Preparing Velvet Lady for an ocean passage


The guests arrive this evening for our 16 night trip from Isafjord in northern Iceland to Plymouth, UK.  The total distance is approx 1350 nm if we were to go in a straight line, and we are hoping to see a bit of Iceland before we leave so we are allowing 16 days.

Planning for this length of passage becomes second nature after you have done it many times, but seems a bit overawing when you are planning your first trip as there is so much to do.

For 7 days in the passage across the north Atlantic ocean between Iceland and northern Scotland we will be out of reach of land, and not able to just pop in somewhere to fill up with water, fuel, food etc.  We carry 1500 litres of water, and if that runs out we have a water maker.  We carry 600 litres of diesel, enough to motor 600 miles – we use the motor on those days that the wind does not let us make our ‘minimum speed’ of 4.5 knots.  We use gas to cook on and will be starting out with our two bottles full.

We have a full crew this trip, 4 guests, skipper and mate, and a main concern is to make sure we do not run out of food.  Velvet Lady is lucky to have a fridge and a freezer, that work both on shore power and when the engine is running, so we can take a good amount of fresh produce with us.  We always like to eat well at sea both for the energy and morale boosting qualities of good food and so do a lot of meal preparations before we leave.  Instead of being reduced to biscuits in a gale, we can open the freezer and reheat home made stew, bolognaise sauce, chilli etc.  But just like any fridge, we do have a finite amount of space, so we also carry a lot of dried, vacuum packed and tinned food.  We keep our goodie cupboard packed with chocolate, sweets and biscuits for those dark night watches as well as crisps and nuts for those who prefer savoury snacks. When the weather is good we bake bread and cakes to supplement our supplies.

Our longest job before a crossing is not just the visit to the supermarket, but also planning the menu before hand, conveying the food from the shop to the boat, and then ‘finding’ places to stow it.  With limited cupboard space in the actual galley we keep jars and bottles behind seat backs, under the floors, in drawers under the seats, and any other cupboard space we can find.  Remembering where it all is, is quite a challenge. 

Bonus, the largest supermarket in Isafjord, opens daily at 12.30.  Yesterday we were there as the doors opened.  It was quiet when we arrived but when we had finished stacking our 4 trolleys 3 hours later there we caused quite a log jam.  The taxi driver kindly helped us unload the shopping bags directly on board – really valuable help as the boat was about 3 foot below the dock.  We worked like crazy and had all the food stowed by 17.30. 

With the stores safely on board, we have been checking our charts, safety equipment, and deck equipment and stowing all loose articles for sea.  As this will now be our 11th ocean crossing on Velvet Lady we have a very thorough inventory.  We carry all the equipment required by the MCA for an ocean passage and more!

I have been watching weather maps for the past week, watching the progress of the Lows across the Atlantic.  There is one forecast to be centred over Iceland on Tuesday.  Having an idea of the predicted weather in advance helps in the route planning.  When leaving Iceland, we have to depart from an official port of departure where we can complete customs formalities.  As we wish to see some of the westfjords first, we have to plan in a final visit to a clearance port.  At the moment the weather suggests that Heimay in the Westmann Islands would be a possibility.  This is an ideal place, as it is the most southerly port on our route, and gives us the chance to top up on bread, milk, fresh veg and anything else we might need. 

We receive weather forecasts on board Velvet Lady in text form by navtex from Iceland Met Office and by Sat C from the UK Met Office.  We also print synoptic charts and prognosis weather charts using our weatherfax. We will continue to get weather forecasts at least twice daily and of course we are constantly monitoring the clouds and the barometer. 

Just before we leave Iceland, we will clear customs, take the dinghy out of the davits and stow it, top up our tanks, buy some last minute fresh milk and report our journey to the coastguard.  Then we will begin watches and sail southwards, admiring the glaciers as they disappear behind us.

It has started going dark here now.  Last night we had about 3 hours of total darkness.  As we sail further south that will rapidly increase.  I’ve got my fingers crossed and hope that we might see the northern lights before we get too far south!