Who would cross the North Sea, in April, by choice? The short, and long answer: No one… No one in their right mind would cross the North Sea ever, nevermind April. This was clearly demonstrated by the fact that the only boats we saw en route were massive freighters or rescue boats hanging around the oil rigs. definitely no sailors, and definitely no other cruisers. But we did it… 4 days at sea and we’re in Norway, making our way around hundreds of little islands just up the coast from Alesund, where we stayed last night.
This is the view as I’m writing this post:
That’s Terry, the third addition to our crew for the Trip to Norway. Who’s Terry? Terry is a now long-time friend and sailing partner to both of us. We race a K6 (3-man dinghy) on Queen Mary Reservoir in London (most famous for the Bloody Mary – a massive pursuit race held every January and the biggest inland water race in the UK). Terry is also responsible for introducing us one very cold snowy Saturday morning at the Bloody Mary two and a bit years ago. We don’t give him nearly enough grief for this. He has been an immense help on board, doing bits of wood work and installing our radio for us as welll as jumping aboard last minute for the trek from Lowestoft to Hartlepool.
We departed early afternoon on Friday April 3rd from Hartlepool. It was fairly mild, less than ten knots of breeze. Our course, basically from the get go, was 025. It then stayed 025 for the next 575 miles. Every now and then we would veer off to avoid an oil rig (once I got a bit close and we were asked to take a slightly wider detour) or just because someone wasn’t paying close enough attention to the compass for a bit. 2-3 miles off course when you’re view on the nav is 20-30 miles is fairly irrelevant though…
Here’s us in the lock leaving Hartlepool. Due to the tides we couldn’t depart until after midday…
Almost immediately into the trip, I felt unwell and was bascially useless for about 12 hours, even with sea-sickness tablets. Managed my night watches and spent the rest of the time camped out. Probably having just finished exams and then running around London for two days getting ready wasn’t ideal preparation, but this was meant to be time to recover! Luckily there wasn’t much for me to do. We started our watch system from 8pm, 2 hours on 4 off overnight then 3 on 6 off during the day – this was to avoid getting too cold at night and then to allow time for other stuff during the day. Mostly that other stuff was lying around in bunks or cooking and cleaning.
By Saturday night we were amongst the oil fields. The collection of lights from the platforms were a nice break in the dark horizon. Although when the fog came in we watched them disappear before us, sometimes only a few miles off. A few of them were actively burning off excess gas so every now and then the light would grow and grow into a flame then quickly die down again.
On the first night we had some friends join us. First one little bird then eventually 2 of his mates flew in and spent most of the night sat in the cockpit out of the wind. In the morning the two friends flew off and left the little guy behind. He spent most of the morning shivering away in the cockpit. Unfortunately we found him dead a few hours later and gave him a burial at sea. RIP little bird…
The first few days there was hardly any wind so we motor-sailed. There was a bit of rain and every now and then the clouds would part and we’d get an hour of sunshine. Mostly though it was cloudy. By Sunday morning, we were getting into the swing of things – watches, meals, motor-sailing – and then the wind picked up! We had force 5 or higher for the last two days. And in a brilliant direction, initially SW then moving to NW throughout the day. At this point though, the swell also picked up so we were rocking side to side and forwards and backwards constantly. It was all over the place and tough work sailing. At one point the waves were so high that the passing ships disappeared into the troughs. This was probably around the time that I firmly decided sailing sucked and I was never coming back. Bruises everywhere and lots of banged heads all round.
Luckily, we weren’t far from Norway by this point – Gareth even subtly mentioned that we were only 70 miles from Bergen (it was still 2 days to Alesund). Appparently that was to test the water / the extent of my sense of humour failure… We pushed on however and everyone survived – it may even have toughened me up a bit 😉
Total distance: 575 nautical miles over 4 days from Hartlepool to Alesund
Gareth’s jokes… And Gareth eating chocolate again on Easter Sunday after giving it up for lent…
The damn sat phone doesn’t work… But we got a text from my mum sailing around Vancouver!
Terry’s new kit – a plug here for Henry Lloyd: their mid-layer primaloft jackets provide super-human warmth. So impressed! Kit really makes the trip.
The above mentioned birds
The autohelm… Now I’m sure there’s a good lesson in this story. We have been struggling with the auto-helm for awhile now. turn it on and it doesn’t consistently hold course. If you add one degree it moves fifty. Frustrating when you’re on watch by yourself. Anyway, we had basically come to terms with the fact that we couldn’t rely on having auto-helm for more than a few minutes and had to be very cautious when changing directions. Then about day three, I was on watch, using the auto-helm and suddenly we veered 50-60 degrees off course. I quickly switched it off and heard Gareth downstairs going “I can’t believe it… did that do anything to the helm?” yes… it did… and what did he do? We’d bought a hand-held vacuum for the boat, which conveniently stored right next to the compass for the auto-helm. This, it turns out, is a bad idea d/t the interaction between the magnets in electric motor in the vacuum and the compass (which senses the magnetic field)… So, gareth moved the vacuum and the compass went a bit haywire. We found a new home for the vacuum and have had the pleasure of automated steering (under motor) ever since.
The food on board – Gareth and I spent thursday night cooking up a storm so we would have meals ready to defrost and reheat throughout the Trip to Norway. This was a tip we picked up racing with friends Tom Hayhoe and Natalie Jobling around the channel and the 2013 Fastnet. We also managed to coordinate a Tesco delivery to Hartlepool Marina. The only problem was the restaurant we gave them no longer existed – fortunately it was a good spot for breakfast so we camped out until we saw our man in a van pull up looking very confused.
Navtex: old school technology but gives regular weather readings within a 400-500 nautical mile range. We had daily updates and additional gale warnings. In comparison, the radio forecasts from Norway were confusing, even in English.
Fran getting a bit too close to an oil rig.
Being thrown from one side of the cockpit to the other in the unpredictable swell – just as you get one boot on and you’re struggling with the other you get thrown head first across the cabin.
Arriving in Alesund
Customs – brilliant. We rang them when we arrived and they sent their man down to the boat with a variety of paperwork. Gareth and Terry had wondered off to find money so they could use the marina loos, so I was a bit concerned initially when he showed up – immediately pulled out my biggest smile and was on my best behavior (trying to decide if there was any way to hide the bottles of gin we’d stockpiled before he did the inventory). It turned out though that he was incredibly sweet and seemed to think the whole process was a bit of a joke. He had to translate one of the forms for me which turned into: boat name here, skip that, skip that, that’s not relevant, you don’t have any passengers right? OK, sign here. The next form was pretty much the same. He kept saying that they were for the big ships coming in with lots of cargo. Then came the inventory form… Gareth was back by this time and we shared a glance – what should we write? (I make another note to Tom and Natalie here about the 5 liters Tom doesn’t know about, I managed to pack away 2 liters that Gareth doesn’t know about). I turned to the customs guy and said, what should we do for this form? He took one look at it and said “take the number of bottles you have, minus the number you plan to drink and put that down – as long as you leave with what you wrote here, you won’t be charged.” Brilliant.
Walking into the harbour master’s office in Alesund and being asked by the receptionist whether we had an appointment. No, but we just sailed here from England, we weren’t sure of our ETA, do think you could make an exception? It turned out that he wasn’t too busy to see us and they were actually both very friendly and helpful. In fact, everyone was very helpful – we left Alesund with print-outs of weather forecasts, tide tables, things to do in Norway and clear instructions that we should return to see the tall ships regatta this summer.
Dinner in Alesund – we all tried the traditional salt-dried fish, bacaulau, at a beautiful restaurant with a terrible name (XL Diner) looking over the harbour. This was recommended by our friendly harbour master.
And that’s our Trip to Norway – even a few days later it all feels like a blur. Looking back, I still wouldn’t do it again but Gareth and Terry enjoyed the adventure much more. And anyway, the best is still to come.