Technique sea kayaking course

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

I was really in doubt about writing this blog article and showing photos of the last weekend, where I participated the course Teknikkurs Hav (Technique sea kayaking).

Why? Because my photos lie. They show sea kayaks lying on nice beaches and us paddling in calm waters. All these photos are true but they tell only a fraction of the experiences I made when I kayaked in Northern Norway in the beginning of November.

Saturday – day 1

The paddling course was supposed to take place on Sommarøya. A beautiful place, but quite exposed to wind and weather. Due to the wind forecast (average wind 15 m/s) the instructors chose a more sheltered place for the first course day: Eidjordneset, just 12 km away from the boat house of the sea kayak club Trulle.

We gathered round 7 o’clock in the morning: We are the instructors Tim and Pål and four participants. Kind of luxury! We put the kayaks on the trailer and started driving: Past the airport, over the bridge crossing the Sandnessundet strait, to the left and then taking the turn to the island Håkøya where we parked and changed clothes for the tour. In my case: woollen underwear, two pairs of socks, a thick woollen sweater, drysuit, neoprene boots, gloves and hood. In addition to that the sprayskirt, life vest, towline system and helmet. We do not only dress for the chilly air but for being in the water as well. Tim wrote in the email: “We will be doing a lot of swimming”

We started to dress in darkness but when we were ready it had got light.

We put the kayaks into the sea and started paddling east along the Håkøya. After getting our paddle strokes improved we started to practise partner rescue. One kayaker capsizes, opens the sprayskirt and swims. Then there are different techniques of emptying the capsized kayak and support the swimmer to enter the kayak again. While we were training this several time. As Tim said: a lot of swimming. While practising the wind blew us more and more to the east. Time to turn back.

Now we had to paddle against the wind. First it went quite well but we already could see the huge shower cell coming towards us. Round 2–3 °C in the air. Would it be rain, sleet or snow? No – it was a grown up hail storm approaching. Within minutes we had wind speeds of round 20 m/s howling around us, blowing spray from each wave and throwing hail right into our faces (ouch, my lips!). The instructors decided to guide us to land where we waited for the hail to stop.

Soon the weather was calmer but still very windy. It took a while until we reached the bridge, where we started the tour. On the way back I had one of the rare opportunities to take some photos with my iPhone while paddling. Mostly I was too occupied with practising or catching up.

When we arrived at the bridge we crossed under it, because on the other side the sea was a bit more sheltered. Here we practised a lot of different paddle strokes as edging or low and high brace. This was quite intense – only interrupted by a short and frugal lunch break – and I’ll have to train a lot until my body has understood the movements. We ended with a rescue case: One of the participants had to pretend having an injured shoulder and we had to both give support balancing her kayak and tow her on land. Well, there was a lot of discussion but finally we managed it. Ok, it was only 20 metres or such to tow.

To make it short: changing into warm clothes · putting the kayaks onto the trailer · heading back to the boat house · I got a lift home · hot shower · great!

Sunday – day 2

Two of us met Tim at the boathouse, where we got a lift to a petrol station, our meeting point. As you can see it had been snowing and it was quite slippery.

Now on day two we would drive to Sommarøya and take the second course day there. Great, because the area round Sommarøya is wonderfully beautiful. Sommarøya is more than 50 km from Tromsø and the shorter way is leading through the mountains, so due to the weather conditions it took a longer time to travel there. And that’s how it looked like from the bay Steinsvika on Store Sommarøya.

We paddled to a flat rock covered by breaking waves and tried out some paddle strokes from the day before. That gave us opportunities for more buddy rescues, because of three capsizings. We made a short break on one of shallow beaches.

After that we started to round the island Storholmen where the Sommarøy lighthouse is located. First we tried to stick near the rocks to play with the waves. The further we came to the open sea, the higher the waves became and we increased distance.

Especially at the northwest tip we had waves up to 150 cm coming from several directions so that it took all my concentration just to paddle on while feeling quite stressed and a bit helpless. A bit further the waves coming from the open sea behind us built up to huge rollers and breakers on the shallow bay. I was too scared to join the others that played in these waves (with several capsizings and rescue manoeuvres). Therefore I paddled a bit further to reach a more sheltered part of the bay and wait there not to split the group. One other paddler joined my shortly after. Then all of a sudden a really huge wave came, broke just where we were and knocked us both over. There was nothing I could do. I immediately lost my kayak in the wave and it took a bit of time and help from the others to fetch my kayak and get us in again. I know that I have to learn to paddle under such rough conditions as well, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever enjoy it.

I really was glad about the lunch break. Here Tim and Pål told us about the star rating system for waves. It goes from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest), and mostly we had 3-star conditions out there, with one two-metre-wave probably being a 4 star.

Even after lunch I was mentally quite exhausted. But at least we had started heading back and were soon in calm waters again. The others learned some more rescue manoeuvres and such but I kept aside for a while because I couldn’t focus any more.

Finally we made another towing manoeuvre, where two of us towed another kayak while the fourth paddler supported balance. While I was mentally tired I still had physical energy so I tried to drag a bit harder the last part to come up onto the sandy beach as long as possible. And that’s where Tim took this photo of us. I’m in the front – watch the nice violet helmet!

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

Conclusion: This course was too difficult for me. I was too scared and overchallenged. But I had skilled instructors, great fellow paddlers and learned a lot – though the hard way. I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to join this course and already decided to take the same course again as a fresh-up next spring.

The day before tomorrow

Don't take it too seriously …

Like yesterday, it rained a lot today. It was also very windy with squalls between 20 and 25 m/s.

Tomorrow the weather looks quite alike. There maybe a bit less wind and probably less rain, since it will mix with wet snow due to falling temperatures during the day.

What a lovely day to go kayaking the whole day.

This weekend I’m participating the Teknikkurs Hav (Technique sea kayaking course). I’m a bit scared that the level could be too advanced, especially in this rough weather. Tim, the course leader who gave me some private lessons last week promised however that we would mostly paddle in sheltered areas. I hope so.

Anyhow, come rain or come snow – I’m prepared ;-)

upper left: the webcam some hours ago – lower left: wind stats of today – right: dressing proposal, when the weather becomes too bad …

I try to make some photos tomorrow but probably I won’t have too many opportunities for that while being on the water.

Links:

 

Sea kayaking in the dark

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

It’s 2 °C air temperature, a cloudless sky and sunset at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. A good day to end working at 14:30 and do some kayaking.

The reason for that I kayaked today is that I want to join a kayak course the weekend after next but I do not have all the required skills. So Tim, the course leader I’ve been in contact with gave me private lessons today.

I came to the meeting place right before sunset, where I met Tim. We changed clothes in the club house of the “Trulle” sea kayaking association, put on our dry suits, sprayskirts and life jackets and finally chose two kayaks from a large selection.

Then I stopped making photos. First of all I had to focus on everything that Tim showed and taught me. I learned a lot because Tim is an excellent teacher. The first half was mostly about paddle techniques, the second half more about rescue manoeuvres, which literally means capsizing by purpose. Into quite cold water in the dark.

Was it dark? Not really. Although the moon was too low to illuminate the sea there were street lights nearby, some light of the near airport, the lights attached to the stern of the kayaks and our head lights. What a wonderful atmosphere! And as the icing on the cake we got a stunning aurora, that covered half the sky – swirling and moving in green, red, and violet colours.

Tim managed to take pictures from the scenery. So I’m not the photographer of the next photo, I’m the motive.

(Photo: Tim Vanhoutteghem – True North Adventures)

I have to admit that I was quite nervous before the private lessons today but now I’m really looking forward to the technique seakayaking course.

Thank you Tim for giving me private lessons today. I can warmly recommend his company True North Adventures.

A Weekend in black and white

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Ok everyone, let’s talk about making photos. I say “making” instead of “taking” on purpose. Photos are not lying around just waiting for you to pick up some of them. It’s you yourself that has to create a photo – or as I use to write to “make” it. It’s about two things: Your camera and your choices.

The better your camera equipment the more choices you have. Each piece gives you additional possibilities whether it is a telephoto lens, a flashlight or a sturdy tripod. Sometimes the choices can be overwhelming. Which photos do I want to make today? Landscape? Architecture? Sea birds? Night shots? People waiting at bus stops? Some of them? All of them? Phew!

I want to become a better photographer. To get better you have to practise. For me practising mostly means focussing on a certain aspect of the whole. This weekend I drastically reduced my possibilities. Instead of using my Nikon DSLR (digital single lens reflex camera) I used my new iPhone. Instead of the normal camera app I used an app called Lenka which only takes black and white photos with a fixed focal length (which means you cannot zoom). The only freedom I took was to post-process the photos by changing the contrast and the aspect ratio (and a bit more).

Here are the results. I’ll show the photos without any detailed comments.

Saturday – Sydspissen, the southern tip of the island Tromsøya – clouds and some rain

Sunday – Kvaløya, 430 metres above sea level – winter impressions

Sunday – Kvaløya, a short stroll at the coast – mostly sunny

I’m not content with the last photo. Maybe it’s because the house lacks three-dimensionality but I’m not sure. Beside from that it was real fun to use my self-set restrictions to get another kind of view on the motives around.

But no practising without a goal! My goal is to use the black-and-white photo app to train finding good motives and even when using my DSLR making full-color photos to be able to imagine how it will look black and white.

And you? What do you think about these photos? Criticism is welcome.

Winter sneak preview – the first snow hike

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

This weekend I planned to take the Fjellheisen. Fjell is Norwegian for mountain(s) and heis for lift or elevator. Fjellheisen however is not a vertical lift but a cable car up to the mountain Storsteinen (421 m above sea level) where you can have an incredible view on Tromsø, visit the café and most of all can start countless hiking tours.

Today morning I took the bus and changed to another bus near the polar museum. The second bus crossed the large bridge Tromsøbrua over the strait Tromsøysundet and ascended to the bus stop Fjellheisen. I planned to buy a multiple ticket (much cheaper) but the payment failed three times. To my delight I got a free return ticket. Soon the cable car arrived, two other guests and I entered it and Fjellheisen started its way up while I was looking down to the autumnal town Tromsø.

I got of the cable car, walked up some stairs, went through the door and then there it was: Winter ❄︎!

First I just strolled around. The snow was 10–20 cm deep and it was quite easy to walk. Few others people were around although the weather was quite fine – even though not as sunny as I expected. I decided to start my hiking tour by hiking up the nearest summit Fløya (671 m). Sometimes I had to cross knee deep snow, but mostly it was less. I followed some footprints – I wasn’t first this day – and soon arrived at the landmark – whatever it is – on a small pre-summit of Fløya and then on the near summit.

That didn’t take much time. So I continued in direction of the summit Romssavákkivárri (Sami) or Bønntuva (Norwegian) (776 m). Parts of the slopes looked steep but still it was relatively easy to ascend beside of the fact that the snow was deeper here. In the lee it was mostly knee deep and wind-pressed. This type of snow it quite easy to sink in and then you have to take the leg up the very same way it went down, since the snow is way too hard to plunge through. Sometimes I felt like a stork with balance problems.

On the way there were many heaps of stones which are used as waymarks. But you should be very cautious to follow these waymarks strictly in this part of the mountains because there are many tourists how just love to build heaps of stones everywhere. Anyhow, they are nice photo motives.

And so are the mountain ranges in the southeast. It could be the famous Lyngen Alps, but I’m not sure.

On the summit of the Romssavákkivárri I took a selfie. It was sub-zero (my Cola froze) and windy and I was glad about my winter anorak. Next time I’ll take warmer pants with me as well as woollen mittens.

What you may forget when you see these photos is the surroundings. All the snowy mountains are surrounded by straits and fjords of the Norwegian Sea. Here’s a panorama photo taken from the summit.

If you take the telephoto lens (most photos were made with it) you also see the snow line, which is quite low but not low enough to cover the lowlands with snow, too. That have to wait probably some more weeks.

After a while of photographing, eating cookies, drinking, watching, resting and enjoying I started my way back. Some other hikers had passed by and left tracks in the snow that made it easier to walk most of the time. I looked down at Tromsø and watched the weather worsen. From the north clouds with dense snow showers approached.

Several times I stopped. Once to talk to a skier – the only one I met today. He was British, lived in the Netherlands and was in Scandinavia quite often. Later I would meet him again at the cable car and he would give me a lift back to Tromsø. Thanks a lot!

Mostly however I stopped to take more photos.

Up here it was quite sunny and when finally the first snow flakes fell down I already was near the summit station of the Fjellheisen, where I had vegetarian lasagne for a late lunch in the café. It was a quite small portion and of course expensive as almost everything in Norway, but it was tasty. After that I went out again. The sun has started to set and the western sky was orange.

When I looked east I looked into a void. A huge shower cloud had approached and it started to snow. Seven minutes the same motive looked like this:

At 17:00 I took the cable car down, got the mentioned lift of the British man and was back in central Tromsø where I hardly could believe, that I just made my first winter hiking tour. Down in the city everything was just wet and just a bit slippery.

Conclusion: That was a great day with hiking through a winter’s sneak preview. I’m lucky since the snow will probably last for half a year, at least in the mountains.

As usual I made most of the photos with my Nikon D750 DLSR and different lenses. Today however I had another “camera” with me, my new iPhone 11 that I got from my employer, the Norwegian Polar Institute. It’s a huge improvement to my old iPhone SE. First of all the camera is much better and it has a real wide angle lens. Then the phone works in the cold! My iPhone SE would hardly have survived this day while the iPhone 11 was still ⅔ loaded when I ended my tour. Having these advantages I can live with the fact, that the iPhone 11 is bigger and feels twice as heavy than the SE. No ad, just my two cents.

iPhone photos today (all edited with Adobe Lightroom): The 1st one, the panorama and the last one.

A cold bath in Tromsø

This article is part of the series “2020-10: New in Tromsø”.

Two days after Annika and I bathed at “our” beach Vitskärsudden in Obbola I bathed again today. Alone at the Telegrafbukta in Tromsø – more than 650 km north from home. It’s a beautiful bay hardly 500 meters from my room.

The differences:

  • While Annika joined me many times bathing at Vitskärsudden I probably have to bath alone in Tromsø
  • Home: the way is more beautiful. Tromsø: the way is shorter
  • Tromsø: the water tastes salty. The salinity is at least 10 times higher as home
  • Tromsø: there is seaweed in the water and sea urchins and probably a lot of other species starting with “sea”. I use bathing shoes
  • Home: the water level doesn’t change quite often. Tromsø: there are tides here with a tidal range of up to 3 metres.
  • Tromsø: Probably the water won’t freeze over the whole winter.

Today the water was 8.5 °C, two degrees less than the last time. My plan is to bath there the whole year round. Let’s see if I manage to do it.

A walk in the bog Torsmyran

Annika googled it, then we visited it shortly last Saturday, yesterday I took the opportunity to visit this bog with more time: The Torsmyran Nature Reserve.

The parking place is right next to the E4, 45 km southwest from Umeå. You open a gate (and close it behind you to keep the moose away from the road). Then you walk to a small forest strip and follow a round 100 metres long wooden ramp leading into the bog. The platform at the end of the ramp is raised so you have a nice view over the 8.3 km² large bog.

That’s it.

As long as you don’t dare to enter the bog by foot. At first the bog looks flat, but if you take a closer look you see that there are slightly higher parts, mostly covered with heather. Even pine trees grow here and the ground is safe to walk. Beside of these parts there are large areas covered with peat moss, a sure sign that you will get wet walking onto. Even with rubber boots! And there are depressions. Some are covered with water, others with brown mud.

Is the mud deep? Well, have a look at the next photo:

You see the bit of a stick sticking in the mud? That’s my walking stick that I use when hiking through bogs. It’s two metres long. Without any effort I could stick it into the mud like that. Anyhow it was possible to avoid such treacherous places in this labyrinth of humps and pools, even though I came quite near to take same pictures.

After a while I come to a line of wooden planks. Old wooden planks. Old, half rotten planks with rusty nails looking out. I decide to follow the path. First it is quite easy, but then the planks go submarine. Since both my camera and I myself are packed waterproof I continue. Although the planks were slippery I succeed without taking a bath.

There is a signpost in the middle of the bog, leading to cities and places in the area. Who needs a signpost at such a remote place? Well, winter is coming and the bog will be frozen and covered with snow. Then the whole area is easily accessible by snowmobile. And that’s what the signpost is for: Helping the snowmobile drivers.

I leave the signpost behind and continue the path. Partly the planks lie directly on the mud. *Crack!*. One of the planks breaks under my right foot but still supports my weight. When I come to another watercourse to cross and see the the planks deeply sunken into the water I decide to turn back. This passage looks quite challenging and for a round trip I would have to cross the watercourse again at another place.

Slowly I walk back to the platform at the end of the ramp. I have to zigzag a lot to avoid open water or muddy patches but I arrive. I’m quite wet and muddy from taking some photos. I however already suspected that and have spare clothes in the car and a canister with water for cleaning. And something even more important: Chocolate and something to drink!

Disclaimer: It’s not the first time that I hiked on boggy ground. It needs some experience to avoid the soft patches and knowing how to free yourself when sinking in mud. That’s why I have a long and stable walking stick with me that could support my weight in case of sinking. Take care!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?