Return from the Arctic

Polar Bear in Bodo

Polar Bear in Bodo

It’s great to be able to say I’ve been to the Arctic. I feel like a real explorer now. Alan and I have just returned from a week of sailing with the Polar Front in Arctic Norway, with some kayaking thrown in. The trip was organised by Richard Cree, kayak guide extraordinaire, and we very much appreciated his invite to go somewhere very different with a group of fellow paddlers.

Arctic Norway

Arctic Norway

Alan describes Arctic Norway as “Scotland on steroids”, and I really couldn’t put it better. The scenery is Tolkien-esque – all towering cliff faces, deep, deep fjords, snowy peaks and sea eagles galore. During one of our paddles, we observed the local villagers out lighting fires on the shore to celebrate midsummer, and waving to us with not a little curiosity. It was quite an unforgettable scene. I half expected to see some Riders of Rohan, or at least some hobbits. It’s fascinating to think of the hardy folks who live at those latitudes all year round. In those small, isolated northerly communities, you would have to get on well with your neighbours.

Midnight Puffin

Midnight Puffin

As I mentioned, we saw plenty of sea eagles. I haven’t seen that many eagles in one place since Alaska, so that was pretty thrilling. We also saw lots of puffins – truly the cutest little seabird on the planet. Others in our group came across moose and reindeer, but I only saw (huge!) hoof prints. It satisfies me to know that the moose who left them was nearby.

Of course, the sun doesn’t set in the Arctic summer, and our group took great advantage of this fact. I think it would have taken me a few more weeks to adjust to staying up into the wee hours each night (how things have changed since my youth). Admittedly, I did miss out on one particular outing purely because I couldn’t face the thought of donning a damp wetsuit at 1 am and having to deal with peeling it off and having to wash a couple of hours later. I don’t mind going to bed slightly unwashed, but there’s something about a wetsuit that makes you ming beyond the bounds of acceptability. This is making me seriously consider investing in a dry suit now – after all, we’re talking about a quality of life issue here.

Polar Bear at anchorage

Polar Bear at anchorage

Life aboard the Polar Bear yacht was very interesting and gave us a taste for seafaring. None of us had sailed other than on the odd day trip, so we all learned a lot from our very capable skipper and mate, Mark and Adrian. More affable, able and enthusiastic leaders you are not likely to meet (aside from Richard, of course!). They ran a tight ship, in the most agreeable way. Despite proving myself to be not the best sailor ever, I was never made to feel inadequate. My only reprimand came from Adrian who cautioned me against momentarily leaving my wet life vest on the fabric couch below deck. The fact that I was about to “toss my cookies” in a bout of truly awful seasickness (thereby producing an even greater threat to said couch), was merely incidental. Indeed, I did succumb to the motion of the ocean on our return to Bodo as we hit some bad weather. I made the mistake of taking too long to get on deck after the rolling had started and experienced my shortest lived breakfast ever. When I did venture on deck, I was touched by the concern shown by my crewmates upon seeing my fragile state. As it turned out, I looked even worse than I felt, largely due to a skin allergy to Campsuds mixed with salt water which made my face look like I’d been hurling for Scotland all morning (which admittedly wasn’t far from the truth). I didn’t last long on deck as it was very cold, so I retired to my bunk where lying flat was the only course of action left to me. Even going for a pee was out of the question, so I had to delay until the rolling stopped. Thankfully, it did a few hours later and I started to revive immediately, although my appetite for Fruit ‘n Fibre remains diminished to this day.

Weathering the storm

Weathering the storm

The Polar Bear Yacht has an impressive history and, despite being a capacious 72 feet long, we quickly learned about the importance of tidiness or the “boat fairies” would move your stuff such that you’d never be able to find it. In addition, you couldn’t be too precious about privacy and we all became accustomed to our crew-mates snoring, drooling and so forth. I believe that there was some controversy on the snoring front, however, I was not privy to all the details other than some brief exposure during siesta time. This was attributed by Richard to a “rhino with hay fever” at the bow of the yacht. My judgement on this remains entirely neutral (as my bunk was nearer the stern).

We used Advanced Elements AdvancedFrame inflatable kayaks during our trip due to the impracticality of storing hard-shell kayaks on a yacht. These proved to be lightweight, easy to set up and perfectly adequate for our purposes (which, after all, did not include rolling practice). We all brought our own paddles and it was interesting to see that Lendal Kinetic Touring blades were strongly favoured amongst our group.

Inflatable kayaks

Inflatable kayaks

Our trip wasn’t all mindless fun (as if!), as we received highly educational lectures from Mark and Richard that included weather and navigation, and the merits of winged blades, among other things. Alan and I were also privileged to spend some time with Wenley Palacios who hails from Castellon (near Valencia) in Spain and who provided us with lots of useful information about kayak training in the UK. As a result, we are inspired to get serious about upgrading our skills.

Now that we’re back in Scotland, it feels like we brought some of the Arctic weather (minus the sunny bits) with us. Nonetheless, we’re keen to get out paddling and exploring our own country some more now that we’ve been to the Arctic wilds.

Beautiful Norway

Beautiful Norway

The fjords may not be as deep, and the cliff faces not quite as towering, but the scenery in Scotland is still pretty awesome once the clouds lift.

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