Flaskepost fra Sogndalsfjorden 13. februar 2021

Bottle mail from Sogndalsfjorden 13 February 2021

On Frivannsliv.no's blog you can read about trips and experiences from freediving. We call it bottle mail. We welcome contributions from our readers. Send your experience with pictures and text to post@frivannsliv.no, and we will contact you.

By: Hans-Martin Martinussen

The two-mile long Sogndalsfjord starts a good way into the Sognefjord. It naturally takes you to Sogndal, but it starts at a historical place: From "Sverre's saga" we know the "Battle of Fimreite". Here was the decisive battle between King Sverre and Magnus Erlingsson. It has been a long time since the battle in June 1184, and one can only imagine the scenes that unfolded on and by the fjord when respectively 14 and 26 ships, and a total of 3,000 loyal men from the warring parties, met for battle.

An old tree that has certainly seen and heard a lot is visited by the modern harvester: the free diver.

This frosty Saturday I took the trip with Severin Skattum to Nornes bathing place, on the opposite side of Fimreite. Brief information about the battle hangs here and you can look over to Fimreite on the south side of the fjord.

Severin is from Voss and studies geology in Sogndal. In the student village, they have a well-functioning diving association, Sjøspretten, run by the local student organisation. Here he joined a friend on a course in freediving in autumn 2020 and since then he has, according to his own statement, "been hooked". Severin has been involved in river paddling before, so he is not completely unfamiliar with the wet element. In fact, he sees the knowledge from freediving as an advantage when calmness and control of breathing are needed in stressful situations, which can quickly arise during river paddling.

The sun only peeked out at the end of the trip, but it paid off in the magical atmosphere underwater. Severin in the picture, hunting with GoPro.

Me and Severin didn't know each other before. We were actually going on a trip with a mutual friend, who unfortunately fell ill overnight and couldn't sit. In the freediving environment, lack of acquaintance does not play a role. We share the joys of freediving and on the 12-minute drive from Sogndal to Nornes we exchanged information and experience. It turned out that Severin had ancestors and a summer house in the same small village in Gulen that I come from (it's a small world we live in!).

Safety is always important when we are on tour. After the car trip, we got to know each other a little better, but still took a short briefing on the shore: we agreed on approx. how long we were going to be out, where the phones and car keys were in case something happened, how deep we were comfortable going that day and that we were to stay close to each other and not lose eye contact. The latter can be difficult when diving in archipelagos, but here on the beach it was easy to keep track.

The further down you dived, the more of the bottom was covered with mud. Here Severin swims at a depth of 7-8 metres.

The Sogndalsfjord has a threshold where it meets the Sognefjord. Here it is quite shallow, compared to the depths outside and inside. This means that the fjord does not empty completely and that some silt and mud collects on the bottom.

Børstemarken finds food in the sand and spits out coils of what cannot be eaten.

In the center of the bathing area was a slush of ice and the waves scrubbed the shoreline. There was a 5-6 m/s wind and about 12 cold in the air. The beach was beautiful under the water's surface: silky sand lay in narrow, delicate dunes beyond the shallows. Small arctic seaweeds created a great contrast to the southern-like underwater landscape.

After the long shallows, it gradually got deeper. Here there is a powdery layer of mud on top of the sand and it is teeming with sea urchins and starfish.

A spiky cross troll has taken control of an o-shell.

After examining the beach with a few test dives, we swam together towards and around the headland that separates the beach from the fjord. Here we were met by bare rock shelves under water, covered with hundreds of sea urchins (in total we must have seen several thousand between us). There was no sign of a kelp forest anywhere, which may have its natural explanation in all the sea urchins, which graze on kelp.

The special environment in the fjord can also be an explanation, with a lot of fresh water from rivers and melted mountain water that sometimes lies in layers several meters thick. Now there has been frost and little rainfall for weeks, so there was hardly any fresh water to be seen in the top layer of the lake.

An insane number of sea urchins from two meters deep and down.

Somewhat beyond stood an approx. metre-wide stump on a slightly coarser sandy bottom. I would like to know more about it, but did not want to disturb or move it. For someone who is a little more than moderately interested in the wonders of nature, and especially old, large or interesting trees, this was a great and unexpected nature experience.

It is difficult to say how old the tree stump is, but we know that e.g. oak trees can be 800 years old. The dreamer in me naturally wonders if the tree could have stood on land and witnessed the "Battle of Firmreite" nearly 837 years ago.

The stump stands at 5-6 metres, on a gentle downhill slope before it suddenly becomes deep and dark. The picture was taken before the sun came over the mountain. In such an icy wasteland it may have stood for many years.

Further beyond the mountains, we find accumulations of starfish, both common starfish and spiny starfish. And endless bare mountains with sea urchins. Suddenly I spot something I recognise: stones covered with pink fields of roe. This usually entails a guard, and behind a pinprick of seaweed - practically invisible from above - stands a roe looking after its offspring.

The fish was very well hidden and had its snout facing where the eggs lay, approx. a meter in front of him.

The species is most often called roe cracker, but since it is usually the man who looks after the eggs, I allow myself to say that it was a roe call that was on duty. These fish swim slowly and have a suction cup under their belly - practical when you need to rest a bit in places with strong currents. It is incredibly fascinating to see one of the most unusual fish we have, up close.

Severin tries to film the roe call. Not easy to tell where the fish are under these bottom conditions.

Without the algae that rule these fjords in the summer, we had hopes of getting great photos and video. We had planned the trip so that we would have the sun with us from the start, but we missed it by almost a full hour. Since we had already changed into our suits at home, we jumped in anyway. At the end of the trip, however, we got the light we wanted, on our way back across the beach and onto land.

Unfortunately, there is marine litter here too. A couple of car tyres, some bottles and cans. Some old "masons" can be attributed to a time when the focus on the environment and sustainability was more subdued than today. Beer cans from today's consumption tell us that we still have a job to do with attitudes to nature and the environment, even at a popular bathing spot where both young and old go.

Personally, I am very happy that so many Norwegians start freediving and appreciate nature underwater more. It provides a basis for the acquisition of more knowledge, and I think the freedivers spread good attitudes in their respective environment and society in general. Not least, many more than just the free divers themselves get to see pictures from underwater through social media, and it is good advertising for our nature.

An old truck tire rests on the fine-grained sand bed, which is in turn covered with mud.

We end the trip where it started: on the long plain, just 50 meters from the car park where the car is parked. We can quickly conclude that Severin has become a good freediver in a few months. That is one of the most fascinating things about freediving: it doesn't take long to experience significant mastery, and there is always something that can be improved in the long run.

The course Severin took in freediving was a good start to the new hobby, in addition to the fact that the 23-year-old student manages to leave school and stress behind at home, and enjoy the nature experience. Or was it the other way around, that freediving helps him relax? The scholars compete at Fimreite, also in 2021!

The picture can't really describe well enough how beautiful it was to lie here, at a depth of only 1-2 metres, and absorb the play of light that unfolded on the surface and beyond the sandbanks. A wonderful winter experience.

Footnote 1: The author of this bottle post is the general manager of Frivannsliv.

Footnote 2: This is not the first time we hear that knowledge and experience from freediving helps people keep calm in stressful situations. We have heard that from several customers and course participants, and from several professional groups. It is a subjective observation, but equally interesting.

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