It’s official! Dirona is headed back to the U.S.! The Nordhavn 52, which is owned by James and Jennifer Hamilton, has spent the past four years almost to the day in Europe traveling around Ireland and Scotland in 2017; the countries in Scandinavia in 2018; the Baltic states in 2019; and then when Covid hit, they hunkered down in Scotland and escaped to Norway in the summer of 2020. The past five months have been in Scotland and Ireland as they waited out the ebbs and flows of Coronavirus in Europe. With Covid still complicating the ability to clear into countries, plus the widespread availability of the Covid vaccine and the rapid decrease of cases here in the U.S., James and Jennifer decided in January to depart Europe and head for their homeland. “We were frozen in the ice in Farsund and the border to Sweden was still closed after several weeks, so our plans needed to change,” Jennifer said.
They left Dublin in late April and set out for the 1,330 nm trip to the Azores. After a brief layover in Horta, they are continuing on a straight shot for Charleston, NC. The crossing is the 5th they’ve done (having previously crossed the Pacific in 2012/2013, the Indian in 2015, the southern Atlantic in 2015/2016, and the northern Atlantic in 2017), so it’s become sort of old hat for them. “The preparation is fairly routine (click here for an overview of how they prepare) and the only concerns we have in crossing an ocean are potential mechanical problems and weather,” she said. They travel hundreds of miles out of the way if necessary to avoid bad weather, as was the case on this crossing.
”Crossing an ocean is work in that it puts us both on shifts, but it’s not frightening. The key to comfortable crossings is to have a good strong boat that you can be confident in.”
To keep track of James and Jennifer’s travels, visit mvdirona.com
Dirona Returning Home
The one constant on Dirona is our trip plans change frequently. We’ve been in Europe four years now, COVID is driving up the complexity of crossing country boundaries, and there are places we want to visit on the North American east coast. So we decided to head back to the US this summer.
We spent a fabulous winter in Norway, exploring the coast starting with Songefjord in October and reaching as far north as Trondheim in late December, then running south via Bergen to Farsund in January. We weren’t sure how we’d do with the super-short days of the Norwegian winter, but we quite enjoyed it. We ran the boat in the morning during the darkness and then hiked or toured in the tender when we had daylight. And if you enjoy holiday lights, Norway is a wonderful place to be in the winter. Most Norwegian towns have a lit holiday display in the hills above the community, and their houses are ablaze with holiday lights. And with the shorter days of winter, the lights are on longer. We spent many a Happy Hour bundled up in the cockpit off a beautifully lit town below a hill-top light display.
Over the course of two weeks, we explored to the very end of 110-mile Sognefjord, the longest and deepest fjord in Norway, and made our first snow hike of the season. We spent the darkest and most northerly part of our Norwegian winter cruise, from early December to early January, in the More Og Romsdal region directly north of the headland Stad. This area encompasses several major centers, including Alesund, Kristiansund, Andalsnes and Molde, plus spectacular scenic destinations such as UNESCO World Heritage site Geriangerfjord and the 1,700 coastal islands in the Heroy district. The days got shorter and colder as we proceeded further north, and in early December we had the excitement of breaking ice for a mile or so on the way out of an anchorage. The winter climate didn’t keep us from enjoying the outdoors though. We made many long trips in the tender and several memorable hikes, including a New Year’s Day hike at the head of Geirangerfjord,
Our original plan for 2021 was to spend the summer cruising Sweden. But we didn’t get past Farsund in southern Norway on our trip to Sweden. As we worked our way towards Sweden and were only 160 miles away, Sweden closed their border with Norway for all non-essential travel and it remained closed for weeks. Closing this border is very unusual and, in this case, driven by fears of the UK coronavirus variant.
When we entered Farsund harbour, we weren’t planning to stay for a month, but ended up trapped in ice for several weeks. So even without the Swedish border closing we would have been at least delayed. Farsund is reported to be an ice-free harbor, but the temperatures were unusually cold and we ended up surrounded in six inches of ice. It’s definitely a bit strange to see kids playing on ice where we had been floating just a couple of weeks earlier. We had a fun time in Farsund but, a month later, the Swedish border was still closed, so our plans needed to change.
We’re finding the pandemic has been driving up the complexity of cruising and crossing borders considerably. Some European borders are closed entirely for non-essential travel while others are open but only in a limited fashion, often requiring EU citizenship or residence, and many countries are now requiring a negative COVID-19 test result, taken within a couple of days of entry. This is both challenging for us to obtain, and increases our personal risk in that we need to travel to a public place to obtain a test. In Norway, for example, only a few testing locations near major airports would provide us with a test result the same day. Most of the country’s testing facilities take one or more days to produce a result, and will only provide confirmation of a negative result to those resident in the country and registered in their health system.
Further complicating things, we’ve been traveling for the last few years in Europe with the right of free movement because Jennifer holds a UK/EU passport. This right of free movement allows any EU citizen and their family members to remain in the Schengen area (most of Europe) for an unlimited period of time. Without that right, visitors are restricted to a maximum of 90 days in a rolling 180-day period, not just in a single country, but a maximum of 90 days of 180 across all of the Schengen area. This is limiting when traveling by boat. With Brexit, we’re now subject to Schengen restrictions. This, of course, doesn’t prevent any of our plans, but it does further increase the complexity. Our plan was to cruise Sweden supported by a visitor’s visa and explore the Gulf of Bothnia, and possibly the Finnish Archipelago should cross-border travel restrictions ease.
So instead of heading east from Farsund to Sweden, we travelled to Longhope, Scotland en route to North America. We were only allowed to even enter the UK due to Jennifer’s British citizenship— Scotland was locked down very tightly. We spent two weeks in quarantine at Longhope and continued onto what has become our home-away-from home, Stornoway, Scotland. We then ran south to spend two weeks in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland, and then proceeded to Dublin, Ireland. We were planning to start the Atlantic crossing from south Ireland, but many ports aren’t comfortable with foreign boats right now. Since we have plenty of range, we just sailed directly from Dublin on a direct 1,330nm run to Horta.
We made a brief stop in Horta to refuel with a chance to explore the area, and currently are underway on a 2,900nm run direct to Charleston, US. Rather than follow a Great Cirlce route to Bermuda, we ran south from the Azores to follow the Azores High across the Atlantic, minimizing our exposure to the storm systems in the typically active North Atlantic. We’re making the passage at about the same time of year as our crossing from Newport, RI to Kinsale, Ireland and have first-hand experience on what those systems are like. And on that crossing we were running with the wind and waves. This time we’d be running against them, so we have even more reason to avoid these systems.
We’re looking forward to reaching Charleston and spending some more time exploring the east coast of North America over the next couple of years, and perhaps Greenland as well.
You can read more about our trip and follow our progress at mvdirona.com