Wednesday, 30 September 2009


Most writers like to walk. They can continue writing while walking. It gives great agitation, as in the novella Walking (1971), by the Austrian writer Thomas Bernhard, where the actual walk is more abstract than the thoughts while walking.

Henry David Thoreau’s Walking (1861), is an essay that probes deep in the art of walking. It’s a kind of knowledge that doesn’t change much, but still, it's uncanny the way he anticipates our modern life. Thoreau’s walking is the opposite of Bernhard’s; the walk overtakes the thoughts; the walk in nature puts the walker straight.

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote about Thoreau: The length of his walk uniformly made the length of his writing. If shut up in the house, he did not write at all.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenWhen we stayed the winter at Tapawingo, in Alberta, Canada, the wilderness demanded solitude and silence, if we wanted to see any wildlife. But me and Nina also preferred to walk alone for another reason; the thoughts got cleansed by nature, because the mind got distracted by something bigger than itself. Talking would destroy all this.

Annie Dillard wrote, in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, that walking in nature is not so much about seeing, as being seen. We're not really thinking either, it's nature thinking through us.

Monday, 28 September 2009

The black-capped chickadee

We had another cold front before Easter ─ windy for a change ─ and the wind chill went to the bones. The wind churned up particles and made the snow drift like smoke over Bistcho Lake.

I was driving the snowmobile from Indian Cabins and back to Tapawingo. I was driving without goggles and my eyes turned red and painful.

Henrik Nor-HansenTowards the evening the row of pines shook wild and dark. We could hear branches break and fall.

The next day the wind had calmed, but it was even colder. We’d noticed the black-capped chickadee before, even down to ÷50˚C, but this morning was different. I kept staring at this little bird, this tiny little ball of feathers. I kept staring.

the black-capped chickadee

Friday, 25 September 2009

The theft in Cape Verde

The capital Praia is nothing but a small town, and the Cape Verde islands are far out in the ocean; it’s a place where you would expect shy fishermen, timid kids, etc. Instead you’ll find the complex and tightly woven net of poverty-related misery, with drugs and crimes all over the place. Even locals at the neighbouring islands will think twice before taking a trip to Praia.

All the Cape Verde islands are beautiful, though, and we couldn’t resist checking out the capital. And besides, we were low in cat food.

We paid our own guardsman; he was recommended by the pilot book (for whatever reason I never fully understood) and the guardsman even recommended himself, but even so we got theft from Bika.

Let me tell you about the cat food first: there was none. Cruisers with cat should bring plenty of cat food before coming to Cape Verde. Nina explained what kind of food she meant, and the shop assistants went to great lengths to understand the whole concept of cats having their own food. They seemed really puzzled by this (I once read that most Africans would consider white Europeans as slightly insane, an opinion that’s probably well-founded).

While at the store, looking for cat food, we had teenagers swimming out to Bika. They unscrewed most of the steelwork around the washboard, (a painful work, I guess, using a knife from our bucket of unfinished dishes) before one of the brighter kids realized that the fore hatch was wide open.

They didn’t take much. Among the items was a futuristic solar and hand-driven radio, which could prove itself worthy in a post-apocalyptic place like Praia, although I doubt the kids managed to keep the radio dry, swimming back to shore.

Our cat was still sleeping on the berth. She couldn’t care less about items missing. We contemplated the corrupt police for a minute or so, and decided to let the cat set the standard for how to react.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Thunder Knoll

En route from Providencia Island to Cayman Island there’s an enormous stretch of reefs and shallow water. It lies outside the coastlines of Honduras and Nicaragua, and stretches half the way to Jamaica. There are some serious considerations to be made before crossing this area. It’s dangerous in heavy weather, with strong currents and wildly breaking waves. The best thing would be to sail around it.

But most cruisers seem to wait for the right weather window, in order to take a short cut; the narrow passage that exits close to Thunder Knoll.

It’s tricky sailing. We left Providencia Island in force 6, beating against the prevailing trades. But the wind calmed as we entered the passage.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenIn the early morning we saw a fishing boat hovering around Thunder Knoll. We started to think about two American boats that were robbed a week earlier, adding more horror to the area.

We changed course, but didn’t want to venture too far out in the shallows. There was a swell, and hidden obstructions 7 meter underneath. 7 meter feels really shallow when crossing an ocean, without any land in sight. We couldn’t trust the chart either, as all the hurricanes had stirred up the reefs.

The fishing boat changed course, too. They seemed to be blocking our way. We changed course again, and they followed.

Nina prepared a bag of money, booze, canned food and various valuables, ready for a handover. The main thing would be to avoid pirates entering Bika, and I told Nina to put clothes on and stay bellow.

It was an old rusty vessel. At least twenty mean-looking men were hanging in the rigging or standing by the gunwale, staring, and none of them waved back when I saluted in my friendliest way. Please excuse that I didn’t take pictures of this. The camera was in the bag at my side, ready to be given away.

Then the kayaks started to pop up from the troughs of the swell. I'd guess maybe ten kayaks, with men holding lobsters and shouting “Whiskey! Whiskey!” I would love to trade, but I would not risk the men coming close. “No whiskey,” I shouted, smiling.

The wind died out almost completely, and Bika crept slowly through the bizarre scene. Of course, fishermen are lonely out there, and it’s normal to be friendly with other people on a waste ocean, but I stood tall in the cockpit, hoping that they wouldn’t cross the line and lay their hands on Bika.

The kayaks started to fall behind, but everybody were still staring. The chimney belched out black smoke when the fishing vessel showed some muscles and took a half-turn.

I was a bit shaken. We got more wind, though, and I gradually started to relax.

Suddenly they called us up on the VHF. “Bika, Bika,” a man said in a teasing voice, “were are you going?” We didn’t answer. They may have had a good laugh at the white man, with all his fear and belongings. I was more than happy to provide them with laughter.

We passed the confused sea and wild currents at Thunder Knoll. Around midnight we had a gale, but the worst was over.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Life on land

In the beginning, when we moved aboard Bika and sailed to the north of Norway, we both had a lot of nightmares about security offshore. We’d sleep in the forepeak and then suddenly bolt up for a quick look-out through the forehatch. We both did this at least once. It’s the kind of thing that makes you feel stupid in a marina.

We had some similar problems with transition when we returned onshore this summer. I got disturbing dreams about ghosts, or black birds; the house felt like an unsafe place to be.

I was
also the only one getting obsessively drunk at a family party. “What kind of person are you?” Nina asked. I honestly didn’t know. It didn’t strike me as anything odd.

I dreamt that I had this huge black bird in the house. I would chase it outside, through the open door, but then it would be another one waiting inside.

In July we were back at my sister’s place. I’d already said that I was more of a tea-person, when asked if I wanted coffee, and then, half a minute later, I reported that I was more of a cat-person, when asked if I liked dogs.

She wanted us to take care of their dog for a couple of weeks. It was a nice dog, but it seemed a bit sad. I’d walk into the woods. The dog kept looking down at the ground, towards the grass, at the tiny sticks.

I later dreamt about a dog we saw at Yale University (or in one of the surrounding buildings). I sat next to a stuffed dog in a display case, and because of all the people, neither me nor Nina noticed the dog at first. I felt bad about this in my dream. I bent down on my knees and tried to feed the dog through the glass. It was futile. I wanted to break the glass but was afraid of making a scene, although I felt certain the poor dog would die of hunger.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Cruising with a cat

We had two cats in Bika while living a year in Norway, before leaving for the circumnavigation. It was okay while being moored at the jetty, where the cats could come and go as they pleased. One of them even managed to catch fish and brought them proudly back to Bika. But these cats were too old to understand the concept of sailing. We had to find them another home, before leaving Norway.

We missed the cats. We started to think about a new one when passing the animal shelter in La Coruna, Spain. The vets didn’t help the cats before a new owner came along. Our coming cat, which Nina had already named Luna (even though I was still only considering a cat), was suffering from flees and worms. I better do my considering a little bit faster. I guess cats and women know their way around men.

Luna started off great, she was healthy and happy, but after some months she got moody. She seemed bored. She loved to come along in the dingy and visit other boats, but it was difficult to find a good spot to land her, and then suddenly it was too late; Luna developed a fear of being ashore.

Flying fish was her favourite food and leisure. They landed on the boat in great numbers, especially among the Cape Verde islands and across the Atlantic. Luna would hear the fish flapping, and rush to the spot.

One night in the Atlantic, it was windy and no moon, an irregular wave suddenly heeled Bika over, while Luna was on her way forward. She slipped. Luna had the harness on, as always, and we dragged her in. But the harness failed just the second before Nina was about to grab the drenched little cat. We could hear Luna meow in the dark, the sound disappeared rapidly in Bika’s wake.

We had to take down the spinnaker pole and the boom preventer, and bring Bika around to start tacking back, counting seconds on every leg. We brought out our strong halogen lamp, hoping for a reflection of Luna's eyes.

After a couple of hours we gave up. The sea was rough, and it wouldn’t really take more than one breaking wave to swallow the cat. The Atlantic suddenly seemed cold and careless. It’s not a good place to search for anything in the dark.

A year later the cat issue was up again, this time in Erie Canal, in the state of New York, where they had an animal shelter full of cats needing a new home. To make a long story short I just agreed right away, to get it over with. “Look, she got six toes!” Yeah, sure.

Nina named the cat Erie, and off we went. This time we promised each other that Erie should be brought ashore twice every day, at least while going through the lakes and waterways in Canada and USA.

We brought Erie along to our winter cabin at Tapawingo, in Alberta, Canada. The list of predators was long, but nothing could hold her back during the spring months. She wanted to be out the whole night. She survived the threat of fox, wolf, lynx, black bear, wolverine, the great horned owl, the northern goshawk, golden eagle and bald eagle.

Erie also had the cat flu, which almost killed her. But it was a coyote in Blind River, North Channel, that eventually did her in. The coyote was observed, and several domestic cats went missing in a short span of time.

Erie was a good swimmer, and she had no fear of the dingy. She could even jump into the dingy first, if she knew we were going ashore. Erie used to meow when she wanted us to come and get her, and then she would jump right back in, without any fuzz.

Cat or no cat? Me and Nina can’t agree on this. We both love cats, but I can’t stand to see a cat being bored. They prefer grass to fibreglass. Our boat is also painfully small for a cat to run around and play. Cats can’t read, I argue. Nina, on the other hand, feels that cats are better off on a small boat than in a cage at the animal shelter.

But there is no doubt that most cats can adopt quickly to the boat, if taken offshore as kittens. Most cats are surprisingly good swimmers, and might even be introduced to water early on.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Enslaved in dreams

We were asked about houses versus boats when we returned to Norway this summer. I guess we all need a confirmation: are we doing the right thing?

There's a risk of sounding self-righteous, like two born-again Christians who never stops talking about their new way of life, but the gist of cruising is pretty simple. Space and comfort are exchanged with freedom and adventure. That's the main thing if you ever plan to do serious cruising in a small boat.

More interesting is the fact that the need for comfort wears off, and when you’re finally back in a hot shower, you’ll realize that you’re not getting any cleaner than from the bucket-bath offshore. When you’re clean you’re clean, it’s nothing more to it. You’ll properly miss the shower more after a long weekend of coastal cruising, than after a year in the tropics. And you’ll do the same adaption in all the comfort issues.

Henrik Nor-Hansen There are other aspects. The grid of modern life is getting more complicated, more abstract, and I’ll guarantee you this: four years of cruising will be enough to really make you wonder.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Living in transition

We borrow a nice house from a girlfriend of Nina, who work in Moscow. Nina got her office work, but I stay home all the time, writing. It's a transition before going back to Bika in San Francisco; we need money to go sailing.

To be a contemporary poet means that you’re hoping for fame while learning the anatomy of silence. After some years the idea of a breakthrough seems ridiculous. The silence gets deepened. That's when you start to find the existence of ghosts more likely, even downright plausible.

It usually takes a long time for a house to disintegrate. A house leaves us slowly, but a sailboat can go down in minutes. Maybe that's why I've never heard about ghosts going boating. A ghost needs reassurance.

I believe ghosts can form during countless movements in the house. The opening and closing of doors; if we walk into the bedroom and stop, not knowing what we seek; if we walk into the bathroom unfocused.

Friday, 11 September 2009

A serious burn

After crossing Lake Michigan we came to Chicago, where an air show was taking place. It was a couple of millions visitors on that particular Sunday. All kinds of boats abounded.

A stealth plane seemed to be coming straight for us. Maybe these planes can pick out foreigners. The stealth are frightening when seen from underneath. There is nothing humanly about it, no flag, no signs, just this weird black shape. It gave me the creeps, like we were about to be abducted. I took pictures, but they were all strangely out of focus. I’m sure they learned something at Roswell.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenMost of the boats were powerboats with drunk or semi-drunk teenagers, and temperatures were running high in the narrow gaps of the marinas. Of course, the marinas were all full.

We anchored among all the boats that continued partying. I just love blasting music when I’m tired, and maybe this was why I lost the tea pot in my lap. The lid fell off and I got steaming hot water all over my hip. I got the shorts and underwear off, Nina shouted that I had to jump in the sea to cool the burn, but I hesitated for some valuable seconds, thinking about all the people and stuff.

The burn was getting more painful, though. I had to jump bare- assed, but with my shirt still on, if that counts for something. I was hanging along Bika, with one hand on the toe rail.

I could sense a huge powerboat ease up from behind. I prepared myself for a dose of the American friendliness.

“Are you okay?” they screamed. I sort of half-turned underneath my arm, the powerboat was packed with people, and there were a certain cluster of bikini-dressed women in the bow, beer in hand. “Yes, I’m fine,” I said with a merry voice, “thank you.” I started to hear some laughter, but worse, someone declared out loud in a loud whisper: “Don’t laugh!” This, of course, produced even more laughter. And now Nina started to laugh, too. But it just wasn’t funny.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The wolf-bird

The raven has been called the wolf-bird, because of its tight connection to wolves. The ravens will enter the scene only a few minutes after the wolves have succeeded with a kill. The ravens follow the wolves, but could it also be the other way around?

Of course, the wolves will observe ravens in the air, circling around a carcass. But I’m thinking about something else. I’m thinking about an active role, a tell and show; a raven’s clue for the wolf to follow.

The ravens know what’s going on. It’s an overview in everything they do. The ravens also know what they would like to eat, but the wolves have to kill it first (unless the humans dump it).

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenI once tried a sound decoy on the ravens. They were gathered in the trees maybe a hundred meter away. I hid in the bushes and started the wild death-cry of the snowshoe hare.

photo: Henrik Nor-HansenWithin seconds I had a black ball of circling ravens above me. The intensity of the ravens took me by surprise.

An hour later I tried again, but this time I observed the ravens through the binoculars. Not one of the ravens got fooled. They just sat in the trees, and if anything they reacted with contempt to my little act. But it did look like they gave each other some sidelong glances.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

Monday, 7 September 2009

Flood water

I've been sifting through our pictures of fog. It turns out we had some kind of fog on Bistcho Lake, too. Although this was more a frost mist, created by the flood water (or overflow) on the ice.

During our eight months at Tapawingo we hardly had any wind at all. The snow stayed in the trees for weeks. In the morning we could see the chimney smoke gathering like a stratum in the tree tops.

I've been trying hard to avoid kitsch photography, but it's damn hard to resist when nature doesn't present itself in any other way. The beauty of Bistcho Lake is difficult to miss when taking pictures during the early morning or late evening.

The flood water was never fun, though. It often meant that we got stuck with the skidoo (snowmobile), and needed help from another skidoo to get loose. We always used two skidoos for this reason.

Often there was no telling if the snow concealed 30 centimetre of water. And it could be patches with flood water even though the ice was a meter thick.

I seemed particular prone for this misfortune. I drove deep into the flood water once I ventured out alone. The trick is to speed up, and try to drive straight through, but there was way too much water on this occasion. I could feel how the skidoo slowed down to a halt. The belt started spinning in the slush. My shoes got soaking wet, but I had to walk for about an hour in ÷30˚C, back to the cabin to get help from Nina, a skidoo and 100 meter of rope.

Friday, 4 September 2009

The bus to Bogotá

During our stay in Cartagena, Colombia, we felt like seeing more of this beautiful country. People were friendly, and eager to prove that Colombia was a lot more than drugs and civil war.

We left Bika in the marina and started the bus ride south to Bogotá; up through the valleys, up the mountain sides; we got the frightening joy of looking down, while the driver seemed to be playing with suicidal thoughts, and drove like there was no tomorrow.

photo: Henrik Nor-Hansen

I’ve always dreaded the idea of ending my days in traffic. I could see burnt-out vehicles in the valley below, lying upside down like dead insects.

We changed driver in the middle of nowhere. He held a short speech before taking off, just a reminder about the next stops, but then he ended everything with “and may God be with you on the journey.” I looked at Nina. I didn’t find this comforting at all.

It seemed obvious that the new driver was trying to beat his personal record for the next distance. He was religious, though. I could see how he rapidly crossed himself while passing all these memory shrines along the road; pictures of the dead, crosses and candles.

But religion has nothing to do with respect for other people's lives, as we had seen, and the wild driving continued through the hairpin curves of the Colombian highland.

I'd had enough of this. My nerves were shredded. I managed to talk Nina into an alternative route, with slow local buses. We would also see more of the countryside, I argued.

But at the bus stop we got people asking where we were heading. Bogotá, we said. They shook their heads, we couldn’t go this way, unless we had a death wish and wanted to get kidnapped by FARC or ELN. We had to turn back to the main road.

We continued with the long distance bus, and passed several checkpoints along the main road to Bogotá. Three times the bus got stopped. Every man had to come out, while the women could sit and observe us getting patted down. If I had a gun, well, it might have crossed my mind to hand it over to Nina before getting out. But the Colombian military had a chivalry that was impressing.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Trust your spouse

In 2004, the year before we started the circumnavigation, we sailed up to Nina's parents in Jøkelfjorden (“jøkel” means glacier). Jøkelfjorden is above the arctic circle, and it was a long journey for a short season.

Nina hadn’t done much sailing before this trip. In fact, we had only sailed a long weekend to the south of Norway, when Nina got really seasick. Maybe a circumnavigation wasn’t for us.

We made it to Jøkelfjorden, but on our way south again, it was my turn to get sick. It was some kind of stomach virus, I even had a night in the Harstad hospital. But we had to hurry south, before the autumn gales would set in.

I was lying down below, feeling miserable, but Nina took charge of Bika and was learning fast.

Maybe it was a good thing, seen in retrospect. Sailing is not difficult; it’s more difficult to build confidence and trust. I remember when Nina called for help, we had dense fog and a force 6 wind, and she asked casually if I could help her with the lookout.

I was sitting in the cockpit, pale and quiet. But I think we both realized that the circumnavigation was for us. The dream got strengthened.

The picture is from Karlsøy, when the wind had died out and the fog almost lifted.