So, two days out from being over and done with this summer-long journey, we wind up having what may have been the best day sailing so far.
It started with the fresh breeze out of Lerwick, which persisted south of the Shetlands. And contrary to forecasts — not that they’ve been right once this summer — the winds persisted through the course of my 6-9pm watch.
We maintained an eight- to 10-knot speed for the three-hour run, and though the Finns were, let’s call them “directionally challenged” at the helm, we made a good, 25-plus-mile run. The sun went down in a blaze of pink cirrus clouds as the waxing gibbous moon rose in the southeast. And by the time we went off watch, we’d reached Duncansby Head, the northern tip of the mainland of Scotland. Even the Finns weren’t scowling as much as usual.
On top of that, we even had a fly-by by a tall ship. The three-masted behemoth, with sails flying from all the yardarms, appeared on the southwest horizon as an amorphous shape — an island where there wasn’t supposed to be one. As it grew bigger and began to take shape, we could see the brilliant white canvas driving the ship downwind to the northeast. And as she moved past our stern, the lowering sun brightened the fields of canvas into a mirage, an image from a bygone era: a lone tall sailing ship plying a foamy, spray-soaked sea beneath a cloud-streaked sky that spoke of rain to come.
The ship disappeared into the haze on the horizon, as anonymously as it had appeared. Norway’s tall ship headed home after a summer abroad? Seems a likely bet.
Our 3-6am watch that followed was, however, a tad anticlimatic as we came topside amid a field of North Sea oil platforms, ships servicing the platforms and a now-lessened wind that had us full-on motoring to the south. The lights from the plaforms were such that it felt like we’d gone to sleep in the middle of the wilderness and awakened in the middle of Times Square. On top of that, the flames spewing from the tops of the oil rigs recalled nothing more than the drive through the environs of Elizabeth, New Jersey.
Oh well. ‘Twas great while it lasted. In all, we covered about 176 miles in the 24 hours after leaving Lerwick. Now we’re still full-on motoring but the wind has swung through our bow and is now coming from the southeast and building. My watch team is about to go on duty at 2pm, a watch that will run through 4pm. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to roll out the yankee headsail and maybe get our speed back up into the eights and nines (we’re in the mid-sevens right now), and maybe even get in a bit of steering. Yes, with the Finns at the wheel we’ll cover more ground than if we let the autopilot keep us on the straight and narrow. But if it placates them even a little bit, it’ll be worth it.
Two watches to go, in all likelihood: 2-6pm and then 12midnight-3am. We should be nearing the River Tyne around 10am, the time we’re supposed to be on next, which means everyone will be on deck and Boogie will be at the wheel. The countdown continues…