The Dark Expedition – Part 2

Part 1.

On board Celeste, some place north-east of Scotland, south-east of Orkney, 21 August 2014.

The prognosis was for very little wind until we passed Lindesnes and then quite a lot of it because of a low pressure area over Skagerrak. We had passed one front on our way up from Gothenburg, but to reach the Orkneys we had to pass through the other side (Ill. 1 – amateurishly done by me).

Ill. 1: The red is supposed to indicate the weather fronts around the low pressure area. We passed through from Gothenburg and entered the fairly calm middle, but to get to the Orkneys we would have to pass through again, and the front on that side was probably wider than the figure shows.

We were expected to hit the rough weather around midnight and that it would last for approximately 24 hours, with more wind and significantly taller waves than we’d had in Kattegat. But towards the end of our watch from 3 to 6 pm (Tuesday the 19th) the wind picked up and the waves turned choppy. Shortly after (I was just headed for bed, since we were going on watch again at midnight) Karin went round checking with each of us that we were ok with continuing – the forecast at this point was “rough for 48 hours”.

(Relatively) calm before the storm

I said ok, as long as I don’t have to take the helm (I’d been at the helm earlier, while it was calm, but did not particularly want that responsibility in rougher conditions). A part of me wanted to say “I want my mummy, let me off at the nearest islet!”, but I’d signed up to sail, after all, and I assumed that the crew knew what they were about and what Celeste was capable of and weren’t about to risk the boat or their own lives. I suspect a couple of my shipmates also had an internal discussion, but everyone said to og ahead, so we continued on our course straight into the storm. I didn’t really sleep, what with the commotion and all, and when I clambered up on deck at midnight, both Bengt, Jens and Karin were there, taking turns at the helm. The rest of us wedged ourselves in the most comfortable positions we could. I think I must have nodded off now and again, for suddenly the watch was over and I could creep back to the bunk. Perhaps I should have stayed on deck, because now I found sleep escaped me, my back and hips were far from happy (the bunks were rather hard) and Celeste would crest the choppy waves and then land in the trough with a bang, with everything, including us, being thrown foreward.

Above deck there was action enough. At some point it was discovered that the IPIRB which was supposed to hang aft ready for use was missing. IPIRB stands for Individual Position Indicating Rescue Beacon and is activated when thrown (or lost) into the sea. The point is that it sends a distress signal if the boat is actually in trouble, but at the receiving end it’s obviously impossible to tell an accidentally lost IPIRB from a real distress signal. Attempts had been made to reach us via radio, but there had not been any response (since everyone who had any knowledge of the radio were busy on deck). I overheard Karin’s somewhat frantic call to someone on land that, no, we were fine, the boat was fine, we had just lost the transmitter. At that point a rescue operation was already in progress, a boat had left shore and a helicopter had been requested. To everyone’s relief, no doubt, the rescue operation could be called off and we continued our sailing into the wind, which showed no sign of lessening.

Sea spray
Sea spray

After our nine-to-twelve-watch on Wednesday the only real options were to stay on deck or lie on a bunk, so I did a bit of both. Celeste was leaning and bucking about too much for anything else.

By the time we came on watch again at six the wind had dropped and the waves, though still rather tall, were less choppy.

Calmer evening
Calmer evening
And a spectacular sunset, in its way.
And a spectacular sunset, in its way.

Our night watch, 3 to 6 am Thursday morning, was quite calm. The wind was still from the west, giving us a speed of between 5 to 7 knots and variously cloudy and clear, so we could se the stars (there are a lot of them when you’re in the middle of the sea, with little to no light pollution around). The waves that regularly submerged the rails were teeming with phosphorescence. Karin was at the helm for most of the watch, but asked if I could take over so she could have a break, and in these conditions I was fine with it, so I spelled her for a while.

Just before we went off watch we took the reef out of the mainsail with the help of Bengt’s watch who were on after us.

I went to bed and actually slept this time, from six to about eleven, and when I got up we had gone about and also started the engine again, because even with the reef out of the mainsail we were only doing 2 to 4 knots, and we’ve got a date in Kirkwall on Friday.

The North Sea is full of oil rigs. They look really cool at night, all lit up, but are easier to photograph in daylight.
The North Sea is full of oil rigs. They look really cool at night, all lit up, but are easier to photograph in daylight.

All of Thursday passed on a steady course towards Kirkwall with the engine going off and on depending on the strength of the wind. At some point we tried setting the gennaker (similar to a spinnaker, but uses the same mast as the jib), but by the time it was up the wind had dropped, so there was nothing to do but take it down again.

The gennaker
The gennaker

It’s now just gone half past six in the evening, and about an hour ago we hauled down the mainsail as it was not being filled (and then it slows the boat) and we’re running on engine at about 6 knots. I’m on watch again at nine and I don’t think I can be bothered to try to sleep before that. We’re heading for a calm night, but expecting more wind in the morning. It would be nice to arrive in Kirkwall with the sails up, bare masts look rather sad.

There is no chance of making landfall Thursday at this point, but we’re hoping to make the planned tour of Highland Park at two pm Friday. It helps that that is GMT while we’re still on CET, but it might still be a close call.

I can’t even begin to describe how nice it will be to sleep in a bed that is stationary and horisontal again.

Jens and Åsa in the galley, cooking supper.
Jens and Åsa in the galley, cooking supper.

Part 3.

The Dark Expedition – Part 1


On board Celeste, south of Arendal, 19th August 2014

The trip from Trondheim to Gothenburg via Oslo yesterday morning went without a hitch, apart from having to get up way too early at 4.30 am. Finding a taxi presented no problem, and the driver seemed to know where he was going until we got to the marina, when he missed Långedrag and ended up in the neighbouring marina at first. But the mistake was easily corrected and as soon as I got out of the taxi I met Åsa, who was also wearing the fetching expedition jacket, and to see Celeste of Solent (or Farr65r as she is also known) for the first time.


There were quite a few things to be done before we could set off. A photographer from the Swedish event agency was there to capture the whole thing, and several of us also made the best of the brief sunny spells. We also had a round of presentations and were briefed on the schedule and on the safety procedures on board. As I had expected alchohol is prohibited while we’re sailing. The event management had been a bit hazy on this and suggested that a dram or two would surely be poured, but I was not surprised to find they were wrong. We’re supposed to act as crew, after all, and have three hour watches (so six hours off between them). And the captain was adamant: No alchohol until we dock in Kirkwall.

One of the other participants – Jalle – organized anti-sea sickness patches for anyone who wanted one, so I now have one behind my right ear. I feel no sign of sea sickness yet, and am grateful for that.

We left Långedrag running the engine and set sail before we got out of the coastal archipelago (the number 4 jib and the mainsail, for those of you who are technically minded), and set a course northwest towards Norway, close hauled to the wind which was coming from the west.

Hauling the mainsail

Celeste was soon at a good angle, and the speed varied between 7 and 10 knots.

We’ve been divided into three watches, with one person from Sjösport (Celeste’s owners) in charge of each watch; Bengt (the captain), Jens and Karin. In in Karin’s watch, with Jörgen (who has sailed quite a bit) and Jalle and Richard who are both less experienced than me (which is to say complete beginners, more or less). We had our first watch from nine pm to midnight last night, and Jalle got to start at the helm while there was still daylight, and there he remained, which I was quite happy with. I’m frankly a bit terrified at the angle of the boat, which feels like 45°, but is probably more like 30°, with moderate waves, but with a rather unsteady wind which had to be compensated for. Rationally I know that overturning is not actually very likely (like Karin said: The mast or sail will give way first), but my instincts (fed by a number of shipwrecks in fiction – blame Patrick O’Brian) would not listen to reason. Hopefully it’s partly habit and I’ll be fine with it after today’s two day watches (as tonight promises to be rough).

After the change of watch at midnight it was time to hit the sack, as we were going on watch again at six. I sort of slept, though hardly soundly (or continously). Down below it basically sounds like the boat is about to sink any moment. Well, hopefully that’s also something I’ll get used to. A Ragnhild with insufficient sleep is not a functioning entity.


When I emerged on deck at six the next morning I had realised that the sea was calmer, but had failed to notice that we were running the engine. The sails are still being filled, but the wind has fallen to seven knots (compared with 20-30 yesterday). So today we head along the Norwegian coast towards Lindesnes.

Part 2.

The Dark Expedition – preamble

It’s been over three months since I sailed with a group of wonderful people across the North Sea from Gothenburg to Orkney. I have no explanation for why it’s taken so long to get started on this account of the trip, other than, well, life and such. Short posts with tasting notes are one thing, longer texts take more time and energy. Time is mostly available in the evening when the kids are in bed, and by then energy is frequently sadly lacking. I also had a couple of thousand images to dig through to identify those worth editing and presenting. And then there was the question of form: Should I aim for something I could develop into a magazine feature? Should I stick mainly to pictures rather than text? Should I even write about the sailing here? This is a blog about drinkable stuff, after all, not sailing. And so weeks passed by.

A steady course is to be desired, both in sailing and in blogging.
A steady course is to be desired, both in sailing and in blogging.

But now, finally, I think I’m in the zone. I’ve decided you’ll just have to scroll past if you’re not interested in sailing. And since this is a blog I’ll be sharing my diary entries pretty much as I wrote them, feature articles will have to look after themselves. A little editing will happen, to clarify or add detail, but mostly I’ll share it as I wrote it while it was happening. Once at Orkney, the visit to Highland Park will obviously be the main focus, but I’ll pop over to a bay by the name of Scapa, too. And I’ll end with a bit of a summary of my experience and some wisdom gleaned from hindsight. And there will be plenty of pictures, but most will be published in a gallery at the end.

Are you ready? Part 1 will be published tomorrow, all things permitting, in the meantime you can enjoy the official video from the trip:

A bird’s eye view of Highland Park

I’m slowly making my way through the pictures I took as part of The Dark Expedition. I snapped a few, you might say. It’s taking a while. Here’s a taster, though.

Kirkwall from above
Kirkwall from above

Snapped out the window of the plane to Aberdeen Saturday afternoon.

Detail of Kirkwall from above, with Highland Park at the center.
Detail of Kirkwall from above, with Highland Park at the center

They have a warehouse or two… If you squint a bit you can see the pagodas (they have two kilns) at the bottom right behind the two long, grey buildings (which house the malting floors).