Monday, 13 July 2009

Roughing it on the North Sea

We're now securely tucked up in the incredibly hospitable harbour of Farsund (free berthing, free morning paper and rolls delivered to the boat!), after a rather eventful crossing.

We advanced our departure to Thursday evening, noting on the weather forecast that a calm spell was approaching on Sunday, to be followed by heavy weather as an Atlantic front moved in from the west. Conditions were expected to be a bit rough on the first day, but rapidly easing down and we hoped to get across in advance of the calm.

It was a beautiful evening sail out of the Forth. Fairly brisk breeze until we reached North Berwick, where it suddenly dropped off from 20 to 10 knots. We duly shook the reefs out of the main and changed up to the genoa. Not for long though. As soon as we passed the May Island, the official dividing line between the Forth estuary and the North Sea, conditions deteriorated dramatically.

I was not long off watch and tucked up in the bunk when Sonja called down that it was time for a sail change. Was it ever. The swell was pretty outrageous. Wrestling with the genoa on a heaving foredeck was enough to start me heaving as well and it wasn't long before I could hear Sonja doing the same aft in the cockpit.

In fairly short order we had the boat snugged down for heavier weather, with the main double-reefed and the working jib set. The wind strength was only about F5-6, but severe gales further north had turned the sea into a cauldron.

That was it for our stomachs for most of the next couple of days. While the vessel charged on at a steady 6.5kt, we were basically able only to do the minimum required to keep her sailing. Eating and drinking were no longer an option. There was only sleeping or being on watch, which was mostly lying down. An enormous amount of water was coming over the decks and the cockpit was regularly deluged.

So it went on until the night of the second day. Earlier that evening, I had changed the headsail down to the storm jib as the wind was increasing to F7. Again I was off watch, the vessel was bashing along and we were in the middle of an oil or gas field, with platforms scattered around. I was suddenly wakened by a mighty thump and bang and opened my eyes to see a collection of objects cascading down from the galley, which oddly was directly above me, into the bunk.

Fettler had been struck on her port quarter by an enormous wave, laying her over on her beam ends. She popped back up immediately and the banging of the sails made me think something must have been torn loose as I hurried up on deck. Fortunately all was intact. The pressure of the water had blown out the bungee lines holding the bottom edge of the dodgers (canvas spray shields either side of the cockpit) and knocked the new Forgen wind turbine slightly around its axis on the pushpit rail, but that was all.

At this point, a rather shaken Sonja suggested that we turn downwind and head for Denmark. I had been thinking we would just keep bashing on as before but then decided that on the course we were on it was just too risky with the seas that were then running. Instead we hove to for 5 hours, got some much needed rest and then got back under way in the morning when conditions were slightly better.

One of the highlights of the voyage came at half past three that afternoon, when I was finally able to brew and consume a nice hot cup of tea. About an hour later, a tin of Aldi’s finest Irish stew (highly recommended) followed the tea down my gullet and all was well. Sonja’s recovery took another half day.

The sea took quite a long time to settle down when the wind started dropping, but by the middle of the third day it had dropped right off and we were motoring across steadily calming waters.

With 20 or so miles to go and the coast in sight a fine breeze sprang up from the SE and we coasted in to our landfall in brilliant sunshine, only wishing it could have been like that all the way across.


Gordon said...

Sounds like you have been having a great time.Glad you made it.Hope the weather is still good and the natives are friendly.The "NOSER" has been out this morn and really enjoyed it.


Melanie said...

Oh dear, good to hear that you made it in one piece :-). Hope the rest of the journey will be plain sailing!

Ken said...

omg, id be crapping myself if half of that had happened.

ant or kay said...

That crossing doesn't sound like fun. I'm sure the rest of the trip will be worth it!
Good luck

Jill said...

I am just now catching up on your voyages, and BE CAREFUL, omgoodness we love you guys and no getting swept away by the sea, ya hear! Am glad to see from your later posts that you are having what sounds to be a much more lovely time in your wanderings. I can't wait to read more adventures and see your pictures.