11 August 2016 – The Norwegian Riviera Revisited

Larvik (NOR) – Mandal (NOR)

Underappreciated Larvik
‘If you don’t have a reason to be in Larvik, don’t go there’ our pilot books advise. We plan on taking the train from there to Oslo, so we venture to this unsung town to make it our first Norwegian port. As we tour the shore in search of a spot to moor, we find that none of the harbours mentioned in our pilot books are suitable. Two are private and the third looks too narrow and shallow for Luci. It is the first time the books fail us. “Let’s anchor!” Ivar suggests. After a long day of sailing and the now intensifying rain, we look no further and rely on the mooring option that we have used so often since leaving Kiel: our Rocna 40kg anchor. Close to the beach we find a well-protected corner of the fjord that is just the right depth for us to anchor. The manoeuvre has become routine by now. Floris handles the anchor, Ivar the rudder. Minutes later we dry up inside and relax.

The next day the sun awakens us. We take out the kayak and paddle to the beach to explore the town. We notice that there are two pontoons that were not mentioned in the pilot books. In the absence of any sign welcoming guests, we assumed them to be private. They turn out to be the municipal marina. The pontoon next to restaurant “Pakkhuset” has free Wi-Fi from the restaurant, while on the other pontoon there is a power outlet and drinking water. Moored just a stone throw away is a replica of Thor Heyerdahl’s raft “Kon-Tiki”, which he used to sail on the Pacific. The pontoons are free of charge, what a pleasant surprise! To service all our Wi-Fi, drinking-water and electricity needs we end up using both in the next few days.

We wander around the streets of the old town. It consists of not more than a few streets close to the maritime museum and is quite well maintained. The memory of Larvik’s two famous sons is kept alive there. Famous boat designer and builder Colin Archer and explorer Thor Heyerdahl are honoured with statues. We pose with these men who pushed sailing to new limits.

The more modern town centre is rather uninspiring, but it boasts our favourite supermarket in Norway, Meny (one of the few with a sizeable organic selection). And on the hill above town we discover Norway’s largest beech forest, which offers great view over Larvik and the fjord. And further on is a beautiful fresh water lake (Farrisvann), which stretches more than 60 kilometres inland. In combination with the beautiful weather, it is too good to resist, so we take a refreshing swim. We are amazed at how deserted it is, so close to town.

During our stay in Larvik we also celebrate Ivar’s birthday with cake from the best (and only?) bakery in town and dinner at our neighbour’s, the “Pakkhuset”. We witnessed that it was crowded each day since our arrival and now know why: tasty Italian pizzas and local beer. This town has so much to offer!

Cycling in Oslo
The train station adds to Larvik’s attractiveness. It is located at the waterfront and there are direct connections to Oslo. Rather than sail the 80 kilometre-long Oslofjord to reach Oslo, we take a two-hour train trip. It probably also saves us a day of motoring, as the fjord is notorious for its unpredictable winds. On the train we pass by scenic landscapes that remind us of nature documentaries. The sun gives the water and surrounding forests intense shades of blue and green, which are only interrupted by the bright white, yellow and red of the settlements along the fjord.

When we arrive in Oslo we head straight for the bike rental shop so we can start our cycling tour of the city and its surroundings. We’re curious to see how many electric vehicles there are, where they can be charged and if they get any preferential treatment over fossil fuel cars. Norway leads the world when it comes to the share of electric cars of all new cars sold: almost every forth new car is electric. Nevertheless, our first impressions are somewhat disappointing, as the fossil fuel fleet on the road substantially outnumbers the electric fleet. In fact, electric cars currently make up around 3% of cars on the road in Norway. Nevertheless, when comparing the new car sales with other countries, it becomes clear that Norway has made a significant step forward towards more sustainable transportation: the Netherlands comes in second with almost 10% of new vehicle sales being electric.

It’s easy to argue that electric cars require additional non-renewable materials to build, or that they only make sense when powered by renewable energy. However, since 99% of Norway’s electricity is generated by hydropower, electric vehicles clearly reduce CO2 and other traffic emissions. And although cycling, the use of public transport or electric car sharing has an even lower CO2 footprint, we think that the ownership of electric cars is a step in the right sustainable direction. It proves that it’s possible to drive without fossil fuels, it provides a stepping stone towards more sustainable behaviours and above all: it proves how policy can be an effective tool for sustainable change. Read more about electric transport in our sustainable solutions section.

Naturally, we can’t resist seeing some tourist highlights in Oslo, too. We cycle through Vigeland park, which is filled with hundreds of statues. Many of men, women and children in various poses. They are only outnumbered by the tourists who hilariously mimic the statues. We soon leave the crowds and the city and cycle through the forest on Bygdøy, Oslo’s “museum island”. It hosts various nautical museums, among them the maritime museum. It not only shows Norway’s impressive maritime history, but also addresses today’s challenges. Their temporary exhibition on the plastic soup impresses us and reminds us of our own research for our article about it. The rest of the day we spend cycling and walking through the city on this sunny day.

In the evening we take the metro to visit one of Ivar’s Cambridge tutors. Ylva generously welcomes us at her beautiful place, despite our short notice of being in town (a few hours). She also is taking care of her three young kids on her own this weekend. Nevertheless, Ylva stresses that the opportunity to meet us trumped any excuse of potential chaos. Who needs an icebreaker after that? We feel so welcome and enjoy being part of the family dynamics that evening. Many thanks to you, Ylva, for your time, delicious family dinner and all the tips! You really made our day in Olso a fabulous one.

Friendly Sandøya
Back in Larvik, we keep a close eye on the wind forecast. Until this point, we could make good use of the prevailing SW winds. But from here on we are heading in that direction. So when a short weather window approaches, we set sail to our next destination: Sandøya. We plan to visit Kjell and Inger there, who invited us to their summerhouse when we met them in Marstrand, Sweden. Most of the way there it is smooth sailing, but then the wind becomes E, increases to force 5/6. The intensifying rain limits visibility, so we’re thankful to have GPS and digital maps on-board to navigate the difficult entrance passage. The heavily breaking waves also remind us of the presence of rocks. Once we’re in the lee of Sandøya, we stow away the sails and manage to find an empty pontoon for the night.

The next day Kjell picks us up at 11am with his white motorboat. “We’re going fishing” he announces, “and we need to catch something otherwise there will be no lunch”. We have to stand and hold on tight as Kjell powers the boat to full speed. When we reach the reef, a lengthy shallow area just outside the islands, he stops the boat and explains that the fish are plentiful here because most of their food is here. We start by learning the technique for cod fishing and Kjell seems to catch one straight away. After some serious tugging and pulling, however, it turns out to be a plant. So next up is mackerel fishing with not more than some hooks. They are not even shiny, just plain black. It takes a while before the first mackerel bites, but than Floris gets the hang of it and he quickly catches more than 20. Kjell laughs away the performance gap with Ivar by stating that “there’s a theory that mimicking the movements of a wounded fish are most effective”. Later our personal fishing instructor admits that it’s probably just luck. These mackerels simply bite at anything that moves.

At their beautiful and cosy cottage, Kjell’s wife Inger, son Alexander and daughter-in-law Live welcome us. Kjell teaches us the “butterfly” fileting method, before baking the fresh mackerels. They are delicious and combine very well with the lovely lunch that Inger has prepared “just in case” we wouldn’t catch any fish. After a tour around (almost) car-free Sandøya, we can’t resist the invitation to also stay for dinner.

Their hospitality continuous into the next day, when Kjell, Alexander and Live tour us around the island by boat. Our efforts to have them for lunch or tea on the boat to return the favour failed miserably, so before we know it we are enjoying another tasty lunch at their cottage. We exchange ideas, dreams and practical information about Norway and the Netherlands in the afternoon. Many thanks Kjell, Inger, Alexander and Live for your kind hospitality and sharing some of the great Norwegian outdoor lifestyle with us. We hope you’ll have a good sail to the Netherlands next year. We’ll do our best to catch our own mackerels with the rod you gave us!

Reunited with friends
Our next destination is the island of Gjervollsøya. This is where we met our friends Ragnar and Marianne a year ago (see logbook). As we enter their bay, Ragnar gives us a salute with the Norwegian flag. When we’re anchored, we kayak to their place and immediately feel welcome again. We enjoy the sunshine on their terrace, the local beers, the South African wine and of course the fresh “reker” (shrimps). We also meet Elise, a Dutch/Norwegian who lives nearby and is involved in many sustainability initiatives in Norway. She suggests for us to attend a week full of political debates in Arendal, an invite that we find very tempting. However, it’s more than a week away and we’re already quite late in the season. We’ll let the wind decide.

During the next three days, we’re overwhelmed by Marianne and Ragnar’s kind hospitability. They teach us how to identify golden chanterelle, introduce us to their friends Suzanne and Peter (who has a professional background in conservation and is now active in sustainable tourism), have us over for dinner and lend us their motorboat to go grocery shopping. We can also use the WiFi in their home and do the laundry. On top of it, Ragnar gives us new fenders, firewood and apples from their trees. We feel very privileged to have such wonderful Norwegian friends. Although we do our best to serve them a good dinner on-board Luci, there is simply no way to return all the favours. A big, big thank you guys, we look forward to staying in touch! We are family now.

Then, after three days the strong SW winds abate and the forecast promises us good sailing weather again: northerly wind 4/5 with lots of sun. This opportunity is simply too good to miss, and although we would have liked to stay much longer, we pull up the anchor in the morning. Ragnar salutes us with a Dutch flag and wishes us save sailing over the VHF. We wave until we pass the rocky island that provided good shelter from the strong winds during our stay.

Celebrations in Mandal
The good wind only lasts a day, so we try to make as much progress as we can. Our route takes us along many of the places we visited last year. When we pass Grimstad, Lillesand, Kristiansand and all the beautiful anchorages in-between, we are fulfilled with good memories from last year. As we enter the anchorage of Mandal in the evening, we realize that it took us more than two weeks last year to sail the same 60 nautical miles we are sailing today.

The next day is Floris’ birthday. That must be why it’s very sunny. We take out the dinghy and with our electric Torqeedo make our way to Mandal. Since Mandal was our first Norwegian port last year, we find our way easily. Edgar’s bakery provides a nice birthday lunch, and we witness the start of the annual “Shellfish festival”, which explains the crowds. We’re surprised that the festival is several weeks ahead of the official start of the Norwegian lobster season. It doesn’t seem to bother the locals, who enjoy the lively circus of music, international cuisine and “Pokemon” gadgets.

Around the Cape
“There is a weather window to pass the Cape tonight” Floris says when he checks the wind forecast on windyty.com. Cape Lindesnes is the most southern tip of mainland Norway and has a terrible reputation among seafarers. The prevailing westerly surface winds are diverted by the mountainous Norwegian coast, which means that the wind blows a lot harder at the Cape and the waves can be dangerous in strong winds. As we plan to sail westward around this cape, we need to time this carefully.

“Sounds good, but how do you feel about sailing tonight instead of an extended birthday celebration?” “Let’s go” Floris says. “This opportunity is too good to miss”. The wind forecast predicts a few hours of calm weather before the next low pressure area arrives, promising us more SW winds. After passing the Cape that SW wind will no longer blow directly against us, but instead will be perfect for sailing north.

And so we lift the anchor around 9pm. It is getting somewhat dark already when we leave the beautiful anchorage of Mandal. We carefully navigate between the rocks. The “troll-houses” (our name for the small lighthouses that are so characteristic for the Norwegian coast) provide useful guidelines. They are sector lights, which means that when you see a red or green light, you are on a dangerous course, while white is safe. We enter a calm sea, just as predicted. With a little help of our engine we pass Cape Lindesnes around midnight, a very clear beacon of light high upon an impressive rock. We quietly pass by in the night, praising our modern weather information systems. Fortunately it doesn’t take long for the SW wind to pick up again. We set sail and steer a northerly course under a clear sky towards the West Coast of Norway.

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