A high vehicular bridge joining the islands of Straumya and Knapplund marks the Saltstraumen. Here the strait is narrowed by an island, which speeds up the stream and churns the water. As we approach, Johnsen pulls back on the throttle while Dagfinn Bendiksen, coxswain of the other RIB, keeps station on our starboard quarter.
Even ghosting through at 8 knots, it’s clear we’re covering ground a lot faster than that. We shoot under the bridge as if on a plane, slamming down a sudden slope in the water like we’ve been thrown down a flight of stairs. As the sea strains to get past the narrows, there’s a perceptible change in water level of at least four feet as it tumbles through under the bridge.
Downstream, eddies develop. Johnsen cuts the throttles, and we drift, out of gear but still doing 12 knots on the GPS. With an audible whoosh, a mass of sea rises up underneath us and turns the boat beam-on to the current as an eddy starts to form, pulling us around in a big circle maybe ten yards wide. Then suddenly the turn tightens and the center of the eddy gives way, funneling deep into nothing, eight or ten feet down, as Johnsen kicks the motor into gear and peels away.
Onlookers crane down at us from the bridge, and fishermen line the shore, while a flock of frantic seagulls makes the most of a seafood feast churned up from the depths by the current. Water wells up beside us, a great glassy jellyfish of turbulence 20 feet across and three feet high, and we begin again with the circular drift around a deepening core until it seems some giant plug is pulled, the center of the eddy falls away, and once again we are staring straight down into a steep-sided, revolving, boat-size hole. That was close, although theoretically, with the buoyancy of a RIB there is little to fear from these whirlpools, even the big ones, as long as the helmsman resists the urge to nosedive into the middle of them.
When in Rome, spend the afternoon in a cafe talking about politics and soccer, if you must. But when in Norway, make sure you take part in your very own Norse legend.
Arctic Rib (011) 47 957 24517. www.arcticrib.no.
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