Joe Dolphin, a second year physics PhD student shares his story of summer cruising in Norway
Friday - 01 December 2023
When someone first suggested that we run our summer cruising programme in Norway, I think I had the same reaction most sailors would have. That sounds great, definitely something a bit different and a place that very few people ever get to visit, but won’t it be a bit cold? I was used to the idea that the Mediterranean was the gold-standard. Warm sun, negligible chance of rain and regular dips off the back of the boat. Surely that’s the way to go, right? After a week of cruising the fjords of Norway this summer, I can confirm that it does sometimes rain in Norway, it gets cold at night, and you do have to take a very deep breath before diving into the water. But that is fully compensated by how jaw-droppingly stunning it is.
To introduce myself, my name is Joe and I am a second year physics PhD student at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. Upon starting my studies, I looked around for a new sport to take up and stumbled upon the yacht club.
CUYC operates its own club boat, Skylark, a Beneteau first 40.7 race cruiser. Each summer the club takes Skylark away for its ‘Summer Programme’. A new crew takes over each week, with the first and last crews being the ones to do the trips there and back. Previous destinations have included Ireland, Spain and the Baltic.
Our week started with a flight out to Stavanger in south-west Norway. This was Skylark’s home-base for the summer. As the full crew trickled in, we set about the task of getting to know each other a bit. A few of us had met before from CUYC trips or the racing team, but by-and-large we were strangers.
The skipper from the previous trip started giving us the low-down on the area. “We found a great pontoon to stay the night there”, “there’s fuel here and here”, “don’t go here first, you’ll be spoiled”. Stavanger (the petroleum capital of Norway) sits on an outer-lying peninsular of the Norwegian coast. The general plan was to head inland and explore the sheltered waters and fjords.
And with that we set off. First stop was Lindøy, a tiny island in the middle of the inland bay. It was absolutely beautiful. A single wooden pontoon led to a firepit area, with paths leading up into the trees. And most importantly toilets with showers! We were joined by one other yacht, but apart from that I was struck by just how quiet it was. After a swim we settled in for a BBQ by the fire.
The next day we headed north. We knew we wanted to explore Lysefjord to the south, but only needed a few days to do it. We ended up anchoring behind an islet near Bosund in Erfjord. It was possibly the most well-sheltered anchorage I have ever been in, but we needn’t have worried. It was dead calm; we could see the reflection of the mountains the whole time in the mill-pond-like water.
This trip was the first time I had been on Skylark since the new Raymarine electronics had been fitted. My PhD research focuses on quantum communications and I previously worked on radar systems, so I ended up getting nerdy over the technology. We now have two Axiom 2 Pro S chartplotters (9 inch in the cockpit, 12 inch at the nav station), Quantum 2 Q24D radar and EV-400 Sail Pilot (amongst other things). It makes such a difference, and I just really appreciated having well-designed electronics with some really cool technology behind it. Having the 9” display right there in the cockpit gave you a lot more confidence, not to mention the convenience of now having an autohelm!
Lysefjord is apparently well known as one of the most stunning fjords in Norway. The 42-km long fjord is flanked by towering cliffs hundreds of metres tall and with amazing geological formations. We began with a near-obligatory climb to Preikestolen (starting at 6:00 am to avoid the crowds). After spending nearly an hour watching tourists get stomach-churningly close to the edge we were back down by 1pm and enjoying the floating saunas on the lake by the basecamp.
Then the sailing down the fjord began proper. After a few days of on-again-off-again rain, the skies opened up and we got solid blue skies from mountain top to mountain top. We explored Fantahola, a natural cave/bay in the side of the fjord which you can sail right into, though we lacked the nerve to try tying on lines ashore to the cliffs for lunch. I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when, just a few metres from the shore, our depth sounder still read greater than the 166 m range limit. We definitely weren’t in East Anglia anymore.
A few knots of wind blew straight down the fjord, so we goose-winged the jib and went straight down the middle at about a knot. Pulpit rock passed by above and we settled into sunbathing, reading and swimming off the back.
The final night away from Stavanger was spent at Flørli, on the southern shore of Lysefjord. We completed the ‘4444 steps’ hike (which our university triathlon team member decided he enjoyed so much he did twice) and made our way back to Stavanger.
As the new crew arrived and we prepared to hand over the boat, it was a melancholy feeling of the end of what had been an amazing week. It’s a huge privilege to be able to have adventures like this with a university club and to have the confidence to cruise somewhere off the beaten track. To a certain extent, isn’t that the whole point of sailing?
You can read more on Cambridge University Yacht Club here.