A Bumpy Reentry

Motorsailing along on north-northwesterly course under overcast skies through which a weak, northern sun is trying to burn. It’s dry. It’s also cold: in the low 30s. Boogie and I are on watch, which means he’s down below at the navigation table snoozing.

It’s too cold to write in the cockpit so I’m sitting on the top step of the companionway, out of the light breeze (created mostly by the forward motion generated by our engine) in the little cuddy that slides over the hatch. This watch, with its montonous gray sea beneath a gray sky amid the drone of the engine, is a far cry from last night’s.

We got underway yesterday a little after 7pm in pretty calm conditions. After motoring around the spit of land that is Ísafjörður, we raised the mainsail (with two reefs) and turned out toward the sea. Boogie and I started our watch at 9pm and at first, things seemed like they were going to be great.

There was a decent wind out of the northeast so we were clipping along pretty nicely under reefed main, staysail and yankee. Just before 10pm, the sun emerged from below the thick clouds as it set in the northwest and the sky exploded into a canvas of reds and oranges and even, on the fresh snow that had fallen overnight up high, the pink of alpenglow. The sheer walls on the west side of the fjord, with their interspersed greens and browns, looked a lot like Hawaii, and the seas, while a bit lumpy, were nowhere near as bad as expected. The comforting beacons of a couple of lighthouses winked at us from behind, up the fjord, and as we exited into the open sea two more appeared, one on either side.

But things started going south, so to speak, shortly after it got dark around 10:45. Fortunately, we were off watch at midnight so it was only for an hour, but for that stretch of time I was in another world. In a not-so-good way.

For starters, I was fighting seasickness. It was one month to the day yesterday that I left Polar Bear in Akureyri. And in that time of shore-based living, my sea legs had softened. We loaded up on a pasta dinner before leaving the dock and while I knew I might have been better served doing without, I opted in on the meal. As a result, I felt dizzy for much of that final hour-plus on watch. I never heaved up dinner — never really got close — but that might have been a relief.

Between the swells running in from the northeast (sidenote: I gotta believe that last evening was the time to be surfing at Skálavik given the cleaned-up-yet-still-big conditions), the darkening sky, a surprising fatigue that set on once we were out in the fresh breeze and, the gathering cold (as I mentioned: a new dusting of snow was visible on the high points of the fjord…in mid-August), my head was swimming — to the point where I could not, for the life of me, steer a straight course and I even began hallucinating a bit. Lights on the horizon, ominous shapes in the water near the boat…I was seeing things out of the corner of my flickering eyes. Fighting to keep my eyes open, fighting to stay on course, and shivering in the chilly summer night all made for what was undoubtedly the most challenging watch I’ve had this summer.

Fortunately, the next watch came on right around midnight, at which point I retreated without hesitation to my bunk. I stripped off my outerwear, crawled into my sleeping bag and was out pretty quickly. I awoke around 3am when the shifts were changing again but managed another couple of hours of sleep before Boogie and I took over at 6am.

I guess it was just the bumps of reentry because I feel much better now. Not great, mind you, but I’m seeing clearly and my head is no longer swimming.

In fact, it’s now a wee bit monotonous. The wind has dropped further so the sea is a shiny black, smoothly undulating surface. The sun is shining a bit more forcefully as it climbs above the clouds in the southeast but it’s still not enough to warm things up. And off to the west, blue sky is visible on the horizon. No ice yet, but we have now reached the area where we’ll have to keep an eye out.

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