Voltair's new crew of Michael and Christine, Jeff and Gill, and skipper JK, arrived at Aalborg airport on a humid Thursday night after a shower of rain. Rapidly procuring a taxi, we set off for Skudehavn, the marina where Robin had left Voltair the week before. "Here you are", said the driver as we looked out over the pitch-black river, with loads of boats on pontoons. But here we were in the wrong place, since Voltair was not to be found! The pile of bags was loaded back into the taxi, Robin was phoned, and a new destination of "Skudehavn" was given to the driver, which was about a mile further along the bank - pilot error on this occasion - Robin's directions were perfect.
Even reaching Aalborg had been a bit fraught for the Midlands contingent. Rachael had dropped us all at Birmingham airport, where we stood waiting for the National Express to take us to Gatwick. Twenty minutes after it should have appeared, we phoned the helpline and gave our ticket details, only to be told that these tickets were from Birmingham Digbeth, and that the bus might not be going to the Airport at all. And even if it did, because we had been "no-shows" at Digbeth, there might be no seats left. Fortunately, there was another lady who was waiting in the queue who had booked to be picked up at the airport, and, fortunately again, four people got off the full bus, allowing us to get on. The rather brusque driver shouted loudly at everyone to move their bags off the seats and out of the gangway, and for all the passengers to make room for us. "Do you mind if I sit here?", I said to the girl with the hello magazine and the afro hair. "Don't have any choice, do I?", was the welcoming reply, as she fanned herself with the magazine as if to waft my pheromones away. And this was before a week on Voltair without a shower! "If you don't fart, then I won't", was what I should have said in return, but I only thought of that at Banbury!
Most of the passengers got off at Heathrow, and there was just the four of us in the front near the shouting driver. As soon as we were leaving terminal 4, next stop Gatwick, Mr Hyde turned into Dr Jekyll, and we got to hear how he should have been in Burnley, how 50% of National Express drivers had just resigned due to a takeover by a French utilities company, who imposed new contracts without any consultation, how he had just handed in his notice and was off to New Zealand with his girlfriend and probably wouldn't be returning. The M25 was fuller and slower than usual due to Hampton Court flower show, and it was looking rather touch-and-go as to whether we would miss our check-in window. Anyway, the Gods were willing, we did make it in time, and even managed a calming guinness prior to boarding.
The passage planning committee (that would be all of us) met before we turned in that night, and four possible routes to Norway were outlined. Two went west, through the meanders of the Limfjord, then up the west coast of Jutland to Hanstholm before making the jump across the 60 miles of open sea to Norway. They would require two and a half days to Hanstholm, plus the crossing time, to reach Kristiansand if the wind direction was right, or further north at Arendal if it wasn't. The other two routes went east, up to Skagen near the tip of Jutland, and then either across to Arendal, (the shortest), or to Risor, twenty miles further north, or, the most conservative, over to the Swedish coast, and then north and west around the "armpit" until the southwesterly leg down to the southern tip of Norway was reached.
The weather was NOT forecast to be cooperative - the long awaited and firmly established high pressure over the UK was sending north-westerly breezes over the Skagerrak, while the deep depression over northern Norway was sending north-westerly frontal systems over the same area. The combined effect of the two systems meant force 5-7 northwesterly winds, with a bit of excursion in the upwards direction from time to time, over the whole area - and, of course, north-west was where we wanted to go! So we decided to go east-around, and set off for Hals the next morning, as soon as the bridges would allow. We missed a trick and failed to do the Aalborg Aquavit distillery tour while we were trapped between the two bridges, right outside the factory. It was a delightful sail in light winds and sunshine down to Hals, where we filled up with groceries as the breeze freshened for a fast reaching sail 30 miles along the coast to the island of Laesoy for our first nights moorings. Jeff's lunch made a surprise re-appearance as we ran down at 7 knots towards the harbour, the sun setting behind us, so that night the wine ration went a bit further than usual, with only four of us drinking it.
On Saturday, we were planning to sail 24 miles to Skagen, have some dinner, and then set sail for Norway, as there was a bit of a lull forecast in the north-westerlies for the overnight period. Not wishing to test the strength of the roller-reefing headfoils by doing a hard beat with half-sail, We set off from Laeso with the fixed forestay set. The No 1 jib was fitted, but while being tensioned to check it would fit, the luff wire snapped at the tack. Metallurgists Jeff and JK immediately diagnosed stress-corrosion fracture - to the rest of the crew it looked completely rusted through! So, with no possibility to fix the break, it had to be the storm jib, mizzen and Perkins for the testing leg to Skagen, close hauled into a 30-35 knot near-gale, with short steep Danish waves poised ready to break over the entire boat every 4 seconds. Hermione was deflated and lashed to the foredeck, lifejackets and harnesses were issued to the crew, the "test" button on the EPIRB was tested, and the padlock was taken off the liferaft! Jeff's breakfast was the next thing that was lost to fortune, and he remained very incapacitated for the rest of the six-hour trip. By the time we got to Skagen around 5pm, other crew members too, were showing the strain of the continuous pitching and rolling, with sheets of white water hitting the windscreen and raining on the cabin top in time with the waves. It was decided that this training session was enough for one day, and we called off the night passage for 24 hours, going out to the Casa Blanca restaurant for a buffet dinner instead.
Sunday developed into a fine morning, with a stiff (yes, you guessed) north-westerly breeze blowing, and we decided on a walk out to the tip of the peninsular to watch the waves of the North Sea mingle with those of the Baltic, depositing sand as they did so, and moving the whole of the Jutland peninsular a little bit further west. It was a fine walk - "just half an hour" said the long-legged Danish girl at the Capitanerie - but for short-legged English with various arthritic ailments it did take rather longer. And that only got us to the restaurant and gallery in the dunes - the end of the beach was another 20 minutes away! Coffee and Gammel Dansk was ordered from the bronzed waitress at the front of the restaurant, but the service was from a more conventionally dressed waiter on the sun terrace. After the coffee and the bitter dram the knees and hips began to feel a bit better! JK and Jeff stayed behind while the rest of the crew walked to "waters-meet" at the end of the beach for a bit of paddling among the competing waves and the obligatory photo.
Gill and Christine were larger-than-life characters, giants among women, who could walk on water. JK was a bit of a lightweight, who kept blowing away in the wind, and had to hang on to the handrails. We admired some of the art in the contemporary art gallery and then walked back into town, being somewhat sandblasted en-route, and comparing the three styles of lighthouse that marked the progress, not only of lighthouse technology, but also of the coastline towards the west.
The weather maps were once again downloaded from the excellent Danish website at http://www.dmi.dk and it appeared that, while the wind had turned adversely more northerly, it was going to drop in strength for a while between 2am and 11am, before it freshened again as the fronts of the wave-depression swung in from the southwest. So we decided it was time to go, cooked and ate a fine and fortifying roast beef dinner, and left at 9pm, in company with Cassiopeia, a Norwegian yacht of uncertain age, bluff bow with bowsprit, and two fit young Norwegians as crew who, like us, wanted to go to Kristiansand. We agreed to a radio rendezvous with them at 11pm to see how we were both getting on, and to have a beer together when we arrived.
With Jeff lashed to the wheel and Michael getting some Zs into the bank, we set off from the tip, finding that the best we could do against the 30+ knot west-north-westerly was about 4.5 knots slightly to the east of north, over the ground, a 1-knot adverse current being part of the problem. Now Jeff and Gill are expert sailors, but their cruising ground is the Norfolk Broads. So crossing shipping lanes in the dark while being tossed about in huge waves and near gale force winds was not in their repertoire! It is now!
The Arc de Triomphe on a busy friday night seemed less busy than the tip of Jutland! Certainly there were a lot more tons aiming at us from left and then from right than we would have had on the streets of Paris. We managed to miss them all, and Gill became expert at radar plotting and collision avoidance. Cassiopeia called up to say they had had enough and were going back to Skagen. They would take the ferry to Kristiansand and come back for the boat in a week or two. After an hour or so, clear of the traffic, JK retired to the Admiral's cabin for a zizz, only to be woken up after 15 minutes when Jeff broke free from his bonds and deposited his roast beef partly in the Skagerrak, partly on the deck. It didn't matter - it was rinsed clean the next second by one of the waves that were continually breaking over us. Jeff then claimed the Admiral's cabin, and JK steered for a while, also making about 005 degrees. Soon we were mentally pulling down from the cross-trees the red and white of Denmark and hoisting the blue and yellow of Sweden! Not quite what we had in mind, but at least we were going towards Norway.
A bloody full moon rose on our starboard quarter and arched low in the sky behind us as we soldiered on, going more slowly than planned in the wrong direction! Michael came on watch as JK's eyes turned the colour of the instrument dials and he fell off his perch, and did a fine job of steering through the main part of the night. Going down below, JK noticed a new decoration on seats under the fridge - it turned out to be pulverised banana. A bunch had been in the swinging ceiling net, and had been hammering themseves into a pulp on every wave. Nice! The grabrail, coated in slime, slipped from his grip, (bugger), the corner of the table rose to meet his ribs, (ouch), the back of his head met the cabin wall (fcuk)! Nothing broken though.
Hours passed. JK was back in the cockpit and Gill was in the bunk, when a sneaky wave snuck up under the hood, deposited a gallon or so in Michael's lap, a pint or so on John's trousers and a cup-full on Gills foot down in the cabin. There was a flash, a bang, and a smell of burning, and the GPS went off. Ho hum! That will be the 240v shorting out somewhere - so, switch off the inverter, reset the cigar lighter trip switch and get the GPS going again. That done, we realised that it was not only the wave that had come aboard, but that the tide was rising in the cabin from under the floorboards. Check the bilge! The rear cabin floor was almost awash with oily seawater - the prop-shaft actually underwater. Put the electric pump on - quick! Gill got up and we also did a couple of hundred strokes on the hand pump. Soon we were back to some sort of normality, with 100 gallons removed from the bilge. The problem was, it was coming down the mast as well as in through the lazarette, at an unprecedented rate!
The moon set around 4am, and the night got really black. The previously well defined horizon faded into a charcoal grey sky against a black sea - the black bits sometimes above us before they smacked into the windscreen. Gradually the eastern sky began to colour red and a livid dawn arrived at 5. The current had stopped and we were now making 350 degrees or so, with a reduced windspeed between 25 and 30 knots. The Swedish coast was only 15 miles to starboard, but at least we had stopped converging with it! We had done the the first 40 miles (about half way) in 9 hours, and things could only get better. They did, and with a now favourable current, another 5 knots off the windspeed and 10 degrees better wind direction, by 10am we were taking down the blue and yellow in order to hoist the red, white and blue of Norway at last! Much less water was coming aboard, but another bilge inspection revealed the water still dangerously high, and our new electric pump not working. We took it in turns to pump by hand until we had lowered the level by a couple of feet. The electrical failure was diagnosed as the power supply for the laptop, and all the stuff on the floor under the chart-table, and in the engineering storeage locker was covered in a film of black engine oil, as well as being soaked in seawater. Fortunately the wine-boxes had only surface contamination!
We made landfall opposite Sandefjord, near Oslo - where JK had left the yacht in June! The wind had fallen to below 10 knots by 11:30, so we planned to motor to the west and try to make up some of our lost "westing". However, the weather still had something up its sleeve, and rainclouds now cloaked the land - a particularly huge and horribly grey looking one hanging in the west over Risor, our planned destination. The towel was duly thrown in, and we made for Larvik! Christine was pleased, as Skagen and Stavern (at the entrance to Larvik fjord) had both been on her wish list when leaving England. As we approached the marina, we began to wonder if the GPS had been playing up again - for there, as large as life - was Kon-Tiki moored up to a couple of buoys!
Jeff was roused from his prone condition and we arrived in sunshine. Whisky was drunk. Then some more. Bacon and eggy-bread was cooked and consumed. The crew slept - all except for Jeff, who went for a walk!
Love to all back home, from a relieved Christine, Gill, Michael, Jeff and John.
P.S. Today's competition: if the organic milk contains Skruelag, what do you use to get a cow in calf?