Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Fridtjovbreen Glacier

After a fast sail from northern Norway to Bjørnøya, the forecasts for the rest of the trip to Spitsbergen could only offer calms and light headwinds. This was nonetheless better than being stuck in Bjørnøya indefinitely - so off we went on the two day trip to Longyearbyen, the principal settlement on Spitsbergen.

It is difficult to appreciate the immense scale of this island, the largest in the Svalbard archipelago! After almost twenty four hours underway, we reached Sørkapp [South Cape] at the southern tip but still had another day of travel ahead to reach our destination. In those remaining 130 miles, there were only three [very large] fjords that held sheltered anchorages.

Birds decorating a bergy bit

We began to regret having passed up the shelter of Hornsund when the wind started to increase from ahead but we struggled on to Bellsund, the second of the fjords.

We reached Fritjovhamna, a tiny side fjord off Bellsund at 2 o'clock in the morning under bright sunshine. It was just the oasis we needed for a rest from the wind!  In it we found ingredients to delight the eye and to rest the mind -: a tidewater glacier calving into the sea; calm; a shallow corner containing the world's thickest mud to glue the anchor into position; and, finally, walrus on the beach and reindeer on the hillside.

Sunday, 24 June 2012


.. or Bear Island ... but we haven't seen any bears.

On departure day from Meifjord, Sørøya, the forecasts promised 2 days of west wind. It all meant punching into the waves, but at least we would be able to hold our course under sail without the need for tacking.

As the second day arrived, the forecasts started to suggest that the approach to Spitsbergen would involve tacking an extra day into force 6 to 7 [25 to 30 knots] northwest wind. We and TRAVERSAY III have dealt with much worse but a) we have a guest aboard who was feeling the motion sailing close to a force 5 a trial and b) we had the choice in this convenient half-way island.

There is no harbor so we are anchored in the lee of the island in a shallow sand bottom bay. The open roadstead roll is just tolerable and the anchor is holding well in the gusts. For company, we have the high bleak snow-smeared hills on one side and some anchored fish factory ships on the other. The fish factory ships need a lee out of the ocean waves to load catches from a profusion of smaller fish boats that come alongside them - as in the attached photo.

We took our electronic compass down this morning to examine it for damage and perhaps find clues why it has been steering erratically of late. It displayed no damage but explained patiently to us that it doesn't like to travel quite so far north - being outside in the cold and wind. Oh well, not much farther and then it is sure to be happier when pointing south.

We will bide our time here for one or two nights until the whining in the rigging dies away a bit and the weather guessers offer a benign gentle onward way.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Meifjord Visit

We arrived here to visit Roald and Grete Somby two days ago and have been gloriously fed and entertained ever since. The Sombys spend some weeks every summer here on Sørøya Island in the place where Roald grew up.

Roald and Grete took us out on their boat to collect the salmon from their fish quota (purchased by Roald’s father many years ago). Fishing has been regulated here for many years. They can fish from Monday night at 6 until Thursday at 6. They check their nets at least 2-3 times per day. On Larry’s trip out to the nets, a number of fish (including an 8.6 kg salmon) were caught. Our freezer is now well-stocked with salt salmon, smoked salmon and freshly frozen salmon steaks. Delicious!

Monday, 18 June 2012

Linda: a view of Alta, Norway

Larry with Opportune crew  

Interview with Rune
Rock Art
Finnmarklopet in Alta
We’re about to leave Alta after being regaled by Rune Somby, of the Opportune, a friend Mary Anne and Larry met in Cocos Keeling in the Indian Ocean, one of his crew and several friends encountered during a winter fly-in trip to Alta in March. Rune has been most generous with his time in showing us his home town and the wonderful museum with not only interior exhibits but also hundreds of 6000-year old rock carvings out on the hillside overlooking Altafjord.

Rune is a Park Ranger who knew from age 13 that he wanted to work with nature and her bounty in the freedom of the outdoors. His job is diverse and ranges from sea to mountain top. He’s often involved in research tracking wolverines, linx, bears and wolves. Establishing new reserves and, of course, enforcement rounds out his routine. Snowmobiles and ATVs can do a lot of damage anywhere if people are careless, but even more so here in the Arctic with its fragile ecosystem. Norway takes environmental protection seriously and standard fines for disregarding regulations range from 1000 to 10,000 Kroner ($160 – $1600 Cdn).

A little range time!
Rune is a man of many talents. For five years he raised his own sled dogs, then discovered racing, winning his share of lopets over the ensuing seven years. Always interested in travel, in late 2000 he laid out a plan: take a sailing course, save enough to buy a boat, then live on it and fix it up while saving for the big trip. In 2008 he took off for the Pacific and circumnavigation of the globe. For crew he put a notice on the web and several nubile and resourceful girls found him. In 2011, after three years Alta saw him once more.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

On our way to Alta

We have left Tromsø behind, but have retained a wealth of knowledge and experiences gleaned from our time there.

Polaria is a Museum compound with a conglomerate of buildings introducing topical subjects of interest to Norwegians and all citizens with Arctic/Antarctic concerns. Thus they’re subjects which should concern all of us. Of most interest to me were the projects presented by students from the University of Northern Norway (fortunately in Norwegian and English). Oil exploration and drilling and its effects on the environment was one topic. Another was fish farming … how fish diseases are transmitted and how the spread of disease can be controlled. The students tried to address all the implications of the subject – including how (despite the undeniable negative effects of oil spills or infection of fish species) the positive benefits of these enormously lucrative businesses gave the country more economic and political stability and reduced unemployment (also an important topic to poor students everywhere!) 

The seals were getting a lot of attention from the rest of the public but we had a happily-reminiscent time looking at the huge wolf eels, halibut and other fishes in the aquarium. Most beautiful to me was a lovely little tank full of bright pink coralline algae, variously-coloured anemones, sea stars and blennies – the amazing semi-rounded acrylic glass which protruded out into the gallery allowed the fish to swim right up to our astonished gaze. An MSc student of marine biology (studying harp seal eating habits) showed us around. As with all aquaria, this one is struggling for funds. A new tank is needed to keep the aggressive species from eating most of the other inhabitants – it’s a fish-eat-fish world!

Our other treasured visit was to the Polar Museet – a wonderful older building echoing with the optimism and joy of discovery of the early Northern explorers – Norway is justly proud of the amazing talents of Amundsen and Nansen to name just two individuals. The exhibits tried to balance this with the fact that without the generous gifts of knowledge given to the Europeans by the peoples of the North – the Sami, the Inuit and the indigenous people across the Arctic, none of the map-making and trail-blazing could have taken place. The exhibits also showed the accomplishments of the many trappers (including women!) who earned a living in the North – fighting polar bears and isolation to survive in the wilderness.

Linde and Linda
We’re so happy/lucky to have aboard our friend Linda Thom from Ottawa – we’ve known each other a long time. She and her husband Don befriended me while I was living nearby as a single mom and teaching primary school. As she’s done so often when she visited me, Linda brought her gold medal (L.A. 1984 Olympics in Women’s Pistol Shooting) to astonish other visitors to our saloon. We’re hoping that only her photo-shooting abilities will be called into play IF we get to Svalbard and IF we meet any polar bears. 

Tromsø Cathedral
The beautiful Tromsø Cathedral has a wonderful 42-stop, 3-manual new Grönlund (Swedish) organ. We were lucky to get to several fabulous concerts by virtuoso organist Linde Mothes – she generously invited me up to see the organ – I declined playing (it’s been 7 years since I was able to practice).

Mozart Piano Duo
We reciprocated with an invitation to lunch on Traversay III and we enjoyed a musical dialogue there … such a welcome guest … and a rare joy for me to make music with someone of her calibre.
Now we’re on our way under interesting, cloudy skies to visit “Opportune” and Rune in Alta, Norway

Friday, 8 June 2012

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Docked next to a tugboat

We were fortunate to witness the Transit of Venus – an event which has occurred only 4 times since 1769 when James Cook made his voyage halfway around the world to Point Venus Tahiti to use measurements taken from Venus's transit across the sun's surface to consolidate the statistics he needed for navigation. This ultimately lead to the development of the chronometer and efficient clocks  for which we sailors need be ever grateful.

For us modern-day folks, the Transit is a barely perceptible blip on the landscape of our busy lives where time is marked by numerous events: historic events on TV … Olympics … elections. These range down in importance to new TV shows …  new songs … new friends …. These range right down to grocery shopping … and doing the laundry.

It was with this last and most humble but necessary task that we busied ourselves all day Thursday. Laundry could be ignored for a very long time in this climate. It’s hard to exercise enough to even break a sweat in this cold pure air. No matter how ardent, one cannot soil the sheets and the towels (used 2 weeks) don’t smell at all. However … there IS a limit and our laundry had reached that limit some weeks ago. 

From the Turistinformasjon Office we heard that there’s no Laundromat in town. The only place with machines to rent was at Tromsø Campground.

We learned from our taxi driver on the way out of town to the campground that a Laundromat had opened but foundered and closed during the long winter when it was not patronized. We were in luck and were able to rent the laundry facilities.

When we entered the tiny room with its 2 occupants (only one washer and one dryer) we found our old nemesis from Molde – the Tørketrommelen machine with the now-familiar skap, skan, stryke and rulletort markings. All over Europe these condensing dryers are replacing the old kind because no-one wants to knock a hole in their wall for a vent pipe.. This machine works by using the heat generated by the dryer to get moisture out of the drying clothes, condense it back into water and then pipe it out of the back of the dryer into a run-off system. The run-off system never did work and we were forced to delve into the machine and empty it ourselves every few minutes. The delicate sensing device which should have helped the machine tell when the clothes were “locker-dry" (skaptort) had been thrown off by campers who never checked the water tank.

We’d rented the units for 4 hours (which we thought would be plenty of time for our 4 loads). It actually took 7 hours, and we’re still surrounded by various items hanging from ledges inside the saloon. The cost for the washer and dryerl plus the 2 taxi rides was $620 kroner (over $100). But if we’d tried to get these items washed in a local hotel (the other option) it would have cost many times that amount. Now we’re free to spend a few days provisioning and (hopefully) seeing a few local sights.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Transit of Venus in Tromsø

1 am sun on passage from Helløy

This is posted with apologies to Bill Webster who has already read it in a private email.

On June 3, 1769, James Cook of the ship Endeavour observed a solar transit of Venus from Tahiti.

In the early hours of June 6, 2012, Larry Roberts and Mary Anne Unrau of the Traversay III observed a solar transit of Venus from Tromsø, Norway.

It was all kind of fun, if anticlimactic.  The nautical almanac showed the sun and Venus to be in the same part of the sky for a few hours before and after 3am local time here.  Of course, the local papers had also mentioned the event too but in unintelligible [to us, anyway] Norwegian.

At about 2am, Mary Anne woke me from a sound sleep to make sure I didn't miss the big event.  Sunlight streaming in the cabin windows precluded the necessity of even going outside. - sunset has been cancelled here until sometime in late July. I got out the sextant so that we might benefit both from its telescope and its smoked glass sunshields ... and there it was - a little black punctuation mark against the disc of the sun!

Mary Anne was quite excited in advance and I think perhaps expected more.  I had done some mental arithmetic from vaguely remembered numbers.  Let's see ... about 30,000,000 miles away and around 6000 miles across subtends an angle like 5000 feet away and 1 foot across.  I was thus expecting a little black football against a white drive-in theater screen a mile away ... and that's what I saw.

I didn't watch the whole thing, it was a bright sunshiny day, but my body clock still said it was barely past 2am.  So I went back to bed content that I had seen an event-of-a-lifetime.

But my two solar eclipses were better, if less rare, I think.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012


The view at anchor
Our effort to reduce the lengthy trip from Trollfjord to Tromsø into gentle 5 hour trips led to our anchoring at Helløy.  This low island and a number of even smaller ones surround a tiny bay to the north of Harstad. The gentle beauty, prolific bird life and fine diving kept us there for three days.

Brittle Star
At this point I will digress to say a bit about anchoring.  Anchors, while heavy to lift, weigh very little in comparison to the weight of a boat they are securing.  For their holding power they rely on their shape [generally plough-like] to dig into the bottom and resists further pull.  The key is that the pull must be horizontal so as not to pry the anchor out of the bottom.

The amount of chain between boat and anchor must be about three times the depth of the water or more.  While a rope of this length would pull up at a great enough angle to trip the anchor from the bottom, the weight of a thick chain causes it to hang in a catenary with the lower part of the chain lying on the bottom. The boat moves in a circle at the end of its chain as the wind shifts while the anchor is stationary in the mud or sand at the bottom of the bay.

Our problem with Helløy was the bay was too small and too deep for the needed length of chain.

Lemon Nudibranch and Urchin
The raucous sound of the resident gull colony contrasting with the gentle resonance of the cuckoo was the only sound drifting over the still waters.

One clear evening I stayed up until 2 am to watch the sun drift lower over the shore of one island, describe a low arc over another in the north and then start climbing higher again in the northeast sky.  The sun shining unendingly through the cabin windows seems a stranger concept than the simply not-quite-getting-dark that I have experienced far from the equator in earlier voyages.

Little zodiac tour boats arrived one late evening and unloaded a group of identically dressed fluorescent yellow tourists onto one of the nearby islands to watch the midnight sun. Presumably the town where they boarded had hills in the north which blocked the low sun at that late hour.

We made two dives in the cold clear water of our little bay. All the subsurface rocks were bright pink with encrusting algae. Unbelievable numbers of gaily coloured brittle stars writhed about the rocks. The occasional cute lemon nudibranch wandered about either on his personal agenda or perhaps just to add another tint to an already colour-saturated scene.  We found a large black anemone on the first dive but failed to locate him on the second dive when the photoflash had functioning batteries.  This last statement can be generalized into a rule about when you are likely to see the best stuff!

The endless sunshine means that, other than sleep-deprivation issues, it doesn’t matter when you start your “day”.  At 10 pm on day 3 the wind started to pick up.  The inadequate length of chain, closeness of the rocks and now poorer forecast combined to tell me that I would not sleep even if Mary Anne could.  I announced departure for Tromsø and off we went.

If this blog is fresh, clicking the “tracking” link will show that we are now in Tromsø where there was no room for us.  After all the wandering around the little red line on the attached map displays, Mary Anne applied her communications talent over the phone and was awarded a prime spot in the middle of town.  There is no pontoon or floating dock so we must deal with the 2 meter plus tidal range on a fixed dock!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Gullvika to Trollfjord

Awaking at 0330 this morning, my customary insomnia was rewarded with a delicate pink glow which seemed to fill the cabin with its soft light. The mountains outside had crept into our tiny space inside Traversay and were luring me outside in the freezing pure air. The panorama of mountains spread out before me – seemingly Nature had opened her bounty for me as the sole viewer. 

Cottages (Sjohus) in Gullvika inner bay
Yet humans had lived their lives, raised their families and prepared their fish meals for perhaps a thousand years in this very basin – only a few hundred years ago the harbour would have been filled with fishboats and the shores full of homes where families were raised. Nature has nearly succeeded in erasing the tiny incursions of Man into this outer bay. Now under the delicate scarves of ancient mosses you can only catch glimpses of foundations and walls made of large rocks laboriously dragged into place and assembled without mortar. Some of the paths we trod on were surely there for years – some of the huge boulders looked as it they’d been carelessly tumbled down the mountainside by a disgruntled giant. Walking amongst them brought stories of trolls and the later imaginings of hobbit-like beings to mind.


Morning sun star

After re-anchoring, we had spent several days alone here walking up to two lakes on the ancient pathways and diving the clear and very cold waters. Underwater the colours are strident – beautiful bright pink coralline algae, a bright white nudibranch and colourful sea stars compete for their food in the cold water. Visibility is excellent as the algae bloom which helps feed many of the creatures has not taken hold yet for this summer. Larry’s pictures show specimens very like those remembered from visits to the Vancouver Aquarium’s Arctic section. 

As the morning progressed, the light became crystalline and every rock and crevasse were captured under its searchlight. Because we moved early,  when we reached our goal the sun followed us into the narrow tunnel and rewarded us with this spectacular view of Trollfjord!