No winter bath today

Five days ago at Vitskärsudden, Annika’s and my favourite all-season bathing place looked like this:

Looks like bathing season would be over there soon, I thought but last night’s hard wind had crushed a lot of the sea ice along the coast. Annika and I packed our bathing things, wrapped ourselves up in warm winter clothes and headed to the beach for a winter bath.

Well, it didn’t look looked too promising, but I gave it a try. The first obstacle was the ice wall at the beach – at least half a metre high. Slowly I crossed it barefoot until with the last step the wall collapsed and I stood in the shallow water. Well, standing in water was part of the plan. Check.

Then a wave came. Not a huge one but nevertheless it covered me with sea spray from tip to toe. Brr! At the same time the wave pushed ice floes and crushed ice against my shin with more power than expected. The water was too shallow to knock me over but the sharp ice cut my shin on several places.

So I just shouted “Back!” to Annika in case of her making a try as well and instantly returned to the snowy beach to dry myself off and got dressed again. I’m glad, that I didn’t try it any longer. Probably I would have got so many cuts the I would look like a survivor of a piranha fight.

So – home again. No winter bath today.

Later I took the car to the same beach again to make some photographs. The pictures hardly transport the energy of the overlapping waves and the impression of wind and snowfall. Anyhow, here are some of the photos:

Was the action stupid? Well, perhaps. At least it wasn’t dangerous since we never planned to go into deeper water. So it’s more under to motto: “Another good idea that didn’t work!”

Kayaking to the Obbolstenarna

It’s the last weeks in Obbola in Västerbotten/Sweden before I start working in Tromsø. Annika has started working again on Monday while I’m idle.

2020, what a year! Two ski tours just before Corona – cancelled projects because of Corona – Annika and I buy our beautiful house in Obbola – I get the job at the Norsk Polarinstitutt in Tromsø – I start selling my house in Skelleftehamn – I “park” my Swedish company – Annika and I get engaged – I find a room in a shared flat in Tromsø, hardly 500 m away from the beach – Annika and I marry in our own garden on 21 August ⚭ (yes – we’ve been married for three weeks now!) – we drive to Tromsø to move some of my stuff to the flat.

It was a lot of things to organise the whole year through. Now most organisation is either done or out of my control and I have to lean back and relax a bit. Sometimes so much, that I spend half the day watching more or less silly YouTube videos. A state quite untypical for me.

Today after lunch I was in the danger of becoming a couch potato again, but I managed to stand up, put my drysuit on, stuff the camera into a waterproof bag and go paddling. Destination Obbolstenarna, a group of islands nearby. Obbolstenarna is hardly more than a kilometre away but a headwind of round 10 m/s and rolling waves from the front slowed me down. Normally I love taking photos from the kayak, today I dared it only when I started to get into the lee of the islands where at least the waves were less high.

To my delight the center island has a small and sheltered bay, where it was very easy to moor the kayak.

I left the kayak and started looking around. Small birds fluttered around, summer and autumn flowers were blooming and some of the leaves of the rowans had turned orange and red.

I could constantly hear the waves breaking at the rocks of the southern shore. I went there and was impressed by the force of wind and waves. I looked where the rocks were still dry to safely make some photos of the breaking waves without getting wet. It all went quite well until a huge wave came … *KERSPLASH*!

I managed to turn away to protect the camera at least a bit but I myself would have been completely soaked without my drysuit. This wave came at least five metres further than all others before.

Since the camera lens got wet anyway I looked for saver motives. Rocks, for example or the large anchor partly rusted to pieces.

Then I climbed on some of the small rocky tops to get some wider views. I could see the open Baltic Sea in the south and the Wasaline ferry to Finland docking in Holmsund in the northeast.

After strolling around a bit more I got into my kayak again and paddled home. I didn’t measure time or speed but I guess it took less than half of the time paddling back with the wind behind me and the waves pushing me forward.

The whole tour took less than two hours including the preparations. And – as always – I deeply enjoyed it. Learning today (again): Olaf, be more outdoors!

And you? Where have you been outdoors the last time? What did you do? What did you enjoy the most?

Two short kayak tours

Two short kayak tours from the new home by the sea.

The first one morning last week. Just round the island Bredskär. The water surface smooth as silk and in beautiful pastel colours. Everything was quiet beside of the complaining sea birds.

The second one the day before yesterday in the afternoon. Just to the beach at Vitskärsudden. Through tiny waves and a lot of rocks. At the sandy beach I met Annika for a bath. She came by bike. The Baltic Sea not as cold as last time. Summer is coming.

Both tours were equally fun and both of them made me very grateful that I may live here at this fantastic place.

Taking the kayak home

After a Saturday morning with rain it became cold again today. The weather forecast believes Skelleftehamn to be subzero for at least ten other days. Since the sea at Storgrundet had already started freezing over it was time to take the kayak home from the beach. The easy way would have been to put it onto the transport cart and pull it the 1.5 km home.

Since the weather was fine I decided to paddle it to a nearer place, only 650 meter away from my house. For that I had to paddle round the island Storgrundet and the peninsula Näsgrundet. That’s round about 7.5 km. 7.5 km, that took me more than 2¼ hours today.

The temperature is -6 °C and there is a slight wind. As excepted the sea between island and mainland is frozen. Instead of the paddle I use ice claws to pull me forward over the ice towards the open water. That’s easier than it sounds until you break through. Then you are in some kind of amphibian environment, where it’s both hard to use the ice claws (where’s the ice?) and the paddle (where’s the open water?).

Luckily it is just a short passage and soon I reach open water. Now I want to let down my rudder but it does not work. The whole steering device is completely frozen. I try several times but when I realise that I even cannot use the foot pedals I give up. It’s possible to steer a kayak without.

Well, it doesn’t work very well. Although the rudder at the back is small it acts as a sail, when being flipped up and the wind constantly tries to turn me around, especially on top of the waves. Three seconds without paddling and I am 30° off-course. One photo and my kayak is turned up to 150°. Constantly I get ahead, but it’s really exhausting.

The sun has risen from behind the island Bredskär. When I pass the southern tip of Storgrundet I pass some fields of a million of thinnest ice crystals covering the sea. That’s really beautiful!

Near the small boat harbour Tjuvkistan I land the kayak and try to fix the rudder. I still cannot move the pedals but at least I manage to put down the rudder into the water to decrease the sailing area of my kayak. The kayak is covered in ice.

I follow the coast round the peninsula Näsgrundet until I have the industrial area Rönnskär ahead. I turn into the large bay Kallholmsfjärden, home of the port of Skellefteå. Luckily there is no commercial boat traffic now.

I can spot the tiny tunnel that leads into the small bay Killingörviken, my destination for today. It is 2.5 km away and it takes some time to reach it, because I have headwind and I am quite exhausted. But finally I reach the sheltered bay, cross some weak ice and finally slide over thicker ice using my ice claws again. I finish my paddling tour at 9:20 and now I’m quite hungry, since I didn’t have a proper breakfast.

The adventure is over, but not the journey. My kayak are I are at one place, my car is parked 2 km away. I have the cart at hand but the belt to fix the kayak I forgot home. Luckily Annika drives me around, first to my car which I leave home, then to my kayak that I walk home. After a hot shower I get finally a breakfast. Great!

 

Greeting the winter – a kayak tour shorter than planned

I had planned it for days: today I wanted to paddle kayak – that’s a thing that I do much less often than I would like. The conditions for paddling were – well …

The sky was cloudy and it was snowing at temperatures around freezing. At least it was not too windy. Already at home I had put on my dry suit and neoprene boots. At the coast I completed my outfit with the mandatory life jacket plus neoprene gloves and hood. I even had ski goggles with me.

The sea between the island Storgrundet and mainland was calm as usual. I could however hear the loud noise of waves breaking at the outside of Storgrundet. I assumed, that the open sea could be rough – and so it was. As soon as I paddled around the western tip of the island I could see turf and breaking waves everywhere. The waves were steep and too short to lift the kayak. I just paddled through them – a wet pleasure and each wave tried to turn my boat parallel. I realised that the conditions were to hard for my kayaking abilities, managed to turn around and reach calm waters again.

Therefore I took a shorter tour round the island Brambärsgrundet where the sea was calm. I knew that paddling around the eastern tip could be a challenge. When I saw the waves and turf I decided to get off the kayak and pull it around wading through knee deep water. It was hard enough.

But the rest was easy as pie and I could make some photos from the boat without fearing of capsizing. Another snow shower approached.

The second photo is made through the ski goggles, that I didn’t need on this short tour. It was only 3½ km. But as always: I never regretted having been outside.

At the coast the snow on the grass and my car had started to melt away. Some hours later I drove into town. There it was slightly colder and 5 cm of wet snow had fallen. When I drove home in the evening the temperature had dropped to – 2 °C and the formerly wet snow in town had frozen and was crunching under my feet. Now it’s time again for winter boots.

Another kayaking

On Friday came a lot of rain, but yesterday on Saturday the weather was forecasted to be nice – and so it was. Time for a longer tour with my kayak, that I hardly used this year. A quarter past 9 I was on the water.

Soon after I passed the near-shore island Storgrundet the sea became quite wavy. Still no dangerously large waves but enough to keep me busy instead of photographing. Shortly before the island Medgrundet I came into the lee of the island and the water calmed down. There I could take photos again and it was easy to go ashore.

Do you see the brown stuff covering the stones? It guess it was some kind of algae washed ashore. Phew – the smell was awful! On the island I saw probably the last blooming circumpolar pea for this year. Other plants were already bearing bean pods. It was end of August and you could see autumn approaching.

In opposite to most other islands nearby, there are no summer cottages or other buildings on Medgrundet. I went through the forest to the other side of the island, which is hardly wider than 200 m at its widest point. There are some beautiful trees in the small forest, a nice contrast to the many commercial forests in Northern Sweden. From the other side I could spot my next two paddle destinations for today: Snusan and Kågnäshällan. On my way back I accidentally found a shelter amidst the forest. Maybe it’s new, I’ve never seen it before but probably it’s Medgrundet’s first building.

When I approached Snusan I scared away an eagle. It rose into the air to the big dislike of a seagull that tried to shoo the raptor away. The eagle hardly noticed the seabird but spiralled higher and higher into the air. I observed it only en passant, I had to focus on the waves.

Again I approached the island from the lee side. While Medgrundet is covered with a forest – mostly pines – Snusan is quite bleak and looks more like a huge flat rock. Probably it’s quite young, an old map from 1926 shows that it had been much smaller then.

On the north side of the island I could see the island Kågnäshällan, but also the breaking waves, that I already had heard a while before going ashore.

Parts of the island were very wet with a lot of water puddles, inhabited by small fishes and aquatic insects of the family Corixidae. Other parts of the island were very dry and many of the rowan looked dried up. Probably there’s hardly any soil that can store water for a longer time.

I continued paddling. First I had to cross some quite large waves then the sea was much calmer so that I could take a picture of the next island to visit: Kågnäshällan.

The calmness however was only temporary, because I kayaked along the outer coast of Kågnäshällan, where there are a lot of rocks and shallow areas – invitations for the waves to break. I went round the island, just focussing on the waves to come until I reached the sheltered bay on the land-facing side. On the outside I could hear the roar of a water scooter, at the horizon I could spot a white sail of a sailing boat – two very different ways to travel on water. My preference however is still the kayak.

After a yoghurt as a snack and remembering the last time I’ve been here six month ago I continued my kayak tour. To Kågnäshällan I had paddled quite directly over open sea, now I would follow the coast until I would be back again.

I passed Kågnäsudden, a fishing village, and a lot of summer cottages. Some people were working (mostly involving tools or vehicles with a motor), some were just sitting in front of their houses enjoying the warm and sunny weather. And warm it was, although some clouds were gathering. Since I left Kågnäshällan the sea was much calmer and I could take pictures from the kayak.

That made paddling much easier but also a bit more boring. It’s nice to have waves as long as you feel safe. Part of my safety was the drysuit that I put on when starting the tour. And a life vest of course, but that’s common sense and hardly mentionable.

Now I looked for the beach I use to bath sometimes but I just hopped over that very bay. What a pity! Anyway I found a nice replacement, a small and shallow sandy beach.

Lunchtime! The menu: Västerbotten cheese on crisp bread garnished with grapes. One of the ants liked the cheese, too and robbed a large piece. It dragged it over the beach that still was wet from last days rain until it got stuck.

After lunch break I continued paddling, passed the beach Harrbäckssand, the island Björkskär and then I could see on of the summer cottages, where my kayak uses to lie in summertime. One longer final spurt and I was back again, very glad that I could make this extraordinary fine summer kayak tour. Hopefully not the last for this season.

Appendices

I Paddling

More and more I start to enjoy paddling in the waves. I guess I should learn how to use a kayak sometimes. Perhaps next year?

II Tour stats

17.5 km / 3 hours 40 minutes plus a lot of breaks. That’s less than 5 km/h. It’s more leisure than sports.

According to my tracking app the elevation gain (and loss) was 287 meter. The waves?

III Wildlife photography

I saw the eagle, I had a camera, but I didn’t take a photo. Why? Well, there’s a rule set for that, the Eagle’s legals:

(1) When you see me – the eagle – you will not have a camera with you (I had)
(2) But if you have, then you will not have the telephoto lens with you (I had)
(3) But if you have, then you will not have it mounted on the camera (that’s right)
(4) But if you have, then you will be busy with other things until I’m long away (true, I was struggling with the waves)

IV A riddle

I found this shell of a cockle on the island Snusan. It lay on the rock. There are no cockles in the Bothnian Bay, this part of the Baltic Sea. The next place where you can find them is in Norway, 400 km away. How does this shell come to this place? I know that seagulls use to take shells in their beaks and let them fall down on rocks to crack the shell and get to the meat. But would a seagull transport it such a long distance? How? And why? A riddle that probably remains unsolved.

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: 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.