Thursday, September 5, 2013

More From Bridget - Scotland To Norway

Scotland is a fabulous land indeed and like most lands it seems there may be no better way to explore it than by sailboat. The sailors have gained the wisdom of the turtles that it is always smart to take your own home with you. 
I met up with Lars in Troon on the central west coast of Scotland on Wednesday, Aug 14.  Lars with his friend Jo came by Twister and I came by plane, bus, and 2 trains from Chicago via Glasgow.  We arrived in the evening and immediately started to embrace the Scottish culture with a few pints, a deep fried haggis (actually 2), and whisky for dessert.  The folks are friendly and always have a smile and a quick joke for you. 
A few days are spent in Troon mostly working on repairing the fuel pump, which had sprung quite a leak.  Again all the folks are incredibly kind with help from the engineers giving us a few missing parts and a few parts that go missing as we accidently drop bits into the seemingly bottomless bilge of the Twister.  People stop by to chat and take time to listen and swap tales.  On Friday (August 16) we are ready to sail on towards Corpach about 170 mile sail.  We toss the Frisbee, check the weather, shop for supplies and then head out around 4pm.  The weather check included some news of a gale approaching, but Lars determines we can handle a bit of gale and the islands should provide some protection assuming we get to the islands in a predicted 12 hours otherwise we will be a bit more vulnerable to the gale.  So on towards the gale we sail.  The departure from Troon is lovely with some sunshine, a seal waving good-bye, a small pod of tiny porpoises, numerous Northern Gannets and a single adorable puffin. 
Whether on land or on sea the weather in Scotland typically leaves something to be desired.  It is almost always chilly and is always changing, but usually any change still includes precipitation in some form such as a change from rain to drizzle to misty to colder to rain to pouring to drizzle.  The occasional show of sun is really appreciated. Therefore, it was wonderful that our initial departure had some sun as we sailed towards a lovely dusk and a patchy night sky with a waxing moon.  The weather through the night is wet and the wind picks up we are sailing in two hour rotations. I, luckily, seem to hit the better conditions and Lars is left to deal with rougher seas and a bit of a gale that hits in the early morning hours around 4am.  We didn’t make good time out of Troon and are still approaching a desired location when the gales arrive. We sail on into morning towards the Straight of Islay (eye-lah).  As we approach the straight the winds pick up significantly as they race down the hillsides and we have a rough run for an hour with 40+ knots wind and some rocks off the port side.  Lars is a great captain and gets us safely into the straits for a protected sail through beautiful Scotland.  The Sound of Islay perhaps a mile wide runs 12 miles between the green hills of the Isles of Islay and Jura.  We pass a few distilleries on the coast and although tempted we don’t stop because we have to make it through the sound before the tides turn and create a tidal current of a couple of knots against us.  We sail through the day with bits of sunshine and rain.  The evening Lars sails Loch Linnhe while I make up a pot of chorizo and veggie soup to warm us a bit. We sail all the way into Corpach at 6am with the first of the morning birds singing and welcoming us and we tie up at the entrance of the Caledonian Canal.

2 days in Corpach sipping Scotch, tossing the Frisbee, and hiking Ben Nevis the highest peak in the British Isles at 1344m. Split a bacon cheeseburger and duck with pancakes at the bottom of the Mountain.  Then, hitch a ride to a bus and return to the Twister for a well-earned shower and tea.  Mark and Maria of Mare Liberum arrive on Monday evening.

Tuesday morning, August 20, we start our way down the Caledonian Canal. The locks open at 8am so we head on into the first lock with 3 other boats including our friends Mark and Maria on their 27 foot Abin Vega, Mare Liberum.  Lars met them in Tonga and I had met them in Durban, South Africa.  The locks take a little bit of practice to master smoothly tossing and holding lines as we go through the locks, but we get lots of practice as the first mile of the canal through Corpach has 9 locks including 7 locks back to back to back in what’s called Neptune’s Steps.  Each lock moves the boat probably about 2- 4 meters (6-12 ft).  The Caledonian Canal built in the early 1800s connects the east and west coast of Scotland running 66 splendid miles from Corpach to Inverness.  The canal is 30 miles man made canal that connects the 36 miles of 3 natural lochs, including world famous Loch Ness.  The first day in 10 hours we complete 20 miles, through 14 locks, lots of swing bridges and a sail across Loch Locky.  Scotland is lovely land for a sail with green hills, trees, and canal sections that are winding little rivers through lush forests.  We spend the night tied up on a wall in Fort Augustus with Mare Liberum.  We are at the top of 5 locks that will lower us to Loch Ness in the morning and we can see Loch Ness waiting in the distance.  Fort Augustus is a nice little town full of friendly folks.  We enjoy a dinner of fish and chips and haggis at a local pub.

Wednesday, August 21 we awake to a beautiful sunshiny morning! Amazing. We brew up some coffee and head into the first lock at 8am.  The locks are full with 7 boats and there is not enough wall space for everyone. Therefore, to fit us in we have Mark and Maria of Mare Liberum raft up to us.  The morning is gorgeous and warm.  We are able to be in t-shrits and smile at the sun.  Maria and I are on the lock wall walking the boats from lock to lock and Lars is on the boat fending off the wall if we get too close. Mark down in Mare Liberum cooks up the most delicious egg, bacon, and tomato sandwiches, which we manage to carry along. The simple things in life that seem so magical; coffee, sunshine, bacon, sailboats, good friends, and smiles!  There are plenty of tourist snapping photos as the boats head through the locks and Lars gives them a show by climbing Twister’s mast steps to the top in his Wellington knee-high rubber boots and boardshorts to get some photos himself of the views of the locks and Loch Ness.

After 5 locks we motor out onto Loch Ness, which is the largest (30 miles long) and a deepest (1000 ft) of the lochs.  The sunshine is not meant to last and after a few miles on the lake we head into some thick fog although from above a bit of sunshine still sneaks through.  We head on down the loch and Lars asks if I want to surf Loch Ness.  I’m hesitant, because I’m already a bit chilly and the loch temperature is 12C (53 F).  But, I tell Lars I’ll pull him behind Twister.  Lars pulls out a board and screws in the fins. To surf we surfed sat on the edge of the boat as the boat was underway and put the surfboard in the water under our feet, then stood and slowly worked one’s way along the boat with a line in hand until you are surfing behind Twister. Lars is incredibly successful and gets a long ride along Loch Ness and manages to pull himself back onto Twister with only his feet wet.  I’m up next and I’m not so good and end up falling all the way into Loch Ness and got a chance to paddle around on the board.  Lars picks me up and we continue on our 11 mile trip (about 2 hours) to our first Loch Ness stop at a Urquhart Castle, where supposedly where the monster hangs out.  We anchor both boats and everyone jumps in for a refreshingly chilly swim.  Lars and I wear our masks and snorkels, but no luck spotting Nessie.  On we travel down the length of the Loch and back into the canal for a sunny evening to our final destination on the Caledonian Canal, Inverness.
We arrive and have a little happy hour celebration in Twister’s cockpit with the local favourite Scotch Whyte & MacCay before heading into Inverness for an evening of Indian food and live music and a local pub.  Scotland is full of interesting characters and we met a number of them on Wednesday evening. Lars carried his guitar and was requested to do some singing at the pub and he inspired a few others to play us some songs on his guitar. 
On Thursday morning we only have about a ½ mile of the canal to cover, which includes 5 locks.  We have now completed 28 of the 29 locks of the Caledonian Canal.  We tie up for a day of showers, laundry, water tank filling, and other little boat projects, so we are ready for the North Sea.  The evening is spent sharing a meal and great conversation in the cockpit with Mark and Maria.  We have a lovely sunset and a clear night with a nearly full moon and stars shining down. Also, across the canal we watch as folks let a large Chinese lantern float away into the night sky.

Today Friday, August 23 we head on toward the Shetland Islands (about 200 miles) on our way to Bergen, Norway (another 200 miles).  The GRIBs look good so on we go.

Scotland to Norway – Is that near here?

Friday, August 23 we pushed off the dock in Inverness with Mark and Maria and went about ¼ mile to the lock where we  were informed that the rail bridge wouldn’t swing fagain until 2pm.  We have an hour so we raft up to Mark and Maria at the lock and have lunch of eggs, bacon, beans, and salad. And our desert is Scottish Tea.  We share our last meal before we part ways. Lars and I will sail towards Norway and Mark and Maria head home to Sweden after 3.5 years and circumnavigating the globe.

We head out into the ocean and surprisingly the sea is glassy with little wind, which slowly dwindles to no wind. This is shocking to me after all the stories of gales on the North Sea, so we are forced to motor on, but we are confident the winds will pick up shortly.
As a parting gift from Mark we were given a set of feathered mackerel hooks.  Mark and Maria had been eating lots of mackerel on their trip through the British Isle. We started dragging the lines and within a few hours we had 3 mackerel in a bucket on board. Lars cleaned the fish and I take over in the kitchen and cook them up.  The fish are stuffed with garlic and onions that has been marinating in some olive oil, lime juice, and spices.  The fish are wrapped up in foil and cooked in the dutch oven.  Delicious! We eat 2 and save one for a fisherman’s breakfast in the morning of eggs, toast, tomato and fish.
The wind never makes an appearance and we motor on into the night rotating through 2 hours shifts.  The morning arrives, but alas no wind.  We continue to motor we get a few gust that give us hope that the wind can fill the sails.  We turn off the engine and try to go with sail power and Lars needs a nap, so I take over under light wind conditions. After some confusion and a few circles and time spent drifting in the wrong direction (I’m so glad Lars is sleeping for this) I get us moving in the right direction and we sail for about 2 hours and even get up to 5 knots, before the wind disappears and the engine is used again.  We motor along with BBC channel 2 keeping coming through the speakers with music, news, and the occasional radio drama. 
Our original plan was to head to the Shetland Islands, but now 24 hours into the trip and slow progress we realize it isn’t going to work with a plane waiting for me on Thursday in Norway.  We adjust our course from 37 degrees to 63 the bearing to Bergen, Norway and on we motor through the glassy North Sea.  Eventually, we decided to give the motor a break because we have a ¼ tank of diesel (40 hours of motoring) and don’t want to use it all on this side of the North Sea, because it is likely we’ll do some motoring on the eastside near Norway.  Therefore, we put up the main and turn off the engine, make slow progress of a few knots for a bit, and then we just bob about the sea.  We point towards Norway, but the prevailing currents are moving us 0.8 knots northwest.  Still we are 20 miles from anything, so the drift is okay. The mackerel are not tempted by the limp hanging line. Consequently, the dinner menu is changed and the evening of bobbing is spent cooking up delicious chorizo risotto with Thai curry, mushrooms, tons of garlic and onions. We make a buddy with a Northern Fulmar, Fluffy, and Lars tries to convince Fluffy  that onions, carrots, chorizo, and bread are a good part of any well balanced diet.  The Fulmar doesn’t agree, but still sticks around to keep us company for most of the evening.  The delightful combination of gin with ginger beer and guitar is celebrated throughout the evening.  The night is pleasant, and because we are not underway nobody has to be on watch so we can more or less sleep through the night.  Occasionally we have to deal with the AIS alarm, which beeps whenever an approaching boat, usually a cargo ship, is expected to get less than one mile from Twister.

Morning number 2, Sunday about 40 hours after departure from Inverness.  We awake without the wind.  We lost a few miles during the night drifting the wrong way.  Thus, we start up the engine and get back on course.  The calm conditions make cooking a bit easier and I’m galley chef-ing.  Along with coffee I cook up some Norwegian pancakes, with fillings of fresh blueberries, apples, strawberries, bananas, nutella, and raspberry jam. I was a bit hesitant to cook pancakes, because my last Twister pancake attempt was while crossing the Gulf Stream as we approach Florida and those rough conditions led to the batter covering most of Twister cabin and me feeling a bit sea sick as I attempted to clean it up.  Today the pancakes are delicious! And soon after breakfast we find a bit of wind and finally sail on. Then, we spot a PUFFIN! And a lone dolphin (perhaps a risso if they live in the Atlantic) joins us for a few minutes and runs our bow wave.  The day is looking good.  Lars checks a day’s progress from noon to noon everyday and today at noon we realize that we only made 44 miles the previous day.  However, now there should be good progress as we are sailing 5+ knots towards Bergen, Norway.  Plenty of birds fly past including lots of Northern Gannets and Fulmars and Sooty Shearwaters.  We do our good deed for the day and recover a Hello Kitty balloon and a 5 gallon fuel container from the water.  The night is peaceful with moon and stars.

Monday, August 26 Day 3
On Monday morning we have a bumpy boat and consistent wind, but not too much wind (perhaps 10 knots) making it good conditions for the beautiful blue and red asymmetrical spinnaker.  We raise the sail and start doing 6+ knots and as Lars said it would the asymmetrical sail reduces the bumpiness.   Breakfast burritos are served up on a blue sky morning. As we sail on towards Norway I check in with Lars about how he is feeling about now being less than 100 miles from his goal of sailing to Norway and Lars responds with “good.”  He was a bit more talkative on the subject when our estimated arrival time was 10 hours and he let out an “OMG!”

This is my longest passage on the Twister or any sailboat.  We are now at 3.5 days 84 hours of the estimated 100 hour passage.  So how do we pass the time? Well, of course, there are the small tasks that keep us busy like making coffee/tea, preparing a meal, checking the weather, adjusting the sails, putting sails up and down, an occasional nap, listening to a bit of news, fish cleaning, emptying the Pringle can, and picture taking.  One might think that lots of reading, games like scrabble and chess, movie watching and perhaps writing would happen, but actually most of the day is just spent staring or I guess watching the world go by. I haven’t even read a single page of my book and writing happens mostly with quick notes into the journal and the only real long entry was done by head lamp at night while I was on watch, because it was too dark to watch the ocean and too cloudy to watch the sky (this typing is occurring in the airport as I head home).  I find it surprising how I can just sit in the cockpit and watch the water go by.  We are hoping to see things like puffins and orcas, which requires watching the sea and today the watching was reward by seeing a pair of shark fins.  Sometimes you sit and help with the autopilot, Horny, a bit with the tiller and watch alone in the cockpit while the shipmate is projecting and sometimes we both just relax in the cockpit watching and conversing about observations, thoughts, cloud shapes, or birds going past.  Mostly I’m thinking about if I could really do this alone? 
It might seem boring to watch the world, but it is great.  Granted I’m only approaching day 4, so it is still a novelty to me. It is nice to have time just to be.  There is no e-mail, no text messages, no phone calls.  Think about the Otis Redding song, Sitting on the Dock of Bay, which clearly was written before people had cell phones in their pockets.  We are simply living that and he makes it seem like an incredibly enjoyable to let the time slip away and I think he was right.
Sing along….
Sittin' in the mornin' sun
I'll be sittin' when the evenin' come
Watching the dolphins swim in
And then I watch 'em swim away again, yeah

I'm sittin' on the Deck of the Twister
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm just sittin' on the Deck of the Twister
Lovin' time

I left my home in Cali
Headed for a Norway bay
'Cause I've have lots to live for
And look like everything’s comin’ my way

So I'm just gonna sit on the Deck of the Twister
Watching the tide roll away
Ooo, I'm sittin' on the Deck of the Twister
Lovin' time

Look like nothing's gonna change
Everything still remains the same
I can't do what ten people tell me to do
So I guess I'll remain the same, yes

Sittin' here resting my bones
And this sailing dream won't leave me alone
It's 35,000 miles I roamed
Just to make this boat my home

Now, I'm just gonna sit on the Deck of the Twister
Watching the tide roll away
Oooo-wee, sittin' on the Deck of the Twister
Lovin' time

Watching the world roll by is a marvelous way spend the hours.  Today we observed numerous offshore oil rigs and imagined what how it would be to attempt to roast a giant marshmallow on the burn-off flames.  Late afternoon we wrote a nice little note, rolled it up, placed it in a bottle and tossed that bottle into the sea watching it float off towards our future friend.  Lars is in charge of dinner and the wind vane, Horny, is doing a fine job keeping us on course, so I join Lars in the cabin as he cooks fish soup with the single mackerel he pulled in today and some of our veggies.  He also gives me my first formal Norwegian lesson.  It starts easy with “Thank you” = “takk”,  “good morning”= “god morgen”, and he moves quickly along to me mastering important phrases like “Is there polar bear on the menu?” = “Er det isbjørn på menyen?” which is extremely helpful and, of course, my response to no polar bear on the menu is “okay. I’ll have a beer.” = “okay. Da tar jeg en øl.”

We have a cold and clear final night, which breaks into a beautiful sunrise and now we see the Norwegian coast 30 miles ahead.  We toss over a second message in a bottle and the North Sea passage finishes up smoothly.  As we approach the coast Lars takes down the Scottish courtesy flag and replaces it with a large Norwegian flag. Once to the coast we sail among the coastal islands and fjords.  We have gorgeous day. The sun is shining and the temperature is t-shirt appropriate.  The wind with some help from the tidal currents pushes us along at 6+ knots.  The scenery is stunning rock coasts and islands with lush forests speckled with adorable summer homes and cabins. We drag our hooks with the magic metallic mackerel feathers and pull 6 mackerels into the Twister.  We complete a challenging man overboard drill, which after many circles leads to the successful recover of 5 fishing floats Lars’ uses as fenders, which had slipped of their line.  Finally we approach a small inlet off the main fjord, which has a place to tie up Twister providing a new home for Lars and Twister 94 hours (4 days) since we left Scotland.  We barely finish tying the lines when the fantastic Norwegian welcoming committee appears with smiles, hugs, joy, and Norwegian flags!  Lars did it.  He sailed to Norway.  35,000 miles he has roamed from San Diego, California.  Congrats Captain Ship Monkey Larsadoodle!

The Norway Experience

The welcoming crew is composed of many members of Lars’ family including his mom, Berit.   Everyone excited to great Lars and the Twister. Everyone gets a Twister tour and then they take us away to Kurt and Mona’s house for some good food, family time, and showers.  Hurray for showers after a passage.  The house is lovely, as it seems to be of everything in Norway.  We are treated with a traditional Norwegian stew, lapskaus, and flatbread. Then, we move to the patio for cake, freshly whipped crème and ice cream.  While in the backyard we meet the electric sheep like autonomous lawn mower that is cruising about the yard trimming it.  Once finished it parks itself in the homemade  “dog” house provided for it.  The afternoon slips into evening as everyone swaps tales and Lars shares some of the pictures and stories from his travels. 
We return to the Twister, which is tied near Geir Olav’s (Lars’ cousin) cabin.  The water is a lovely shade of blue and crystal clear making it east to spot the sea stars on the kelp and rocks and also the jelly fish floating on by. We check to make sure Twister is still floating as the tide has dropped and we grab a few things.  Then, Geir Olav takes us up to the cabin where Lars and I will stay.  It is the most lovely and charming cabin I have ever visited. And now I fear my vocabulary will fail me as I try to describe the beauty and seeming perfection of this situation with a cabin on the hillside over looking the Twister and islands and a fjord. There is even a plum tree, veranda, and an old rocking chair.   We are tired from the passage, but enjoy a cheers on the deck with the view as darkness arrives.
I only have one full day in Norway, so we agree to wake up early to try and get on Twister by 7am for the two-hour morning “commute” to Bergen’s city center. There is a foot trail through the woods that takes us 2 or 3 minute to reach the Twister and we can gather blueberries and raspberries as we go! We push off and enjoy morning’s calm and beauty.  It’s a smooth sail with a cup of tea underway and we tie up to the wharf wall in Bergen.  The city is fantastic surrounded by 7 tree-covered mountains and well-maintained, colorful, old buildings and a bustling fish market greeting us at the waterfront.  We begin our all day Bergen walk about by heading to customs, then to the grocery store to pack a picnic in the daypack. Next, we wander the market, which is full of traditional Norwegian things like sweaters, trolls, sausages (lamb, moose, reindeer, and whale), and the fish market is full of a variety of edible sea creatures.  We walk old narrow cobble stone streets and meet Lars’ mom, Berit, for coffee.  Then, we head to get some stamps in our passport at the police station.  Nobody is too concerned about our presence in the country, but I did want the stamp in my passport for a souvenir.  We walk about a bit more and split a wild game sausage.  We take a little train car up one of the Bergen mountains, Fløien.  The weather is cooperating with blue sky and sunshine, so the view is spectacular of Bergen’s waterfront and the surrounding mountains, woods, lakes, islands and fjords.  We can spot the Twister’s mast down on the water.  We picnic with cheese, sausage, fresh rolls, and cider.  Then, wander the woods on the mountain top.  I learn that trolls are a common sighting in the woods, because they live not just under bridges in Norway, but also in their more natural habitat the woods.  We do spot a troll and get a photo with him.  Then, we walk down the mountain back to the city center.  We head to Berit’s home for Rømmegrøt, a traditional Norwegian sour crème porridge.  It is delicious especially with the cinnamon and sugar.  We sample a variety of thinly sliced meats for our flat bread including a Norwegian lamb slice and a lamb sausage.  Coffee follows the meal and Berit plays us a few songs on the piano as we insist.  Lars plays a few  tunes too.  Now late afternoon we head back out for a bit more sight seeing.  In a park with a large pond we spots lots of birds including some magpies and some strange colored black and grey crows.  We wander past an old church from the 1200s and past the colorful waterfront shops.  Norway is incredible.  The only draw back is the high prices. Seriously costly to be here for anything food, beverages and stuff.  A pint of beer at the grocery store runs $4-5 USA. 
We end up back at the Twister and Berit meets us for a happy hour cockpit.  We enjoy, cheers, and chat. Occasionally folks stop to ask about the American flag and the trip that would get a USA boat from California to Bergen.  Berit hugs us good-bye and waves as we push off the Bergen city wall and head towards sunset and the cabin in the woods.  We have a sunny motor assisted sail home, because of light winds.  We arrive at home and check the crab traps that Geir Olav had set for us with our mackerel the previous day.  We have no luck catching a crab, but did pull up at least a dozen sea stars of all sizes and colors.  We still have a healthy supply of Mona’s delicious lapskaus for a delightful dinner.

My final morning we rise and shine early in the fabulous cabin in the woods with the goal of answering the question of which is colder Loch Ness or the Norwegian fjord at 60 degrees north?  The dock jump is refreshing and probably about 13 or 14 degrees C and we both agree that Loch Ness was quite a bit colder.  Now wide-awake we head back to the cabin gathering raspberries and plums underway. We have breakfast of coffee and eggs and photos. And at 9:30am I head to the airport.   Whoa what a fabulous journey!!

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