Just like that, it’s over. Saturday we arrived back in Barba’s home port, Stavanger, to a troop of Andreas’ friends. His mother, various friends and a few former crew/buddies from past sailing adventures had laid out a red carpet quayside and had a magnum of Moet at the ready. It was a touching welcome back and a nice celebratory finish to the trip as Jon, Dani and I joined Andreas in greeting everyone and chatting about some of our adventures in Svalbard and along the Norwegian coast. Of course it was a strange feeling, too, that it was suddenly over. And that we were home, dry and almost done (there remained, of course, a massive cleaning session on Barba after all the cake and champagne).
Nikolai, Barba trained diver, sailor and masterchef. Photo by Daniel Hug.
The last week or so of the trip went by in a flash and was a lot of fun. After the winds finally let up a bit we were able to depart Rørvik for Florø, with a quick swing through Ålesund to pick up a new sailor to join us for the leg home. If I didn’t feel old enough already with my 40th birthday imminent, there was Nikolai – a sprightly 23 year old who’s built like an ox – holding his dive bag and waiting for us in the harbor in Ålesund.
They’re not related, but Nikolai is the little brother Andreas never had. They’ve known each other since Nikolai was in diapers, as Andreas is fond of reminding him. And I’ve had the pleasure of hanging out with Nikolai on a few occasions before, too, enjoying his hilarious wit and great taste in music.
The Barba crew were excited to have a new face onboard, after all these weeks alone together, and Nikolai’s arrival added a much appreciated spark of energy to the last leg. As we pulled away from the docks in Ålesund shortly after midnight to continue south, the rest of us went below to sleep while Andreas and Nikolai did an extended watch to go over the new instruments together. For the next morning we’d be making our way around Stadt – that notorious Norwegian headland we’ve mentioned before that would be the last real obstacle on our trip south.
I woke up around 3AM for my watch to see the clear sky prickling with starlight, and I could make out one more faint aurora low on the northern horizon. It looked very nearly like a gauzy cloud, as the Northern Lights often appear. And while we were still a long sail from Stavanger, the moment felt like a last look back already to those far away Arctic latitudes we were leaving for good.
The long feared Stadt passage. By Daniel Hug.
Nikolai was on watch later in the morning when I woke up again, and when I asked him where we were I was surprised at his answer. “This is Stadt,” he said, but the water was almost as calm as a lake. I had to look at the plotter to make sure he wasn’t joking. Sure enough, I recognized the jutting headland from our trip north a few months back, when the waters around us had been a bit wavier (though that time was quite tame, too, considering how bad the conditions around Stadt can apparently get).
The sun was shining and the weather was sweet, and we even had good sailing winds (from the east, so with very little waves) for a change. It felt like Nikolai had brought the good luck along with him. And that was confirmed later in the day when, approaching Florø, we got word that a helicopter pilot (one of the few female pilots in the force, who we met by chance in Senja a few months before) with Norway’s 330 Squadron had confirmed the opportunity for us to participate in a training mission. During the exercise, two of our crew would be winched from Barba up a rope and into the belly of a Sea King chopper. We had hoped for this to happen a few weeks before in Tromsø, but the training mission had been cancelled at the last minute back then when an actual at-sea rescue became necessary. So once we got word that we were going to make it happen this time everyone was very excited.
The Sea King and Barba hanging out in a fjord outside Florø. By Nikolai Munch.
It’s not everyday, after all, that an enormous Sea King swoops down over the boat and frees up room on Barba by choppering off with two of our boys. It was given that Dani would be lifted, as our photographer, and Andreas had to stay on Barba to steer and make sure she was in the right position for the exercise. So it came down to whether Jon or I would get the last remaining slot. And as much as I’d have loved to experience this feeling of being winched up a rope as Barba grew smaller beneath me (not to mention the ensuing sightseeing tour back to base), I knew Jon would appreciate it all the more. He’s been my been my rock on so many occasions during this trip I’ve lost count – my hiking companion, my confidant, my teacher – so it was a no-brainer that this thrill should be all his.
Jon departing Barba in a rather unusual way.By Daniel Hug.
Jon and Dani got into their survival suits to ready themselves for the lift as Nikolai headed out in the dinghy to get a good photo angle on the boat and helicopter. I had probably the least desirable job, which was hanging out mostly below deck to receive any potential VHF instructions from the helicopter pilots (it would be hard to hear the comms up top what with the noise from the rotors). To prepare, we’d stripped Barba down to the basics – lowering the spray hood, taking down some of the extra rigging wires on the stern and stowing all loose ropes and other hazards that could risk literally entangling the operation.
End of exercise, leaving Barba two man short. By Daniel Hug.
The whole exercise was over in a matter of minutes, as the squadron’s team of six (including two pilots, a navigator, rescue swimmer, doctor and machinist), pure professionals, swooped in, lowered the ropes and lifted away our boys with what appeared to be the same ease I feel dipping a ladle into a bowl of soup for lunch. The chopper gave us one low-banking flyover on the way back to base as Andreas, Nikolai and I motored the two hours onward to Florø while Dani and Jon were getting some of the best aerial views on a cloud-free day along the coast. When we got to the base in Florø we got a tour of the premises and a tour of the helicopter to finish a cool day.
Our next stop, a few hours away, was the scenic island of Alden, which Nikolai and Andreas had visited before. The coastline south of Florø doesn’t have the same wow factor as Northern Norway’s, but the islands are impressive in their own right with rounded tops and the classic Norwegian smattering of red and white wooden houses tucked into their bays and coves. We took a short hike to the top of Alden and got a view of Batalden, where we had moored up for a night on the way north from Stavanger back in late-June. I had this memory of Andreas on the mountain top there, looking north and beating his chest like a madman while yelling “Svalbard!” It was his sole focus back then, so much so that he could barely enjoy the sail north along the Norwegian coast. And now it was damn fine to find ourselves on the other side of that journey – Svalbard a triumph behind us and lots of enjoyment, adventure and relaxing times in our wake from our trip back down the Norwegian coast.
Quayside Alden. By Daniel Hug.
Nikolai went for a practice dive in the harbor of Alden to prepare for the next day’s fun, which would be diving on the wreck of the Frankenwald – Norway’s most famous shipwreck. Here’s what he and Andreas had to say about that: “Frankenwald ran aground at the outskirts of the Sognefjord in 1940, trying to avoid the British Navy out at sea. She rests on her keel at a depth of 40 meters, with the bridge accessible from 26 meters and downwards. At a length of 122 meters with a virtually intact superstructure and hull, she is one of the best wreck dives in Norway.”
Andreas and Nikolai being towed by Mojo through the Frankenwald wreck. By Andreas
After the guys surface from their dive, all smiles, we had about 20 hours of smooth sailing to go until our final port, a heartwarmingly familiar one. Barba – and all of us on board on more than one occasion – know the picturesque archipelago of Kvitsøy quite well and were happy to be back. It was an idyllic place to spend two days before arriving back in Stavanger. And it was also the place I got to ring in my 40th birthday, surrounded by the handsome youngsters of Barba and – best of all – my boyfriend, Damien, who showed up on the pier clad in the coolest vintage French sailor outfit as the commandant, ready to celebrate and then whisk me back to my home port. The French touch, you gotta love it. And I can’t think of a better way to close out my most recent decade than celebrating the end of the expedition with everyone.
Birthday party with oysters, white wine and French commandant. By Daniel Hug.
Andreas and I went for a dive to gather scallops in Kvitsøy’s sandy channels and entering a new decade must bring along with it wisdom because I finally had the best buoyancy control of the whole trip. It’s like dry suit diving – which I’ve been struggling with a bit after many years as a wetsuit diver – finally clicked, and I was cool as a cucumber down there, not threatening to balloon to the surface even once. It was a good feeling. Later on we had a great dinner on the boat with all my favorite things – scallops, a few tasty Norwegian oysters (flat and finer than other varieties), specialties from southwest France and beaucoup French wine. It was a great finale to many fabulous moments over four months and forty years!
The next morning we were up early to sail three hours back to Stavanger, and we even got to the sails up for a short while for one last gentle push through calm waters. As we cruised into the Stavanger fjord Byfjorden I could see Andreas sort of taking in the wonder of it all. His face softened, his eyes widened at the familiar sights of home. We picked up Jon and his girlfriend, Helena, downtown and we all cruised together toward Barba’s home port. What a sweet surprise to find the welcome committee there to greet us as we piled off the boat to set foot back where it all started. We made it. We did it! And we were done, for now.
The welcome back committee in Stavanger. By Daniel Hug.
When I talked to my 9 year old niece, Maddy, later that day she said, “Welcome back,” and paused, trying to put a name to where I’d returned to. “Welcome back…to the world,” she finished. We’d come from a part of the world few people are lucky enough to see, not to mention move through so independently as we did with Barba. We had seen some of the most exotic sights that exist on the planet and ticked off nearly every adventure goal we’d set out to accomplish. And at the same time, we were all so happy to be back to what was familiar, clean and comfortable. A sailboat, I am convinced more than ever, is truly the ultimate tool for adventure. And there are adventures everywhere.
Jon was returning home to a new job he’d been thrilled to get and already excited about kite skiing soon, with winter approaching. Dani would soon be joining his girlfriend to travel around the west coast of Canada and the US before heading back to the Austrian Alps to kick off another ski season. I couldn’t wait to get back to life in the fabulous place I call home in France, with trips back to Florida to see my nieces and a reunion with girlfriends in Jamaica on the horizon before the year’s out. As for Andreas, I think it’s safe to say that his apartment – with a view of Barba safely moored up just outside – had never looked so good. And his mind was of course already off blowing with the winds about where he would sail her next.
The Sea King cockpit. By Daniel Hug.
Daniel and Jon airborne.
Andreas and Nikolai, after a successful Frankenwald dive. By Andreas.
The bridge of the Frankenwald. The green tint caused by algae. By Andreas
Nikolai hanging out on deck. By Andreas
The gangway of Frankenwald. By Andreas