As usual before lifting anchor the boat captain reviews his engine and runs a checklist of equipment essential to today’s cruise: fuel, water, mooring lines, chains, extra long ground tackle, sturdy nylon trip lines, heavy hammer and climbing spikes. If this sounds more like a rock-climbing expedition than a boat cruise, it is because this is Norway where boaters like to anchor from the country’s very granite walls.
Story Cecile Gauert Photos by Glen Philip Hagen, Gordon Fitton and Tourism Nor
The captain has found an ideal mooring, and the crew goes to work while the boat idles in the deep glacial water. They hammer two L-shaped spikes ending with a loop into rock crevices found in the cliff near the boat’s railing. They quickly loop long mooring lines into the rings before lowering the stern anchor, which has been secured with trip lines. With the engine now off, the boat quietly floats with a backdrop of distant snow-capped peaks bathed in a northern sun. This is one of the many sides of Norway, a great boating destination that welcomes visitors but is yet to be discovered by many international boaters.
Norway’s water is everywhere. It is all around the Scandinavian Peninsula Norway shares with Sweden, and it runs deep into the country’s thousands of fjords, sounds, lakes and harbors. Norwegians, who descend from a long line of sea explorers, have embraced boating for fun, and their relationship with their country’s most abundant resource has helped develop services in all regions. Good marinas and professional charter companies make Norway very accessible to all boaters from its stunning western region, home of the fjords, to the “word’s biggest village,” Norway’s capital of Oslo.
Often it is the fjords that define Norway in visitors’ minds, and for good reasons. A National Geographic Survey recently ranked Norway’s region of the fjords at the top of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, ahead of places such as the Great Wall of China and the Pyramids of Egypt. From Stavanger, a city that is a frequent starting point for many crewed charters, to the beautiful Lofoten Islands, Western Norway offers a wealth of natural wonders. There you will find some of the most spectacular inlets and glacial valleys, including Sognefjord, the world’s longest and deepest fjord. A bit further north, near the 1,000-year old city of Bergen, a ride on the world’s steepest railway in Flam, gives visitors a bird eye’s view of the mountains, glaciers, valleys and the deep gorges they have just navigated. Besides landscapes the region offers other natural wonders, such as wildlife. The late weeks of fall, on the tail end of Norway’s ideal boating season, occasionally treat visitors to sightings of pods of Orcas. Starting in late September, the killer whales follow the northern upper stretches of Norway’s western coast looking for herrings. In fact wildlife is a frequent companion on the journey, especially around the Lofoten Islands where the waters team with silvery fish. Sea birds, such as the white-tailed eagle and the Atlantic puffin, often trail the boat’s wake, occasionally swooping down to capture a treat right off the deck. As the journey takes you further north, especially in the latter part of fall, you may have the chance to witness one of the region’s most beautiful sights, Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights.
But the fjords are not the whole story. And although the western region has uncontested beauty, Norway’s southern region also has much to offer, not the least of which is a milder climate. Norwegian-born Captain Tore Christiansen suggests a route that starts from Norway’s southernmost point. From the place where the country’s first lighthouse stands, his itinerary leads to the southern end of the Oslo fjord. Along the way a string of small villages, such as Mandal famous for its crab festival, and sheltered inlets offer picturesque sights and quiet moorings. From quaint traditional wooden houses to spectacular scenery the itinerary eventually weaves its way to Old Hellesund. The once modest fishing village has become prime real estate for millionaires. Christiansen also recommends a stop in Lyngoer. “They have an excellent restaurant where the fish soup is famous,” he says. From Lyngoer the route continues northeast along the coast to Risoer where the Wooden Boat Festival is held each August in the picturesque town’s harbor.
Past the Ferder lighthouse at the southern end of the Oslo Fjord, the itinerary can continue on to Norway’s capital of Oslo. The “World’s Biggest Village” is a metropolis teaming with history and culture, at nature’s doorsteps. Home to the Norwegian International Boat Show in March, Oslo is a popular place for boaters in summertime. If time allows leaving the boat at the dock, the city is worth exploring. Historic facades along perfectly tree-lined streets harbor interesting museums, with several dedicated to the Norwegian seafarers and their vessels. Although Norwegian boaters, a cheerful lot, would gladly show you how to anchor your yacht off a rock, there is no need to do so in Oslo fjord. The city has several full-service marinas on the historic waterfront of Aker Brygge.
And there is always the option to leave all the planning, packing, provisioning, navigating and anchoring to professionals. An increasing number of charter companies manage boats of all kind to discover this great country. Camper & Nicholsons International (CNI), for instance, offers itineraries from Stavanger and Bergen onboard the 84’ yacht Anne Viking. You may also get deeper into Norway’s culture and history by chartering a former Norwegian rescue vessel. Northern Light Charters in the UK manages several of these boats (see below for more on these interesting boats).
More information is available on CNI and Anne Viking from cnconnect.com
As we saw in the main story in Norway water is everywhere and is not always tame. Some of the world’s most treacherous seas are just off Norway’s coast, and many Norwegians have lost loved ones at sea. Efforts to rescue life and property from the perils of the sea along Norway’s coastline have been a matter of national interest. For over a century, a humanitarian organization called the NSSR has helped reunite families and bring back vessels in danger of sinking. The organization commissioned the build of rugged vessels able to conduct their mission in the roughest seas. These boats are an important part of the country’s history and collective memory, and for this reason perhaps several of them have found new lives chartering in various parts of the world, including Norway.
• Hans Hansson, just shy of 87’ and with a range of 3000 nautical miles, was at the time of her launch in 1960 the most expensive rescue vessel ever built. A public fundraiser financed the original construction and, in 2004 the boat’s current owner Gordon Fitton embarked on the vessel’s conversion. An entirely new superstructure now has a spacious saloon and six guest cabins, each with its own bathroom.
Between 1963 and 1972, the NSSR commissioned thirteen 75’ vessels. At least three are currently available for charter, two in Northern Europe. Despite their common ancestry, their current accommodations and interior furnishings vary greatly.
• Fredrikstad, built in 1968, underwent a meticulous and expensive refit that took 16 months. The interior by the award-winning designer Ken Freivokh (most recently of Maltese Falcon’ acclaim), includes a salon inspired from a gentleman’s club and three staterooms. Fredrikstad now charters in the Caribbean and is expected to remain in North America in the summer.
• Elizabeth G was built in 1963. Her current owner bought the vessel in her original condition and invested heavily to convert the boat from a rescue vessel to a boat suitable for diving and wild life expeditions. Elizabeth G sometimes charters alongside sister ship Hjalmar Bjorg.
• Built in 1963 Hjalmar Bjorg had several incarnations before Northern Light Charters purchased and refurbished the vessel. Hjalmar Bjorge conducts diving, whale and bird watching, and island discovery expeditions.
Northern Light Charters has a bit of history on the rescue vessels on their website at northernlight-uk.com. Newport Yacht Management has charter information on Fredrikstad at fineyachts.com. About Hans Hansson you may contact firstname.lastname@example.org