Tag Archives: Cod

Two in the blue meets two blue whales

Today was a wildlife extravaganza! We began with the plan to head down to the Monacobreen Glacier to examine the crumbling glacial face there, and also hoping to spot some of the polar bears known to haunt the area. However we never made it that far because wildlife kept getting in the way! First off, we took a winding route amongst the Andøyane Islands where we quickly spotted the shaggy shape of a bear romping around the moss covered slope attended by an angry swarm of dive-bombing terns. We quickly threw out the anchor and watched cautiously from a distance as the bear ambled around the island in search of eggs before stretching out on the beach for a nap (despite the continued attack of the terns).

The bear was a female wearing a collar from the Norwegian Polar Institute who are tracking and studying the population on Svalbard. Such studies are critical as we try to determine how the bears are adapting to the rapidly changing environment of the Arctic …. While the lack of sea ice this year makes cruising in the Arctic a breeze for us, ice-dependant species like the polar bear are facing new challenges as their icy habitat diminishes.

While we watched the bear on the beach the fjord began to come to life around us. Small planktonic pteropods began to bounce around below the boat and a swarm of juvenile cod began to mill in the shallow water – soon kittiwakes were circling and we found ourselves in the midst of a feeding frenzy as birds dropped from the air on all sides only to be faced by a gang of jealous rivals each attempting to snatch the tasty morsel plucked from the depth. Offshore more birds darkened the horizon and soon we were watching minke whales lunging to the surface with water spilling out of their baleen as they gorged on the plankton below.


But the star of the day was yet to show – transfixed by the minke whales swimming barely ten meters off the bow, we almost failed to notice the towering columns of water being thrown to the heavens on the other side of the fjord. But when we did drag our eyes to the horizon we realised that we were in the presence of not just one, but two blue whales. Soon we left the minkes (one of the smallest Rorqual whales) behind for the largest animal in the world. The marbled blue surface of the blue whale back were shortly before us … the beasts were immense with the very small portion of back exposed with each blow making our yacht look like a small sailing dingy in comparison. Spending an hour with two blue whales is a privilege and a memory that will stay with us forever.

Today was outstanding – for the first time since arriving in Svalbard we were surrounded by wildlife. Too often landings up here entail less live wildlife and more focus on the history of whaling, sealing and trapping that ultimately led to the decline of so much of the polar life. Today was fantastic, but one can’t help contemplating the days when mariners had to “plow through” the throngs of whales in these waters …let’s hope with good management the whales one day return to their historic feeding grounds.

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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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North of the night

Over the past few days we crossed a lot of water as we wish to spend at least two weeks exploring the beautiful islands of Lofoten. To make quicker progress we decided to do a couple of over-night trips…. well, over-“night” is a bit an exaggeration this far north. In reality it never gets dark at all. Although we have not seen the midnight sun yet (too cloudy), the light dims only a little bit around 1:00 am, before it gets bright again.

As you can imagine sailing 24 hours non-stop can be hard going at times. There is always one person on watch (making sure we don’t run into rocks or miss seeing whales) and in the long night time hours this lasts for about four hours ….  any longer and you find yourself nodding off. Meanwhile the other of us is snug and warm in bed trying to snatch a few hours of rest before once again suiting up and facing the elements.

I had just finished my last watch and blissfully fallen asleep, when at about 3:00 am Patrick banged on the cabin door and announced that he needed me on deck urgently. Sluggishly I peeked out of the cabin only to be greeted by a gush of cold water on my head and a broadly grinning Patrick who declared that this was Neptune’s kiss. After some well-directed curses I grumpily crawled out and he explained that we were just about to cross the Arctic Circle. Before we crossed I promptly secured my revenge in the form of a glass of water on Patricks head (after all, it’s his first crossing on a boat as well), then we raised a toast with some miniature gin bottles. At least we thought it was gin until we downed it. Turns out it was some horrible sweet gin essence probably meant for cooking, yuck!

Our first stop north of the circle was in one of the fjords. While it was once again overcast, the gaps on the cloud allowed tantalising glimpses of jagged peaks and white ice caps descending in an icy turmoil down the steep sides before grinding to a halt only meters above the water. We eagerly climbed up over spectacular rock formations where multi-coloured rock twisted in many layers and bore the scars of the glaciers passage. And only a short distance away the glaciers terminal face rose above us with the mouth of a cave where water relentlessly dropped down to form an impressive waterfall that tumbled down into a crystal-clear lake below.

Now we’re again further north, only a few hours from Bodø, where we will refill our food supplies to prepare ourselves for the journey across the seas to Lofoten. Right now Patrick is cooking his latest catch of fish for a delicious dinner. Seems Neptune appreciated our toast and rewarded us with a beautiful cod (though he did take my lure in payment…).

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