This fall has been full of adventures, but a Norway sailing adventure is always the best kind.
In early September, I headed back to Stavanger for a sailing trip with Andreas aboard his Jeanneau, the beautiful Barba. Landing in Norway is always a very visual experience, and last time I was in Stavanger we didn’t have time to look around as we were headed straight out for Shetland and the Faroe Islands (see some photos from that excellent adventure here). What a welcome change of scenery it is, taking off in Frankfurt and touching down just 1.5 hours north with these views that we’d soon be sailing out into.
This was to be a short training trip exploring Barba’s backyard destinations that include the rocky archipelago of Kvitsøy and Lysefjord, a 50-kilometer long fjord that’s home to some of Norway’s most impressive sites for hiking, base-jumping and paragliding. German photographer Daniel Hug and Welsh racing sailor Nicholas Fraser were my fellow crew. Andreas has the nicest, most diverse bunch of friends that he’s met on various life adventures. And from the start, we all got along famously. The captain is into toys, and he made this shot of the crew happen via a GoPro attached to a kite flown off Barba’s stern.
Another onboard toy is a compressor for filling scuba tanks. And diving was our first mission in Kvitsøy, so Andreas and I suited up – he in his drysuit and me, the Floridian, braving it in my thickest wetsuit (8mm) – to plunge in. Diving in the cold is considerably more exhausting than in tropical waters. I’m always huffing and puffing just from the efforts of squeezing into all the gear required (boots, gloves, hood, multiple wetsuit layers) and donning the heavy steel tank and lead weights.
But it’s worth it once you slip into the water and take all that load off, unplug from all the topside distractions and start breathing like Darth Vadar to have a look around.
Most times, my only mission when diving is to take in the scenery – quite easy to do in tropical destinations like Indonesia where you remain mostly warm throughout the dive and there’s all manner of trippy looking fish to admire. But going under in Norway presents a different kind of dive. And our goal on this one was to forage for dinner. Huge sea scallops as big as our palms littered the sandy channel, and we used Andreas’ scooter to tow us both along and make the weight of the catch bag more manageable. When we surfaced 40 minutes later, Barba was looking better than ever. Sliced thin and served raw with wasabi and soy or simmered in butter, salt and pepper, fresh Norwegian scallops are as good as seafood gets.
After two nights in Kvitsøy, we sailed a few hours back east to the mouth of Lysefjord. Almost immediately, the relative flatlands outside the fjord give way to striking cliffs that tower overhead. It’s just pure peace – no desire to be elsewhere – when moving slowly through a place of such still, steely beauty. A real life documentary unfolding.
But the Barba crew is always an active one, and each day brought a different hike and a new adventure. We went foraging for mushrooms on hillsides visited by very few hikers and found them rich with chanterelles and even the occasional porcini, my favorite. I grew up with the warning never to eat a wild mushroom (or berry…or wild anything, for that matter), whereas Andreas grew up being coached by his parents how to pick the right ‘shrooms for dinner.
We didn’t end up scuba diving in the fjord (though there was a polar bear plunge or two), but fishing was a fruitful endeavor, and I quickly learned to love oily mackerel when the fish is cooked Norwegian-style – smoked over juniper branches and aspen chips and served alongside potatoes boiled in sea water, red onions and a healthy dollop of sour cream.
Daniel’s and Andreas’ main mission in Lysefjord was to hurl themselves off the cliff-top at Kjerag with their paragliders – a sheer drop one kilometer down with no margin for error. So when the conditions looked promising, we left Barba in harbor for the three-hour hike up the mountain.
The boys were like kids on the night before Christmas – though unsure if Santa would indeed be rewarding their good behavior. The winds must be blowing just right into the fjord to allow for a safe flight, so nerves and hopes were running equally high on the hike up. When we got to the top, my own nerves got the best of me. I’ve never been afraid of heights, but teetering mere feet from the cliff’s edge and the dizzying fjord below had me questioning my own self control and what, exactly, keeps me from just launching myself base-jumper style off that tempting edge (answer: probably a parachute, and I guess I’m not quite as crazy as I think). I did manage to slither snake-like out to the edge to gaze at the water pulled taut as glass a full 1,000 meters down…
And my mom would call it peer pressure, but I also found the gumption to pull myself out onto the Kjerag bolt – stuck precariously in place 1,000 meters over the fjord since the Ice Age – for the obligatory holy crap photo moment. Yes, it was terrifying. I’d seen photos of the bolt before and all manner of insane poses on it (and just before, with my own two eyes, I’d seen a topless woman splayed in a most relaxed manner across the rock). But I had somehow imagined that the walk out to the bolt was nice and flat and wide. Rather, there’s a metal hook stuck into the rock to the left in the photo and a narrow ledge. So you hold onto that hook to sort of pull yourself around the corner onto the bolt itself. My knees were trembling quite a bit so I quickly sat down, I didn’t quite trust myself standing up. Weird, that.
The only other time I’ve seen a photo of myself looking so petrified, wide-eyed fear written all over the face, was when I went diving with great whites in Mexico a while back. My mom called that peer pressure, too, but times like these, cliche to say, just make you feel alive alive alive and, just as intensely, realize you really and truly never, ever want to die. A few moments later, the boys managed to launch off the cliffs, their paragliding dreams coming true, an awesome feat and video of which you can see here. Nicholas and I hoofed it several hours back down, happily in time for a celebratory beer. The adventures were over for this sailing trip, but there are already more on the horizon for 2015. Winter sailing in Norway is on the agenda and after that it’s into the proper Arctic. And that means that getting trained up on dry suit diving is my next goal. You can take the girl out of Florida, but at some point she’s gonna have to learn how to dive dry. And why not learn the ropes from a former special ops guy from the Norwegian Navy? Stay tuned…
Special thanks to Daniel Hug for the use of several of his photos (me in the water diving and on the Kjerag cliffs) here.