Blowin' old boots
A salty old seadog would merely have muttered '...bit blustery last night...' and nothing more; but, for the sake of translation we'll explain that we really had a most uncomfortable overnight passage. Lady Magdalene was still watching over us and the day dawned (if that's what you call it when the sun never sets) bright and still. After a quick swim, again for one, to do what we could to check the errant fitting on our propellor shaft, we said our farewells to the Sysselman's Field Inspectors who are going to miss the polar bears that patrol consistently when Atlantis is in the fjord, and weighed anchor. The forecast was for a breezy 20 knots which we knew from the outset was likely to be on the nose; thus requiring us to tack to windward and cover considerably more than the straight line distance between two points. Even so, we only had 48 miles to cover to Ny Alesund - a mere skip.
Soon after leaving the fjord at midday we began to realise that St Magdalene might really be a siren - once mariners have been ensnared by her charms she makes it very difficult to escape. The weather closed in and the breeze started to rise. The same thing had happened when we tried to slip her clutches northwards to Virgohamna. This time, less than half an hour out, the engine's impeller failed which put the engine out of action for the rest of the trip. Sails up anyway,we headed on. As the wind strength rose, we changed down through the sail range, took reefs in the main and tried to steer as close to the wind as possible without losing speed. As the confused swell grew too, the autopilot became less able to cope and we reverted to hand-steering for the rest of the night. With each long tack out to sea, or back in towards the shore, the wind's direction oscillated to our disadvantage. As the wind strength's forecast 20 knots maximum came...and went, our tacking angle became ever less efficient. At some stage, a concurrent gust and drop off a steep wave put sufficient stress on the headsail to simultaneously fracture three of the hanks that attach it to the forestay. A wet foredeck sail change ensued and we ended up under storm jib and fully reefed mainsail. With Lady Magdalene's henchmen continually heaving freezing (2.8 C actually) water over the decks and cockpit, damp seeped [gushed] into every seam of clothing. Long forgotten drips returned as steady rivulets in the cabin below. A larger than normal wave from behind engulfed the heater exhaust again and it shut down in pique for the night.
By 0400 the reality was that on each tack we were losing any ground made by its predecessors. No volume of cocoa can mitigate the sense of futility this can catalyse in tired minds. If it hadn't been for a minor shift in the wind direction we might still be there now. At long last, a final tack in towards the shore showed some prospect of making the mouth of the Kongsfjord and spirits lifted. The wind died, sea flattened and all became less unpleasant. With the calmer waters it was possible to effect a rapid replacement for the engine's impeller, a few minutes later the heater exhaust had been drained and in a cloud of steam it roared into action. We closed the final five miles to Ny Alesund 27 hours after leaving Magdalene Fjord as if it had all been just a rather bad dream.
So, to sum up - 'twas a bit blustery last night.
Postscript - many trips suffer from the fact that the photographic records of the journey illustrate only the perfect moments. We have been determined to ensure that we would depict the rough with the smooth; the bad with the good. In the cold, fatigue, wet and general discomfort....we forgot. Sorry.
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