Many sailors venturing across the North Sea choose the southern tip of the country as first landfall, often choosing either Mandal or the regional capital, Kristiansand.
After 60 hours in the featureless and often harsh North Sea, sailors will be glad to find the shelter of the ‘island-curtain’ and harbours of Kristiansand. They will most often find to their surprise how much warmer it is in the South of Norway compared to the east of Scotland and England if they travel during the summer months. Much of the sea borne rain weather has been squeezed dry by its general passage over Stavanger and the western mountains, so the Agder coast enjoys clement weather with isobaric breeze in low pressure weather, while sea breezes develop readily in the early afternoons in high pressure conditions. The coast line is not the classic deep Fjords with high, snow capped hills you get in the west and north, it is a hummocky landscape rising to the mountain massive long inland.
That which Agder’s coast lacks from our stereotyped image of Norway, it more than makes up for in charming islands, sounds and small towns speckled with white wooden houses. Having come to Norway after three days in the sea, in fact the Agder coast is a worthy destination in itself, with a week of cruising and relaxing in sheltered anchorages and exploring paths, villages and in land attractions. A good sized rubber dinghy with an outboard expands your possibilities to reach into wonderful narrow sounds between islands and shortcuts to the shops. It is a place you will find many Norwegians just chilling out, bow moored with a slide hammer wedge into the rock, stern anchored out in the many very sheltered bays and lagoons on the inside of the island belt. In fact there are few places you actually need to venture over the open sea in your passage west or east from K’sand as it is often shortened to.
The city itself is about the size of Dundee and in common with nearly all coastal towns in Norway, it has a guest harbour right in the middle of town. Last time I checked, the berthing fee was 100 NOK (about a tenner) a night for this handy harbour, with excellent draught. In fact this weekend a super yacht of around 100 feet was moored in the new outer marina, and the tall ships visit the main harbour on the other side of the Odderoy peninsula which further shelters the area.
The town is built on a grid pattern, so it is pretty easy to find your way around. It has galleries, cool hipster cafes, pubs with good grub and ordinary supermarkets. The town has at least two sail lofts and sailing clothes are available at most sports shops. A short trip in land there is a steam railway , Setesdalbanen, which should be booked ahead. If the weather turns inclement and the kids need a day of warmth, then there is a large swimming complex right on the edge of town called Aquarama, which is a little pricey but top marks. In fine weather a wander along the Otra river just to the east of the guest harbouur, takes you to the old town, Posebyen, with its tiny terraced houses which are all ‘listed’ buildings and it is a source of pride for Kristiansanders to live here if they can afford it and squeeze themselves in to accomodation from the 1600s.
Turning right towards town you are met with cafes and the art gallery (kunst museum) with wonderful Norwegian art, including Edvard Munch, and a childrens art workshop and play area. Then you come to the main thoroughfair, Markens Gate, which is pedestrianised, and leads eastwards right back towards the guest harbour. Here there are pubs and more cafes and interesting shops and restaurants. Just off the street is the micro brewery gastro pub ‘Christiansand Bryggeriet’ which is a personal favourite. Oh beer is dear here in pubs, and about three quid a can in the shops. The reputation is true!
I visited Gronningen Fyr at the weekend, which is a very photogenic little isle with loos and fresh water. I do not think it is a good anchorage though, best approached in clement weather in a dinghy. Be observant if lieing on a dock anywhere on the outer reaches of the Fjord that the super fast ferries step on the gas pretty sharply and kick up a hefty wake, which adversely affects the wee harbour for the isle of Gronningen.
Norway uses the white light sea lane system, which can catch out unweary sailors who fail to pick up the next light and sail onto the rock the current light is mounted on! Areas outside this are often marked with green/red poles and isolated dangers often just have a simple black perch with no light. So good pilotage is important, and you really need to know the dangers which lurk just outside the sea lanes and marked routes in the sounds to the east and west of K’sand. In sailing right up to the guest harbour is worry free though, although I did not notice if the guest entrance is marked with lights for a late approach. It is to the lhs (west) side of a fort with an odd, connical red roof and has a nasty ledge on the rhs at the point you need to turn. In light weather you can just pick up the first longsides pontoon and stop short of this danger.
I would heartlyt recommend a week’s exploring with keel boat and dinghy with outboard in the sounds and island to the east as far as Lillesand, and to Mandal in the west, which has a marvellous bathing beach a short walk from the berths in the river. There are lovely walks to be had there in the low lying sandy area behind the beach, which was made a scots pine plantation by Lord Salvesen who took his ‘seat’ here in later years being of Norwegian descent. In K’sand itself, Odderoy peninsula, and the outer island of Flekkeroy offer great wandering.
Many sailors now plan a Scandinavian oddyssey over several summers. To do this you need to ‘customs’ lock your boat over winter with the authorities to avoid being impounded and charged for VAT on the original value of the boat. K’sand and the other southern towns mentioned offer ice free overwintering, but with a lot of fouling in the sea. There may be a lift and overwintering on land, best with mast down! I would say that a delivery here with a weeks holiday as above would be an ideal introduction before the short bus trip to Kjevik international airport to fly back via Copenhagen or Amsterdam with regular daily flights available from three main companies.