When you cruise along the coast, as we usually do, we usually try to have at least two options for a night harbour/anchorage, one that should definitely be within reach, and one that takes us a little bit further. To make this decision we study the charts and make a decision based on the weather forecast. When you are planning for a crossing, this forecast becomes so much more important.
From the west coast of Norway (between Kristiansand and Bergen) it should take about two days of sailing to Leirwick, Shetland, if you have good conditions. For us, it meant that we wanted at least a four-day window with suitable weather, since you always have to take into account that it can take longer than planned. We had been looking out for that window ever since we came closer to Stavanger and knew what day Lotta would arrive, and it seemed to be great prognosis for starting last Sunday – 5-7 m/s southeastern winds. We sailed out to the island furthest west – Utsira and were ready to leave the next day. But when I checked the prognosis again, the storm that they predicted would go south of our route had now changed direction. So we turned and waited at Haugesund for a new chance. On Wednesday it finally arrived, two months after we left our home harbour. We were so ready! One extra crew aboard. Lots of food and snacks prepared (including ready boiled eggs, an obscene amount salami and ready-cut bread). And all the security issues discussed and prepared.
We left in the afternoon, as the prognosis said the gale should have vanished and there should be about 9 m/s of wind. It actually was a lot less as our journey started. When we sailed out of the archipelago, I took the opportunity to talk to everyone about their expectations. So guys, how does it feel?
Jens: Calm and safe!
Lotta: A little bit nervous. Doesn´t feel like you really can trust the weather prognosis. The sea is big and our boat is small out there. But, as long as we aim west we should get there!
Petra: I felt nervous yesterday, but now it feels good. Excited.
What are your expectations on crossing the North Sea?
Jens: I have thought a lot about what preparations that will turn out to be good and which ones wasn´t needed. I think once we get there we will think “this wasn´t so hard and complicated as we thought”. What determines if it was a good crossing or not, I think will be if you get seasick or not. Looking forward to two days at sea.
Lotta: That all three of us will get there safe and sound, without anything gone wrong. I think the first sight of land after two days at sea will be really nice!
Petra: Will be exciting to be on open water for such a long time, far from land. Pretty exotic to sail among oil platforms, and I do hope we see a whale!
Once we got out on open water, the wind increased and as the sun set the first evening we had the wind in our back and climbing the waves in nice speed. It was a bit tricky to do downwind sailing in the big waves, since it was always a risk of a gyp when the boat was rocking back and forth in the waves. We each had shifts of three ours, with half an hour overlap in the beginning and the end. That meant that you had two hours by yourself to steer, and 4,5 hours to rest after that until your next shift started. It was tricky to steer in the dark, but even more hard to sleep down below with all the sounds and the boat leaning back and forth. 24 hours after we left, we did another round. How has the first night and day been?
Lotta: Oh it was bad. But it went OK actually. We went in the right direction. But it was very hard to sleep, much easier now. It´s hard the first day because you are tense, excited.
Jens: I think it went good. Easier than I expected. Of course you are torn, but it´s not more than you can cope. It´s a cool feeling that the air pushes the boat forward without ever stopping. Like to see the horizon all around us. The only odd thing is; can you really be sure that we´re getting somewhere?
Petra: Oil rigs, check. Whale, check (or at least harbour porpoise). Nice to see. But the night was a nightmare. Impossible to get relaxed steering, constantly afraid for gyp and impossible to see what the compass show. Impossible to sleep, I think I slept 1 minute/hour trying. All the noise from glass bottles, something bouncing or the boom rocking back and forth. Almost falling out of bed because of the waves or gyp. Night sailing is not my thing…
The second day passed by so much easier. We didn´t have the wind right at our back anymore, the wind and waves decreased. We got into the rhythm of the shifts, and everyone got some well-deserved sleep, both during the day and the night. We also saw some a group of harbour porpoisers about 20 meters from the boat.
In my first shift after the second night, me and Lotta was sitting and chatting while Jens slept. Just at the horizon I saw something fuzzy, which we then identified as land. Yay! Although the last 30 Nm took all day, it was still nice to know we were going in the right direction. The sun was shining and the wind died. The sea was completely flat. We thought it was a good idea to try out the generator, and so we were able to use our motor for most of the way.
We entered the bay of Leirwick as it was getting dark, and it turned out to be a bad decision to enter from the north as we got several knots of stream against us. We are really thankful for all the help we got from the harbour authority to find the right pier, as they guided us all the way in by the VHF radio.
So in the end, what did we think?
Lotta: It felt good. Pretty nice to see land, everyone still on the boat and we got here all be ourselves. Most memorable was how hard it is to go to the toilet in the flotation suit… But also last night, it was so calm and the whole sea is shimmering. Mighty. To feel the boat moving fast in the wind.
Jens: Much better night two. Think of how nice it would have been night seven!? It was slow the last day when it felt like we would never got there. Most tense when we approached Leirwick – navigating, calling on the VHF and finding the right harbour in the dark. This crossing will be the reference for future crossings, but I need some time to think on what can be learned. One of the most memorable things of the trip was becoming friends with the birds that followed us half the way.
Petra: As soon as I saw land it felt like the crossing had passed by really fast all of the sudden. Then it took forever to get all the way to the harbour, as ususal J First day and night took forever, in a bad way. The best things for me was doing many things for the first time – raising the Q-flag approaching a new country, finding the harbour through VHF, using the generator. We succeeded and now we are finally in Shetland!
After tying up the boat, we went straight to a restaurant for some fish and chips and a beer. Then we slept like babies and got ready to explore Shetland! Hope you all enjoyed the honest description of our first real crossing, stay tuned!