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Finding Neverland

Upon our return from Flåm,  it took us roughly one week to clear our temporary home at the end of the Sognefjord. Even after 20 years of moving around, it is not easy for us to leave a place like Kaupanger, where we have felt so comfortable for the last seven months. The most difficult part was to say goodbye to all the kind, generous and warm-hearted people who have become an indispensable part of our global family. On Mother’s Day, we slowly moved out of the 205 km long fjord towards the open sea. As the wind in the sheltered inlet is relatively weak, we were able to take our time to break away from our familiar surroundings. Filmmaker Jørn and Climate Change student Simon accompanied us on the first leg of our journey, as did our dear friend Odd Tufte and his family.

We then made the first stop on the island Losna, where our friends Einar and Kjellfrid gave us a warm welcome. When we sailed to Norway in October 2019, they were two of our first acquaintances in this country. The weather changed to winter at short notice and it was once more amazing to find ourselves in this small patch of land dominated by rugged coasts and spherical meadows!

An at least as spectacular landscape was revealed to us on our next stop on Vaerlandet. The humid wind from the Atlantic together with the warm Gulf Stream and the close distance to the steep coasts of the mainland give the island a “warm”-humid climate that rarely leads to precipitation. So it was all the more astonishing that the very first snow of the winter fell right at the time of our arrival in mid-May! When the weather conditions changed to springlike in the afternoon, the gravel paths through the picturesque volcanic island invited us for a vivid discovery walk. Spontaneously, we cleaned up a contemplative beach, which was covered with plastic by the strong current from the south. The organic farmer Hilde Buer and her husband Anders Braanaas, who keep around 550 sheep, helped us with this action and invited us to their beautiful home for dinner. As their house is built to 100% from materials from the surroundings, it is hardly recognizable in the landscape from far. The dining table and the floor are made of lava stone from the primaeval continent of Pangaea, which has resurfaced in Vaerlandet after 150 Million years. Since the house is off the grid, the couple obtains its electricity from solar panels in summer and from wind generators in winter. Though the location is exposed to strong winds so that every propeller has been burst in the past years. And so we happily recommended them our own wind turbines from Superwind. Klaus Krüger provided us with the sophisticated regulatory system 16 years ago in order to test it under the most extreme conditions. Since then, it has withstood every storm and delivers electricity in a continuous and reliable manner.

The next morning we set off to meet with representatives of the ‘Red Cross Nordic United World College’ in Flekke where we were supposed to give a presentation two months ago. As one of currently 17 United World Colleges, the school focuses on a nordic, environmental and humanitarian education. The sustainable and future-oriented guidance made a congenial impression on us and we could well imagine sending our own children to one of these Colleagues! One last stop on our way north, we made in the harbour town Ålesund, where we stock up on necessities for the crossing. After that, we meandered through various islands and drifted out into the open sea for two days. Again, we were impressed by the beauty of the glacial mountains along the coast, whose steep cliffs rise out of the sea like mighty bulwarks. On the 16th of May, we crossed the Arctic Circle and sailed towards a permanently bright horizon.

Soon, we recognized the farthest foothills of the Lofoten archipelago that is almost as old as the earth itself. As the liquid ball of embers cooled 3.5 billion years ago, a crust formed over the still glowing hot mantle and the first mountains rose. Over the next 3 billion years, the islands sank several times into the earth’s interior, deformed and rose back to the surface. 500 million years ago, the Caledonian mountains formed the “motherland” Norway and gave the Islands largely their present topography. Every mountain, it would seem, is a metaphor for a legend.  Traces of human existence go back to the older stone age 7000 years ago. From the 3rd millennium BC through the Iron Age, agriculture was pursued and the first chieftain’s seats were set up. In the 9th century, the Vikings founded Vágan as probably the first town north of the polar circle.

On Sunday, the 17th of May 2020, we arrived in the village of Ballstad just in time for the celebration of the Norwegian National Day. As soon as we docked, we were inaugurated in a festive parade with one hundred other ships. Thus, we raised the Norwegian flags and welcomed a bunch of locals on our ship for the spectacle. Such contrasts are not uncommon on our Pachamama; You don’t meet a single soul for days and weeks and instead of a slow arrival you abruptly find yourself in a roaring circus of sounds and crowds (of course with the necessary distance ;)). As soon as we returned to the dock, we were invited by our new friends to a sumptuous feast. “As much ice cream as you can eat” – is the credo for every child in Norway. Apart from that, we were spoiled with a wide range of local specialities. Among these, the so-called stockfish is particularly well known. It is mainly cod, which is preserved by air-drying and optional salting. The fish are tied together by the tails and hung on wooden racks. These “stokks” have shaped the landscape in Lofoten from the 8th century onwards. From the 12th century, Stockfisch served as a barterable commodity for large ship convoys from Nordland down to Bergen. Later, the conservation method was used to feed armies and ship crews. As is well known, the Vikings discovered America three centuries before Christoph Kolumbus and his companions. The Norse(wo)men owed their advantage over other Europeans not only to the advanced technology in shipbuilding but also to their knowledge on the preservation of non-perishable food. Until well into the late 20th century, stockfish was regarded as “poor people’s food” due to the great occurrences. Since 1978, however, fishing has steadily declined and the classic stockfish has become relatively expensive. But even if the Vestfjord today only yields fractions of the quantities caught in the past – Lofoten has remained the “archipelago of cod” and keeps attracting a large number of fishing boats and winter tourists. The quiet spring in Ballstad is, apparently, more likely to be due to the spreading pandemic than to declining fish stocks. One way or another, Ingvar and his wive Torgun kindly invited to use the facilities of the Kræmmervika Fishermen Hotel during our stay here. And so, we were (once again) able to celebrate Alegra’s birthday in the rooms of a spacious guest house. Our good friend Hanne, who has lived in Lofoten for 15 years, spoiled us with her friends to the letter. It was not the first and not the last time that the sun and good company kept us awake until late in the evening.

As the exceptional winter is expected to last till the end of August, we are happy that we dragged our skis up north. Out friend – and excellent kayak guide – Román Aguaviva took us to some breathtaking viewpoints in the region. Since pictures are known to say more than a thousand words, I will refrain from describing the view in detail. While the wind was still a little calm for surfing, we took advantage of the conditions by a two-days kayak course! 

In order to make the most out of our outdoor activities, we have also carried out two more beach clean-ups last weekend (Simon, 25.5.2020)!

Here you find Salinas Report about her first time sailing in seven months and Noé’s Report about a day on the island Vaerlandet:

Salina – Segeln nach 7 Monaten (For english use deepl)

Wir liefen gerade in Flam aus. Das Wasser war ruhig und man spürte keinen Wind auf der Haut. Man fühlte, wie das Schiff vor sich hin tuckerte. Ich spürte eine riesige Freude und mein Bauch war voller Schmetterlinge. Ich habe das so fest vermisst; einfach diese Freiheit und die Ruhe weit weg von der nächsten Stadt. Ich beruhigte mich und ging unter Deck. Da sank meine Freude wieder den wir hatten eine riesige Unordnung. Nachdem das wir in Flam ausgelaufen sind, sind wir tagsüber gesegelt und haben haben nachts Rast gemacht. Wir wurden viel eingeladen. In meiner Kindheit war es auch so, dass uns die Leute überall wo wir hingingen zu sich nach Hause einluden, ihre Duschen zur Verfügung und manchmal sogar ihr eigenes Bett. Es passierte genau das Gleiche, als wir den zweitlängsten Fjord der Welt hoch segelten. Ich liebe es, immer wieder neue Gesichter zu sehen, neue Menschen kennenzulernen, ihre Betrachtungsweise kennenzulernen, ihre Geschichten zu hören und mit ihnen Ideen zu teilen. Den neuen Rhythmus muss man sich allerdings erst auch wieder angewöhnen. Bei der Überfahrt in die Lofoten hatten wir alle vier Stunden Nachtwache und kamen deshalb nicht so richtig zum Schlafen. Einige Passagen waren schwierig und die Temperaturen sanken oft unter 0 Grad. Man musste aufmerksam und gut angezogen sein! Bald sahen wir die ersten Inseln von den  Lofoten und wir kamen immer näher. Ab unserer Ankunft hatten wir, nebst Online Schule, immer volles Programm!


Noé – One day on Vaerlandet (For english use deepl)

Noe, 15. Mai 2020: Als wir in den schmalen Fjord reinfuhren, sahen wir einen weissen Hund und einen rot angezogenen Mann. Das musste Anders sein! Nachdem wir andockten, gingen wir an Land und unterhielten uns mit ihm. Er sagte uns alles, was wir auf der Insel tun konnten; Holz in Säcke vertrauen, einen Berg besteigen oder einen Strand voll Plastik zu räumen. Dann sagte Simon: „Aber zuerst machen wir noch eine Stunde Schule!“, was. mir nicht so gefiel… Denn ich wollte lieber auf den Berg gehen! Als ich und Alegra fertig mit der Schule waren, zogen wir uns sofort an und liefen zum Berg. Alegra und ich wunderten uns, warum es keinen wirklichen Weg gab. Nachher, als wir zurück auf dem Schiff waren, war niemand mehr da. Plötzlich lief die Frau von Andre durch und wir folgten ihr. Wir liefen mit ihr übers Land und sie zeigte und all die kleinen Lämmer, die sie haben. Wir durften sogar einem einen Namen geben. Dann gingen wir Richtung Strand und trafen die andern. Sie waren schon am aufräumen. Es hatte extrem viel Plastik! Nachher mussten wir den Dreck mit einem Tau hochziehen und mit einem Traktor zum Abfalleimer bringen. Nachher assen wir und gingen schlafen. Gefallen hat es mir sehr auf der Insel. Ausser die Schule, die hätte nicht sein müssen!

Surf 2 Clean The Arctic

Track our Route towards the North Pole!

The day has come; After two months of quarantine, we were finally able to set foot on our beloved Pachamama again! It felt a bit like coming home from a long holiday and being ready to revert to everyday life. Just that home means being on the move and everyday life means having more variety in the schedule. Well, we certainly did not get bored during the time we spent in ice-olation. The circumstances may have erased our agenda and blown previous plans into the wind. At the same time, though, the situation gave us an unexpected opportunity to hatch new projects and revive old ones! Time, interference and good company are known to be the optimal conditions for thriving! And exactly these synergies we could use to work with double productivity! We already mentioned our exploration-based learning tool ‘Adventure School‘ in the last blog. With some first webinars, a toolbox and an online classroom, we are now ready to take students from all over the world virtually on the next stages of the expedition.

Furthermore, the idea of a new book has been floating in the air for quite some time now. The first nine years of the expedition were captured at length by Marc Zollinger in “The Schwoerer Family – When the Earth Turned into a Nursery” (click for download). The assiduous editor took our perspectives with great commitment and wove them into a multifaceted narrative. Yet, the publication dates back a whole ten years. A decade, in which a lot has happened! First, some important milestones were reached on the expedition route itself. After Mont Blanc (Europe), Aconcagua (South America) and Kosciuszko (Australia), we have climbed Mount Everest (Asia) in May 2010, Kilimanjaro (Africa) in July 2011 and Denali (North America) in May 2014.  Hence, six of the seven highest summits on each continent were reached with nothing but wind and muscle strength. For this purpose, we sailed through the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea – crossed the South Atlantic and sailed up the Gulf of Mexico – down to the Caribbean Sea and through the Panama Canal – from the Pacific Ocean to the Bering Sea and via the Labradors to the Greenland Sea. In the Northwest Passage, our Pachamama was even honoured to pass one strait as the first registered boat in history. By 2020, we count 111,000 nautical miles sailing, 24,000 kilometres biking and 500,000 meters of altitude walking and climbing. Along the way, we were enriched with numerous encounters that have shaped and guided the venture to what it has become; A Global Family! 140’000 students participated in our presentations and workshops in more than 100 countries. Clean Ups enabled us to collect around 60 tons of waste and a great number of projects linked us to research institutions, schools and local communities around the world. In addition, we have been incredibly bestowed as a Global Family in the truest sense of the word. Alegra (Singapore, 2011), Mia (Switzerland, 2015) and Vital (Iceland, 2017) joined the Board Crew along the way with their bright charisma and made the deck their floating nusery. Apart from joy and enthusiasm, there were certainly also difficult times. The shipwreck in Iceland drove the expedition to the edge of its existence. At this point, it demanded us a lot to hold against the odds and start all over again. After all, one thing being for certain; ToptoTop from its early stages gives more than enough material to fill a family album for its 20th birthday! And so we met every morning at 6.45 a.m. sharp to plough through stories of old days. Photos were sorted, articles combed through and diary entries brought back memories that seemed forgotten a long time ago. For breakfast, we enjoyed homemade bread – and if spreads were running low, the kids tested themselves making Nutella and butter.

The program then depended on the weather. If it was cloudy and hazy, we dedicated ourselves to daily duties such as homeschooling, route planning, or designing the Adventure School platform. At times, Dario even devoted himself to school duties, which stayed away for the last 30 years. He successfully absolved an exam on GeoHazards; a lecture he attended at the Sogndal University in the past semester. Arguably a striking proof that one is never too old to learn more! Maybe just not every semester.. 😉  If the weather was good, however, the beautiful surroundings of Vatnahalsen offered us plenty of opportunities to enjoy the spring snow on our touring skis. Since public events are not very reasonable and mountain huts are closed, we had to postpone the fjord2TOP Expedition” for the time being.  There was still the possibility of packing tents and start without the little ones. Though, this would have missed the core idea of a joint event so that we decided to wait for our return in summer. After all, mountains rarely run away… And for now, we focused on the highest peaks in the Flåm region that are no less of fantastic beauty!

Every day was rounded off by Salinas virtual community workout on Zoom. After some technical challenges, we were happy to welcome some family and friends from all over the world in our living room.

Between this routine of daily life, there were also some very exceptional events on the agenda. Despite all regulations on distancing and commuting, the Easter Bunny made it up to Vatnahalsen just on time! While some of us sniffed their nests as fast as lightning, others had to earn their sweets by hard detective work along the endless corridors. Last but not least there was Salina’s birthday, which should have been celebrated extensively in spite and because of the situation being. Since buying was not an option anymore, we gave our best to bake, tinker and ponder games instead! Moving, creating, learning and applying  – these processes shaped our quarantine in the mountains essentially.

Especially for Salina, it was then a special feeling to get back on the boat last Saturday – considering she has not seen her living room for a full seven months! Of course, we first had to get used to a “little less space” again. In the kitchen, we will probably shed a little tear every now and then thinking back on the time in the spacious hotel. Nonetheless, coming home and setting off was an indisputable elation for all of us! This was not least thanks to our partner Munters, who made our winter in the Arctic much more pleasant than it was the case in recent years. The activity of ten people often produced tropical humidity in the ship, which condensed to rain as soon as the aluminium hull was heated above ten degrees. Thanks to the high performance of the MG90 we can now enjoy a pleasant dry-warm climate even if we cross the polar circle to the North. This is estimated to be the case in two weeks when we reach the Lofoten Islands. The actual reason for our take-off is a research assignment from the Sogndal University and the Marine Research Laboratory in Stavanger. We agreed to take samples of fish, sediment and water in the Greenland Sea to examine them for microplastic particles. This endeavour takes us from Kaupanger towards Lofoten, Tromsø, Bear Island, Svalbard, Jan Mayen, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands, Shetland Islands and back to the Sognefjord. Since the focus of our activities is now on the sea, we follow this example with our sports and environmental campaigns. Supported by our partner Patagonia we start the project ‘Surf 2 Clean the Arctic’. The idea is to get people to surf and – through a closer connection with the ocean – stand up for clean water! Our aim is, inter alia, to enthuse other families with children and to connect local surf communities to a powerful collaboration for the environment! The inspiration for this idea came through an acquaintance who shot the fabulous movie “North of the Sun” (Link for Streaming). Together with his friend, he cleaned up a remote beach in the Lofoten islands and built a winter cottage from the rubbish they found. Every day they littered the shore, surfed the magnificent waves and fed on what the ocean offered. Beautiful landscapes underline a fabulous story on how little material is needed to be happy in the right place. A must-see for every outdoor and movie enthusiast! The talented young filmmaker Jørn Nyseth Ranum will accompany us with the camera in the coming weeks. More about ‘Surf 2 Clean the Arctic’ you will find soon on our blog. Keep posted! (Simon, 6.5.2020)

Isolation in Flåm

As soon as we finished our scientific expedition to one branch of the Sognefjord, we already set the sails to explore the next one. Dario accepted a weekend job as a mountain guide in Flåm, which gave us the unique opportunity to experience another mountaineering skiing paradise in the marvellous Vestland region. In fact, we just sailed back to Kaupanger for one night in order to pack our ski touring equipment and get ready.

Following the straits of the beautiful Aurlandsfjord, we were shown once again that travelling at a natural pace can be the most exciting adventure itself. For about 30 kilometres, the calm waters wind along a coast that does not indicate the slightest traces of human intervention. Huge cliffs rise from the sea to majestic, snow-capped peaks and make one think that the massive glaciers of the last ice age have just withdrawn from the valleys and gorges. Waterfalls thunder between scree slopes and snow cones down to surfaces of rock and thinly forested soil. There, rough contours and filigree silhouettes take turns to draw a graceful landscape that somehow seems as if pure coincidence has placed every single stone in perfection.

If you follow this mystical spectacle to the very end of the fjord, you can detect the contours of the Flåm lighthouse arising on the horizon. Lying on the hillside almost inconspicuously, the small settlement would not suggest at first glance to be the entrance to Norway’s third most important tourist destination after Bergen and Oslo! 

The main happening, however, does not take place in the few hotels at the shore of the fjord but on the snow-covered slopes one thousand meters further up. The steepest railway in Scandinavia connects the train stations of Flåm and Myrdal by a distance of 17 km and almost 900 meters difference in altitude. The tracks lead through 20 tunnels and even turn a full 180 degrees to conquer the great inclination. From Myrdal, trains run some 230 km further west to Bergen and some 330 km further south-east to Oslo. This vast rail network is exceptional in the extensive country where distances between cities are rather large. Numerous Fjords with their steep coastal slopes reach far inland and make it complex and expensive to construct roads and tracks. At the time of industrialization, when major rail networks were being built throughout Europe, the relatively poor colony of Sweden could not afford such costly undertakings. The Flåm Railway, however, was built between 1924 and 1940 when Norway was finally independent. Its purpose was to facilitate the transport of passengers, goods, and mailings between the Sognefjord and the west coast of Norway. Each of the 5692 hand-carved meters of tunnel meant one month work for a single miner. All trains have been completely electrified since 1947 and represent early forerunners of the 0-Emission policy, that the area intends to implement by 2026.

Since the TOPtoTOP climate expedition met with great empathy, we were generously invited to use the Flåmbahn free of charge for the duration of our stay. This time was originally scheduled for three days… Though plans change when conditions change – and this is as true for us as it is for everyone else! When schools in Norway started to close and one tourist group after another cancelled their stay in Flåm, we quickly realized that we would have to plan our program for the coming weeks much more spontaneously.  However, we are in the advantageous position that rapidly changing conditions have become a routine for us over the last 20 years. And exactly that incentive gave us the idea to share our expertise with other people affected by the current situation. Apart from homeschooling our children in cooperation with a whole bunch of teachers, we were able to see and compare a large number of school models all over the globe; From orthodox caning, where discipline is instilled with the stick, to models, in which the need of the individual is the one and only guardrail of education. From overcrowded tin huts in the slums and favelas of vast cities to lessons via radiotelephone in the vastness of Alaska.

In this process, we have of course been concerned to find the best possible solution for our own descendants. One that is applicable to a journey whose direction cannot always be clearly forecasted. One that would teach them the values we consider important in a century that is changing conditions at an incredible pace! Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication are skills that distinguish humans from computers and help our youngsters to cope with unpredictable challenges. These qualities, together with a sustainable way of thinking, would turn them into global citizens who shape the planet for the better.

Our idea was to develop an exploration-based learning tool which allows students from all over the world to participate in our ongoing expedition. Concrete skills are developed and enhanced through group work within an interactive online community. For example, we want to provide the option to acquire the necessary skills for an open-water diving license so that students can actually join one of our Ocean Clean-ups in a second step. You can find more information on the Adventure Expedition School webpage.

Bildschirmfoto 2020-03-23 um 15.44.18

Due to the current situation, all our events on the agenda are on hold for the time being. Fortunately, we can look after the charismatic Vatnahalsen Hotel in Myrdal during closing time. The massive snowfall of the last days gave us the opportunity to clear our heads with some ski touring in the empty area. Salina found her way up here at the last possible moment and spends the time in isolation together with us. Further down, you will find her report about a joureny, which reads as though it was cut straight from an Al Pacino movie. Furthermore, you find Andri & Alegra’s version of  “I am Sailing” after five months of standstill in Norway. Have fun and stay tuned! 🙂 (Simon, 23.3.2020).


Salinas Report about her Journey to Noway (Report in German, for English use deepl translator):

Mein Kalender zeigte Freitag der 13. März. Ich stand auf und begab mich zum Morgenessen in der Kantine des HIF’s. Mit meinen Internatskollegen machte ich Witze über den Coronavirus. Danach verlief der letzte Schultag in der Woche ganz normal und ich nahm nach Schulschluss den Zug zu meinen Grosseltern.

 Nach einer 5 stündigen Bahnfahrt ist mir sofort aufgefallen, dass mein Grossvater „Ernst“ mich nicht sogleich in die Arme nahm. Er meinte, dass man jetzt Abstand nehmen soll. Etwas lag in der Luft und er erklärte mir, dass er mit seinem Alter und seiner Krankheit zur Hochrisikogruppe gehört. Ich hatte schon Angst und glaubte, er oder meine liebe Grossmutter „Rosi“ hätten sich infiziert. Er erklärte mir, dass es besser ist, zu meinen Eltern nach Norwegen zu reisen. Da ich kein Mobiltelefon hatte, war ich nicht informiert und völlig fassungslos und begann zu weinen. Meine Grosseltern trösteten mich so gut sie konnten.

Während ich meine Sachen packte, war mein Vater in Norwegen mit dem Schweizer Botschafter Alain Henchoz in Oslo in Kontakt, den er von Australien her kannte. Dieser schaltete seinen norwegischen Kollegen ein, weil unklar war, ob ich einreisen darf. Der Botschafter riet meinem Vater einen Begleitbrief zu verfassen. Peter, ein Freund meines Vaters unterstützte mich mit seinen Flugmeilen und buchte mir am nächsten Morgen früh einen Flug von Zürich nach Oslo. Ich hatte nur wenige Stunden Schlaf und musste um fünf Uhr morgens noch den Begleitbrief ausdrucken bevor ich wegflog. Während meinem Flug setzten die Norweger ihr Militär am Flughafen ein und meldeten, dass sie keine Ausländer mehr ins Land lassen. Als ich in Oslo landete, hatte ich keine Ahnung was vorging. Ohne Handy konnten mich meine Eltern nicht warnen. Es war ein grosses Chaos. Mann musste viele Formulare ausfüllen und lange warten. Das Militär achtete, dass die Abstände eingehalten wurden. Die Information war, dass man sofort den Flug zurück nehmen oder in ein Hotel in Quarantäne gehen musste, bis man einen Retourflug hatte. Nach Stunden kam ich dann in einen Raum, wo mich ein Arzt untersuchte. Ich gab ihm den Brief und er sagte mir dass ich passieren kann, da meine Eltern ja in Norwegen wohnen.

 Nach einer mehrstündigen Bahnfahrt stieg ich in einem völlig verlassenen Bahnhof aus. Es war wie auf dem Berninapass. Schneesturm und sehr viel Schnee. Mein Vater sagte mir vor Aflug in der Schweiz, dass sie mich dort abholen und ich schon mal die Skiausrüstung anziehen soll. Jetzt war niemand da. Erst nach langen vierzig Minuten alleine, sah ich in der Dunkelheit zwei Stirnlampen. Welche Freude es waren meine Eltern. Mein Vater entschuldigte sich wegen der Verspätung. Sie hätten wegen Lawinengefahr einen Umweg machen müssen und es sei wegen dem vielen Schnee und Wind mühsam gewesen zum Spuren. Nach einer spektakulären Skitour in Sturm und Dunkelheit erreichten wir meine restlichen Geschwister. Die Freude und die Erleichterung, dass wir jetzt in dieser schwierigen Zeit alle zusammen sind, war gross. Da ich aus dem Ausland kam, bin ich jetzt für zwei Wochen in Quarantäne. Wir hüten ein Berghotel, das wegen der Corona Krise schliessen musste, bevor wir dann endlich wieder zu unserem Zuhause, unserem Schiff „Pachamama“ zurückkehren. So, jetzt muss ich wieder den andern helfen, den vielen Schnee vom Dach zu schaufeln, damit es nicht einstürzt… (Salina, 23.3.2020)

Andris & Alegras report about their first time sailing in five months (Reports in German, for English use deepl translator):

Als ich in dem Technikraum stürtzte und und die Fentile aufmachte, um wegzusegeln, stolperte ich und landete auf dem Schienbein. Zum glück kostete es mich nur eine Beule. Ich war es nicht gewohnt, in so einem kleinen Raum zu sein. Ich ging an die frische Luft und begab mich zum Steuerrad. Nach drei Minuten steuerte ich in richtung Arnafjord, um die Wasserproben zu holen. Die kalte Brise, die mir in das Gesicht blies was sehr erfrischend . Es wurde Zeit, dass Papa das Steuer übernahm, denn wir hatten Schule. Um in den Fjorden zu segeln, muss man immer vorbereitet sein. Es gibt sehr starke Böhen, die von den Fjorden erzeugt  werden. Es ist anders auf dem offenen Meer, weil da der Wind mehr oder weniger konstant bleibt. Was ich cool fand war, dass ich keine Kotze aufräumen musste. Auf dem offenen Meer erbrechen die Passagiere zu einer grossen Wahrscheinlichkeit innerhalb von 24 Stunden. Ich habe es wirklich genossen, dass unser Zuhause wieder mal auf den Wellen gleiten konnte, das Segel gespannt war und dass man die Kraft in den in den Tauen wieder spüren konnte. Es fühlt sich gut an! Das Schiff fährt gut und der Wind ist stark. Was ich mir nicht so gewohnt bin ist, dass es am Morgen früh schon so hell ist. Um 6:00 Uhr bin ich mal hellwach gewesen, nur wegen dem Licht! (Andri, 11.03.2020).

In den ersten schönen Fjord segelten wir los, um mit zwei Studenten Wasserproben zu nehmen. Dies um zu untersiuchen, wie viel Plastik in dem Meer schwimmt. Im Arnafjord nahmen wir vier Wasserproben. Was mir am meisten gefallen hat, waren die Berge und die gefrorenen Wasserfälle. Ich glaube, diese wären schön zum Eisklettern aber wir haben die Steigeisen vergessen. Wir blieben zwei Tage dort. Obwohl der Wind im Fjord nicht so stark war, fand ich es schön, wieder zu segeln. In Vik fingen wir viele dicke und leckere Fische. In Bellhagen konnten wir eine Fischfactory anschauen. Ich hatte ziemlich Mitleid mit den Fischen. Es ist nicht schön, sie so eng aufeiander in den Becken zu sehen. Denn ich möchte, dass auch ein Fisch ein schönes Leben hat bevor er gegessen wird (Alegra, 11.03.2020).

Microplastic in the Arnafjord?

On Monday, March 9, 2020, the time had come and we hoisted the sail of our expedition boat for the first time since October 2019. The four months in between, our Pachamama hibernated in Kaupanger (NOR). After our ship was badly damaged in a storm in Iceland, some follow-up work to the main repairs in a shipyard had to be done.

The actual reason for our departure was a long-planned talk at a school on the banks of theInnvikfjorde” – a northern parallel fjord to the Sognefjord. Just sailing along their coasts would have given us more than 160 nautical miles each way. Since the Corona Virus has not made a stop at the Norwegian border, however, larger gatherings are currently being prohibited so that our event had to be called off at the last second. Instead, we kept our promise to two Climate Change students from Sogndal, who wanted to join our outward journey in order to test water samples for microplastic particles. Jana Weghorst from Germany is part of the Erasmus Exchange Program “From Mountain to Fjord” which, like TOPtoTOP, is celebrating its 20th birthday this year. Jana Weghorst: “We are currently working on a science project, which will be presented to the Sogndal Commune and the press at the end of the Winter Semester. The project is about the examination of different components in the Arnafjord, a branch of the Sognefjord. Correlations between the sediment, the bank and the water shall be regarded considering their long-term development. One aspect is the examination for microplastic particles that first occur in the water and later settle in the sediment. For this purpose, glass bottles of 1L are filled up at the water surface on several locations in the fjord. To avoid a falsification of the results by particles from the ship, we paddle out with the dinghy a few meters. The samples are then being stored in a cool box in order to be analyzed and evaluated in the NORSE laboratory in Stavanger.»

The night from Monday to Tuesday we moored our ship in the beautiful village of Vik. On Tuesday morning we sailed into the nearby confluence with the Arnafjord in order to take our four samples. Two of them were taken from locations approximately 80 meters deep, one directly above the reeds, where the water depth was reduced to 11 meters, and the last sample was taken right on the bank of a small bay where we stopped for our lunch break. The settlement structure in the bay gave us a wonderful impression of what agriculture must have looked like in the past. The dense forest and the steep walls of the surrounding mountains have created a soil that could probably only be used after decades of ploughing and cleaning. A building that was already recognizable from a far distance turned out to be a fish farm. Due to the strict hygiene regulations, we were at first instructed to keep a distance. Though, the workers turned out the be very courteous and even invited us for a tour around the basins. The farm raises sea trout that is carried into the fjord when getting older. There, the big schools of fish grow up and will later be processed for food production.

After this spontaneous excursion, we returned to Vik for the night. Our busy fishermen Noe and David immediately got to work and pulled a wonderful dinner out of the fjord. The next morning we had a presentation with a subsequent Cleaning Up at the public school in Vik.

At noon we could use the brief sunshine to advance our return trip to Kaupanger. The stay shall not be of long duration, as our next trip to Flåm already starts on Thursday morning (Simon, 11.03.2020).