Down The Homestretch They Come

And of course, since the trip is almost over, the sailing conditions are now spectacular.

We left Lerwick this morning amid a nice westerly breeze. The island being to our west, that meant that the wind was moving us along nicely but the seas remained calm. And move along nicely we did: we were over 10 knots for a good chunk of the run south along Mainland Shetland, as it’s known.

Now we’re out from under the southern tip of the island, exposed to the open ocean to the west. And though the seas are rough and rolly, the sailing is still spectacular.

I should say “motorsailing” as opposed to “sailing” because we’ve left the engine running, which is giving the wind, and us, a bit of help. While the droning of the damned diesel usually annoys the hell out of me, not this time. For one thing, with the engine going, we’re setting a torrid pace for our return to Newcastle and the completion of this trip. And for another, I like going fast so that little extra oomph is a kick in the pants after a summer of plodding along at five knots.

We’re in the mid-nine-knot range now and the sun is shining and the sea is shimmering. We’re on a close haul — we’re sailing close to the wind — so the spray is cascading over the bow at times, exploding in a million diamond-bright droplets in the brilliant sunshine. The diamond stardust hangs in the air for an instant and then falls back toward the boat, where it gathers into rivers of crystal-clear water that course aft along the decks and back into the sea. And then Polar Bear surges into the next wave and the cycle is repeated.

I’m below in an empty saloon, heating up the chili that I cooked for yesterday’s dinner — a dinner we all instead decided to eat ashore in Lerwick (as I knew we would). But it was my watch’s turn to cook so cook we did and now it’ll be ready for this evening. Maybe. Because we’re close-hauled, the boat is at a nice, steep 45-degree angle. Yes, the gimbaled stove keeps the big stew pot mostly level, but it didn’t stop a lurch a few moments ago from launching the lid of the pot across the galley. I’ll get this stuff cooked (though truth be told: it’s not my preferred chili; I’m forbidden from giving it any bite like my normal recipe because apparently not everyone likes spicy food); it will be interesting to see how many brave the boat’s heel and the rollercoaster ride to sample the fare.

My watch goes on at 6pm and we’ll be topside until 9 (well, we’ll see if the Finnish sourpuss is up there the whole time; if he gets to steer a lot, he just might). The wind over that period is forecast to ease a bit, and by the end of that stretch we should be nearing the coast of mainland Scotland, which should mean calmer seas. And then we’ll head south along the coast in ever-slower winds, winds that are also supposed to move forward and be right on the nose for the final day’s run into Newcastle.

But for now, it’s a great ride. Strap in, hang on and enjoy!

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