Crossing the Arctic Circle
The Arctic Circle is one of the five major circles of latitude that mark maps of the Earth. It moves very slightly each year and this year it is the parallel of latitude that runs 66° 33′ 44″ (or 66.5622°) north of the Equator.
It marks the southern extremity of the 24-hour sunlit polar day which occurs on the Summer Solstice (20th June in 2012) and the 24-hour sunless polar night which occurs on the Winter Solstice (21st December in 2012). In other words, if you are standing on the Arctic Circle, the sun will be above the horizon for 24 continuous hours once per year (and therefore visible at midnight) and below the horizon for 24 continuous hours once per year (and therefore never visible) on the dates of the appropriate solstice.
We however are experiencing a 24 hour night before the date of the winter solstice because we are north of the Arctic Circle and the further north of the circle you go, the sooner you experience a 24 hour night. Our northern most point will be slightly north of Cape Nordkinn which (in case it comes up in a Pub Quiz) is the Northern most point of the Norwegian mainland at 71°08′ 02.4780″N 27°39′13.6274”E. There is a full moon on November 28th so it is possible that night time will be lighter than day time!
We were in Antarctica in January 2009 and there we experienced a 24 hour day because were were above the Antarctic Circle. Obviously, when you get a 24 hour night in the Arctic Circle, you get a 24 hour day in the Antarctic (and vice-versa) because the seasons are the opposite in each hemisphere.
The tour manager holds a competition where we are all invited to predict the exact time when we will cross the Arctic Circle – I choose 0717:07 simply because I like the numbers (we are given a clue that it will be between 0600 and 0830). The prize has not yet been announced but apparently King Neptune will be arriving on deck at 1015 for the Polar Circle Ceremony (about which we have gleaned some wet and cold facts) so hopefully someone else will win!
We are awoken just after 0700 with the announcement that we are approaching the circle point and after rapidly dressing, we meet a few hardy souls on deck just before we get to the circle.
The above may look like an out of focus photograph and whilst it is, it is the best picture I was able to take in the dark (aided by a bright search light) of the marker point on an island just to the left of the channel up which we are steaming.
The fog horn sounds at the appropriate time (at 0715:17 we are told) and we are now north of the Arctic Circle.
A few minutes later we pass another of the fleet – the MS Polarlys
and there is the usual exchange of fog horns – we attract considerable curiosity from passengers on the other boats because it is always announced that the oldest and smallest ship in the fleet is approaching them. Having been on some of the larger boats, we know what they are missing.
The landscape around us is now starting to look as we expect it to look this far north and with short days becoming more evident.
The goods transport role of the boat is firmly evidenced
when we get to Ornes which is a small isolated fishing
community just north of the circle.
After loading a boat onto the front cargo deck,
we see that there are a load of Christmas Trees on the quayside waiting to be loaded. Apparently they are being taken further north to Honningsvag which is a small town in
Finnmark. The further north you get, the lower the tree line gets and up in the far north, they have trouble growing any trees because of the climate and short growing season.
Hence trees are shipped north from southern Norway at this time of year.
The Crossing the Line Ceremony
On Hurtigruten ships, it is the case that crossing the line in either direction is an event to be celebrated. So a few hours after the crossing (at 1015), Neptune appears and joins selected members of
the crew on the rear deck. After a speech which seems to welcome us to the land of the cod and herring and wishes us a good dose of sea sickness.
We are invited to sit down and then receive a ceremonial ladle of ice cubes down our necks
followed by a tot of something alcoholic to enable us to recover from the shock.
Once Pat has joined the club,
Neptune's team turn on the guide (every ship has a guide whose duties are to look after the passengers) and dose him with the leftovers.
And as the ceremony finishes with most people trying to shake ice cubes out of their trousers and underwear, we
are both given certificates to commemorate our crossing of the Arctic Circle
We are now passing increasingly isolated communities, There is one (Sørfugløy) situated at the base of this mountain, it seems to be miles from anywhere.
In the 1700s it was national policy to establish fishing communities along the coast and as we weave around the islands, we are passing many remnants of this policy.
The largest of the seven stopping places today is Bodo which although is a large city by Norwegian standards is an unremarkable place for the winter tourist. The dockside area evidences the usual desolation
and almost all of the buildings in town are
fairly ugly modern buildings because most of the original town was destroyed in WW2. A visit to the Bodo air museum is on offer, but 200kr per person to go somewhere we are not really bothered about makes us decide that a walk is a preferable choice.
There is an old boat moored down in the harbour which looks like it once belonged to a ferry fleet, but it is closed to the casual public so we will never find out. In fact, almost all of the town except for a Burger King and two newsagents are closed because it is Sunday.
It is dark when we set sail at 3 pm continuing our route north with two more stops before midnight with a stretch across near open sea – the Vestfjorden – towards the town of Stamsund (for 20 minutes) and then on to Svolvaer.
A surprise at Svolvaer is the Magic Ice Gallery which is an art gallery specialising in Ice Sculpture. Adjacent to where we dock (all of a three minute walk), its opening hours are quite clearly designed to match the arrival and departure of Hurtigruten ships.
Unsurprisingly, it is very cold inside what essentially is a very large freezer. We have never seen ice sculptures before and the scale and variety here is amazing. By using a combination of clear ice and white ice (with air in it), most of the sculptures are very good.
Two explorers by the side of a rowing boat
Filleting a fish and two Polar Bears fighting
Frozen Plant live in a clear ice window
Ice Etchings of Sea Life
Also there was a bar carved out of ice
which served ice cold drinks in glasses made out of ice!
Just as we had got undressed (why does it wait for then?) a message came that the Northern Lights had been sighted so it was on with warm clothes and up onto deck to see the lights – the sky had a red and green tinge to it and there were definite swirls of green light moving around the sky – not as spectacular as we have seen before but an improvement on the previous night.