Progress Toward Norway

Land ho! A few Norwegian islands (Myken and others) are visible, about four miles off the starboard beam. And still we motor on, 60 miles or so from Bodo.

I woke a little while ago after sleeping for a few hours following another boring 2-4am watch: more motoring, mainsail banging around in the wisps of wind coming from astern, in drizzle and fog and cold. While a drag, that watch couldn’t hold a candle to the goat rodeo that was my previous watch at 6-8pm yesterday evening.

Mr. Know-it-all Crewman — who is, it should be pointed out, my watch partner — and I had cooked and served a pretty damned good chili con carne dinner at 6pm (tasks such as cooking and cleaning are preassigned by watch on a rotating basis for the duration of the trip) and were on watch, aided (?) by the boat’s owner, henceforth known as Boy Wonder.

Boy Wonder is a nice guy. He’s in his 20s or 30s, fit and earnest, and he works hard on his boat/business. Sadly, he has the attention span of a sparrow and the patience of a teenager. In fact, in a lot of ways he seems like a teenager, hence the nickname. Back in Newcastle he was notorious for starting a job — stowing the anchor in what passes for a bow pulpit, for instance — and leaving it midway to go tilt at another windmill. Often while in mid-sentence. Combined with Mr. KIA Crewman’s insistence on constant tinkering, a dangerous nervousness ensues.

We were, once again, motoring along with the single-reefed mainsail sheeted mostly amidships. The wind was light and all over the place; the sail was hoisted mostly for stability and centered to keep it from banging around in the puffs (potentially damaging the sail).

The wind seemed to steady a bit from the starboard quarter. Boy Wonder sprung into action, assisted fervently by Mr. KIA Crewman. They unstrung the preventer from the starboard side: they took the long line that runs from the cockpit of the boat forward to almost the bow and back to the boom, where it is shackled to a line from the aft end of the boom to prevent (“preventer”…get it?) the mainsail from crashing back in toward the boat when it’s slung out wide over the rail. The preventer does that on Polar Bear by running through a series of blocks, under spars lashed to the deck, and under and over a series of sheets and other control lines.

The dynamic duo got the preventer from the starboard side and restrung it on the port side, they eased the mainsheet and pulled the mainsail out to port (I must confess: I helped), the better able to catch what wind was blowing from the starboard quarter.

Once the sail was set, we paused and dared to hope: sailing, perhaps? Please? Marginally. The engine was still creating most of our forward progress, and when eased, the true wind was clearly not as strong as thought — nor from the direction it had seemed. But we persisted for a bit, which was no small feat since we were also headed into a surprisingly big, locally generated northerly swell. Let’s just say: there was a lot of banging around.

After about half an hour, the wind was coming from more directly astern so we brought the mainsail back inboard and secured it a bit (whereupon Mr. KIA Crewman took it upon himself to go to the boom and rescrew the shackle I’d secured when we took the preventer down; I wasn’t aware that turning a screw was such technical work). But a half-hour after that…

The wind was now freshening, declared Boy Wonder, this time from the PORT quarter. He and Mr. KIA Crewman sprung back into action, reversing their earlier action and moving the preventer back to the starboard side. This play I sat out; the wind was clearly doing what Marlies had said it was doing when she went off watch at 6pm: it was light and fluky, rising for a few minutes only to fall again after getting everyone’s hopes up.

Once the main was swung out to starboard we did indeed seem to have several minutes of pretty steady wind. Call it: seven or eight minutes. At which point Boy Wonder called for the yankee, the larger and forward-most of Polar Bear’s two headsails. Once unfurled, the yankee filled and helped the boat hit 7.1 knots, a speed called out by Boy Wonder, standing wide-eyed and grinning in the cockpit as he lowered the RPMs on the engine. What he’d failed to notice was that we hit that speed using full engine revs and while sliding down the backside of one of the large swells.

No matter. Time for the other headsail, declared Boy Wonder. At least when he and his sidekick unfurled the staysail, it was Boy Wonder who did the unfurling — Mr. KIA Crewman, as has been the case, wasn’t strong enough to pull the sheet enough to get the sail fully deployed.

By this time, no longer sliding down the backside of a large swell and with less power coming from the engine, Polar Bear was now slower than she was when the circus started: we were doing 5.1 knots, according to the instruments. On top of that, now the sails were banging around like a spastic rhythm section, not helping the speed at all and likely damaging some very expensive pieces of canvas. Boy Wonder begged off with, “I’ve never seen the Norwegian Sea this calm;” Mr. KIA Crewman sat eagerly by the mainsheet, recoiling any line within reach; I sat there disgusted, wondering how long it was going to be before the ruckus brought Boogie up from his bunk.

Not long. We usually wake him up (his watch is after mine) half an hour before the switchover. He came up at about 7:15pm, looked over the scene and disappeared below to get his gear. When he returned, I asked him if he was now on watch. He said yes, to which I said, “good, then I’m now off-watch.” Boogie nodded, clearly understanding my frustration. I went and dealt with the tasks that get done at a watch handoff — filling the day tank with diesel and making an entry in the logbook — and went back to bed since I was on again at 2am.

What could I do? It’s Boy Wonder’s boat. Whether he’s on watch or off, he can do whatever he chooses. Hell, if he wants to sink the damned thing, that’s his prerogative. If he’d just stayed below while Mr. KIA Crewman and I were on watch, we’d have stayed consistently in the mid-sixes for speed instead of lowering to the low-fives. We wouldn’t have wasted a lot of energy. And while we would have remained boringly motoring, we wouldn’t have increased our frustration at the lack of wind (and my frustration with one-quarter of our crew).

So while the 2-4am watch was perhaps the coldest I’ve endured thus far, it was blessedly peaceful after the 6-8pm silliness.

Nearing Bodo with the engine still clanging away and a full set of sails (unfurled both headsails about half an hour ago, right before my 12-3pm watch ended) — more comedy but we are finally getting a bit of lift from a small breeze.

The mountains inland have come into view and their snow-covered flanks are bathed in bright sunshine — apparently we’re under a marine layer of fog and mist.

What we can see already is stunning. It’s very Alaska-esque, even from this distance, with tall, steep mountainsides that emerge from the clouds to plunge straight into a dark, cold sea. Green swaths cut through snowfields, accentuating the juxtaposition of the high alpine with sea level: just about my most favorite scenery in the world.

And we’re not even there yet (still another three hours or so). I’m very much looking forward to exploring.

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