and we north, so we exchanged tips and experiences.
The consensus was there was not enough time to see everything along this magical coast.
The next day my wife Terese and I waved them goodbye and headed to Svartisen Glacier on rented bikes, having paid for hire via an honesty box.
We covered the last stretch on foot across the ice-smoothed rock in glorious sunshine.
Terese and I had sold our Hanse 371 in 2009 but last year a 2006 Swedish-built Malø 37 caught my attention.
The reviews were very positive and the boat ideally suited to sailing in northern latitudes.
Terese appreciated the handcrafted interior, with lots of storage space and a carefully thought-out layout.
I was impressed with the build quality, sea keeping ability, and the top-of-the-range fittings, such as the huge stainless-steel mooring deck cleats. Well-built boats with quality materials and fittings age well and Lady B certainly had.
Over the winter I prepared Lady B and refreshed my navigation skills by completing a shorebased RYA Yachtmaster Offshore course.
Terese worked on provisioning the boat and adding luxuries.
By the end of May we were ready to go.
Sailing the west coast of Norway is a feast for the eyes and senses and there is no better place to start then Stavanger.
We left on 29 May, and the first leg to Bergen gave us a taste of rain, sunshine, great scenery and some strong northerly gusts, before we continued north to Fedje.
Here we had our own private history lesson when an islander pointed out to us where the German Second World War submarine U-864 was torpedoed by the British submarine HMS Venturer.
It is believed to be the only documented instance in naval warfare history where one submarine intentionally sank another while both were submerged.
It was a fast reach from Fedje to Florø, crossing the entrance to Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord, which stretches 127 miles and has a maximum depth of 1,308m, before Den Norske Hest, The Norwegian Horse mountain, hove into view.
Visible for miles offshore, it is one of the most significant features along the west coast and has helped sailors navigate this coastline for centuries.
We found Florø an attractive town with a great harbour, although the real highlight for me was to see the beautiful 50m ketch Kamaxitha, which was passing through on passage to Spitsbergen.
By now the weather was becoming more challenging.
As we sailed up Frøysjøen we had a little too much excitement when a 30-knot gust rolled down from the steep grey and uninviting cliffs and whacked us.
We pushed on past Hornelen, Europe’s highest sea cliff, before making for Silda to wait for favourable conditions to round Stadlandet.
Silda’s harbour is well protected but deserted when we arrived.
Foul weather greeted us the next day, but undeterred we left the boat and walked around the island, seeing only two other people before the crew of two other yachts provided company.
We rounded Stadlandet in around 14 knots of wind with an expected lumpy sea and we were glad when we were safely alongside in the beautiful city of Ålesund.
Renowned for its Art Nouveau architecture, we needed little excuse for a walk where our noses soon picked up the delicious smell of fresh fish soup.
We were certainly in need of fortifying, as it was to be a long, hard slog up Harøyfjorden to Bud against a fresh north westerly, although we were compensated with breathtaking mountain scenery on one side and low-lying islands the other.
Bud turned out to be an interesting stop before crossing Hustadvika.
During the Second World War, Bud was under siege from 1940-1945 and the Germans built Ergan fort, now a military museum.
After exploring the sights, we could not resist the buffet at the harbour restaurant with its great selection of traditional dishes, komla (potato dumpling) and pickled herring.
Hustadvika is an exposed area best avoided in unfavourable conditions and runs parallel to the Atlantic Highway, an outstandingly scenic coastal road with islands linked by iconic bridges.
We followed the recommended Hustadvika outer route, though did take some short cuts through the skerries.
The spectacular scenery continued to amaze as we passed through Vingsand and rounded Buholmsråsa lighthouse before an offshore stretch against a cold northerly and ebb tide to Rørvik, with its charming old wooden buildings.
The weather was also on our side and the sun came out as we trekked around this fishing town for gas, wine, food and boat things.
But it was Torghatten that was the real highlight as we continued to Brønnøysund.
It was easy to spot the granite mountain as it has a distinct hole through its centre.
According to folklore, an arrow fired by the troll Hestmannen while he was chasing a girl made the hole.
The troll-king of Sømna threw his hat into the arrow’s path to save her; the hat turned into the mountain with a hole in the middle.
Bodø, 731 miles north of Stavanger, was to be our last stop before we finally reached the Lofoten Islands.
This thriving city with a large harbour brought back great memories for me.
Following my involvement with Sir Chay Blyth’s British Steel Challenge round the world yacht race in 1992-93, I had set up Challenge Adventure Sailing with a couple of 67ft Challenge yachts operating charters from Bodø.
My reminisce into the past complete, we navigated Lady B through Vestfjorden to the beautiful working fishing village of Sørvågen.
The islands of the Lofoten archipelago rise out of the sea majestically, with dramatic peaks and sheltered bays.
Fishing is still king here and a local Sørvågen fisherman welcomed us to the harbour with a gift of a filleted fresh fish for our supper.
We made our way north to Svolvær marvelling at the breathtaking coastal scenery and poking our noses into Reine, and Nusfjord with overnight stops in Stamsund and Henningsvær, regarded as the Venice of the North as the fishing village is split by the ocean.
Svolvær, the capital of the Lofoten Islands, has excellent new facilities for visiting yachts and we badly needed supplies and showers.
It buzzed as a base for adventure activities with excellent shops all a short distance from the harbour.
From Svolvær we made our way back to Bodø stopping at some lovely harbours with the highlight being the old trading village, of Kjerringøy, with its wooden buildings and art galleries.
Back in Bodø we visited the Saltstraumen, the world’s strongest tidal current; a mass of whirlpools and thousands of jumping fish as 400 million gallons of water force their way through a narrow gap.
Our voyage south was quicker, with longer legs, and we tried to choose different overnight stops, including Rødøy, where we arrived in late afternoon in driving rain and strong winds before dining at Klokkergården – an amazing restaurant which the owner had converted from a derelict school.
Three nights of atrocious weather saw us stuck in the old fishing village of Ylvingen, where we fished and had a fascinating day exploring Tyskhåjen, known as the German Hill.
Here there is a labyrinth of military remnants from the Second World War, including tunnels, bunkers and gun positions.
We bypassed Ålesund and instead headed for Fosnavåg a convenient setting off port for our second rounding of Stadlandet.
Once a remote fishing island, Fosnavåg is now connected by bridges and boasts a wealthy fishing community, good shops and excellent guest berths.
Rounding Stadlandet the next day was a doddle so we decided to remain offshore on the leg to Kalvåg, rounding two headlands.
Typically, the wind decided to ignore the forecasts and we had an exciting passage past some dramatic sea cliffs, experiencing some strong tidal effects where fjord meets ocean.
As we continued south, we took some interesting shortcuts in narrow, marked channels and spent our last night in Askøy before returning to our home berth in Rennesøy.
We were away 45 days and had sailed 1,650 miles.
Lady B performed faultlessly and the trip allowed Terese to gain confidence in her own sailing ability.
We will certainly return to this magical land where the sun never sets.
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