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.


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