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Leg 3, 2008

June 22, 2008, 0800 hrs, 58.08 N, 005.14 W, Log: 116,617 miles
Tied to Lochinver, Scotland dock in 20-30 kt ENE winds and rain (Scottish summer!)
Baro: 1011.1, Cabin Temp: 65F 1004.1, cockpit 50F

Crew joined Thursday in Oban (www.obanmarina.com). Our forecasted weather looked OK for going as planned through the Caledonian Canal to Inverness, then north to the Orkney and Shetland Islands. But last week a second option occurred to me; sailing up Scotland’s NW coast, rounding Cape Wrath then setting a course directly for Fair Isle and on to the Shetlands, thus skipping past Orkney.

Looking at the projected weather from both the GRIB and weaterfax the Cape Wrath route looked marginally better plus it would all be new territory, so that’s what we chose.

Upon leaving Oban we had 20-30 kt headwinds opposing the current so it was a rough 24 mile motoring slog to Tobermory, (www.tobermoryharbour.co.uk) where we anchored for the night.

mahina
Crew practice cleating a line
Mahina
Plockton anchorage

Mike, a sailor from Oban who moored across from us generously marked our charts with safe anchorages between Lochinver and Cape Wrath.

Extracting MT from Lochinver Marina

With a 0500 start on Friday we sailed often in glorious downwind, sunny conditions, punctuated by powerful rain squalls under the Isle of Skye’s Lochalsh Bridge. before anchoring off the village of Plockton for the night. Ashore we found a friendly and attractive little seaside community complete with a castle overlooking the town moorings and waterfront.

Yesterday we set alarms for 0430 and were underway before 0500 for the Summer Isles. Again we had some great downwind sailing under sunny skies and a couple visits by dolphins. When the local forecast mentioned an imminent NW shifting to NE gale the Summer Isles no longer looked like a safe anchorage. After studying charts and guides Mark W. suggested Lochinver, 21 miles further. The Imray chart C66 and Imray cruising guide (Yachtman’s Pilot: Skye and NW Scotland) (www.imray.com) show a very secure but tiny marina – the only problem, the guide said it was suitable for only a handful of boats up to 12 meters. We paused to practice Lifesling overboard rescue before dodging our way through rocks and reefs into Lochinver Harbour. With some great help by cruisers already berthed and our very competent crew we managed to back in between two finger piers, and with all our nine mooring line we were able to web ourselves in for the forecasted gale.

June 24, 2008, 0100, 59.28N, 002.63W, Log: 116,751 miles
Broad reaching at 8.3 in 22 kt SW winds, occasional rain squalls
Baro: 1017.4  Cabin Temp: 58F, cockpit: 51F

The forecasted frontal passage brought winds to 27 kts Saturday and Sunday inside well-protected Lochinver Harbor, with rough enough conditions offshore to send many of the rugged Scottish fisherman running for shelter. We spent much of Sunday in seminar mode, covering practical and theory of diesel engines, provisioning worldwide and finishing up our safety test. That left several hours for runs and walks to the nearby hills and waterfalls. Lochinver used to be one of the busiest fishing ports in Scotland in terms of fish landed on the dock. The fisheries warehouse and loading dock is several blocks long with extensive freezer works but over fishing has seen the fishery greatly reduced and now only six fishing boats lay tied up in the little town appeared rather sleepy.

Departure for our next passage was weather dependent. The forecast called for the winds to decrease and switch to NW which translated to a beam reach up to Cape Wrath, followed by a broad reach to Fair Isle.

By 0500 Monday morning we’d extricated Mahina Tiare, from her web of nine mooring lines. Once we  motored on out the rocky harbor fairway it didn’t take long for a nice sailing breeze to fill in and as we rounded each headland the tide against wind created some very choppy conditions. We had read a bulletin on the Lochinver harbormaster’s door and heard a radio alert that the Cape Wrath naval firing range would be active from 12 to 3 so we kept the boat speed up to clear the range as quickly as possible. As we approached Cape Wrath, the NW tip of Scotland, a serious tidal race was on our course. As the 22 knot winds had an opposing 2 knot current we eased the reefed main a bit and held on as MT charged along, occasionally taking solid green water over the bow. Minutes after we had cleared the headland, Martin shouted, “THE GENOA IS GOING!”.

I popped up into the cockpit and watched as the sail quickly ripped into a vertical tear from mid-foot to halfway up the sail. Fortunately the Spectra foot line kept the sail from totally blowing apart or shredding more and in a couple minutes Martin had totally furled the sail. Our genoa, custom built by Port Townsend Sails, has 42,000 miles on it, (the equivalent of nearly two world circumnavigations) so knowing we are pushing the limit of it’s lifespan we have a new replacement sail waiting in our office. But... there is no simple or affordable way of getting it to the boat (unless you think $2,500 for FedEx is affordable!) so we had planned to ship the sail to Hawaii and change it out in July, 2009.

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Mark W stands by to hoist the staysail
Mahina
Setting the staysail
Mahina
Landfall at Fair Isle
Now what? Amanda mentioned heading back to Lochinver to repair it but I knew that would mean a day of good sailing lost. Even though this is mid-summer the weatherfaxes are showing one low after another for as long as the 124 hour forecast period. We decided to set the storm staysail and in minutes Amanda and Mark had rigged the cutter stay, hanked on the staysail, and had it hoisted and drawing. We were thrilled that is pulled us along at 7.5 knots.

We have long wanted to visit Fair Isle but weather conditions weren’t favorable on our previous two visits to the Orkneys It’s a tiny island, just about the same size (1 x 3 miles) and population (80) as Pitcairn in the South Pacific. The harbor is equally tiny and the Clyde Cruising Club guide to the Shetlands says the quayside is only large enough for the supply boat and one 40’ yacht. It is possible to anchor but there barely space to fit a couple yachts. We’re not sure what to expect but we’re hoping to be able to berth long enough to remove and repair the torn sail, ideally taking the sewing machine ashore and running it off MT’s inverter through an extension cord.

June 24, 2008, 0509 hrs, 59.32 N, 001.36 W, Log: 116,772 miles
Tied to supply and sheep transport boat Good Shepherd IV
Baro: 1017.9, Cabin Temp: 65F, cockpit 65F

On a sunny and fairly calm morning we arrived at Fair Isle around 0500. From seaward it didn’t look like there was a single flat place on the island, with verdant ridges and hills, frequently occupied with sheep above the ruggedly-eroded sea cliffs.

The natural north harbor is enhanced with huge granite blocks placed between a small island and the shore and we were surprised to see a large slipway. Later we learned the supply ship was hauled out immediately after completing her weekly winter runs to the Shetlands. An English singlehander was tied to the wharf and just getting ready to depart so we rafted to Good Sheppard, the 80’ supply boat/ferry/sheep hauler that services the island. Within minutes Amanda and crew had dropped the genoa, lifted it across onto the ship’s deck and were hard at work cleaning up the tear and getting ready to sew the sail back together.

Around 0730 half a dozen of Good Shepherd’s crew showed up and said they would be getting underway in ten minutes for the Shetlands. We quickly scrambled. After tossing the sail, sewing machine and tools and repair kit onto the dock we untied and remoored Mahina Tiare to the wharf so the ship could leave.

Mahina
Getting ready to drop the headsail
mahina
Amanda inspecting the tear
Mahina
Seam sticking the tear
Mahina
Getting ready to drop the headsail

The repair took Amanda 6.5 hours with Mark W and Chris helping seam stick and sew the tear before breakfast. They traded off with Dawn and Martin who worked on restitching the foot tape and unpicking the Sunbrella sun covering along the foot of the sail The rest of us took turns hiking and exploring this exotic island while someone always stood fender watch as the boat was lying against ship fenders on the cement quay.

Mahina
MT tied up in north harbour

Mahina
Dawn and Martin help feed the sail under the machine
Mahina
Nesting Northern Fulmar

Fair Isle is an important seabird nesting site. A large bird observatory (founded in 1948 by the former owner of the island) overlooks the harbor with room for 35 guests plus scientists who conduct surveys year around. As I hiked the length of the island to the small community center, school and shop at the south end I spotted several people waving strange-looking metal antennas skyward on the distant cliffs. Later I learned from the friendly shopkeeper, that these were scientists tracking electronically-tagged fulmars. This bird research was carried out year around and the research station was an important source of part-time jobs for the islanders. Although it was a brilliantly sunny, calm and warm day, I could only imagine how winter storms must batter this island. We would have enjoyed staying longer on Fair Isle, but weren’t sure how comfortable the tiny harbor would be in the forecasted gale conditions on the following day.

By 1230 the repaired genoa was back on the foil and we set sail for Lerwick, the capital of the Shetlands, 35 miles north. We had a warm and windless passage providing Amanda with the perfect opportunity to teach rig check, rigging spares and emergency rigging repairs.

The Shetlands (www.visitShetland.com) have long attracted us – and we’ve only met two boats who have sailed to these isolated islands. Christian I, the king of Denmark, Sweden and Norway pledged the islands in 1468 as payment of the dowry of his daughter Margaret to King James of Scotland. There was a clause that future kings of Norway could redeem the islands but Scotland dismissed all attempts by Norway to reclaim the islands and annexed them in 1472. To this day the Shetlands still have strong cultural and linguistic ties to Norway and although part of Scotland they fly their on flag having a very strong and independent outlook.

One of the strongest attractions for us is that both of the boats we’ve spoken with who sailed to the Shetlands said that there was live traditional Shetland music every night of the week in the pubs! Amanda had been laid rather low with a nasty cough/flu she got from when we bagged our first Munro (climbing a Scottish mountain over 1,000 meters) in our week off so I hoped this will cheer her up.

We were surprised at the skyline of Lerwick! With many impressive stone buildings dating from the boom days of fishing 150-200 years ago plus an improved harbor (www.lerwick-harbour.co.uk) with several places for visiting yachts, Lerwick looked inviting! We were lucky to find an empty spot between rafted up Norwegian boats that frequently make the 250 mile passage across from Bergen in search of less-heavily taxed liquor.

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MT tied up in north harbour

Mahina
Shetland Museum boats
Mahina
Session at the Douglas Arms

With a free afternoon our crew enjoyed shopping for Shetland sweaters (the chilly weather helped) and knitwear plus checking out the amazing local museum (www.shetlandmuseumandarchives.org.uk).

That evening we headed to the Douglas Arms, a local pub in search of music. Sure enough, the place was packed and a group of ten musicians comprising fiddlers, a mandolin player, several guitarists and a flutist were seated around a dynamic women (whom we later learned was a local high school music teacher) who seemed to be the unofficial leader. It didn’t take Amanda long to get her dancing courage up and before long she was stepping away. The musicians explained that although the Shetlands had a tradition of group set dancing they didn’t have the individual step dancing as in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides and Ireland’s west coast.

Wednesday morning the expected front came through and we were happy to be in port while the winds howled and the rain occasionally pelted down. Chris made contact with Douglas Sinclair (www.douglassinclair.co.uk), a local historian/walking tour guide and on our two hour walking tour of town we learned about the historical aspects of Lerwick and the Shetlands. Douglas mentioned that Helen Clark, New Zealand’s long standing prime minister had just visited Lerwick, retracing her grandfather’s immigration journey from Shetland to NZ and that nearly everyone in the Shetland has relatives in NZ.

In evening we met at the cultural center where the Shetland Fiddler’s were having a session, followed by a traditional dance group who practiced with the Fiddlers for an upcoming performance. One of the dancers explained to Amanda that their set dancing combined Norwegian, Icelandic, Scottish and English dancing. It looked like a lot of fun and the live music was infectious!

By Thursday the front had blown through bringing the blue skies were back. After enjoying more exploring we had a leisurely 1330 start and shot of across the North Sea to Norway in 12-17 knot reaching conditions. Unfortunately by dinner time we were motoring in 5-7 knot winds, which persisted for 48 hours, until nearly our arrival at Mandal, one of the southernmost towns in Norway. We dodged dozens of oil rigs, oil exploration ships, supply ships and a few fishing boats. A highlight of the passage was being surrounded by up to 50 white-beaked dolphins for an hour or more. We were amazed at their showing-off antics. It seemed like each group tried to outdo the other with synchronized jumping so close that they splashed water on the foredeck. What a treat!

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Dawn watching dolphins

Mahina
Pizza anyone?
Mahina
Regina and here happy crew

We’ve stopped in Mandal several times but always at off season. Now that it is summer we expected to find the town and harbor packed on this brilliantly sunny Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t! We easily found a marina berth and were surprised how uncrowded this attractive seaside town was. Planning a dinner ashore we went off to make dinner reservations at Grundens but sadly it was totally booked. Not to be beaten the Mark’s went off and order their takeout pizza instead, to go with our salad and pasta
aboard.

On a wonderful Sunday morning we set sail on a glorious broad reach with 15-20 knots of wind for Kristiansand, the largest city on Norway’s south coast. What a pleasure to be met on the dock by Karolina Orn and Leon Schulz and their kids, Jonathon and Jessica. Karolina had sailed with us from Tromso to Gothenburg in 2001 and we had enjoyed keeping in touch over the years as they sold their business and home in Sweden, purchased a new HR 40 (www.reginasailing.com) and embarked on a two year Atlantic circumnavigation. We enjoyed seeing pictures of their new home in Malta and having a tour of Regina.

Flying Penguin a new Najad 440 sailed by Brit-Marie and Hjalmar Schibbye was also in port. Invited aboard MT for brownies and ice cream, Hjalmar showed us a PowerPoint show of being run down and dismasted aboard their Najad 400 near a Turkish harbor. Hjalmar, a captain in the Swedish naval reserves, said that if they had an AIS unit transmitting on their boat, the freighter most likely would not have run them down. Between Pantanieus Insurance, Najad’s generosity and some added funds, they ended up with a new larger boat so they’re off to the Canaries, Brazil and hopefully around the world!

Mahina
Leg 3 Crew

Mahina
Amanda! Where did you get that duckling?
Mahina
Departing Kristiansand

We waited until noon to leave Kristiansand planning on an overnight passage of the Skagerrak, the often tempestuous body of water between Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

The GRIB files forecasted following winds to 25 knots and as usual they were a little conservative. We had 27-37 knot winds for nearly the entire 115 mile passage with very steep breaking seas. Even with three reefs in the main and a fraction of headsail drawing we still had surfing bursts to 13.7 knots! Our Leg 3 crew did an excellent job steering in very challenging conditions with not a single gybe and only one minor round up. There was only an hour or so where there wasn’t much light and by 0200 the first signs of a brilliant red dawn were streaking the eastern sky.

Landfall was on a rocky hazardous lee shore with steep confused and occasionally breaking seas. With the wind still in the 22 gusting 30 knot range Mark W, our navigator, had chosen a course through the off-lying rocks and reefs that led us into Smogen, one of the classic Swedish Bohuslan fishing/sailing/holiday villages. As we cautiously nosed our way into the ever-narrowing little harbor (a cut between two islands) we saw were dozens of 30-35’ boats rafted out but no empty spaces on the dock. We were about to turn around and go back to some empty slips on the other side of the harbor entrance when Amanda said, “There’s a big Hallberg-Rassy up ahead, maybe we can raft up to them!”.

When we saw the name “Aurora” on the obviously very new and very shiny HR 48 we knew we had caught up with Alex Khasanov, a Leg 4-2007 expedition member and former boat purchase consultation client from St. Petersburg, Russia. We silently rafted alongside marveling at how much larger the HR 48 appears than our beloved Mahina Tiare.

Mahina
Aurora and MT in Smogen

Mahina
Igor and Alex aboard Aurora

After a couple hours of sleep we had a great reunion with Alex, met his crew Igor, and enjoyed a tour below. Alex showed us many very cool installations and tricks, and test ran the Volvo D3 110 engine for us. Although MT’s Volvo TMD 31L has 9,400 hours on it, it appears to be in excellent condition with good compression and no oil use. We know that eventually, probably in New Zealand, we will replace our engine and it was a joy to hear how quiet Alex’s was for even at cruise RPM (in neutral) it was like a sewing machine! We couldn’t believe how much larger the 48 was below than the HR 46 and how many neat new ideas had been incorporated into the design. A furling gennaker is one sail we get a lot of questions about and Alex volunteered to bring it on deck so we could see it. We were impressed how compact it is, on its dedicated furling gear, when tucked away in its own zippered storage duffle.

Smogen is a total tourist scene with boat loads of families and friends visiting by sailboat, ferry boat or car. Every little shop was open and the town was exuberant – families strolling along the harbor front, looking at boats, people checking out the little shops and galleries, and lots of great choices for lunch with sidewalk fish markets and seafood restaurants lining the wharf. Jack, Martin and Dawn went for a swim in the little tidal pools, several crew went for runs, and we just enjoyed every minute of the sun and warmth!

We only had a ten mile sail ahead of us and what a sail it was! As we passed dozens of smart-looking boats under sail everyone waved, looking so happy to be out sailing. We sailed right to the very narrow entrance of Berga Bay, north of Lysekil and then motored in to anchor and start class. Not long after we were into our PowerPoint seminar on storm tactics people on shore hailed us. They were motioning that we were welcome to tie up to the face of their small community dock, so after class we did, enjoying walks on the trails and roads and visiting with locals who were just starting their summer holidays.

This morning (Wednesday, July 2nd) there isn’t a cloud in the sky and not a breath of wind yet. It looks like it will be a scorcher of a day, and we are excited about another great sail just a short distance to tiny Gullholmen village, not far from Ellos. Oops, its 0745, so I had better get started making breakfast!

Mahina
Sailing to Gullhomen

Mahina
Lunch in the cockpit
Mahina
Heave-ho aloft crew go!

Its 2315 and its lovely here in Gullholmen. The sky is still lit up with brilliant colors from a sunset that has just been getting better by the hour. Kids are leaning over the docks fishing and dipping scoop nets for shrimp, lots of people are in the cockpits of their boats (there must be 60 squeezed into the little harbor) enjoying a glass of wine or coffee in the cockpit and lovers young and old are strolling the docks arm in arm. Our crew treated us to a nice dinner at the restaurant that we are rafted to and afterwards Amanda and I walked around a small island connected by bridge to Gullholmen. The houses, closely packed on the tiny island and dating back 150 years or so, frequently have net sheds in front on boardwalks, a relic from the fishing days. Many are converted to sleep-outs for grandkids, picnic spots or boathouses for storing or repairing gorgeous varnished wooden boats. While strolling, we met a friendly couple who were house-sitting their daughters’ house and they invited us in to look around. The low ceilings and floors of wide pine planks were painted and the woodwork detail was incredible, particular around the windows and eaves. There are no cars or roads on either island and large nature reserves occupy much of Harmano, the larger of the two islands. Residents use boats or children’s wagons to carry groceries back from the single small shop and little garden tractors and trailers to carry heavier items like building supplies and propane tanks. There is no crime, no police, and many doors are left open. What a paradise!

July 6, 2008, 0800, 58.13N, 011.32W, Log: 117,335 miles
At anchor near Flaton Is., occasional rain drizzles (where has summer gone?)
Baro: 1004.0  Cabin Temp: 64F, cockpit: 58F, Sea water temp: 60F

Thursday morning we motored the two miles to Hallberg-Rassy’s marina in Ellos and before long everyone had packed up, wiped down their cabins with Windex and were ready for boatyard tours. Jack and Mark W. had earlier arranged a test sail on a new 37 and came back remarking how it handled like a sports car in the fresh breeze and flat water. Amanda tagged along with the rest of our crew while Inger gave them a detailed yard tour.

Mahina
Viewing the computerized plywood cutter at HR

One of my first priorities was to sort our battery situation. After two years of hard use, our battery capacity has become so reduced that after being totally charged Thursday night (25 volts) they were only showing 23 volts Friday morning. We had a serious problem! I talked with Vickie Vance, owner of HR Parts and Accessories (www.hr-parts.com) about ordering four replacement 8D size gel batteries but she said the gel batteries she could get were of a different size so they would not fit our battery boxes.

Six months ago I read a letter printed in SSCA Bulletin (www.ssca.org) where the writer mentioned corresponding with the manufacturer (East Penn Company, maker of West Marine Sea Gel batteries) of a similar problem. East Penn had suggested deeply discharging then recharging the batteries as a way of restoring their capacity. This worked for the person writing the letter so I decided to try it. I turned on every light and appliance I could think of and by mid-morning the lights were starting to get dim and the voltage was down from 23 to 11 volts. Then who should pop by but Nigel Calder, author of Boatowner’s Electrical and Mechanical Handbook as well of a raft of other technical marine books and articles! Nigel and his wife Terrie are commissioning their new Malo 46 just a couple miles north of Ellos. Nigel confirmed that deep discharging might restore the batteries but cautioned taking them below 6 – 8 volts as it may cause the batteries to reverse polarity thus ruining them.

Being the cautious one I shut all the loads down at 9 volts and plugged in the battery charger. Nothing happened! OK, maybe there isn’t enough voltage to make the battery charger operate so I’ll just start the engine and charge with the alternator. Still no charging! Yikes this was scary! Maybe I had ruined the batteries by discharging them. About this time, Amanda calmly suggested trying the non-electronic old-style Balmar voltage regulator. “Didn’t you have something like this happen in Chile on MTII years ago?” I couldn’t exactly remember, but it only took a minute to pull the plug from the Balmar Max Charge hi-tech voltage regulator and plug it into the Balmar BRS (basic regulator system). When I started the engine, the regulator had the alternator putting out full power, 110 amps @ 24 volts, for the first time ever. Whew it worked! We spent four hours at the dock charging at over 130 amps (alternator plus battery charger), the batteries didn’t overheat and are now working as well as when first installed. As we have a total house capacity of 500 amps/24 volts (equivalent of 1000 amps if we had a 12 volt system) it will take awhile longer to fully charge. Wow, thanks to that person who wrote the letter in the SSCA bulletin and thanks to Amanda for coming up with the idea of using the basic voltage regulator. I think I will now do this battery conditioning routine at the start of each season. I wonder how many more years I could have gotten out of previous battery banks if I had known this earlier. Oh well!

Yesterday we shifted from a lovely anchorage just south of Gullholmen to a spot not far from the Malo boatyard to meet up with Nigel and Terrie. We shared a fun dinner together and Nigel showed us all the amazing systems including diesel-electric propulsion and common buss electrical system that he is experimenting with on their new boat. They will be at the Malo yard this next week getting the last few details attended to so we will get to see them again as Martinsson’s yard, where we will be, is just a mile or two away.

Mahina Tiare is due to be hauled at 0730 tomorrow (Monday) morning for installation of a bow thruster, a new AIS transceiver and a few other smaller projects. We have gone back and forth on the bow thruster installation for 11 years, but have decided that now is the time! Getting pinned on the docks several times in the Azores at the end of last season tipped the balance in favor of installing a thruster. We’ve decided not to ship our new headsail from our office yet, so once back in the water Amanda will set to and reinforce the Fair Isle repairs.

leg 3 itinerary



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