Tuesday, 13 April 2010


It’s that time of year. The sun doth shine, the wind doth blow, and suddenly legions of Norwegians are out there polishing, scrubbing, sanding, painting and generally sprucing up. Not themselves....we’re talking boats. I blinked and the season jumped from ‘ski’ to ‘boat’. My internal clock needs a moment or two to adjust.

What with the Vikings and all, this place is of course rather famous as a sea-going nation. We Scots may not have had Vikings, but thank goodness we can hold our own on the water whether as fishermen, ship-builders, naval or merchant seamen, and even Olympic medal-winning sailors. So, in the spirit of ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’, it’s time to yank the sails out from under the stairs and hose them down like a pro.

I’ve come to the conclusion if you don’t get into a boat every-so-often in Norway, you will feel like a snowball in the desert. With the longest coastline in Europe, and water everywhere, even in the interior of Norway, boats are as common as cars. The smaller ones are currently being towed from people’s drives towards the water, while the bigger ones are wandering down to the reception of their Boat Hotel and coughing up for the very large bill they have built up during their winter stay.

Others boats stoically sat in the sea throughout, tied up to the quay, oblivious to snow and ice. One brave couple decided to pick the snowiest winter in years to LIVE on their boat...they tied up at the harbour, decorated their home with twinkling lights and flags, and got on with keeping themselves warm. Boy, they must be glad to see the sun. Even in the city centre, people are hard at work scraping grime off their beloved crafts ready for the first trip of the summer out into the fjord. Yup, it’s fair to say Norwegians are very, very keen on their boats.

I am of course talking about the leisure end of things here. These boats are not required for ferrying, fishing, transporting, supplying rigs, policing or any other such purposes....those boats never stop. No, I’m talking about boats that exist for sheer, unadulterated pleasure. On my morning walk alone, I pass over a hundred such boats. I’m convinced there must be at least one boat for every family in Norway, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more.

The variety is infinite. At one end of the scale there’s the glitzy jet-set end of things, the ‘gin-palace’ brigade who lust after the boating equivalent of the Ferrari, just for the hell of it. You’d be amazed at the sheer number them. These swanky vehicles represent millions of billions of Norwegian kroner, or dollars or rubles, as they sit bobbing about at the various harbours around town. The best of them was one I happened to notice last summer....a huge silver monster owned by some oligarch or other, someone who had smooched up the fjord into town so he (and it must have been a ‘he’) could spy on us all through smoked-glass windows while closing some shady deal on his mobile phone. We had a jolly old ogle and gave the resident oligarch a friendly wave, but he was having none of it.

What could be nicer than to entertain while out at sea, to whet your guests’ taste buds with fresh prawns and champagne while your gin-palace bounces across the foam? The world of boats intoxicates with images of the high-life, super-success and diamond-encrusted glamour. But you don’t need to be rich to enjoy a boat...here they are for everyone. Seriously, imagine my surprise while shopping in the Co-op to find sitting amidst the tins of sardines and piles of loo roll a selection of cleats, jammers, blocks and spinlocks to rival any ship’s chandler. Even I could see boats are for the masses here. Some folk take it all very seriously, while for others, it’s just the very fact they OWN a boat that is enough....one Norwegian I know of simply bought his boat so he can sit on it to read the paper in peace at the harbour every weekend, beer in one hand, prawn sandwich in the other, the perfect way to ‘slappe av’.

It’s all very ‘Ooh La La’ but I’m afraid I’m too simple a gal at heart for all that glam stuff. I prefer to feel the wind in my sails, the tug on the tiller, the nipping pain of grazed palms from clinging onto jib-sheets in a force 6. Seems to me, if the elements are there, why not use them? It’s as if skiing down a hill were not enough, so I should attach an engine to my ankles...it just seems unnecessary. Engines are for windless, becalmed moments when one is forced to burn some fuel to get home in time for your meatballs.

Whatever your poison, you should be able to find the right sort of boat for yourself. From the biggest, most luxurious monstrosities to the teeniest wee saucer, there is a boat for everyone and every occasion. And I’ve noticed, where there is water, no Norwegian will feel happy to sit BY it...he has to sit ON it. Must be in the constitution or something.

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