Thanks to Ryndam’s Future Cruise Consultant David Giventer for this post. Enjoy!
As children, during the summer months, we would love to stay outside after supper to play in the evening twilight until finally being called to come inside for sleep. Growing up in the Northeastern USA, summer twilight would seem to last forever until the dreaded return to school which would rudely interrupt the idyllic life of summer vacation. Geographic references to the midnight sun would stir the imagination but such a phenomenon would conflict with logic – how could the sun never set? It must set; that is the natural order of things. As with most waterside places in the world worth visiting, the options of conveyance are by air, rail, roadway or ship. Indeed, the most evocative manner of visiting such places is shipboard… as we shall soon see.
The prospect of experiencing the full face of the midnight sun is now upon us during this summer solstice itinerary of the M.S. Ryndam in the season of 2011. We have been teased with ever increasing twilight during preceding itineraries to Scandinavia and Southern Norway visiting cities like Bergen, Oslo and Copenhagen along with small towns, dramatic scenery and the Fiordlands. But now it is mid June and the summer solstice is nearing. This particularly interesting itinerary involves a 14 day cruise with the highlight being our call to Honningsvag and a rendezvous with the northernmost point in continental Europe, North Cape or Nordkapp. The arrangements are made with weather being the only possible detriment to the occasion. The summer solstice involves three dates; the 19th, 20th and 21st of June. The sun reaches its highest point over the three day period with the 20th being its zenith of height.
On Saturday, the 18th of June we call on the northernmost city in the world, Tromso. The day is spectacularly clear and warm. Locals are outside where small concerts, festivals and weddings are taking place. There is a feeling of celebration all over the city. The arctic spring produces vivid blossoms everywhere. This is the season of the summer solstice! Late in the afternoon and in brilliant sunshine we depart, our heading due north. Our captain, Vincent Smit, has announced that we are taking the scenic inside route for reasons explained but lost in the anticipation of what lies ahead. During the evening hours, we are sailing through passages offering breathtakingly beautiful vistas, all the while keeping a keen watch to our forward port side to see if the sun will set tonight. As we pass through the striking panorama, occasional breaks in the landscape give a glimpse of the lowering sun. Then, we finally clear the passage and enter open water. The sunlight is radiant reflecting off of the water. It is very difficult to turn in for sleeping; not wanting to miss anything.
Then, suddenly it becomes apparent that it is getting brighter! We have seen the full face of the midnight sun! But, it is only a prelude to our next call in Honningsvag. Our call there is once again bright and clear but no longer warm. There is a strong cold wind blowing from the arctic but this oddly located town is worth a look. Beyond the town center are terraced rows of tidy homes positioned in such a way as to face the sun to the north. It is as though they are arranged in the form of an amphitheater for the nightly performance of nature. From may 20th to July 20th, the sun will never set for these residents living at the latitude of 71 degrees north. There are excursions to the North Cape, a promontory where people the world over pay a pagans visit to witness the full face of the midnight sun. The Ryndam is going to set sail early so the visit to Nordkapp at midnight will not happen.
Nevertheless, we do see North Cape although from an impossibly unique perspective. We approach and then pass along the base of a sheer granite wall of over 1,000 feet. Alas, the very summit, with its famous marker in the form of a latticed globe atop a pedestal where people come to admire the nightly event is only faintly visible while shrouded in a fine mist. Classical music is playing over the open decks with the situation proving once again that the world is truly best seen from the decks of ships. As our next call is Hammerfest, a distance of merely 80 miles, we have the opportunity to virtually stop sailing for several hours. The Ryndam is now comparable to those terraced houses in Honningsvag, perfectly positioned for the illuminated nocturnal celebration. The ship is now situated motionless in perfect silence with nearly cloudless skies to observe what we have until now only imagined, eternal sunshine. The sun gradually lowers toward the horizon and then, like a phoenix, begins to slowly rise once more. It is with a sense of contentment that we have seen a shining natural phenomenon while one half of the world sleeps in darkness. I reluctantly surrender to the natural daily cycle and retire to my cabin to fall asleep.