Whales in winter

The coast of Norway is awe inspiring and dramatic

Words and pics: Kari Shiebevaag

I am laying down looking up at the sky. There are Northern Lights dancing around and stars shooting from the sky. I can hear sounds from the water and the waves… Besides this it’s totally quiet and black and I can’t see anything else around me. It’s late October and I am on Barba, a sailing boat in the north of Norway. I´ve been here for the past six weeks and it’s been a crazy trip up the Norwegian coastline so far. If you think Norway is a small country just take a look at the map and you will see it stretches 103,000 kilometres! Norway has the most beautiful coastline in the world and if you think something else, then you´re wrong. Sorry, it’s not just something I am saying, it’s true!

We started out in Stavanger (south Norway, my hometown) and the goal was to hit up Tromsø in the north. Our boat was laden with all kinds of ‘toys’ as the four of us and one super dog sailed out from Stavanger. I can’t count how many people had told me that I should think twice before going aboard, and I’m all too aware of the reasons why. Winter weather can be harsh in Norway. Winter means storm after storm after storm. The last thing we needed was to be caught out. We certainly had to be careful and plan our journey carefully.

The coast of Norway is awe inspiring and dramatic
Just three days before we set sail there was a crazy one and I have to say I was a bit nervous that this weather would continue. But the day we weighed anchor, the sun was shining from blue skies and six weeks later the sun is still shining. Was it luck? I don’t know, but I can’t remember an October with this kind of beautiful weather!

You have white sandy beaches, high mountains, crystal clear waters and locations with no other people around. A sailing boat makes it so easy to access all these spots so we can SUP and kite.

So much action
We investigated many varied shorelines and found great launches for stand up and kiting. Hiking, paddling, snorkeling, sleeping in a tent, fishing, kiting, looking at the Northern Lights and much more. So much action all accompanied by good weather – what more can you ask for?

Nature is crazy when you think about it. You can use the power of the wind to move along the coast with a boat or a kite. You can see places by just using the power that the elements are creating for you. That is incredible to think about if you ask me.

On the way to Tromsø we heard that migrating whales had already arrived. It was one of the goals to be there when they did. We hurried along the last part of our journey and as we entered the area outside of Tromsø, Orcas began swimming around the boat welcoming us. We jumped in and were swimming and SUPing with them soon after. What a greeting!

Days flew by and we enjoyed further sailing, kiting, paddling, swimming and whale watching. I was here last year also, but I have to say this time was extra special. I was not so nervous, we were getting closer to them and they played around with us.

The first time I was on my SUP, the Orcas were swimming around the board just looking at me. They were checking me out, who I was and what I was doing. I admit I was a bit shaky when they swam only centimeters from my board, but after a while I felt they were just friends cruising around with us. Paddle boards are so quiet – you slide through the water with no noise. But the whales still they know who you are and that you are there. It’s just amazing.

Orcas are big but Humpbacks are even bigger. They were all there around my SUP at one point – I knew they were in full control. After some time I jumped into the water with them. They move so gracefully in the water – they look like big teddy bears.

Before long it got windy and we scored some nice conditions for kitesurfing, finally. During one session I enjoyed a sunset blast. Suddenly the Orcas re-appeared and played with me. I was in the middle of the ocean together with these big animals. There was snow on the mountains, strong wind and amazing light. Arctic pink warm I like to call it. My heart was pumping, but after many times in the water with them, I knew I was fine. And I knew they could easily move away from me. I also knew that If they wanted to harm me they could. I feel they were in full control and they simply decided to be with me.

At the end of November it was game over and I travelled back down to the south of Norway for some sun. I am now waiting for the light improve so I can head back to Tromsø. I’m fully planning on continuing my journey and I can’t wait to get back! There’s simply nothing better than exploring and discovering what potential lies just around the next bend.

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1 Comment on Whales in winter

  1. That’s such an amazing and inspirational article, Kari. I’ve sailed there a few times and agree with you about the superlative wonderfulness of your coast. Thank you for sharing. However, as a zoologist, I would advise people don’t swim with orcas … their regular food sources (seals, usually) are becoming scarcer, so please don’t tempt fate – for your sake and theirs.

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