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Crossing the Arctic Circle

Updated: Dec 6, 2023

As Raissa had shared in one of her last blog posts, we have been invited by Belén and Heimir from Spain and Iceland to join them as volunteer crew on their maiden voyage as the new owners of SV Tilvera. The voyage will last one month and will take us from Den Helder, The Netherlands to Svalbard, Norway. This blog post is about the first part of the journey, which took us 1´300 miles up North to Bodø, Norway, where we stopped to re-provision the ship before sailing further up North.

Hope you enjoy the adventure!

First things first: before departure we spent five days in the shipyard in Den Helder helping to prepare SV Tilvera for the long voyage into remote waters. We assisted in a variety of tasks, including putting the main mast back in it´s place and setting up the sails. It was a great way to get to know this amazing ship, which Heinz Wutschke, the former german owner, has built entirely by himself. Even more exciting than that is the fact, that Heinz himself is joining the trip as a captain and mentor for Belén and Heimir.

Once Tilvera was back in the water we focused on finalising our "Sustainable Provisioning Project" (read more here). This included receiving and storing all the products we bought in bulk, stowing away the organic vegetables we ordered from a local farm, installing the sprouting station I have built and packaging the biodegradable, organic soaps and shampoos, which we made together with our Spanisch friend Gita prior to embarking on this adventure.

On the morning of the 5th of April a total of five guests embarked the ship: Chris, Robin, Mariska, Jan and Jacqueline. For this first trip there is more crew than guests for mainly two reasons. First, because it´s a very challenging trip and more hands are needed. And second, because Belén and Heimir want to give students from the Enkhuizer Zeevaartschool an opportunity to learn, get some sea-time and fill in their task book. In a moment where the couple just bought a ship and every paying guest makes a difference, this is a very generous gesture from them and clearly shows their strong values and commitment to their mission. Besides Tilvera the couple also runs two other incredible projects: Ocean Missions and North Sailing. Ocean Missions is an NGO with the mission to inspire people to take direct actions to protect our oceans, raising awareness through expeditions, science and education. And North Sailing offers whale watching and adventure voyages since 1995, having received numerous awards for entrepreneurship in environmental tourism and worldwide attention for innovation and conservation of nordic culture.

Another core crew member is Hadassa from the Netherlands, who has been sailing with Heinz for years and will accompany Belén and Heimir as first mate until Svalbard. Hadassa is an amazing women, with whom we felt a strong connection from the very first moment she stepped aboard. She introduced us to the chores and tasks of the ship, which we all take care of in a rotating manner. These include bread baking, cooking, cleaning and sewage pumping.

Before leaving Den Helder, Heinz gave a safety briefing as well as a general tour of the ship. Around mid-day we set sail to Stavanger, Norway. I was assigned to be part of the 12 to 04 pm and 00 to 04 am watch together with David from France and Robin from Rotterdam. It was quite a challenging crossing with South-Easterly winds up to 50 knots. About half of the 13 people aboard felt seasick - or at least got very close to it. In total we sailed 426 miles in 60 hours with a top speed of 12,3 knots - a record for SV Tilvera.

We arrived in Stavanger at 02 am and went to bed exhausted. The next morning we had a short stroll around town before sailing on to the nearby Lysefjorden, where we moored at a tiny little pier called Revså Kai.

On the way to Lysefjorden captain Heinz all of a sudden turned off the screen of the plotter (electronic navigation) and asked us to navigate using paper charts only. I got super excited to put my newly acquired knowledge from the Zeevaartschool into practice and started to take bearing after bearing, using every tool I could find on the bridge including a Pelorus. I am so happy that Heinz as well as Hadassa are placing so much emphasis on creating opportunities for us to learn and never get tired of sharing their knowledge.

In the evening I found a slightly rusty fishing rod in the pilothouse and decided to give it a try. Shortly before giving up, I spotted a field of mussels hidden under a patch of seaweed right next to where we were moored - the biggest mussels I've ever seen! I harvested a full bucket and left them in seawater over night so that they would spit out all the grit and clean themselves.

The next morning we hiked 18 km to an impressive cliff called Preikestolen. After returning from the hike, I cooked up the mussels while the rest of the crew sailed the ship to a little village called Jørpeland, where we moored for the night.

During dinner Heinz announced that from now on our watches would each have a watch leader, who will be responsible for voyage planning and navigation. I was very happy to learn that I was appointed watch leader for the noon and midnight shifts. The next morning we set sail with destination to Runde, a small island 260 miles up north. We again had South-Easterly winds between 5 and 8 Beaufort, which is quite uncommon for this region known to mainly have Northerly winds. About half way into the voyage the engine of the heating system broke and Heinz decided to change course to the city of Bergen to look for spare parts. We arrived there on April 11th at 02 am and moored in the middle of the city. The next morning Heinz showed us how to set up the storm jib and while he was busy with fixing the heating system we took a stroll around Bergen, which is known as "Europe's rainiest city". We checked out the old town and explored the fish market, where we bought some locally smoked salmon, cod and hering, which we enjoyed together with the crew during a memorisable late lunch in the pilothouse. In the evening our fellow crew member Rob surprised us with his Pizzaiolo skills and hosted another great dinner.

From Bergen we sailed 162 miles to the beautiful island of Runde. The 6 km2 small island is famous for its enormous number of birds. It is said that during the summer more than 500,000 seabirds inhabit the island. Since we arrived a bit too early in the season, we did not see many birds. However, the stunning view from the top of the cliffs made the hike a memorable experience after all. Back to the pier, Famke - who had also studied together with us at the Enkhuizer Zeevartschool, Raissa and I took a dip in the ice-cold water. Later that day Heinz and Hadassa introduced us to the firefighting system of Tilvera and showed us how the emergency steering system works.

The next morning we again set sail with destination to Holandsfjorden, another 376 miles up north. Shortly after we had left the harbour Heinz threw a fender overboard and shouted "man overboard" initiating one of the three crucial emergency drills aboard a sailing ship - the others being fire and evacuation drills. Since we were sailing under motor, it wasn't very challenging to bring the fender back on board, but that was only the beginning of the drill. Heinz asked Raissa to act as if she were the person who had just been rescued, pretending that she suffers from severe back pain and hypothermia. We swiftly improvised a stretcher using a swimming latter and carefully carried Raissa from the bow into the pilothouse, where we got a chance to train our First Aid skills.

We continued our journey up north following a protected route through the impressive fjord and island systems of Norway's atlantic coast. At 09 am on the 16th of April we crossed the Arctic Circle, which marks the northernmost latitude at which, on the Winter solstice - the shortest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - the Sun will not rise all day, and on the Summer solstice - the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere - the Sun will not set (check out our Bandana Mágica dedicated to this phenomena). The further north we progress from now on, the longer the days will get.

Holandsfjorden is best known for the Svartisen Glacier, the second largest Glacier in Norway covering 375 km2. After a good night of rest from the three day crossing we went for a long hike exploring the beauty of this majestic ancient body of ice. Although being from the Alps, I have never been so close to a glacier before. I have always preferred to travel to tropical places and have never really had a interest in cold places. However, I really enjoy the raw energy of this remote, cold environment and am slowly falling in love with the North.

Back on the pier I rigged up the fishing gear and, together with other crew members and guests, was amply rewarded. We caught codfish, colefish and also found some more mussels, which we all - in a great community cooking event - turned into a traditional french Bouillabaisse.

The next day we woke up early again and sailed the last 60 miles to Bodø, which is the final destination of the first leg of our trip up north with SV Tilvera. Upon arrival, Heinz and Raissa hosted a very emotional sharing round, giving space for everybody aboard to reflect upon and share their highlights, lowlights as well as the treasures they will take home with them.

After a last night aboard, the guests and one crew member left and the remaining seven crew members started cleaning the ship as well as themselves - two very important tasks after so many days at sea.

Yesterday we re-provisioned the ship and welcomed the new crew members and guests. And, surprise surprise, one of them is no other than our beloved friend Fabinho from Brazil. Fabinho has been sailing with us on our boat before we even had a sailing license and had joined us on most major crossings along the Brazilian coast. For him to join us again in this new chapter of our lives and project means the world to me and I can't wait to share my watch with him.

Tomorrow morning we will again set sail for a 12 day trip to Lofoten, Tromsø, Bear Island and finally Svalbard. Checking the weather forecast, we are expecting a storm to delay our departure and encounter very heavy seas and Northerly winds. No doubt, we are up for a rough ride, which I will share with you after arrival in Longyearbyen, the capital of Svalbard.

Until then, you can follow our journey on Marine Traffic and check the ice-situation by the Norwegian Ice Service.

Thank you for reading this text and in case you haven´t yet, feel invited to subscribe to our monthly newsletter and join our Telegram Group.

And please feel invited to check out the other voyages that SV Tilvera is offering this year! I can highly recommend them all!

Big Polar Bear Hug,


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