Paul and Sheryl Shard continue their adventures cruising in Scotland aboard their Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II. The Muckle Flugga light at 60º 51'N 0º53'W marks the most northern point of the United Kingdom. Our quest to reach it aboard our Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, took us through some of the United Kingdom's most remote and charming island groups, the Orkney and Shetland Isles. These island groups lie off the north coast of the Scottish mainland; although both are territories of Scotland, the people seem to identify more strongly with their Nordic roots.

Norway and its fjords have always held an appeal for Paul and me not just for the extreme natural beauty but because Norway's fjords helped shape one of the greatest group of seafarers in history, the Vikings, whose history fascinates us. The opportunity to take our own boat to Norway and sail in the fjords on the west coast after visiting Scotland last summer was irresistible. We had to go. Fjords are basically long narrow inlets from the sea. They make land travel difficult since they deeply penetrate the coast making them hard to get around; in Norway most fjords have enormously tall cliff sides, often many hundred of metres high, so they are hard to cross.

Paul and I both have roots in the British Isles so this past summer we decided to spend a season sailing from England to Ireland and Scotland to visit the homeland of our grandparents and catch up with relatives still living there. And since Scotland is not that far from Norway – a 25-hour passage across the North Sea - we worked that in to our itinerary too. This story begins with our return to England last spring and Leg One of the 2011 cruise – the voyage from England to Ireland along the coast of the Celtic and Irish Seas.

Paul and I had always wanted to sail to the countries of Scandinavia so, following a successful shake-down cruise to the Channel Islands and along the south coast of England last spring, we pointed the bows of our new Southerly 49 variable-draft sailboat, Distant Shores II, towards the Baltic Sea. Our 3,200 nm summer voyage to the Baltic would take us from Chichester Harbour in England across the North Sea with stops in Holland and Germany then through the Kiel Canal into the Baltic Sea to explore Denmark and Sweden, then back to England to the Northshore Shipyard in Chichester Habour where Southerly yachts are built.

altThe Mediterranean island nation of Malta is a golden destination for sailors and when you arrive at Grand Harbour at the fortified city of Valletta you realize why. This perfect natural harbour, one of several on the island, has offered shelter to seafarers since ancient times.

Add to this Malta's strategic location in the center of the Mediterranean, 90 km. south of Sicily and 290 km. from the northern coast of Africa, and it's easy to understand why Malta has been conquered and ruled by nearly every major power that has shaped the history of this part of the world from the Stone-Age and Bronze-Age peoples, to Romans and Phoenicians, Arabs, Normans and Carthaginians, Castilians, French and British.

dest-europe-cruising-large“Who wants to go first?” I do, so up I step up to the controls of our 34 ft. Le Boat cabin cruiser. A few minutes earlier, my two friends and I had been eyeing the cruiser eagerly and a touch anxiously from the safety of dry land. It’s our new home for the next week.

In the interests of full disclosure, I’m not a boater. Not from lack of interest, just lack of opportunity.

destinations-europe-chichester_harbour-smallCommissioning a new boat can be exciting, enlightening, challenging, sometimes frightening, often frustrating, but mostly a delightful experience. At least that's how it's been for Paul and me for the last few weeks as we go through the process with our new Southerly 49 sailboat, Distant Shores II, the latest variable-draft cruising boat built by Northshore Yachts in England. We took delivery of our new baby in mid-March at the Northshore Shipyard which is located on beautiful Chichester Harbour on the south coast of England.

europe-two_footitis-smallTwo-footitis – the need to move up to a boat 2-feet longer than the one you have – is an ailment that hits most sailors at one time or another as their passion for the sport grows, new challenges are sought, the crew expands or, let's be really honest here, the desire for bigger and better toys hits hard.

international-transatlantic-smallIt had been a fast 2-day passage south from the Portuguese island of Madeira to the sun-baked Canary Islands of Spain, our jumping-off point for a transatlantic passage to the Caribbean. We'd had great sailing with wind all the way – and from the right direction – until the last few hours of our approach to Gran Canaria on December 13th when the wind headed us. But our new Southerly 42 sailboat, Distant Shores, charged effortlessly into the building seas under power of our small self-tacking jib and reefed mainsail.

dest-int-maiden_voyage-smallEvery sailor knows it's bad luck to begin a voyage on a Friday. Why? We've never really been able to satisfactorily pin that down. Like most superstitions the origin is a bit murky. Some say it has religious roots relating to Jesus' death on the cross on Good Friday. Others say it relates to Friday the 13th and that historically bad things often happen on a Friday. Regardless of the reason, it's a superstition that the brotherhood of sailors, whether racing or cruising, pays heed to.

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