Friday, 31 July 2009


I tried the picture of Chicago in monochrome and the town suddenly sprung to life. Chicago has a certain boldness in style that evokes contrasts and heavy shadows.

I like to imagine my heydays around 1955-69, when the future looked promising and the past was still available. I would work hard and smoke a pipe and read newspapers that were worth reading. If I was American I would drive around in a car that nowadays belongs to the streets of Cuba.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

It's a strange longing between vintage cars and certain buildings. Being a melancholic means, among other things, that people like me get dragged towards this nostalgia, this unfulfilled longing. Surely the cars are less out of time in black-and-white.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

The American cars in Cuba pinpointed Chicago, maybe with a whiff of San Francisco, especially in the hilly streets of Santiago de Cuba, and there really were nothing here that reminded us of, say, Miami. But a nation is never the entity it sets out to be.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Bistcho Lake

If you ever travel to Bistcho Lake you’ll experience the void. That’s the Canadian wilderness. It opens easily in front of you, and withdraws as you step closer. You’ll feel like driving fast with the snowmobile, over the frozen lake, up and down the cut lines, but speed is a major waste of time. It doesn’t take you anywhere. It just slows down the process of learning the void.

Bistcho Lake

Monday, 27 July 2009

We're not really humans

We first tried the double-decker tourist bus in Ottawa, Canada, and it was Nina who finally gave in for my primitive ideas of fun. It wasn’t too bad, though. She accepted another ride when we came to Chicago.

But in Chicago I realized that my interest had shifted. I suddenly didn’t care about the history of buildings. I was into people on the streets, and I saw this man who seemed to be in another world.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

I’m always vaguely nervous when I take pictures of strangers. But from the top floor of a double-decker bus I felt safe. We are supposed to take pictures. And we are not really humans, we’re tourists.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenI also saw this elegant Jewish woman, standing next to Chicago River, and I couldn't help doing the photographer-shoot-photographer theme, which is often the last picture before I hand the camera over to Nina. But I noted that the well dressed woman didn't like being associated with the tourist lowlife in a double-decker bus.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Violence and rain

On our way back to Portobelo the bus was full again. Being an express bus between two towns, the extra passengers where told to sit down in the dark aisle. Most of the local buses, if not all, were discarded school buses from the USA. The heavy machinery was moaning and panting as the bus slowly gained speed. Then the bus driver turned on the music. I could really feel those bass rhythms vibrating through the bus. Nina was sitting in the aisle in front of me, and she turned around, smiling, as if she was a bit unsure of what to make of this. There was a TV hanging from the ceiling. To my surprise they started a splatter movie. I looked around me, nobody seemed to care. The sound was off, or it was on, but it didn't cut through the music blasting from the loudspeakers. The movie was very violent and I wondered how the kids would react. When the killer appeared it only took a few seconds before a new kill was made. He pushed a pencil slowly through a policeman's eye and it was about here that the story lost me. I looked at Nina in front of me. I felt hot air swirling around my head. The locals were all fat and I sat crouched on the aisle between enormous thighs. The bus drove too fast. We passed billboards with half naked women selling about every item possible. Asses and tits. They lit up in short intervals as the headlight was going through the curves. The landscape was covered in dark foliage and I sometimes saw the constellations, a flickering between the huge silhouettes.

Looking through the pictures I remembered the man in the rain. I saw him early the next morning, after a really bad night. I remembered how his boat seemed to be half filled with water.

I remembered the ruins on the slope behind him. I remembered his yellow raingear. I remembered how I suddenly realized that this scene was important. And then he was gone.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Aurora Boralis

Without a full moon we needed a torch to find the way to the privy. I always flashed the torch around, the shadows of the tree trunks were like wheel spokes around me. It was a fair chance to see reflections in the eyes of animals, especially foxes, which wasn’t uncommon among the cabins.

I must admit that I also kept a lookout for ghosts. Once I saw a strange light among the trees, a ghostly flickering that made me look upwards, through the branches. It was the northern light.

This particular night was really amazing during our stay in the Canadian wilderness, away from the light pollution of modern society. We didn’t have a tripod for the camera, but brought a bucket along and went out on the ice at Bistcho Lake. The northern lights kept changing above us. Serpents of silver, ribbons of yellowish green and red. It lasted for two hours, and then we needed the torch to find our way back to the cabin.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Before the Atlantic

Brava was the smallest of the Cape Verde Islands, and also our last stop before crossing the Atlantic. The top of the island had windswept trees and clusters of colonial brick houses in fog and decay.

Bastard dogs were lurking around freely. They all seemed to be the colour of sand or rock, moving in groups.

We met a 76 year old sailor who had retired from Norwegian shipping. He drank most of the time and dragged us along on several boozing sessions. There were always some drinking going on in bars and in the back rooms of shops. We drank home brewed rum and went out in the fog.

Bika needed a clean bottom, but the water was surprisingly cold. We were introduced to a young man who was willing to go through the pain for money. He came up every fifteen minutes for a shot of rum and dove down under again. Later he sat in our cockpit with chattering teeth. He told us he could see the image of himself, projected down below, from somewhere.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Heavy weather

It wasn’t easy to pick the weather window in 2007. We wanted to sail to New York, but the gales kept coming over the Bahamas, and that year there was even a tropical storm before the official hurricane season started, sinking a 54-foot sailboat with a crew of four.

We left Bahamas in sunshine and perfect conditions, although the weather guru Chris Parker spoke of the troughs with uncertainty, not knowing how they would behave.

Three days later, on June 1, the tropical storm Barry formed south of Florida. Moving north-east it would hit us outside Cape Hatteras, if the weather predictions were correct.

This is when we decided to turn around. But we didn’t feel safe. This tropical storm couldn’t be foreseen as an exact science; it could grow into a hurricane, veer in a more easterly direction and wipe us out within 24 hours.

We secured everything and prepared Bika for a capsize. We made a huge portion of stew in the pressure cooker, but were too scared to eat for a long time. We heard Herb on the SSB-radio, the weather guru for the North Atlantic, who strongly adviced sailors to get away as fast as they could.

We sailed south-east in fickle winds. Late in the evening it seemed likely that the tropical storm Barry wouldn’t hit us, but the barometer started to fall rapidly and we could see heavy clouds on the horizon in front of us. The tropical storm was pushing its way through the lows in the region, squeezing the isobars north of Bahamas.

Bika Contessa 26

The wind picked up. We continued in a south-east direction, but the winds got even stronger. We decided to drop the genoa 3 and wait for further development. That was a mistake. I should have hoisted the storm jib right away, instead of doing it later, when the winds were so strong that even a small mistake could have been disastrous. I had to carefully stuff the sail in the bag before hooking on the storm jib, and keep an eye on the waves at the same time. Actually, it rained so hard that the breaking waves got flattened a lot.

We hove to, as we’ve done many times before, and sent out a warning on the VHF every half hour, since it was impossible to see anything in the rain.


It was hot, though. It was strange to be almost naked when having maybe 45 knots of wind. We had a semi-knockdown, but both of us were in a good mood, and rather fatalistic about the weather.

After six hours the wind abated to 30-something knots, and we continued sailing in the morning, with around 30 knots of wind.


Monday, 20 July 2009


The medina in Safi has been one of the biggest surprises on our journey. We were just taking a shortcut to town, but entering the portals was like an instant travel back in time. The walls were so massive it felt like walking inside a mountain, in a labyrint of narrow pathways. We walked on huge slabs of stone, weared down by countless generations.

It turned out that we were popular, being (maybe) the only western tourists in Safi at the time. The teachings of the Quran, and the culture of Muslims, is to welcome strangers, but we didn’t manage to talk much to the two lovely women in the medina, since we didn’t understand neither Arabic nor French.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenIn Safi harbour, at dusk, Nina noticed a kid that seemed to be checking us out. I came out to the cockpit. He was clearly keeping an eye on us, but he wasn’t more than 10-12 years old and we didn’t take the threat too seriously. The next morning he was still there, swept up in a grey blanket, and we thought he was a homeless.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

In Essouira we saw a similar kid. I managed to take this picture before we left for the Canary Islands; the boy had been sitting under a blanket the whole night, it was a very cold night, and he walked in his dirty clothes under the morning sun, trying to get the warmth back.

We later learned that he was the guardsman. Old enough to ring the bell, but not old enough for a decent salary. But still, his body language was that of an old man. He seemed to have a lot on his mind.

Friday, 17 July 2009


We took some beating going through the Bahamas. The hurricane season was getting close and the weather conditions was pretty wild. The squalls kept coming, with thunder and lightning and torrents of rain.

We got two hours of gale and then nothing. The water was still and purple. We were just waiting, wondering. Then another string of squalls raised its heavy head above the horizon. We got engulfed in rain and darkness.

I signed off before the worst hit us, and could go down below with a pleasing sensation of being the lucky guy.

Nina really got it this time. She was sitting with her head bowed, still as a statue in the back of the cockpit, with her hands withdrawn in the sleeves of the raingear. The rain came down so hard that she got kind of hazy. It's not wickedness, it's just mankind to get a look of your spouse through the slits in the hatches, seeing you're better off for once.

The boat heeled over. Bika started to pick up speed and I could hear water surging along the hull. I could hear the deep slow sounds of distant thunder. Then Nina opened the hatch and wanted attention. There was a waterspout outside.

We could clearly see spray and water churning. The waterspout got wider and we got some concerns about where it was heading. It didn's seem to move, though. Further away we could see a second waterspout forming; it started like a tiny corkscrew from the sharp lower edge of the cloud. It stayed like that for awhile, sort of testing, before it probed it's long finger towards the sea. It was a more lanky version, funneling without any real purpose.

During the next hour we saw several distant waterspouts. On the fifth we started to get blasé.

Thursday, 16 July 2009


Brown pelicans always remind me about men working. The pelicans are like most fathers used to be; silent, distant, weared out after hard manual labour. The brown pelicans never make any sound, exept when crash landing in the sea. They are clumsy and heavy.

The pelicans often fly in teams, without any fuss. They never seem to get upset. It's like everybody knows what the others are doing.

In the Mississippi, or in the lakes, we saw white pelicans with some grace, allthough similar in many other ways. But down in Mobile harbour the pelicans were all brown.

The equality among the boats must be the tug boat. And the brown pelican also liked to sit on the tug boats low gunwales, waiting for work. Other pelicans were gliding like convoys in the fog.

In Grand Isle we had brown pelicans sitting on the wooden poles. These birds seemed old and sun bleached, with a vague resemblance to very old men. They could sit for hours beside our boat, like they were meditating, or wasted. They never seemed to be eating. The long wooden beak was resting down against the curve of the neck. The back of the head was bony and had just a couple of white fluffy feathers.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

The squall

We'd had a night with thunderstorms, and often just took down the sails and waited for the squall to pass. In the early morning the wind seemed to abate. I continued with the full genoa spread out on the spinnaker pole, and went down below to get some breakfast. Nina was still sleeping. I could hear the wind pick up through the vibrations from the rigging. A well known boat is full of those tiny signals that border towards the metaphysical. But on this occasion I was very tired. I didn't want any kind of trouble at the end of my night watch.

I had a slice with freshly baked bread in each hand, and with the tiller between my legs I was eating breakfast standing up, looking behind towards a squall that seemed to be coming. It's difficult to judge a squall in grey rainy weather. And being lazy I opted for breakfast. But the squall was strong indeed and Bika started a wild ride with the full genoa flying. I gulped down as much bread as I could and tried to reduce gyring by taking in on the main but it was just way to much wind. It hit so hard and fast that I never really had any chance to do anything except holding on, waiting for the old genoa to be ripped apart. It took maybe a minute. I went forward to bring down the wild fluttering remains, thinking Nina might need some of this for later, but the windvane couldn't handle the conditions and veered us upwind, bringing the prevented main to a half gybe. The boat heeled over and I was suddenly on the leeward side. I scrambled back and forth in a tangle of ropes and confusion, and ended entwined in my own harness, tired and sour. I heard Nina shouting from down below. I couldn't hear what she said, but just answered "it's nothing." Then the rain cleared. I could see the squall.

(The pictures is from the squalls that hit us the next day. I didn't repeat my mistake.)

Tuesday, 14 July 2009


At night we could see the CN Tower pulsing in the dark; different poisonous colours, like scarlet, whitish lilac, a sharp mouldy blue. The skyline of Toronto got an attitude.

Henrik Nor-Hansen

In June 2008 the right-winged government in Canada was more than happy to play along with the Bush-administration, which meant that the doctrine for how to terrorize all citizens was in effect.

We're guessing our boat somehow got a negative tag. Suddenly the police came by every fourth day, asking for papers, telling us to move. There's a lot of nice little bays outside Toronto, so it wasn't difficult to find a spot, but it was illegal. They didn't want gypsy boats around, the police told us.

Henrik Nor-Hansen

In Toronto we managed to be harassed by the police in the morning, and then going over to Hamilton Royal Yacht Club for lunch, as invited guests of honour, eating a nice meal with a stylish toast to the queen. There's a lot of social bungee jumping in cruising.

A small boat is not intimidating in the tropics, in the bay of the poor, but for the first time we seemed to get our cruising style turned against us. We looked poor and needy. We had multi-millionaires standing with binoculars in their windows, calling the police.

Henrik Nor-Hansen

I got most of the harassment, since I was staying in the boat every day, writing poetry, while Nina was writing in the library.

This sudden transition between poetry and police was sometimes pretty hard to make. But I had to put on a friendly face, knowing that the harassment would only get worse if I lost my temper.

Once they asked for country of origin and the situation almost got out of control because the policeman heard "No way", when I said "Norway." He looked perplexed and all tensed up and was glancing a bit towards his companion, as if looking for a hint on how hard to respond. But I got the passport at hand and we could all smile again.