OCC RoRC Report from Scandinavia

OCC RoRC Report from Scandinavia

It’s that time of year when, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are active planning the summer. We are no exception.

By Andrew Curtain - 27/04/2019

The season in Sweden is short so we launch Pilgrim Soul in mid-May and plan to sail from our western base to Stockholm and thence to the Swedish and Finnish Archipelagoes.

While preparing, it’s good to look back on past problems. I was fortunate as a student to have the opportunity to cruise to high latitudes with such stalwarts of the Irish Cruising Club as Drs Ninian Falkiner and Rory O’Hanlon. Yachts were very basic. We relied on sextant and barometer. I learnt self reliance, good preparation and prudence; qualities which prepared for membership of OCC. Engines, underpowered and unreliable, then were for getting in and out of harbour and for charging batteries. Relying on sail when the engine gave up was taken for granted and a great education. I am sure that at some time we have all done it.

Pilgrim Soul has now cruised extensively in Scandinavia, pretty much the whole of its coastline from the most northern Norwegian islands, Gulf of Bothnia, to the Finnish lakes. The two times we had engine cutout were within sight of land. Our problem was contaminated diesel which seems to be increasing in Scandinavia, if not also elsewhere.

“Diesel Bug” is a common term for a variety of contaminants that include bacteria, fungi and algae which thrive at the point of blend between water and diesel. The water usually comes from condensation in tanks either afloat or in storage ashore. The muck produced would be familiar to this obstetrician as being very similar to a baby’s first bowel movement! Anecdotally, I am told that the addition of Rape Seed oil to Swedish diesel contributes to the problem.

Anyhow, to get to the point, both times our problems occurred soon after starting the engine. On one occasion in Sweden, commencing a passage back to Ireland, we topped up with diesel at an unfamiliar boatyard. It must have been the dregs of their tank because, while winding through the archipelago, our engine stopped. We sailed back to our more familiar base. The tank needed to be drained and cleaned of thick 2 cm black lumps, like tar.

The other occasion in Southern Norway we had filled up in an unattended fuel station. In an increasing wind and sea near its Southern tip, Cape Lindesnes (locally called Norwegian Cape Horn) the headsail tore and jammed. It could neither be used nor lowered and replaced. We all know the misery of going up the mast at sea, but this was not the place. I remembered having a beer in Sweden with the skipper of the Lysekil lifeboat who, after attending a tragedy, was counseling a new young crew member. It was sobering. He advised not to take chances in those waters, “Ask for a tow if sailing is difficult”.

Although not in any danger, but unable to sail close to wind without a headsail, near a complicated coast in a considerable sea we called up on channel 16 for advice and in a very matter of fact unquestioning manner were told that a tow would be arranged. We expected a small boat - fishing boat or water taxi, but got the Farsund lifeboat. Sailing teaches humility: we were mortified and apologised for bothering a serious rescue facility, but were reassured that we did the right thing, “better than a real rescue”. They assigned their engineer to inspect our tank finding that it contained a substantial amount of water. It was drained, the system bled and soon we were underway. I wasn’t charged. To quote, “It was Norwegian fuel”! The Norwegian Lifeboat Service received a sizable donation plus our stock of Midleton irish whiskey.

Now, the point of this story is to mention the rescue systems in Scandinavia. Norway and Sweden have first class organisations very much like the Royal National Lifeboat Service in Britain. Non-governmental with a mix of voluntary and professional crew, they rely on the support of voluntary donations and membership subscriptions.

The Norwegian service membership costs 995 Norwegian Kroner a year and this entitles one to 4 rescues a year with a maximum of three hours per incident! That should cover most needs. Some lifeboat stations also have the use of a diver and advice is freely given. Further information may be found on their website (use link below).

The Swedish system is very similar. The membership fee for the Swedish lifeboat service is 800 Swedish Kroner or better still 500 if one is over 65.

It is interesting to note that there is reciprocity between the Scandinavian systems so one needs only to join the one in the area most visited. May I encourage members cruising these areas to support whichever service is relevant. They also offer local advice and our experience of that encounter in Norway speaks for itself. Interestingly, I am told that the fuel problem is such that in busy areas of Sweden if there is no emergency, the lifeboat might not come out but instead a commercial tow, for which one pays, would be organized.
VHF channel 16 is monitored continually throughout the Swedish coastline as well as in Lakes Vänern, Vättern and Mälaren. Calls can also be made using DSC at the number 002653000. There is a special SAR operating channel, either 67 or 74, depending on your location in Sweden.

The rescue system in Finland is different but efficient. There is a voluntary organization, but 70% of the rescue facilities are handled by coastguards who provide services free of charge.

All the Scandinavian services will give medical advice.

I know little of Russian facilities which are probably military based, but anecdotally have heard that the Finnish coastguards have an unwritten agreement to enter Russian waters a short distance in emergencies.

What do we ourselves do about the fuel situation? As much as possible, we strain diesel going in and have followed a local principle of installing a small hand pump which aspirates the bottom of the tank. Chastened, I now obsessively pull off a jar full every week just to inspect and sleep easier.

Calm seas and prosperous voyages everyone and to all those in Scandinavian waters, we look forward to meeting soon.


Andrew Curtain, OCC Roving Rear Commodore


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