It is true that each journey is not the same. However, this one has many peculiarities. It is a journey to one of the last parts of the earth reached by man that even today remains untouched and unexplored.
It's not just the many miles we had to cover or the long passes we had to cross. It's the extreme temperatures we would encounter, the icebergs we had to navigate between, the thick fog that often covers everything in these latitudes and you can't even see your bow.The moving sheets of ice that usually cover a large area, are quickly transported by the wind and especially by the strong currents and can block your way or strand you for days on some isolated and deserted coast. Polar bears, which come down to the coast in search of food which due to climate change and melting ice has become difficult to find, have become particularly threatening and very dangerous. Sudden changes in weather and stormy winds due to the low barometric pressures that settle almost permanently in these latitudes are the main reasons that the northern seas are considered the most dangerous, which is why the southern Cape of Greenland is considered the windiest on the planet. And of course, the legendary Northwest Passage: the most mythical passage on the planet that just hearing about it fills with awe and increases the anxieties and insecurities of even the most experienced seafarer. Where there is no escape route, there is absolutely no communication. There, where if you take the first step and pass its entrance there is no turning back except to reach the end, crossing the frozen ocean. Navigating through the Northwest Passage is extremely difficult, as are the skipper's decisions about which roads to take each time to avoid getting trapped by the floating ice floes. Its history is connected with shipwrecks and missing persons. For centuries, skilled sailors such as Henry Hudson and James Cook failed to cross it. Harsh weather, thick ice and invisible dry spells forced many expeditions to turn back. But the mission that turned into tragedy was that of British officer John Franklin in 1845, whose wrecks of his two ships, Terror and Erebus, were only recently found. Fueling is also a huge problem, since the small Inuit communities are hundreds of nautical miles apart. We will be wandering in the highest latitudes, where the strong magnetic fields render conventional compasses completely useless since their deviation exceeds 50%. The challenge of traversing the frozen Arctic Ocean is enormous. The end of the world, as it is called, the most unexplored and uncharted area of the planet. Where Mother Nature is the ultimate ruler. All of the above raises the level of difficulty of our mission to the highest level since it was certain that we would be called upon to face enormous obstacles that require us to overcome our limits.
Saturday July 2, 2022 – One day before sailing
Carlos and David flew from Barcelona to Antwerp to help us with the last preparations and to wish us good seas. We set up the radar and satellite compass, transferred fuel from a nearby gas station, and everything was ready to set sail.
DAY 1st / Sunday 3 of July 2022 - Position: 51° 14΄Ν04° 23΄Ε – Antwerp Belgium
The waters of the North Sea began to rise, the Skaldis river swelled and finally, at 6 o'clock in the morning the gates of the Liberty Royal Club-Antwerp marina opened. We were now free to go out into the river that after 50 nautical miles would lead us to our great beloved. The sea was calling us. Konstantinos and I were all set behind the navigation screens. There is nothing more liberating than taking your seat behind the console and pushing the lever towards your bow.
After 2 hours of sailing on the river we went out into the North Sea. 13 degrees Celsius. Goodbye, magical, warm, Greek summer...
Time: 08:20 - 51° 18΄ Ν 03° 16΄ Ε – Blankenberge marina.
We filled the boat's main tanks with 1450 liters from the gas station just before the marina entrance and turned our bow for Lowestoft, England. According to the schedule, we would cover the 100 nautical miles that separated us from Lowestoft Marina and spend the night there. But our "thirst" was enormous. Sirens are magically attractive… We traveled for the journey. Until our reservoirs run dry. Of course, it was also a first-class opportunity for a real test, in real conditions, to check our autonomy and the behavior of the boat in general.
The first 3 hours were quite difficult, dealing with NW winds whose intensity exceeded 4 Beaufort. However, our mood was high. At 5 pm we crossed over to the western hemisphere, which would host us for the rest of our mission. Finally, after 16 hours of sailing, we docked at Tweedmouth, 55° 45΄ N 02° 00΄ W, just before the Scottish border. A total of 400 nm and 1394 liters of fuel, which translates to 3.48 liters per nautical mile. A wonderful ratio for our twin-prop engines if you factor in our extra loads, while the boat responded admirably to all forms of swell inspiring confidence and security.
DAY 2nd / Monday 4 of July 2022 - Position: 55° 52΄ Ν 02° 05΄ W – Eyemouth Scotland
The second day was a very stressful, tiring and wasted day as it was impossible to resupply. In no small or large port on the whole east coast of Scotland is there a supply station. Not Edinburgh, not Aberdeen. No one to carry gasoline either, and gas stations are not allowed to put gasoline in flexible tanks even if they are certified, like ours. It was a day full of anxiety and tension but finally, late at night, thanks to our friend Steve Willis who mobilized all the Racing clubs in England through social media, I received many messages and visits on the boat from people at sea who rushed to help me with their drums and trailers. My indignation and anger at the apathy with which many Scots were dealing with our problem turned into immense gratitude for some wonderful people who passionately followed our mission and finally found us a solution. Late in the evening we finished refueling and completely exhausted we fell asleep in the boat cabin.
DAY 3nd / Tuesday 5 of July 2022 - Position: 58° 57΄ Ν 03° 15΄ W – Stromness (Orkney Islands)
At 11:30 local time we were leaving Eyemouth astern and slowly making our way to the unique Stromness, which we had chosen as a refueling and rest stop because of its rich history as well as its wonderful architecture. Total distance of 200 nm. Winds W, NW intensity 4-5 Beaufort. Temperature 11-13° C.
After Fraseburgh, the big swells coming off the ocean combined with the short wavelength forced us to veer further west and reduce our speed. Entering the strait of the Orkney islands, we got a good taste of the incoming tide, and the eddies it created in combination with the strong currents giving us a unique experience. It wasn't windy at all but the whole sea was heaving and deflating reminding us how threatening it can get at any moment. The currents were very strong, we could clearly feel it on our propellers. Violent swirling eddies covered large areas, the waters were dark, and we were traveling in a hazy and gray landscape. Traveling at 23-30 knots, we covered the route in 8 hours burning a total of 711 liters.
We moored at Stromness Marina where we were greeted and served brilliantly, and soon after, we went for a warm swim a few yards away on the west side of the marina. Of course, after our incredible experience in Eyemouth, the first thing we made sure to ensure was resupply. Fortunately here the petrol driver is more organized and transports fuel with his truck, as long as you have the appropriate tanks.
DAY 4nd / Wednesday 6 of July 2022 - Position: 58° 57΄Ν03° 15΄W – Stromness (Orkney Islands)
This day was planned for a general inspection of the boat and then familiarization with Stromness. We are on the 59th parallel, in the isolated and mysterious Orkney Islands of the North Sea. They form an archipelago just 16 km from the northern coast of Scotland and count 70 islets, of which 19 are inhabited. Their population amounts to 20,000 inhabitants, while the largest island is Mainland (Mainland), which is located in the center of the complex and divides the rest into two groups, the northern and southern islands. Orkney belongs geographically to Scotland and politically to Great Britain. The largest city and administrative center is Kirkwall and is located on the island of Mainland. The native inhabitants maintain a special identity considering themselves closer to the Scandinavians, as genuine descendants of the Vikings. Stromness has been a safe haven since the Viking Age, a whaling and herring fishing port, a diving base and a shipping gateway to Scotland with an unrivaled maritime heritage. With traditional cafes, bars and restaurants, Stromness is a wonderful base for exploring the Orkney Islands. There are all the amenities for a town of around 2000, a public swimming pool, gym and squash courts, a well stocked library and a golf course towards the end of the settlement with great views.
We took the central cobbled and very picturesque street that runs parallel to the sea. Every few meters there is a vertical alley that leads shortly to the sea along which the stone houses of the settlement are built. Almost every corner and a magnificent picture. The cold, the drizzle and the fog make this place particularly mysterious. It seems clear that the place is surrounded by legends inspired both by the wildness of the landscape and by the Celtic and Scandinavian tradition.
In a short time we reached the westernmost end of the settlement. The wind was raging, the waves were crashing furiously on the shore, and the fog was getting thicker and thicker. We took the narrows that ascend the hill from where the view towards the village captivates the eye and ignites the imagination. A magical setting, full of mystery emerging from the constant changes of weather and colors in an incredibly peaceful place.
Filled with the unique images the short walk gave us, we sat down for a beer and checked the weather forecast for the next few days. Our intention was to reach the Faroe Islands 200 nautical miles further north. Our good mood suddenly changed when we realized that for the next seven days the winds would exceed 25 knots and were coming from the northwest.
The disappointment was enormous as the whole mission program was in danger of being thrown into the air. And of course it seemed impossible to make it to Nuuk, Greenland on the 20th, where Cristiano and Carlos were scheduled to arrive. On the other hand, it was very dangerous to travel in these conditions. No matter how hard I tried to find a solution, the anxiety was overwhelming me. But a decision had to be made. The pressure and responsibility was enormous. It was the first major decision I had to make.
I locked myself in the cabin and carefully studied the forecasts. I anxiously searched for even a small window that would allow us to sail away. For a 10 hour sailing with the least strong wind. I was intently studying the direction of the barometrics trying to plot the least painful course. We had 200 nm of ocean separating us from the Faroe Islands. I knew very well that the lows that originate south of Greenland are almost permanent and head east towards the Faroe and Orkney Islands causing the roughest seas in the Northern Hemisphere.
The best time to start was 3:30 in the morning as the winds were forecast to be NW at over 20 knots by midday. Then they reached 25 knots while near the Faroe Islands they were approaching 28. According to the course of the low barometric, we had to rush to cover the first 50-70 miles so that we could then slowly put the weather to one side and as we approached the Faroes we would have it astern. Something that finally never happened……Keep Ribbing!