‘Skyfall’ cruise to Norway – owner report

A cruising holiday with one’s own yacht whilst in full-time employment raises the issue of how to get the boat to the chosen cruising grounds whilst having to contend with limited time and fixed schedules.  We have managed to reserve a four week slot each year for our annual ‘summer cruise’.  Typically the first days are a ‘delivery sail’ with a team of young, enthusiastic sailors who then fly home and are replaced by our female partners who prefer limited sailing time (overnight sailing is generally forbidden) and enough ‘ashore time’ to balance time spent on the water!

One thing that attracted me to Skyfall was that, as well as being comfortable, she actually sails quite well, even to windward – as we were about to discover this summer.  Each year we try to select new, interesting cruising areas and this year settled on Norway. The plan was to leave Nieuwpoort (Belgium) Friday night after work and hopefully cover the 580 nm to Bergen in five days. The delivery crew had booked their flights home for Saturday so we had a few days margin – but not much.  Unfortunately as the departure date approached it became clear that we were heading to Norway in a period of prolonged Northerly winds so we would be beating all of the way. To make matters worse, from north of Holland up to Norway there was up to 40 knots forecast from Sunday lunchtime through to Monday morning!

It was 21.00 before the crew were all aboard, everything was stowed and we could depart.  This was two hours before high water giving favourable tides and meaning we could sail over most of the sandbanks off the Belgian coast. The predicted northerly was only due to kick in two hours later so we started off motor-sailing on starboard tack in 7 knots of breeze approximately heading for West Hinder cardinal mark.

After about an hour the wind passed 10 knots, the trigger to turn off the engine as Skyfall can then manage more than 5 knots even close-hauled.  In less than three hours we had crossed the shipping lane and we were preparing to bear away to get West of the West Hinder sandbank when the wind indeed kicked in from the north and, tacking onto port, we could sail NNE past multiple anchored ships and parallel with West Hinder and then East Hinder banks.  The only issue with this route choice is the barrier of wind farms extending out from Vlissingen, therefore we had to spent the early hours close tacking through the gap past the end of East Hinder and the line of windmills –which did not go down well with the crew who were trying to sleep below!

Finally we got round the end and could settle onto port tack heading almost due north, just outside the shipping lane leading to Rotterdam and the Maas Geul.  Indeed as dawn broke the wind freed and we were pointing high enough to join the shipping lane and as we headed north, spent breakfast negotiating with ships who wanted to leave the shipping lane and head for Rotterdam.

The wind was being kind, we took out one of the two reefs we had needed through the night and progress was good.  My only concern was the requirement to be west of Great Yarmouth by Sunday lunchtime to stay out of the forecast bad weather north of Holland, and we would not do that staying on port tack.  Fortunately, mid-afternoon, the wind headed us by 20-30 degrees and we took the opportunity to tack onto starboard and get over towards the UK, heading slightly North of the Wash.  But there are a plethora of sandbanks and gas installations so we spent the rest of Saturday playing the shifts, beating northwards just east of the Bessemer gas field until just south of the Markham gas field.

At this point we headed off on Starboard to ensure we missed the bad weather due Sunday lunchtime. When I awoke Sunday morning we were indeed just west of Great Yarmouth and as far north as the Humber estuary.  The idea was to stay at this latitude and work our way north heading west if it got too windy or east if we seemed like running out of wind.  However by Sunday evening the wind favoured starboard tack so much that we could head due north heading for Dundee!  Unfortunately the wind was also dropping but I was loathe to tack off heading due east whilst we still had wind.  Skyfall was still doing over 5 knots and the crew were recovering their sea legs in the somewhat calmer seas.  However by midnight, although we were north of Newcastle, we ran out of wind so we furled the genoa, turned on the engine and motored north east looking for wind.  After less than two hours the wind filled in from the north and we were sailing again on port tack heading for the tip of Norway and to my delight the wind continued to freshen and lift us and by 03.00 we were on a close reach heading for Bergen.

And on a close reach Skyfall is in her element!  It is difficult to sail her faster than 6-6.5 knots when hard on the wind (in any conditions), but once she is freed off onto a close reach she will turn in 7-8.5 knots with only 12-18 knots of wind, and we had 18 knots for many hours, eating into the distance to Bergen.

Unfortunately it did not last and from Monday lunchtime until evening we were back in motor sailing mode.  That evening the wind did return although this time with less favourable direction and strength, but we sailed through Tuesday and by the early hours of Wednesday morning we were within spitting distance of Stavanger.  At this stage, and after over four days at sea, as the wind dropped impatience got the better of us and the motor went on again.  As dawn broke, the sun came out and we were motoring across a glassy sea towards land – even if it was only an island off the Norwegian coast.


At this stage there was a minor mutiny.  Rather than go all the way to Bergen the crew decided we should break the trip in Leirvik.  The thought of an afternoon of R&R, hot showers, clean sheets and being allowed to drink alcohol again proved too much a temptation!  Leaving Leirvik the next morning we were treated to a close encounter with INS Tarangini, a tall ship from Dubai.

A sailing holiday in Norway is not about the sailing, it is about the stunning scenery.  We spent a few days in Bergen, one week in “Fjordland’ exploring the Hardanger and EidFjorden before cruising south, visiting islands and ‘Sunds’ along the Norwegian coast.

Bryggen, the old wooden part of Bergen built by the Hanseatic merchants.

Heading into the Hardanger Fjord.

Evening in Jondal.

Leaving Jondal en-route to Ulvik.

Evening motoring up the Eidfjord.

Ferry service to Ulvik.

Trying to sail back down the Eidfjord


Small lake near Nordheimsund                       Nordheimsund

Skyfall in Nordheimsund

The glacier across the Fjord from Nordheimsund

Skyfall moored in Rott, an island off Tanager

Rott, looking across the harbour

Entrance to Rott Harbour

That left around 10 days to hop across to Denmark and meander back via Sylt, Helgoland and the Wadden islands.  The crossing to Denmark was uneventful and required motor sailing for most of the way.  The Danish (and German) westcoast could not contrast more sharply with Norway, mile after mile of perfect white sand, wild, windswept and largely deserted, plenty of sandbanks and harbours which were considered dangerous in any sort of strong wind from a vaguely westerly direction.

Fortunately we had light easterlies as we drifted slowly southwards visiting Thyboron, Hvid Sande, before reaching the island of Sylt in Germany.

Entrance to Thyboron

We spent several days on Sylt enjoying the best fish restaurants we had found all trip, one euro bottles of beer from a supermarket and clean, efficient facilities (well it is Germany!).

Deckchairs for rent on Sylt

Our fond memories of the island were enhanced by our departure.  We left the southern port of Hornum close reaching with a good wind and with a strong ebb tide averaging over 10 knots speed over ground for the first two hours.  It was almost low tide as the channel took us through a gap between sandbanks about 10nm offshore.  At first I could not make out what we could see on the sand band…. Birds? Way too big. Rocks? On a sandbank? And then it became clear, there was a huge colony of seals basking in the early morning sunshine. Unfortunately the narrowness of the gap and the speed of the approach means there is no photo to show for it!

The crossing to Helgoland was very quick and by 13.00 we were tied up on the Norderkaai.  I saw several stores with signs for “ships equipment” (Shiffsausrustung).  We were a little surprised there was so much demand for boat bits until we discovered that the island is a tax free haven and ships equipment refers to duty free booze, cigarettes and perfume!  After an afternoon of R&R we returned to the boat for dinner and to check the weather forecast.  This was Sunday, and to our consternation a 40knot south westerly was forecast for the following Friday evening through Sunday.  It was clear that the seven days to get back had just been reduced to four or five, and it would be beating most of the way.

Whereas, with the right crew, Skyfall is quite capable of doing the trip in two days of hard sailing, at this time we only had three on board, two of which regarded eight hours on the water as more than enough!  After an evening of planning and coercion we agreed that Monday would be an early start and that we would sail through the night and see how far we got by Tuesday morning.  As it turned out we had fair winds through the day and by teatime we had crossed the shipping lanes which run north of the Wadden Islands and were already west of Borkum.

But the wind was freshening and we already had two reefs in the mainsail.  The forecast had not predicted more than 20-22knots but we were now beating into a 26 knot wind with lumpy seas, little room between the sandbanks and the shipping lane and only one sailor comfortable with the conditions.  The right thing to do would probably have been to turn back and overnight in Borkum but the harbour is so far inside the islands and I trusted the forecast.  Sure enough, before it was time for one watch to turn in the wind dropped and we were back to one reef only.  It was indeed a very long night but as dawn broke we were approaching Vlieland and it was clear that we could sail down the coast to Den Helder on one tack. So I handed over and went below for a well-earned sleep.

We timed the Molengat (the short cut to Den Helder from the north) perfectly arriving with 2 knots of flood tide around two hours before high water.  We were tied up in time for breakfast in Den Helder.  Wednesday was again 20-26 knots, this time from the south west and we again were faced with a challenging sail to Scheveningen.  But we had slept well, were fully recovered and ready for the penultimate leg.

Although largely uneventful, the trip was extremely hard work as I did most of the sailing for the full 10 hours.  And there is nothing worse than, at the end of a long day, having to moor between posts with a small turning circle and strong cross winds when you are really tired.  Fortunately we managed the manoeuvre without mishap thanks to help from the shore.  Not my finest hour.  The crew went ashore to find a suitable watering hole.  The skipper went straight to bed!

The key to a successful final leg was the Maas Geul.  Close inshore, in the prescribed track which yachts are forced to follow, the tide can be really strong and so it pays to leave at the right time.  That meant about 05.00 as it that should have given us long enough to get past the protruding entrance before the tide started to turn around 7.30.  Unfortunately the alarm did not work and we did not get away until 07.30.  Despite 12 knots of wind we chose to motor-sail to windward.  However, to make matters worse, as we approached the prescribed track it was clear I could not follow the designated bearing under sail, so we furled the genoa and pointed the boat into the wind.

Speed over ground dropped to less than 3 knots!  It took four hours under motor to do the first 12nm from Scheveningen, only another 74 to go (beating).  But once out of the ‘track’ we could sail again.  The wind freshened, the sun came out and it was the last day of our summer cruise, so the engine was turned off and we were going to sail it – or at least until the wind was forecast to disappear around 17.00.  And of course the tide turned in our favour to make the afternoon sailing even more enjoyable. We decided to do our best to clear out what was left in the fridge or in the ‘goodies cupboard’ so every half hour or so another snack would appear on deck.

But, as expected the wind disappeared at teatime and we knew the last leg would be under motor.  It would have been possible to get to Zeebrugge by 19.00 and finish off the trip on Friday before the storm arrived but we decided to keep going.  After four weeks of almost continuous beating into the wind, with about an hour before we arrived in Nieuwpoort a north easterly wind suddenly sprung up and we actually sailed the last couple of miles with the wind behind us!

Chartplotter with 1nm to go

The welcoming lights of Nieuwpoort.

GUNFLEET – many thanks to the owner of Gunfleet 43 ‘Skyfall’ for sharing their summer adventures, look forward to next years!

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