Scandinavian Sail, Long, Long Overdue Finale
Both V and I continue to receive many emails and messages from readers wondering if Blue Clipper has been lost with all hands since my post abruptly stopped in the middle of the voyage. In fact, as the trip wound on, I felt that I had written so much about my various sailing voyages in the last 8 or 9 months that readers must surely be sated with salt water and sails. I therefore decided to stop writing and just enjoy the passage with son J.
However not wanting to leave the journal in limbo, I thought that I’d wrap up the voyage with some final observations.
How did it compare with the other trips? In a word, easier, by far, but with its own set of difficulties. Because we were sailing, for the most part, within sight of the coast, only once being more than 40nm from land, we anchored or moored every night but one. This of course meant that there was only one night with an overnight sail and overnight watches, for the rest of the time we maintained our watches during the day and evening while we under sail but could get a full night’s sleep as we were tied up overnight. This did come with a downside however, the sails needed to be raised, lowered and trimmed every day. On my previous passages we were in blue water so sails were rarely raised and lowered. Except when the winds became too much for the sails we were carrying and we needed to reef the sails, we were for the most part trimming and adjusting sails, not raising and lowering them. On this passage however, our first hour every day was consumed with getting sails up, coiling lines and leaving our mooring and at the end of every day, lowering and flaking the sails, coiling lines and making fast for the night…does get wearysome.
Since we had no cook on board, each watch had responsibility for one meal a day which we rotated through breakfast, lunch and dinner. J and I were on the same watch so J and I along with another watch member regularly took our turn at the stove and the galley. Ordinarily I’m the family cook and I prepare dinner on a daily basis as well as any other meals that go beyond lefotovers for lunch. Given my experience I thought that when it came to our turn to prepare dinner, it would be a fairly easy way of getting out of the more rigourous end of day tasks, i.e. lowering the sails and mooring the ship. Unfortunately, very much not the case, we were assigned the dishes to prepare based on a meal plan that had been designed before we left port and we were given the quantity of ingredients that was allocated for each of the dishes on the menu. I get it, if you’re creative you can deliver interesting results from whatever you have to work with, but that theory was tested daily, and found wanting. Our menu choices revolved heavily around a starchy base, pasta or rice or couscous and was finished by a stew or curry of vegetables. Vegetables were root vegs for the most part supplemented frequently with chick peas and occasionally enlivened by chicken. Not much in the way of fresh herbs and the spices were bought in bulk and were dusty and tired, hard to be creatively inspired. Virtually everyone was young and hungry, bulk and filling seemed to be the primary requisites, and flavour and interest were second or third order requirements. Add to this a rolling ship, a hot, steamy enclosed space, dull knives and 15 meals to prepare, rising to the creative challenge was often superseded by surviving the experience.
Our last port of call was Stavanger, Norway where we were to disembark. During our second last day we sailed to within about 5nm of Stavanger and anchored in the shelter of an island for the night. We had our dinner and settled in for an early night before our final day’s sail the following day. About 2330 there was a hell of a racket, the sound of the winldass raising the anchor, very noisy and it does make the whole boat vibrate, and then the sound of our engine moving the boat for about 15 minutes, followed by the sound of the windlass dropping the anchor, once again followed by the sound of the engine moving the boat to set the anchor. This process repeated itself twice more before finally stopping at about 0230, but during this time the boat banged, clanged and shook as she tried to find good holding ground for the anchor. The wind had picked up during the evening and as we had anchored on a rocky bottom, the pressure on the anchor grew with the wind, so that it failed to hold. Needless to say, during the two hours we spent trying to find a good spot for the anchor, sleep was impossible.
Stavanger is an important Norwegian port as it the country’s 3rd largest city and is often referred to be as the Oil Capital of Norway. It is located on Norway’s south-east coast and is ideally located for shipping access to the North Sea oilfields. The city counts its founding to the year 1125 but has grown rapidly since the discovery of North Sea oil, which makes for a very interesting architectural mix, very old, preserved heritage wooden buildings mixed with very modern steel and glass office structures. As we lifted our anchor and raised our sails we could see it in the distance, our final destination which we would be returning to at the end of our day’s sail.
However, we did save the best day for our last day. Up bright and early, our watch was on for breakfast KP, a beautiful sunny day with an easy breeze but the mixed emotions of our final day was in everyone’s thoughts. Sailing inland from Stavanger, we entered Lysefjord, a stunning fjord with steep cliffs and mountainsides rising sheer from the water on either hand. The sail down the fjord in the bright sunshine was magnificent and about noon we lowered sails and hove to as anchoring is impossible, the water in this part of the fjord over 400 metres deep. We had stopped Blue Clipper just past one of the most inspiring spots on the fjord, Preikestolen better known as Pulpit Rock. Described by Lonely Planet as the world’s most breathtaking viewing platform, Preikestolen rises 603 metres above the fjord but the scale is almost impossible to grasp from water level. I tried to photograph someone standing on the edge of the rock from the ship’s deck but it’s almost impossible to see the person in the image, only a couple of pixels big.
Just past Pulpit Rock is Hengjanefossen Falls, a glorious set of cascades racing down the side of a sheer mountainside and, misty and ethereal, they tumble into the fjord. The sunlight glowed through the lacy water while we had a very pleasant lunch, the whole crew relaxed and absorbing the heat and the light. As everyone grew hotter in the early afternoon a feeling grew that it would be very refreshing to dive into the fjord and cool off. The water in the fjord was deepest midnight blue and I felt icy just looking at it, but impetuosity of youth, it was not long before about 12 or 14 crew lined up and were diving into the 15˚C water. The diving and swimming went on for about 20 minutes and then chilled and happy they climbed aboard and we prepared to return to Stavanger.
On our dock by about 1800, we lowered sails and coiled lines for the last time. J and I then headed into town where we had a couple of the most expensive rounds I can remember, ordinary little dockside bar but Norwegian prices, 1 beer and 1 glass of house red wine, Cdn $50 per round. Compared notes and remembrances and agreed that it was a very worthwhile exercise but one that if repeated, would be better done on our own boat.
This is my third voyage in the last year, and I have spent two months out of the last eleven on the water. Even in my worst moments I have enjoyed every moment but in thinking about it, a couple of themes have emerged. So summing up?
I enjoyed blue water sailing significantly more than coastal cruising. It can certainly be more uncomfortable and the terror factor can be orders of magnitude greater but I really enjoyed the intensity and the challenge of deep sea sailing;
I enjoyed the camaraderie of a group all working their way through the same risky issues and challenges;
I really enjoyed the engagement with my environment and my surroundings. Weather moves way beyond worrying if I need a raincoat or shorts. Weather awareness is always top of mind and the impact of weather changes is immediately felt, it literally controls the ship’s progress and safety. The sea’s moods, colours, motions also change constantly, and while occasionally frightening, they all are intensely beautiful and the sea like the weather becomes a primary focus of your attention.
I loved the whole idea of blue water sailing, crossing an ocean and seeing at first hand all the things that have captivated me all my life but that I’ve only ever experienced through reading about them. Mostly though I loved the learning experience and the skills that I was exposed to and had the opportunity to begin to learn.
Not so Highlights:
Not so many, but the ones that I did experience led me to the place I’m in right now. The most significant of these was the perpetual feeling that I was only ever eating hors d’oeuvres but never a main course. We were continually learning new things but never had enough time to really absorb, integrate and master them and I felt that I was merely floating over the surface of the experience.
As I said above I enjoyed the camaraderie and the team spirit involved in moving a large vessel through wind and weather but I could not, even at the most trivial level, say that I had learned to manage a boat and be confident that I could deal with seagoing situations that arose. That of course was never expected to be the outcome of these voyages, these were meant to be realistic exposures to the situations and the processes but there was never a promise that in a couple of months I would be transformed into an old salt. What it has made me realize is that I have outgrown the model. My only logical next step therefore is to stop sipping and to start drinking with both hands.
I wrote the above a while ago but before I posted this blog post I decided to explore where my logic led me. I have just learned that as of today, I’m the proud but slightly terrified owner of an older CS 33 sail boat. Fear, excitement and trepidation all whizzing about but I think that at the age of 75 it’s time to buy my first boat and to stop sipping!