The Best Laid Plans


About the same time Rosehearty was arriving in Nuuk, Greenland, Tropical Depression #6, 200 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras became Tropical Storm Erin. We had just finished a 21-day, 1300 mile Arctic expedition.  After weeks of extraordinary yet challenging cruising, the whole crew was looking forward to a few days dockside, a couple of days off and at least one night of 8 hours continuous sleep.  For the work days, the crew would tackle routine provisioning, fueling, and pre-sea checks.  Days off would feature sleep, hikes, and dinners out.  As we threw the heaving lines to the waiting line handlers, we could taste that first glass of wine in three weeks, smell the roasted musk ox and reindeer we wanted to try, and feel the soft embrace of our duvets and pillows on those mornings we would be allowed to sleep in.  This would be our last port of call before setting off for Viareggio, Italy, 3,500 miles away.



But as is often the case in large yacht programs, what you think is going to happen, changes, usually due to weather, schedule, boat or a combination of all three.  Within 15 minutes of docking, it became clear that our dreams of uninterrupted sleep were shattered.  The 15-foot tides and rough commercial dock would mean hourly monitoring of lines and fenders.  Within an hour of docking, we realized that the relatively short work list we had intended to burn through on arrival so we could have the rest of the day off would not even be touched because we would spend the next 7 hours shifting the boat forward and aft in order to give room to the commercial trawlers and ferries arriving in Nuuk to discharge their catch or their passengers.  And within 8 hours of docking, when we finally rested in our final position and could take a moment to review our preferred schedule over the next 5 days, we realized that the departure window as currently set – based on days off, crew arrivals and departures, and provisioning -- would not be feasible.  If we waited the 5 days to enjoy an orderly, restful turnaround, we would be departing into storm headwinds.  TD6, now Tropical Strom Erin, was strengthening and accelerating and headed towards Greenland.  


And so the crew smashed out 4 days work in 2, woke up every hour to adjust lines and fenders, took half a day off, and had Rosehearty ready for the 3500 mile sail to Italy by late afternoon, just 72 hours after our arrival.  We did get to try grilled reindeer and enjoy a glass of red wine.  A strong northerly surge was forecast for the first 24 hours, and though we would have preferred to wait for milder conditions to dock out, the 36 and 48 hr forecasts predicted a fast change to strong headwinds along our track and so we opted for an evening departure in to near gale conditions from behind, rather than waiting and risk running into gale winds from ahead.


The northerly winds were strong and cold as we made our way from the protected waters of Nuuk towards the open ocean.  Shrieking gusts funneled through the island passages.  Large ice bergs lay grounded in the shallows.  Having moved south from the arctic circle, our 22 hours of daylight were gone.  The sun would set at 930pm and we would have darkness until about 5am.  On the one hand, we welcomed the change, the chance to re-set our circadian clocks.  But eyeing the large ice bergs as we made for the open waters of Davis Strait and knowing that we would have at least 3 nights inside the ice berg limits, we would gladly have traded in our circadian reboot for a few additional hours of daylight. 


As I write this entry, we are about 48 hours out of Nuuk.  With 30 knots from behind and a 2.5 meter swell on the stern quarter, we rolled gunwale to gunwale for the first 24 hours.  We needed to get south quickly and so gybing down wind in bergy water was not an option, so we rumbled down on two engines, ticking off the miles quickly, with Greenland’s snow capped peaks fading on our port side.  We have crossed paths with numerous large bergs, some during the day, a few at night.  Last night just as we sailed passed Greenland’s southernmost point, we entered dense fog and picked up a large berg on radar about the same time.  It is quite un-nerving to be sailing with zero visibility at night with ice bergs around.  The large bergs present a fine echo on radar, but where there are large bergs, there are always smaller ones, in particular the debris field that larger bergs leave behind as they are buffeted by wind and wave and warmer temperatures.  Debris fields often have broken pieces the size of combi vans, mostly submerged, silent and undectable.   


From 2am to 5am the bridge and engineering teams were all on edge, having altered course to the south and slowed down.  It was not until we were well passed the berg and where we thought the debris field might be that we slowly returned to our rhumb line, picked up speed, and went to bed.


The fog has lifted and a favorable wind is on our beam.  We have deployed sail and are motorsaling fast towards the southeast, away from Erin’s path, away from the ice that stalks the coast of Greenland.  Welcome back on board.