The name Norway derives from Nordvegen, the north route, a network of sheltered sounds, straits and fjords along the country’s coast providing a shipping route protected from the wild North and Norwegian Seas. Karmsund, the narrow channel between the mainland and the island of Karmøy, a Viking stronghold, was the final part of the route we’d follow before emerging into the open water of Boknafjorden, north of Stavanger.
We make our approaches to Haugesund shortly before 4am, following a couple of large supply vessels into the port, and picking up the sector lights of the first of the channel markers. Unlike previous night’s sailing, this was pilotage, picking out lights marking the edge of the channel and counting off the buoys, and in familiar water (I sailed here on Draken Harald Hårfagre in the summer of 2013).
Skudeneshavn lies less than 30km as the crow flies from Utsira island
The wind strength beginning to build through the day
The wind had died away in the evening, and Karmsund was millpond flat in the lee of the island. With first light we picked up the beginning of the open water swell, rolling in across from the North Sea ahead of the coming weather system, and at the 7am watch change, we handed over a slate grey sea streaked with white horses, and the news that we’d put into Skudeneshavn rather than try to run ahead of the storm for Lerwick or Peterhead.
Entry into Skudeneshaven is through a channel, only 30 metres at the narrowest just past the lighthouse at Vikeholmen. After a couple of hours punching into the swell we find our line into the harbour, and start dropping sails for arrival. I’m sent to the bowsprit to call distances and look out for traffic in the harbour (I’m rubbish at estimating distances) as rain starts to sheet down.
Skudeneshavn was bustling herring port in the 18th and 19th century, a boom town during the age of sail, where fishing and shipping brought wealth to the locals and drew in workers from the rest of the region. Now traditional herring drifters in the harbour have given way to vast oil rig supply ships and small leisure boats.
We slide into the wind shadow of an immense oil rig supply ship with a helipad several stories above the tip of our mast, and try to find a berth big enough for the ship. The harbour narrows down, lined with old buildings, and small boats are tied up on every quay. The wind pushes us to one spot, and we quickly make fast, though this involves running up one lane and down another, and hopping into a garden.
The old town, Gamle Skudeneshavn, is a winding warren of narrow cobbled lanes, quays and jetties, and traditional whitewashed timber buildings, built by the master boatbuilders that were based here, in a tight jumble around the water’s edge. The town still bustles through the summer, as a popular holiday getaway from nearby Stavanger, and the host of several heritage festivals, including Skudefestivalen, the largest traditional boat gathering in western Norway.
In late autumn, the streets and the shore are far quieter, as weather systems sweep in from the Atlantic Ocean bringing regular wind squalls and rain showers. Coastal walks become bracing, but there’s always a cosy corner in town to find hot coffee and waffles to warm up.
As the crow flies, we’re less than 15 nautical miles from the island of Utsira, imagined remote and stormbound yet so familiar from the Shipping Forecast, that regular incantation that masters the weather for mariners. Violent storm 11 is every bit as terrifying as it sounds. We’ll be staying here in harbour for some time.
Spring has been a transitional time for me over the past few years. My seasonal ranger contract on the Isle of Wight ends, as the overwintering birds I work on start their migration journey to the high Arctic, and I find something new to keep me occupied through the following months.
Where I’ve been:
After packing up my life on the Isle of Wight, and dropping things into storage, I flew out to Bilbao in northern Spain. I’d been selected to join the crew of the sail training tall ship Atyla as a watchleader, spending a couple of months on board as we sailed around Europe.
The first couple of weeks were dedicated to finishing winter maintenance, fitting and testing equipment that had been in storage, and provisioning for our upcoming voyages. We also completed extensive training, familiarisation with systems on board, and how to lead sailing evolutions with trainees, and also in teamwork and leading personal development activities.
Sanding and painting, splicing and whipping, tensioning the rig, caulking the deck; maintenance on a wooden ship is neverending.
Learning happens when you leave your comfort zone. Adventure pushes you to the edge of the danger zone, where the biggest lessons are learned.
Atyla runs coaching for trainees, so alongside working together to sail a ship, they tackle sessions on critical thinking, international collaboration, and environmental responsibility. Despite my initial reticence about taking part*, the coaching sessions were excellent, and it was awesome to witness the transformative effects on our trainees.
*I don’t have emotions.
As well as exploring Bilbao, our voyages took up across the Bay of Biscay (twice), around Brittany, through the channel to Belgium, then around the British and Irish Isles. We attended several maritime festivals, in Ostend and Calais, and a tall ships regatta from Liverpool to Dublin and Bordeaux. The final event was the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux, which ended with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.
Sailing alongside other tall ships is awesome. On shore, you’re too far from the action, or the ships are tied up alongside and has a very different feel, and on board you’re just too close to everything, and perspective is limited. We spent a windless couple of days in the Irish Sea, drifting back and forwards by other vessels, then absolutely rocketed from Waterford, Ireland, across the Celtic Sea and into Biscay, towards Bordeaux.
What I’ve done:
Spring is the start of beach cleaning season, as winter storms have washed extra material up on the coast and people become more willing to spend a couple of hours outdoors picking up litter. With a couple of friends I organised a few small events on the Isle of Wight, filled several sacks with waste, met some brilliant people, and even discovered a new part of the island.
At the end of March I undertook a Day Skipper practical course, spending a week sailing around in the Solent in the pouring rain on a 36′ sailing yacht. I think we had only one dry day, where we spent several hours beating closehauled towards Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, getting nowhere beyond Newtown. But I passed the course, and am now the proud owner of an International Certificate of Competence, the basic level of qualification to charter my own yacht.
Racing cruise ships down the Western Solent. Very little chance of winning.
Chartwork and navigation is key part of the Day Skipper syllabus.
Before departing for Spain, I headed to Bristol for a training weekend with the team from Explorers Connect for an expedition leadership course. The sessions covered the theory of planning and organising an expedition, safety management and risk assessment, provisioning and sourcing equipment. It’s certainly given me plenty to think about for the rest of the year.
And finally, at the end of this season, I had an interview for a very exciting job to work in a place I’ve always wanted to visit. And to match the nature of the job, a very exciting interview process, involving several team building challenges, scenarios and exercises. Ultimately, I wasn’t successful this time, but I left with fantastic feedback from the team, and feel inspired to apply for the same job again in the future. Fingers crossed that next time it will be mine. Until then, I might just keep on messing about on boats.
My Spring Love List
What I read:We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. An epic saga centred on the Danish port of Marstal, spanning several generations, two world wars, and circumnavigating the globe. I’ve had the book for ages, and been recommended it by so many people, so finally finding the time to read it has been so satisfying.
What I listened to: Black Hands, a true-crime podcast from New Zealand that delves into the murder of several members of a Dunedin family, and the subsequent trial that rocked the city of Dunedin. Like Serial, but a bit more fush and chups.
Film: A Plastic Ocean. A challenging but essential watch, highlighting the threats to the health of the ocean posed by microplastics. In this year alone every person on the planet will consume 136 kg of single-use plastic. How can a disposable product be made from an indestructible material?
Equipment: I’ve practically lived in my Helly Hansen sailing jacket and salopettes during my Day Skipper course, and to cross the Bay of Biscay. They’ve been pretty indispensable in keeping me warm and dry through wet nightwatches on Atyla.
Treats:Wine! There’s been plenty of good red wine this season; after work with a plate of pintxos in Bilbao, celebrating with the rest of the crew in Liverpool and Dublin, and while watching the most amazing fireworks at the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux. Though this Belgian waffle in Ostend was pretty awesome too.
Thanks for following the voyages of These Vagabond Shoes. I hope some of the things I’ve worked on over the winter are making a difference on the blog, and you enjoy what you find here.
You can also keep up to date with my adventures (or meanderings and rambling thoughts as it’s mainly been recently) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Let me know in the comments about what you’ve been up to this spring or your plans for the season ahead. I’d love to hear from you.
Well hey, fellow vagabonds. I hope that you’ve managed to make it through our recent cold snap with a smile on your face.
The unexpected sub-zero temperatures, ice and snow over the past week (even here on the Isle of Wight, where THE SEA ACTUALLY FROZE), have been very much in-keeping with what I’ve been up to over the rest of the winter.
Where I’ve been
I had a trip up to Scotland to spend Christmas with my family, where I was able to go for long walks along the Angus coast, followed by lounging around in front of the log burning stove in my pyjamas with a selection of Scottish gins to try.
In early January I went to catch Death in the Ice, an excellent exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, presenting the story of the lost Franklin expedition to search for the Northwest Passage. It presented items recovered from the shipwrecks of the Erebus and the Terror, as well as artefacts and testimony detailing Inuit experience of life in the high Arctic, contrasting the European perspective of a bleak and empty landscape with one that is familiar, that provides, that is home.
I managed to fit in a couple of days exploring Cambridge while on a project management training course, where I visited the Polar Museum at the Scott Polar Research Institute. It houses a detailed collection of equipment and artefacts charting the history of polar exploration, including some personal journals kept by expedition crews, both successful and tragically unsuccessful.
Then at the end of the month, I had a few days visiting friends in Cornwall and working on the restoration of their new (more than a hundred years old boat), the Iris Mary. She’s currently lying up in the edge of a saltmarsh in a hidden creek in the River Tamar, near a collection of other traditional wooden boats.
In February I took a day trip off the island to see the Royal Dockyard in Portsmouth, to visit the museum housing the Mary Rose shipwreck, and take a tour of HMS Victory, two of the most famous ships in British history. It’s been a very nautical winter, and it’s starting to look like spring might be very similar.
What I’ve done
I’ve been out and about exploring the Isle of Wight over the winter, discovering new walks up on the downs and walking in the footsteps of dinosaurs at Compton Bay.
Another highlight has been meeting up with an awesome group of ladies through the Love her Wild facebook group for a couple of hikes, and to make plans for some wild camping adventures in the spring.
My winter love list
Winter is always a good time to enjoy the pleasures of curling up with a book, film or podcast by the fire while the rain beats against the window. Here’s my current obsessions:
What I read:The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, as part of a cosy Midwinter Eve read-along on Twitter, prompted by Robert Macfarlane and Julia Bird. Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling by Philip Pullman. A collection of essays, talks and articles on the power of a well-told tale by one of my favourite authors.
What I listened to: The Wine and Crime podcast. Three sassy lassies from Minnesota telling tales of drunkeness and cruelty, paired with a fine wine so you can drink along at home.
What I watched:Oran na Mara* (Song of the Sea). We have a Scots Gaelic / Gáidhlig television channel in the UK, which I’ll occasionally watch and pretend I understand far more than I actually do. But this beautiful animation has such a compelling story that language isn’t really necessary. *The original Irish / Gaeilge version is called Amhrán na Mara.
What I played: My cousin introduced us to the board game Pandemic over Christmas, as a variation from our usual Trivial Pursuit obsession. After we worked out the aim is collaboration and not cut-throat competition, we really loved it.
Thank you for bearing with me on These Vagabond Shoes. I’ve had a bit of a faff playing around with the look and feel of this blog, and I hope it will all start to seem worth it over the next few months. You can also keep up to date with my adventures (or meanderings and rambling thoughts as it’s mainly been recently) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Here’s to spring and the return of the sun! What have you been up to over the winter? Let me know in the comments below.
It used to be said that the sun never set on the British Empire, the consequence of colonisations and land claims that spanned the globe, connected by the ships of the Royal Navy and merchant fleet. And this sprawling seafaring set-up was controlled from the grand halls of Greenwich.
Influences gathered from the corners of the earth have been woven through the history of Greenwich, London, and the rest of the UK, through discovery and exploration, science and research, shipping and trade. Visiting Maritime Greenwich, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an insight into the factors that shaped the idea of Great Britain, both nationally and internationally.
To navigate around the part of London at the heart of global time and travel, I’ve compiled a rough guide to discovering what makes Maritime Greenwich tick.
The River Thames
The river is essential to Greenwich, and the Thames Clippers river bus from central London is the best way to arrive. It gives you great views of the city’s most famous landmarks, and I’d recommend sailing at least one way in the evening to see the city lights.
Old Royal Naval College
The centrepiece of the UNESCO site is the Old Royal Naval College, a complex of grand and imposing classical buildings designed by Sir Christopher Wren. Originally a hospital and retirement home for sailors of the Royal Navy, it also housed a school and boarding house for the orphans of seafarers. After these institutions closed, it became the Royal Naval College training the officers that commanded the ships of the fleet right up to 1998.
Guided tours take visitors around the halls, including the spectacular Painted Hall, and you might recognise the buildings as sets for many films and TV shows.
The Old Royal Naval College buildings also house the Greenwich Tourist Information, where you can pick up tickets for other attractions and plan the rest of your visit.
National Maritime Museum
I love maritime museums, and would easily spend the best part of my days looking at bits of boats. This free museum is extensive, capturing and presenting the key elements of the UK’s relationship with the sea, from military sea battles to the history of exploration and discovery to colonisation and trade around the British Empire to the stereotypical British seaside holiday. My highlights were the collections of charts and atlases, an exhibition on the battle of Jutland, and artefacts from the Battle of Trafalgar, including the coat worn by Admiral Nelson on that fateful day.
The museum also hosts exhibitions through the year, like the recent Death in the Ice exhibition, telling the story of the doomed Franklin expedition and the recent discovery of the wrecks of Erebus and Terror. (Doomed expeditions in the ice where eating boots becomes essential to survive are one of my favourite things). These events may have a charge and/or advance booking may be required.
Emirates Airline Cable Cars
Head along the river from the Maritime Greenwich UNESCO site towards the O2 Arena (It will always be the Millennium Dome) to find the Emirates Airlines cable cars, which lift you across the Thames into the Docklands. There’s great views all round as you cross, especially to the river and boats some 90 metres below.
A standard return crossing is around £9 (adult fare, children are less, and TFL travel passes give a discount). The cable cars close in high wind.
The sky-raking rigging of Cutty Sark looms over you as you walk on the Greenwich riverside. Taking her name and inspiration for the figurehead from the poem Tam O’Shanter (just one of many Scottish connections to the ship), Cutty Sark was one of the fastest of the famed tea clippers, and now sits, fully restored, suspended over her dry-dock and cased in a sea of glass.
The stories of voyages from China to the UK, and then on the wool route to Australia are brought to life by interpreters recreating characters from the ship’s history on lead tours at certain times. I also loved the game where you could try to beat the record for navigating the ship home around Cape Horn, and easily spent a few hours exploring the ship.
A Day Explorer ticket gives discount entry to Cutty Sark and the Royal Observatory on the same day.
Climb to the highest point of Greenwich Park, next to the imposing statue of General Wolfe, to look out over the classical buildings of the Old Royal Naval College and Maritime Museum, and the towers of Canary Wharf on the opposite bank of the river. You’ll also be able to look upriver towards central London, and pick out many of the landmarks of the city, like the London Eye, the weird gherkin building, and Tower Bridge.
Royal Observatory and Prime Meridian Line
The buildings in the Royal Observatory played a significant role in the history of scientific discovery, including as the home and workplace of notable Astronomers Royal. Exhibits include the timepieces developed by John Harrison to solve the longitude problem, and the great equatorial telescope.
The Prime Meridian line slicing through the Observatory has been the zero point for measuring time around the globe since 1884 (except in France, of course), and in determining navigational position. I was surprised to find out there’s several other meridians in the area, including the baseline for Ordnance Survey maps and, at the other side of Greenwich Park, the reference meridian for satellite data.
The Peter Harrison Planetarium is the only planetarium in London, and the shows are an excellent complement to the information displays in the Astronomy Centre and Royal Observatory. Although it’s really challenging to not fall asleep in the dark, in your comfortable seat, to the relaxing voice of the astronomer.
Food and Drink
There’s a great selection of places to eat and drink in the area. I tried:
The Green Cafe, on Greenwich High Road, for brunchy breakfasts and good coffee. It also had a big selection of cakes, and plenty vegetarian and vegan options.
Museum Cafe, in the Maritime Museum, for a coffee and cake refuel between exhibitions. The sun terrace looks out to Greenwich Park and up to the Royal Observatory (and the view is still great if you’re inside because it’s raining stair-rods).
The Old Brewery, by the Old Naval College, for posh pub food and great selection of craft beers in a historic setting.
Bill’s Restaurant, on the corner of Nelson Road, for a long leisurely lunch with a bloody Mary menu.
Greenwich Market, for world street food from Ethiopian to Korean. I had Argentine empanadas, followed with Brazillian churros with dulce de leche.
The Gypsy Moth, next to Cutty Sark and named for another famous vessel, for real pub grub, big burgers, and a beer or two (actually several).
What would be in your plans for a visit to Greenwich? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments below.