Time Travel, Ep. 210

After spending many weeks sailing the coastline and fjords of Norway, it was a great change of venue to experience Scotland and their northern outpost – the Shetland Islands. Closer to the mainland of Scotland is another island group – the Orkney Islands – which is conveniently on the southbound path that we had spec’ed out in our planning over the winter. The two island groups are about 40 nautical miles apart, making the passage easy to do in one day. However, half way in between is a small but tantalizingly named spot called Fair Isle. It is known for its teeming birdlife and rugged angular cliffs with a background that is so typical here in Scotland – wide open, green pasture accented by tiny white dots. These dots, as you get closer, transform into casually grazing flocks of sheep. A small supply ship makes runs from Shetland to Fair Isle’s only protected harbor, North Haven, where individuals from a substantial bird observatory reside. Well, that is until the structure suffered damage from a fire and has been undergoing reconstruction for several years, surely on a slower timetable than on the mainland due to the challenge of ferrying supplies out to this remote location.

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“People Don’t Come Here For The Weather”, Ep. 209

The most logical place to cross to the Shetland Islands would have been Bergen. You could practically stick to one latitude setting to get there, it is so nearly directly West. But the other part of the logic was timing. We had friends to meet up with in Scotland, and although the midcoast of Norway is anointed with an unequal abundance of beautiful fjords and coastal islands, we had succeeded in piloting Sea Rose through that region near Bergen last summer. It was time to strike out into the blue for new lands.

Crossing from Kristiansund, Norway to Shetland, UK
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One Trick Pony, Ep. 208

One thing is for sure about Norway. It is a long, narrow country. It borders Russia – plus Sweden and Finland – at it’s northerly tip, called Nordkapp. Down at it’s southern terminus, some 1000 miles away, it’s adjacent to the tip of Denmark. That’s similar to the distance from Boston to Miami, or London to Gibraltar. It’s not unlike the profile of a lot of Norwegian people – tall and lanky. As we had plodded along on our way north last summer, taking some nibbles out of the coastline each week, it was easy to lose sight of this fact. Now, we just had a week in order to get down south within striking distance to shoot across to the Shetland Islands and still stay on schedule with our planned itinerary for the summer. There were a lot of miles in front of us, as we pulled away from the Lofoten peninsula.

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Hurry Up and Wait, Ep. 207

Our new best friend in Norway, Terje, had that distinctive ‘I regret to inform you…’ look on his face. He had stopped by our boat at the guest pontoon in Ballstad to inform us he did not have the proper parts to inspect and re-certify our life=raft. Terje works for Ballstad Slip, the big shipyard operation that dominates this small fishing harbor on the south coast of the Lofoten peninsula. He runs the life=raft and safety inspection business, which, if it had to rely on pleasure boats like us for revenue, would have never opened their doors. But thankfully there are many more fishing boats here than sailboats, and they all have stringent requirements for life-rafts, safety flares, fire extinguishers and the like. We were super happy to find Terje, as our life-raft, requiring inflation and re-certification every three years, had hit its due date. We carefully planned our arrival at Ballstad so that we could leave the life-raft with him for the day, and then continue our progress southwest out to the dramatic tip of the Lofoten and onward down the mainland coast of Norway. We had just three weeks to make it down the long Norwegian coastline to Kristiansund before crossing over to the Shetlands.

Re-certifying a life-raft was not an optional activity for us. The upcoming ARC+ Rally required it, and even more, we required it for our own safety and comfort. Re-certifying can cost half the value of the life-raft, and with ours at 18 years old, Terje kindly warned me that even if he had the two missing parts he needed, it might be much more than the customary cost. We resolved to buy a new one, and leave ours with a local marine safety school for their student programs. The only problem was that only one of our kind of life-raft, made by Viking, existed in Norway and it was in Oslo. Terje told us he ‘hoped’ it would arrive in a week, despite the long land route it would take from the country’s capital. There we had it. We had a week to kill in the Lofoten.

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The Physics of Gravity and Momentum, Ep. 206

It was easy for the guy at the controls. All he had to do was push a little joy stick on his remote control and our boat would descend from the giant travelift’s slings into the water. These Europeans are pretty good with their automation and control systems. It was up to us now to apply our skills – technical and otherwise – to the task of sailing Sea Rose south. As luck would have it, we had a blue sky day to enjoy the scenic snow-capped mountains of Tromsø.

Tromsø exit – Sea Rose underway from the dock!
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Rhythm and Blues, Ep. 205

Every seat on the plane was full. When we landed, the airport was bustling with fellow passengers disembarking, while throngs of people from all age groups waited for their plane departures. It confounded me that there would be a city this far north in Norway with a not-so-insignificant population of 65,000 people. What were they all doing up here in Tromsø? Yes, it is the administrative center for Troms county, and, yes, it does have The Arctic University of Norway (the world’s most northerly university). The fisheries industry is thriving here, with many large ocean-going fishing craft docked next to large, boxy steel warehouses on the shore to process their catch. And, we can’t forget Mack brewery, the most northerly brewery in the world. There’s also a charming, yet micro-sized Polar Museum with detailed accounts of Arctic explorers setting off from here to the polar bear haven of Svalbard and to the North Pole. And a disturbingly hefty collection of harpoons. Clearly the city’s citizens have laid down their harpoons years ago and practiced, with the assistance of the long dark winters, a considerable amount of ‘night moves’ to grow the population. Well done!

Skattøra Marina, Tromsø, Norway
Snow-capped mountains upon our arrival in Tromsø
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Weather Woes, Ep. 204

It was a gamble booking a flight to northern Norway in May.

When we bought our tickets last September to fly home from Tromsø, we had to pick a return date – any date – to avoid the expense of two one-way fares. In Greece, May made sense. In A Coruña, Spain, it might mean some rain showers. No big deal. Even in Kalmar, Sweden last year, May seemed very doable. But as we now await the departure of our flight to Tromsø, anxiety is setting in. Two to four inches of snow and wind gusts of 30 knots are forecasted. The temperature will swing from a low on Tuesday of 17°F to a high on Wednesday of 64°F. Spring skiing anyone??!

Tromsø Weather Forecast

It’s not like a fresh helping of anxiety was being ordered off the menu. This season’s sailing itinerary was going to be our most ambitious yet. Simply on the basis of latitude only, we will be sailing from 70°North, above the Arctic Circle, to well into the tropics at 12°North. For our North American kin, that is equivalent to a starting point halfway up the Greenland Peninsula to the northern boundary of Costa Rica. In addition, we will be crossing the Atlantic. It is with heavy hearts that we will leave Europe and the Med behind, after seven seasons of sailing. The carrot, though, will be a juicy one. The lovable, sun-kissed embrace of the Caribbean!

The Sea Rose Itinerary for 2024 – from Norway to Grenada
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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward, Ep. 202

Like a kid struggling through their vegetables so they can have their cake, it’s hard to be forced to take a needless diversion. That’s what the extended loop under the bottom of Sweden felt like as we set out south for the summer, with our ultimate goal of the great northern latitudes of Norway. But vegetables get a bad rap.

Southern Sweden (Skåne)

This region, referred to as Skåne, is bordered by the Baltic Sea to the East and South, the Øresund to the West, and the Kattegat Strait to the Northwest. The region’s robust agricultural history would have been a traditional pull for our curiosity had it not been a route cursed with contrary winds. A year earlier, when we had sailed north from Germany past Bornholm, we had savored the frothy western breezes as we set our sights on our first landfall in Sweden. Now, we had to prepare for a waiting game, or a long slog with diesel fumes, as we fought against the headwinds. As luck would have it, a light northerly breeze blowing offshore left us with flat water and a full day of sun to navigate to the island of Hanö.

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Back to School, Ep. 201

Each summer, it feels a bit like returning to grade school. I guess you could call it summer school. There is the excitement, coupled with a bit of unease, about the new classroom. We are headed north into Norway this summer, far beyond the comfort and warm waters of the Med where we started this whole affair. So far, we have yet to retrace our steps. Even when we headed back out of the Med in 2021, we made a point of visiting new harbors, going around the opposite sides of islands we had been to before, and rounding peninsulas like the Peloponnese instead of running the shortcut through the Corinth Canal of Greece again. No two classrooms are exactly the same, and that can be invigorating and it can be a nail-biter.

There is often a new bus to ride. We were ferried across the Atlantic by SAS to the city of Copenhagen onboard an Airbus A321, with 3×3 seating. Oh, how I miss those grand ol’ widebody 747’s with enough space inside to make you think you were sitting in an auditorium. But I get it. Widebody versus narrowbody means a lot more fuel versus a little bit less than a lot of fuel. Which means a little bit lower fare prices if by chance you beat the post-Covid ‘I’m-not-going-to-postpone-my-European-vacation-one-more-time’ surge. When we landed, Karen and I were trying to work through the unique cerebral fog that is jet-lag, this time from a 12 hour time difference after attending a family member’s wedding in Hawaii. You have to be careful on the first day. If you show too much vulnerability, the school yard bully will make you his mark.

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Fear Management, In Theory, Ep. 200

I used to be afraid to admit that I was afraid. Maybe it was a gender thing. Boys aren’t supposed to show fear. Or maybe it was a peer pressure thing. Siting around the campfire listening to ghost stories is not the time to show your sensitive side. Or maybe it was a parent thing. Letting a child see your fear only amplifies their fright. But then I heard someone talk about fear management. Alas, there was finally a sign that maybe it was OK to have these feelings. Maybe even not just OK but beneficial.

I know that some people think our choice of adventure sailing is too risky. That is, the people other than the people that think we are on a summer-long vacation of sunbathing and cocktail sipping. It is somewhat true. Not the vacation part, mind you, but the risky part. We live on a 25,000 pound floating platform that is one hole away from succumbing to the forces of gravity trying everyday to pull it under. Unlike the seafarers of yesteryear, Karen and I do know how to swim, but gravity would be more than happy to take us too if we were to go overboard. And while 25,000 pounds sounds big, it’s mere roadkill to the massive freighters whose paths we cross. We also navigate around rocky outcroppings sharp enough to break apart our boat faster than a wrecking ball. And those are the rocks we can see. For the ones lurking underneath the surface, we have to trust our electronics, the often decade-old work of survey crews, and the limited utility of polarized sunglasses.

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