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Mahina Expeditions, Offshore Cruising Training

Leg 8-2006 Oban, Scotland to Ellos, Sweden

Click here for Leg 8 Schedule

September 15, 2006, 1530 hrs, 53.00 N, 02.36 W, Log: 106,557 miles
Motoring, no wind, 4-6' E swell
Baro: 1013, Cabin Temp: 63F, cockpit 66F


What a busy week we have had between Legs 7 & 8! Amanda and I enjoyed a train trip to Glasgow and Edinburgh, staying two nights in a B & B not far from Edinburgh Castle. A highlight (and the first thing we did after getting off the train and finding the B & B) was to visit the royal yacht Britannia. Although she was decommissioned three years ago in a cost-cutting move by the Queen, the yacht looked like she was just temporarily in port, ready to set sail as soon as her crew was mustered. Duty rosters were still posted including lists of events and uniforms required for the last day she sailed into Edinburgh three years ago.

H.M Yacht Britannia entering Loch Linne, Scotland

John on Britannia's upper deck

To me British Historical places have a rather relaxed access while also being extremely informative. On Britannia, after given guided radios, we could visit the entire ship including the bridge and living spaces. As the yacht is self-supporting non-profit charity, corporations pay to have private evening dinners and functions aboard and chefs were hard at work in the ship's galley preparing for a gala dinner. It was exciting to see that Britannia is still being used and we were amazed to see the walls in the dining room decorated with small objects of South Pacific art, including a carved shark from Pitcairn, a small stone statue from Easter Island, a Maori greenstone club plus many of the same small objects d'art that we've also collected over the past 35 years. Overall, the understated simplicity of the ship was a real credit to the Queen who wanted an "uncluttered country house" feel to the living spaces, not a showy or fancy display.

Britannia's dinning room

Britannia's lounge

So, arriving back in Oban Saturday afternoon we went straight to work provisioning and readying MT. Leg 8's crew arrived Monday noon and with a fair tide we left at once for the Corpach Sea Lock, the entrance to the Caledonian Canal, arriving a few minutes after the 5pm closing of the canal office. The lockmaster saw us circling, trying to tie up in gusty winds and strong currents to the tiny float outside the lock. He hailed us from the lock wall, saying he would open the lock so we could spend the night in a calmer spot without tides and currents. It felt like summer once we were inside the lock; the sun came out, there were flowers and people walking their dogs along the canal tow path, and all kinds of interesting old boats moored inside the canal entrance.

M.T moored in Corpach Sea Loch

John entering Corpach loch keeper's office

At 0800 Tuesday morning the lockmaster showed up, allowed us to top up our fuel tanks and register for the canal. For 250 pounds sterling (about US $450) we would be able to motor and sail right through the middle of the Scottish Highlands, cutting off many stormy coastal miles around the top of Scotland.

Started in 1803 and completed in 1822 the Caledonian Canal was a public works project at a time when poverty was widespread in this isolated area. One of the stated goals was to also train emigrants in hourly work as they made the transition from crofting, or subsistence farming to moving to America where they would hopefully find hourly wage jobs. The government has just completed a ten year, 20 million pound sterling rebuild of the canal and the lockmasters were proud of the powerful new hydraulic doors and controls.

We had brilliant weather as we went up the seven locks of Neptune's Staircase and along the canal and up numerous more locks to end the day's voyage in Fort Augustus, a little tourist village built around the mid-point of the canal. Showers and laundry alongside the docks were welcomed by crew and we all enjoyed poking around the village.

M.T climbing Neptune's Staircase

A view form up the mast of Neptune's Staircase

Wednesday morning we were the first boat into the lock and by the time we had gone down a series of locks and exited into Loch Ness the winds had built to 25-35 knots, directly astern of us! We unrolled the genoa and were soon surfing along at well over 8 knots under gorgeous skies. We furled sail for a few minutes to check out Urquhart Castle and again sailed off again on a glorious downwind run, perfect for Amanda to teach provisioning and I marine weather.

Early morning lock down in Fort Augustus

Crew enjoying our first sail - Loch Ness

We hadn't counted on making out the last lock before closing time, but we did, and had plenty of light for the short but tricky transit into Inverness Marina with a capacity for just 20 boats. The last lockmaster had called ahead and we were allowed to tie on the outside T-head, the only slip longer than 9 meters in the small marina.

That evening Richard worked long and hard on the navigation for the next day's 72 mile passage to the small fishing port of Wick. By 0530 we were underway to catch the high tide out of the harbor and the ebb current which would boost us along our way north. The winds never really settled in but we reached Wick well before dark and in time for the weather test and a swim at the excellent public pool next to the harbor. We enjoyed a tasty Indian dinner up town and this morning most of our crew went hiking along the rugged cliffs towards a castle ruin.

John keeps a good lookout as we approach Wick in the fog

M.T tied up in Wick

The 53 mile passage north to Orkney is often a very rough as the Pentland Firth, the channel between the northern coast of Scotland and the Orkney's has currents to 12 knots with vicious rips and over falls. We left Wick at 10:30 to time our passage at the edge of the Firth to coincide with slack water. The current tables were spot on as we had less than a knot of current when passing Pentland Skerries, the islets where the current is strongest. Unfortunately, the winds have not cooperated as forecasted and we have had to motor the entire way.

We had planned two nights in the Orkney's and so far it looks like the weather for our 350 mile passage to Norway is lining up perfectly. According to the GRIB files if we set sail Sunday morning we should have favorable winds and a break from the SE headwinds that have persisted in the North Sea these past days.

September 17, 2006, 0130 hrs, 58.29N, 00.20 E, Log: 106, 690 miles
Motorsailing @ 7.5 kts, in 8 kts S wind
Baro: 1008.6, cabin temp: 65F, cockpit: 60F

The Orkney's ( are a rugged group of islands just north of Scotland. Ferry services connect many of the islands and there are daily ferries to Scotland. Kirkwall, population 7,000 out of a total of 20,000 is by far the largest town and it looks to have a very strong economy. We had read that a long awaited marina for pleasure boats would be completed this year and were delighted to find the new nearly-empty well-protected marina just E of the tiny and usually crowded commercial harbor. The dock master was a sailor, a member of Orkney Sailing Club ( and proudly told us that the marina ( had taken ten years of planning and promises. He said that winds over 100 knots are not uncommon and that last winter, before they completed the breakwater they got a northerly storm which damaged the partially completed docks. A newly completed breakwater extension with a dog-leg entrance now completely protects the harbor. Georgie, the harbourmaster left us with keys for the sailing club and an invitation to use the showers and relax there anytime.

Saturday morning after breakfast Amanda covered rig check and spares before crew hit the dock running. Lydia, Richard and John renting a car

John and Lydia study the standing stones
to explore the prehistoric sights of Skara Brae, a community founded in 4600 BC ( )and the standing stones while the other caught public transport to Stromness and Scapa Flow, the huge bay where the WWI German fleet had been scuttled. All but five ships was later raised and salvaged. The remaining ships are in relatively shallow water and attract 5,000 divers a year! That afternoon we studied anchoring techniques and equipment, utilizing the PowerPoint show from our Offshore Cruising Seminar for the first time onboard.

Last night we FINALLY found live traditional music. "The Reel" is a hidden away cozy front room café and bar above a music store and studio. World performing Orcadian twins Jennifer and Hazel Wrigley have returned to the isles and now host sessions and music tuition. We enjoyed fiddle, guitar, harmonica, flute, bodhran's, piano, and singing in a very relaxed casual atmosphere. Amanda's feet were quick to dance, but the carpet dulled her stepping sound. Several musicians kept suggesting she dance on the table until one of the twins handed Amanda a wooden kitchen door to dance on in true Irish tradition. The girl behind the café counter told Amanda that they rarely get step dancers but it sure added to the ambiance, she later mentioned that the only formal stepping taught on the island was in a fitness class.

Amanda enjoying her door top stepping

A music session in full swing at The Reel

Concerned about several very intense lows roaring across the North Atlantic and not wanting to get pasted crossing the North Sea we printed out reams of weatherfaxes, checked the GRIB files every 12 hours and contacted Commanders Weather for a custom forecast. The end result was only possible departure window for the week; Sunday morning, just after a cold front passed, which was when we wished to leave.

For complete text of Commanders Weather forecast, CLICK HERE.

So far the forecasts have been accurate. We set sail after breakfast on a SE wind that just allowed us to lay our course, 280 miles,

Carolyn enjoying our early morning sailing
close-hauled for Lindesnes, Norway. Atlantic spotted dolphins joined us and the sailing was great. However slowly the winds have backed to the S and have gone light as forecasted. Commanders recommended we keep our speed up as a strong cold front is expected to make landfall in Norway the same time as us so we're motorsailing, to maintain 6 knots.

September 18, 2006, 2130 hrs, 58.29N, 00.20 E, Log: 106, 6832 miles
Wind is just abaft the beam @ 18-22 kts of S wind, at we are reaching along nicely at 8 knots
Baro: 1005.7, cabin temp: 67F, cockpit: 63F

Norway Ahead!
Last night was one of our busiest in memory for traffic with many fishing boats, freighters and up to six huge oil and gas platforms on the radar at the same time. Fog reduced visibility to less than two miles and we had to be constantly on our toes. Early this afternoon the winds increased to 14-22 knots and slowly backed to a beam reach so Ken and Richard tucked a reef in and off we flew!

We have been looking our shoulders for the arrival of remains of Hurricane Gordon; an active cold front attached to a monster low. Commanders' Weather forecasts said the frontal wave should be passing us at noon tomorrow with gusts to 35 knots in frequent squalls. In the meantime we're enjoying excellent sailing with eased sheets in remarkably flat seas and now have only 95 miles to Mandal, Norway, or 135 miles to Kristiansand, a larger city closer to our destination in Sweden.

Here's our Leg 8 crew:

Lydia, Kurt, Ken, Carolyn, John and Richard

Lydia Alina, 57 originally hails from Transylvania, Romania. She escaped and moved to the US where she now lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. "As a busy physician, wife, mother and Max's grandmother, I hope to make some time for offshore cruising in the future."

Kurt Thomas, 55 says, "We've traveled to 34 countries, always enjoying the people we've met. Now we want to sail to places we haven't yet seen. I'm a semi-retired carpenter and Carolyn and I took a break from construction and real estate work to drive our own 18 wheeler truck for 8 years, cross country. Now we work together doing kitchen and bathroom remodels in Florida."

Carolyn Thomas, 45 of Sarasota, Florida says, "We recently purchased and are upgrading a Cape Dory 25D and plan to sail the Bahamas, Mexico and Central America. I have explored much of the world on land and am looking forward to exploring the other 2/3's under sail with my husband Kurt".

Ken Appleton, 57 of Annapolis, Maryland sailed from Fiji to New Caledonia with us a few years ago and has already signed up for Leg 2 up to Spitsbergen next season. He is a retired US Coastguard officer with a 50 ton license and is committed to continuing his education and experience in open ocean sailing. His goal is to sail with as many other people as possible.

John Miller, 56, "I work as a health policy specialist for the California Senate, working for health systems change. I am a committed wooden boat sailor, currently sailing a classic 30' mahogany Knarr on San Francisco Bay. I joined this expedition to find out if blue water cruising is in my future."

Richard Baker, 54 from Johannesburg, is with us for his third consecutive expedition leg. Richard is seriously considering purchasing a new Hallberg-Rassy 48 and has a test sail lined up the day after the expedition ends. We are hoping to tag along on that sail!

September 19, 2006, 1230 hrs, 58.02N, 07.55 E, Log: 106, 939 miles
Broad reaching in 17 knot SW winds
Baro: 1001.2, cabin temp: 67F, cockpit: 65F

What Frontal Passage?

Wow, what a busy night. No more oil platforms but a steady stream of erratic fishing boats and easterly heading freighters plus a submarine just passed by. Our wind continued to build until we were sailing at close to 8 kts under double reefed sails. An hour ago a knock from the cockpit awakened me. Crew said, "You'd better get up here quick and look at this huge squall!" A wall of dark, angry clouds stretching across the horizon was moving very rapidly toward us. We quickly tucked in another reef and rolled the headsail smaller as winds gusted to 30 and sheets of driving rained enveloped us. It only took 30 minutes for the squall line to pass and the sun break through. Was this the major cold front we'd been waiting for?

Squall on radar

Squall approaching

September 21, 2006, 0930 hrs, 58.12N, 009.12E, Log: 106,996 miles
Broad reaching at 8-9 kts in 20-31 kt SSW winds, breaking seas, 8-15'

We'd made landfall in Kristiansand by noon Tuesday amid the wet and windy frontal wave. The recently enlarged marina in the heart of this attractive city was nearly empty, and signs stated the first three nights were free. We enjoyed walking along the parked out waterfront and exploring the city. It was great to see how many people of all ages used bicycles for commuting to work or going to the shops. Outside of
The most amazing thing I saw was a group of 15-20 elderly people walking from their shore side retirement center to the small, sandy beach

M.T moored in Lillesund
next to the marina, take off the bathrobes and go for a swim. Returning to shore they showered at a cold outside shower and changed clothes before gathering up their canes and walkers and heading back home. These Norwegians could never be called wimps!

Kurt and Carolyn met a local sailor who recommended we NOT cross to Sweden for at least a day due to forecasted heavy winds and seas. He recommended we visit Lillesand, a small maritime village 21 miles up the coast. After covering three strand line splicing and storm tactics, we set sail. WOW! Although the winds in the sheltered marina were only 15 knots, we found 25-30 knots and large seas offshore, crew quickly tucked in a second reef and we zoomed along on a great surfing broad reach.

The entrance to Lillesand is narrow, but incredibly well marked. The new marina was rather empty and the seaside town was very attractive but quiet. The views from the hills above town to the small offshore islands were stunning and we enjoyed another peaceful night.

In the evening Kurt carefully plotted our course 97 miles across the Skagerrak to Smogen, Sweden. In 2000 we made this passage as an overnight sail and had as many as 26 ships and fishing boats on the radar at once. We now figured that if we set sail before dawn and maintained 6.74 knots we would make it to Smogen's narrow and tortuous entrance before dark. We were up at 5:30 and thanks to Kurt's excellent navigating and Lillesand's well-marked channel, we were clear of the rocks and islands at first light. We hoisted a double-reefed main, unrolled 70% of the headsail and in hung on. The seas have been huge, one breaking clean over the stern, making us thankful we don't have an aft cockpit boat. Fortunately the wind angle, 120 degrees true, allows us to take the breaking waves on the quarter, making for some great surfing conditions in the mid 9 knot range. Since we're sailing closer to a large stationary high we have blue, cloudless skies, a real bonus! This crew signed up for heavy weather experience and they are eating up these conditions.

Big Breaking Wave!

What a hardy, fun and crazy crew!

September 25, 2006, 1130 hrs, 58.10N, 11.27 E, Log: 107,085 miles
Tied up at Hallberg-Rassy boatyard, Ellos, Sweden
Baro: 1013, cabin temp: 65F, cockpit: 70F

Our winds held for the entire crossing, freshening as we approached the Swedish coast. The last few coastal miles to Smogen were straight into the wind so to better enable us to thread our way between numerous rocks islets, narrow channels, and lobster pots, we doused sails. What a delight to enter picturesque Smogen harbor at 1900 with plenty of light to spare, although we were a little disappointed the place was deserted. The last time we visited in 2001 you could nearly walk from one side of the harbor to the other on rafted boats and the waterfront was a festive party.

Entering Smogen

The charming inner harbor at Smogen

Sunny, warm and calm, we enjoyed walking around the colorful buildings and rocky paths that evening and between classes Friday morning. After plenty of early starts and all our lunches underway we enjoyed our first leisurely 1400 departure for the 11 mile passage to a quiet haven near Lysekil which we've named "Leon's Mum's Bay" after Leg 4-2001 expedition member's Karolina's mother in law.

It was truly summer as we anchored and when our doormat accidentally fell in the water, John M. donned a mask to retrieve it in the clear, shallow water. After covering cruising medicine and three-strand splicing we set sail for Lifesling overboard practice. We hadn't counted on winds gusting to 32 knots, but with three reefs in the main and jib, our average time to rescue averaged one minute! However Amanda didn't appreciate the quick gybing and tacking as she was trying to make toasted sandwiches.

With a fresh breeze still in the high 20's and narrow rock-strewn channels we motorsailed a few miles south toward one of our favorite Swedish harbors, Gullholmen, a tiny fishing and summer-cottage village with guest moorage. Just before we reached Gullholmen, a shiny new Hallberg-Rassy 43 came surfing by us under main. As she passed we noticed the name, Bella Luna, and saw our old friend Roland Olsson, HR sales manager at the helm. We tooted our horn, rounded up and shouted greetings as Roland quickly furled his main, shouted he would see us

Roland spinning "Bella" about

Gullholmen basin
back in Ellos Sunday night, and then unfurled the main before zipping off, all in 28 knots of wind. Richard had been wondering how Selden's push button in-mast furling with full vertical batten main would work. He was very impressed!

Gullholmen looked like Grand Central Station of boating. What a surprise to finally see some other boaters. The inner harbor was packed so we tied to the outer harbor wall and chatted with lots of Swedes out enjoying an unusually fine spell of weather. Later we heard was this was the warmest September in over 100 years. Amanda taught whipping the end of lines before we went exploring the island. Our crew found beer in the local pub and later when Amanda tried to teach double braid splicing, everyone started snoring, so she called off class until the following morning.

Leg 8 crew had been determined to give Amanda a night off from galley for some time so they made reservations at a seafood restaurant (the

The North Sea hat dance
only one on the tiny island) just steps away from where Mahina Tiare was moored. Little did we expect absolutely gourmet meals and deserts to die for. The real capper was live music from a Swede with a computer and a guitar. Things were kind of quiet until our unruly mob, still sporting North Sea hats, wove through the music section in a conga line, dragging unsuspecting Swedes up to dance. We danced to all kinds of music, from Elvis and Sting to the Beatles, and enjoyed a Karaoke performance from a woman in the audience of the rock and roll song Carol with a yodel? in the middle.

Sunday we finished up with teaching; mastering double braid splicing, sail repair with sewing machine and by hand, customs clearances worldwide, electrical power systems and watermakers. By 1400 we slowly got underway to practice storm tactics including towing warp and drogue.

The end of the expedition approached as we neared Hallberg-Rassy's private marina. After we tied up and started washing down, the management and employees returned on their own boats. CEO Magnus Rassy helmed a very smart looking HR 48, sales manager Roland Olson slipped in aboard his 43, Bella Luna, and two more of the sales staff plus several of the boat builders came in, many unloading their boats for winter storage. It is hard to think about winter storage when it is still so warm and sunny, but we know this weather can't last much longer!

MT moored at the HR marina

Magnus Rassy aboard his HR 48

Before dinner we generally take a moment to give thanks for highlights of the day, This IS NOT a religious thing. At our last dinner onboard together it was heart-warming to hear several of our crew tell how much this expedition meant to them. We talked about the synergy that can occur when motivated people with like goals get together on the ocean, and what they can do on their own boats to encourage a calm, positive and supportive environment.

After dinner our crew took turns writing in our guest book, and here are a couple of entries:

"Thanks for creating such a life changing experience with the opportunity to step off the wild cycle of modern life to reflect on what life is really about. Your generosity of spirit is rare and remarkable. The new friends made were a key contribution to a great six weeks." Richard

"Thanks for exceeding all my expectations. This was an incredible trip with incredible people. You have been great mentors for my cruising dream!" Carolyn

Crew on tour at HR Yard

Richard at the helm of a HR 48

Center view of the vertical batten furling main
"Transiting the Caledonian Canal, seeing Scapa Flow, sailing across the prime meridian and sailing the Norwegian and Swedish archipelagos were all dreams of mine, now finally fulfilled. Dancing to Swedish rock music, however, was one adventure I never expected!" Ken

"In two weeks of instruction I have learned more than in 12 years of self-taught sailing. One morning, anchored in a small Swedish bay, it felt that as the first day of a new life: free and simple, but full of meaning. I understood that Mahina Tiare was teaching me more than sailing; it was opening a door..." Lydia

Monday we had an early breakfast so that we could be up at Hallberg-Rassy reception at 0800 for a tour. Inger, a friend from our previous visits took us all on a detailed boatyard tour to see every aspect of the building process, ending up with visits aboard demo HR 37, 40 and 48. The test sail on a new 48 that Richard had been dreaming about happened that afternoon, and we enjoyed tagging along to experience this gorgeous new design being put through her paces.

Wow. All too soon the van arrived to shuttle our crew to Gothenburg and just like that, our 17th season ended. Now we have to make hay while the sun shines. Amanda is hard at work sanding the caprails and handrails for a couple coats of varnish before the rain arrives, and I'd better get on deck to help her!

Mahina Tiare will be pampered this winter, with inside storage at Brothers Martinsson yard, six miles up the coast here on Orust Island. They specialize in refits of Hallberg-Rassy yachts and we've had our project list going for some time.

Soon we'll be back on the plane and headed home!

Special thanks to all the wonderful people who have sailed with us this year; to Tracy McClintock for fabulously managing our office for 17 years, Roberta and Jenny at Great Getaway Travel for getting our expedition members to the boat and home without a single hitch, Melonie at Tif & Gif for managing, for Vickie at HR Parts & Accessories for keeping us supplied with spares and for the crew at HR for building an amazing boat that looks as good now as she did 107,000 miles and ten years ago!

The crew at HR Parts and Accessories

Aloha from Ellos
And thanks to you to for checking in on us.

John and Amanda << Sail back to Leg 7

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