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Leg 0 - 2016, Update 1

May 6, 2016, 0700 hrs, 59.24 N, 01 25 W, Log: 192,538 miles
Baro: 1023.7, Cabin Temp: 63 F, Cockpit: 58 F, Sea Water: 48F
Motorsailing in light winds with sloppy left over seas
8 miles from Fair Isle, located between the Orkney and Shetland Islands, Scotland

NORTH SEA GALES, SUNSHINE AND FAIR ISLE LANDFALL!

What an exciting morning landfall! On our bow is a rugged and dramatic island with far more sheep than people and a tiny harbor. Our very excited expedition members spent hours after diesel engine class yesterday researching the extensive bird life and hiking trails and reading about the history of this very isolated island.

In preparation for our 27th expedition season Amanda and I had five weeks aboard Mahina Tiare compared to our normal two weeks because we wanted to give our new engine a thorough sea trial.


MT ship shape in Smogen, Sweden

We were able to clock up the required 50 engine hours for our warranty inspection by making a 120 mile passage up to Oslo, Norway and back and whilst there we managed to schedule in a couple of talks at the Oslofjord Maritime Museum.

We’ll soon add a separate update covering our 192,000 mile, 20-year refit which included replacing MT’s teak decks, all below-waterline plumbing fixtures, mooring cleats, all port and hatch lenses and seals and more.

Much last past weeks before the expedition were spent moored in Hallberg-Rassy’s marina just steps away from where MT was first launched 20 years ago. It was an exciting time as nearly every day another family or group of sailors would arrive to pick up, provision and set sail for home on their new HR. We also met folks from Russia, the UK, Ireland, Norway and Sweden who were at the boatyard to test sail new boats and it reminded us of our excitement in 1996 when we were at the HR yard ordering Mahina Tiare III, having just returned from sailing to Cape Horn and Antarctica.

Our Leg 0 (we called it Leg 0 because we added it after all other 2016 expedition legs were filled) crew arrived on Sunday and within an hour we set sail to practice hoisting and reefing sails, ending up at Gullholmen, a picturesque little fishing/holiday island not far from Ellos which is an hour drive north of Gothenburg on Sweden’s NW coast.


Gullhomen - Our first night destination

We returned Monday morning for a boatyard tour at Hallberg-Rassy before setting sail for Mandal, the southernmost and sunniest town in Norway.

In 2001 and 2007 when we made this early-season passage we experienced headwinds and rough conditions, getting blown as far up the east coast as Risor. This time we were able to more than lay our course and gained enough southing to sail within 10 miles of Skagen; the northern tip of Denmark.

We requested a passage forecast from Commanders Weather before setting sail from Ellos and were amazed at the accuracy, even four days later. Click HERE to view the forecast.

Two of our Leg 0 expedition members told us they were looking forward to heavy weather experience and they weren’t disappointed when winds gusted to 32 knots producing short, steep seas that the shallow Skagerrak is known for. We started the passage with two reefs in the main and were down to three reefs before long, with MT still rocketing along at close to 8 kts on a close reach. Only two experienced seasickness and once they switched to Stugeron they were over it within an hour.


Kitty and David discuss a course change

Mandal Harbor and view of the Skagerrak. MT circled in red.

After 0400 the wind and rain started easing and by the time we sighted the cost of Norway the cold front had blown through, the sun was out, the seas were flattening out nicely and we were able to inventory survival packs before landfall at Mandal.

Mandal was still in winter mode - docks were nearly empty, moorage was free and the locals were soaking up the sunshine, telling us it was the sunniest and warmest day of the year. Our keen crew hiked to the towns viewpoints and enjoyed free showers at the nearby community swimming pool.

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast aboard before setting sail on our 300-mile North Sea crossing Wednesday morning. With sunny and smooth conditions, we rounded Lindesnes, the SW tip of Norway as perfect broad-reaching winds filled in, allowing Amanda to teach rig check and spares and me to cover marine diesel engines.

Commanders had forecasted peak winds of 22-30 Thursday night and we weren’t disappointed as we had gusts to 34 in broad reaching conditions Thursday night. For the first time this year, the sky never completely darkened in the west before the hints of first light started showing in the east.

Our fast passage meant that we had the rugged outline of Fair Isle on the horizon not long after sunrise Friday morning and by 0930 we’d dropped sail entered North Haven harbor and prepared to moor alongside the pier wall.


David prepares to drop the main as we enter North Haven

Stockholm dropped her main anchor mid-channel then, with some superb ship handling, managed to work her way alongside the pier, leaving room for The Good Shepherd at the north end.

Fair Isle’s ferry, The Good Shepherd IV wasn’t in port but several trucks had been left parked on the pier so we assumed she was on a run up to Shetland. We tied alongside the wharf, but found the surge made it difficult so instead anchored in the kelp and sandy bottom off the wharf in the area recommended on the charts. We had just kind of gotten the anchor to set on our second attempt when a long whistle alerted us to a very unusual and historical looking ship steaming up the narrow channel into the harbor.

Through binoculars we could make out the ship’s name, Stockholm. I recalled reading on Polar Quest’s website that this historic 1953 former Swedish government lighthouse tender was owner-operated as a mini-expedition ship in Spitsbergen, taking only 12 guests. After hailing Stockholm on Channel 16, the owner/captain appreciated our offer to reverse back toward shore as they made the 90 degree turn in relatively shallow water.

Before long Stockholm’s naturalists, guides and guests were ashore and headed up the track. We finished breakfast, launched our RIB and our crew also headed up the hill. After dropping our crew off, I met Per, the owner/captain and Magnus, his relief skipper. They offered us a tour which was like going through a museum. The Swedish-built two-stroke, low RPM engine was original and Per said he had put 40,000 hours on it during the 20 years he had been operating the ship. When I asked if finding engine parts was a challenge, Per just laughed and said, “I have a spare ship at the shipyard in Gothenburg with an identical engine I use for spares”. The bridge was all original, with walls and roof of teak and the ship’s hold had been turned into the guest dining room with historical black and white photos of Sweden’s king and queen proudly displayed.

I had planned to stand anchor watch as there was very little swinging room and I knew the holding ground was not good but with perfect weather I decided to go hiking after letting out more chain and again setting the anchor with the engine in reverse.


Lambing season was in full swing

We also visited Hollie, a dynamic young designer/knitter who proudly showed us examples her famous Fair Isle knitting of hats, bags and sweaters of which one must order a year in advance.

Simon and feather took a bird watching hike to the iconic North Lighthouse also built by the Stevenson’s

Our first hiking stop was after a short walk to Fair Island Observatory and Guesthouse, where friendly staff said we were welcome to join them for drinks or dinner and offered us maps and brochures of the island and their 60-year ongoing research project of logging of migratory bird visits. http://www.fairislebirdobs.co.uk/

We all walked for hours admiring the birds and lambs, visiting the one tiny shop, the impressive South Lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson’s family and the tiny museum in the former school house.

Returning to North Haven I saw that wind had done a 180 and that MT’s stern now appeared quite close to rocks astern which had not been visible at high tide when we arrived. It turns out Tim had returned a couple hours earlier and noticed that the wind had changed direction along with a significant drop in tide. Stockholm’s crew gave Tim a ride out to MT then helped him re-anchor. Thank you Tim and Stockholm. I’d best not be so relaxed about tides and possible wind changes in the future!

As soon as the rest of our crew returned they set our second bow anchor, a 44lb Delta. By slowly motoring forward while letting out chain on the main anchor they were then able to drop the second bow anchor which held well.


Setting the second anchor.

It’s all smiles after setting the second anchor.

Here’s our extra-keen Leg 0 crew - Kitty, Tim, feather, Simon and David - always up for learning and adventure!

Tim, 54 (and occasionally known as Bob)
I’m originally from the Toronto area but now live near San Francisco and sail my recently purchased Catalina 34 on the Bay and coastal waters. I’ve traveled extensively around the world including a recent 10-day motorcycle tour of New Zealand with my daughter. My long term sailing plans include sailing from SF to Hawaii.

Kitty, 59
As the most inexperienced member of Leg 0, having done mostly small boat sailing, I’m having a great experience. Each day brings many first time opportunities with great instruction and a fun, supportive crew. (Kitty has taken over her daughter’s show jumping horse after daughter left for university.

David, 58
Kitty and I are from Montclair, New Jersey and after spending much of our lives sailing dinghies and small boats we’re interested in making the jump to larger sailboats. After taking a few ASA courses we joined this leg and find the experience fantastic - crossing the Skagerrak and North Sea lived up to the brochure description, “Not for the faint of heart” but we always felt safe and learned an amazing amount during the passage. Our next sailing goal is to start looking for a bluewater sailboat of our own.

Feather, 57
My husband Simon and I recently moved from Oman to Lund, British Columbia to fulfill our long-held ambition of sailing our Taswell 43 offshore. We are members of Bluewater Cruising Association in Vancouver and are looking forward to circumnavigating Vancouver Island this summer aboard our Taswell. This expedition is helping us enormously in gaining the confidence we need and an added bonus is the banter and camaraderie among the crew.

Simon, 57
Son of a cowboy and originally from the UK, I arrived on MT via Holland, Argentina, Gabon, Bruei, Australia, Oman and Canada (thanks to career as a petrochemical engineer) and this expedition is an excellent way to prepare us for our own offshore trip. The company of this crew, especially after we got rid of Tim and replaced him with Bob has been most enjoyable. (We all enjoyed Simon’s dry English sense of humor and look forward to sharing anchorages with him and Feather in the South Pacific during our 2018 expedition season.)

At the observatory Amanda had noticed an open invitation for anyone to join the assistant warden on his 7 am rounds of the bird traps, and three of our five were ready at 0630 for that adventure.

Kitty: We met the Assistant Warden Ciaran; a cute young scruffy Scotsman complete with a red beard, along with two guests of the observatory and set off for a walk among the sheep, lambs. and heather.


Setting off across the fields to the first trap

Ciaran explaining the characteristics of a small bird

We were headed for three specially designed bird traps placed along a stone fence, one in a gully, and another in a small planted “forest”. These large traps are made of wire mesh on a wood frame and are designed gradually funnel birds to a trap box placed at the end. As Ciaran approached the funnel he made bird noises, snapped his fingers and waved his arms with the objective to drive the birds down the funnel towards the box. Upon entering the funnel Kieran opened the door of the trap box via a long pull cord thus revealing a clear panel back to the box. The clear panel tricks the birds into thinking it’s an escape window thus they fly into the box and Ciaran shuts the door. He was able to retrieve the birds through a side opening and after showing us each bird they were carefully placed into individual canvas bags. Our first traps were not successful but the gully and garden held five small birds. Twites, a sedge warbler and another that sounded like a chit chat to our untrained birding ears.

Back at the observatory, we entered the “banding room” and could appreciate the thoroughness of their efforts to catalogue the birds that migrate through Fair Isle. Each bird was carefully removed from its bag, catalogued, weighed, sexed, rated for body fat, banded and released.

While walking on the road towards the village, we noticed a large brown owl perched on the garden fence post outside the observatory. It watched closely as we walked by and it didn’t seem at all perturbed by our presence. On the daily sighting chalk board in the observatory Amanda read that the sight owl was oiled. When asked about this, Ciaran said the owl probably landed on a cliff and disturbed the nesting fulmars. Fulmars defense mechanism is to vomit the oily contents of their stomachs onto their predators. This oiling had decreased the waterproofness of the owl’s feathers and often they don’t survive. The owl has been waiting a month for the oil to dissipate so it can continue its migration.

Getting MT safely out of the small harbor that had become a lee shore required close teamwork. First crew pulled and stowed the secondary anchor before raising the main anchor then it was a quick hoisting of the mainsail before we left the shelter of the isle’s cliffs.

We then set off on a grand and breezy 24-mile broad reach to North Ronaldsay, northernmost island in the Orkney group. We found an open bay on the southern side of the island that provided us some protection for the forecasted near-gale ESE winds and Amanda taught both sail design and sail trim classes and the breeze built over the evening. We’d looked forward to checking out the unique ancient breed of seaweed-eating sheep ashore, but with a choppy dinghy ride, low tide and no simple landing places we decided to wimp out and stay aboard. Hopefully we’ll try and check out the strange sheep on Leg 1 as we sail to Shetland.


Feather tidies the reefing lines after the main is hoisted

Sunset from our North Ronaldsay anchorage

Sunday morning was misty foggy and still windy so our entire crew assisted navigator of the day Tim in scouring the charts for an anchorage or harbor that would provide shelter in the forecasted near-gale easterly winds. They chose Pierowall Pier on Westray Island, 20 miles nearly directly downwind. So we wouldn’t have to continually gybe the main as we dodged shallow banks and headlands, we sailed the entire way under headsail alone which gave us 6-7.5 kts of boat speed without any concerns of accidental gybes. With a 3-4-meter tidal range we had currents of up to 4 kts against us and 2 kts with us at times.

Just before we arrived at Pierowall, (www.orkney harbours.com) Tim wondered if it would be good to try calling the harbormaster, so I did. It took several calls on different VHF channels, but Orkney Vessel Traffic System answered on Ch 11 and offered to ring the harbormaster on his mobile phone. We were pleasantly surprised when he called us back saying, “Portside-to, just inside the sailboat, Happy Swiss III”.

Turns out that piermaster Tom Grendall had asked a 50’ crab boat to move off the visitors’ pier and onto the outer harbor wall in order to clear a berth for us and was on the dock to welcome us and take our lines. Tom had just retired after 49 years as the captain of the 45’ ferry that serves Papa Westray, population 60, a small island few miles away and was very keen to give us the scoop on the village he’d been born and spent his entire life in. Pierowall has a thriving crab and lobster fishery plus a busy processing facility where Tom said we could purchase fresh crab or lobster Monday morning. He also proudly told us about the bakery next door to his home, the abandoned 16th century castle a short walk away, the towns two shops, hotel/pub/restaurant, museum and the free showers and electricity. WOW-what more could a visiting sailor ask for?


Pierowall Pier

A view across the bay to Pierowall Pier

Actually, it got even better! The winds dropped, we all took off exploring. Amanda discovered Hume Sweet Hume; a knit shop run by two very creative and energetic sisters, the castle was very interesting, if a bit bizarre and our crew made reservations at Pierowall Hotel for Sunday Curry Night, with the rest of the village, which was a lot of fun. We also enjoyed visiting with the neighboring crew of Smiling Swiss III, a Hallberg-Rassy 43, one several yachts owned by The Cruising Club of Switzerland with 7000 members. The club has been going strong for years and members sign up in September for 10-day sailing trips the following summer. The crew we met were sailing the boat from Orkney to Shetland Islands, and the next crew on to the Faroes and Iceland!


Amanda teaching winch servicing yesterday morning

Jenny displays our purchase of just landed brown crabs claws

Along the way we practiced Lifesling overboard rescue but strangely we couldn’t find any volunteers to jump in the water to make the procedure more realistic.

Amanda also demonstrated the features we now request for our mainsail construction.


Feather and Simon look the part in their spiffy Fair Isle hats as we practice tacking.
It was our warmest day yet, with no need for the cabin furnace and everyone was enjoying the sailing in smooth waters so much that they decided to practice short tacking, just because they didn’t want to stop sailing yet!

Once anchored Amanda pulled out our Sailrite sewing machine for a sail repair demo then taught splicing before I taught storm avoidance and survival tactics. To cover our teaching topics in ten days vs. 14-21 days requires dedication on the part of our crew, but Leg 0 are totally committed to learning everything possible and even asked if we could complete engine room orientation before dinner. On inspecting the engine, I discovered a bolt sticking out of the alternator mount further than it should.

Amazingly the nut had just fallen an inch and was sitting under the alternator. He pushed the bolt in whilst I applied Loctite thread locker then we tightened it as well as the hinge-mount bolt that was also a slightly loose. This has been our only issue to date with the new engine.


The missing alternator nut that Tim found

Meanwhile Kitty and Dave volunteered to crack the crab claws on the aft deck with our hammer and they made a tasty addition to our shrimp stir-fry.

David looking relaxed with the Orkney flag as he inspects the spreader tip.

Oh Yes! Tim proves its short’s weather in Orkney.

This morning is warm, clear, windlass and totally calm, so Amanda called for rig inspection aloft before breakfast

I followed rig inspection with cruising medicine, clearing customs worldwide and long-range cruising communication options before we got underway for Kirkwall. It was a clear and nearly windless day so we had a quiet motor for the dozen or so mile passage.

May 11, 2016, 1600 hrs, 58.59 N, 02.57 W, Log: 192,636 miles
Baro: 1023.0, Cabin Temp: 63 F, Cockpit: 58 F, Sea Water: 55F
Moored in Kirkwall Marina, Orkney, Scotland

Once we arrived our industrious crew gave MT a thorough soaping down and clean without being asked to. After exploring the busy little town, they chose the the historic Kirkwall Hotel for our farewell dinner and we were all delighted with the exceptional food. This morning after packing we’ve all made plans to meet at The Reel, http://wrigleyandthereel.com a combination traditional Celtic music school/pub/cafe and performance venue. Should be fun, and we were sorry to see them leave.

Overall, it’s been an exceptional expedition with better weather than we ever hoped for, fast passages, fascinating islands and people and one of our best groups in memory.

Here are the resources we used:

Weather:
Commanders Weather: professional weather routing for the very modest fee of US$73 for a 5-7 day forecast
YR.NO: NRK Met Institute - Norwegian government weather site which we think must use the EC forecast model. Incredibly accurate and helpful!
WINDYTY.COM: Worldwide GRIB forecast charts utilizing US GFS computer model.

Cruising Guides:
Norwegian Cruising Guide, 7th edition, covering west coast of Sweden and Norway as far north as Kristiansund, Phyllis Nickel & John Harries, Attainable Adventure Cruising, Ltd.
Norway - RCC Pilotage Foundation, Judy Lomax, 2nd edition.
Ports Handbook for Orkney, 6th edition
The Scottish Islands, Hamish Haswell-Smith. 518 pages covering ever Scottish island in detail.

Charts:
British Admiralty: 1402, 2182C, 3299, 1954, 2249
Norwegian: 10
Imray: C68

Electronic Charts:
Navionics running on Raymarine MFD
C-Map running on Rose Point Coastal Explorer on PC

 


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