Log #15d More North Sea Gales

July 9, 2000 in Log Series 11 - 19, Logs by Series, Series 15 Baltic & North Sea, The Logs, Uncategorized

Log #15d More North Sea Gales

Written at Stornoway, Outer Hebrides
July 9, 2000
Covers the period May 26 to June 3, 2000

As I write this while here in Stornoway, I realize I am over a month behind in my logs, and that we have not had much good weather since leaving Helsinbørg and Copenhagen on May 16. Right now it is cold (13C), misty and raining, as it has been for over half the time since we have been in Scotland.  It seems like a good time to hunker down with my laptop and start to get caught up on my logs. I have the coal fire going, it is warm, dry and comfortable in Veleda, Judy is still asleep (It’s only 0800), and I’ve made a pot of hot coffee, and have the main cabin all to myself. Happiness is …! We’ll probably stay here for another day rather than sail down the Isle of Lewis in the rain with a dropping barometer.

Anyways, back to my logs. The last one got us into Rosfjord after a horrendous sail. Unfortunately, this log is even worse. After getting the line freed from our prop, we motored about a mile into the “marina” at the head of the fjord. It was just a series of floating pontoons with finger docks, but no breakwater. They were facing right down the fjord. Veleda was fortunately secured with her bows facing the fjord, behind the floating pontoon. No one was around, and no harbourmaster, no town nearby, only the docks of a fish plant with a couple of ships tied up.

The first night there was OK. During the next day we were visited by John, a local boater who also worked on the North Sea oil rigs. He indicated he might be able to hook us up to electricity and would drop by next day. That night there was a forecast for force 9 gales. It was wrong! The gales were force 10!

In the early evening as the wind rose, we started jerking on our mooring lines. I now see the value of those rubber devices that cushion the shocks on mooring lines. We didn’t have any. We noticed that many of the other boats did. Before turning in for the night, we doubled up the lines. On the dock it was bouncy, with wind driven spray. The bow of Veleda was jerking up and down in 6 to 10 foot arcs. Fortunately our bow was not overhanging the dock or it would have been pounding into it. The wind was so heavy, I had to lean into it. To walk on the dock I had to be as cautious as if I were on a boat, – small steps, bent knees, lean into the wind, keep my balance, and shield my face and eyes from the flying spray. As I watched the wind speed indicator in the cockpit, it was indicating constant winds between 45 to 55 knots, and was frequently pegged above 60 which is as high as our indicator goes! We were in a force 10, verging on force 11, on an exposed floating pontoon dock. Not a comforting situation, but I guess better than being at sea in it!

Trying to sleep was difficult with all the bouncing and jerking. Shortly after midnight, one of the several times I went out to check the lines, I found one of our forward starboard dock lines had snapped. I still had two others that were holding well. The one that snapped had been around a piece of angle iron on the dock rather than on a smoother cleat or ring. I was glad we were facing into the wind and waves rather than being side to or stern to. One of the side to boats on the outer dock was rolling violently. Several boat covers were torn badly. Our full enclosure held up quite well, and the cockpit was dry and wind free.

The wind abated by dawn, and the next day was just overcast. John came down to the boat with an electrical cord that could plug into the Norwegian plugs, with a socket that could plug into our transformer, so we had electricity for charging our batteries and for our small electric heater. Mind you, our batteries were full from the wind generator. In fact I had shut the generator off early in the evening, as at 45 knots it gives a high pitched whine that amplifies the emotional effect of the howling wind in the rigging. But at least we had full batteries.

We walked into Lyndgal, a small town a couple of miles away, to do some shopping and to see what could be done about propane, as our temporary butane stove purchased in Aalborg had only two more canisters left, and these were not available here. Again, to use Norwegian propane bottles, we would have had to buy their tanks, though we could have used our British regulator. An expensive investment for only four or five days use before being back in the UK. Our plans were to leave as soon as weather permitted as we had to meet a friend in Inverness June 4.

We also wanted to check in with customs at the local police station, but they did not know the procedure. However, they gave us a phone number in Kristiansand, and we reported by phone. No paper work to prove we were outside of the EU for any VAT considerations. Perhaps we should have had the police sign our log to prove we were there. (Being out of the EU qualifies for another six months VAT exemption when entering the EU, or alternatively in claiming back any VAT paid on purchases while in EU countries.) However, we are not concerned yet with this.

All the Norwegians we met spoke very acceptable English and went out of their way to be helpful, including one chap who drove Judy back to the boat to check that the electrical connection he was making up for us would be compatible with our transformer. At the “marina”, there was still no official to pay, so we stayed there free for several days. There was a club house with toilets and showers, and a request for 5 kroners per shower. There were several old row houses that looked semi-abandoned near the docks. We found out that they were in temporary use to house refugees from eastern Europe who were seeking asylum in Norway. The economy in Norway is quite strong as a result of North Sea oil. We wish we could have spent more time exploring other fjords, however we wanted to get going.

Trying to leave was most depressing and distressing! We could not get any long range forecasts. Even in trying the internet at the local library would not give us any detail for this part of the world. At 0730, May 29, having a local forecast for only force 5 to 7 from the north west, we decided to leave. Going out the fjord there was a light force 2 breeze. (See Log #15c for Beaufort Wind Force scale) By the time we cleared the fjord into open water it was force 4, and we put up the main and genoa. We were going into it close hauled, and south of our intended track. The wind increased throughout the morning. Judy was not feeling well and was lying down in the main cabin. We were pounding into 12 foot seas, but doing over 5 knots. By noon hour the wind had increased to a full force 7, a constant 35 knots. We hove to and reduced genoa by 50% and double reefed the main before continuing.

By 1400 the wind was now at force 9 at a constant 45 knots, verging on a force 10, pounding into 4 to 5 metre waves. Even though we were 24 miles out, we decided to head back as we did not want to get stuck out in a force 10 full storm. I expected the trip back would be much faster as we were going downwind. It was! What took 5 and a half hours of heavy sailing outbound took only 3 and a half return. I was enjoying a broad reach with 45 knots of wind with double reefed sails and exceeding hull speed most of the way. At one point our GPS recorded 13.7 knots over ground! That’s more than double our hull speed. However, the winds were still up and gusting to over 60 knots. We were back on the pontoon docks by 1730, and settled down with great relief. The winds were not blowing up the fjord, and it was surprisingly and pleasantly calm.

The next day, May 30, the 0740 forecast was for only force 4 or 5, decreasing to 3. OK, let’s try again! No problem motoring the 5 miles out the fjord. But, once outside, the winds were howling at a constant 35 knots with gusts over 40! No way! So back we went again. We went into town, had a hot meal and filled a jerry can with diesel. By late afternoon the weather at the docks was quite settled. Should we try it?

Judy was most apprehensive and almost in tears as we considered whether to go or not. She resented feeling so uneasy about going out into open water. Sailing is supposed to be fun! What would we encounter if we left? Time was a consideration in terms of meeting our friend and in use of the last remaining canisters of butane before we would have to buy an expensive Norwegian propane tank. I wanted to leave, and reassured Judy that if the winds were over 30 knots at the opening, we would immediately turn back.

So at 1930,off we went, both of us feeling quite anxious about a 375 mile crossing of the North Sea after having been battered by it so often in the past few days. As we were motoring out the fjord, the sky was blue, the wind gentle and a nice sunset was in the offing. At the entrance, the wind increased to 25 knots, but the sky was not threatening and the seas were quite manageable. Let’s try it. We double reefed the main and genoa and set off, close hauled. On a close haul, I can strap the sails in tight, lock the rudder amidships, and Veleda will steer herself without use of the autopilot. By 2115 the wind settled down to a nice force 5 and we unfurled the genoa to its full extent, leaving the main double reefed, sailing into a late North Sea sunset. The sun set at 2217, but at 2345 there was still a twilight glow in the western sky. We were close to 58 North Latitude by now, and the days were quite long.

We sailed all that first night out, putting the engine on and motor sailing at 0600  the next day, May 31, as the wind had dropped to a calm force 2. We also noticed the GPS coverage disappearing several times from several minutes to several hours. When this happened, we lost speed and course data and only the Latitude and Longitude froze, indicating where we were when it went off. We would note the position, plot it and start a DR track just in case it did not come back. This poor coverage may be a function of the fact that the Americans are removing the programmed imprecision from the system, and the resultant fixes (when GPS is working) are now accurate to within about ten metres. We have noticed this periodic poor coverage ever since leaving the Thames in mid April.

By mid afternoon the wind had backed, and was now (what else!) directly on the nose when we were on course. Our choice was to sail 50 degrees off course or to drop the genoa and motor directly into the wind. We motored into it until midnight when the wind had backed sufficiently that we could once again sail near our intended course.

Our second day out (June 1) the winds were force 3 to 4 for the first few hours, but by 0600 had increased to force 6; we reefed the genoa, never having shaken out the reefs from the main. During the day it kept up between force 5 and 6. During the late afternoon and early evening we passed within a mile or two of the Britannia oil rig and later the Andrew oil rig. The locations of these rigs are noted on the charts. They seemed eerie at first as the visibility was only about two or three miles, and their lights did not show up in the daylight. These are other dangers to look out for at sea.

During the evening of June 1 the winds started to increase up to force 7 and by midnight were blowing force 8 (35 to 40 knots, classified as a full GALE!) from the south west. At 0230 the wind veered west and dropped to only force 5 during which we unfurled the genoa, but only for a half hour before the wind went back up to force 7 (30 knots). By 0530 the wind had veered to the north west and was up to a force 9. We had to tack during this heavy wind as we were once again being blown way off our intended course. To do this safely, we hove to for an hour to rest, then went on the other tack at 0645. We were still pounding into a force nine (Severe Gale) with 45 knot winds and 5 metre waves.

At 0720 our stern rail fractured, and the dinghy was being bounced severely on our stern. We lashed the stern rail as best we could and decided to heave to again, as trying to sail a course in force 9 was too much strain on us and the boat. However, the waves were high (15 to 18 feet) and confused so that the hove to position was still a tumultuous bashing around, with poor Sprite being bounced mercilessly on its dinghy tow. The tow held OK, but several times the dinghy was lifted up and swung violently putting added strain onto our lashed stern rail. Our lashing held OK.

We intended to stay hove to until the gale abated, but after 5 hours of this merciless pounding, we thought the wind had eased a bit, down to 35 to 40 knots, and that trying to sail would be no worse than the pounding we were taking while hove to. So at 1230 on our third day out we slid out of our hove to position and resumed sailing. We were right about the wind easing (not just wishful thinking) and by 1300 the wind had dropped to a mere 30 knots, allowing us to unfurl the genoa and have a good fast sail, praying that the gale was not going to strike again. By 1930 the wind had dropped to a quiet force 2 prompting us to turn on the engine and motor sail as fast as we could for Fraserburgh at the south entrance to the Moray Firth as we did not feel like going directly the next 85 miles to our rendezvous in Inverness.

We arrived at 0125 on June 3, meandering into another strange port for the first time, at night, exhausted and  being confused by the myriad of shore lights as to which were the proper lights for entering. However, we were talked in over VHF by the harbourmaster’s office and once inside the high walled fishing port, all was quiet and calm. We were directed into one section of the harbour, and advised to not go beyond the bend, and to moor on either side. We saw one sailboat that was sitting about fifteen feet from one wall, so we decided to go alongside the opposite wall, a 20 foot rough concrete face with no fenders, other than a few monstrous old tractor tires. We went up to one of them to tie up the bow, and amidships was a ladder to tie off to. However, a representative of the harbourmaster came over in a small truck and took our lines to bollards on the upper surface of the dock. We were here! The relief when we shut the engine off was much appreciated after such a heavy, anxiety filled, 80 hour crossing of the horrible North Sea!