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Life's journey has been varied. As a 30 year career soldier its been geographically, emotionally and intellectually nomadic, at times exciting, sometimes frustrating, its had highs and lows and it has challenged me, sometimes beyond what I thought possible. On the whole I have been lucky. I've developed a reputation for being unconventional, even unorthodox. I've made mistakes, plenty of them. Success and failure have left their marks. I've been able to develop my passions and interests. From the office to the trench, from ocean sailing to Antarctic exploration, from the philosophies of Kurt Hahn to the lyrics of Tom Lewis, and much more besides and between. Now I want to share them.

I am trying to bring meaning and sense to these experiences, learning from the past so as to signpost the future, not just mine but anyone else who might benefit vicariously. This blog, set in Shetland sailing aboard "Swan", a 100 year old ex herring drifter delivering youth development and sail training opportunities for young people, is a living reflection on that journey.

To share it read on . . . .

Friday, 9 August 2013

return to Norway


Returning to Norway was always going to be a milestone in mine and Swan’s itinerary.  The vagaries of weather would be an unknown element in the plan but a known challenge would be the relatively short time frame to prepare her.  This is exacerbated by the even sharper turn around on return from Norway when we have less than 36 hrs to slip for Orkney on the start of a 3 week charter (more on that later . . ).  Fortunately Scott and I have been reinforced by Ailish.  Having just completed a 1001 mile passage from Arhuss to Helsinki aboard the German square rigger “Alexander Von Humbolt 2” as part of this year’s tall ships race her mettle is up and she is amassing as much sea time as possible.  She has also realised that sea time is only part of her nautical education and thus has become a dockside fixture learning about the range of broader skills required to keep a boat like Swan in seaworthy order. 
 
 
 
The three of us thus turned to with a range of preparatory jobs, everything from having the capstan repaired (alas still ashore in ITU) to victualing for a 10 day passage.  As well preparing for sea we also had to squeeze in some other jobs, a potential film shoot (which only got as far as the recce and initial planning stage) and a day sail which was also cancelled; is there a theme here?  We finally convened a training syllabus meeting, something that I have been keen to progress and believe I can usefully contribute to as one of my strengths and interests.  Only be careful what you wish for since I had not only to articulate idea and circulate pre meeting but subsequently write and circulate a draft syllabus before departure.  It is however something that I believe is very important.

Enough of pre departure.  Having welcomed aboard the passengers, it was time to start to make introductions; social and seamanship.  There is a clear legal delineation between the terms “passenger” and “crew” and yet on an boat like swan I like to consider us as one crew who work the ship together and of course the strict “crew” can’t easily work the ship as a sailing vessel alone.  Its back to the difference between a group and a team.  So inductions, safety briefs, instruction in safe working practices and lunch before casting off shortly before 1600 hrs into the North Sea.  

There was a good southerly breeze and we set a reef based on the old adage of “if you are wondering if it is time to reef, then it is” but it was a cautious call.  No matter we made good progress with a steady 6 plus knots.  As with most sailing boats, Swan does well on a reach and as she does less well than modern boats do when going to windward the pleasure of reaching is extenuated.  She was showing a good pair of heels but reaching may be an unfortunate term for those of the crew having a less enjoyable time.  We had an uneventful night and Sunday.  There is not much traffic but breking through the line of oil and gas platforms provides a welcome miledtone at three levels.  Firstly it represents about half way, secondly it provides “scenery” to the backdrop of sea and sky and thirdly it provokes thoughts on man’s ingenuity as well as deeper questions on carbon economy and use of the earth’s resources. 

We also started to mull our destination landfall and after some discussion opted to headed north to Maloy.  This would allow us to then cruise the coast in a southerly direction and hopefully be a little further off the wind on the way home.  How far south we get will depend on a number of factors.  Turning slightly down wind and a general fall in wind strength anyway reduced the apparent wind.  For non sailors think perhaps of a car crash, if two cars collide head on each doing 15 mph then there is a collision speed of 30 mph.  if however one car “shunts” another when the front car is travelling at 15 mph and the rear car at 20 mph then there is a collision speed of 5 mph.  So with this fall in apparent wind we elected more sail but rather than shake out the reef we ran out the bowsprit and hosted the jib.  We back up to more than 7 knots and rapidly closing the Norwegian coast.
 
There was even time and weather to shoot the sun for a "midday run sun" sextant sight.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
It was now that we became a temporary stop over for a racing pigeon.  His (or her) arrival was greeted with much excitement as not only a break to routine but a chance to offer sucker to a shipwrecked mariner.  The pigeon did not stay long enough to gain a name but was delighted to take water and after a bit of a rest and a deck inspection as thorough as any 1st mates took off again and headed north until we lost sight.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Another good nights sailing was rewarded by a glorious sun rise
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
and shortly after a first glimpse of land.  This was fleeting as an offshore mist soon showed
 
 
the view and shortly after we were hit by a squall.
 
 
 
 
The wind strength rose 10 knots and we fought to drop the jib as the wind first caught it and then when sheet and halyard were eased and traveller hauled inboard, it flogged in the wind until grappled to the deck to be subdued and lashed.  Spray across the foredeck added to the drama and breaking waves on the skerries and rocky islets completed the picture and made for a dramatic landfall. 
 
 
As suddenly as it hit we found shelter in the lee of an island and were soon dwarfed by the surrounding fjord.   An hour or so later we tied up in Maloy.  This small industrial fishing town is twinned with Lerwick but otherwise had no particular appeal and so after a good lunch we slipped to explore further . . .

 

 

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