Sometimes things just don’t go they way they’re planned. In my imagination, I see Draken bearing down toward Bressay lighthouse, flying before the wind, red sail glowing in the golden sunset, arriving in Shetland like the Viking ships of old. We make a tack to round South Ness and enter Bressay Sound. Approaching Lerwick we start to lower the sail and kai in the rå, drawing one end of the massive yard holding the top of the sail under the shrouds. As we come alongside the quay, we pack up the sail and coil sheets and lines, making ready to put up the foredeck tent. We step ashore in the simmer dim, the twilight of a northern summer.
At least we got the sunset.
Draken slipped out from her berth in Haugesund on Wednesday, just after lunch, rounding the tip of Karmøy as we raised the sail and passing north of Utsira as we headed out into open water. The mood on board was one of excitement at finally being granted our permits, and anticipation of what lay ahead. Our destination depending on the way the wind blew.
After hours and hours of open water sailing, excitement fades, especially with many of the crew experiencing seasickness. Long hours on watch, with few tacks and trims to make, builds a level of tedium, with little to do but watch fulmers and gannets skimming along beside us.
As we crossed the invisible boundary between the Norwegian and UK sectors of the North Sea, the wind picked up and we reefed the sail to ride out the worst of the wind over night. By early Friday morning the weather improved, and we let out one reef at the watch change over. After breakfast, my watch crept into the tent at the base of the mast to sleep.
At around 1115 CEST (1015 BST), I was woken by a loud crack by my head, like the sound of a locker slamming shut, followed by rumbling, then urgent shouting. Wearing only long underwear and a t-shirt, with bare feet, I climbed out of the tent through a tangle of rope. The thick shrouds snaked across the roof of the tent, and had smashed down on the galley, spilling sugar grains across the deck like ice crystals. Turning to look forward, the huge rå lay across the beam of the ship, the red sail pooling underneath and spilling over the rails into the water. And a space where the mast should be.
The top section of the mast, about 5 metres long and carrying the radar equipment, had fallen with the ends of the shrouds over the port side, whilst the largest part of the mast, around 17 metres of spruce as thick as a barrel, floated off to our starboard side. Fortunately, it hadn’t smashed through the hull of the ship as it fell. Almost unbelievably, no-one was injured by the falling ropes, blocks and timber, despite several crew members being so close to the mast as it happened.
A little in shock, but with stoic determination, the crew took stock of the situation, making safe the balancing rå and overhanging sail, and tidying tangled ropes, before motoring towards Shetland. So whilst our arrival into Lerwick may not have been reminiscent of the sagas, it was certainly one worthy of celebration.