Sunday, 3 August 2014

Arctic Sea Kayak Race (ASKR) - 20th to 26th July 2014 - Skipnes and the Half Marathon

[ASKR blog post 3 of 3]

Anticipating swarms of midges and mosquitoes, we had tentatively booked into the fishermen's bunkhouses rather than camp again. The old fishermen's accommodation was rustic and full of charm and provided the luxury of showers and clean bed linen. As it happened, flies weren't a problem, and it was lovely to be able to relax sitting outside on the boardwalks suspended over the harbour that connected the buildings together.
Our bunkhouse
Fishernen's bunkhouse dorm
Not long after, both the short and then the long rambles joined up with us and the previously quiet village was now a vibrant community of paddlers. A couple of Norwegian kayak shops had set their stalls up on the boardwalk and with the bar and cafe the hubbub continued late into the night (again!).
By now it was Thursday, and a lot of paddlers took the opportunity to explore the wonderful island of Tindsoya – either on foot or by kayak. Interconnected by mown paths, the houses and buildings were interesting to explore. Anywhere without cars always has a relaxed atmosphere and life has a different pace. We paddled down to the “waffle shop” in the fishing buildings of Tinden and explored the rock pools and surrounding area. My eyes wondered up and down the steep ridges and faces of Tindsinden the hill that lies behind the fishing huts, trying to work out the line to take for an ascent. With no obvious line it looked a serious undertaking, and combined with the fact that the cloud was occasionally engulfing the summit, I decided to leave it for another day.
Approaching Tinden
Tinden shop proprietor

While we were out, other activities were being held back in Skipnes harbour. A 200m sprint competition was well supported, a ramp was set up to enable the more adventurous to seal launch off of the pier and a qualified coach was running technical clinics.
In the afternoon I set about trying to borrow a more competitive boat for the race the following day. Our rental boats were plastic touring kayaks, while suitable for the “rambles” they would not be very quick for the race. One of the ASKR “crew” very kindly lent me a Norwegian kayak called a “Mentor” – a fast, long, touring boat with a rudder, so I was much happier as the discussion in the evening changed from the usual light hearted conversation to something that had a bit of an edge to it as tactics were explored and opposition assessed.

Card antics in the bar!
The “half marathon” race was only entered by the more competitive paddlers – anyone else could paddle the race route setting off an hour earlier as a “ramble” and this was done by the majority of paddlers. The morning of the race was greeted by a thick sea mist. Although it had started to clear to just patches by time the ramble was due to set off, it was decided that the original race route on the “outside” of the islands would not be safe and an “inside” route was used that weaved its way around a number of the islands around Tindsoya.
Awaiting the start for the "ramblers"
My own race was going surprisingly well and I was enjoying the speed and downwind responsiveness of the “Mentor”. At a turn around the bottom of an island about a third into the race, I was well positioned about 50 metres behind the two leaders. The race then turned into an upwind leg and the strength of the lead pair started to tell and I was not able to make up any ground on them. Then disaster struck. Not long after the turn I felt the rudder peddle on my left foot go limp and I lost control of the rudder. The rudder control string had broken, and I had no choice but to raise the rudder and paddle the kayak rudderless. Like most kayaks, the “Mentor” was trimmed to weathercock (turn into the wind) and I used a lot of energy trying to keep it on track. I managed to hold on to third place until the last couple of kilometres when I was overtaken by a couple of boats. Luckily the last leg was into the wind and I could mainly concentrate on just forward paddling and managed to keep within range of the now fourth placed boat and on the final few hundred metres to the finish managed to outsprint him to regain one position. A bit frustrating as I'm sure I would have kept third place if the rudder had not broken.
Our last evening in Vesteralen started with a lovely meal of baked fish pie called “Fish Symphony” - four different fish in a sauce. Prize giving and the usual formalities passed and the room was taken over by a one man band singing a fun mixture of English/American songs interspersed with popular Norwegian numbers. Chatting and dancing into the early hours capped off a wonderful week of paddling and socialising.
Saturday morning consisted of packing up and long goodbyes (my facebook friends list has risen significantly) before we paddled our boats back to the "mainland" at Krakberget. Having blagged yet another lift – this time all the way back to Tromso, we were set up to get back to Tromso at a reasonable hour. A meal and another stay in the Tromso apartment was followed by an early morning taxi ride to the airport and an uneventful return home by lunchtime. 
En route back to Tromso
Rudolf pizza available in Tromso airport
The ASKR would not be everyone’s cup of tea. Paddling and camping in large groups distracts from the wilderness experience, but this is more than compensated by the opportunity to socialise with the very friendly Norwegians paddlers to get insight into their lifestyles and the local history and culture. I can't thank enough the people that helped us out with arranging the trip, providing accommodation and for the friendly taxi services!


Miamaria Padlemia said...

Too bad with that rudder. :( Next time! ;)

Lene Gjelsvik said...

Fun reading about your ASKR-experience! By the pictures you did the right thing, leaving the ramble for a day! I'll follow your blog from now on. Great meeting both Rachel and you - hope we'll meet again somehow, somewhere.