Monday, 29 July 2013

Atlantic Crossing IV

Whilst St John's has a number of things going for it the one thing you don't get is rest and with a longish trip coming up that's what we wanted. Hedley and Karen took us, by car, to look at Petty Harbour a few miles south of St J's and having chatted to a couple of locals we decided to move there. H&K came with us for the seven mile trip and before long we were entering the narrow harbour. Once inside the ebbing current became very evident as in a moment of inattention I allowed the bow to fall off and the current swept us sideways. No doubt our guests wondered what on earth we were up to but we regained control and eventually docked alongside. That afternoon we had a stream of visitors as locals wandered down to see what we were about and several new friends were made. No doubt about it; Hannah certainly attracts fans.

The locals were very friendly but unfortunately the harbour isn't. With any wind from an easterly quarter a, sometimes violent, surge sets up and although we tried numerous techniques nothing we did seemed to make a difference. We're limited by our draft as much of the harbour is too shallow for us but looking at the fishing boats on the other side I'm not sure it would have made much difference. We even tried, with permission, to tie up on the dinghy pontoon which put us beam on to the ebbing stream and, whilst it eased the surging issue it raised the possibility that we may very well snap the chains holding the thing to the harbour wall. Sleep would have been impossible and we opted to leave at 9pm June 3, into a lumpy swell and not much wind. Not a good start.

The first two days, as expected, were foggy but our real concern was how far south the ice had got. The ice-charts suggested we should work our way east before making any northerly and so we did. But toward the end of the second day we spoke to a fishing boat who had seen no ice and we cut the corner and started the journey north east. The intention was to give Cape Farewell a wide berth and then hopefully make a quick passage to Iceland avoiding as much of the bad weather that comes out of Hudson Bay as possible. “No plan survives contact with the enemy” as Tilman was fond of quoting and so it was with us. A day or so later we heard a metallic sound on the deck but couldn't find what the cause had been. We subsequently found the nut has dropped off the gooseneck bolt and in the intervening period the bolt had begun to work itself out. Luckily no damage was done but it was a sharp kick up the arse to take a bit more care. 5 days out and we were picking up weather from passing ships and we were told that we could expect 35 knots + and 4 metre seas (13') from the NW. We opted to turn away from it to take the waves more on the quarter than the beam and under trys'l, storm stays'l and spitfire (what is he talking about!!) we raced along at 6 or 7 knots completely comfortable and relaxed. As it eased a day later we hoped to head back onto our course but the seas remained lumpy and water over the deck and then below savaged morale and we hove to to let the sea sort its self out. The morale was a real problem for me as I couldn't really settle into the trip and I found myself longing for it to be over. As we continued to get pushed east rather than NE, the angle to Iceland narrowed and the wind favoured a direct crossing to Scotland that's what we opted to do. In the whole trip we had two sunny days but the predominant colour was grey:sea, sky, mood. We seemed to be mentally caught between the old and new destination........

A passing tanker told us that day was the last of the bad weather and we should have two days of good sailing winds and weather. He was right and before long we managed to pick up the strains of “Sailing By”, the theme tune to the 00:48 shipping forecast on BBC R4, and a long time favourite. A day later we were warned of “an unusually vigorous low heading across the Atlantic toward the north of the country. We'd been hoping to make landfall at Mull but altered course to Barra in the Outer Hebrides as the harbour is easy to enter irrespective of the weather. And so it proved to be. At one point with some 18 miles to go, Hannah hurtling though the night at 7 knots and 4 hours to go before daylight we reduced sail and of course the wind soon dropped, speed followed suit and then almost died away completely. On came the motor and we ran on in through the rain and fog. We caught brief glimpses of the islands but Barra remained hidden until we were close. Into the harbour we motored and found 5 boats on the mooring buoys layed out for visiting yachts. We too picked up one, cleaned up a bit and then slept. 19 days to cross and possibly the most uncomfortable crossing yet. Lumpy and sometimes big seas, cold and damp all combined to make it a less than enjoyable experience. We loved the trys'l combination, particularly for off the wind sailing as, even with the 2 deep reefs in the main, the boat can still be a handful. However the parrel balls that are used on the sail scour the mast fairly heavily so we'll be making changes there.

I have no idea how many sail changes we went through but it was a lot and interestingly we wore harnesses on several occasions when working on the foredeck. Might be because conditions suggested it to be the sensible option....might be the tumble over the side last year has made us a tad more cautious....

The following day we phoned customs to let them know we had arrived.

We made our way slowly up the Hebrides to Stornoway where this  post was written. A couple of things we've noticed: More boats cruising these waters than when we were last here we feel. Think we saw 20 in the first week...ok it may not sound much but after several years of cruising Labrador it comes as a shock. Plus many boats feel the need to file passage plans with the Coast Guard and so the VHF is full of chatter.

The up-side of it all was meeting up again with Andrea and Eve, some of the locals from the village they live in and a very enjoyable evening over a meal and our home-brew.


  1. Was really lovely to see you two too :-)

  2. Congrats on the fourth crossing. Not a fun trip. I know that feeling well of wanting the whole thing to be over. We've sold Haven now and are boatless for the first time in 15 years. When we read accounts like yours the urge comes back to get to sea once more. I suspect we will one day. We shall see.

    Best wishes and fair winds. Steve, Lyn & Katie.

  3. Sounds like a typical N Atlantic crossing. Thanks for the reminder of why I love junk rig and will stay there forever, this time!