The sky was clear, full of stars and dark as we boarded the M/S Sjoblomsten, our beautiful steel hulled boat for the expedition. Mid winter and the temperature in Andenes, Norway sit around freezing with the sun staying hidden until late morning. The snow-capped mountains that surrounded us glowed a pale pink, with the moon and the stars glistening above my head. Out of the harbour and into the open ocean were the reason we were here and with the captain saying that the herring were around, it looked as though we were going to get to swim with the orcas and whales. YES, this tiny little coastal town in Northern Norway, know as Andenes, is perfect staging point for swimming with orcas and whales; in mid winter! Stepping onto the upper deck navigating the gentle rocking movement of the boat, the back seas welcomed and the snowy, jagged mountain ranges wrapped me in an embrace of snow and colour as the orange glow of the sky signalled the rise of the winter sun. Below on the main deck the group were in various stages of getting ready with cameras, dry suits, hoods, fins, snorkels and gear being moved around the small deck area as we quietly excited the harbour, passing fishing boats and fish factories. For now, I savoured the view.
In mid winter, herring move close to the coast attracting orca and whales to feed and feed they do. Over the last few days we had managed to swim with orca and whales as they swam int he harbour searching for the schools of herring. A familiar sense of excitement filled my stomach mixed with a freezing butt, chapped lips, frozen feet and numb hands. I tugged at the neck of my dry suit, which minutes before I had finished struggling into and the only thing along with hood, gloves, fins and mask that would protect me from the icy water we would be hanging out in. They say a person can last between 7 and 15 minutes in the water here without protective gear. This dry suit is my safety net and although it signalled me not as a super model but more like a cross between an over inflated beach ball with arms and legs encased in fins and someone resembling a member of a cool expedition, I was super happy about it keeping my dry! However, when a large black dorsal fin cut the surface, it didn’t matter what I outfit I was wearing or how amazing my camera was, the only thing that really mattered other than remembering to put my snorkel in my mouth was that we were going to swim with orcas!
We used a small inflatable to get closer to the pods of orcas, and the spray splattered my face like tiny ice blocks as we navigated the swell. Once Michael, who is a skipper and all things boat expert from Portugal, had given me the go ahead, I slipped into the water getting hit by an immediate ice-cream headache as water seeped in slowly through the neoprene hood, my hands lost all their feeling and then I caught sight of the large black and white male below me. Not to far away a pair of orcas swam below me barely giving me a glance but the male seemed frozen on the spot almost as frozen as me and then he was gone. With my head breaking the surface I grab one of the other guys, a professional photography from Belgium and almost drown him with my hug. I watch as the sea comes alive with waves and dorsal fins as I put my head back under the water hoping to catch another glimpse of an orca, the ice-cream headache frozen hands and numb feet all forgotten. The small inflatable arrives to pick us up all too soon and we head back to the big boat to spend the rest of the day swimming with whales and orcas ignoring freezing hands, cold feet, ice-cream headaches, icy wind and an ever-increasing swell. I am touched forever by this beauty and the orcas as I knew I would be.
Orcas! They are magnificent, beautiful and incredible to watch in the water with their power and grace. I already know I will be back!