One of the BTOSC Skippers has been organising club cruises to Norway for a few years. With an upbringing in Norway, and his ability to speak Norwegian coupled with his love of the area has made him the ideal person to organise such events. Many members have been on these cruises and found out for themselves the beauty of the Norwegian coast and experienced the friendliness of its people. I have always meant to go on one of these cruises but have never quite made it but this year maybe that it could be the last year he would be able to organise such events so I thought I had better sign up while I still could.
The flights were arranged well in advance so we all got a good deal with Ryanair. More particularly a good charter rate had been negotiated, obtaining a bigger boat for less money! The crew first met at Standstead Airport and after a quick top up with duty free which hopefully would see us through the 10 day trip (Alcohol is a little expensive in Norway!) we boarded the plane for the mid-morning flight to Torp. There we were joined by the last member of the crew who had flown in from Manchester.
We then made the short minibus journey to Sandefjord, a delightful town that use to be a centre for the Whaling industry where our boat was waiting for us on the town jetty, tied up next to a restored Whale Catcher, complete with harpoon gun!
“Trans Ocean Express” was not in fact a Container ship, but a Benetau Oceanis ‘Clipper’ 473. She was well equipped with all mod cons plus a lot of extras that you only find on a private charter yacht. Her name sounds impressive on the VHF and harbour masters do tend to query the length and draft sometimes! John knows these waters well and had a full itinerary planned for our nine day cruise, so without delay our gear was stowed and it was off to explore the coast of Norway.
Our cruising area was the SE coast, which is in an area known as the Skagerack. It is made up of thousand of Islands, countless isolated rocks and many deep fiords and sounds. It is a popular area for sailing and holidays. I am sure there are more boats than people. Many charming small towns and villages complement the beauty of the seascape. The geography means that it is often easier to travel by boat than by car. It is boat heaven, during the summer anyway! The combination of rocks and pleasure boats may account for the 5375 shipwrecks recorded in Norway during 2005. Hopefully most of these were minor incidents.
Our cruise took us to Stavern, Kragerø, Lyngør, Tvedestrand, Arendal, Grimstad, Lillesand, and Risør. We did some interesting rock hopping navigation through some very narrow but very deep inshore channels. These passages gave some beautiful views of the Norwegian coast and countryside and access to small hamlets tucked away in virtually rock pools. On the chart some of these passages seemed impassable but local knowledge saw us through and took us to some amazing places.
A social highlight for some crewmembers was our stop at Arendal (Wasn’t this mentioned in Lord of the Rings?). Our visit coincided with a Harley Davidson convention. There were almost as many as Harleys as there were boats and that is saying something in this part of the World. The small town was awash with bikers and live music, all clustered around the small harbour; a great atmosphere and contrast to the normally quiet towns along this coast. Norwegians certainly know how to enjoy themselves.
For others the visit to Grimstad, home to the famous Norwegian playwright Ibsen, was a highlight. Whilst drinking in the Café Ibsen a striking resemblance between a crewmember and the great man was alleged?
For most of the cruise winds were generally light and S’Westerly and on the nose of course. Despite its Northern latitude this coast is normally pleasantly warm in the summer but like England temperatures were down a bit this year. Towards the end of our cruise as we headed back towards Sandjeford the winds picked up giving us a really good downwind sail in F5/6. We stormed into Stavern for an over night stop with wind still increasing and visibility decreasing. We were followed in by some yachts which were abandoning an off shore yacht race due to the high winds and huge seas which soon build up in this area. After doubling all the mooring lines we weathered the worst of the storm in a local restaurant and celebrated what was to become the last night of our cruise.
The next day sea conditions made it unwise to attempt even the short offshore passage back to Sandjeford, so it was agreed with the owner to leave “Trans Ocean Express” in Stavern which made for a slightly longer road journey back to Torp and our flight home.
The crew were also introduced us to the delights of Norwegian cuisine. It is true that some crewmembers did not fully develop a taste for fish balls. The reindeer balls were more to my taste but surprisingly small!