Gone bear … where? This little bear is currently spending six months on Jan Mayen, Norway’s westernmost territory, working on a meteorological station. The island is nestled on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge between Norway, Greenland and Iceland, and has the world’s northernmost active volcano, Beerenberg, as its main landmark. Though I spend most of my outdoors leisure time trotting up and down mountains, island life is also about slowing down. Here is a slice of my adventure, a quiet moment frozen in time:
So here I sit, at the base of a live volcano, staring at the sea.
Actually, we are in this together. You, me and everyone we don’t know, sitting on a ball of lava hurdled through space. We are made from it, part of it and will melt back into it at the end of this lifespan we have been granted, pauper like pope, plumber like princess. That’s a pretty sobering thought, if you ask me. Why not enjoy the ride and then dissolve in graceful insignificance, leaving as little trace as possible for the next generation to suffer? The phoenixes rising from our ashes deserve a habitable nest, don’t they? These are the ponderings that float by as I sit here quietly on a volcanic hotspot far away from anything and everything. Maybe it is the proximity to molten rock that inspires this array of cosmic clichés. Maybe it is simply the absence of civilisation with all its clever distractions. Spending six months on a desolate island provides the time and space to air out brain clutter and simply be, savouring the sheer beauty of this magical island, beach combing for smooth, black stones and odd pieces of petrified lava, collecting mountain peaks like sea shells and exploring the craters of infernos long since past.
It also allows me to spend hours relishing the art of being idle: staring at the horizon where a rare fishing vessel goes by, sipping coffee in the sun and thinking about nothing in particular until a cheeky pun comes to mind and my colleague’s warm eyes erupt in heartfelt laughter, delightful lines radiating like sunbeams across his face, blissfully unharmed by modern anti-aging technology. Thus bringing my ponderings full circle to what matters and what most certainly does not. Have we forgotten that those lines around the eyes are nothing but good times that linger? Is it fear of our inevitable end that makes humans collectively buy expensive skin treatments, stay out of the sunshine and forgo delicious coffee? Do we think it will bring us closer to immortality or redemption? And is it the same fear that leads to contagious busyness, providing enough distraction to stop asking questions and enough income to keep buying All The Stuff?
All I know is that I feel more alive when I just sit in the sun with a cuppa, good friendship and bad puns. I watch the horizon and produce nothing but freckles, wrinkles and giggles. Soon enough I will get back to work and send weather reports, helping the lone fishing vessel to hopefully stay safe at sea. So don’t get me wrong, meaningful work is not the same as busyness, in my opinion. I just refuse to be busy for the sake of being busy, numbing senses and curiosity into obedient adulthood. Call it silent rebellion. Call it being lazy. Either way is fine. Honeybadger don’t give a shit. Or, as the popular adage has it: I give zero fucks.
The boat passes. The sun takes a dip. I sit through the blue hour.
Pyxie is not just a sailing vessel. She is my castle, my cocoon and my magic carpet. She is where I find home. Wherever and whatever that is.
Home is where the boat is
The joy of living on a boat is not exclusively about the sailing. Sure, it is a lot about the sailing. A lotta lot. I am easily afflicted by harbour sickness. Having the mooring lines attached for too long makes both me and Pyxie antsy. So some days, when I don’t have the time or the wind to sail far, we putter off somewhere close, simply to drop anchor. Perhaps I’ll curl up in front of the wood stove, just listening to the rain and reading a book. Or bring a sleeping bag on deck to watch the stars. Even though I don’t live in a house, sailboat living allows me to be a total homebody, bake bread, do office work or practice yoga – all while being on a continuous journey. With Pyxie I can cover great distances, though not at speed. I call it snailing. I’ve got my house on my back, moving slowly around the world. She’s a self-sustained unit, and I can live off the grid for extended periods of time. With a bit of wind and sun my batteries charge up, a tank full of fresh water lasts a long time and I can store (and gather) enough food to keep me full for ages. What more could I ask for? A companion. Which I have.
Home is where the cat is
I’m not really sure who owns who, the cat or the human. The feline first mate is called Poesi, and she has been my companion for 18 years now. She has seen me through my best and through my worst, breakups and all. Like an old honey badger, she doesn’t give a fudge if I mess up. Actually, she’s asleep on my lap as I write this. Although she’s fallen overboard once (while moored, thank goodness) and had her whiskers torched by my clumsy stoking of the wood stove, her nine lives are still going strong. And although she’s peed on my duvet a few times, especially when we’ve sailed upwind in choppy seas, she loves her life on the boat just about as much as I do. I can tell. We’ve been together for half of my life, after all. She’s more at ease on the boat than in any city apartment we’ve lived in, even the one where she had a private backyard in Paris. She and me alike. I sometimes tell our sailing stories they way I imagine she would. You can check one out here, or follow us on instagram. Should I give her an account of her own, I wonder? She’s way more interesting than me, anyway.
Home is where the heart is
Right now, my heart is in the north. I set sail from Oslo last summer, and took my own, sweet time exploring the coast of Norway. I needed to learn how to sail alone, and there could be no better way of doing it than … doing it. I also wanted to explore my own concept of home. Now I’ve sailed up to Lofoten, north of the Arctic Cirle. I’m moored not far from the fjord and farm where I grew up, Grunnførfjord. Fjorden. The Fjord. This is the place where I know the names of every valley, rock and creek, where I know the best spots for chanterelles, cloudberries and mussels, where I spent endless hours playing witch and building tree houses, where I’ve broken in horses and practiced sheep midwifery. This is home. A piece of my heart will always be rooted here. Or, rather, this place will always be rooted in my heart, wherever I go. Not least because of the crazy, wonderful people I call my family. I wouldn’t have traded the love, space and magnificent nature I grew up in the midst of for all the ameneties, gadgets and extracurricular activities in the world. No, Mother, I did not grow up poor. I am forever grateful for all the riches you have given me.
Home where the moment is
Finishing off this ode to the boat, the cat and the people I love, I’d like to make a point that hopefully goes beyond my own, little world. To use hopelessly grandiose words that still fall short: Home is in the serendipitous, magic moments that comprise the here and now. In the good, the bad and the in between. Perhaps this sailing thing is just about making it easier to notice life as it unfolds. When the wind is howling in the rigging, and the seas build, I notice being alive all the more because death can be just a few knots away. When my morning view changes daily I see the landscape with newborn eyes. When my boat neighbour is 86 and still sailing solo it gives me immediate perspective. And when a new friendship in a port makes my heart sing, I can change my planned route in order to share aurora nights, secret anchorages, powertools, porpoise spottings, coffee mugs and sweet silence. I can just go with what life brings. And then sail on, with more songs and more friends around the next corner. Or the solitude that lies only a couple of nautical miles out to sea, at all times. This is what snailing is all about, for me. It is the source of continuous, magic moments. For you, the source might be something different entirely. Please, for the love of chocolate, can you do me the favour of listening in, and following the hunch – or the song – that resides inside of you?
Go home. That’s where it is.
On the Wind is already my favourite podcast on all things related to sailing. So do check out all the other episodes too!
Listen to the episode below or go to the 59 North website.
Home is where the boat is
After being away from Pyxie for eight(8!) months, it felt beyond amazing to be back home on the boat. But I wasn’t going to sail off into the sunset, not right away. I had a thing or two I wanted to upgrade and fix first … Two months later and I have done a fair chunk of the refit needed for serious offshore voyaging. Plus, and this is important to me, I have installed some solutions for an even greener boat! Hang in there, I’ll get to it in a bit.
Can we fix it? Yes we can
The expression “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” does not apply on a sailboat. Because if – or when – stuff breaks, there can be severe consequences. Waiting until the boat sinks is not the best of ideas. So while Pyxie was out of the water, I decided to take care of some issues on the hull. Or, rather, through the hull. Quick explanation for landlubbers: Wherever there is an outlet or intake for water, there is, obviously, a hole in the boat (a.k.a. through-hull). The same goes for things like the log (speed measuring thingie) and in some cases depth transducer. A wise person once said “the safest number of holes in the hull is zero. Most boats have at least seven.” Pyxie fell into the latter category. Two of them were not in use, so why keep them? I wasn’t having any such nonsense, so I drilled them out and added about fourty layers of fibreglass instead. Probably the scariest thing I have done so far in my sailing career. I literally cut open two huge holes in my boat. Luckily I had an amazing book, Don Casey’s Complete Sailboat Maintenance Manual, to help me through the process. It was gifted to me by a good friend who also gave me tons of advice along the way. Thank you so much, Lars!
Old, cranky cocks
Fitted on the through-hulls, inside the boat, there are seacocks. They’re called cocks because they inspire that kind of language when they don’t work. The purpose of them is to provide a way of closing the hole in the boat. Nifty, in other words. Broken seacocks and through-hulls are not just a theoretical safety hazard. Boats sink because of them. A neighbouring sailboat sank in its berth back in Oslo. I knew my seacocks were old, and one of them was frozen in a semi-open position. Strong men had tried and failed to move it, but it seemed impossible. Well, impossible is nothing. There was a jungle of hoses for the head (a.k.a. toilet) blocking access to it, and I was getting mighty p… off at the whole thing. It provided the perfect excuse to get rid of the sea toilet, one of the least eco-friendly things on the boat. Sure, it had a holding tank. A pretty small holding tank that nonetheless filled nearly the entire space underneath my bunk in the forepeak (so many hoses!). And whenever I pumped out, it stank. It felt like I had a smelly monster with tentacles snaking around in the underbelly of Pyxie. Armed with protective gear and powertools, I ripped the whole thing out. If you find decluttering your desk drawer satisfying, imagine pulling out dirty hoses and clearing lots of storage space under your bed. And I finally got that damn seacock changed. Yes, it felt good.
To replace the old toilet, I decided to get a composting toilet. I had wanted this ever since I got Pyxie, and the timing was perfect. Unfortunately, there are no distributors of good quality composting toilets for marine use in Norway. But I found one in Sweden! Nuno Antunes, a Portuguese sailor and really interesting human being, loved his AirHead composting toilet so much he started importing them. So I contacted him to see if he could send one to Norway. Indeed he could! Nuno’s service and help was excellent, and shipping fast. I couldn’t be happier.
Good people usually have good stories, and Nuno is featured on my favourite sailing podcast On the Wind (then called 59 degrees North). You can find the episode with Nuno here, along with a whole range of other interesting interviews and resources. Highly recommended!
Installing the AirHead was a breeze, and I am so happy I did it. I can now truly say that I don’t pollute coastal waters with sewage! And, nope, it doesn’t smell. It’s not gross at all, actually. Some might think I’m retrograding rather than upgrading, and that a composting toilet is somewhere along the lines of a bucket or port-a-potty. Nothing could be further from the truth. I believe composting toilets are the future. Regulations for pumping out are getting more strict, and for good reason. The only thing I’ll miss about the old sea toilet is flushing at night and seeing lots of sparkling fluoresence swirling in the toilet bowl. But what more than weighs up is that I can now go night swimming, surrounded only by sparkles and not by … poop.
Fire, walk with me
Since Pyxie has an electrical engine, it felt really backwards that I was heating her with diesel. Sure, the Dickinson heaters are phenomenal. But I was tired of pouring diesel down my arm every time I refilled the tank, and of getting diesel in the bilge. Stinky and bad for the environment. Sure, I tried using bio diesel whenever I could find it, but it was far from a perfect solution. So I decided to install a small wood burning stove instead. I found the perfect match, a Pipsqueak! Super cute and small, just right for getting cozy on autumn and winter nights. It can burn bio pellets of leftover sawdust or wood from our plentiful forest in Lofoten. Plus, I can collect driftwood and dead, dry branches when I’m anchored, so fuel can be as good as free – and make a very small impact on the planet.
Installing the composting toilet and wood burning stove made me feel like it was about time Pyxie flew a Blue Flag. You might have seen it on beaches and marinas, and occasionally on boats. It’s a great sign. It means measures are being taken to protect the marine environment. Clean beaches and safe water to swim in is one consequence. Healthy marine ecosystems is another. Although you and I might feel like we are but small individuals without much impact on the global environment, we can all make a difference. Our individual choices impact the world, right here and now, and are all part of a larger picture. Plastic waste, chemicals and sewage from private boats are very real problems in coastal areas – and so unnecessary. Any boat owner can go online, read up and pledge to follow the code of conduct, and for that get a Blue Flag or sticker to spruce up the boat with (In Norway, go here!). It’s a great way of spreading the message, like ripples in water.
I encourage everyone with a boat, beach or marina to take the plunge!
List of upgrades and new gear
(for you boat geeks out there):
Removed hot water tank
Removed pressure water pump (freshwater)
Installed foot pump in galley (freshwater)
Installed new faucet in galley
Moved freshwater tank from starboard bunk to bilge
Removed sea toilet, tank and hoses
Installed Airhead composting toilet
Installed composite (TruDesign) seacocks
Removed and sold Dickinson stove
Installed Pipsqueak wood stove
Stripped all exterior teak
Stripped most of the interior teak
Applied Le Tonkinois eco friendly oil varnish on all teak
Painted cabinet doors
Painted the bilge
Painted inside of bunk lockers
Drilled out and glassed in two through-hulls
Rebedded two portlights in the salon
Installed one new portlight over the chart table
Fixed leak in bilge pump outlet
Repaired nicks in rudder and keel
Repaired scratches in gelcoat
Painted new bootstripe
New dorade vents
Installed cat litter box inside bunk
Installed new regulator for wind generator (thank you, Martin!!!)
New 25w solar panel for fridge
New life raft
New propane alarm
inReach explorer emergency beacon
New sprayhood made by the amazing Norlense!
New inflatable kayak (ok, that’s fun stuff)
In the making:
Install automatic bilge pump
Salt water tap in the head stateroom
Salt water tap in the galley
Install new 100w solar panel
Complete renewal of 12v electrical system
New cabin lights
New anchor lantern
New cockpit tent, lee cloths and lazy bag by Norlense
Wind vane (looking at a second hand Aries)
Sometimes I let the wind and the boat decide where we’re going.
My sailing plans are not set in stone. That’s not to say I’ll just go anywhere the wind blows – I managed some self control and skipped my urge to sail south across the North Sea – but if I can, I’ll keep a few options open when I head out. So far it seems like Pyxie enjoys taking me to places with names starting on UT. That’s Norwegian for «out» and as the name suggests, it’s usually remote islands far out in the sea. We went to Utvår when I was en route to Mandal, because the wind started turning and Pyxie seemed drawn towards the island like a magnet. I don’t regret going with that decision for a second. The windswept beauty, the tiny houses and the generous Danish couple that met me represent all that is wonderful about coastal exploration by sailboat.
The other day, when heading out from Skudeneshavn (gorgeous town, by the way), the wind and boat made it clear that Utsira was going to be the deal of the day. I had first thought of going there, but then reasoned it was a bit out of the way, and that I might just go up to Røvær instead. But no, Pyxie wanted Utsira. As I approached the island from the south it became evident that sailing into the northern port would be the way to go. The seabeds on the coast of Norway can throw up some strange, breaking seas. The wind was actually a bit more timid than what I would have preferred, and we were ghosting along, never on a perfect track towards the southern port, my sails getting a good flapping in the messy waves. So I listened to the boat, changed course and went around the island to the north. It’s astonishing how quickly seas can change! I rounded the bend and soon I was flying along on a calm sea in the sunset. Bliss!
Utsira is quite a little something. It’s known as the smallest municipality in Norway, with a population of around 200 souls. It’s also known for it’s matriarchal rule in the twenties, with 11 out of 12 representatives being women and of having the first female mayor in Norway, Aasa Helgesen. She was a midwife, a farmer and a mother of eight. Times have changed, but rather than dying out, the community in Utsira has managed to thrive. There’s still a fishing fleet and farms dotted around. But tourism also plays it’s part, for sure. There are holiday rentals, marked hiking trails, stencil grafitti on the houses, a gastro pub, a wind power station (for good reason, as I will soon elaborate on) and the old lighthouse has been transformed into an art venue, part of the international Pharos project. I was allured by the idea of a sound installation
in the form of a bench where you could listen to music by Geir Jenssen (a.k.a. Biosphere
), a favourite of mine. But, alas, the bench was nowhere to be found. Or maybe I wasn’t looking properly because I got distracted. There were other interesting installations to explore. Two heads on giant pedestals, by artist Christian Sunde
, staring out to sea. Weather observations on concrete (top photo). A new take on the national coat of arms. I had a grand time exploring the island by foot. Unfortunately I hiked back to the local shop too late to get my portion of take-away komle. Komle is a dish of potato and barley dumplings, served up with salted, boiled lamb or pork, mashed rutabaga and some places a sauce of brunost, the brown, fudgy whey «cheese» we Norwegians love more than life itself. There couldn’t be more appropriate take-away in a place like this. And the fact that it sold out way ahead of time speaks to it’s popularity. I haven’t eaten meat in a long time, and the dumplings aren’t that
interesting without the fixings. So I’m ok with missing out. But I still like the idea.
Let’s return to the wind. It does blow quite a lot in this place. A gale warning kept our departure is on hold for a few days. Poesi the cat had a bit of digestive distress going on, preventing our leaving when the wind was good. We had a staring contest over the food bowl the other night. I naturally lost, and gave her whatever she wanted to eat. Bad call. She was experiencing what an Indian doctor might describe as «loose motions» and was in no fit state to sail. The next morning she was fit as a fiddle, but the wind was relentless. Pyxie stayed firmly moored. What to do when holed up? Bake bread, read a good book and go surfing! I got on the ferry to Haugesund and went surfing with my friend and old boat neighbour Espen (remember, he popped up in the first blog post from the journey), who is an elite climber and stationed here to build the walls in the upcoming climbing hall, Haugalandshallen. He fixed me a board and we drove out one of the beaches south on Karmøy. Windy, intense and delightful. Heavy seas have their upside! I guess I’m really, truly Norwegian in that sense – I don’t believe in bad weather, only intense weather. Or significant weather, as a meteorologist would probably say. The sea is tremendously powerful. It is a very humbling experience to sail a small boat. But the weather is not bad, not as such. It just is. I’ve screamed at the sea more than once, to no avail. All I can do is adjust the sails, pay my respects and wait it out when needed. Like now. With a cup of tea. Tomorrow morning it just might be calm.
The coast of Jæren is open to the vast Atlantic ocean. This means waves, big waves – for better and for worse.
For a sailor it provides the challenge of a long stretch of unprotected waters where there’s not a lot of places to hide if the wind or swell picks up. You pretty much have to sail on or turn around and go back if things get nasty. But it also means that Jæren is one of the best places to surf along the coast. In fact, it was where surfing first took hold in Norway. There are long beaches and a lot of different spots to choose from, depending on the direction of the swell. For a kook like me, it held the promise of lots of fun and water up the nose.
But, hey, didn’t I just sell my board before embarking on this trip? Yup. I just wasn’t good enough for that board. Yet. And, more importantly, I had found a shaper on Jæren who would not only construct a board for me, but teach me how to shape it myself! Jan-Ivar Tjøstheim (@snekkerjani on insta!) is an excellent craftsman and an avid surfer. And he’s the quintessential outdoorsy Norwegian. Anything from fly fishing to paragliding – he’s into it and he’s good at it! He’s built some stunning canoes, a trade he learned in Canada. His two daughters are growing up partly under the open sky, partly building viking chairs in his workshop. Just like his outdoors interests, his craft is not limited to one thing. He’s the guy who can build you a kitchen, a shop front, a lounge chair … or a surfboard. He builds the kind of surfboards that makes you lose your breath, simply because of the sheer beauty. Cedar wood, handpicked, shaped to perfection. He’s had people climbing his van and pretty much drooling all over his boards. And he laughingly admitted that it’s a bit harder to hide in the lineup or to just check out a spot without paddling out nowadays. Oops, I’m doomed. Everyone is going to think I’m an amazing surfer now. Oh well, I can live with having a gorgeous board, I guess.
I spent a few days in Jani’s workshop, learning the basics of shaping, and he happens to be an excellent teacher. After all, it’s been his profession, so he has the patience and the pedagogical mindset necessary. I felt like I could really do this! And now that the board is with me on the boat, with work still to be done, he’s made me feel confident that I’m capable of finishing it on my own. I actually think Jani’s future lies in giving shaping workshops. There’s only so many boards you can shape at any given time when you are just one man. Teaching the trade, on the other hand … So many surfers want to shape their own boards. I couldn’t imagine a better place to learn it. And I honestly think learning a craft from Jani would be great for non-surfers, yogis and anyone who needs to get a bit un-stuck in their lives or minds. I talk a lot about challenges and creativity in yoga, because I believe that growing, playing and learning is not something that should stop once we’ve reached adulthood. If we let it, we can grow and play and learn and develop throughout our entire lives. Isn’t that what living is?
Building something, shaping something with your own hands – to me that is truly living. And so is playing in the waves, of course. I can’t believe my luck, but I probably got to be on Boresanden Beach the best day of this summer. Sure, the waves were pretty small. Which is fine by me. It was sunny and warm, and I nearly had a heat stroke inside of my 6mm wetsuit. Me, Jani and Rune, a surfing buddy of his, took out some boards and had a day that matches anything I’ve experienced in Portugal or Morocco. White sand, great people, waves and lunch.
Life doesn’t get much better than that.