Log #15c North Sea gales and storms

June 30, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 15 Baltic & North Sea, The Logs

Log #15c North Sea gales and storms

Written at Rosfjord, Norway
May 30/00
Covers the period May 25 to May 30, 2000

I write this log while we have yet to cross the North Sea from Norway to Scotland. The gales and storm have been encountered since leaving Denmark to cross the Skagerrak and North Sea to here in south west Norway. We have encountered for four days the worst weather we have ever had in Veleda, full storm, severe gales, prolonged wind speeds in excess of 60 knots (over 120 kilometers per hour). We are still waiting for the gales to subside before we make the 375 nautical mile crossing to Scotland, but I get ahead of myself.

Winds are reported using the Beaufort Scale which goes from 0 to force 12. Below is a summary if this scale, which I will be using from time to time to describe the conditions we have met. To date we have been sailing in up to Force 9 and have been exposed to Force 10 in a not too sheltered marina.

BEAUFORT WIND SCALE ( The comments in brackets are mine, otherwise the words are direct quotes from the scale descriptions) A knot is one nautical mile (2000yards) per hour or about 2 kilometres per hour.

Force 1 – Wind speed from 1 to 3 knots, described as LIGHT AIRS (a drifter)
Force  2 – Speed 4 to 6 knots, described as LIGHT BREEZE (a slow sail)
Force 3 – Speed 7 to 10 knots, described as GENTLE BREEZE (a pleasant, easy sail)
Force 4 – Speed 11 to 16 knots, described as MODERATE BREEZE ( a good sailing breeze)
Force 5 – Speed 17 to 21 knots, described as FRESH BREEZE, with up to 2 metre waves (a challenging sail)
Force 6 – Speed 22 to 27 knots, described as STRONG BREEZE, with up to 3 metre waves ( a heavy sail)
Force 7 – Speed 28 to 33 knots, described as NEAR GALE, with 4 metre waves, seas heaping up, white foam from breaking waves (don’t go out in it, or seek shelter if caught out)
Force 8 – Speed 34 to 40 knots, described as GALE, with 5.5 metre moderately high waves of greater length; edges of crests beginning to break into spindrift (you are in for it!)
Force 9 – Speed 41 to 47 knots, described as SEVERE GALE, 7 metre high waves, dense streaks of foam, crests begin to topple, tumble and roll over, spray may affect visibility (pure survival)
Force 10 – Speed 48 to 55 knots, described as STORM, with up to 9 metre very high waves, long overhanging crests, foam blown in great patches along direction of the wind, surface takes on a white appearance, tumbling of the sea heavy and shock-like (you or your boat will sustain damage)
Force 11 – Speed 56 to 63 knots, described as VIOLENT STORM, sea completely covered by long white patches of foam (Aaagghhh!!!)
Force 12 – Speed 64 to 71 knots, described as HURRICANE with up to 14 metre waves, air filled with foam and spray (Our Father Who art in…)

We left Lemvig, near the North Sea end of the Limfjord in Denmark, at 0655, May 25, and motor sailed the 5.5 miles to the Thyboron Canal and into the North Sea. We were going north west and had a nice 15 knot, east wind in which we flew our spinnaker for about three hours, a lovely reach with the wind a bit abaft the beam. Around noon in a light rain, we dropped the spinnaker and went under full main and genoa as the wind was backing to the north east. During the afternoon, the wind started backing, working from NE to the north. We had a hitch hiker in the form of a small finch who sat on the rail or flitted around the lee of the boat for about ten minutes.

However as the wind continued to back to the north west we had to change tacks to the port tack. After it had died for about an hour in the early evening, it came back from the west and stronger at about 20 to 25 knots (force 6). We were now close hauled, having a difficult time trying to steer 320 (M) into it. There must have been a strong set into the Skagerrak, as we were heading 320 by ship’s compass, but our track was only 005 by GPS. We were veering off our intended track to starboard. The wind was increasing to a constant 30 knots (force 7) with gusts up to 35 and 40 by 2000 (8:00pm), and I reefed the genoa by 50%.

Judy had not been feeling well because of the heavy motion and was lying down in the cabin. By 2330 I was considering putting a double reef in the main as the wind was still increasing and now up to 35 knots. To ease things for Judy and to have time to put the reef in I hove to. We were about to start putting in the reef when Judy saw the port and starboard lights of a ship coming up astern of us, less than a mile away. (Seeing both port and starboard lights meant she was head on, on a collision course with us.) I flashed up the engine and tried to power out of our hove to state to starboard. The wind was too strong against our backed genoa, and the ship was getting closer. We had to bring the genoa around to the starboard side, and alter rapidly to port to sail away on the port tack from the track of the oncoming ship. The engine helped force us into the west wind with all sails luffing, but at least we got out of the way of the ship.

After we were clear, we hove to again to complete the reefing of the main. However, with the wind still increasing and the waves high and confused, we decided to drop the main, forget sailing and motor the remaining 18 miles to Rosfjord. Pounding into 35 knot winds and heavy seas we would be reduced to only 3 knots, but it was better than sailing 50 degrees off course and being out there another 15 hours instead of only 5 or 6. So I turned on the engine and put it in gear to power onto a direct course – then THUNK – the engine seized up and suddenly stopped!

We had caught the starboard genoa sheet in the propeller! There we were in mid North Sea at midnight with a genoa sheet stretched taut and wrapped around the propeller, the main sail furled, no functioning engine, and in a full gale with 40 knots of wind!!!

As we couldn’t control the reefed genoa, our choice was to try to sail with it, and possibly put up a reefed main, or to try to heave to again to reduce our motion and leeway. So I hove to, backing the genoa. It eased the motion a bit, but as the seas were heavily confused we were bouncing around and corkscrewing badly. We also were not in a full heave-to position as we did not have a main up and the genoa was stretched at an awkward angle as the sheet was still caught in the propeller. Rather than lying with a minimum of leeway (the direction the wind is blowing), we were actually sailing at about 2 knots on a course of 190. This was acceptable, as going that direction, we had over 300 miles of searoom, and it was taking us west of our track line, as up to this point the wind had forced us to the east of it.

We put out a SECURITE call on the VHF to warn ships in the area that we were a 10 meter sailboat not under command with sail and engine problems, our position (57 47.0 N, 007 20.2 E), our course (190 magnetic), our speed (2 knots), and our intention to remain in this state until daylight when we could attend to sail and engine repairs. We put out this call several times during the night, updating our position.

We then settled down to a hellish night being buffeted by full gale winds of 35 to 40 knots with gusts over 50 and crazy wave patterns. The charts for this area have a caution for this stretch saying, “Dangerous waves may occur in various areas along the Norwegian coast. For details see Admiralty Sailing Directions”. We did not carry Admiralty Sailing Directions. Poor Judy was still feeling ill from all the motion, and I was exhausted. We didn’t get much sleep between 0200, when we finally gave up doing and fretting and just stayed in this semi-hove to state, until first light which was about 0400.

We had hoped the wind would have died so one of us could go in the water on a life line to cut the line free. No such luck!  The wind was still blowing a full gale at 40 knots! The starboard genoa sheet was still taut. I initially thought of cutting it in the middle and tying another line to it to serve as a new starboard sheet. However, in the light of dawn our thinking was a bit clearer and instead we rove a full new line through the clew of the sail, and then cut the old trapped line at the clew and gathered it inboard. We now had an operational genoa. Then we hoisted a triple reefed main, and set sail again, able to make a speed of 4.2 knots on a northerly course. It was now 0500 and the wind was still at 40 knots, but we were functional again. Our position the was 57 24.9 N, 007 16.7 E, and we had drifted  about 17 miles away from our destination during the night. However by 0600 the wind had dropped to only 35 knots, and backed a bit westwards, enabling us to make a course of 330, on track for Rosfjord! It was a good course and we let out the full genoa (We tend to sail hard) and were making over 5.2 knots close hauled (That means as close towards the wind as we could sail.)

GREAT! But we still had no engine to get us into the rocky Norwegian Rosfjord, our destination. However, we would worry about that when we got there. We could try sailing in, call for assistance to tow us in, or heave to again and hope it was calm enough to go in the water to cut the line free.

When we arrived off the fjord, it was still not calm enough to heave to and go in the water, but we had a favourable wind that held from the north west, and allowed us to sail the 5 miles up the fjord in a northeast direction. Then, where to anchor? Several anchorages were noted on our chart, however, most were either too exposed to the prevailing winds, or too deep.

We sailed up almost to the end of the fjord and went into a bay, behind a headland, that we thought would be sheltered. We turned to port out of the channel and furled the genoa, going in on our triple reefed main. No sandy shores visible, only rocks, and deep water. We lost the wind as we went around the headland into the little bay. In the middle of it was a stake indicating a shoal which we had to avoid. We went around that, between it and the shore, heading slowly up towards the lee (sheltered from the wind) of the headland. To stay away from the shoal we had to go closer to the inner shore, and up into the wind to stop the boat completely and drop the anchor.

I told Judy to drop the anchor, as opposed to lowering it as we usually would, as we were now being blown down wind, and had to stop ourselves before the rocks on the leeward side of this small bay. To make matters worse, there was a valley just past the headland which had initially provided shelter from the wind. Now the wind was howling down that valley, blowing us slowly towards the rocks now only 100 yards away. The light anchor we first used was dragging! We were in 35 feet of water. I went forward and lowered our heavy 35 pound plow anchor with a full chain rode. With 90 feet of chain out it was still dragging. Then one of them seemed to catch and we stopped drifting -– for the time being. The rocks downwind were now only 50 yards away.

I dropped Sprite into the water, hopped in and got the motor started with the intention of using the dinghy to tow Veleda if the anchor started dragging again. Meanwhile, Judy stripped, and came out naked except for a safety harness and her mask, snorkel, and knife to free the propeller. She climbed down the stern ladder onto Sprite, and tried to free the line first by poking it with a boat hook. It didn’t work, so in she went, whimpering in anticipation, then shrieking from the cold, then cursing as she hit her head on the hull from the wave motion. After two or three minutes, she hacked the propeller free, then scrambled up the ladder into Veleda to dry off. I re-attached Sprite to the dinghy tow mechanism and raised it ready to get going. We flashed up the engine. It started, but was not pumping water! This has been a not infrequent problem, especially after a heavy sail, as the water line seems to lose its suction. To remedy the situation we have to open the starboard locker and remove the water strainer top, pour in some water, and reseal it. It seems to want the attention! The engine then pumped properly, and we were operational!

We motored the half mile into the yacht basin at the head of the fjord, and moored to a floating pontoon dock. Secure at last! And we do this for fun!!

More about the Force 10 storm during the night later.