Opening the kayak season 2019

Two days ago a personal weather record was beaten. It was almost 20 °C in Skelleftehamn. in April! In town 22.1 °C was measured, the warmest April day for at least 15 years. And that’s what my garden looks like: beside of a stubborn patch of snow in the shadow of my neighbour’s garage my garden is completely free of snow.

While the air was warm, the seawater was still very cold and I would not dare to paddle without a drysuit. I didn’t want to be boiled in the drysuit and so I postponed the kayak opening to today, when it was colder again.

When I leave the house at 8:45, it is 4 °C. My favourite starting point is still icebound, so I walk to the peninsula Näsgrundet with the kayak in tow. I use a belt and a rope to drag the kayak behind. When the kayak is balanced on the cart I have the hands free and can walk normally. 25 minutes later I reach the shore where I put on drysuit and life jacket. Soon I sit in the kayak and realise, that even though I miss winter there are fun things to do when it’s warm as well.

It’s colder on the sea and I put on my neoprene gloves and waterproof hood. As I expect some of the paddle routes are still blocked by ice. There is still ice between the island Bredskär and mainland so I cannot circle the island. I have to return. I pass a large ice floe – time to enter the floe for some minutes. It doesn’t move, probably it sits on a large rock.

I kayak along the islands Bredskär, Klubben and Flottgrundet, always along the open outsides. Then I head for the island Nygrundet, where I made a very special snowshow tour a month and a day ago. The ice heaps have vanished, only a long strip of ice follows the coastal line. Time to take a break and to have an early lunch. Crisp bread, cheese, fresh grapes and a bar of chocolate. I feel a bit cold and put on my lightweight down jacket, but I would have preferred my winter anorak. I even make a small fire on the ice but more for having it gemütlich than for additional warmth.

After the break I’m full and warm again. I pack my stuff and continue my kayak tour. I paddle along the outside of the islands Nygrundet and Gråsidan, where I make a short photo stop.

Then I continue to Bredskär, where some quite high ice walls are reminiscent of the winter.

I try to paddle between Flottgrundet and Bredskär but soon come to a large area of old and soft ice. I measure the thickness with the paddle – round 30 cm. I decide to walk over the ice and drag the kayak behind. First it works well …

… but then the ice gets softer and softer. Just some steps next to the island I break through. It is not a sudden movement, the ice just slowly gives way. Paired with the buoyancy of drysuit and life jacket that’s probably the reason why I only break in up to my chest. The hole is small and it’s a matter of seconds to get on the ice again. Carefully I take the last steps until I reach land.

Sea ice and lake ice have a strange way of melting in spring. The solid ice transforms to an array of long vertical ice needles. There is hardly any connection between one needle and the next and it’s not possible to lift larger pieces of ice from the water without breaking them. When you get out a smaller piece and drop it, it will splinter into many parts. The structure shown on the photos below is round 10 cm thick.

I continue walking, partly on ice, partly in shallow water. Then I can paddle again. But not for long. Soon I reach another ice field, this one looking very unstable. So I cross the ice by staying in my kayak and pushing myself forward with the hands. Ouch – the vertical ice needles hurt, even through the neoprene gloves. Alas it’s only 15 meters to cross, then I’m in open water again.

The rest of the tour? Slowly paddling back to the starting point – taking off the dry suit – putting on soft shell and down jacket because I feel cold – put the kayak onto the cart and attach it to the belt – walking home. The tour took 5 hours, 40 minutes. 5 km of walking, round 10 km of paddling. Here’s a sketch:

Legend:  on foot | kayak

Boats between ice and water

Normally I try to make a winter kayak tour as soon as parts of the sea are free of ice. Not this year. Either it was too windy or the sea was ice covered again or I was travelling.

While my kayak is still sleeping in the garage two other boats have already been taken out. I saw them in the afternoon but made the photos in the evening.

It may look like the sea is frozen again, but the transparent ice is floating freely. Look closely and you’ll realise that the second boat has moved while I took the photo and therefore is a bit blurred.

Although the boats are a clear spring sign the ice makes the photos look still wintry. Today’s day temperature however was round 10 °C and for the first time I jogged in a t-shirt.

Four days in Österbotten

Last Monday Annika and I travelled to one of Umeå’s nearest neighbouring cities: Vasa. Vasa is located in Finland and the fastest and easiest way to get there from Umeå is by ferry. Taking the car round Kvarken and the Bothnian Bay – the northernmost parts of the Baltic Sea – would be more than 800 km.

2. April – sunny Islands, cormorants and bad roads

The forecast promised sunny weather and I wanted to flee the town of Vasa (round 68000 inhabitants). Our plan was to explore some of the large islands of the Kvarken Archipelago which consists of several thousands of islands and islets.

We left Vasa municipality and entered Korsholm municipality. In Alskat we left the Finnish mainland, took a bridge to the island Fjärdskäret and then the large bridge Replot bron – more than a kilometre long – to the Björkö skärgård.

We made a short stop at the church in Björköby, the main village of Björkö. To our surprise the church wasn’t locked and we could enter. Probably it was only open for the handyman working there. I even went up to the organ but I didn’t dare to climb the clock tower without asking.

From Björköby it’s not far to Svedjehamn, a boat harbour. The coastal sea was still covered with ice and no boat could be seen. Probably many of the boats were in the red boathouses, that were everywhere.

We looked around, then we followed a path to the large observation tower, which is dark and almost 20 metres high. An eye-catching landmark. Beside of some ice fishers that parked their cars at the coast, we were completely alone. Only seabirds could be heard, mostly the typical honking call of the Whooper Swans.

From the tower we had a nice view both over land and sea. The land was framed with ice, but further out the sea was open. Birds flew around, mostly Whooper Swans and small flocks of ducks (being shooed away by other birds). Suddenly a group of dark birds passed our tower, it was a flock of cormorants.

After a while of amateur bird watching we descended the tower and went back to the parked car. We were hungry and took the way back to the Replot Bridge, where we got a delicious lunch at Berny’s Café and Restaurant.

After that we headed for another island in the north. This was quite challenging to drive because larger parts of the way were covered with ice with deep ruts. I had to drive quite slow to keep on the way. In Köklot I made the photo of the only boat in the fishing port, later I just had to photograph the small red hovercraft. I would love to have such a vehicle that can access the sea the whole year round.

I followed the bad road for a while but finally I had to turn because all turnouts were closed. It took a long time to drive back and when we arrived in Vasa we both were tired.

Later this day: A dinner with Asian food, a small coastal walk in Vasa and a bit of luxury: Our flat had a tiny sauna.

3. April – history lessons, old Vasa and Indian food

Already the day before we had decided that we wanted to stay two other nights in the region of Österbotten. We had given Couchsurfing another try. We contacted K.D. that lives in the Korsholm municipality but he didn’t have any place for us. He suggested however that we could meet in the city. So Annika and I went to the monument on the market square where we met K.D.

We got an extremely interesting history lesson about Finland in General und Vasa, while we slowly walked through the city. I didn’t make a single photo, I was too eager listening. After some hours K.D. had to leave but he invited us to the museum Stundars for the next day.

Later we took the car to Gamla Vasa, the old town that burned down in 1852. Some walls, among others of the old church from the 15th century are still there.

Later this day: Indian food and another sauna session.

4. April – a meteorite, two museums and welcoming hosts

Already before the journey we learned about Söderfjärden, a large plain which is an impact crater of a meteorite impact 520 million years ago. The plain lies south of Vasa and we took the car there.

The exhibition at the crate’s centre was closed but outside there’s a model of our solar system. I never walked from the sun to Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – here it was possible.

We only had limited time, so we took the car to Uranus and Neptune – two small blue-green orbs. Then we changed our perspective back to here and now. We saw the first cranes of the year, more geese and more whooper swans.

From Söderfjärden we drove to the museum Stundars, which is quite nearby. We met K.D. again who had opened the “Smedens stuga” – the cabin of the smith – together with a colleague. We thanked for the day before and had an interesting talk about history and now.

We couldn’t stay for long because we had another appointment. When we had stood on the deck of the ferry three days ago we got in contact with S.. He gave us his phone number and this day we met him in Malax where he opened the Kvarkens Båtmuseum and gave us a private guided tour.

I was deeply impressed by the boat that was used for seal hunting. The hunters lived on the ice for several months with nothing but their boat to live in. We do not talk about the middle age, we talk about the 20th century. The last time this boat was used for seal hunting was in 1963, only five years before I was born!

Through Couchsurfing Annika got in contact with A. and M. who live in Västerhankmo, north from Vasa. We were welcome to live with them for two days, although they had other guests and one of the sons would return from Australia the very same day. We felt honoured that we could stay anyway. We drove to their house, where we were shown a huge couch to sleep over and got in contact with the residents – both human and feline.

Later this day: z-z-z-z

5. April – cloudy weather and a bilingual car trip

The weather was cloudy and we were quite lazy. We had seen a lot the last days and we learned a lot. We learned especially a lot about the Finland-Swedes, the Swedish speaking minority in Finland. Although their nationality is Finnish they have Swedish as a first language. Österbotten is one of the regions in Finland with a lot of Finland-Swedes. In Vasa 25% have Swedish as a first language, in the neighbour municipality Korsholm it is 72%. All people mentioned above are Finland-Swedes and have Swedish as a first language.

The children grow up with Swedish and go to Swedish schools, where they will learn Finnish as a secondary language.

Even the culture is different. When Annika asked for (Finnish) tango events she was told that this would be more a Finnish thing and therefore not easy to find in Österbotten.

It is said, that “the” Finns are much more direct then “the” Swedes who try to avoid any conflict, when possible. I experienced the Finland-Swedes as more to the point than the Swedes and I have to admit, that I enjoyed it because of my own quite direct personality.

Back to 5. April. We took the car and travelled around, first to some other islands.

In Isokyrö we stopped for the old stone church, built between 1513 and 1533.

Temperatures were above zero and everything looked grey and dull. The leftover snow was wet and the gravel roads were muddy. When we returned to our overnight place my car looked really dirty – but in their special way the dirt patterns were beautiful anyway.

Later this day: Having a good time with M., A., and family including a very tasty meat soup with homemade bread and petting the cute cat

6. April – with the Ferry to Umeå

6:40: the alarm rings – 7:05: we sneak out of the house (we said goodbye the evening before) – 7:45: we roll on board of the ferry – 9:00: the ferry starts its journey back to Sweden – 12:30 (Swedish time): we arrive in Holmsund, 20 km from Umeå.

Thank you, K.D, thank you S. “för trevlig sällskap” – for nice company!

Thank you, M., A. and family – for your hospitality and “för trevlig sällskap” as well!

Later this day: The first flowers of the year:

By ferry to Vaasa

It’s true what some friends say: I travelled a lot this winter. It wasn’t the one long journey but several small ones. To Kirkenes, to Trondheim by Hurtigruten, the ski tour with Annika and last not least the journey to Murmansk.

On Monday Annika and I started another journey, this time to one of Umeå’s neighbour towns. This town is in the east and you have to cross the Baltic Sea. I’m talking about Vaasa in Finland. How good, that there’s a ferry from Umeå’s seaport Holmsund.

After I parked the car in the ship we went on the upper deck. To my disappointment the whole Baltic Sea was free of ice.

At 12 o’clock the ferry started its journey across the Baltic Sea to Finland. First along some skerries and islets. Even Holmön, where we have been last December was visible on the horizon.

Then we reached the open sea. Nothing much to see and a good time to have lunch. Quite expensive but especially the starters were delicious.

After a while I could spot the Finnish coastline. It seemed to be surrounded by ice – and so it was. One minute the ship drove through open water, the next minute through ice floes.

Now there was a lot more to see – at least for winter and ice lovers. There was ice to both sides and behind the stern of the boat you could watch the open water closing within a minute.

The structures and textures of the ice changed every minute.

We passed a ship that was surrounded by ice. First it looked like it could have been there for months, but there was an open waterway, probably it hadn’t been there for long.

The Finnish coast came nearer and nearer. Harbour and industrial plants came into view. Some last photos, than we had to enter the car. The ferry docked and we left it.

Finland – another country, another time zone and a language that is completely unknowable to most non-Finnish people.

A view from the rock dump

The peninsula Näsgrundet is one of my favourite places for photographing in Skelleftehamn. There are many motifs especially in wintertime. The snowy rocky coast, the ice covered Baltic Sea or the island Gåsören on the horizon. Probably you have seen some of the motifs here in my blog.

Mostly I take the car. I drive along the street Näsuddsvägen. To the left there are the huge cisterns for storing oil and other chemicals, part of Oljehamn, the oil port of Skellefteå. To the right, on the other side of the bay Kallholmsfjärden there’s the peninsula Rönnskär, home to several industrial facilities. Most prominent is Boliden Rönnskär, one of the world most efficient copper smelters.

There are several rock dumps beside the street. Since last year there’s a huge one between street and bay. Today I went up the slope and watched the sunset. These are perhaps not the photos I normally made home in Skelleftehamn, but the industry is part of this coastal region, too.

Have a look at the last photo: It looks like the peninsula Näsgrundet with its red houses and the tug boat to the left would almost touch the island Gåsören with its lighthouse. The distance between them however is more than 1.5 km. It’s the telephoto lens that makes the distance shrink, at least visually.

By the way: if you live here and wonder why my car is so dirty – one of the reasons is this huge water puddle that I have to “ford” when going to eller coming from Näsgrundet.

 

March snow at the coast

Today I finally had to work with my it job again.

But before that I just had to take my camera and drive to different places by the sea. I was curious how it would look like after the snowfalls of the last days. This morning between 75 cm and 80 cm of snow in my backyard and we are talking about the average, not the snow drifts.

1. Peninsula Näsgrundet

Normally the coastal line is quite visible here. Either you see stones sticking out of the rocky coast or you can spot the raised ice edge. Today you mainly saw a white plain. Only some of the largest rock and some brown tufts of grass were sticking out of the snow. I really had to look for motives to avoid images with a plain-white bottom half.

I would not dare to enter the ice because you cannot see its thickness. Probably there are weak spots that wouldn’t bear my weight.

2. Boat harbour Kurjoviken

On the roofs protecting the two wooden boats there was hardly any snow. Probably it had been too windy. Parts of the outside furniture of the restaurant Sjökrog were buried deepely in the snow. There was also a completely buried table, but that would have given a very boring photo.

3. Nameless boat bridge, Rönnskär

The boat bridge normally shows nice contrasts between the wooden construction and the water, whether covered with ice or not. Even here the snow made it all the same today: snow everywhere reduced the contrasts radically.

Now I was satisfied enough to start working, but first I had to shovel snow. I had already cleared the garage driveway last Sunday, not I had to dig a bay into the snow so that the postman could approach the mailbox by car. Phew, that was work, round about 1.5 m³ of frozen snow had to be moved and thrown in my front yard.

Snow makes everything beautiful, it’s only a matter of the amount.

 

Sjona, Helgelandkysten

Some photos from today’s small road trip with Annika from Mo i Rana to the fjord Sjona, Norway.

Why we are in Mo I Rana? Because Annika and I just finished a four days ski tour in the Vindelfjäll mountains. We had left our car in Hemavan and from Hemavan it’s only 100 km to Mo I Rana, where we’re visiting D. and C., friends of Annika.

Last day of February – farewell sea ice

Yesterday I stood on the ice edge of Kågnäshällan. It was warm and felt like the end of April. And so it looked like, too, because large parts of the Bothnian Bay were free of ice. Only protected bays and shallow waters round the islands were still frozen.

It became colder and stormy in the night. It even snowed a millimetre.

When I got up this morning it was -4 °C and still quite gusty and stormy. At 8 o’clock I took the car to have a look at the ice conditions.

I passed the nearest bay Kallholmsfjärden, just 400 metres from my house. Some ice fishers were sitting on the ice, but only some hundred meters from open water. I however wanted to drive to Näsgrundet, one of my favourite places. Yesterday afternoon the sea east of this peninsula had been completely covered with a new ice shield that had been created one week ago. Today it was … well, different …

Gale-force wind gusts tugged at my hood. Waves splashed sea spray and tossed pieces of ice onto the ice walls in front of the coast. Ice floes floated to and fro, cracking, shaking, turning, breaking. Sometimes I could feel the vibration of another wave hitting the ice wall I was standing on. Some of the ice already had been squelched to slush. I cannot remember such an impressive view of the forces of the Baltic Sea in winter time. Farther away a ship was leaving the port, accompanied by a tug boat and the small icebreaker Baus.

I tried to make pictures of the say spray of the waves. Not easy …

Behind the curtains of spray waves came rolling and small and large ice floes pivoted and danced while going up and down.

After 45 minutes the Baus came back heading for the port.

Partly I was taking pictures, partly I was just enjoying the energy of the elements and listened to the different sounds. I tried to make some videos, but all you can hear is the swooshing wind at full volume.

After one and a half hours of photographing I left this scene and drove to the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan nearby. Here the ice uses to be safe to cross to the islands Norrskär and Bredskär until the end of March or even mid-April.

Well, not this year. Even here the ice layer was being destroyed by the waves. The northern wind blew the ice floes away, so they will not freeze together again, or perhaps in Finland.

When I returned home I passed the Kallholmsfjärden a second time. The ice fishers were gone – there was just no ice left to sit on and fish from.

So, the sea-ice-season is over, four to six weeks earlier than usual.

Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Stamsund – Trondheim

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

I’m writing this blog article from the train. We left Trondheim central station ten minutes ago at 7:50, at 9:22 I’ll be Storlien in Sweden where I’ll have to change train. But back to the day before yesterday evening. The Hurtigruten ship MS Lofoten had just left Stamsund

22:30 – we just had left Stamsund. The next stop would be Bodø at 2:30 in the night.

Monday, 18 February

As expected I overslept Bodø, stop #18 of my Hurtigruten journey to Trondheim. I was awakened by a loud, squeaky noise. It was our ship leaving Ørnes, stop #19. It scraped along the huge truck tires that are fixed to all piers to avoid damages and made an awful noise. One hour later I stood on deck and looked at the MS Spitsbergen, the ship that Chris and I visited eight days ago. It had been in Bergen and now was returning to Kirkenes.

At half past nine we passed Polarsirkelmonumentet, a monument marking the polar circle. It looks a bit alike as the more famous monument at the North Cape.

But – where’s the winter? We were not only going south, we also had unusually warm weather for mid-February. Beside of the higher mountains most snow had melted and the landscape looked more like a rainy September day than the middle of winter.

Later there was a little ceremony for having crossed the polar circle. I have crossed it many times but I participated too. Obediently, I took a spoonful of cod liver oil, because I wanted to have the spoon that you may keep.

I have to admit, that the journey started to become a bit boring. The winter was far up north, the weather was warm and rainy and I’ve been on the ship for three days already. I made some pictures anyway.

Next stop Nesna, stop #20.

Next stop Sandnessjøen, stop #21.

Here I even took some detail photos of the MS Lofoten from the pier.

We travelled along the Helgelandskysten, the coast of Helgeland. It’s a well-known scenic route which Annika and I took some years ago after having visiting friends in Norway. First it showed a funny combination of ancient mountains and modern functional houses.

De syv søstre (the seven sisters) came into view and seemed to follow us for half an hour. This is a quite impressive mountain range with seven summits. Some of the tops were in the clouds that made the view maybe less postcard compatible but in my opinion more impressive. The mountains looked higher with their summits hanging in the clouds.

Next stop Brønnøysund, stop #22. Here we had a stopover of an hour. When I left the ship rain was pouring down and I was glad about my Gore-Tex clothes that I actually didn’t plan to wear before April.

We left Brønnøysund at 17:00 and it was still quite light. Half an hour later it became so dark that you could hardly see anything but the lights of towns, villages, streets, cars and other ships.

Next stop Rørvik, stop #23 and the last stop before Trondheim. The weather was just as bad and Rørvik in a rainy winter evening is probably not the most beautiful place, especially when there’s a huge construction site in the middle of the village. Soon I returned to the ship that lay head-to-head with the Hurtigruten ship Nordlys. Some very last photos of the tour.

At half past nine we left Rørvik. I was already lying in my bed in cabin 121. The alarm clock was set to 6 o’clock in the next morning. The next day we would arrive in Trondheim where I would leave the Hurtigruten, take a taxi to the railway station and then the 7:50 train to Storlien. There I would take another train to Sundsvall and a third one to Umeå. In Umeå I would stay with Annika for a night and travel home by bus the next day.

Our train just stopped in Gudå. 20 more kilometres and I’ll be back in Sweden. Ha det bra, Norge. Takk for turen.

 

 

 

Travelling with the MS Lofoten: Øksfjord – Stamsund

This article is part of the series “2019-02: Northern Norway”.

Disclaimer: Many, many photos, some of them pretty mediocre but all part of the journey.

Still Saturday, 16 February

After we left Øksfjord we continued our journey through the darkness. The people on board were idle, they chatted, read a book, look through the window and of course most of them used their computers, tablets or smartphones.

Three hours later we were in Skervøy, stop #9 of my Hurtigruten journey.

After a short stay we continued to Tromsø, Norway’s largest town north of Trondheim. I took a night image of the passing Hurtigruten ship MS Trollfjord then I went to sleep.

Our stays in Tromsø and Finnsnes I overslept completely.

Sunday, 17 February

At 7 o’clock I woke up, half an hour later I stood outside and took the first pictures in the blue hour. The weather was much better than the other days and the temperatures had dropped below zero in the night. We were on our way to Harstad, with 25000 inhabitants the third largest town in Northern Norway. Stop #12.

While we were stopped in Harstad the sun was rising and was bathing the landscape in purplish light. Harstad started to glitter. It was the many windows reflecting the warm sunlight.

The sun rose higher and after a while the sky was blue. I stood outside with my large telephoto lens and tried to catch the impressive snowy mountain ranges by the fjords and sea.

Risøyrennan, a deepened part of Risøysundet came into view.

After a short stay in Risøyhamn, part of the Vesterålen and stop #13 of my journey we continued south. The sheltered  was covered with a closed layer of thin pancake ice. You could hear it crack when it met the bow wave of the ship.

Some more images taken between Risøyhamn and Sortland:

I left the MS Lofoten in Sortland, stop #14, but only for a short time. In Norway all shops are closed on Sundays and then the towns may be a bit boring. Partly the ways still covered with a bit of frozen snow, but mostly it was slippery ice and some deep water puddles. Home in Skelleftehamn it had been very warm the last days and I expect the same road conditions when I’ll come home in a couple of days.

After 30 minutes the MS Lofoten continued its tour. At the horizon the steep mountains of the Lofoten islands came into view.

The backlit Lofoten mountain ranges looked amazing as if they were from another world. I’ll show you two photos but I’m not at all happy with them. In reality the landscape looked more aerial or as if made of light.

These mountains were in the far. The nearer mountains to the left or right looked more normal when it comes to light but still unreal because they were so steep and snowy.

The large island Hinnøya on the port side, the island Langøya on starboard side of the ship I stood at the starboard and peeked through my telephoto lens. I have friends near Stokmarknes on the Vesterålen and was I looking for their house. I found it ;-). Unfortunately R. was ill but J. visited be on the ship with the children. They went on board while the ship lay at the port of Stokmarknes, stop #15. Shortly before departure my friends left the ship. Thank you very much for your visit!

Oh, I forgot the photo of the islet (or holm) Gjæva. I already knew it from earlier stays with my friends.

Now we headed for the impressive sound Raftsundet where we would even take a small detour to the entrance of the Trollfjorden. Due to the narrowness of the fjord and the risk of avalanches it’s not possible to drive into it in wintertime.

We left the blue sky behind us, the weather worsened.

First the weather still was quite fair but then it started to snow. The snowfall was so strong and the cloud layer was so thick and low that it was decided not to visit the Trollfjorden. You hardly would have seen anything.

The camera was wet, I was wet, too and it was so dark that it was near to impossible to take any pictures. It was twenty to five and I went into my cabin and took a nap.

Just some photos “for the archives” of the next stays: Svolvær and Stamsund, stops #16 and #17, both on the Lofoten.