Sunday, 3 August 2014

Arctic Sea Kayak Race (ASKR) - 20th to 26th July 2014 - The Long Ramble

[ASKR blog post 2 of 3]

Northern Norway was in the middle of a heatwave, and the bright and warm conditions continued, and by 10am the following morning (after having taught the Norwegians the meaning of the word “faff”) we were ready for the off. Sitting on the water in teeshirts and sun hats, our drysuits packed away in our boats where they would stay all week, it was a far cry from my work colleagues’ visions of us being eaten by polar bears or crushed by icebergs.
About to leave Ringstad
Paddling in a flotilla of about 40 boats is not exactly a wilderness experience, but being the only English people on the tour it was easy to chat to exchange paddling experiences with new friends – even in the Arctic it was surprising how many of the locals had heard of the tide races of Anglesey and in particular Penrhyn Mawr. Our route for the first morning took us around the western tip of Langøya and out to Litløya with its lighthouse and the dramatic mountain island of Gaukvӕrøya. With silken seas and the silhouette of Lofoten to the south it was a kayaking paradise.
Tranquil conditions
Looking S to Lofoten
Litløy Lighthouse
A leisurely lunch was taken on the northern end of Gaukvӕrøya on a glorious sandy beach. Most people were stripped of to shorts and bikinis enjoying the sunshine and the lure of the water for an “arctic swim” was too much for me to resist. Starting a trend, a number of Norwegian lady paddlers were overheard saying “we have to stay in longer than the Englishman” - not only did they stay in the water longer than me, they also further embarrassed me by thinking nothing of going in naked making me feel rather overdressed in my budgie-smugglers.
The afternoon session saw us continuing our route north passing numerous small islands and skerries. The “rambles” of the ASKR are no longer a race, but the long ramble still has a reputation for fast paddling and long distances, so it was at a steady pace we covered a further 17km, bringing the day's total near 40km.
Art Verhage - a veteran of the first ASKR
Looking N across Åsandfjorden
Our first wild camp was at Åsand on another perfect beach, and with our tents erected we settled down to cook our dinner on the sand. While there was some driftwood around, the ASKR “crew” ensured a healthy sized fire long into the night by bringing in bags of their own firewood. Extra bags were also used to create a sauna using the fireplace of a ruined building and a tarp to keep the heat in – yes, more naked Norwegians running between the sauna and the sea at regular intervals throughout the evening and late into the night. Modesty and being an English prude prevented me from joining in, but it was a close run thing fighting my desire to fit in with the locals.
Åsand campsite
With the late night antics it we didn't get going until 11am the following morning (having now taught the Norwegians the meaning of “farting around”). The weather had turned misty so it was rather grey as we continued north through the steep peaks and islands of Glimmerbukta, but the dull weather was soon forgotten with the fabulous display of sea birds including hundreds of puffins and a number of magnificent sea eagles. Wildlife had been fairly sparse up to this point, but over the next couple of days this was made up for in abundance with the comical puffins frequently our close companions and the sighting of sea eagles a common occurrence (just look for something resembling an old man standing on a rock). Terns, auks and gulls were also common, and I also saw a skua attacking a tern to rob it of its meal.
Sea eagles circling in front of us (honest!)
We stopped for a quick breather and pee stop in Nykvåg and then as the sun was coming out made our way round to the large beach at Hovden for lunch. The route for the afternoon was a long open crossing visiting an offshore rocky island before continuing on to the next campsite on Skogsøya. The Norwegians were excited at the prospect of such an exposed paddle – conditions don't normally allow such undertakings, and with the opportunity to paddle this route under the supervision of the ASKR guides it was an experience they didn't want to miss. However for us we can do open crossings in the UK, and we decided a fast offshore paddle was not really giving the Norway experience that we were looking for, so we asked if we could leave the “ramble” for a day to experience the coast at our own pace – to paddle in fjords that the locals are fed up with, but to us were magical places. So we said a temporary goodbye to our friends and watched the flotilla paddle off into the distance leaving us to the relative solitude of Hovden.
Fish drying racks at Hovden
Hovden church, looking S
We were fully self-contained with our own equipment and supplies, but our food was not very interesting, so we walked around the village wondering if there was a shop where we could add something fresher to our dinner that night. We got talking to a man asking if there was anywhere where we could buy some food and he promptly disappeared and returned clutching four pieces of freshly caught and frozen flounder. Refusing to take any money for the fish, he explained how he was one of the last remaining fishermen in the village as his generation had mainly been persuaded by their parents not to go to sea because of the terrible losses most families incurred. Even he was now a teacher down in Trondheim since an injury had forced him to give up the fishing and move away only to return, as now, on holiday.
Suitably stocked up, we set off again but this time at a much slower pace soaking in the atmosphere and enjoying the peace and quiet of Malnesfjorden with only the occasional sea eagle for company. We passed many possible campsites, but we wanted to find one that would make the most of the evening sunshine and finally camped in a small inlet. 
Heading into Malnesfjorden
Exploring Malnesfjorden
Campsite at Gjenden in Malnesfjorden
We enjoyed our flounder with some Uncle Ben's rice and as the evening cooled, a sea mist slowly rolled in. Having some energy left I decided to climb the hillside behind our tents. I suspected that there was a temperature inversion and as I broke through the cloud back into the sunshine I was duly rewarded with a staggering view of jagged peaks appearing as islands in a sea of mist. I sat on a rock quietly contemplating the view for a while before I had to battle my way back down again through thick vegetation. We both slept well that night.
£7.50 at tin!
Sea mist rolls into Malnesfjorden
With no need or urge to rush, we left our camp fairly late in the morning and paddled back up the fjord to make our way around to Tindsøya and our base for the next few days, the fishing village of Skipnes. 
Staven (?)
Looking down Stavsundet
Drifting towards Skipnes

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