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Nothing must happen on the North Sea

In Thyboroen, Denmark you wearplain blue workman’s trousers, not designer jeans; beer is in a bottle; tattoos are large to cover the arm and shoulder. This sea-port is macho and smells of fish. Huge anchors and propellers decorate the gravel gardens. There are very few flower-beds around the houses.

Lisa and I waited three days for the gale to blow over. Now the wind is calmer but the sea is still very heavy. Big North Sea trawlers depart and waves break over them as they sail offshore. All yachts stay in harbor. The charter trawler Ost Sea Star “Exclusive Hoch See Angeln” lies ahead of us. Germans with big bellies wait for big game fishing. They kill their days with beer, story-swapping and loud laughter.

We needed diesel and Lisa found the harbor office and the lady in charge of the pump; no marina with smart young men in white shorts here. The pump station was situated in the bottom of a narrow basin used by the fishermen for unloading their catch. At first they were irritated but when they understood that we tried to reach the pump they became very friendly and supportive. They gave us a bucket full of mussels and we traded beer for flounder.

Lisa fries the flounder for lunch and served them with capers and pickled beets and new potatoes. She saves the mussels for a few days as they need to be rinsed from sand in several waters, then steam cooked. Then we will use the shells as forks and dip the mussels in “the SIRI sauce”. It is made from oil, French mustard, and honey and dill. Fresh baguettes baked on board together with Danish cheese and butter make it a wonderful meal.

Poets and sailors have for centuries sung about their fear and awe for the North Sea. On board SIRI we have great respect and prepare ourselves meticulously for the crossing to Norway.                  
Nothing must happen on the North Sea!  
We follow the checklist:

  • Charts, pilot books, plotter.
  • Engine, oil, sweet water, drive belts.
  • Running lights.
  • Reef lines in Main sail.
  • Goosenecks in Dorade ventilators closed.
  • Chain pipe closed.
  • Dinner casserole prepared
  • Weather forecast from Denmark and Norway

These activities reduce our anxiety and we are tense, no point in denying that. I walk around in the harbor and listen to other skippers. Are they leaving or staying? At night I climb up on deck to look and listen to the weather. It is calm in the basin. We are protected from the southwesterly winds predicted in the forecasts.

We have breakfast and dress with long underwear, the water is still cold in June. Up on deck I see that our neighbors are busy too, we are all anxious to get going. The swell from the gale meets us outside the piers and SIRI dips her bowsprit in the waves. Reed’s almanac warns against entering Thyboroen in Beaufort 5 or stronger. The waves can break dangerously in the sandy, shallow entrance. The professional fishermen do not obey Reed’s but we who sail for pleasure follow their advice. We use the engine to get out on deep water before we set sail. The wind is around Beaufort 4 and mizzen and genoa give us a comfortable speed of 5 knots.

I take the first watch and Lisa goes below to rest. The sun breaks through the clouds and the color of the sea shifts from light grey to deep blue reflecting the sky. Haze still hangs over land. The coast of Jutland is low and sandy and I soon see only church towers and wind mills astern. Regina Arctica, a boat from Spitsbergen, left harbor at the same time as we did but returns. The boys seem to have some problems in the rig when setting sail.

I am alone with the sea and in contact with eternity. We sail literally in the same water as the Irish monk St Brendan and the Vikings. Water evaporates into clouds and returns to the Earth as rain which turns into sea again in the Cycle of Nature. The sea is the last wilderness, passing ships leave no trace. Life pulsates here. 90 % of the biosphere, i e where life exists, is water and 75% of the Earth’s surface is sea. We live on planet Ocean not the Earth. And SIRI is the center of a circle with a radius of 6 NM. That is the distance to the horizon. Upwards I look into heaven, and at night I seem reach to the outer stars in the universe.

Lisa prepares asparagus soup and sandwiches for lunch before shifting watch. At sea we meet and eat when we change turns. When one of us is on deck sailing the other can rest or navigate below. We sail for pleasure not for performance or endurance but we know we can stay at sea several nights in this way.

The fulmars keep the helmsman company. Small and tubby, they live in the open sea and sail with stiff wings close over the waves, they use masterly the aerodynamics. The fulmar rests high on the water surface with a slightly bent neck. The people of the Faroes call them “sea-horses” and the Swedes call them “storm-birds”.

Lisa takes the next watch and it’s my turn to rest. We sleep on the sofa in the main cabin so that the helmsman can get help in seconds if needed. The sofa is secured with bunk-boards so we lie there safely independent of the boat’s heeling.

When I’m back on deck Regina Arctica overtakes us and my competitive spirit is aroused. We hoist the main sail and with a total of 100 square meters we sail almost as fast as the Norwegians. Regina is five tons lighter and twenty years younger and she slowly disappears ahead of us. I see an occasional steamer but no yachts for they are rare out here.

We normally reduce the sail area at night but the winds are light and we make a comfortable six knots so I let them stay. Lisa does not like to sail when it is dark and I take longer watches at night. Lisa supports me with tea and sandwiches and small-talk. Now in June the nights are not really dark, a brief twilight between dusk and dawn for the northern horizon is reddish all the time.

In darkness it is difficult to judge the distance to a source of light for we tend to believe that a strong light is closer than a weak one. We meet a ship with a crossing course and I see first the weak red light and a stronger white masthead light, then I see the contour of the bridge of the ship and finally also the green light. Now the ship is heading directly towards us and I am all attention. Slowly the red light disappears and I understand that the ship will pass well by our stern. My eyes follow the ship steaming westwards, probably towards the oilfields. After midnight I see the light of the lighthouse on Lista, mainland Norway. Our GPS confirms our position; we are 12 NM from the coast.

The wind dies by and by and in the east I see that dawn is close. The surface of the sea looks like fluid pewter – it seems to have the same density as the tin I used to make tin soldiers as a boy. The sails flutter and the sheets tap against the deck. The noise wakes Lisa and she brings coffee and breakfast to the cockpit. We wait to see if the wind will return but we don’t have enough patience. We lower the sails and start the engine. We have 35 Nm to Sirevåg our port of call. The current is northerly and gives us two extra knots which are welcome. (Language is strange; a northerly current runs towards the north, a northerly wind comes from the north.)

We see the high mountains of the Norwegian coast and the sunlight overpowers the flashes from the lighthouse. Lisa takes the wheel so I turn in to be awakened an hour before the entry   to Sirevåg. A huge North Sea trawler overtakes us and leads the way into the harbor. Regina Arctica is berthed there already and the boys are well asleep. When we have our arrival breakfast, egg and bacon, they show up and tell us that they have arrived four hours ahead of us. Soon we lie between soft sheets in our bunk and relax. Nothing happened on the North Sea.