Single-Handed Winter Sailing on The North Sea. An interview with Erik Aanderaa

no bullshit

Most considers crossing the North Sea in the middle of the winter completely insane. But this is the Norwegian sailor Erik Aanderaas idea of fun. His motto "No bullshit. Just sailing" has caught the imagination and respect of more than ten thousand followers on YouTube. In fact his videos of offshore sailing in the stormy North Sea has been viewed over a million times. 

We had a chance to interview the man who says he must go sailing when the barometer drops. 

Written by: Daniel Novello

Erik does not take his sailing adventures for granted.  A serious infectious disease nearly killed him in 2011. -Yeah, I almost died in the hospital, he says. After four months in reconvalence, he finally got back on his feet and went sailing again.

Erik Aanderaa feels at home at sea. A trained professional mariner, he has served as first officer onboard supply ships and ROV ships amongst other duties. He now works as an instructor in the offshore and oil safety business. He lives in the town of Haugesund on the west coast of Norway and has an eight year old son. And being single, he says, I get to play a lot out on the North Sea!  

He took up sailing at the age of eleven. - Sailing has really been the highlights of my  life, he says.

Winters in The North Sea is known for gales and heavy weather. The mean depth is only 90 meters and it is particularly hazardous to navigate. Rouge waves are documented. In 1995, on New Years Day, the Oil Rig Draupner located between Scotland and Norway, was hit by a monster wave measured to 26 meters. The forecast for the area showed a significant wave height of 12 meters. Data from that incident set off extensive hydrodynamic research at Universities around the world.

Please explain why you choose to sail solo offshore, often in heavy weather?

- I guess I`ve always been that guy who likes to manage on my own. Developing my skills is satisfying. Since I was a kid, I have always been sailing alone. My first boat was an 11 ft dinghy. Since then, both the boats and the challenges have grown. Today I own a Contessa 35. In 2007 I sailed her to the south of Spain and back. That is where I caught the bug so to say and I have been sailing alone offshore ever since.  

Offshore Solo Sailing is by far my biggest passion. It has something to do with being in command of yourself and not being dependant on anyone else to "survive" at sea. The concept of self reliance triggers me.

Can you describe to our readers from around the world how it is to sail the west coast of Norway?

- The western coast of Norway offers all kinds of challenges. From beautiful inshore sailing with magnificent nature to the roaring North Atlantic offshore. It is fantastic to have the opportunity to choose wether you want to take the inshore or the offshore route. The coastline is scattered with thousands of small islands and skerries where you can enjoy calm seas when it gets rough out there. I mean, the Norwegian coast is for everybody. And it sort of never ends stretching over 1350 nautical miles. 

The Contessas are well known bluewater yachts designed the great Jeremy Rodgers. The Contessa 35, however, was designed by Doug Peterson and built at Jeremy Rodgers yard. Tell us more about your boat, how you came across it?

- I had owned a Maxi 68 for 6 years. As a 24 year old,  I was ready for something bigger. I searched for a new yacht and suddenly a saw an ad for the Contessa 35. I had never seen one before. All I knew is that it was love at first sight. I immediately went to check her out. The sales representative said the Contessa was not fit to live onboard since it was dated and uncomfortable. He then tried to sell me a Bavaria instead. I didn't get what he was on about and subsequently bought the Contessa 35 on the spot.

Contessa 35. Photo by Erik Aanderaa

Contessa 35. Photo by Erik Aanderaa

- The yachts offshore capabilities was the most important and I didn't care much for comfort. I can sleep on the floorboards and do my "business" over the side if need be as long as the yacht sails well out in the open ocean. And it does! I am very impressed with how well she moves in the waves. She dances in heavy seas and as long as you put a reef in, she`ll take good care of you.

Why did you choose this particular yacht and how do you like it for solo sailing in the Nordics?

- I liked the way the yacht looked. The hull shape is early IOR from the 70s and build for offshore work. They didn't skimp on the laying up of fiberglass back those days. She is heavily built and has great strength compared to many modern production yachts. She's great for solo sailing. Not to big, roomy, has a manageable sailplan and short distances on deck. The cockpit is deep and that is a safety feature. All in all, she is easy to handle and safe.

The yacht is well suited for Scandinavian sailing. Sometimes the wind picks up very fast. It feels good to be onboard a safe offshore cruiser if you can't make it behind the skerries in time.

Is there anything onboard the Contessa 35 you would like to have changed or rebuilt?

- I guess I`m not the only boat owner who thinks he has the best boat. It`s really not much I would have changed in the design or features. Most of the electronics have been upgraded and she carries newer sails. So we`re good!

If you could choose a brand new yacht today, what would it be and why?

- I do have a soft spot for yachts from the 70s and 80s. For the most part I don`t want a new yacht. I pretty much love the one I have and it suits my needs quite well. But if I absolutely had to pick one, it would be the new Nautor Swan 65 or the Hallberg Rassy 64. They are just bloody cool in every way possible. 

Please, tell us more about the equipment you have onboard.

- I have gotten quite a bit of equipment onboard over the years. I have a full Raymarine kit. Wind, AIS, Chart Plotter, Depth and Log all connected. I am very pleased with the kit so far.

I have just got my hands on a Hydrovane Wind Vane and I`m looking forward to putting that to test soon. Other owners are apparently very happy with the Hydrovane, so it`s a proven piece of gear.

How do you usually get weather forecasts?

- I use Windy a lot. Amazing detailed graphics and easy to use. A NAVTEX is also mounted onboard. It gives me forecasts out to approximately 550 nautical miles off shore. Very handy during passages.

When sailing solo, what is your sleep and food strategy?

- If you manage three things, any passage will be a great experience. My strategy is always to keep dry, warm and full. During passages I won't say I really sleep. I keep my eyes shut and relax for a while. Sailing alone can be quite demanding and I spend as much time as possible resting. I usually take a more relaxed approach during daylight hours where I`m visible to other ships. At night I never stay below to rest for more than 20 minutes at a time. That`s the window of opportunity I have from spotting another ship on the horizon till it may hit me.

What kind of spare parts are the most important in your opinion?

- I keep plenty of tools onboard to fix and repair almost anything that may brake. Spare drive belts, filters and oil and impellers are always onboard.

You have some fantastic footage from your passages using both cameras and drones. Can you tell us a little more about what camera you use and what kind of drone you have?

 - For arial footage I fly a DJI Phantom 3 Professional. I also mount three different Go Pro cameras around the boat to give the viewer some sense of perspective. A Nikon D600 DSLR with a 70-120mm for telephoto and depth. I also have a DJI Osmo, a gimballed camera for steady shots.

"A lot of people wondered how I did my droneshots from my "Solo sailing to Shetland" trilogy videoes. Here is how I do it :) I fly it and steer it from my boat. The easy part is lift off, the hard part is landing" Erik Aanderaa

What advice on flying a drone offshore in windy conditions can you share with the readers?

- Well, you must be willing to take a few chances. It is not perfectly safe to operate a drone in four meter waves, you know. One thing is the possibility of loosing your drone. Another is the danger of cutting your fingers badly on the razor sharp propeller blades when you retrieve the drone. A severed finger or three alone in the middle of the North Sea is not a nice scenario. So be careful or just don`t do it is my advice. Having the controls in a harness of sorts will let you have a hand on the ship or the drone when needed during take off and landing.

Any dream photography/videography kit you are planning to buy?

- For the most part, I am quite happy with the set up I have now. It would have been really cool testing out a DJI Inspire 2 with the X5S Camera. In  30-40 knot winds far out on the ocean I think I could have produced some epic footage. 

Who is cruising in Norway best fitted for? Elderly or younger families or just for Dare Devils only?

- The Norwegian coastline is perfect for all kinds of sailing and to all age groups. The possibility to take the inshore route when the weather is poor makes it all very safe. There are literarily tens of thousands of islands and skerries to explore. And then there are the Fjords of course. Life in Norway is mostly lived by the sea. Ports and facilities for the mariner are found almost everywhere. In between, you have large expanses of untouched wilderness and beauty. 

What are your cruising plans for the coming season and why?

- Well, the plan is now to sail from Haugesund over to Fair Isle and then on to Shetland. Then to the Faroe Islands towards the end of January 2018. Hopefully it will be some awesome sailing and I plan on filming the entire journey. I will be editing it all into several episodes. 

Contessa 35 Tessie in Shetland. Photo by Erik Aanderaa

Contessa 35 Tessie in Shetland. Photo by Erik Aanderaa

What about future plans. Is sailing offshore a part of that plan?

I have no other plans other than to continue to do what I do now. To develop as a sailor and become better all the time is really what it is about. Offshore sailing is definitely driving me forward.

Thanks for talking to us, Erik! And Fair Winds!

Here are Erik's extraordinary YouTube Videos. Follow Erik's adventures on Facebook here. Enjoy. No bullshit. Just sailing!


"So here it is, my biggest challenge in my sailing career! Sailing solo across the North Sea from Haugesund, Norway- to Lerwick on Shetland the 26th of January. This made me and Sigurd the first ones ever to have crossed the North Sea solo to join the Up Helly Aa- festival on these beautiful islands."


"Finally the circle is closed! I have crossed the North Sea in the wintertime alone to visit the Up Helly Aa festival! And now I have got my boat back from Shetland to Haugesund, Norway. And here is the evidence. Although it wasn`t too much wind I have tried my best to capture the life onboard my sailboat during an ocean crossing alone."