On the edge of the world – Solo sail to Kinnarodden with my MiniCat
Situated in northern Norway, Kinnarodden is the northernmost point of the European continent, less known than Europe's northernmost point Nordkapp situated on an island Magerøya. The place is quite hard to reach, but the journey there is worth all the trouble. Barren landscapes, a sandy beach with a grass field amid a rocky shoreline and wild and harsh nature are second to none. I had always wanted to visit the Kinnarodden and there are basically two ways to get there, either by a long cruel rocky walk or by boat. Well, if you feel like having too much cash, you can use a helicopter. I really didn’t want to do the hike and normal boat felt way too easy, so the idea to use the MiniCat felt perfect.
My name is Oskari Etelämäki and I am a 21-year-old student from Finland. I bought my MiniCat 420 Laura Dekker edition in spring 2020 after testing one in Vanuatu. At first, I did those typical Sunday sailings and camping with the boat but very soon I started to think, what else I could do with the boat and what is it capable of. My boat is the normal 420 Laura Dekker Edition, with the front trampoline but without any major modifications.
I live in southern Finland, so I tucked my boat into my car on 15.7.2020 and drove about 1400 km north to Mehamn in Norway. The original plan was to visit also Torneträsk in Sweden and keep going west from Kinnarodden to Nordkapp. The Swedish border was closed, so I couldn’t visit that lake this time and my sail to the west from Kinnarodden was blocked by bad weather. I had been keeping a close eye to weather weeks before my departure. The weather is usually not that good in this area and when the window opens, you got to take what’s available. Normally, the weather is cloudy, rainy and windy. Fog is also very common and can appear out of nowhere just like that. The same goes to the weather. It can also change very rapidly. Well at least it won’t get dark during summer months because of the midnight summer.
I spent a few days in Mehamn searching for a good place to launch the boat. The Harbor was not an option since the use of sails was prohibited. The coast line is very steep and rocky but eventually I found a good enough beach with rounded stones for the boat launch. The morning of departure was bit windy but after weather forecast checking, I decided to leave anyway. My departure point was also a starting point to hike routes and some Danish hikers had a good laugh when they were preparing their gears, and I was there dressing myself to a wetsuit and building a boat. I started only with a jib and after I sailed out of the fjord, it proved to be the right decision. The wind was higher than I had expected and since there had been a storm nearby few days ago, the waves were still kind of high. I have to admit that for a few moments I was thinking “what on earth am I doing here?”. Then as I learned to handle the waves and trust the boat and decided to keep going. It was now or never. The forecast had said that the wind should calm down and I trusted on that. The feeling was just unbelievable when I sailed towards the Kinnarodden. Boat was gliding up and down the waves at very high speeds, the sun was shining and the whole sea felt like my private playground. No other vessels on sight. The only piece of land on sight was when you looked to the south. Every other direction the closest piece of land was hundreds or thousands of kilometres away. That moment was one of those when you feel like really living.
The distance sailed wasn’t that long, only around 20 NM, so with that wind it didn’t take too long before I arrived to the fjord leading to the Kinnarodden beach, but then the nature started to play tricks with me. The wind died almost completely and because I arrived earlier than calculated, the tide was still going in the wrong direction and on top of that it was on its strongest. If there is no wind, it’s next to impossible to fight against the current on a boat like this, especially in fjords where currents can be unbelievably strong. I had to start paddling like maniac just to keep me where I was. If you have tried to paddle a MiniCat, you know how hard it can be. After almost two hours, the frustration was at the maximum level. The beach was so close but still so far away. Eventually, the current weakened and I got some wind and managed to land on that beach. Boom! - the frustration was gone. I can’t really describe how it felt to stand on that lonely beach with my small boat surrounded by all that harsh nature and high cliffs. The place was so calm and quiet. The wind was gone and the sound of the waves was just a distant hum.
After just sitting there for a while, it was time to pull the boat out of the reach of the tide and set up a camp. At night, it started to rain and wind speed increased considerably. In the morning, the situation was still the same and I thought, I might have to spend an extra day there. I explored my surroundings and climbed on top of the cliffs in hope that the visibility would get better and I could see those amazing views from the top. At the top, my hopes became true when the rain stopped and the wind calmed a bit. I couldn’t get new weather forecasts and the ones that I had said that the weather was just going to get worse on coming days. I decided to take the chance and rush back now that I had a chance. I ate quickly, packed my camp to the boat and headed to the sea. The journey back was going to be something I could not have expected even in my wildest dreams. The sail to Kinnarodden took around 3 hours (without paddling) but the return trip took ridiculous 14 hours. Well at least the sun was shining all the way. When I left Kinnarodden it seemed that the weather would be very good. Wind was optimal and the sun had started to shine again. After a few miles, the wind started to weaken. I thought that it was a good thing and I’d have a relaxing sail back. But then the wind died totally. I waited for about an hour for it to come back, but it didn’t. It was time to paddle again. Pretty soon I got frustrated and decided that I’m not going to paddle 10NM to get to the starting point. But the nature had decided otherwise. I ended up paddling all the way back. The sea was like a mirror, no breath of wind, not even the smallest wave and the current was against me again… As the sea calmed, it started to happen and wildlife paid a visit to me. At first, I noticed that there was a lot of black heads popping out of the water around me. Those were seals. Seals are completely harmless, and they make funny noises, but when I heard a loud blow sound behind me, I got a bit scared. There were two massive whales behind me. I'm not entirely sure which species of whale those were, but they looked like humpback whales. Whales are fine as well for as long as they keep a safe distance. These didn’t. The whales were only about 30 m away and it felt that they could easily hit the boat by accident while surfacing. Luckily, nothing happened and they went away. But that’s not all. After a while, I heard a blow sound again. This time it was a lot quieter. A female orca and its baby started following me. The baby was shorter than my boat and was really cute. They came very close, almost to a touch distance and followed me all the way back. That is something you won’t get from a normal whale safari. Those experiences totally made up the lack of wind. On a MiniCat you are so close to the water. There’s only a thin trampoline between you and those sea creatures. The boat is small and quiet so animals don’t see it as a threat. That situation is just unbelievable when you are floating alone at sea and look quietly as the orca dives under your boat. I could have touched it but obviously I didn’t.
It was around 2:30 am when I finally arrived back to my starting point. I was so tired, hungry and my arms were hurting but at the same time I had this great feeling of accomplishment. I still needed to pack the boat away before I could go to sleep. As I was packing on the beach, there were no other traffic except one local police car that drove past me very slowly. They were probably thinking “what the heck is that guy doing out there in the middle of night?” After packing, I felt too tired to set up a camp and decided to sleep in my car. When I woke up in the morning the weather had changed drastically. It had started to rain and the wind was so high that it would have been impossible to sail with MiniCat. I was glad that I decided to come back instead of sailing west. The weather forecast told that the weather would be bad at least for a week, so I decided to head home. I couldn’t help thinking, what could have happened if I’d been stuck on some remote beach for a week.
Thoughts about the boat
I was actually surprised how well the MiniCat worked for this purpose. Because of lightweight and width, it won’t heel over on waves and won’t dive into them. It also won’t take in any water since there are no places for water to gather in. The front trampoline also proved to be big enough for one person to store enough supplies for a few days.
The biggest downside for me was the paddling experience. I never want to paddle my boat in the future unless it is absolutely necessary. Because of the width of the boat, I was able to paddle only from one side. With my leg, I tried to push the tiller to the opposite side to make the boat go somewhat straight line. The position was very unergonomic The paddling is fine for a few minutes, but after 10 hours... never again. That brings me to another downside. Because of the hull material, my places to beach the boat were very limited since most of the shoreline is just sharp rocks. That’s why I had to paddle back to my starting point as it was the closest place where I could beach the boat safely.
On the other hand, the hull material was the one which made this whole thing possible. I threw my boat into my car and just like that, without a hassle, I was on a completely different sailing environment.
A few words about the safety
The sea around northern Norway is an area where things can get very serious very fast and the help can be a long way. The weather can be very unpredictable and the cold Barents Sea should be taken seriously. Cellphone coverage is limited and nothing can be dependent on that. Marine traffic is very sparse, basically only some fishing boats every now and then.
First and foremost, a proper high quality dry-suit is a MUST as it is the only protection against freezing cold waves crashing into the boat. On a Minicat the waves will also come through the trampoline. The bigger reason for a dry-suit is that it will buy you a valuable extra time if you end up in water. Without a dry-suit, you get exhausted and unconscious, or even die, in under 30 minutes. But even with a dry-suit, the situation is still critical if you end up in water.
The list of my most important safety equipment:
- Appropriate Lifejacket
- Lifeline and easy to access tool to cut it, if needed
- Waterproof VHF-radio with DSC function
- Proper first aid kit
I had electronic and paper charts as well as a compass with me even though I navigated mostly with landmarks as the distances were relatively short. I just wanted to be able to navigate even in the event of sudden fog. Because of the unpredictable weather, I also packed some extra food with me in case I’d have to wait the weather to get better. While I was sailing back (well, paddling…), it felt kind of funny because before I left, people said that I’m going to kill myself on a storm or something. Instead, the weather was completely opposite. There I was, floating around on a calm sea with a nice sunshine, which is relatively rare in that area.
Normally, I don’t attach myself to the MiniCat with a lifeline but there I did. No matter what happens, you have to stay together with the boat. If you drop yourself into the water without lifeline, there’s basically no way you are going to get back on board. Strong currents will make it next to impossible even if the wind is relatively calm. Even the capsized boat is a better place than the cold water. At least you could climb on top of it and wait for help.