Sun’s out (gun’s out!). Can’t ask for a better day on the ocean, especially in these parts. Wind is 12-15 from the north. Isbjorn is bombing northeast close-hauled & making 6-7 knots on a flat sea glittering full of diamonds in the afternoon sunshine. A handful of high cirrus give some texture to an otherwise sparkling clear blue sky. Tom & Rick are on watch, Laura is sleeping on the high side pilot bunk in her foulie bottoms and Dick is fighting gravity to get into his bunk forward in the forepeak. Mia is aft, wrapping up her two-hour nap (I’ll wake her up in ten minutes to start cooking dinner). It’s nice enough outside that the companionway hatch is wide open and the sun is shining down on me at the nav station writing this.
We’re at sea now two and half days, having departed Lerwick, Shetland on Sunday May 20 after a 15-hour respite from what looked like some gnarly southerly winds off the tip of Norway. In hindsight we should have continued nonstop from Fair Isle. But Mia had a bad gut feeling that morning we woke up in North Haven to get ready to go offshore, and we’ve done well to follow her gut feelings. So after a 40-mile, sun-filled downwind sail into Lerwick and a dinner ashore, we had one last night’s rest before setting out for the Arctic.
Before I continue, Fair Isle! We spent a magical two nights in North Haven, the only sailboat there for most of our stay, docked alongside the Good Shepherd, Fair Isle’s ferry boat connecting them with Shetland. We’d been to Fair Isle before, last summer en route to Sweden, and didn’t think we could top that stay. Not sure if we did this time, but the visit was every bit as magical.
Both evenings we walked up the grassy hillside just behind the quay where Isbjorn was tied up, meandering up the gentle slope with the sheeps and looking for puffins. It didn’t take long to find them - just at the edge of the cliffs, overlooking South Haven, the adjacent bay, the puffin party started each night around 9pm. Our crew didn’t really believe me when I said you can just go up there and hang out with the puffins all night. Which is precisely what we did. They waddle around in the hidey-holes, coming and going off the cliff, sometimes only an arms length away as we sat there in the grass and watched them.
Anyway. The weather turned grey on leaving Lerwick, and the wind was gusting off the hillsides in the high twenties. We hoisted the mainsail with two reefs right inside the little guest harbor, then gybed our way out to sea via the north channel into Lerwick while the crew got themselves organized and we stowed everything below. In the lee of Mainland on the north side, we set half the genoa and sailed fast towards the open sea.
Once offshore, the seas built quickly, and before long we were barreling downwind at 8.5 knots with small sails up and big seas behind us. Mostly the cockpit stayed dry, but occasionally the top of an 8-footer would crest and jump aboard. Once, an errant wave hit us amidships, from a bad angle, and swept green water back and through the dodger, then down the companionway like a waterfall. Our first of the 2018 season (it won’t be the last).
That first 24 hours we covered 190 miles, close to a record run for Isbjorn, just eleven miles shy of the 201 we did en route from Grenada to the BVI in 2016 (two days in a row, to boot). So despite the rain and grey skies, fast sailing makes up for it. Passing through the oil fields that night was pretty neat too - out of the murky haze these scary-looking industrial structures rose out of the sea, lit with orange lights and partially on fire (there must be a vent pipe or something that’s built out on a wing of the platform, and is literally burning, big orange flames leaping into the sky). We had fun learning the new radar as we dodged the rigs in the perpetual dusk that night (darkness is over for the Isbjorn crew now that we’re this far north - no more ‘night’ watches!). I’m impressed by it’s automatic ARPA function and the clarity with which it picks out targets even 15 miles away.
Then last night the wind died on us, as predicted, and we motored through most of the night. I took Mia’s watch and listened to Rush’s ‘2112’ album. I paid for this, as I didn’t get much sleep after midnight and had to be up again at 0430 when the wind filled in from the north and we set the mainsail. It filled in HARD too, blowing 25-30 basically out of nowhere, so we just set the mainsail with two reefs and motor-sailed for another few hours so I could go back to bed peacefully. The GRIBs showed that this would quickly blow itself out. By noon we were back to full sail, and the skies had cleared completely.
Laura & I have a deal to stop and swim when Isbjorn crosses the Arctic Circle!
Until next time, hold fast!