Katy Stickland talks to Norwegian sailor Erik Aanderaa about why he searches out the worst weather the North Sea can throw at him and his Contessa 35
He also began videoing his experiences, and posted his first YouTube video, Sailing in Storm! on his Erik Aanderaa channel in February 2015.
Like his Force 10 post more than four years later, he was sailing from the island of Røvær to Haugesund.
January 2017 was a momentous moment for Aanderaa when he achieved his dream, sailing across the North Sea in winter to Lerwick in Shetland for the Up Helly Aa Viking festival, which has become ‘part of my life’.
‘The weather was perfect with 34 knots of wind to my port beam. It was beautiful to see and feel the power of nature pushing me towards Shetland,’ he says.
He repeated the voyage in 2019 and plans to sail there again in 2020. ‘The cold, heavy weather and the thought of being the only sailboat crossing the North Sea creates the perfect challenge,’ responded Aanderaa when asked why he sails in conditions which would leave most sailors remaining in port.
He accepts there is risk involved, but believes preparation can significantly lower that threat.
‘It’s risky and challenging, and it puts you in survival mode which keeps you focused 24/7. I have all the necessary safety equipment for most situations, but it is more important to go prepared enough to minimise the chance of anything happening.’
‘I think of everything that could happen and then make sure I’m proactive enough to get ahead of the situation, taking sailing gear, clothes, enough diesel or all types of safety equipment for evacuation and survival until being rescued. I do a lot of heavy weather sail training whenever I can to keep me confident for the next ride,’ explained Aanderaa.
Tessie is well set up for solo offshore sailing with a Hydrovane windvane, a third reef in the main sail and a Volvo Penta D2-40 engine to allow for quick battery charging.
The Contessa 35 also has Lewmar heavy-duty deck hatches, onboard lithium batteries, a 220V invertor, Garmin InReach satellite messaging, AIS, Raymarine linear drive autopilot and two Raymarine displays – one for radar and the other a dedicated chart plotter.
He plans to buy a new sea anchor and an offshore liferaft ahead of sailing to Greenland.
But despite regular heavy weather training and equipment, does he ever think the North Sea in winter could be too inhospitable for such a small boat?
‘Everything has its limit. Of course, there could be a point when it is so bad that it is too much. But with care and respect for the weather, it’s amazing what these boats can handle.’
Erik’s adventures can be followed on YouTube at: youtube.com/erikaanderaa
Erik Aanderaa’s Tips for sailing in heavy weather
Stay dry and warm
I always sail with 10 pairs of gloves, underwear, socks and hats. I’ve got two sets of wet weather gear so when I get soaked I can change into dry gear. Tessie is fitted with a Webasto 4Kw diesel heater, which is on full power for as long as needed, 24/7 if necessary.
Ensure you eat and drink enough
Being tossed around in heavy waves while sailing and walking around all over the boat to film takes a lot of energy, so I eat all the time. If I get hungry and my blood sugar crashes then I get easily tired and lose concentration, willpower and struggle to stay motivated.
I eat cold and hot canned food, lots of fizzy, sugary drinks, chocolate and other energy-rich food and drinks. If I feel my blood sugar dropping then I can eat up to 1kg of food in one go and drink half a litre of sugary drink and after five minutes I’m back at full capacity again.
Learn how to let the boat efficiently steer itself
I tested a lot of different windvanes and went for the Hydrovane because you can literally plug it in and go. As long as the main rudder is trimmed correctly along with the sails, the boat just goes.
If a really big wave knocks it off course, it might need some adjusting but it is amazing how much it can take if it’s correctly trimmed. It may take a couple of hours sailing to get it just right.
Only use sufficient sail power
Don’t use too much sail. I’m very careful when sailing solo not to have too much sail out otherwise the boat just won’t steer itself and running up and down re-trimming will just exhaust you in the long run.
The right amount of sail and sailtrim will give you all the speed you need and bring you safely to port.