“In the high latitudes, you’ll have a long stretch with no wind, and you kind of feel comfortable with it. But you really have to keep the ship in shape all the time and be prepared for the weather, and never let your guard down. And it’s so easy to let your guard down.”
-Maik Brotzmann, from Tuesday’s ‘On the Wind’ podcast episode.
I’ll say I’m pretty relaxed being at sea again after the other night, which was a reminder that we are indeed in the Arctic and that shit can - and will - happen. There’s a saying that goes something like ‘the Arctic kills the unprepared,’ and last night was a freaking wake-up call for me on that front.
The plan was to work down to Reine the day after our mussel foraging in Straumøya. The weather at Straumøya was calm when we arrived, even calmed next morning, with the sun lighting up the mountains to the northeast. I made a half-joking rule that nobody could get their morning coffee without going for a swim first. So Tom led the charge into the 48-degree (8º C) water, and we earned our coffee. It was the warmest morning yet in the Arctic - you could stand outside in a t-shirt in the sunshine and feel the warmth on your skin. So long as there was no breeze.
We knew the weather would take a turn later that day, so we got an early start to get into port in time before it blew. It ended up being a motor-boat ride for the ten-miles down to Reine, the little village tucked into the mountains that Norwegians had apparently voted the most scenic of all places in Norway, the most scenic of all countries by some measures. The lack of wind hardly mattered. We hoisted the mainsail anyway to dry it out, then motored close in along the coast, which was steep-to right up to the shoreline. Reine is protected by a few small skerries and a marked channel into the inner harbor.
My mistake was how we tied up Isbjorn to the dock. I was so distracted by the scenery, sun and flat-calm that I had let my guard down, a mistake that can be fatal in these parts. We parked the boat bow-in on the outside of the visitors pontoon in the outer harbor. Reine Bringen loomed almost 2,000-feet immediately above the harbor to our right, while three other peaks surrounded the harbor. A wide fjord facing west was kind of lined up with Isbjorn’s stern, and there was about a quarter-mile of fetch between us and the other side of the harbor. Immediately off the bow, about a boat length in front of us and the floating pontoon we were on, was a big breakwater that protected the inner harbor. Off this breakwater were a few shallow spots that extended a few hundred yards off and out to the right.
The wind started around 10pm, like someone flicked a switch. It had gradually built from the SW all afternoon while the crew was up the mountain enjoying the sunshine (Mia & I stayed back and chilled out in town). I knew there’d be a cold front coming, and that we’d have some serious ‘fallvind’ coming off the mountains surrounding the harbor, but I just didn’t fully think it through. When the front rolled through the wind went abruptly west and ripped through the fjord off our stern, immediately gusting into the mid-40s and kicking up a nasty little chop in that small bit of fetch behind us. The waves piling up on the floating dock were breaking onto it - the dock was soaked for ¾ of the length of the boat!
There was another sailboat docked alongside next to us, and broadside to the wind. It was Oriole, the Bowman 57 that Rubicon3 has in it’s fleet. They’d just sailed up from the Faroe Islands, and had also anticipated the wind. They were planning on docking where we had put Isbjorn, but we’d beat them to it, by only a few minutes - they were taking on water at the adjacent pontoon when we arrived and tied up. We didn’t know, it was just bad timing!
When the wind started, Isbjorn was pulling at her dock lines and all of a sudden that breakwater off the bow looked awfully close. Mia & I rigged two extra spring lines to stop us moving forward and an extra stern line. The boat was riding really nicely actually, stern-to the waves and wind, but I was nervous and wished I’d taken the time to simply park the other direction, so our bow would be facing out instead of her stern. It would have been so simple during the calm the day before, and we’d have had an easier escape if anything had happened. We tied off the genoa furling drum, whacked on the rest of the sail ties to the mainsail and secured the boom. We double-checked that the fenders were properly rigged.
And we watched the weather. You could see the gusts ripping down the fjord behind us before they reached the boat with a whine and a howl. Some of them literally ripped the water right off the little wavelets and just threw it up into the cockpit and onto the dock. At the same time, the sun had gone behind the mountain to the north of us and was glowing a deep orange behind some grey clouds. A violent rain squall had formed between us and the town on the other side of the harbor that moved off to the northeast before it got to us. The orange sunset/sunrise backlit that little rain squall, the mountains on either side had snow on their flanks and despite the chass and the ‘boatowner stress’ of that moment, we stopped to appreciate just what we were watching.
Oriole had it much tougher. Their big Bowman was healing 30º at the damn dock, slamming and squashing their fenders into the wood on the outside of the concrete floating dock. The crew spent hours rigging lines to the dock on the far side of the shore in an effort to hold her off, to little avail.
The worst of it lasted through the night - Mia woke up at 0400 and the anemometer was still registering gusts over 40 knots. Mia & I had reluctantly gone to bed when there was nothing else we could do, and had our foul-weather gear setup next to our beds like firefighters at their station, ready for action. In the end, action wasn’t needed, thankfully.
By 0900 the wind was down to 25 knots or so, still gusting over 30 in the fjord, but less frequently. We had a moment of do-or-die backing Isborn off the dock - another moment I’d wished we’d simply turned around the day before! - but just as I thought we might have to swing onto the big wooden dock behind Oriole, the rudder caught as we gained some steam in reverse and we steered backwards and into deep water. I breathed a sigh of relief, we stowed the lines and fenders and got the heck out of dodge and into deeper water proper, and that there brings us back to the present.
We’ve got another 30 miles to go to Lødingen, so it’ll be a midnight arrival. Not that it matter, it’ll still be light out. Mia’s making dinner while I sit here and type this. Tom and Rick are on watch. We’ve got the heat on cause it’s wet and chilly willy inside the boat.
The Reine experience was a wake-up call that I needed ahead of Svalbard, and a reminder of how easy it is to let your guard down when the weather is so beautiful and calm here in the Arctic.
Ironically, today’s podcast with Maik Brotzmann released. That quote at the top of this post is what Lee pulled to play at the top of the show, and it was eerily prescient. I only wished we’d heard it before our stay in Reine.
Looking at the videos now in hindsight, they look much tamer than it was in reality. It's always that way with video and the sea. And I was probably more stressed than was warranted, but then that's boat ownership. I still feel like we got away with this one…
Until next time, HOLD FAST!