Mirages, vintervägg and sea smoke

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

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

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

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

Early winter Holmön IV

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

It is Monday. It has rained the whole night and it still rains. Most of the snow is history and everything is wet. After breakfast we decide to give the road to the southern tip of Ängesön another try. Indeed, it is almost free of snow and soon we are at the southern tip of the island where we walk along the coast. The clouds are grey and so is the sea. Some water areas are still covered with wet, brownish ice but the sea itself is open.

There are some marked hiking paths on Ängesön that we want to give a try. The guide book recommended “tåliga skor” – that means tough, durable shoes – due to the wet ground. The first path to the east has many deep water puddles and flooded parts. Partly the path is supported by wooden planks, but mostly not. The path leads through a quite old forest as we can see by the many lichens that cover the pine, spruce and birch trees. Snowless and wet as it is, it looks more like mid-October than December.

We try the other trail that leads to a shelter at the western coast of Ängesön. This trail is less wet and easier to follow than the other one. It is however not too easy to reach the rocky coast because of the marshland between forest and coast. It still drizzles and rains and everything is damp.

The hiking paths are nice but I would strongly recommend high rubber boots if you want to keep your feet dry.

After our “three course hiking” we return to our accommodation at Berguddens fyr. We’re still the only people, the place – as beautiful it is – seems less popular in winter time as the guest book tells us. While Annika prepares a warm lunch it starts to get dark outside. Grey clouds still cover the sky and it continues drizzling. The lighthouse starts sending its light beams over the Västra Kvarken, part of the Baltic Sea between Holmön and mainland.

Today day we leave Berguddens fyr. We were lucky to be change the booking for the ferry from 19 o’clock to 9 o’clock to avoid another rainy day – partly in darkness. At 8:20 we sit in the small waiting room, because it’s very windy outside. Waves break at the quay wall and after some the small ferry arrives and wobbles into the small harbour.

I have to admit that I get a bit nervous when I learned I have to back the car onto the ferry. The man however that pilots me onto the ship is fantastic and guides me much better than every rear camera. I am relieved, but get nervous again when I watch the man securing the car with belts. Is it so stormy? Will the belts hold?

First the boat trip is quite but soon the ferry starts to roll and pitch more and more. I stay in the inside of the boat where I feel safer. While Annika and I are hoping the best for the car, the other two passengers do not pay any attention to the rough weather. Probably they live on the island Holmön and they are used to something like that.

45 Minutes later we arrive in Norrfjärden. My car has survived this unsteady trip without any problems.The ferry needs several attempts to dock, but finally I can leave the ferry with the car. Annika, who already went ashore gets into the car and we drive to her home in Umeå. This drive takes only 30 minutes – less than the ferry passage.

It’s fantastic to have such an interesting and special place nearby. We’ll come again, hopefully with better weather.

 

Early winter Holmön III

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

It’s Monday, a quarter to seven in the morning. I turned out of bed half an hour ago. Not because I have to go to work, but because I’m a morning person. It’s Annika’s and my fourth day on the island Holmön. Tomorrow we will take the evening ferry back to the mainland.

We were lucky, when we walked back from our Saturday evening Christmas dinner two days ago. It snowed all the time. It looked very beautiful and it was quite bright outside because of the fresh snow cover. When we lay in our comfortable double bed at Berguddens fyr we could still see the snow flakes whirl through the window pane.

When we woke up yesterday the snow had turned into rain. We planned a car trip to the southern tip of the island Ängesön which is separated from Holmön by the sound Gäddbäckssundet. The gravel road from Bergudden to the main road apparently had already be cleared of snow and it was easy to drive. I turned right and headed south. We drove first past pastures and farms and than along Gäddbäckssundet, until we came to the turnout to Ängesön. This road was snow covered and probably isn’t used in winter time. The snow wasn’t deep and I decided to give it a try. We crossed the small sound on the only bridge and followed the snowy road.

It was harder to drive than expected, because the snow was so wet that it filled all the space round the tyres. My studded winter tyres are excellent for ice but less good for such mud-like conditions.

The landscape around looked bleak and cheerless, especially the lakes and ponds that were covered with brownish wet ice. It looked a bit like a film where an evil wizard had casted a spell on the landscape to take away all its beauty.

I had to drive very slowly and it would take us at at least 30 minutes to the south tip of the island, although it’s only 9 km. After 1 km I decided to turn.

We drove to the village of Holmön and made a stop at the church. The graveyard was still covered with snow and so it looked much more friendly than the landscape on Ängesön. As most protestant churches this church was locked and we couldn’t take a look inside.

We drove to the shop, bought food and ice-cream and headed back to our accommodation.

And would do you do, when you go on beach vacation? Of course you take a bath in the sea. And so did we even though it was a short one.

Back to Monday. I still sit in the kitchen and it’s still dark outside. The fridge has turned out and I can hear the surf splashing ashore. The lighthouse Berguddens fyr sends out its three-coloured beams of light but most of the snow had melted away and when I look through the window I can only see my mirrored face and the reflected laptop. It will take another hour, until it starts to get light.

Early winter Holmön II

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

Saturday, 8 December – 0 °C – it’s snowing and two centimetres of new, wet snow cover the ground. Annika and I made a hiking trip to Vedaögern in the south.

Now it’s pitch black outside and still snowing. Nevertheless we will leave our comfortable accommodation soon for good reasons: we attend the julbord – the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner – today.

Early winter Holmön I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 cm of wet snow

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

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

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

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

 

Grey November

Today’s November weather is almost like German autumn: +5 °C, cloudy and very windy. The huge difference: sunset is already at 2 o’clock! Everything looks dark and dull.

These photos were made at sunset from the bus to Umeå using my iPhone and a small additional fisheye lens. You can see, that winter is quite far away. Rubber boots and rain parka instead of down jacket and woollen mittens.

Yesterday it looked like snow would come next week, but the updated weather forecast predicts warmer weather with a lot of rain. Did I mention that my patience is not strongest?

Pancake ice on the Kalmholmsfjärden

While some protected parts of the Baltic Sea are covered with clear and solid ice, most of the Baltic Sea is still open. So is the bay Kalmholmsfjärden, my nearest access to the sea. At the shore of the shallow end however the water starts to freeze over. The so-called pancake ice is formed – floating ice floes that spin around, grind off their corners and therefore get a circular shape. When it’s cold enough they will freeze together, but wind, waves and changes in sea level can break them apart again.

Closing the kayak season 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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