For a while now we have been watching YouTube Videos that have made us want to sail the Norwegian Atlantic coast and visit some of the thousands of islands and Fjords, we have also long fancied visiting the Baltic. Particularly:
- Juho with Alluring Arctic has spent two years spent entirely above the Arctic Circle, his experience and videos are amazing. We are not tempted to believe that we can become expert with skis (or even want to) or that we would want to spend a winter so far North. But there are so many places he has shown that would be wonderful to visit, even without going as far as Svalbard
- Erik Aanderaa with his No Bullshit Just Sailing slogan. His video Sailing Haugesund to Lofoten- Around the Norwegian Sea pt.1 is a particular favourite.
- MJ Sailing spent last summer sailing up to Lofoton (see their Northern Europe playlist)
- Sailing Uma are wintering in Norway at the moment (I don’t know how they have managed the 90 days in 180 Schengen rule). Their videos are exceptional quality.
- Ran Sailing have spent the year a little further south around Sweden and it too looks beautiful (both the Baltic and Atlantic coasts).
The challenges for us
In many ways we would love to plan for a couple of years of our eventual retirement cruising the Baltic and Atlantic Coast. There is so much beauty to see, so many places to explore. We could imagine needing a couple of summers to explore both coasts, while retreating some considerable distance South for the winters.
However, this is going to be a huge challenge for us. In this first post I’ll tackle one of those:
We are living through the nightmare that is the tragic national self harm that is Brexit, and especially the appalling choices made by our government to go for such a hard Brexit. It is obvious that they never thought through (or maybe are capable of understanding or only care about their own pockets) the implications for Northern Ireland, for the Fishing Industry, for UK citizens who have retired to the EU, for musicians touring etc etc. If we were 5 years older and had been retired a few years we could have spent unlimited time exploring Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the rest of the Baltic.
Now, we will need to tightly plan 3 month summer cruises. Options to cope with bad weather are going to be a lot more difficult, at the end of your 90 days we have to be somewhere where we can leave direct to somewhere outside Schengen. That needs to be somewhere we can stay for another 90 days without going back into Schengen (or it needs to allow us get to other places outside Schengen until the 90 days are up). While attractive to visit, 90 days in either the Faroes or St Petersburg doesn’t really appeal (safe wintering also being a factor).
90 day cruises means more summers will be needed if we are to get to the countries and beautiful cruising grounds that we have seen are there without rushing.
MJ Sailing got as far as Lofoten from the UK in one summer, mostly using coastal hops. However, they didn’t get to spend much time there or have time for the amazing cruising grounds to the north. What is more to stay within the 90 days they spent hours and hours motoring to make fast enough progress.
Our situation is different. We have a more powerful electric motor than most electric boats, and a large battery bank, however, we need that battery bank for everything, not just for the electric motor. Coastal hopping with lots of motoring is possible for us, but only if we moor-up with mains power to charge the batteries for more than 12 hours between trips (realistically probably safer to assume 2 nights if we have pretty fully drained the battery bank). Anyway, we don’t want to spend our time motoring, we want to sail. We also want to anchor rather than always need to get a shore-power hookup. It isn’t just about a preference for remoteness, we can’t afford to pay harbour fees every night.
This probably means that if we want long enough to explore a Schengen cruising ground in some detail we will need to make long direct passages. Then we only check-in to a country as we arrive at the area we want to cruise in, then our 90 days are all spent where we want to cruise rather than getting there. That has significant implications for the boat, our skills and passage making. The difference between getting to somewhere like Lofoton using coastal hops (much of it protected by islands) or a direct passage from the Faroes is huge.
So for that beautiful area of Norway north of the Arctic Circle we could, perhaps, sail from the UK to the Faroes (not part of Schengen) and then onward towards the Lofoten Islands. We then would have to depart Norway within 3 months, again potentially doing this as a long passage rather than coastal hop south. Part of the significance of this option and what increases the challenge, the difficulty is that is just not what cruising yachts have been doing. Everything works on the assumption of getting somewhere like Lofoten by coastal cruising with occasional overnight passages.
We are very attracted to longer passages and to spending a larger proportion of our time actually sailing than seems the norm. We have a boat that is well suited to it but are very short of experience. An estimate of 90% of time anchored rather than sailing is often quoted by live aboard cruisers (not sure if they all count hours or if they mean nights). So this is a big deal which will require a lot of preparation and be a significant challenge.
Generally, if cruisers are forced to switch from coastal hops to direct passages to cruising grounds then this is going to change things for many people – but maybe few want to visit these places. Or maybe they are happy to spend a lot of time and money motoring to meet the schedule. Or perhaps they will pay others to deliver their boat for them. That is not an option for us a) financially b) where would we live while someone is delivering our home and c) we don’t want to fly due to trying to be Sustainable.
When it comes to the Baltic I’m not sure. A first summer route via Copenhagen (one of my favourite cities in the world), up to the Stockholm archipelago, through the Göta Canal and back to the UK would make a great 3 months summer cruise. But what about if we want to spend the summer in the Eastern Baltic? Could we get as far as Finland before starting to count our 90 days? Is it possible to sail into the Baltic without checking in at either Denmark or Sweden? Still Denmark, Finland, the Baltic States, even Russia and then back to Denmark in 3 months is possible, even if tight.
So we could be looking at needing 4 summers to explore a significant amount of Scandinavia. Something like:
- Denmark, Stockholm archipelago, Göta Canal: winter in the UK, maybe based near Falmouth
- Norwegian Coast and Fjords towards Lofoten and back: winter in the UK, maybe based around the Solent for a change
- Eastern Baltic: winter West Coast of Scotland/Northern Ireland
- Faroes, Lofoten, Northern Norway: winter head south and onwards to the Caribbean
But there are other options. You could include an Atlantic circuit. So instead of a UK winter head down to the Canaries, then the Caribbean for December, then the East Coast of the US before crossing back but keeping North of the UK to get to Norway but it would be a rush to arrive for any summer in Norway.
Obviously, these Schengen rules are not new for people from countries outside Europe. However, I suspect these cruising grounds have not been so frequently visited by non-Europeans. I’m very interested in different experiences and views as well as ideas for reading and research
In part 2 I’ll look at the other key challenges these cruising grounds have for us (particularly heating and renewable energy).