Ever since I visited Norway I have heard the locals speak in awe and fear of the rounding of Stad, the only part of the Norwegian coast where coast hugging shipping must face the full fetch of the North Atlantic.
In the days before frequent and more affordable aircraft and long distance efficient motor roads, the coastal express boat, the Hurtigrute, was indeed the means by which the country was held together. Young people took the boat to further education and university, or for work in the industries and offices of the southern cities and often to travel on to other parts of Scandinavia. Thousands would take the boat going north on their National service, whether in the military or on the community service alternative. But they all had to round Stad and often suffer the worst sea sickness on the whole of the coast from Oslo to the Russian border.
Kråkenes lighthouse, just south of Stad, is the meteorological weather station with the most annual storm days, which can be anything from 45 to 106 days pa. The combination of wind, currents, waves and subsea topography makes this section a particular challenge. Heavy and confused seas with very high waves can create critical situations, effects that can linger days after wind has died down. So, fantastic as it seems, a tunnel has been talked of for years to permit ships to avoid Stad by taking a detour inland and linking a couple of small but strategic fjords. But it is no longer fantastic.
Regular callers by sea to Bergen will be aware that just to the south near the inshore sheltered shipping channel, there is a huge rock blasted cavern built to accommodate naval ships including subs and missile boats. And anyone who has witnessed the expertise of Norwegian engineers and tunnelers who have spent billions of kronor straightening out roads and bypassing ferry bottlenecks by tunnelling under fjords and through mountains, have come to recognise it is very feasible indeed for them to build a ship tunnel while their carefully husbanded oil and gas wealth ensures it can be afforded.
Even though a smaller scale tunnel could be more easily built for the fast-boat catamaran type passenger ferry which is held up by Stad weather rather more often than the Hurtigrute vessels, it seems the Norwegian authorities are insisting it will accommodate the larger daily Hurtigruten ships en voyage Bergen-Kirkenes and return.
And the tunnel is bound to be a ‘modern maritime wonder of the world’. Bearing in mind the Hurtigruten is sold to ever increasing numbers of international cruise passengers as the ‘world’s most beautiful voyage’, the tunnel will have the benefit of making that voyage less weather prone, so more comfortable, and the tunnel passage - along with the scenery, midnight sun, Northern Lights and North Cape - will be yet another very marketable experience.
In short, it would ensure the voyage becomes even more attractive and that makes the expensively subsidised Hurtigrute fleet of passenger, cargo and mail ships more viable long term. It is also stated the tunnel will reduce the risk of potentially major accidents due to weather and reduce delays and damage endured by Norway’s strategic coastal transport seaway.
The Norwegian Coastal Administration is responsible for exploring the cost and potential of operating the world’s first full scale ship tunnel before the final goahead is granted by the Norwegian government. One billion kronor has initially been earmarked, the detailed work-up of the project to start after 2018. The Ship Tunnel would go from Vanylsfjorden in the north to Moldefjorden because this is where the Stad peninsula is at its narrowest and ships will also be sheltered from excessive winds, making it possible to use the ship tunnel in most weather conditions.
It will be 1.7 kms long, with 37 metres headroom, a height between ground and ceiling of 49ms, and channel 26.5 metres wide, 36ms wall to wall. 7.5mn tonnes of rock or 1,625 mn cubic metres will need removing. Construction might only take fi ve years. Norwegians being the businessmen and women they are, I would be surprised if they didn’t export the rock to the continent and Britain and make a profit from it…! We will return to this as the project progresses.