Approaching Orkney

  Isbjorn doin' her freight train thing.

Isbjorn doin' her freight train thing.


1440 Ship’s Time. Overcast and damp outside, wind from the ESE at 10-12 knots, just enough to keep the sails full on a broad reach, though annoyingly so. Our 3rd day at sea since leaving Skagen has just begun. Ben is on watch, with Brian out there with him (he was hot in the cabin when we had the heater on).

  Brian & Susan on watch on a sunny day in the North Sea.

Brian & Susan on watch on a sunny day in the North Sea.

I was more anxious than usual at the beginning of this passage, probably due to a combination of first-passage-of-the-season nerves and the reality of the enormity of the summer we’ve set up for ourselves towards and in the Arctic. So anxious in fact that there is a whole other story here which I’ll save for another time. Suffice it to say, the best cure for anxiety is action, and three days into our first stint at sea in 2018 has done the trick.

Isbjorn is 50 miles from Orkney, though if you’d asked me where we’d be a week ago at this time I’d have told you somewhere on the west coast of Sweden. After prepping the boat in Marstrand for the high seas, the crew arrived and we did our standard welcome and orientation meeting, taking extra care to focus on cold-water safety, given the temperatures in the North Sea this time of year (high 40s). We spent a morning over at the rocks doing survival suit drills, whereby Sophie volunteered to dive into the drink to demonstrate the remarkable warmth and flotation with one of the 8 Ursuit survival suits we have onboard for this summer. She got in a bathing suit, but underneath the heavy neoprene was completely dry once she got out. I dived in ahead of her in my new wetsuit to give that a test. It won’t keep me warm for long, but it’s easy to don in case we wrap a line on a prop or something in the Arctic.

  The Norwegian tall ship 'Christian Radich' crossed paths with us south of Norway.

The Norwegian tall ship 'Christian Radich' crossed paths with us south of Norway.

Later that afternoon (Day 1 of the trip as we count it, the 2nd day the crew was with us; crew arrival is counted ‘Day 0’), we ate lunch at the hotel there in Marstrand and discussed the navigation and weather for the passage. This time of year, the weather is extremely volatile in these parts - what looked like a perfect window the day before, collapsed almost before our eyes around the conference room table that the hotel had loaned us. My heart rate increased. Meanwhile, outside Marstrand it was blowing 25 knots from the southeast, which would have given us a PERFECT window to get over to the southern tip of Norway on a reaching breeze. Alas, we weren’t ready, so there was no point in lamenting it. 36 hours later a strong cold front was set to roll through, the wind clocking in to the west and blowing hard for days thereafter. We looked stuck.

After a little pow-wow with Linda Hammerberg, who’d also been watching the weather with us in mind, we decided to make a run across the Kattegat to Skagen, the northernmost tip of Denmark, later that afternoon. The SE’ly would last through the day and night and at least get us 35 miles in the right direction. Skagen, she said, was a charming fishing port and Danish summer beach town where we could easily kill a day to wait out the westerlies and keep a weather eye out for the next window.

  Navigating in the dark at landfall. Photo by crewmember  Sophy Darsy.

Navigating in the dark at landfall. Photo by crewmember Sophy Darsy.

The sail across was FAST but lumpy. Sophie and Ben were seasick. Ben fed the fishes a few times. It was a good shakedown for the new crew and did indeed get us to the west and on our way - see, this was important too, to have taken our departure from Sweden on a Wednesday. It was looking more and more like leaving Skagen on Friday would be the right call, and everyone knows you can’t depart for the high seas on a Friday. We cleared the breakwater and into the harbor in Skagen around 10pm, just as the last light was fading from the northern sky, and found our berth alongside in the guest harbor amongst the enormous ‘factory’ ships of the Danish North Sea fishing fleet.

Skagen proved charming indeed, and a chance for everyone to hit the reset button, least of all me. We enjoyed a nice dinner at a French restaurant in town, chosen by Sophie (who is French!), then got to bed early after making the boat ready for sea the afternoon before. That volatile forecast had changed again, and indeed Friday was the day - the westerly, which had registered gusts over 33 knots on Isbjorn’s anemometer at the dock in Skagen, would blow itself out quickly and veer into the SW, giving us a chance to get offshore and continue the passage.

Fast forward three days, and here we are on the cusp of making landfall in Scotland. We haven’t started Isbjorn’s engine since pulling out of the dock in Skagen (we hoisted sail inside the breakwater, and so were under sail for nearly every inch of this passage so far). Wattsson, our hydrogenerator, has been working hard keeping the batteries topped up, and confirming that Ben’s wiring work did indeed work. The sailing has been a bit of everything - upwind for two days at the start, then a magnificent day of reaching in light airs and sunshine yesterday, which included a visit from some black & white North Sea dolphins on two occasions, and even a stop to swim in the 50-degree water when the wind was at it’s lightest.

  Mia takes the plunge into 48º/7º water in the North Sea!

Mia takes the plunge into 48º/7º water in the North Sea!

We’re not there YET, of course, but having sailed almost 500 miles so far since leaving Sweden, I feel like I’m back in the saddle. I remember how to do this offshore sailing thing, and it feels good.

Ben asked what our next passage was. After a minute of pondering, I had to remind myself that Isbjorn is indeed Arctic bound on the very next leg, where we’ll make for Tromso in far northern Norway. That’s exciting.

Until next time, HOLD FAST.

-Andy & the Isbjorn Crew

  Seals greeted us in our first Orkney anchorage in Deer Sound at dawn.

Seals greeted us in our first Orkney anchorage in Deer Sound at dawn.