Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Tape Can Fix Anything

Rising early to ensure we caught the bus we laboured down the road to the bus stop with all our bags. We were feeling a bit defeated, Tom especially, at packing the boats and worrying about if The Brave Sausage would be doing any more paddling this trip. We took an almost empty bus to Fiskebol where we changed to a much busier bus. We’d picked the little town of Gausvik as our destination as it had easy access to a beach from the bus stop, wasn't far from Harstad (where we could get a ferry to Tromsø) if Tom and I had to bail and it was a doable distance from Tromsø by paddle. The bus broke down ten minutes after we boarded and we sat in a lay by, sun shining on still blue waters and wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake. Almost the entire journey we spied what looked like perfect paddling conditions, that is until we haul our gear off the bus and head down a track to the beach at Gausvik. The water was choppy and the wind strong and we had a crossing to do. We ate lunch before attempting to reassemble the kayaks and were so lucky to have done so. A lady out waking her puppy got chatting to Justin and Melissa and invited us to build the boats at their place as there was a bit of shelter from the wind. We carried all our gear down there and got chatting to the couple, Jahn & Ann-Hilda. They owned a beautiful house on this little spit of land and had built a little apartment they rented out on Airbnb.
We began to put the boats back together, explaining to Jahn that the Brave Sausage was in need of some assistance he took a look at our broken pieces and ran off to get a rivet gun and a big roll of mega duct tape. The rivers were a no go unfortunately, but using Jahn’s dad’s motto ‘you can never have too much tape’ we got the boat back together. Jahn told us the right time to attempt the crossing and offered for us to camp in their garden as the best time would be to cross between 4am and 5:30am. They also had a couple from New York staying in the Airbnb who went out fishing with Jahn while we hung out drinking coffee and chatting with Ann-Hilda. We cooked dinner early, had some utterly delicious rhubarb and cinnamon jam Ann-Hilda had made on crackers for pudding and the watched transfixed as Jahn prepped the fish they'd caught. He kindly gave us two big cod fillets. We bid everyone farewell and hit the hay as we were going to be up before 3:30am.
Photo Credit - Melissa
We were on the water by 4am and the crossing was easy. Glassy water, light winds, barely any currents. We paddled into the sun, passing a massive sea eagle and under the bridge. Tom and I decided that The Brave Sausage deserved recognition for her continued service and knighted the boat, forever to be known as The Brave Sir Sausage. We stopped for breakfast and coffee on a bit of rock down the coast before paddling on towards Grov where we’d been told there was a shop and we’d likely be able to find somewhere to stay. The water was so glassy and in the misty morning light it was hard to determine where water ended and sky began. We spotted porpoises and a weird large fish swimming just below the surface. We struggled to find Grov as it is very well tucked away at the end of a fjord, but we tied up the boats to the dock by about 11am. 
It felt weird arriving before lunch having done 7 hours of paddling already. We changed into our dry clothes only to discover the gate to the dock was locked. Fortunately after only a few minutes of us dithering, wondering what to do a guy turned up and unlocked the gate. He said it was locked at night but not during the day. We headed into town to the shop and then back to the picnic tables outside the community centre. Despite a retired ships officer regaling us with many, many tales and a tour of his boat house we were no closer to finding somewhere to camp. Just as we were packing up thinking we’d have to get back in the boats to loom for a place to stay a friendly guy approached us, he knew Jahn, and suggested we stay at a campsite across the fjord, about a mile away. He rang the owner to establish the cost and make sure he had space and happy to have a definite place to go we got back in the boats and headed over. We met a group of Swedish guys gutting and cleaning their catch for the day, including a seriously mean looking catfish whose stomach was full of shells. We enjoyed hot showers and cooked next to a hobbit hut, before another early night. 
The next day we had a number of crossings to make and the conditions weren't as glassy as the previous day. In fact it was pretty choppy, but we were lucky that the wind was in our favour so we made good progress and Melissa and I both felt more confident in the less than ideal conditions. We noticed that along this stretch there were far fewer little boat docks for us to pull up to and also a lack of sandy beaches so finding spots for breaks was tough. We had spotted a little harbour just before another bridge and crossing we needed to do so we were planning on stopping their to ask local advice about the imminent crossing. The boat ‘dock’ when we arrived was by far the ricketyest piece of floating junk we’d come across. But a kindly local told us we needed to make the crossing in the next hour if we were going to so we had a quick refuel and got back in the boats. As we rounded the headland we were hit with a strong headwind and whilst the crossing was straightforward the wind was really something to contend with. There was also a fair amount of swell as we turned down the coast and started scouting for somewhere to finish for the day. Sadly this bit of coast was primarily rocky and offered little in the way of a safe place to come ashore. We had spotted what looked a bit like a beach on the phones but when it came into view on the other side of a bay it didn't look promising, however there was a rather large house with a little dinghy in front of it so we had eyes peeled hoping for a dock or boat ramp. There was neither but there was a little bit of a gap in the rocks which we could safely land the boats on. We were a bit concerned about pitching our tents on their lawn, but since no one appeared to be home and since it really wasn't a good idea for us to continue with no idea of where we could safely get ashore we made dinner and went to bed.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Introducing The Brave Sausage

We had been told about a tidal race near the bridge north of Henningsvær and the islands beyond it so we planned our departure from Sandvika campsite to hit this stretch as the tide was flowing from low to high. We made good progress down the coast and under the bridge to Henningsvær and stopped for lunch in sight of the bridge with the tidal race. As we approached the bridge we noticed the water flowing pretty fast against us, so I'm not sure if we misunderstood the advice we got or if this was as good as it gets if you're paddling north in this channel, but it was harder work than we’d expected. Luckily the wind was at our backs which gave us some help, but also caused some chop and some strange eddies and lively patches of water we’d not encountered yet. As we continued up the channel towards the open sea the current seemed to now be in our favour so we made good progress. Rounding the headland with open ocean stretching away to the horizon on our left we began to experience increasing swell and I really found this next stretch scary and trying. 
Our destination for the day was a white sand beach on an island in a bay in a nature reserve, Laukvikøyene. We’d been told this island-filled bay was like the Caribbean, but approaching the dozens of islands in the swell it didn't feel tropical and it was hard to determine which island we wanted to aim for as all we could see was rocks. Melissa had thought she’d seen another suitable beach on a different island when looking at the maps, but we couldn't see either as we tried to just position the boats to minimise the effects of the waves. Finally we spotted the beaches and decided Melissa’s was a better shout due to the direction of the swell. We landed on the beach, the sun came out and I instantly felt better. Tom had somehow been unfazed by the conditions and had found the sight of the open sea exhilarating not terrifying, but I was thrilled to be safely on dry land.
We had a little explore, checked the tide times and heights and decided pitching the tents on the beach was the best bet. Melissa and I cooked whilst Justin and Tom put the tents up. It was warm, sunny and we had our own deserted island. It felt particularly rewarding after a hard day's paddle and, as always after a day of exertion, dinner tasted incredible. There was some heavy rain and wind in the night and morning came with a less Caribbean feel. We expected to spend the morning lazily paddling between the islands in this bay as we slowly made our way to Laukvik. John had commented to us how navigating islands in a kayak can be very tricky as it's hard to get a good vantage point and he was certainly right. As we had timed our departure terribly we were at mid-tide going to low. On this occasion it wasn't that the currents were a problem, but these little islands were only in very shallow water and it was hard to distinguish between rock and seaweed and whether the water was deep enough. Justin and Melissa took a more cautious approach whereas Tom and I fearlessly (and foolishly) pressed on. We very quickly found ourselves beached. Tom got out to push us into deeper water and found his feet sinking knee deep into mud. He nearly lost a croc and we had a few moments of worry as he struggled to get back in the boat, before basically having to use our paddles as punting sticks and drag ourselves back to deeper water where we followed Justin and Melissa back out of the islands and towards the open sea.
The conditions hadn't improved from the day before and as we left the protection of the islands we faced chop, wind and swell. I hated this next stretch. It was less than two hours but I was so scared the whole time. We finally spotted Laukvik and headed in. It was hard to see where the dock was but an opening appeared to our right with a large sea wall protecting a big harbour. I burst into tears as we paddled out of the swell and into the calm waters. Justin and Melissa chatted with a fisherman as they paddled by who said that this stretch as always rough as there was nothing between here and Greenland but open ocean. We moored the boats and Tom gave me a big cuddle. We grabbed our bag of dry clothes and walked up to the cafe. It wasn't open, but a sign said ‘Keans Beans this way’ so we followed the signs into a big old boat shed and to a door that said ‘come in’. Opening the door we were totally amazed to find a little artisan coffee roaster. We filed in, found places to perch and he made us some delicious coffee. We spent the next hour chatting to Chris, drinking delicious coffee and warming up.
Our next stop was the cafe. We all agreed continuing in these conditions wasn't possible. Tom thought the boats were up to it, but he didn't want to subject me to hours of terror. So now the hunt was on to figure out the logistics of what next. Norway’s impressive bus network extended to Laukvik and the decision was made to pack up the boats, take the bus to where we thought it'd be safer and then continue paddling to Tromsø. Justin and Melissa’s boat, The Green Onion from Stockholm, was as it had been when they assembled it in Narvik. Unfortunately our boat, The Brave Sausage, was a little worse for wear. There had been a number of cracks when we assembled the kayak in Narvik which we’d repaired with liberal quantities of Gorilla Tape, but on taking it apart we found a number of new cracks including one of the plastic plates becoming entirely unattached from the poles. Not good.
Having packed the boats and dried our stuff as best as possible we started to look for a suitable place to stay. The little town was in full setup mode as their local fair started the next day so we thought we’d offer to help with the preparations, but the locals weren't interested. We opted to pitch the tents on a patch of hard ground near some camper vans, had dinner and strangely had the best nights sleep so far. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Perfect Days, Painful Days & Rest Days

Tom was groaning in agony behind me as we approached Svolvær. We had paddled 32 miles the previous day, conditions had been perfect so we pushed on way past our daily target of 20 miles. From our white sand beach camp spot we had paddled to the village of Offersøy and on crystalline turquoise waters through dozens of tiny islands whose only inhabitants were birds.

The fjord crossing was unbelievably glassy allowing us our first glimpse of porpoise and we found the tiny canal shortcut some locals had tipped us off to through to the magnificent Raftsund. We landed on another perfect sandy beach and got chatting to a dad & his daughter who told us we should push on to see Trollfjord tonight as the weather was turning and it was rare for the mountains to be clear of cloud. He suggested a beach on an island in the middle of Raftsund for us to camp on and bid us good luck.
Despite being tired having already come more than 20 miles we got back in the boats & headed for the island. After pitching the tents and unloading our gear we paddled off to check out this tourist hotspot. The entrance was almost hidden from view but the frequent boat traffic made it clear where we were heading. Amazingly as we paddled into this narrow fjord with its sheer rock face soaring a thousand meters up we were the only ones in there. As we paddled back out a party boat entered the fjord with its live band blaring “ooh baby baby it's a wild world” and it's crowds of tourists waving and snapping photos of us. By the time we made it back to camp Tom was done for and went straight to bed. You can tell how bad he must've been as he didn't even want dinner.
We were slow moving the next day and agreed we’d meet Justin and Melissa at Svolvær later that day. Though conditions were still great the constant stream of power boats, ferries, fishing boats & jetskis caused us a fair amount of anxiety as each time they passed we’d have to deal with their wakes. Approaching Svolvær Tom was almost incapacitated with pain as he fought to control the rudder whilst contending with shooting pains from his lower back to his foot. Luckily despite all this he managed to spot the particularly huge wake left by the massive ferry and turn us into it in time that meant it broke completely over our bow, which was scary, but if it had hit us broadside I'm pretty sure we’d have capsized, which would have been worse than scary.
We found a place in the harbour to moor the kayak, changed into dry clothes and headed to the store for resupplies. Svolvær was a bit of a shock after all the idyllic villages, towns and beaches, but despite it being less appealing than our other spots Tom and I hoped we were done paddling for the day. Unfortunately we got a text from Justin and Melissa saying they hadn't found any suitable campsite in town and had just left for a campsite 7 miles down the coast. We’d already done 15 miles and the thought of getting back in the boat was not one we relished but following a quick Google search of other options we realised we just needed to suck it up and keep paddling. The promise of a hot shower and laundry certainly helped with motivation. Tom did some adjustments on the rudder, we changed back into wet clothes and started out the harbour. Within 10 minutes one of the rudder wires had come loose and we had to pull over to fix it. I was super nervous as we paddled out past the towering ferry but we got out of Svolvær and down the coast unscathed. Finding the entrance to the inlet the campground was at the end of was a little tricky, but with Tom’s excellent navigation we found the right place. However, as we were arriving at low tide the channel we had to get to the end of had become impassable. We got out the kayak and pulled and pushed it the last third of a mile wading through thigh deep water, up a tiny rapid and then a mud flat. Not quite the end to the day we’d expected.
We pitched the tent in the drizzle and hit the showers then joined Justin and Melissa in the communal kitchen/diner where we started to hatch plans for the following days. None of us had any desire to revisit Svolvær or the busy route to Trollfjord which had been our intended plan so it was time to detour again and see what other options we could come up with. The only thing we knew for sure was that we couldn't leave until high tide at around  2pm so we were in no rush in the morning. We left at around 1pm and it was lucky we didn't leave it later as the bridge under which we’d had to drag the kayak the evening before was now only inches above our heads. Squeezing through we made our way into the bay. 
The conditions were considerably swellier than anything we’d faced previously and having made it to the other side of the bay Melissa said she wasn't keen on continuing. We’d made a rule that if anyone felt it was unsafe they should speak up and we’d change plans accordingly. We spotted some other sea kayakers back on the other side of the bay so we decided we’d paddle towards them and try to ask their advice. We were surprised to find a dock and campsite which hadn't showed up on google maps and decided we’d spend the night as the swell and wind were only forecast to increase.  We actually ended up spending three nights due to conditions, but it meant we got to explore the area by bus and bike. We took the bus to Henningsvær on one day, nicknamed the Venice of the Lofoten, it was a super cute fishing town on the end of a peninsula. It's mostly famed as Norway’s biggest cod fishery, but it's also home to The Climbers’ Cafe and Lofoten’s climbing scene. On another day we borrowed the campsites rickety bikes and rode into Kabelvaag and the Svolvær. It was much less intimidating approaching Svolvær by road! We got ourselves a new dry bag as we’d managed to put holes in one of our others and since we had no spray deck our kayak would always end up with a significant amount of water sloshing around in the bottom.  Our dry bags were holding up well but our ‘improvised dry bags’ (rubble bags wrapped around the things it was less critical to keep dry) were not so great. 
We rode back, marveling at the ability of a bike to propel you unaided down a hill and got ourselves ready to leave the next day.