Passage to the Faroes

July 1, 2015 0 By Chris

I left you after my last post in Stornoway, having somewhat breathlessly updated you on our activities so far in our mission to reach the Faroe Islands.

I am happy to tell you that we have now achieved our objective, and lie alongside the quay wall in Tvoroyri, capital “city” of the island of Suduroy, having successfully crossed the intervening 200nm of chilly North Atlantic. 

We left Stornoway late on Sunday afternoon, with a decreasing wind and a forecast for SW’lies or SE’lies for the next couple of days.  Really it could not have been a better forecast!  There was still a strongish breeze as we left the shelter of Stornoway harbour, and we set the main with two reefs, and the staysail, close-reaching out past the amusingly named Chicken Rock and the Eye Peninsula, before bearing away to the northward.  Meanwhile, I was in the valley concocting a very tasty beef curry “a la boîte”, courtesy of Messrs Tesco (why is it that one tin is never quite enough for two people, but two tins is too much?) prior to taking the first watch.

George, the Monitor self-steering gear, had been feeling slightly neglected of late, so I had spent the best part of a day in Stornoway giving him some love and attention.  This was number 2 on the list of awkward jobs, after the gearbox oil change, and involved a lot of sitting in the dinghy whilst dismantling his bottom half, trying desperately not to drop any tiny parts into the water whilst swearing loudly and almost tipping self, bits of steering gear and the contents of my toolbox into the harbour.  The Monitor instructions say explicitly that when servicing the gear, one should remove it in its entirety from the stern of the vessel; however, this seemed moe risky to my person and the gear, given its weight and the tippiness of the dinghy, so I had opted not to remove the pendulum and worked on it in the relative safety of the cockpit.  I gave the bearings a clean, and more importantly adjusted the positioning of the bevel gears which had been too loosely meshed and chattered like a set of Scottish sailor’s teeth. 

Anyway, to cut this digression short, George was deployed once we were heading north, and happily steered whilst the human crew filled themselves with Tesco curry and rice (whilst a happy state to be in during a night watch, the resulting glob of digesting starch proved quite uncomfortable during my watch below).

I handed over to Stu at 2300, and it was still light.  I took over from him again at 0300 and it was light again, the sun starting to rise on the eastern horizon.  For those who dislike sailing in the dark, I can wholly recommend passage making this far north in midsummer!

By morning as I handed the watch back to Stu, we were approaching the ten-mile gap between the rocky outcrop of Sula Sgeir, and the more substantial island of North Rona (so called in order to distinguish it from the Rona in the Inner Sound, which we had visited a few days previously), catching sight of them only once they were within a few miles, in the somewhat dismal visibility.

For those who are by now wondering, we were keeping watches according to the system I learnt as an AB in the Dutch barque Europa, which is very effective for two people watchkeeping, and is what Alec Townley and I used for our transatlantic in Meander in 2009.  The night, between 1900 and 0700, is divided into three 4- hour watches, and the day split into two 6-hour stints.  This way you each alternate between one and two “night” watches, and each man is guaranteed a 6-hour watch below during the day.

Anyway, I am digressing again…

During the day the wind slowly dropped, and in the afternoon watch I shook out first one, then the second reef, and set the jib.  The evening sky was beautiful, although it was sending somewhat mixed messages about the weather to come.  For the present, however, it was peaceful and warm (ish), and the wind was dropping still more, to the extent that our speed was dropping below that which would be considered acceptable for a timely arrival (playing the tides being crucial in the Faroes), so at 2300 I started the engine, which we ran for the duration of my watch, and by 0300 there was again sufficient breeze on the beam to sail, so we set mizzen, staysail and jib, stopped the engine and carried on.  The wind continued to pick up to a nice 4-5, making the jib just a little too much, and had also started to veer again.  Stu tried handing the jib, but despite promises and its shiny appearance, the new furler is proving to be no easier to handle than the old Wykeham-Martin gear, the problem being in a breeze that the bottom half of the sail is furled nicely by the turning drum, but the top half is still full of wind, so you end up with a violently flogging bag at the top.  The only way of getting a half-decent furl is to bear right away until the jib is blanketed by the rest of the sails, and keep the right amount of tension on the sheets as you haul on the painfully thin furling line.  What the system needs is for the head of the sail to be rotated with the stay in concert with the foot, so I will have to get on to the manufacturers to work out a way of achieving this.

We handed the mizzen as well, as with the wind too far aft, it makes George struggle to keep a course, and continued under main and staysail.

By this time the rain had started in earnest, and would not now stop for the rest of the passage.  To top it all, mid-morning we received a radio broadcast from Torshavn Radio (a good thing – getting close!), issuing a gale warning for our area.  At the time the wind was only around a force 3, and we were making slow but sure progress.  There was no timescale attached to the warning, so I couldn’t know just how imminent it was.  After some mulling, I decided to do two things: 1. Put 2 reefs in the main to be prepared for the wind, and 2. Start the engine to push on up the coast in to shelter.

We arrived off the entrance to Trongisvagurfjord in poor visibility, so Stu jumped into blind nav mode and we felt our way in until it cleared sufficiently to be able to see the sides. We handed sail off the town of Tvoroyri, and on spotting another British yacht alongside, having been unable to raise the harbourmaster by radio, I drew up close to ask what the score was for visiting yachts.  They suggested I came alongside the quay (nicely dressed with big black tyre fenders) astern of them, which I did.  As we were finishing securing, the harbourmaster appeared, welcoming us us as effusively as comes naturally to Nordic islanders, and filling us in on all the facilities available to us, free of any charge whatsoever.  The customs official arrived soon afterwards and cleared us in, and then we were free to have much-longed for showers.  Once clean and socially acceptable we were invited on board Festina Lente, the other yacht, which had been in Stornoway at the same time as us, to have drinks with Philip and Lynda, the owners.  If you are reading this and are wondering why you recognise the boat’s name, it is because she is mentioned frequently in Practical Boat Owner articles, their son being deputy editor of that fine periodical.  In conversation it also turns out that they own what must be the smallest full-rigged ship in the world, a GP14 hull rigged as a scaled down 74-gun ship of the line!

After the consumption of some glasses of vino collapso and copious nibbles, we retired back to Meander, lit the fire, hung all our wet gear up to dry, and went to bed.

The view from the top of the fjord.



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