Daily Archives: July 2, 2022

At sea again

My very first ocean passage was a four day journey from Annapolis, Maryland, to the island of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts on a friend’s beautiful 34’ Tartan. Only part of it was out of sight of land, but that, for me, was the best part. I fell in love with being able to see the horizon all around me, the boat a tiny survival pod in limitless space.

Since then we made many passages on our own boat, from a few days to a week or two to our longest, at six weeks. But it’s been a while. Now, if only for a few hours on a car ferry, I’ll get to experience that 360° horizon again.

We checked in at the dock early and were loaded almost immediately, right behind another Adria campervan. We turned off the propane, deployed the frozen blue picnic ice throughout the fridge and freezer, packed an overnight bag and locked up. The car deck will be inaccessible during the journey. Up on the cabin deck an agent pointed us toward our home for the night.

Our cabin — the only one available when we booked — has no window and sleeps four but we have it all to ourselves. It has a reasonably spacious bathroom and shower, especially if you’re already accustomed to boats and campers.

I read online that these inside cabins can be noisy because they’re above the engines so we brought our noise-canceling headphones in case the thrumming keeps us awake. And because it’s been a while since I’ve been at sea, and I suffer from mal de mer, I dug through my stash to find seasickness tablets. I checked the date. What are the chances they still work?

We cast off on time, waved goodbye to Aberdeen, sailed past a beautiful offshore wind farm and headed out into the North Sea.

We brought sandwiches with us because we thought maybe the food onboard would be expensive and bad. As it turns out, it looked pretty good, but the ferry fare with the van and the cabin was enough to spend, and besides, we have a camper full of food as long as the picnic ice does its job.

As we cleared the harbor I could sense the ocean swell and waited for the familiar queasiness. Instead, I was suddenly sleepy and I knew the Dramamine was working. That’s when I remembered I only ever take half a tablet because I’m particularly susceptible to drugs. All drugs. Oops. I’d taken a whole one and now I was very sleepy.

I wanted to stay up long enough to be out of sight of land and at 9pm I went back out on deck but we still hadn’t cleared the top little bit of mainland Scotland. I couldn’t hold my eyes open any longer so I set an alarm for early morning and surrendered to the Dramamine. Our cabin was quiet, by the way, with no noise from the engines and I slept the sleep of the sailor off watch.

Bright and early I popped out of bed and raced up to the open deck. Land Ho! We’ve already made Shetland.

The landscape we glimpsed through the early fog gave us a taste of what’s to come: steep ocean cliffs, gently undulating hills, and impossibly green meadows.

About an hour later we docked at Lerwick and within minutes we were off the ferry and parked in town. We took a quick turn around Lerwick to get oriented and visited the tourist office where they loaded us up with maps, brochures and ferry schedules.

Then it was on the road to a free parkup for the rest of the day so we can get recombobulated and make a plan.

How’s that for a first day’s view?

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I will admit to circumnavigating this tired block in Fraserburgh a few times. The GPS says “you’ve arrived” but other than a tiny marina jammed with huge shiny fishing boats there was hardly a soul around and no obvious place to park. Trust me, this neighborhood was never featured on a Fraserburgh brochure. It’s strange to arrive at a stop sign with a one way sign on your left pointed to the right and a one way sign on your right pointed to the left, and yet here we are. Which law should we break? I looked up and saw a rather impressive lighthouse high above us on a prominent point of land. Our parkup must be over there.

Turns out to be a less than level gravel leftover lot, with poor quality graffiti sprayed about but featuring a beautiful view of the waves crashing onto the rocks. I pulled up rather close so we could all enjoy the power and majesty of the sea, failing to appreciate that, in some people, the level of appreciation diminishes with proximity.

I guess we’re still drawn to the sea. We often end up in a similar place with a similar view, except for the graffiti.

We settled back and I noticed a line of red flags close to shore and we knew that had to be a fishing net. A plume of spray caught my attention just at the edge of my peripheral vision. I hadn’t seen what caused it, but I already knew what it was. Suddenly energized I yelled, “Thar she blows!” Marce hurriedly joined me and the binoculars came out of the drawer as we both scanned our little bay. We knew that it’ll be surfacing in a few minutes due to the shallowness of the bay. There it is right in front of us. The whale had all the characteristics of a humpback when diving but was probably a minke. It seemed to be working a parallel line next to the fishing net right in front of us. I’m not sure how long we watched this whale but it took us back to magical times in Australia with so many close encounters with humpbacks zooming under Escape Velocity, mama whales tending their babies and heavy breathing 20ft away from us while we were waking up to coffee, Escape Velocity’s hull reverberating with a symphony of whale song. Yes, whales are special to us.

Later that day the wind picked up as the tide rolled in. For the first time we could feel the van get buffeted in the gusts. Our semi private rocky ocean view was getting rather boisterous. I’d done a lot of driving so I said I’m turning in but Marce pestered me with, “How can you sleep in this wind!?” and “It’s dark and I have no idea how bad the waves are getting!” I assured her there wouldn’t be a problem.

Someone periodically kept me up to date on the wind direction and velocity which by 5:00 am had gotten much worse and shook the van like a space shuttle lift off. It was suggested that a change in relative wind angle might do the trick and as I can’t control the wind I opted to change the angle of the van. A 35° realignment toward the north and we were facing directly into the teeth of it. Peace and harmony was restored in our happy home.

Reluctant to do a few more laps around Fraserburgh’s contradictory one way snafu, we slept in. Later, when we did leave, we crept down a one-way alley the wrong way, and around the corner from where we slept we saw a 20ft sea wall that said “Caution: waves can breach this wall.”

Good to know.

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