Mirages, vintervägg and sea smoke

After the warm but chilly weather on Holmön it’s nice to have colder weather at home. The sky has been clear all night and day and the morning temperatur was -14 °C.

The whole open sea was smoking. A common view when the sea is free of ice but the air is cold.

At the horizon I could see the vintervägg, a local meteorological phenomenon that is typical for this season. Vintervägg means “vinter wall” and names a cloud layer on sea. Sometimes it’s quite near, sometimes it’s far away. Today it was far away and a third meteorological effect came into view: A mirage, also called Fata Morgana. It has the same origin as the sea smoke: abrupt temperature differences. This is why these mirages mostly are found in deserts and polar regions.

Skelleftehamn is not really part of the polar region but shares at least some of the meteorological phenomenons.

Early winter Holmön I

This article is part of the series “2018-12: Holmön”.

When Annika and I made a two-day trip to the small island Stora Fjäderägg in August this year, we spent some hours on the island Holmön. We walked to a place called Berguddens fyr – Berguddens lighthouse – were you can rent a room.

4 months and 5 days later we stand at the shipping pier and wait for the small ferry Helena Elisabeth that shall bring us to Holmön. We booked a room in Berguddens fyr for four nights. With us is my car. Annika booked a place for it on the ferry that only provides space for a single car. At 7:30 the ferry approaches.

We have to wait, because first all groceries and goods have to be brought onto the small ship. Holmön has 75 inhabitants and a grocery store. Finally I drive the car onto the ferry where it is saved with wedges.

We are not the only people travelling to Holmön. Everyone is sitting in the inside beside of me that tries to make some photos. The foredeck however is covered with wet, salty ice and so slippery that I do not dare to stand there without any hold.

After about 40 minutes the ferry goes ashore in the port of Holmön. I have to back from the ferry with the car and I am quite glad about the rear camera. Then we take the main road, turn right into a snowy gravel road, turn right again into another small road through the forest and then we arrive at Berguddens fyr.

No one is there, but the house is open and warm and soon we find our large but cosy room:

Probably we will be completely alone in the house. Who travels there in early December? Already at 3 o’clock it is quite dark and the lighthouse has started to be active.

Days are short in December but we have a lot of books with us and even two musical instruments: A violin for Annika who plays viola, and an accordion for me who plays piano. (Did I mention, that we are alone in the house ;-) ?) And a book with many, many Christmas songs.

10 cm of wet snow

Yesterday and today morning it snowed in Skelleftehamn. 10 cm of snow cover my backyard. The snow is wet and heavy but it brightens up the scenery in the dark hours of the day. And there are many dark hours: Sunrise 9:11 , sunset 13:40. Today I worked from home and took a break to take some pictures:

The Baltic Sea is still open. There was an ice cover between the island Storgrundet and mainland some days before, but now there is partly open water, too.

The lake Snesviken however is completely frozen and covered with a fresh, white layer of snow. The trees on the island are mostly free of snow, probably because of the quite warm temperatures.

When I drove to the peninsula Näsgrundet and went to the shore I could spot a dark, blurred object through the falling snow.It was the MTM Gibraltar, a tanker, that was towed into the port – a tow boat ahead, the ice breaker Baus behind. It looked enormous through the falling snow flakes, although it is only 140 m long.

 

Closing the kayak season 2018

I was stuck. I couldn’t go straight ahead, I couldn’t go backwards, I couldn’t turn. And I definitely couldn’t go sidewards because I sat in a kayak on the Baltic Sea and was surrounded by ice.

Back to the beginning of the day: I took a day off today because of the nice weather and decided to make a kayak tour. My goal was to sea the sunrise from the open sea. When I came to the tiny beach were my kayak has been lying since June it was still dim. The sea between the island Storgrundet and the mainland was covered with a fresh layer of clear ice. Two days ago these parts had been free of ice.

I already changed into paddling clothes at home: Woollen underwear, a drysuit that would keep me dry when falling into the ice cold water, a waterproof face mask and neoprene boots. It just took some minutes to take of the warm anorak – it was about -7 °C – and put some stuff into the cargo hatches of the kayak. I put on my woollen mittens and the long, waterproof overmittens, then I was ready to start the tour.

The question was: How thick is the ice? Would the kayak slide onto it or break through?

I sat in the kayak and pushed myself backwards, first with the paddle, then with the hands. The ice didn’t break. Anyway I was still quite near the shore. I continued pushing myself backwards until I came to the area of new ice. The ice didn’t break.

It is both exhausting and very ineffective to sit in a kayak and push yourself over bare ice with waterproof mittens. You just don’t get a grip. I realised that I wouldn’t come long. I returned ashore, got out of the kayak, went to the car and drove home.

At home I got my isdubbar – my ice claws. They look like a jumping rope with nail attached to the handles and are used for self-rescue, if your break into the ice. I changed also into winter boot, because my feet were freezing. The neoprene boots are not the warmest. Ah, that feels better! I got into the car and drove back to my kayak. Second try!

It was still exhausting to move the kayak over the ice, but with an ice claw in each hand I could pull my kayak forward with a speed up to 5 – 6 km/h. The sun had not risen yet and the air was calm and chilly. The horizon started to turn pink.

I found a bit of open water at the narrow passage between island and mainland. Then I came to another sheltered bay that was frozen, too. First the ice was quite thick, then it started to become thinner.

Here my problems started. The kayak went through the ice and floated. The ice was too weak for using the ice claws, but too thick to use the paddle. After some metres I was stuck! Every time when I used the paddle to move forward another meter I was surrounded by ice and couldn’t use it anymore. During the seconds that it took for changing from paddle to ice claws the kayak drifted back and I was surrounded by open water again, making the ice claws completely useless. Finally I started some kind of dog paddling with hands and arms, still the ice claws at hand until I could reach ice again, pull me forward another meter and break through the ice again. The sun had already risen minutes ago. (Goal missed!)

These are the situations where I learn a lot about my lack of patience …

Anyhow the island Storgrundet was near and with some efforts I reached a spot where I could go ashore. I just wanted to check the water and ice conditions on the outer side of the island.

Beside of some pancake ice near the shore the Baltic Sea was completely clear of ice, exactly as excepted. I returned to my kayak and went along the stony shore pulling it nearer to the open water. The sea was still covered with ice but it was thinner and I could hack my paddle through it. Small patches of open water were enclosed in the icy surface and tiny waves vibrated in the rhythm of my paddling. Very funny to look at! And then, some curses later, I finally reached open water – almost two hours later than my first arrival at the beach this morning.

What a relief to put the paddle blades into normal water. Ice cold water, but just normal, liquid water. Delighting. Where should I go? To Finland …?

Soon I spotted a possible destination: Nordlundsstenarna a.k.a. Själagrundet, more a gravel bank than an island, 1.6 km from shore. When I arrived there I looked at the next island Medgrundet, which would be much more attractive for taking a break than this pile of stones. I continued paddling. The wind increased slightly and it got a bit chilly, but it’s only 1.1 km from Själagrundet to Medgrundet so I arrived there quite soon.

The first think I did when I was at land was to put on my winter anorak. Then I explored the island. Some photos:

Actually I could have spend the whole day on this island, but I made a huge mistake: I didn’t bring any food with me. (Don’t try that at home, kids!) So after a stroll over the island I returned to my kayak that was as ice covered as the rock nearby.

What I did bring with me were my sunglasses. I was really glad having them because the trip back was straight against the sun. Ok, time for some selfies …

The way back was nice and beautiful and not very spectacular. I enjoyed the sun and the colours of the sea – it could be covered with ice and snow quite soon.

Since I hardly could recognise anything on land I went a bit wrong but the detour was small. After a while I reached Storgrundet and then the ice covered parts again. This time it was much easier because I could follow the ice-free channel that I had cut into the ice on the way there. But when I had to use the ice claws on the more solid ice again to pull myself forward I realised something: There are many things I lack, one of them is strong chest muscles. They will ache for certain tomorrow.

 

 

A short kayak tour

The rain of the last days has washed winter away and all snow that had covered my backyard has melted already. When I parked my car in town two days ago the whole parking place was covered with wet ice. I was very glad about my shoe spikes that prevented me from slipping.

Today it cleared up during the morning. I took advantage of the nice weather and made a kayak tour. The tiny bay where I started was still covered with 2 cm of ice but it was so soft that I could paddle through. The rest of the Baltic Sea was open. It was quite windy and so the kayak tour was quite short, but fun anyway.

I measured the water temperature at the beach: +2.8 °C. I considered taking a bath but decided against it. It was less the water temperatures but the vivid wind that discouraged me. Perhaps tomorrow …

Autumnal high water

It had been more than three month, since I used my kayak the last time. It’s a shame, especially since the kayak has been lying at a small beach right at the Baltic Sea and it would have been so easy to make a short trip in the evening.

Yesterday however I finally found time to make a small tour again. The small beach had almost disappeared because the water level was 60 cm above normal. That’s quite a lot for the Bay of Bothnia. The kayak was partly filled with rainwater and I was glad about my little hand pump with which I could quickly remove the water. Soon I was on the sea again.

My first idea was heading south-east but the wind came from the north-west and I prefer paddling against the wind when I start. I kayaked along the shore to an island I thought was Björkskär. While I tried to paddle around this island I realised, that it was not an island. Accidentally I had entered the bay Djupviken (“the deep bay”) which is anything but deep.

Because of the high water level I could go on paddling much longer than usual. I decided not to return but to carry the boat across small gravel road. Normally it’s more than 100 metres to walk, this time it was only round 20.

 

I definitely prefer paddling before carrying a 27 kilo boat over land. A gust of wind almost brought me down. A five meter long kayak has quite a large sail area, when you carry it. So I was glad to sit in the boat again this time heading for Björkskär and the bay Harrbäckssand.

Here I turned. This time I paddled along the outer coast of the island and then back across the open sea. It was too windy and wavy to stop paddling and make any photos. Within seconds the wind would have turned the kayak across the wind, making it quite unstable.

When I approached the island Storgrundet (which is almost home again) I decided to continue my tour. It was fun to sit in my kayak again, i wanted to head the small island with the coloured trees and furthermore I wanted to take the opportunity to cross the island by boat.

Crossing an island by boat? Well, many parts of the islands that lie off the coast of Skelleftehamn are quite flat. Storgrundet has such a part, too. It’s just a passage of rocks that connect the main part of the island with an extra part. Normally you can go there (at least with rubber boots), yesterday it was possible to cross this part by kayak.

From this point it was near to the islet Brottören where I could catch the last sun before clouds approached.

The rest of the kayak tour is quickly told: I went around the island Storgrundet, met a man in a small motorboat (until then I had been completely alone), paddled along the tiny beach where I use to bath (it was mostly flooded) and finally arrived at the starting point again.

From glaciers to the East Fjords

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Saturday, 2 September – from Svinafell to Reyðarfjörður by car

Annika and I woke up quite early and left our cabin in Svinafell already round 8 o’clock. That’s why we were almost alone, when we came to the lake Fjallsárlón into which the glacier tongue Fjallsjökull calves. Some larger and many small icebergs floated on the brown glacier water. We walked along the shore, touched some of the small ice blocks and watched them floating into the creek Fjällsá.

When we left the beach of the lake, many more people arrived, although this “first lake” is not as the “third lake”, the Jökulsárlón. The latter is much more touristic. Many cars stood on the huge parking place and hundreds of tourists walked around, taking pictures or took tours with zodiac boats or amphibian vehicles. The good thing with cold lakes: You always find the opportunity to take pictures without any  tourist.

We didn’t see many animals yet on Iceland, beside of many sea birds and of course countless sheep (mostly in groups of three) and Icelandic horses. Here we saw the first wild mammals: seals swimming around in the lake, diving and reappearing again after some time.

After we left these lakes behind and continued east, the traffic on the Ring Road decreased more and more. We were on the way to the East Fjords that are far less touristic than the south of Iceland. It was just fun to drive the Ring Road and watch the scenery changing. Just a few pictures from some of the breaks we made.

It was quite late when we arrived in the coastal town Reyðarfjörður, where we got a room with an own bathroom. Time to cook and wash some clothes.

The next day we would leave the East Fjords and head north.

Black beaches and glaciers

This article is part of the series “2018-08: Iceland”.

Saturday, 1 September

Yesterday we hired our car, today we had the first full travel round Iceland. We didn’t make many kilometres, since there are so many beautiful places along the Ring Road in the South of Iceland. There are quite famous, too, so we had to share them with a lot of other tourists.

Dyrhólaey

Dyrhólaey is a 120 metre high peninsula which is known for a large hole in the rock that gave the place its name: “door hole island”. Huge waves rolled ashore and broke at the rocks. No place for bathing.

In the east we already could see the Reynisdrangar, pillar-like rock formations in the sea. The sea was covered with spray and looked almost white, just like the sky.

Reynisfjara Beach

Reynisfjara Beach is the most famous of the black beaches near to the town Vik. Unlike most other beaches the sand consists of eroded volcanic rocks. The waves were as high as those visible from Dyrhólaey and many signs warn against the danger of being swept away. The beach at the parking place is quite is flat and white and the waves flood great areas of the black sand.

While I was taking these photos a huge wave came and pushed a lot of water to the beach. I got wet feet even with my rubber boots on.

From here you can also see the Reynisdrangar standing stoically in the sea. Only seabirds inhabit these inaccessible rock pillars.

One of the main attractions of Reynisfjara Beach are the basalt columns. Well, I tried to take photos, but this was impossible due to the many, many tourists standing there. At least the basalt cave was free of people for a minute.

Svinafelljökull

We found a nice overnight stay in Svinafell. As all accommodations it was expensive and you would get a hotel room with breakfast for less money in most other countries. Iceland however is an expensive country and you should know that before travelling there.

Quite near Svinafell there are two glacier tongues, Skaftafellsjökull and Svinafelljökull. Both of them are part of Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest glacier and you can see them from the Ring Road.

After checking in we returned to the Ring Road and turned into a gravel road leading to the Svinafelljökull. This was the worst road I ever drove. It was just 2.5 km long, but only made of deep potholes and rocks. It took me 15 minutes for one way. There’s a reason why so many people use jeeps or pickups in Iceland. Anyway it was worth the efforts, despite the grey weather.

Some photos:

Next day we would continue east and perhaps reach the East Fjords.