High summer sailing and exploring in the Orkney Islands
By Geoff Saunders
Emerging on deck around midnight, I should not have been surprised to see the sun still shining, but nonetheless I was. There, amongst the scattered yellow and orange clouds in the north, it glowed well above the horizon.
I had flown to Bodo, in June, to join Trinovante for a voyage along Norway’s northern coast, starting above the Arctic Circle, and finishing in Trondheim, the former capital. Along the way, we would visit some of the wildest and most remote places in Europe, and explore the coastline, under sail. Northern Norway is largely ignored as a tourist venue though cruise liners do ply the spectacular fjords further south.
Though sailing experience is not essential, to join aTrinovante voyage a willingness to learn is. With only the captain and mate, and up to seven guest sailors, handling the sails needs all hands and muscle power available. As it transpired, we had five guests aboard, all of whom had some experience, and were eager to gain more.
Our first destination was Sorvagen, a tiny fishing village on the Lofoten Islands, some 30 miles from our start.
Out on the open sea, Trinovante heeled on the stiff breeze, and rode the swell easily.
We set and reset sails as the winds demanded and the captain instructed. But sunshine or no, we were well above the Arctic Circle, so were very glad of the warm sailing gear provided. The Lofoten Islands are home to a fishing community that still thrives on the winter cod run, when large numbers of fish migrate from the Arctic. The catch is freeze dried on frames in the open, though some islanders nail cod to the wooden walls of their houses.
After a couple of days exploring the islands, we set sail across the open waters again, heading south, to pick up the inside passage amongst myriad islands that dot Norway’s coast.
The weather was amazing. I had come prepared for cold and rain and I had expected daylight, not sunshine, 24 hours a day.
From our coastal vantage we could see well inland where the huge glaciers and ice sheets of Norway’s interior glinted against the blue sky.
Some days, we caught fish and my shipmates were easily persuaded to let me prepare meals. Some evenings we stopped in little ports, mooring alongside local boats. Other evenings we dropped anchor in quiet bays or sheltered anchorages, and relaxed.
Watching the sun not go down with a beer in hand really is special.
One morning to our astonishment, a Beluga whale popped up right beside us, and observed us carefully for several minutes.
During the voyage, with plenty of practice, our sailing skills improved so that when eventually we crossed the broad fjord to Trondheim, and journey’s end, under full sail our boat must have looked a real picture.
Approaching the harbour, the famous coastal cruise ship Hurtigruten saluted us with blasts on the siren. It may provide more comforts than our schooner, but could not better the thrill of sailing, nor the quality of our fresh food.
Leaving the schooner at last in Trondheim I could not resist a visit to Bakklandet Skydsstation, a traditional restaurant in a traditional house with rustic furniture, friendly staff and a daily changing menu posted on paper slips by the bar.
The reindeer salad was excellent, but I daren’t tell my grandchildren …