Monday, August 17
When we awoke Monday morning, we checked the weather, and, once again, found our plans had changed. Instead of dinghying to the next island to view a medieval church, we were going to cross the North Sea.
Christopher on SILA thoughtfully let us view a great app (Weather Track, which we’ll be downloading) that overlaid our track from Norway to Scotland. The view confirmed the decision: time to go.
JUANONA was pretty shipshape anyhow; but, Max took the anchor off the bow (in case of plunging seas, this saves the anchor from banging around and also limits our taking water into the anchor chain locker, which can find it’s incipient way into our V-berth bedding).
We stowed the cruising spinnaker below, stashed our toothbrush pot holders (Christmas-themed yogurt containers from our time spent with Betsy and the Sumners last December), and put sleeping bags in the main cabin for hot bunking (one of us would be off-watch and in the sleeping bags while the other would be on watch).
Last photos as we exit this scenic harbor, and we’re off!
As predicted we needed to motor, then motor-sail to get a good start. We had 320 miles to cover before we reached Peterhead. With our eyes on that Low coming across our path, we wanted to get as far west and south as possible before it overtook us, so that when the strong winds arrived they would not be forward of the beam.
When it’s dead calm, there’s not a lot you can do so you just sit back and read while scouting out the area and hoping for some wind.
Our views consisted of oil and gas rigs; at one point we counted seven all around us.
One was being towed,
some looked like robotic creatures stalking the sea while others appeared as modern Stonehenges.
When your chart looks like this:
it’s not surprising to know you’ll be maneuvering around those rigs.
We were hailed by a security boat warning us to keep clear of the exclusion zone in one of the gas fields ahead. So we altered course for a mile then switched back to our original heading. It’s a bit odd to be sailing along in our own little cosmo only to be startled by someone calling out ‘JUANONA’ over the radio. A voice over the radio definitely is an event, breaking into the sameness of gray-weather cruising.
The beautiful day slowly moved into a dark night fell around 11:00 p.m. and visibility was difficult due to dark, cloudy skies.
Knowing the remainder of the passage could be windy, we put a reef in the main and added the staysail, a smaller jib, to our sail configuration.
Tuesday, August 18
The day broke beautifully with streaks of mauve, rose, cream and blue. Nothing to hint of the wind that would be blasting us later in the day except for that old adage ‘red sky at morning, sailor take warning…’
With only two of us, our watch shifts were flexible. One of us would be up and looking for obstacles (rigs, ships, and fishing boats via the AIS, radar overlay on our chart plotter, and eyes). The other would be grabbing up to three hours of sleep.
We always had a physical check (every 15 minutes or so) versus relying solely on any electronic ‘eyes’, which is how we saw two large fishing vessels dragging nets headed in our direction. Fortunately, it was daylight for the boats weren’t broadcasting their positions on AIS. I just hope they turn their lights on at night.
As forecasted, the wind was slowly edging its way up to 30+ knots as the day progressed. We had the main sail (with one reef), the staysail, and our regular jib up. As the winds built we put a second reef in the main and eventually furled the jib as the seas began rocking ’n rolling. Waves crashed across the deck causing water to stream down on either side of the cockpit while below-deck started on spin cycle.
When you see the gimbaled stove tilting crazily you start doing the same, becoming a walking italic.
Before too long we were navigating below by clutching at any hand railings. JUANONA began squeaking and moaning as our two-water tanks (55 gallons each) located under the main cabin seats sloshed in tandem with the salt water outside.
More oil rigs caused us to adjust our course frequently through the night. At one point someone announced ‘you’re clear of the Fair Isle channel.’ Since we weren’t cognizant of any channel needing to be crossed, all we could think of is that the message was for two fishing boats mentioned earlier.
With such high winds we were making up to 8 knots per hour. And, just so my navigational description is correct, I asked Max to explain our strategy… “We were intentionally steering up to 25 degrees south of our rhumb line (the direct course to Peterhead). We did not want to take any chances in case the wind clocked more to the southwest, which would bring the wind well forward of the beam and make for very uncomfortable or even treacherous conditions. I know from racing that steering up to 15 degrees off course increases the distance sailed only slightly, and even 20 or 25 degrees not excessive, so it seemed well worth the trade off to build some safety cushion to windward of the direct route.”
Wednesday, August 19
Finally, about 1:00 a.m. we cleared the last of the major oil fields and adjusted our course to Peterhead.
The seas and wind had calmed down a bit, and we realized we could be in Scotland by early afternoon.
With gray skies and 17+ knots of wind we arrived outside the entrance to Peterhead’s harbor and ghosted through fog to the pontoons.
We had landed with neither of us nor JUANONA the worse for wear. At least, nothing that fresh-water rinses, clean clothes and a celebratory drink or two couldn’t revive.
Freshly showered and with the last load of clean clothes I walked the pontoons back to JUANONA hearing, believe it or not, the ice cream truck merrily announcing itself on the streets above the marina with, of all tunes, ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’.
With fond memories of all the sights and all the people we met, our summer cruising was drawing to a close. We still have our UK coastal route to voyage down before reaching Ipswich, our winter’s home, so some good sailing is hopefully on the horizon, just not requiring crossing a sea or ocean to enjoy.
And, to that, we raise our glasses and shout ‘Skaal’! :)
Why didn’t you wait for lighter breezes all the way across the channel; or does that not happen in the North Sea? Anyway, glad you made it safely!
That’s a good question. We’d been watching the weather and thought this window with SE winds was one of the few opportunities to cross. The following week’s forecasted winds were just as strong yet blowing SW placing them right on our nose; and, we had were afraid the weather pattern wouldn’t change. Let’s just say the G&T’s tasted mighty fine Wednesday night :)
I loved Max’s strategy description, which might as well have been written in Norwegian for as much of it as I understood. I am grateful for all the sailing heft you and Max bring to every challenge. Sail on, dear ones!
Glad all went well, I can only imagine how nerve racking it would be to be in the middle of the ocean, knowing mother nature is in control! xoxoxo