We are enjoying Norway so much: the spectacular nature, beautiful villages and the relaxed people! So we wanted to experience more of the country. But it’s also a big country: it took us 10 weeks to sail from the southeast of Norway (start in Halden) to the middle of Norway (now Molde) which is 1500 kilometers. And the west coast of Norway is still 2500 kilometers longer from Molde all the way up north to Kirkenes!
So how to see more of Norway, but not take 4 more months of time which brings us to autumntime and winter which is not very comfortable and could even be dangerous to sail along the coast of Norway at the border of the North Sea!
We were advised by Norwegians to take the Hurtigruten which is a Norwegian boat company founded in 1893 that transports mainly cargo like fish, furniture, cars and other goods along the entire coastline of the country. It’s a well known boat company which Norwegians are proud of, because it was an important step to open up the trade all over Norway 125 years ago to transport goods in a fast way (Hurtigruten means fast route). The boat has 34 stops along the west coast (see the map), also on isolated islands where freight can get offloaded and passengers can hop on and off. It sounds very cozy and romantic, but this is a serious company with 12 ships sailing daily up and down the coastline of Norway. Each ship has room for cargo and a maximum of 500 passengers who stay in 200 cabins. But Hurtigenruten is also not that colossal and it’s certainly not a cruise operator: there are no swimming pools, cinemas or shops on board. It’s basic and the atmosphere on board with the crew is very informal.
Before we embarked Hurtigruten in Molde, we agreed with our harbor master that our catamaran could stay in the harbor while we were away with Hurtigruten to the North of Norway. The harbor master promised to keep an eye on our boat and there were also a lot of camera’s in this harbor (‘I can see what you are eating on your catamaran’).
On a Wednesday evening at 23.00 hours, we embarked the Hurtigruten in Molde. Our e-bike and e-step were moved to the cargo area (we could take them with us to do sightseeing on the islands and in villages!) and we were shown to our cabin. In this low season, there were only 50 other passengers aboard (most Norwegian, but also Dutch, German, Italian and Swiss).
The trip all the way up to the north of Norway, Kirkenes, close to the Russian and Finnish border, would only take 5 days. The speed of the Hurigrutenboat is 15 knots = 25 kilometers per hour (our catamaran sails on average 6 knots per hour) and Hurtigruten keeps on going on day and night. So 2500 kilometers in 5 days, 34 stops for sightseeing and 3 meals a day sounded very good to us! And it was!
We had to get used to this new adventure though: because for 5 months we did our own sailing and navigating: checking the weather forecast (wind direction, wind speed, currents), planning the route and choosing harbors. Now we got out of bed, no responsibilities for a ship and just taking a seat in the restaurant to start with a nice breakfast! It was comfortable to be a guest aboard, sitting outside on the panorama-deck and enjoying the beautiful view. But we experienced also less freedom than on our own ship: now there was a strict time schedule of 3 meals a day with all the passengers and scheduled stops to do sightseeing (by yourself). But after a day of adjusting, we started to settle, mingle with other passengers and crewmembers and after 5 days it was hard to leave Hurtigruten again 😊.
We want to share 3 highlights of the Hurigruten coastal boat experience which we especially enjoyed:
1. On day 2 we would cross the Polar Circle. A special moment, because this means a shift in scenery (more artic), the midnight sun in summertime and during the winter there are days of 24 hours of only dusk and darkness in this area.
The crew of Hurtigruten not only sail the boat, serve mails and clean the cabins, they also prepare a bit of entertainment. So they announced an Artic Circle Competition. You had to guess the exact time when the ship would cross the Polar Circle line (which is indicated with a little monument on an island). The Crossing would be between 6.00-10.00 hours the next morning. I was to closest to the exact time of 7.55.03 hours (only 30 seconds difference). All passengers were invited on deck at 8.00 hours for an Artic Circle ceremony and the captain gave Gilles and me the Hurtigruten flag as the winners of the competition. The ship flag (with red/white logo) had been on the ship since the departure in Bergen, it was already a bit frayed! And the captain invited me to take a seat and 2 more passengers were also invited to a seat in their chairs. Because everyone would get a price this morning, it was announced! The 3 of us were happy because behind us we could see big silver bowls with drinks in it 😊. Little did we know that those bowls were filled with ice cubes and unexpectedly the crew poured a spoon with ice water in the back of our jackets and necks. All 3 of us screamed! Now we were officially ‘baptized’, according to the crew, entering the Artic area of Norway! And not only the 3 of us got this ‘welcome ritual’ to the Polar Circle, but all passengers were invited to take a seat and get the same very cold experience. And most did (and screamed as well!). But afterwards you got a nice drink, a lot of laughter among each other and a certificate (‘You crossed the Artic Circle and got the artic ritual of ice water and ice cubes’).
2. On day 3, all passengers were invited to join an interview with the captain and the hotel manager. So in a cozy lobby about 40 passengers got the opportunity to ask questions to the captain and the hotel manager, about living and working aboard. It was so nice! The captain told how he became a captain, how the ship works, about dangerous moments he experienced. And the hotel manager talked about how to keep a good working ethic among the crew who work 22 days in a row and then have 21 days of leave. This part interested me a lot, because I noticed all crew were so informal and professional towards the guests. How do they achieve this? The hotel manager told more about their daily trainings (which we even don’t notice as guests), but also intensive coaching they got. He mentioned that a close group feeling in the management team and their openness towards each other, also turned out to be important to the crew members to feel a safe working environment and experience pride in their work.
3. We cycled through the beautiful cities of Bodø and Tromsø during the stops. When we were almost at the end of the boat trip in Kirkenes on day 5, we had the opportunity to visit the North cape, the most northern point of the European continent. It was quite an experience: the North cape is situated on an island, the landscape is very rough, steep bald hills and very strong winds, hardly any trees grow here. The temperature is surprisingly mild: during summer 12 degrees max and in the wintertime -4 degrees, so that’s not too bad. Most people live in the village of Honningsvåg and there are a lot of fishing boats and wooden sticks on which fishers leave the cod to dry (stockfish). There is even a beach on the island of the North cape, which local inhabitants call Copacabana 😊. To get to the North cape, you have to walk on a 300 meter mountainplateau with a strong wind blowing in your face. We struggled our way through the wind to the tip with the symbol which marked the North cape = a black globe. We saw 3 cyclists posing at the black globe, they cycled all the way up here! And we also met a Dutch father and son Smeulders who drove all the way up to the North cape from ‘s Hertogenbosch in their vintage Volvo. This was a lifelong dream of theirs and they could tick it of their bucket list now! And for us as sailors, standing on the North cape, looking out over the Barentszsea in the direction of Spitsbergen and the North pole, was a bucket list moment for us as well!