My only exposure to Norway was through photographs and stories, so I had little idea of what to expect while sailing in the Arctic Circle. The trip started and ended in Tromsø, the Arctic capital and also known as the Paris of the North! Despite its small size, there are plenty of hotel and restaurant options before and after your trip.
Our itinerary included sailing around fjords to remote fishing villages, seeing the Northern Lights, and whale-watching on the excellent expedition yacht, perfect for the Norwegian climate.
Our skipper, John, provided us with a thorough safety briefing before setting off, covering everything from man overboard drills to putting on our life jackets. As a great foundation, this gave every guest confidence to be on board throughout the trip.
Our first sighting of the Northern Lights occurred on the first night, sheltered at anchor. As we were about to head to our cabins for the night, Skipper John and Heleen went to check for them, and subsequently yelped, “Northern Lights!” A beautiful dancing wave of light captivated the whole boat as everyone rushed onto the deck to see the Aurora Borealis. The first time seeing them and appreciating their beauty was a truly magical moment.
To see them, the conditions have to be right. There must be little to no cloud cover, and it is best to be somewhere without light pollution, which is unfortunately quite common, even whilst sailing. Despite this, we were fortunate enough to see the lights three times on our trip!
On the second night, we were moored up in the marina of Skjervøy, and some of the guests wanted to go for a walk to stretch their legs and explore. The group trekked up the hill in the darkness after leaving the town and heading towards a nearby hill. Halfway up, the magical dances began, and another Northern Light appeared. They stopped after 10-15 minutes, and we continued up the hill. A few minutes later, the Lights started again, everyone making sure they got a good picture. They started again as we descended to the boat, allowing everyone to get some more amazing pictures.
As the marina in Reinfjord was too choppy and not very well protected, we were sheltering again in Skjervøy on the third night, which was a great decision by the skipper. A neighbouring catamaran called to tell us they had seen the Northern Lights! Even with the polluted light, it was the clearest we had seen.
We were extremely fortunate to have a whale researcher and educator, Heleen, as part of the crew. Heleen’s in-depth knowledge of the different species of whales and where we might see them was a huge bonus, and enhanced our understanding of all things whale.
On day three, we were watching for whales outside the marina in Skjervøy, where it didn’t take long to discover our first pod of Orcas. More than 20 Orcas surrounded us, each in pods consisting of a male, a female and a calf. Their majestic movement through the waves in their families was stunning.
We were in quite a popular feeding ground, so other boats were whale-watching around us. We learned from Heleen when whale watching, keeping your distance and slowly approaching them is key to reducing your impact on them, since engine noises and obstacles could stress them out or force them to change directions unnaturally. Some boats around us weren’t doing that, so it’s important to pick a whale-watching boat that follows the safety guidelines if you’re going whale-watching.
We watched the Orcas for a couple of hours and were also treated to a pod of Humpback whales that did a deep dive, making their tails flip out of the water. Watching the whales is a magnificent sight, as when they reach the surface, spout mist out their blowholes, spraying the surface with what you would think is just water, but this is how the whales breathe.
Throughout the morning, we had moments when we simply enjoyed the moment and left our cameras behind.
Later that evening, Heleen took a picture of the humpback whales and uploaded it to a website called Happy Whale, which helps track and identify individual humpback whales. The one we saw was an unidentified whale. Heleen also gave a presentation on identifying different types of whales and what makes them unique. She expertly answered our questions with great passion.
Sailing & Life Onboard
The sailing was great onboard; the 70ft, 66-ton expedition yacht came to life once we raised the mainsail and genoa, making her great to sail in heavier weather in an ocean crossing. Depending on the wind direction, the winds are quite sheltered between the fjords, so we frequently motored through these parts.
Each of the five guest cabins is a different size, and each has a radiator, so the boat is quite comfortable and warm during colder weather.
As part of a rota, we took turns preparing breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day. We were given some recipe cards each time and asked to cook for all the guests and crew. Initially, it was quite daunting, but the food was amazing each time we cooked with local ingredients.
The landscape was spectacular throughout the trip, especially as we sailed past the Lyngen Alps. Getting to see the amazing fjords and alps throughout the day was a fantastic experience as the sunrise and sunsets were only 4 hours apart. This makes photographing them very fun.
For the 5-day trip, I certainly overpacked and filled my 75L sailing bag to the brim. Throughout the trip, I wore pretty much the same thing, which was warm enough. However, it could have been colder, and on a less comfortable boat, so it could vary depending on conditions and which boat you’re on. I wore the following daily.
- Offshore Sailing Jacket & Salopettes (Musto BR2’s)
- Thermal base layer
- Sometimes another jacket, too (I had a Musto Snug to put on)
- Thermal bottoms
- Tracksuit bottoms
- Thermal socks
- Sailing boots
- Thermal waterproof gloves (SealSkinz)
- Woolly hat
I picked up a handy material motto: “cotton kills, and wool keeps you warm.”
It was a little tricky but well worth it. Based in Manchester, I had to drive down to London, Gatwick. On the way there, I flew from Gatwick to Oslo, then a connecting flight to Tromsø, which wasn’t long. On the way back, it was much easier with a direct flight from Tromsø to Gatwick. The fights may work in your favour depending on the dates of the trip, and where you are coming from.
This trip has given me a newfound love for Norway, its culture, landscape, wildlife and sea. Once you’ve left Norway, you can’t help but feel like you need to see and explore more. It has sparked a forever passion for the north and even the more extreme north pole.