Ocean lady – Adventures in North Sea, part 1.

The farthest destination of Carissa’s 2023 trips was reached by passing the southern tip of Sweden, proceeding along the coast of Norway northwards to Bergen and from there across the North Sea. The ship was loaded with women who almost didn’t know each other. What the women had in common though was that no one had sailed in the North Sea before. Longer night sailing in the open waters was also new for many.

Strong winds were predicted already from the start of the leg, so the challenge was to be in the right place at the right time on the coast and not deep in the fjords. The weather forecast opened a window for the crossing very soon, so the opportunity had to be seized. Winds move the sailboat but they always do not allow plans and wishes to come true.

So we had to say goodbye to the scenery of Norway at a very early stage.

However, we had enough time to get to know Bergen that we got lost on the easy hiking trail of Floyen mountain. The route turned out to be slightly more moist and difficult to navigate than expected. We got through without any accidents, but with wet shoes we trudged back to the boat.

We can only be green with envy for the Norwegians for their wonderful rugged landscapes, but luckily it always rains in Norway.

On a humid, foggy morning, we set off towards the outer archipelago to the idyllic Fedjan. Then we headed to the main destination of the season, which was only known to us in advance for its murders, the Shetland Islands.

At first we had to use the engine in almost windless weather. The calm sea offered us a perfect opportunity to conduct oceanographic measurements with the device we had with us, the EXO2 probe. The forecast promised us fair winds. After the watch shifts started, we actually sailed rolling in side wind.

After a while, a circle appeared on the plotter map, which was marked as a forbidden area. There was a drilling rig in that direction. We steered right along the edge of the circle, as close to our desired course as possible.

A rib boat pulled soon up next to us. Its crew wondered why we weren’t answering the vhf call. They had tried to reach us, but crew inside was sleeping and vhf cannot be heard on deck. We didn’t see it was necessary to keep the hand vhf on during the day.

We got an order from the men to contact Ecuador(?). The skipper also woke up to this conversation. Apparently, the tensions prevailing in the world have caused expand the safety zones of the oil rigs. And we had to lower our course even more.

After night fell, we stared in amazement at the seemingly endless sea of lights; numerous rigs that were like illuminated massive Christmas trees

Arriving after 29 h and 168 nm of sailing in the morning at Baltasound in Shetland, we were greeted by dolphins. There was a friendly harbor master in marina, who was very excited about the guests he received, of whom there was no sign apart from us. Now it wasn’t even off-season, but no-season. No reason to visit? – we would see that soon.

We had properly handled all the formalities on the Norwegian side online, after all we landed territory outside the EU. The harbor master was not at all interested in our official comings and goings. The skipper was very surprised, maybe even disappointed after doing what was apparently a pointless job. Later in the evening, the harbor master delivered us a package of information about local services and attractions in the village. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to get to know them this time.

We had eagerly studied the harbour book while weighing the ports to visit. Book promised electricity to many ports. At least it was not found here. Depth is also an important criteria already at home, but now we had to take into account a stranger phenomenon for us Finns, tides. In the North Sea, care must be taken to ensure that there is enough water under the keel, around the clock.

The port was modest both externally and in terms of services, but sheltered. However, a shower was found and there was even a local cozy hotel close to the harbour. The next morning we enjoyed an English breakfast there: toast, fried egg, lamb?sausage, bacon and bean stew. Here we got our first taste of the moorland landscapes, animals and birds characteristic of Shetland. We had true nature lovers among us who filmed eagerly all of this.

Again, we feverishly browsed the harbour book… everyone enthusiastically participated in weighing the marinas along with the skipper. In an exceptionally democratic (or common sense) way, plans were made with this leg. After all, there was plenty of know-how on the boat.

On the way, it was again possible to continue collecting measurement results while motoring in the absence of wind. Whalsay was selected as the next place to visit in our route towards the south. This harbor already looked bigger. Two ferries operated there. Still, this was no guest marina either. Fishing boats filled the deepest part of the harbor, for example the really big Charisma (Europe’s largest fishing vessel). Carissa looked as a miniature next to these big ships.

We weighed anchorage possibilities – the only option left was to park on the side of the fishing vessel, which wasn’t going anywhere the next day. Over that deck, we had to bunker food in a chain on our way back from the hiking trip. Water also had to be filled over the decks of other boats. Of the local two(!) shops, the one near the beach did not open its doors according to the announcement in the window. Slow and easy living. The second shop opened in the afternoon, so we were able to get more food supplies, especially coffee, which had run out. In the evening, we also had time to visit a beach pub with the local basketball team, but the showers and electricity remained a dream.

Out Skerries was our next chosen destination based on harbour books and internet information. A suitable draught, shower facilities and electricity were promised. We were forced to the side park on the tractor tires, not the guest harbor level. There was still no electricity from the pier, even with extension cables, but there was no noticeable tourist rush either. The services may not be in such high demand in this corner of the world.

A very positive surprise was the waiting area mainly intended for ferry passengers, which was clean, warm and shower in building next to it. We ate together both evenings at the long table in the waiting room. The menu was prepared in a boat and moved twenty meters to the land using a ladder. We were also able to wash the dishes according to our values in the little pantry of the waiting area – luxury even compared to Finland most of the time. Grateful for this surprise, we wrote warm thanks for these nice surprises in the guest book, mentioning the members of the Ocean Ladies women’s team. We bolded each name and thus occupied more ”ad” space.

The next day we toured the island’s walking trail among the sheep, being careful of rock ledges.

and photographing birds. One of us would have really, really wanted to see puffins, but ”no season” – they had already left these landscapes for this year. However, there was still much more to offer.
Here we really experienced the steep rock walls and the crash of the waves on the rocks below. Great sound for the ears and beauty for the retinas. During the round, we almost walked past a herd of ten seals, which was resting on a nearby islet behind a small nub. It was a happy coincidence that one of us glanced a little further. We crept closer to them as quietly as possible. Still, they dove into the water after spotting us, all too soon. However, we managed to get a few pictures of them as a souvenir

We got to know the marine nature surrounding the island properly on the next day’s sailing. The wind was brisk, so we reefed. We were eager to experience reeaaal sail during the day without timetable or target. And that’s what happened. The toe board sometimes got wet – and well indeed. That’s what we were looking for on this trip, suitably challenging winds. Now there was energy and mood. Judging by the volume of the voices, the female crew enjoyed it.

From the atmosphere of country village, we moved to Lerwick, the main destination of the Ocean Ladies 2023 season, at the end of a leisurely leg. The number of murders had probably remained the same during our visit, because the previous one had actually happened ”about 100 years ago”.

On all these islands we experienced nature at its most authentic. The tourist crowds don’t spoil that here. However, Lerwick wrestles with this challenge in a completely different category. Namely, every day one or even two large passenger ships anchored in the bay and a large group of people were transported by tenders to the mainland. Local attractions, charter buses, restaurants, tourist information, etc. were crowded with tourists already in the morning. We joined them and went on a private tour for the day.

In the end, we got to pet the Shetland ponies, of which one niece was feverishly waiting to see pictures.

Even the six-week-old little pony dared to give himself up to be petted next to his mother. Here, too, the same familiar grassy landscape with steep rock walls was around us. At the northern tip of the island, we saw Norwegian influences (Vikings) in the ancient settlements, and from the platform of the lighthouse, the point where two seas embrace each other – the Atlantic and the North Sea

A few evenings we navigated to enjoy pub nights where local musicians came in to play music for everyone’s joy. Fortunately, the masses of tourists had not found their way to these parties.
Shetland Islands are part of Scotland, which has started demanding independence from Great Britain. According to our guide, the border formalities that came after Brexit slow down e.g. the export of fish catches to the EU territory by 24 hours. Fishing is one of the islands’ main industries. The guide mentioned, with a twinkle in her eye, that there wouldn’t be enough sharp-headed representatives in Scotland to govern if independence was reached – would that be true.

Team: Skipper Pirjo Rytöniemi, 1st mate Marita Sauhke, 2nd mate Sari Heinonen, crew: Annamari Kurki, Taina Laaksonen, Leena Norvio, Noora Teräs, Pirita Varpe
Route: Bergen – Fedjan – Baltasound – Whalsay – Out Skerries – Lerwick
Writer: Marita Sauhke