Crew of Barba boat sailing

Arctic Sense 2023 Leg 1: The Norwegian Coast

In what feels like several months worth of experiences. I find myself struggling to write an update of Leg 1 (The Norwegian Coast) of our expedition. In many ways the two first legs of the expedition are really just about getting to Svalbard, where the Barba team will do most of their work with a rotating crew of scientific researchers, storytellers, entrepreneurs and filmmakers. The first two legs have also given us an opportunity to test our equipment, develop good routines and document some wildlife on the way. It’s been extremely difficult to condense everything we’ve seen, done, learnt and documented in a few paragraphs, but I’ll try my best here.

After spending a week in Stavanger preparing the boat for the expedition, one morning I woke up and found that it was the day we set sail on the expedition. A mixed feeling of nerves and excitement struck and was quickly subdued by the feeling of urgency and the commencement of the final packing of the boat. The rest of the crew showed up and packed their items onto the boat and we started our journey with a quick pit stop in the Stavanger city centre to say some final goodbyes to friends and family.

To write a detailed account of each day will need at least a chapter of a book each so here is a quick timeline of how leg 1 of the expedition went which focuses mainly on the highlights.

Before getting into the journey. The Barba team & I would like to extend a special thank you to the Barba legend, Kristian Nygärd, who joined us early in this leg to help the crew get ready to sail the coast and beyond. Kristian’s sailing and navigation experience at the highest levels helped the crew safely sail to each destination.

Day 1 – Avaldsnes outside Haugesund.

First anchorage – Bukkøya – We had sailed throughout the day, in a mix of motoring and sailing. The crew was a bit tired from searching for their sea legs. Our captain decided to anchor us at an old viking heritage site with a rebuilt viking farm. Andreas was still taking the time to teach the crew the intricacies of navigating the Norwegian coast which has many challenges as you sail between the fjords.

Day 2 & Night 2 – Bergen

We set off to sail early from Bukkøya in a bid to gain some distance and make progress, a day of sailing in mild conditions led us to stop in Bergen, only to find out that this was Kristian’s master plan all along, I had heard some good things but seeing is believing and I was eager to see the city as well. We were lucky enough to see Bergen on one of its few sunny days with clear sky and no rain. This was a special nostalgia stop for three of our crew Andreas, Kristian and Eivind who had spent some years of their lives in this city. After a short tour of the city we decided to spend the night anchored in the harbour to get some rest before we continued on our passage. I was now getting the hang of navigating the coastline and with the comfort and confidence the sailing grew more and more enjoyable.

Day 3 – Alden (island anchorage)

After some intense sailing we decided to anchor in Alden, we were met at the dock with a sea battered boat about 25 feet long that were also heading to the same location, Svalbard. A welcome hike up the mountain to stretch our legs and get our blood flowing was part of the evening plan as sailing doesn’t always involve much movement. In the morning we would sail on and make progress towards Tromsø.

Day 4 – Passing Stadt (famous landmark, where Vikings would pull ships over the ground when conditions were tough).

Sailing past Stadt was a great sailing experience, infamous for its bad weather and known as the longest stretch of open water between two land masses on the Norwegian coastline, every Norwegian sailor and fisherman has a quiet respect for Stadt. At this point it really dawned on me that we are seeing more of Norway than most Norwegians do by sailing along the whole coastline.
One thing I noticed was the lack of marine life. It was a new experience for me to sail a coastline and not see a dolphin or a whale. But, my concerns were put to ease when I learnt that further north is where most of the marine life is. And that we are still just in a transit portion of our expedition with over 10 weeks of expedition still to have.

Photo by Tord Karlsen. Andreas B. Heide sailing as he captains his 13th transit journey from Stavanger to Tromsø

Day 5 – Ålesund, Hustadvika (tight passage)

We sailed past Ålesund in what marked just over a third of this leg of the expedition. A day of very focussed sailing as we had to navigate through tight passages. We eventually sailed out to more open waters with the newer crew having found a higher level of understanding for navigating the Norwegian coastline and its passages.

Day 7 – Sailing push

Due to several days of upwind sailing which slowed us down quite a fair bit, we found ourselves a little under some time pressure. The crew which started with five had now shrunk to three, which meant that a significant push was necessary in terms of longer hours doing our night watches and in general more responsibilities for each of us. This night is when we officially crossed into the Arctic circle. It was now official for me, the midnight sun was now a reality.

Photo by Tawanda Chikasha. Eivind preparing for his watch as we look to have a long stretch of sailing.

Day 8 – Fugløya (island anchorage).

After gaining some mileage and making great progress northward a stop was necessary for the weary three (Eivind, Tawanda & Andreas). We stopped to recharge our batteries and ensure we had enough in us to make a push to Bleik. This was probably the most important aspect of the trip so far. We had observed a unique weather window that would drastically increase our chances of seeing sperm whales in the Bleik canyon should we have made it there in time. The next day or so were important for us to sail forward and get to Bleik in time for the chance to see the whales.

Day 9 – Henningsvær, Trollfjorden, Lofoten.

En route to Bleik, in good time and now not far from Bleik we had to stop briefly in Henningsvaer to pick up Tord and bring the crew back up to 4 sailors again. While in Henningsvaer we ran into some old Barba crew whom I had now met for the first time, a great bunch, it was easy to see the kind of people who are and have been part of Barba and that made me feel even more at home. After a few hours there we sailed off towards Bleik.

Photo by Tord Karlsen. Barba leaving Henningsvaer and sailing for Bleik

Day 10 – Bleik, Bleik Canyon – Sperm Whales & Pilot whales

Bleik was in sight and with good weather we charged forward into the open sea towards the Bleik canyon. What started off as a few hours of listening in on the hydrophone, scoping out the water using binoculars and sailing around in search of whales. We ran into the first whales of the expedition, Pilot whales. Not too long after this encounter we spotted a blow and charged forward towards it. Low and behold the sperm whale in all its splendour. Few words can describe the experience but the pictures come pretty close. Bleik was a perfect way to ease into the final stretch of Leg 1. We were hosted by Tord’s family in what felt like home away from home. Now just a days sail away from Tromsø, and being right on time with some fair winds to follow, we could afford some time in Bleik.

Photo by Tord Karlsen. The majestic sperm whale caught surfacing to catch a breath not too far from Barba (Bleik canyon).

Photo by Tord Karlsen. Our encounter with pilot whales in the Bleik Canyon.

Day 12 – Sailing past Andfjorden, Senja. Anchorage Jekthamna, Senja Island.

Photo by Tord Karlsen – A moment with the waves and Senja Island in the background from the boat.

Day 13 – Transit to Tromsø.

Transit to Tromsø, our transit to Tromsø was what I’d describe a peaceful cooldown to the long journey we had along the coastline. We sailed comfortably and arrived safely in Tromsø, slightly tired but energised that we had made it this far and that the second leg of the expedition was on the horizon.

A big well done and thank you to the crew of Leg 1 for completing the leg and getting us closer to Svalbard. Andreas B. Heide (captain), Kristian Nygård, Eivind Olsen, Amalie Kivijärvi, Tord Karlsen & myself, Tawanda Chikasha.

Featured photo by Andreas B. Heide – From left, Tawanda Chikasha, Eivind Olsen, Kristian Nygärd

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