The first Thursday paddling 2024

Yesterday on 18 April  was the first organised Thursday paddling of the Tromsø Sea Kayakers Club this year. I was eager to join. I took a photo when I arrived at the boat houses:

What is special about this photo? I can show you. In comparison – these are photos I took on other first Thursday paddlings. One on 4 May 2023, one on 28 April 2022.

So this was my first time opening the kayak season in Tromsø where it didn’t snow! Instead the sky was blue, the sun was shining and the temperature round 1 °C. But it was so windy!

Me prepared our kayaks and made ourselves ready and then had a talk about where to go. The tour leaders make proposals and have the last word.

This timewe would go south – against the wind – and see if we make it to Telegrafbukta. OK, let’s go!

I didn’t take a lot of pictures because the wind punished each photo instantly by blowing me back. We took a rest seeking shelter in the lee of a breakwater where one of my fellow kayakers provided us with goodies.

Shall we continue? Yes, ok for all of us. So we left our shelter and continued further south.

The more south we came the stronger the wind got and the higher the waves. We weren’t alone. On the other side of the sound a commercial boat headed south. Nearer a sailing boat, driven my a part of its fore sail. I however had to fight to keep up with the others and I was glad, that Telegrafbukta is not far away.

There we took a break. A short one though because of the chilly wind.

On the way back it felt like a complete different tour. Now we could take it easy. Both wind and waves just pushed us ahead and we hadn’t to do much to keep momentum. Soon the colourful boat houses of the club were in view and a short time later we arrived. A pity, that I didn’t track this tour. I would have liked to know the difference of the speeds there and back.

Most of us kept ourselves near to the shore but some of us like wind and waves and were a bit further out. Here a b/w snapshot of B. in his self-built Greenland kayak. It’s too far away to reveal its beauty.

 

First kayaking 2024

Today I took my first kayak tour in 2024. It was much too windy to do a longer tour (and proper photos) and my walking distance was larger then my paddling efforts but hey, at least I was outside. Now I’m eager to kayak more.

Wind and weather

Friday, 26 January

I took this photo at two o’clock in the afternoon just after I had walked home from work. I enjoyed my new apartment and the view from the balcony.

But I knew, that this beautiful weather wouldn’t last. The forecast predicted rain and storm.

Saturday, 27 January

In the evening the weather already had changed. It good warmer, rain clouds covered the moon and the speed of the hardest gust was wind was 24 m/s¹.

28 January

On Sunday the wind calmed down a bit but the forecast for the next day showed wind gusts of 36 m/s in the afternoon. That’s Beaufort 12 – “hurricane-force”. I wasn’t the only one who decided to work from home the next day.

29 January

And the weather became really nasty, although not as bad as expected. I was glad to be able to stay inside anyhow.

Let’s not forget, that Tromsø lies sheltered on the island Tromsøya surrounded by mountain chains. There are other places that are much more exposed to the elements. For example Torsvåg lies on a small island west of Vannøya. There the strongest wind gusts were round 41 m/s².

1 February

After two calmer yet warmer and very rainy days another storm had arrived, this time with gusts up to 30.8 m/s in Tromsø³.

Laughable the people in Kvaløyfjellet på Sømna probably would say. There the average wind speed between 1 and 2 in the night was 54.4 m/s (196 km/h)! That’s a new wind record for whole Norway⁴. And the gusts exceeded 60 m/s.

The nice thing: After all that rain in Tromsø it snowed again. When I arrived home the wind has already calmed down but the entry of my flat was caked in snow.

2 February

And the next morning it still snowed.

When I walked home today I crossed the cemetery. And there everything was snowed in and many tombstones were completely hidden under the snow. As if rain and storm never happened.

___
¹ https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/1-305409/Norge/Troms/Troms%C3%B8/Troms%C3%B8?q=2024-01-27
² https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/5-90800/Norge/Troms/Karls%C3%B8y/Torsv%C3%A5g%20fyr?q=2024-01-29
³ https://www.yr.no/nb/historikk/graf/5-90490/Norge/Troms/Troms%C3%B8/Troms%C3%B8%20LH?q=2024-02-01
https://www.nrk.no/nyheter/ny-vindrekord-i-norge-1.16744736

Ballooning in the Arctic

This article is part of the series “2023-06: Arctic Ocean cruise KPH”.

This is a balloon. This is a radiosonde.

This is an inflated balloon, filled with helium. This is an unpacked radiosonde, containing various sensors and a transmitter.

To watch the balloon start I leave the container on deck 6 and go outside. And there it comes, the red weather balloon with the attached radiosonde.

First it is stuck in turbulences and the heavy wind. On the next photo you see the radiosonde dangling to the right. It has been blown aside. After having been chased over deck by the wind gusts it finally lifts off and rises into the sky.

If everything goes well it will rise up to 30 kilometres sending weather data via Iridium satellite network.

This is a project of the German Meteorological Service (Deutscher Wetterdienst) where the data is used amongst others to improve weather forecasts.

There’s a reason why I could witness the balloon start today. Normally I would have joined the oceanographers on the ice today, but the whole ice station has been cancelled due to the weather. With wind speeds of 15 m/s, gust speeds of 19 m/s and snowfall with whiteout conditions the whole morning it was just not possible to establish a safe station. Instead of that we did only the CTD-casts (CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, Depth – important sea water properties) and deployed plankton nets. This you safely can operate from the ship. Meanwhile the ship was blown southwards with almost a knot (a nautical mile per hour).

Now it is half past eight and the ice guys are looking for a floe. Wind has started calming down a bit and the sun has come out. Perhaps we can start with our ice station tomorrow before breakfast. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

First I’ve been on deck to take photos, now I’m enjoying the view from my cabin 468 on board of Kronprins Haakon.

12 more photos of Longyearbyen

This article is part of the series “2023-03: Svalbard”.

3 March

It is the first evening of Annika’s and my stay in Longyearbyen, Spitsbergen, Svalbard. We already strolled through the settlement after arrival. Now it is dark but the full moon illuminates the end of the road of Nybyen, one of Longyearbyen’s districts. What a special feeling to be in one of the world northernmost settlements on Earth. And a slightly tense one. It’s the edge of town, are there any polar bears around?

8 March

When you are in Svalbard you have to keep distance to animals to protect them. The animals do not follow this rule. This is a Svalbard reindeer, an own species of reindeer living here. It is looking for food in the middle of the city.

9 March

I didn’t expect to see ptarmigans on Svalbard but on our guided minibus tour we get to see a whole flock, again in Longyearbyen. Magnus is so kind to stop so that I could take a photo from the road.

10 March

This day is quite warm for Longyearbyen: Only -8 °C. When I took this photo however it was windy. Average wind wind 16 m/s, gusts 21 m/s and snow is blowing in the streets.

12 March

Annika is on her way home, I’ll stay for another week and today I enjoy the beautiful weather by the coast. The mountains on the other side of the fjord Isfjorden look quite near today – especially through the big telephoto lens.

15 March

I take an after work stroll along the coast and through town. It is cold and even with the modest wind of 6 m/s windchill is below -30 °C. It looks arctic, it smells arctic (the nose hairs freeze together immediately) and it feels arctic. No wonder – I am in the Arctic. Even the petrol prices show, that you are not in mainland Norway any longer. Petrol is cheap because Svalbard has reduced taxes.

18 March

Another walk in town. Up the hill to Taubanesentrale (the central of coal mining cableway), down to the center and up again to the elevated way in the east, part of the avalanche protection.

19 March

Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll fly back to Tromsø, today I’m quite lazy but finally I walk to the coast again because of the wonderful weather. Even with my hood on I can hear something above me. I look up and see the first two seagulls since I have arrived here. It is two glaucous gulls that draw large circles above the coastal line.

I try even to take pictures of the incredibly coloured mountains on the other side of the Isfjorden but the turbulences in the air make clear pictures impossible. I’ll keep it in my memory as I’ll do with my whole stay in Longyearbyen.

 

 

A short ski tour to the cabin Trollvassbu

Prelude

What do you need to go skiing? (A) snow? Or (B) a shopping cart?

This week started warm, rainy and very windy. On the Norwegian sea a full storm was raging. Boat traffic was cancelled, bridges and schools closed. Here’s a Norwegian article: Uværet stopper fergetrafikk og skoler stengt – NRK Nordland.

Tromsø however is quite protected by the surrounding mountains. I saw this shopping card was thrown on the empty parking lot, nothing more. The ice was probably more dangerous but I have good spikes for my boots.

Two days ago the temperatures had dropped and snow was falling gently when I went to work. Yesterday it was still snowing, but less gently as you can see on the second image.

Skiing

Since then round 30 cm of snow had fallen. I packed ski and other stuff into my car and drove to a parking place on the mainland. It took a while to go there. First it’s 40 km and then there were some heavy snow showers. Sometimes it was hard to follow the road and I almost went through a red traffic light because it was snowed in.

Then I reached the parking place. Is it cleared? Well, I don’t know, I only see white. Let’s try …

I tried to back but it was obvious, that the car got stuck in a snow drift. The problem was not only the packed snow under the car, but also a layer of ice under the snow. The tyres just were spinning. So I had to dig out my car and decided to do it before skiing. 15 minutes warm-up with my snow spade, then the car was free.

There was another car, otherwise I was alone. I dressed for the tour and started. Plan for today: the cabin Trollvassbo, just 4 km away. It started snowing and wind increased. Mountains and other features were invisible. The snow was loose and my skis sank 15 cm with each step. But I was lucky. The pale spot in the distance turned out to be three women, that had stayed overnight in Trollvassbu. Following their ski track was of course not much less exhausting and I hadn’t to care much about navigation. Nice!

After two kilometres the track was lost in nothing. Snow and wind had filled the track. Sometimes it cleared up a bit and I could see the mountains, sometimes a new snow shower approached.

But then, after 3½ km I spotted it – the cabin. Somewhere behind the drifting snow.

Another 800 metres and I arrived. The cabins of the Norwegian tourist association DNT are locked, but luckily all with the same key – which I had with me today. So I could take a rest inside.

Oh, lovely! The cabin was cosy and still warm. I took a frugal lunch – water and crisp bread. I regretted, that I didn’t took some real lunch with me, here where I could use the gas stove. Anyhow I stayed there for almost an hour.

I took a photo of the snow drift behind the cabin and then started my way back to the car. Just while I took out the camera to take a picture of a mountain a snow cloud approached. Half a minute later the mountains was gone. Another half a minute later I skied through a heavy snow shower.

I put off my backpack to firmly tie up my snow spade and continued. Anyhow this was last stormy shower. Then it cleared up a bit and I could see the mountains again. I was more easterly than on the way there. Here the terrain was more sheltered from the wind. This means less wind but also deeper snow. Since there was no track left I skied through 20 cm of loose snow. So although I skied down a bit I was hardly any faster than on the way there. But that doesn’t matter, it’s not a competition.

The whole ski tour took less than 3½ hours including the break. Plus 15 minutes of shovelling. Plus 1½ hours of car driving. It’s near to impossible to reach all these great places round Tromsø by public transport, especially on weekends.

Warmly recommended if you have a car and want to have an easy tour without steep slopes. Perhaps you’ll get more friendly weather.

 

Tromsø – waiting for the sun

This winter polar night in Tromsø was from 26/27 November till 15 January. While the sun has been above the horizon at noon since 16 January it took some additional days until it could rise above the mountains to be seen in Tromsø. That day was last Saturday, the 21 January. It is called soldagen (the sun day). On this day it is tradition to eat “Berliner” doughnuts called solbolle (sun bun). When I went shopping in the afternoon only a few were left in the shop. But I already ate one in the cantina in advance the day before.

Saturday, 21 January

It is soldagen today. I walk to the bay Telegrafbukta at noon. Other people have gathered waiting for the sun. Some of them are barbecuing. But it is too cloudy to see the low sun itself. So: no sun.

Sunday, 22 January

Weather has changed. It has been raining at temperatures up to +7.6 °C. All the ways are icy. A misery!

I take a walk in the afternoon. Sunset has been one hour ago but through the thick rain clouds still comes a purple-violet shade of light. It looks very dramatic. But no sun.

Tuesday, 24 January

While I’m working some heavy snow showers move over the city. The large cruise ship that moored in the centre is almost hidden from my view through the windows of Framsenteret. Definitively no sun today.

Thursday, 26 January

It has become slightly colder and 15-20 cm of snow have fallen since last night. I walk home early, the first time not in darkness. It’s bright, but – no sun.

27 January

Warmer again. And today it really rains a lot. While I’m out at 15:00 it just pours down and large and deep puddles are everywhere. And wet ice. A real misery! And of course: no sun even today.

28 January

I take a long walk by the coast of Kvaløya. Temperature has dropped to +1 °C and it snows a lot. The snow is wet and sticky. Later it clears a bit but still no sun.

29 January – today

Will the sun ever come out? Even today it snows and it is quite cloudy. Since I can see some small blue patches between the clouds and want to get some fresh air anyhow I again walk to Telegrafbukta as eight days ago. There are a lot of clouds and there’s a ship in the distance.

A ship? If I have time I always check which ship it is using the app VesselFinder. OK, let’s see … . What!? I’m really surprised: It is the Kronprins Haakon, the very ship I’ve been on at my polar expedition last year. I didn’t know that it arrives in Tromsø today. I directly get a strong longing to be on that ship cruising to the high Arctic again. (Spoiler alert: I may, later this year.)

But I can see something else. While I take photos of the bright spots between the dark clouds I spot a bright orb through my telephoto lens. The sun, the sun! Can it be true?

I check the photos at home. Although the orb is not visible on the photos (too bright) the altitude fits. So now I’m sure I saw the sun today, at least for some seconds through my camera.

This year will be a bit special. If everything works out Annika and I will see the sun coming back again in five, six weeks. In March work in Longyearbyen on Svalbard for a week and before that Annika and I stay there as tourists for about a week. One of the events I’m looking forward to is the 8 March: A quote from visitsvalbard.com:

[…] Marking the sun’s return is a long-standing traditional for the residents of Svalbard. When the sun returns on 8 March, we gather on the old hospital steps to celebrate the ‘sun’s return’. The saying here goes that ‘the sun is declared back in Longyearbyen when its rays reach the steps’. […]

Addendum: 30 January at lunchtime

Scotland: the west coast of Isle of Lewis

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

It is 10 October.

Yesterday evening we arrived on the Isle of Lewis, took the reserved rental car (Annika driving) and stayed in the Ravenspoint Community Hostel. Today we want to go by car to explore the west coast of the island.

We do not meet a single person while taking breakfast. We succeed in not raising fire alarm while frying eggs, we pack our backpacks, revert our personal rearrangement of the beds in our twin room and get in our small car – a Kia Picanto. While Annika has been in Scotland much more often than me it is our joint premiere in exploring this country by car.

After taking a detour to a small beach at Tobson we continue to Callanish Stones, one of several arrangements of menhirs. Although yesterdays gale has subsided it is still very windy with some showers of rain. My challenge as a photographer is not only to keep my small Sony dry (first photo is an iPhone photo) but also to take pictures while a large family uses the standing stones for playing hide and seek.

We make a stopover at Doune Braes Hotel for lunch. There we spot the standing stones again – as a colourful leaded window, animals included.

Next stop: the Gearrannan Blackhouses, a village of thatched cottages that was inhabited until 1974. Now it is not only a museum but one of the cottage is a hostel, where we check in and reserve a bunk bed. We have a look at the museum, where a local shows his expert knowledge regarding weaving looms. The view of the coast from the village is quite impressive. The waves are high and smash surf and spray against the rocky cliff.

Now we continue the road north to the headland with the catchy name Butt of Lewis. When we arrive there I’m really flabbergasted. Neither Annika nor I have ever seen waves breaking so high as here at the northern tip of the Isle of Lewis. Extremely impressive, a bit daunting and also a bit wet because sea spray seems to be everywhere. Keep in mind, that the rocks in the next photos are round 10 metres high. Thanks, Google Earth for your elevation data.

It takes some time until I can tear myself away. Next we head for Port of Ness, a harbour village nearby. The sandy beach is broad and shallow. Huge waves roll ashore. While they are breaking the wind gusts blow the spray away – a fascinating view. I decide that today is just not the day to take a relaxing bath in the Atlantic ocean.

We return to our parked car and drive back to our hostel – part of the Gearrannan Blackhouses. The museum is closed and it looks like we are completely alone in our cottage, that can host 13 guests. While we boil water to cook pasta we still can hear the waves splashing ashore at the rocky coast round 100 metres away. After dinner we fall fast asleep . Stormy weather is exhausting, and so is left-hand driving. So, thank you, Annika, my luv, for driving us.

 

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – maps and numbers

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

Just some short info for the people who like maps and numbers.

This is the route of the icebreaker Kronprins Haakon on the polar expedition Arven etter Nansen JC3:

The northernmost point 82.0474°N
The southernmost point 69.5245°N
The westernmost point 07.6551°E
The easternmost point 34.1262°E

 

And some weather records (when my python script is right):

minimum maximum
Temperature -30.5 °C +2.0 °C
Wind speed 0.1 m/s 32.7 m/s
Wind speed on ship 0.1 m/s 30.9 m/s
Wind chill -48.0 °C +1.0 °C
Wind chill on ship -49.0 °C +1.0 °C

 

And some personal numbers:

Been on the sea ice 7 times
Photos taken 4084
Cakes eaten countless

Polar expedition AeN JC3 – day 7 and 8: a stormy intermezzo

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

Day 7 and 8 · 25 – 26 February 2022

25. Feb 07:00 – testing clothing concepts for extreme cold weather

Another Arctic morning. It has become slightly warmer with temperatures round -24 °C but at the same time a lot of windier. The average wind speeds of 20 m/s and above. So windchill is still -45 °C and I wonder how to dress just in case I will be on the sea ice the first time this night. No, I do not count on being allowed to enter it under such conditions but you never know. Be prepared and wait …

For safety reasons we always have to wear a special suit on the ice in case of someone breaks through. That’s either the Regatta suit, a floatation suit. This acts as a full body life vest giving you buoyancy in the water. However you will get wet instantly. No big issue because we will always be quite near the ship and conditions are ok. If the circumstances are more extreme or the ice is not trusted a survival suit with attached rubber boots is used. It will keep you completely dry as long as the arm and neck cuffs are tight. It is said however that it is uncomfortable to wear and you easily get very cold feet.

So, let’s get dressed. For the first time I put on the Regatta suit. It is as breathable as a rubber dinghy so you should not sweat too much. Over that, more for the fur hood than the warmth the Canada Goose parka. Yes, I can still move ;-)

Dressed like never before I open the thick door to the helicopter deck and stagger outside. Whoa! That’s some rough weather. I instantly feel every single square millimetre of skin that is still exposed to the wind and even that the zipper of the down pants are not completely closed at the bottom although I wear high rubber boots. In my opinion the hood of the Snow Mantra is ingenious but the gusty storm just pushes it aside in all directions and I can hardly see anything. So I do not check if the selfies taken with the Nikon and three pairs of gloves and mittens are in focus. They are not.

Being in again I understand the first time, why the parka hood is not only fur-trimmed but have this thick fleece rim inside. It keeps away the ice dust that the storm blows in.

The combination of Regatta suit is too warm and too bulky. I test another combination with the shell jacket of the Norwegian Polar Institute and ski goggles. Insight 1: if the hood does not fit perfectly it is completely useless in the storm. Insight 2: my old ski goggles freeze over so fast that within a minute I am functionally blind. I have to remove them to find back to the helicopter hangar. While checking this the storm pushes me around on the deck slippery deck. I really doubt if anyone wants to work on the ice in these extreme conditions. On the other side I do not know anything about polar research. Neither about polar researchers. It’s me who is the newbie.

25. Feb 11:00 +2h – planning for the storm

Aside: The day before we changed the ship’s time to take better advantage of the daylight. When I write +2h it means our privately shifted time. Otherwise it means „normal“ CET time zone.  If you don’t care, just ignore it.

We have a meeting before lunch. A storm approaches. We will seek shelter between Nordaustlandet, Svalbard’s second-largest island and the island Kvitøya. Conditions are too rough for an ice station. Although all four ship engines are running we hardly make progress. There is no time schedule anymore. We just have to sit it out.

25. Feb 16:20 – the swell wracks the ice

At 15:20 I take a long afternoon nap while Kronprins Haakon struggles through the ice. I have on of the frontmost cabins on deck 3 –the noisiest ones. The icebreaker is rumbling, rattling, grinding, squeaking and doing many more noises that I do not have words for. I lie in my bed and feel the mattress vibrating, shaking, bouncing. And I love it. For me it is like an Arctic lullaby and as mostly I fall fast asleep.

z – z – z – z – z

After an hour I wake up all of a sudden. Something has changed. The ship is slowly and strongly pitching. At the same time noises and vibrations are absent. Are we in open water? What happened!?

I have to compensate the ship’s movements while I walk to the dayroom. I peek through the ice crusted windows. Yes, we are in open water. J. sitting there tells me that 10 minutes ago swell waves. They broke up the ice within minutes and now the ice has disappeared. Impressive and a bit frightening, too.

Now we are amidst the storm with an hourly average of 24.2 m/s, that’s round 87 km/h. The highest wind speed measured in this hour is 32.7 m/s, that’s the exactly beginning of Hurricane force or level 12 on the Beaufort scale.

Although the ship is stabilised it is pitching, rolling, yawing, heaving and a lot of people have started to get seasick. I feel quite ok, but a bit stressed and tired. After a while I decide to lie down for a quarter. Good idea! I feel better again after that.

I’m in the day room again, watching the dark waves through the ice encrusted windows . Sometimes the spray splashes up many metres. No, I won’t enter any outside deck today any longer!

25. Feb 19:24 – crossing the 80th degree of latitude

I wanted to see on the digital nautical chart how we cross the 80th degree of latitude but I miss it by some minutes in time. Soon I go to bed quite curious how the next day may look like.

26. Feb morning – Kvitøya

06:10 – The wind has calmed down and I stand on the helicopter deck (on level 6) again. Open water, a bit of ice and in the distance a pale scheme. The island Kvitøya. It looks like the spray has reached the deck because everything is coated in ice and the ice on the floor is slippery and feels like soap powder.

After the breakfast I try to catch Kvitøya on the Nikon sensor.

The last photos are crap from a technical view (taken at 600 mm ƒ/6.3 in twilight on a moving ship and a travel tripod). Anyhow they show the glacial coast of this Arctic island which I think is very impressive. A pity that the weather was so cloudy.

26. Feb morning – we reach ice again

While I take these photos another thing happens: we reach ice again. First fields of beautifully rounded pancake ice floes, then a few hours later we are in ¹⁰/₁₀ of thick ice again. There Kronprins Haakon can show again that it is an icebreaker.

We have another meeting at 09:00 +2h. We learn that it is more than unsure whether station P4 will have any reliable sea ice to work on. The cruise leader asks: shall we try P5 instead? Yes, all scientists agree. So today we will head to P5 at 80.5 °N 34 °E. That’s only an estimated position. First of all a suitable ice floe has to be found and then this floe will drift on the sea and so change position while ice work is ongoing.

26. Feb 16:00 – checking the ice

Eight hours later. Together with the cruise leader and the captain the ice experts had looked for a suitable ice floe. When they were satisfied the ship stopped and a derrick lowered the ice gangway. Now four people are on the ice. All equipped with survival suits. Two of them carry rifles. We are in the home of the polar bears.

Will I be allowed to enter the sea ice? Perhaps already tomorrow? I doubt it but I’m really longing. I don’t know where this strong relation for the Arctic comes from but it’s definitely there and it grew the last days. And I want to be part of it as much as possible.