The last two kayak tours 2022

It’s Friday and the day before Christmas Eve. It’s actually my last working day but I worked only short, thanks to flextime. At 11:10 I stopped developing software for this year and went out kayaking.

Two days before the sea was open between our small ice covered bay and the islet Lillskär. Today it is covered with a layer of new ice. I drag the kayak to the end of the bay and start the tour.

Just crossing the 100 metres of ice seems to take ages. The ice is too thick to paddle through, too thin to walk on and too soft to push oneself forward with arms and ice claws. So it’s a lot of back and forth to get a bit of momentum to crash another metre with brute force. The stiff neoprene of my survival suit does not make it easier and I’m so exhausted when I leave the ice behind. I change plans. I won’t visit Obbolstenarna today (farther away) but the island Bredskär again. I turn the kayak and paddle north. Partially to open water, partially through fields of thin feathery ice. Let’s see, how far I’ll come.

I reach Bredskär and start to circle it. Looking at the right I see snow covered islands in the distance and ice fields. It feels and looks quite arctic.

This impression changes directly when I look left and see the forest of Bredskär passing by. Looking straight ahead gives another view: The port of Holmsund with the ferry to Finland. Between that and me: many ice fields.

I pass the small bay with the sandy beach and slowly follow the shore line. When I want to turn left again to enter the sound that leads back I am stopped by another ice field, this one thicker than the others. I remember the first 100 metres today and decide not to break through but to turn. It will make the tour a bit longer but I have holidays and I’m not cold. The outer side of the island is beautiful anyhow in the light of the lowering sun.

Yes, the sun is lowering. The tour took longer than expected. I decide to watch the sunset from the kayak and slow down a bit. My fingers are getting a bit cold, but it’s worth it.

A good two hours later I arrive at the first ice field again. The ice channel that I had created by breaking through has frozen over again but breaks under the weight of my kayak. Shortly before 14 o’clock I stand on the bay ice again. The tour was a bit demanding, but impressive and beautiful. A great start into the Christmas holidays!

I’m however quite sceptical about Annika’s and my idea for tomorrow: Christmas eve paddling together. With temperatures round -10 °C the ice will probably be too thick the next day. A pity!

One day later – Christmas eve. Annika and I peek through the spotting scope to check the ice situation. Looks like the ice has gone. I walk to the ice edge and see our observations confirmed: Yesterday’s ice has gone and beside of some new and thin ice fields the water is open. So let’s take a kayak tour together!

This paddling tour was magic. The sea surface was smooth as silk, the sun felt warm and the new ice was easy to paddle through. The air was so clear that we could spot islands far away and there was almost no wind. Beside of the high frequency noises when crushing the ice with our kayaks and a dog at land barking at us it was completely silent.

It was Annika’s first winter paddling tour and I’m glad and lucky that it was such an exceptionally great one. May many other tours follow in the future! In spring, summer, autumn and winter.

 

 

 

 

10 days in Scotland

This article is part of the series “2022-10: Autumn in Scotland”.

It has been years, since Annika and I were on holiday outside of Fennoscandia. This October we enjoyed a ten day journey to Scotland from which I just arrived in Tromsø yesterday.

For this article I chose 2 photos for each day. Some more articles will follow later.

6 October – Edinburgh

I landed in the late morning and have the rest of the day strolling through Edinburgh. Blue sky – so it can actual stop raining in  Edinburgh ;-). In the evening I wait for Annika who is taking the tram from the airport. Now it is raining. Finally we are together.

7 October – travelling to Ullapool

We have pre-booked train tickets to Inverness where we will spend three hours before taking the coach to Ullapool. Well, in theory. The trains do not go the whole way due to heavy rain flooding. The rest is operated by replacement buses. So much to rain in Scotland. In Inverness we catch the connecting coach to Ullapool and have even time for a pizza.

8 October – hiking in Ullapool

After two travel days we want to be outdoors and look for the hiking trail to the hill Meall Mor after a hand-drawn sketch. We find it. From the top we have a view to the town, the hills and mountains in sun, clouds and rain.

9 October – taking the ferry to Lewis

After breakfast we take our backpacks through rain and heavy winds to the ferry terminal just to learn that the ferry has been cancelled because of the gusts on the Minch – the straight between Ullapool and the Isle of Lewis. Luckily the afternoon ferry runs according schedule and we arrive in Stornoway at nine o’clock. Scotland premiere: We hire a car. Annika is driving. Left-hand traffic in darkness!

10 October – exploring Lewis

We explore Lewis by car. Great that Annika is brave enough to drive in Scotland (I’m not). Read the article The west coast of Isle of Lewis about this day.

11 October – Peat bogs and Northern Gannets

From Gearrannan Village we take a small way back to Stornoway. In the bogs you can see traces of peat mining. We give back the car, take the ferry back and are watching the elegant aerial manoeuvres of the Northern Gannets. In Ullapool we receive another car that we have hired for the next two days.

12 October – exploring Assynt

We start exploring Assynt, the region north of Ullapool. Read the article Stac Pollaidh about this day.

13 October – taking a bath

Finally – our first bath! At Achmelvich beach. I will write more about this day later …

14 October – travelling to Edinburgh

It is time to give back the rental car and travel back to Edinburgh. First by coach, then by train. This travel confirms my theory that Scottish coaches and trains are designed solely for transport, not for comfort.

15 October – flying back

Short ones, long ones – all holidays comes to their end. Annika takes me to the tram, again it’s me travelling first. What a wonderful holiday. Thank you, Annika!

A new camera

Next week Annika, my sister, brother in law a nephew and I will start a hiking tour in Sweden and Norway. We will not use a tent but hike from cabin to cabin. Last time I had 6 kilo of camera equipment with me. This year I decided to scale down weight and so I bought a point-and-shoot camera this week: the Sony RX100 VII. It has some disadvantages, but a huuuge advantage: It’s small and weights hardly more than 300 grams. That’s why I even can take a smaller backpack (also bought this week) and save another 1300 grams of weight.

Today I tested the camera, first on my way to work and then on random places, from the center to Telegrafbukta. I know, that the camera has its limitations (being not weatherproof for example) but I’m quite glad that I finally bought it. And here come some test shots from today. All photos are edited in Lightroom.

 

Some summer days in Sweden

I was home in Sweden for only three weeks but the time feels long and rich. Annika and I had guests most of the time but some days in between just the two of us.

A short kayak trip in the sun

On 1 July I used my lunch break to paddle to the beach. I took a bath and lunch there and then paddled back to work. Ah, I love this type of lunch breaks!

A day trip to Norrbyskär

On 3 July Annika and I took the car to Norrbyn and from there the ferry to the island Norrbyskär. Always worth visiting, especially when the warm weather invites to a bath.

A wavy kayak trip

On 4 July Annika and I made a kayak trip to and round the island Tarv. Normally this would be a quite relaxing tour of 10–11 km. But due to the windy weather the sea was pretty choppy and we had to focus a lot on the waves and the rocks.

No one of us took any photos there, but in the more sheltered waters beside and behind the island it was possible to take some photos again. And another bath.

Finally rain

On 7 July it finally rained in Obbola. The rain came too late for the dried up lawn but probably saved a lot of flowers and bushes in our garden.

Hiking twice

On 8 July Annika and hiked twice. First round Grössjön together with guests from Germany, then just we two at the Kronören naturreservat. Grössjön is mostly forest and bogs (and a lot of mosquitoes) while Kronören is also open landscape by the sea.

Back to Tromsø

Ten days ago an 10 July I travelled back to Tromsø. Train Departure in Umeå 2:15 in the night, bus arrival in Tromsø was 17:30.

I felt cold and made a Covid test the next day. Bang – positive! Therefore I couldn’t take advantage of the beautiful summer weather in Tromsø but stayed home in bed the week.

I made some short hikes on the weekend but the weather was dull, foggy and rainy.

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 21: Longyearbyen · time to say farewell

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 21 · 11 March 2022

It’s the night before 11 March, the last day of the polar expedition JC3 in the program Arven etter Nansen that I have been allowed to take part the last three weeks.

As often before I stand on the helicopter deck of the icebreaking research vessel Kronprins Haakon. It’s dark but I can see pale mountain schemes on both sides of Isfjorden. Mountains and fjords, that feels almost unreal after two and a half weeks with hardly any land in sight.

The first lights, the first other ships, the first mobile connection for weeks – we are definitely approaching civilisation. The airport is already in sight and soon the illuminated settlement Longyearbyen, the largest inhabited area of Svalbard is visible.

At 1:30 in the night we arrive at the harbour of Longyearbyen and the ship is moored. Time to catch some sleep.

After some hours of sleep the alarm clock wakes me up – time for breakfast. We have to leave our cabins at 8:00, the first farewell. Goodbye cabin 385 at the port side of the ship’s bow. After breakfast I stand again on the helicopter deck to welcome the sun and the blue sky.

Some of us leave the ship to visit town. Is it possible to go there without the threat of polar bears? Apparently, although we are at the coast and polar bears can swim. For two hours I stroll through the town, first with others than alone. Many of the others have lived here for a while – a normal place for people who are involved in polar research.

I head to the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). It’s not only the university that is located there, my employer the Norwegian Polar Institute has offices there as well. Hopefully I may work here for some weeks someday. I want to spend more time in Longyearbyen.

Together with J. who works there we had back to the ship. Here we will meet the taxis to the airport but before that we get lunch – the last meal on board.

Some hours later. Seven of our team sit in the waiting hall of the airport. Others already left with the earlier flight. And then we enter the airplane. It’s surprisingly cold in row 3 near to the open front door and after some minutes I put on my down parka. It may look ridiculous but soon I’m getting warm again. And then the plane starts.

The plane is rapidly gaining altitude and more and more the whole wintry beauty of the island Spitsbergen is revealed. I’m so touched by the view of mountain chains, glaciers and ice covered fjords.

And then we leave Spitsbergen’s southern tip behind and a layer of clouds slide between airplane and sea. A journey far beyond the ordinary comes to its end. Time to say farewell.

On the arctic sea iceFarewell

I stand on the Arctic sea ice
far in the north. The sun hangs low
over the horizon and there lies
an ice ridge lit by the morning glow.

The silence feels as infinite
as the extent of the frozen sea
and with every subsequent minute
my heart grows with boundless glee.

I stood on the Arctic Ocean
It’s past now and I should say good bye.
But an overwhelming sad emotion
shades my soul. And I cry, and I cry.

 

Olaf Schneider – 24 March 2022

My heartfelt thanks to all people that made this journey possible.

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 1 and 2: Tromsø

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Day 1 and 2 · 19 – 20 February 2022

Oh, well – where to start? I’m still completely overwhelmed from the polar winter expedition Arven etter Nansen (The Nansen Legacy) with the icebreaking polar research vessel Kronprins Haakon that just ended three days ago.

Ok, perhaps it’s best to start with the beginning.

The beginning

It’s Saturday, 19 February 2022 early in the morning. I look at my baggage in my one-room flat. A huge suitcase, an even huger bag, my photo backpack and my bulky Canada Goose down parka plus winter boots.

Do I really have everything? Warm clothes? The helseerklæring – a medical certificate that proves me “seaworthy”? All camera equipment? All gloves and mittens? LAN-cable with adapter for Mac? My reading glasses? Passport? Woollen underpants? Balaclava?

I made a complete packing list, I packed twice(!) but still I’m a bit nervous. When I’m on the ship, it’s probably too late to organise left-behind things.

The taxi arrives at 8:15. It drives north to the harbour, opens the gate to the restricted area and continues directly to pier 25. I’m not alone. Other people that came by taxi or brought by private car and a lot of luggage are there, too. And there it is: Kronprins Haakon, my home for the next three weeks.

My cabin

I ascent the gangway – I have to go twice with all my luggage – and there is a reception. I tell my name and get my key card. I’m in cabin 385. I get a short description of where to find it. It is quite low on deck 3 and right in the front. These cabins are told to be the loudest when the ship starts breaking ice.

The cabin has a huge window. Wow! Behind the window: two bull eyes. As closed and locked as possible. So I won’t see anything from my cabin, but that’s ok. It’s pretty roomy with a desk, a small table, a small sofa and space to store your stuff. And a bathroom. I’ll share this cabin with P., a scientist.

Waiting

Next event: passport control through the police. Then: the first meeting. Here we learn, that departure is delayed, because a crane has to be fixed. Estimated time of departure: tomorrow after bunkering fuel.

While I can take it easy the scientists are busy. They don’t wear lab coats, they wear safety boots and helmets and use pallet jacks to put their equipment to the right places. And there is a lot equipment! Several containers full of it!

11:30 – lunch. Wow, the food is rich in variety and it tastes wonderful. I heard that many people gain weight on these cruises. Now I understand.

12:30 – group photo. That’s my job because I have all my camera equipment with me. Click. Click. Click.

13:00 – safety briefing. How to put on the survival suit in case of evacuation. I’m the guinea pig. And I hear a thing that photographers dream of: Almost every place on the ship is freely accessible. The quarterdeck at the ship’s stern, the helicopter deck at the ship’s bow, the bridge on level 8, the observation deck on level 9. Great! I use the spare time to stroll around a bit.

15:00 – safety training. We „muster“ which means we gather all in the mess – the same room where we eat – split into two groups and enter the life boats. These boats are equipped with everything you need to survive for some days but when you go to the toilet everyone can see it. Made for survival, not for comfort or privacy.

17:00 – dinner. 18:30 – a second meeting. 20:00 – the equipment of the polar institute is accessible: I fetch two pairs of boots and a floating overall size XL. A helmet I already have.

22:45 – bed time. First night on the ship. My bunk bed looks small but is comfortable and very cozy. Good night!

Day 2 – More waiting

I wake up. Do we move? I’m not sure. The internet reveals: we have moved and are now south of Tromsøya. Let’s go out onto the heli deck. Oh, what a beautiful morning!

The ships moves to the bunker station. There it will lie for many hours. Bunkering fuel takes time.

A lot of time. I help a bit here and there, but I cannot do so much. The scientists are extremely organised and mostly it’s faster for them when I do not try to help. At least I can carry some stuff around.

The departure is estimated for 16:00 but when we have dinner at 17:30 we still lay at the same place. I overhear that this delay is larger than usual. When will we start? Will this affect the planning? As most things on board I just don’t know. I’m the newbie.

The journey begins

17:54 – while I am eating my chilli con carne I feel a change in the ship. I look out of the window and almost shout out: „We are moving!“. Finally we are on our way!

After dinner I stand on the heli deck for a long time. I’m on the phone with Annika – maybe the last time for some weeks. I watch the ship going under the bridge Sandnessundbrua that connects Tromsøya and Kvaløya. I watch the Northern Lights. And I’m very happy. The journey begins!

Arrival in Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

It is half past two in the night between Thursday and Friday. For almost two hours I had stood on the helicopter deck of the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon to witness our arrival in Longyearbyen on Svalbard.

When I went outside two hours ago clouds had just started to gather and the moon was hidden. I could see dark and pale schemes on both sides of the ship and straight ahead another shade of a mountain, decorated with lights.

Slowly the lights came nearer. And since it was the first time I had mobile Internet for many days I could follow our route on the map of the iPhone. Only occasionally because a cold wind on the bow made the quite mild temperatures of -5 °C feel much colder.

There – the airport! And then, after we started to turn into the Adventfjorden, the city LongyearbyenSvalbard’s largest settlement.

The ship slowed down at the harbour and slowly and carefully started to move sideways. Do we still move? I peek down to the pier. There, the first thick rope connects the vessel with land – the first land after we bunkered fuel round 19 days ago!

We have arrived in Longyearbyen. Almost three weeks I worked, learned, photographed, relaxed, ate and slept on Kronprins Haakon. Tomorrow I’ll disembark and in the early afternoon take an airplane back to Tromsø. Yes, I am sad that this incredible journey has now come to its end. But I am also happy and content and full of stories, experiences and memories.

Do I smile on the photo or am I sad? Most of all I am tired and then a bit tense because it is hard to hold the iPhone as still as possible for some seconds with an outstretched arm.

The scientific winter cruise Arven etter Nansen JC3 took almost three weeks. Three very extraordinary weeks. And it will take at least three other weeks to tell some of the stories and show some of the photos here in the blog. So, please be patient – more to come, but step by step.

Arctic research expedition with the Norwegian Polar Institute

This article is part of the series “2022-02: Winter cruise KPH”.

Kronprins Haakon is a Norwegian icebreaking polar research vessel. It was build 2018, can cut through one metre of solid ice, has 15 different laboratories on board and place for 35 scientists or other staff in addition to the crew.

Four days ago Kronprins Haakon had arrived in Tromsø. It was travelling 26 days since it left Cape Town, the only stopover on its return trip from Antarctica.

This morning I went on board of Kronsprins Haakon. Not as a visitor to look around but with a suitcase, an enormous bag full of warm clothes, a heavy camera backpack and my Canada Goose down parka. I will stay on board for three weeks to participate the winter cruise “Arven etter Nansen JC3” that will lead us to the Barents Sea east of Svalbard and a bit beyond.

What happened?

Some of you may know that I’ve been working as a data engineer at the Norwegian Polar Institute in Tromsø since autumn 2020. In this position I’m not only a software developer but a data manager of polar research data.

Three and a half weeks ago my colleague M. told me she would join the winter cruise and mentioned that there might still be an available place.

Of course I was very eager to participate. Beside of my private passion for the Arctic I wanted to get a deeper and hands-on understanding of the research data. Where does it come from? How is it measured? And how is it transferred to the digital world? And nothing would teach me better than joining this very winter cruise, where conditions could be quite rough.

I mentioned it to M., another colleague and he introduced me to the expedition leader. There I was told that there was indeed a vacancy on board and that I was welcome to join if my boss would agree.

Since then it had been crazy times with some organisation, a lot of worries and little sleep.

  • 1 Feb: My boss had to check the budget for my participation.
  • 4 Feb: A seafarer’s doctor examined me and gave me my helseerklæring – a medical certificate that proves me “seaworthy”.
  • 16 Feb: I had to take a PCR test and wait for the result for two days. Then I had to take another PCR test, but that’s a whole story in itself.
  • 18 Feb: I had to do a survival suit training in the Tromsøsundet.
  • 18 Feb: I had to pack clothes and equipment I will need on the cruise. Everything beside of two pairs of boots, a helmet, a floating suit and a survival suit. These are provided by the Norwegian Polar Institute.
  • 19 Feb (today): I took a taxi to the port of Tromsø. I was driven directly to Kai 25, took some photos and then went on board.
  • Still today: passport control through the police, a security briefing, lunch and dinner, carrying boxes to the labs, entering the rescue boat and some more …

The next weeks

When Kronprins Haakon will leave Tromsø tomorrow morning we will sail north. First destination is a point referred as P1. It is approx. 500 km east of Svalbard’s southern tip. From there we will continue heading north to the other stations, if weather and sea ice conditions allow it.

The northernmost position is planned to be approx. 82° N, somewhere in the Arctic Ocean. That’s more than 10 degrees of altitude further north than I’ve ever been and less than 900 km to the North Pole.

I’m so excited, that’s really way up north!

We will work both on the sea ice and on the ship using various measurement and sampling methods. Some of them I learned a bit last week but most of them I do not know yet. I’m a newbie. I’m here to learn. And hopefully I’ll learn a lot on this cruise.

After three weeks of tokt (Norwegian for “cruise”) we are supposed to arrive in Longyearbyen on 11 Mars. There I’ll take a flight back to Tromsø the same day.

I will not blog on this cruise because there will be a lot of work and hardly any reliable internet connection. But I’ll definitely take photos, both for the Norwegian Polar Institute and in private for this blog.

So, my dear readers, cross your fingers that I do not get seasick, we can reach our planned destinations and most of all that no one has Covid on board.

You can check the live position of the Kronprins Haakon on the map below. And you are welcome to leave a comment. See you again in mid-March when I’ll answer your comments and start posting articles.

23. Feb, 13:03: Just a short note: This map does not seem to work in polar regions. At time we have internet. Outside temperature -17.4 °C. Position round about 76°29′ N 31°11′ E.


January sun in Tromsø

After ten days with snow and wind, rain and storm and many, many clouds – there it is – the sun. The first time i see the sun in Tromsø since some day in November.

Photo taken with my iPhone through the window pane of the canteen at lunch break.

 

I walk to work

Back in Tromsø I decided to walk to work this week. 2½ km to the Norwegian Polar Institute in the Framsenteret and 2½ km back home. So I get at least a bit of motion each day. And a bit of outdoor feeling, too.

Monday, 17 January

It has snowed quite a bit the night and is still snowing. It’s -4 °C and the wind is calm. It’s fun to trudge through the powder snow.

Lunch time. We get the table by the panoramic window. Some boat owners clear the landing of the marina from snow.

Tuesday, 18 January

-3 °C and snow fall again but now the wind is stronger and squally. Luckily I have it in the back.

It gets warmer the whole day and it starts to rain. Wet ice and deep puddles on my way back.

Wednesday, 19 January

+2 °C, a bit of rain. Rubber boots, slush, ice, water puddles.

Thursday, 20 January

-1 °C and fresh snow.

I don’t trust the snow. I know that ice and slush lurk beneath the surface. Therefore I wear rubber boots again with attached spikes to avoid slipping on the wet ice. The gloves protect against the wind, the reflective wristbands with the blinking LEDs and the high visibility vest against not being seen by car drivers. No cyclists the last days.

Friday, 21 January

-6 °C, almost like winter. The canteen invites to “sun buns” and cacao because it is “soldagen”, the day where the sun is finally visible in Tromsø again after 8 weeks. Unfortunately clouds block the low hanging sun.

This weekend I won’t see the sun neither. We got warm weather and storm and unfortunately a lot of rain. So I’ll probably keep myself mostly inside.