Ships

Friends and Memories on a Historic Route

Getting to be on first-name terms with crew and passengers on one of Hurtigruten’s smaller ships, MS Vesterålen.

WORDS OLIVER BERRY

Slightly smaller in size, the MS Vesterålen feels tight knit ... to the point where people you have only known for a week, feel like friends.

It’s a cold, late autumn afternoon off Norway’s northwest coast, and I’m standing on the observation deck of MS Vesterålen, wrapped up like a polar explorer against the sea wind. Most other passengers are huddled inside, content to take in the view from behind glass, but I have a good reason to brave the elements. I want to see The Wall.

At first, there’s not much to see but sea. And then, mirage-like, it appears along the horizon: a chain of peaks, spiky as a jackal’s jawbone, materialising from the cloud like a scene from Jurassic Park. Towering 1,000 metres high, this is the fabled Lofotveggen – the Lofoten Wall – a chain of glacier-gouged mountains that stretches for 100 km across its namesake islands. Up close, it’s an awe-inspiring sight. Against the mountains, the 108.5 metre-long, 6,261-tonne MS Vesterålen feels beetle-small, dwarfed by this ancient alpine panorama.

MS Vesterålen docked at Trondheim.

As anyone who’s been on a Hurtigruten cruise knows, it doesn’t take long to become accustomed to stunning scenery like this. So far, on MS Vesterålen we’ve cruised along mighty fjords, glimpsed ancient glaciers, sailed past thunderous waterfalls and crossed the Arctic Circle – and we’ve only been at sea four days. I’m following Hurtigruten’s northbound route, a seven-day journey covering around 1,200 nautical miles. Starting in Bergen and ending in Kirkenes, it’s a similar route to the one pioneered by Hurtigruten’s founder Captain Richard With, in 1893. Almost 130 years later, it remains a vital link for Norway’s coastal communities: in winter, when mountain passes are blocked and roads snowbound, it’s essential for supplies. For much of coastal Norway, Hurtigruten is more than a shipping line: it’s a lifeline.

Lofotveggen is a collection of mountain peaks that appear to form a straight line ... like a wall.

Sun setting over Lofoten's mountains.

Tromsø Bridge from the vantage point of MS Vesterålen's deck.

Winter nights...

Named after that first Hurtigruten vessel, the modern-day MS Vesterålen is one of the company’s smaller ships. Five metres shorter and nearly 5,000 tonnes lighter than Hurtigruten’s MS Kong Harald, MS Vesterålen nevertheless has space for 490 passengers. For me, the smaller size was an attraction; with fewer people onboard, I was soon on first-name terms with most passengers and crew and, as a solo traveller, I soon found plenty of friends who were happy to share their adventures. MS Vesterålen received a makeover in 2019, with a fresh look for many areas including the top-deck Fyret lounge (my favourite for its wraparound ocean view). Sensibly, the designers retained cherished elements during the redesign, such as the ship’s art collection, and the ‘history corridor’ documenting the vessel and Hurtigruten’s past. The onboard programme also received an overhaul, and the evening talks were a highlight. Covering topics from maritime map reading to ship design and crew interviews, they provided a fascinating insight into life on the MS Vesterålen.

The Vesterålen archipelago is around 2,500 square kilometres, situated just north of Lofoten.

For accommodation, I chose a Polar Outside cabin on the upper deck. Though I was travelling solo, the cabin offered space for two, with a compact bathroom, window and a foldaway sofa that doubled as an extra bed. Practical rather than plush, the cabin nevertheless made a cosy home for my voyage.

As on all Hurtigruten trips, however, life on board was only part of the experience. On shore, I embarked on a smorgasbord of adventures, which included seeing Norway’s second-largest ice sheet, Svartisen Glacier, rounding up reindeer with Samí herdsmen, spotting sea eagles at Vadsø and standing at mainland Europe’s northernmost point, Nordkapp. It’s hard to believe so much could be packed into a week.

When we pulled into our final port-of-call at Kirkenes, I felt surprisingly sad to bid farewell to my co-passengers and crew. It’s amazing what a week spent together can do for new friendships. Most passengers remained on board for the return journey south, while I was headed onwards into Finland. I waved goodbye to the ship and headed into town, my boots crunching on freshly-fallen snow as the autumn Aurora Borealis flickered overhead.

The ship has been in action since 1983.

A chat with the captain.

Life on the deck.

MS Vesterålen stats

Year Built

1983

Year of refurbishment

2019

.5

Speed in knots

Passenger capacity

490

Gross tonnage

301

Car capacity

24

Beds

301

Ship Yard

Kaarbø Mek. Verk.

Beam

16.5 m

Length

108.55 m

MS Vesterålen stats

Year Built

1983

Year of refurbishment

2019

.5

Speed in knots

Passenger capacity

490

Gross tonnage

301

Car capacity

24

Beds

301

Ship Yard

Kaarbø Mek. Verk.

Beam

16.5 m

Length

108.55 m

Want to learn more about MS Vesterålen and related cruises?

Share this article

Uncover the hidden highlights of the Norwegian Coast

Join the world leader in coastal travel. Sign up for our newsletter to receive special offers and new itineraries first.

Contact us to discuss your next voyage

In this issue

< Contents

Announcement

Two New Iconic Voyages >