Co-ordinates: 71°10’N, 025°30’E
Weather: Overcast with low cloud and occasional drizzly rain in morning clearing by late afternoon to moderate cloud and sunshine.
Air Temperature: 14°C max
Sea Temperature: 10°C. Moderate northerly swell.
Pressure: 1007hPa and falling slowly
Wind: South west Force 3-4 decreasing to 2 in afternoon
Our progress continued throughout the night at a modest rate towards arrival off Storstappen Island where a rattle of anchor chain resounded through the forward part of the ship at 0730. The weather at the time was probably fairly typical with low cloud and hints of drizzle in the air. The direction that the ship was positioned when the anchoring was completed required that the starboard loading platform was on the weather side of the vessel where the swell made things less than favourable. This made our initial disembarkation for the Zodiac cruise a few minutes late as the port side platform had to be installed.
However, without too much of a delay, the guests were loaded and headed towards Storstappen Island in a fairly choppy sea with a wind that held the flavour of things to come in terms of the temperature with a 5°C registered on the Bridge.
Our first stop was a deep cleft in the rock wall of the island where kittiwakes had set up a significant colony that faced seawards and lined the internal walls of the narrow defile. Skilful maneuvering of the zodiacs allowed not only the birds to be glimpsed in their abode but also an experience of the smell that often accompanies intense concentrations of seabirds. As we headed west some of the other birds that call the island home were glimpsed – razorbills, guillemots of various species – black, common and Brunnichs, occasional puffins and black-backed gulls. A stunning trio of white-tailed sea eagles was observed high up over the island and with an occasional lower pass it gave everyone the opportunity to see how big and impressive these rare birds actually are.
The rocks too came under some scrutiny with incredible folds visible on the exposed faces along the shoreline in the high-grade metamorphic rocks. The forces that must have been exerted deep in the crust to fold solid rock were put into context when I suggested that guests in my Zodiac should try to fold a book in half (which is virtually impossible manually!) and then try and imagine how much more force is required to fold rock.
As the Zodiac cruise continued westwards, the sea state increased as we rounded a point particularly with the backwash from the waves reflected off the adjacent cliffs with a colony of gannets (Sula bassana ) high up on the cliff and dozens of birds wheeling high overhead.
At this point on the first of the two cruises the weather had looked somewhat unpleasant and it was suggested that it may be prudent to return to the ship the way we had come, but we persevered and the sea conditions improved as the circumnavigation of the island was completed. On the second trip after a heavy drizzle shower by the time the gannets were reached, the weather cleared quickly and the sun even showed through the thinning cloud. The difference to the appearance of the island and the mood of the guests with the sun was dramatic. As we approached the ship, the anchor was being recovered and was stowed even before all the Zodiacs were aboard.
Lunch commenced shortly after everyone was aboard but was a relatively short affair as the ship was quickly approaching our afternoon event. About 1300 the anchor was down at Hornvika and before long the Zodiacs were in the water.
Hornvika is the small bay near Nordkapp and those guests who thought that they felt able to tackle the steep zig-zag path up the 300 metres to the top of the cliff and the further 850 metres along the road to the visitor centre at Nordkapp were quickly ferried ashore. As soon as this was accomplished, both the ship and the Zodiacs departed for Skarsvåg across the bay, leaving some 65 guests with staff on a rocky and boulder-strewn beach.
The weather was fine as the “gazelles” made their way steadily up the rock-strewn path to the top. The slower walkers followed on and bringing up the rear an Australian gentleman took about twice the length of time as the faster walkers but finally reached the visitor centre. Many of the early arrivers decided that, after their glass of champagne and obligatory photo-stop at the globe sculpture, that the mist, low cloud and cool breeze at Nordkapp was less inviting than the bus run back to the ship and so departed at the first opportunity.
However, not long afterwards the weather cleared dramatically, the wind moderated somewhat, the sun came out, the visibility improved and it was very pleasant. The last bus bringing the remaining few guests towards Skarsvåg slowed for a view of reindeer, which are brought over to the island in the spring and returned south in the autumn. A short stop at a Sami house and a close-up view of a reindeer that was given a feed of “reindeer moss” (actually a lichen called Cladonia rangiferina ). A display of Sami-inspired tourist “tat” was for sale in a wooden shed sold by a lady dressed in traditional costume, but who lived in a neat wooden house with a brace of quad-bikes and a Japanese 4x4 vehicle parked outside. All too soon our journey through this tundra landscape came to an end with a brief glimpse of the Nordkapp Horn (a curiously shaped landslipped rock formation) and arrival at Skarsvåg.
A brief examination of a tank full of king crab that had been caught locally provided an unusual distraction. These giant crabs are not native to this part of the world but were brought from the Pacific and released into the White Sea. Since then they have been slowly decimating native sealife as they relentlessly advance across the seafloor southwards down the coast of Norway. Another example of man’s greed and inability to completely control or understand the damage he can wreak on the world in which we all live and have to live. “There is no Planet B” as was eloquently expressed in the recent climate conference in Copenhagen.
The final Zodiac from the shore in the sunshine arrived at the Prince Albert II just as the anchor was being raised. As the ship departed northwards into the Barents Sea bound for Bjørnøya the guests were welcomed back on board with a warming glass of a slightly alcoholic chocolate drink. A strenuous day (for some) was followed as usual by a sumptuous dinner in The Restaurant as the Prince Albert II headed north into a slight sea and a dappled sky with the sun still visible towards the northern horizon.