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Print now  Sailing at the End of the World

The adventurous traveller following the coasts of the islands to the north of Norway will often marvel at the presence of a pair of eagles absorbed in observing and meditating on some rock suspended between land and sea, undecided whether to jump on a hare or a codfish. And it is precisely in Norse mythology that Hræsvelgr, god of the wind, who sits on the border between sky, land and sea waving his wings, is transformed into an eagle to becoe Aeolus. Yet a plunge into the water, for this beautiful animal, would mean the end, as it is not equipped with webbed feet and the oily plumage that keeps seagulls afloat. And the queen of birds soars also in the symbol of the municipality of Karlsoy, which includes a dozen islands of a decent size, but much more indented than what we are used to, and therefore with a coastal development not far from infinity. They are there, timid and courageous, thrown into the trenches between the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, where Europe tires of running northwards and veers towards Russia. Cannon fodder, waves of rock. Vannøya is the name of one of the wildest, unreservedly beloved by Norse hunters who love its extreme character, grey geese in late summer and total isolation, limited only by a bizarrely timetabled ferry, moored an hour’s drive north of Tromsø, the town where most are convinced the continent ends. On Vannøya, the winters are brutal, the summers mischievous and the equinox seasons suspended between cynical storms and astonishing light shows, and on every day of the year it is obligatory to ask yourself where the wind is coming from before you open your front door, as it opens outwards and it is not uncommon for the wind to snatch it from your hand.

The inhabitants of the island are still naive, and call this pyrotechnic orographic spectacle ‘wild nature’, they do not quite realise what it means to be poised at the end of the world, which is not a geographical place but an event in space-time opposite to the absurdity of the beginning of the world, when that extra piece of soul that makes us alive has died.. A sailing tour between one cove and another, all strictly of white sand, becomes then ‘life in the purest nature’,

The concept of the essential at the end of the world does not include bars or restaurants. At the end of the world there can only be the land sliding into the sea, the horizon of green fire, the perennial wind. Winter. And no, we are not allowed to fly there, but we can float there, where the surface laps the coast, not too far away, because the wind rises suddenly, in fierce gusts, down from the mountains, and please stay only the surface of the sea, nothing deeper, because it is cold and dark, when it is not glowing with green fire or the blinding blue of rare summer days.

Sailing is surface geometry, that precise line that is elusive to most, that cuts the hull in two at stomach height, a miraculous object that becomes one with those who move it, from bay to bay, from port to port, suspended in the green of summer or the cast iron of February, a floating eagle, with the same curiosity and the same weaknesses.

Asking a local to explain something more does not make much sense, like asking a Zen master what air, fire, earth and water are. These are questions that you don’t ask, they only prove that you will never understand, that you can easily stop in Tromsø, the end of the world with the breakfast buffet, you don’t need to go any further, it’s already fine, at the most take a ride in a 600 horsepower dinghy that will never have enough petrol to get to the islands and disturb the clutching of the birds that, one after the other, will come to check that you don’t get too close to their nests.

Then they will ask you if you were happy, at the end of the world, floating between sky and abyss. And you will think about it for a long time, because while you were up there you never asked yourself that question, since you were busy living. No, you will answer, because in your heart you have understood that you cannot be happy where everything ends and others continue to wither away slowly.

Print now  Sailing at the End of the World
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