Tag Archives: Razorbill

Towards the ice

This morning I awoke early to feel the swell of the Drake Passage tossing my body around the bed and various loose items around my cabin. I must be on my way to Antarctica!

After a quick tidy up of my various scattered belongings however, I took the time to take in the splendour of being on the southern seas – rolling waves crested by white caps, wind-whipped foam lining the deep blue water … and of course the birds. While sailing all summer up the Norwegian coast in our own little yacht accompanied by northern fulmars, puffins, guillemots, gannets, razorbills and various gulls it’s easy to forget just how numerous the sea birds of the Southern Ocean are.

In Norwegian waters there is generally one or two birds in sight of the ship … Strolling on the pitching deck this morning I was greeted by clouds of seabirds trailing after the ship like a wheeling cloud of moths over a flame. Wandering albatross, giant petrels, pintados, storm petrels, southern fulmars, black-browed albatross and more all formed a soaring entourage to herald our passage towards the southern continent. In an ocean that stretched around the globe it’s hard to feel alone.

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Over the past two days we explored the remote southern islands of Røst and Værøy which form the very tip of the Lofoten Island chain. These rocky outcrops are the last vestiges of land before stone gives way to water and the land slips below turgid waters if the gulf stream. Here puffins, razorbills, kittiwakes, guillemots and sea eagles flock to the nesting cliffs and buzz overhead like bush flies in the Australian outback. People are somewhat less common and the harbours here retain some of the outpost feeling of a fishing town isolated from the rest of the world with not a care except the next catch of cod. And speaking of cod … you can still smell these towns long before you are amongst the picturesque houses – cod hang in endless rows drying on the sun and assuring all approaching that cod is the heart and soul of life in Lofoten. Our first night in the islands was spent tied up a mere ten paces from thousands of cod carcasses gently swaying in the wind … Widdershins is starting to absorb the aroma ….

Right now we have moved on from the southern islands, crossing the ominous Maelstrom with the reputation of a swirling eddy of water with a penchant for dragging boats down to the watery depths. Being the brave seafarers we are, we charged past the Maelstrom a mere hairs breadth from the swirling waters of death … well we could see them anyway … or we could see where it was still … in the distance. Now we sit with the warm sun on our back relaxing with a cup of coffee and recuperating after a steep climb to a mountain overlooking the town of Reine. The view was spectacular with the crystal clear waters of Lofoten lapping against the rugged cliffs below and the jagged snow-capped peaks towering above – it is a landscape that is unique to this fantastic part of the world.

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Bountiful seas

As we head further North the degrees of latitude steadily increase and the degrees of temperature go sharply the other direction. Previously the steep slopes of the Norwegian fjords plunged to the sea with green foliage born of birches, spruce and pines; now we are seeing barren shores facing the battering of the weather and cold. But this is where things begin to get interesting….

A few days ago in an Arctic fog we were blown towards the shore of the southern-most puffin colony in Norway – the isle of Runde.  At 62°N these islands are at the same latitude of their southern counterparts the South Shetland Islands – adjacent to the Antarctic Peninsula. Here in Runde it is a far cry from the glaciers and extreme conditions of Antarctica but we have still crossed a boundary on the trip North. The south-western coast of Runde in composed of plunging cliffs that hold a startling arrange of nesting sea-bird life. Previously our journey along the Norwegian coast was in the company of gulls, a smattering of terns, the occasional eider duck … suddenly we were surrounded by birds of a dazzling diversity. Gannets, fulmars, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills, shags and guillemots suddenly soared overhead. Here we climbed to the cliffs and sat and watched the puffins flap furiously through the fog towards their nests amidst the rocks, and craned our necks to see the graceful flight of the Gannets…. But it wasn’t just above that the wildlife had suddenly appeared. As we sailed on (again in mist) occasional schools of fish broke the slick surface, and eventually something bigger emerged from the depths.

With a high pitched squeak long-finned pilot whales where suddenly porpoising all around Widdershins chasing schools of mackerel. A pod of over 20 whales herded fish around us for the better part of an hour, briefly pausing to spy-hop – raising their heads out of the water to peer at these strange intruders to their watery world. Eventually we left them to their feeding, but not before securing some whale left-overs for ourselves…. Mackerel for lunch!

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