Sunday, 25 November 2012

12 days with Hurtigruten: Day 4

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.

Hurtigruten MAP_0006

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.

Arctic Circle Marker-1Near Arctic Circle Map

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

Passing Map


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.

Landscape morning 251112

Moody scenery at 1030

The goods transport role of the boat is firmly evidenced

Town Ornes 1

when we get to Ornes which is a small isolated fishing

Town Ornes 2

community just north of the circle.

Cargo - a boat

After loading a boat onto the front cargo deck,

quayside trees

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

Loading Christmas Tree

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.

Loaded Trees

Hence trees are shipped north from southern Norway at this time of year.

The Crossing the Line Ceremony

Neptune Appears

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

Neptune and Retinue

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.

Paul gets the treatment

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.

Pat gets the treatment

Once Pat has joined the club,

Guide gets the rest

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

certificate_0002 certificate_0001

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.

Isolation 67 01 320 13 44 186

Map of Isolation

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

Bodo Docks

and almost all of the buildings in town are

Bodo Builing 1

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.

Bodo Hotel

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.

Old SHip Bodo Quayside  

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.

Ice Arctic Fox

Arctic Fox

Ice Seal


Ice Two explorers 

Two explorers by the side of a rowing boat

Ice Sculpture-1 Ice Sculpture Ice Polar Bears

Filleting a fish and two Polar Bears fighting

Ice Frozen Plants 

Frozen Plant live in a clear ice window

Ice Etching-1 Ice Etching

Ice Etchings of Sea Life

Ice Bar

Also there was a bar carved out of ice

Ice Drink-1 Ice Drink 

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.

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