This was the day that I anticipated for a long time. I would finally set out to the seas and forget about my landlubber life and take everything I considered worth taking with me on the boat. I knew that my preparations were still halfway done and many things were missing or needed some fixing, but the crew arrangements were done and the plans were already changed once, so there was no turning back. The boat was waiting calmly in the guest harbour of Oulu. Although she wasn't really ready for all my purposes, I knew she was seaworthy. After a long delay, we started around 2000 from the harbour, with a crew of 3: our sailing-master Erppa and chef Luokkis, aside of the captain. I knew the day was already very late, but I figured we could sail through all the night, easily done in the well-lit summer nights of the North, and this is exactly what we did. But it didn't take many sea miles for us to notice that we forgot something basic: the water. The ship's water tank was empty after my cleaning operation on previous week, so basically we had only a few liters of bottled water with us. The situation needed remedy, so we did the first stop in a not-so-exotic location: the small boat harbour in Santonen in the island of Hailuoto. After filling up the water tank, we continued south in the darkening summer night. I took the tiller and let the other crew sleep until early morning, and then it was my turn to have some short sleep. Sailing around the island of Hailuoto can be pretty uneventful, and this night was no exception. I didn't even see any seals like usual in this area. However, when I woke up from my short slumber, it was time for some action. Since the wind had veered slightly and was from behind now, it was clearly a signal for some spinnaker time! And lo behold, there it was, the bellowing colourful sail trying to escape our ropes and sheet-lines. As usual, when the spinnaker is set up, it's time to take off the unnecessary clothing and start enjoying the sunshine and warmth. So we did until we reached the harbour of Kalajoki, where we unfortunately had to drop off our chef since he had other, more mundane duties to take care of. In any event, the lunch he prepared was well received. After dropping him off in Kalajoki, we sailed further towards Kokkola and eventually decided to dock at the island of Tankar, since we needed to have some more sleep after 24 hours of continuous sailing. After all, sleep deprivation is probably the most important cause of boat accidents on the sea. Approaching the island proved tricky since the paper charts ended up just shortly before and our electronic navigation systems stopped working for a variety of reasons. However, since I had memorized the approaches and we found the lateral signs leading to the harbour, all went well. Time for some sauna and then a well deserved sleep.
It was time to continue our voyage further South, although it always feels a pity to leave a nice island behind, especially a nice island like Tankar, which happened to have a great, big wooden sauna for public enjoyment. After the regular checklist of items to have ready, we left the harbour and hoisted sail, hoping to reach the harbour of Raippaluoto just in time before total darkness around midnight. Since we left Tankar a bit late, around 10 o'clock, I wasn't totally sure we could make it in time. Usually, I wouldn't object to sailing around the clock, but the archipelago of Vaasa is a special case. It probably has more stones than the Great Wall of China. The waters are relatively shallow, and at places, the fairways get really narrow. So I wanted to have a nice stop there just before entering the narrowest places. Eventually, we approached the islands just before Raippaluoto, hoisted the pirate flag, and sailed to the fishing harbour. The next morning we intended to continue our voyage through the stony archipelago, but fate had already better plans for us. The big Danish sailboat next to our tiny ship had begotten navigational woes. Namely, their laptop had broken at an inopportunate time and no suitable backup navigation system was available. We decided to lend them a hand and get spare parts for the laptop from the city of Vaasa, a short taxi trip away. Eventually everything got sorted out, the laptop working and all, but we noticed that we had missed a sailing day. I took the opportunity to have some real summer holidays and plunged to the water from the jumping platform erected on the other side of the harbour, with some local teenager girls wondering about my strange style. It's good to feel oneself a kid once again, doing some jumping on a hot summer day. It's liberating. The whole sailing business is liberating, but something about the days of childhood is somehow enticing me. However, I'm quite confident that all those nice summer days in childhood were somehow more warm, more fun and longer than what I would get nowadays.
The sea route from Raippaluoto towards Kaskinen is not exactly the straightest of all routes. It makes bends around small islands and rocks and at times the depth readings make even a captain of a small boat quite nervous. Because of these factors, we motored against the wind for most of the trip. Only on some parts we were going enough away from the wind to be able to hoist sails and turn off the motor for a while. Anyway, aside of a can of pea soup, we enjoyed the sea nature and the beauty of all the small islands surrounding us. It took a long time to get through the archipelago and head out to the sea southwards. Well, even a long day has to come to an end, and after sunset, we started approaching Kasko from the northern route, going between some sharp looking rocks that formed a nice, jagged silouette against the darkening sky. We had been sailing alongside the danish boat for half of the day and now they followed close behind our stern light. Looking up those unlit buoys in the dark is not the easiest of all tasks. By midnight, we finally arrived at the quay in Kasko. After tightening the ropes, it was time to loosen the cap on the Docking Rum.
After waiting for 4 days for the weather to calm down, we got our chance to leave Kaskinen behind. We started in the morning, looking closely at the barometer. It seemed that the further we progressed into the sea, the lower the air pressure dropped. At 980 hPa, we knew we were in the middle of the low pressure. The winds died completely. There was not much more to do than to motor towards south and admire those long floating strips of blue algae (either Anabaena spp. or Nodularia spumigena). Sometimes it's possible to observe with one's own eyes why they say that the Baltic Sea is one of the most polluted seas in the world. This time, I had no desire of any kind to swim in the water. After an hour or so, winds started building up again, and they had changed direction completely. Time to hoist the sails and pick up some speed. We had a nice back wind, which, however, strengthened little by little. At that point it would have been prudent to start reefing the main, but it is always easy to be wise afterwards. Eventually the wind and waves reached such proportions that it was outright dangerous to go to the deck to take down the mainsail without lifelines. So we sailed with full main in winds exceeding Force 6 and waves at around 2-3 meters. On the positive side, we were going really fast, easily sustaining a cruising speed of almost 7 knots. On the negative, the boat broached easily when a strong wave threw us off course. Also, accidental gybes become dangerous when there's a lot of wind and no reefing. So we had to fight our way towards the harbour and wait until we got to the lee side to be able to take down the sails. Somehow the self-tacking track that we used to sheet the high-aspect jib, broke down in high winds, and we had to re-sheet the sail using the genoa tracks. No idea why it broke so easily. After resheeting the jib, we made it towards the island of Reposaari. We got lucky and the sea calmed down when we approached the entrance to the harbour and then the rest of it was already a routine. We arrived in the harbour of Reposaari well before sunset, so the trip only took 9 hours. "vauhtia ja vaarallisia tilanteita", as we say in Finnish.
In the morning, the weather seemed pretty much the same as the day before, but the winds had calmed down just slightly. So it was time to set out to the sea once again. The waves were still big, but since they were coming from behind, it wasn't totally impossible to move around the boat, like the day before. We even had a simple lunch of can food while on the sea. This time the sails were reefed properly and there were fewer dangerous situations than in the previous day. As we approached Rauma, we had the chance of admiring the incredible size of the construction site of the new nuclear reactor in Finland, Olkiluoto 3. We were far out on the sea but the half-ready building was so huge it was easily visible to the naked eye. When we started approaching Rauma and got between the islands on the coast, the waves calmed down and the rest of the sailing was suddenly really easy. At least when you contrast it to the experiences of our previous day. We slipped into the harbour and then the old routine kicked in: ropes tight and docking rum in the cups.
It was time to set up on an adventure of my own. Early at the morning, I set everything up and motored away from the harbour, towards my planned route through the islands of southwestern coast of Finland. It was my first real solo sailing experience, and it started to feel better and better while I gained sea miles and confidence. Being completely alone in the middle of the sea is that kind of an experience, a one-time event in one's life. After a full day of motorsailing against the prevaling winds, I decided to seek shelter from the rising winds in the small guest harbour of Jurmo, the northernmost island of Brando municipality. Once again, I was alone. This time on a sleepy, barely inhabited island. Nevertheless, the curious island and its neighbouring islands gave enough wonderful experiences to spend an entire day while waiting for more moderate winds.
Leaving Jurmo behind, it was time to seek new islands and make some progress towards Mariehamn. I realised early on that the distance there would be excessive when the waves and wind against me were taken into account. Since it was hard to do anything but hold course, I decided to stop at Enklinge to be able to eat some warm meal. Yet another empty pier, a beautiful but sleeping island and lots of wind. Since the bay was rather unsheltered to south winds, I needed an hour of frustrating work to get the boat actually aligned for leaving the pier. The wind relentlessly pushed the boat sideways. Finally I was on my way again, the wind turning a little near Foglo and hence sailing quietly towards Degero. Another sailboat came behind me and we had a small race trying to catch the little wind still remaining with all the sail we got. Arriving at Degero, it was once again possible to confirm the pattern: empty harbour in a sleeping village.
It was about time to reach Mariehamn, and so in the morning I hoisted the sails towards Vasthamn. Suitable wind conditions and beautiful sunny weather allowed me to enjoy the surrounding nature just like it would still be July. Even solo sailing can sometimes be effortless. However, just before approaching Mariehamn, a local thunderstorm was brewing up. It was a somewhat surreal experience trying to avoid two big passenger ferries next to your small boat while all the surrounding sky was covered with clouds as dark as the murky waters of River Oulu.
The first attempt to sail to the other side of the sea. However, the winds were completely against us and the waves were slowing the ship down quite a lot and the boat was rocked so much that it made sailing uncomfortable. Ultimately, it was the appearance of water in the bilge that helped make the decision to abort the crossing and get back to a harbour. We retreated to the old shelter harbour Rodhamn to wait for the weather to change and to investigate the water leak. Later, it became evident that the water had leaked from the freshwater tank, not the log sensor. The decision to go to Rodhamn was a good one, the island is especially enchanted after the season, when there are no living souls. Only wind, waves, bare cliffs and lots of cobblestones.
Now the weather forecast promised light to moderate northern winds, so we got our chance to cross the sea. Finally we were making real progress and after hoisting the spinnaker, the boat was doing steadily more than 7 knots and even 9 under surfing conditions. Once you get the spinnaker stable, it gives you some wonderful sailing moments sheltered from the wind. Unfortunately we went too much south while waiting for the wind to slacken a bit, so only after getting the spinnaker down we were able to change our course westwards towards the guest harbour of Sandhamn. When the winds were up to 9 m/s it proved quite a hard exercise to pull down the spinnaker, but here we are in one piece, sail and all.
After a disco night at Sandhamn (to be contrasted with our previous island, Rodhamn), it was time to leave the posh place and its big, expensive looking yachts and head towards cheaper waters. The winds rose enough to do some tacking exercise, and what a sport it proved to be! The waters between Sandhamn and Uto were dotted by mainsails and spinnakers of all colors and types. Rather than navigation, it was the avoidance of other sailing vessels that proved to be the most troubling aspect of this journey. After tacking through swarms of sailboats like an innocent witness to a shopping spree, it was time to drop down the anchor at Uto. Since the high pressure area seemed to follow us anywhere we went, we decided to wake up early and use the upcoming day up to its fullest sailing potential.
The industrial town of Oxelosund looks very interesting in night. It is like a golem factory lighted by numerous lamps and then accompanied by the flashing lights of the buoys. Approaching the town by night was not very challenging. We parked the boat in the wrong jetty. It seems that the locals have sailboats close to their hearts.
The archipelago voyage continues, with more and more islands going past the bow of the boat. Tired of endless motoring on a dead-calm day, we hoisted sail on a lake-like area completely sheltered by nearby islands. The quietness of the lake was charming, only interrupted by our need to get to our destination before sunset.
Leaving Fyrudden behind, the sea finally opens up in just a few miles after countless islands that we had left past us. That meant open-sea sailing with some nice waves, making it harder to move around in the boat. After many miles, the Oland coast finally came in sight. We shared the harbour with a Dutch catamaran, which looked fancy and made our boat seem really tiny.
A perfect sailing day in the sheltered waters of the Kalmarsund. Long tacks around the Bla Jungfru island brought us really close to our destination. Our Dutch friends had evidently taken a different route and were unable to enjoy the shift in the winds later that day that brought us to the harbour at record speed. Once again the mighty magic of a sailboat going at almost an inexplicably fast speed against the prevaling winds was being demonstrated, along with the magic of a rudder balanced to keep the ship steadily upwind like a real windvane.
Another nice sailing day. From Borgholm to Kalmar, it was only a few nautical miles but oh so many hours of spinnaker exercises in almost zero wind. There is a special feeling to floating still in the middle of the sea, being rocked by small, gentle waves. The feeling is at the same time both calming and nervous. All the quietness around you feels like a blessing after so many noisy cities, something to soothe the aching desire to be alone. All that quietness, however, also reminds your inner senses of the fact that one might get stuck there, for weeks, for months, who knows. Of course we knew that we could motor to the next harbour, but our inner senses are never convinced by cold, hard truths. After arriving to the city of Kalmar, it was time to do some scouting of the place, especially because we arrived unusually early and the sun was still up. After spending an extra day (we started to be in the need of a vacation, preferably in some civilized place where you can order kebab) in Kalmar, visiting all its attractions, it occurred to me what a nice and inviting place can such a small city be. Absolutely charming city. The enchantment wasn't even broken by the nightly sight of the mighty Kalmarsund bridge, 6 kilometers of endless chain of lights like a gleaming pearl necklace in the darkening skyline of the city.
While trying to leave the harbour, it seemed that this particular swan did not want us to leave. Michal appeased the animal with some bits of bread. It only made the lazy bird demand more. I was afraid the bird would follow us everywhere but this proved not to be the case after starting up the noisy diesel. A short sailing distance from Kalmar to Kristianopel proved to be a long one after countless tacks and light winds. However, Kalmarsund is a perfect place for some family sailing - the waves were so small that one could do some cooking on the boat with ease. We enjoyed the marvels of warm Baltic september weather, endless sunshine, cold beer and a self-steering system provided by a fixed tiller and balanced sails. Life on board couldn't possibly be easier.
Time to leave the small, antique town of Kristianopel behind. We set out in the morning with the intent of going as far as the winds will allow and then determining the destination accordingly. After some hours of frustratingly low winds, empty sails flapping because of wave action and such, we hit some nice moderate winds and got up to speed. It seemed that Jef's wind forecast was right, and the winds were rising towards midnight. Since we were already close to Utklippan and there were still many hours of time worth sailing left, a decision was made to sail as far as Simrishamn just by changing the tack when the wind veered enough north. This meant a possibly impossibly cold night out in the cockpit and watching the shooting stars. There were countless shooting stars that night! Unfortunately I did not react quickly enough to make a wish of a more stable boat. After enjoying the beauty of millions of stars above and suffering the hardships of cold wind and wet waves, we finally made it to Simrishamn at the time of sunrise. At that point, we were simply too tired to remember to celebrate the docking rum ritual.
After some pondering, a decision was made to start sailing on Thursday morning towards Ystad. We should probably have waited for better weather for sailing further, but it seemed we had already spent too many days in Simrishamn so it was time to go. The weather forecast did not promise any family sailing: Force 6 winds and from the west, i.e. very hard to get towards the direction of Ystad. However, in the morning, the wind and waves seemed easy, so we set on the journey. Eventually, the wind went up to the figures forecasted, and after passing the point of Sandhammaren, the waves started rolling towards us with their white, foamy heads roaring. From that point on it was a rollercoaster from hell for us, accustomed to all those family sailing days of the previous week or two. After fighting with the waves and the wind for hours, seeing the wind rise to 17 m/s in gusts and several tacks later, we finally managed to reach Ystad and sail behind the wave breakers to have sufficient foothold on the deck to actually pull down the reefed mainsail and headsail. It felt really good to feel some land beneath one's feet although we only had been 10 hours on the sea! All in all, the day was just another lesson in the great series of lectures for understanding and respecting the powerful elements of water and air.
The morning begins with clouds. More clouds, and some wind. Nice sailing day ahead of us. We decided to motor the first half of the trip against the wind so that later we could benefit from the winds veering southwest. The sun never showed up, the waves didn't become any less annoying. A totally unremarkable sailing day. After 8 hours of reading stuff, eating some swedish apples and just waiting, we arrived at the totally unremarkable fishing harbour of Skare.
Since we were just 7 kilometers west of the city of Trelleborg, I decided to dig up my bike from the boat's back compartment and ride to the city to do some supermarket shopping. I ended up disillusioned with the unremarkable upper middle class suburban areas that I had to bike through - everything reminded me too much of the city of Oulu. Even the surroundings here are really really flat. After biking countless circles around the city, I came into the conclusion that there really was no supermarket of any kind in the city center here, and went shopping my chocolate and stuff in a kind of minimarket. The shop's clerk was unremarkable, no, totally disinterested in everything. The final proof for this city's inhabitants' unremarkableness, or evidently just boringness, came from analysing the aftermath of the little accident I had. Somewhat hastily, I fixed the chocolate and the bread I bought on my bike, and after not too many meters, the stuff just fell all over the street right in the middle of the city. Somewhat appropriately, I cursed in swedish, and returned to collect my wares from the middle of the street, and observed the people around me. No one was either laughing or crying. No reaction. I myself would have found the episode most amusing, especially the cursing part in an identifiably finnish accent. But these unremarkable people of this city didn't have any kind of reaction.
Now it was time to leave Sweden behind. We pointed the bow towards Danish waters and hoisted sail, with the intention of sailing to Vordingborg through the Fakse Bugt. On paper, 50 sea miles doesn't sound awfully bad. However, when the wind doesn't turn as it was predicted, and as the route plans accordingly assumed, the best option is to change destination. Hence, we sailed south, towards the island of Mon and its eastermost harbour Klintholm. After some nice sailing across the sea separating Sweden and Denmark, we saw the huge, white cliffs of Mon from afar. From that point on, it wasn't too long until we actually were docked, and met possibly the rudest harbour master in the whole universe. I decided to escape the rudeness by taking my bike and doing the 7 kilometers to the easternmost point of the island, with its huge white cliffs. It was a wonderful place with dense forests of Fagus sylvatica and breathtaking views from the top of the imposing cliffs to the sea and beaches below. Places like this make it worthwhile to endure such long sailing days.
Finally we were able to leave the nasty summer hole named Klintholm behind. Somehow either the local populace must be really bored of their existence on the forgotten village or then one just starts to get fed up with tourists on such a summer resort. Anyhow, we were lucky enough to get a day of more moderate winds, and sailed away towards the southern tip of Mon and eventually northwards, towards the city of Vordingborg. The route between islands should be a nicer option to the open sea route especially now when forecast after forecast just shows strong west winds. Eventually, when we got between the islands of Falster, Mon and later Sjaelland, the waves calmed down and it got easier to set up sails and even eat something. Anyway, after the first easy 2 hours, the day was all about sports. We tacked like animals and trimmed the sails to maximise our tacking angles. We got even slightly sunburned on the faces because the sun was looming behind the cloud veils all the day. Finally, after countless tacks, we arrived at the boat harbour of Vordingborg, content to be in a civilized place once again. It's one thing getting the possibility of being completely alone in the middle of the sea, and another one getting the possibility of having delicious pizza for a bargain price and wireless internet for free, not to mention about the nice warm showers in the guest harbour.
After spending the morning in Vordingborg, visiting the marine center there for spare parts and talking to local sailors, we found it wiser to use the few hours of light remaining of the day and sail westwards to the small island of Vejro. The forecast had promised southwest winds, but the wind direction from our point of view never veered enough SW, so we had to start tacking after making some progress westwards for the first two hours. As usual, the waves were very sharp and frequent. We got some splashes in as usual. It seems that Poseidon likes to remind us of his existence every now and then. After a few hours of tacking in the cold autumn winds, we finally arrived at the empty harbour of Vejro. Even a short trip feels like a long one when you are wet and cold and totally bored of the rocking of the boat in the sharp waves.
The island proved to be an almost uninhabited one, some houses in the distance and signs of farming. The amount of wildlife was amazing, you could not possibly walk across some meadows without seeing some rabbit or deer start running from the bushes or a bird (mostly Phasianus colchicus) spring to flight right under your step. Since we had to pass the next day waiting for the winds to calm down, we made ourselves comfortable and had a nice autumn day with sunshine and warmth. I even decided to go for a swim in the sandy beach nearby, although the water temperature wasn't too inviting. Of course, it was only when I already was standing under the shower, when I noticed that you can't have warm water without payment. Well, I had gotten used to cold water by then.
Setting on sails in the morning, we watched the Bambi island fade away into the distance. We had spent a nice day there, after all, and it's a pity to leave such a nice place behind. But we had new things in horizon, and it was time to make some progress. This time the winds were slightly in favour of us and we could make it to the east coast of Langeland with just one big tack. Since we were in the Store Belt shipping lane, we had to do some evasive maneuvers to get out of the way when we got too close to one of these huge cargo vessels. But before we could actually make it to the southern tip of Langeland and the fishing harbour northeast of it, a local thunderstorm headed toward us, rapidly strenghtening in force. First, rain came down as heavy as ever, and then some gale force winds struck our boat. I quickly jumped to the mast to take the mainsail down and at that time, the windmeter hit 22 m/s. However, we managed to get the sails down in one piece and then motored to the harbour of Bagenkop, which wasn't far from us. However, yet another thunderstorm was looming in the horizon and it seemed to us that we couldn't escape from it in time. Indeed, before we were in the gates of the wave breaker, high winds and heavy rain tackled us once more. The boat's tiny engine struggled to take us towards the harbour and luckily the winds backed down a little when the weather front overtook us. On the other side of the wave breaker we were able to perform our standard docking maneuvers without any significant difficulty.
The island of Langeland doesn't seem to be awfully different from those islands that we have visited past week in Denmark. After some exploration with the bike, it seemed that there were vast areas of fields in every direction, and some wind generators. Some small, rounded, funny looking hills. More wind generators. A coast with cliffs of chalk rising from the sea. I guess the foremost memory I have of that place is the neverending wind. It is funny to drive downhill when the speed is actually slowing down because of the wind. The very same thing happened also in the island of Mon.
Bagenkop seems to be yet another sleepy hollow which somehow is only alive during the summer months. Even though the village looks really pictoresque, I still have these weird sensations when everything around you seems somehow abandoned (for the winter, that is, but abandoned nonetheless). I still haven't got a good mental picture of what it would be like to live in a really small village.
Finally, after two days of hurricane-class winds, or at least the baltic equivalent, our window of opportunity opened. These nice force 5 winds and 1 meter waves felt like family sailing after our previous experinces. This time the west wind actually worked in our favour. We approached the German coast at an impressive speed and in a short while, we left the Danish waters behind. During the day we only had to endure one more or less short thunderstorm with cold, cold water pouring down, so we got luckier than a few days ago. After leaving the Kiel lighthouse behind and being harrassed by a submarine, we finally got rid of the shipping lane and its hazards and entered the Kieler bucht. The bay seemed to be full of sailing vessels doing some relentless tacking, and it was Michal's last sailing day with Lorelei, so we joined the fun and spent the rest of that evening in figuring out how well we could do against those local boats. Our tacks were nice and neat 90 degree tacks as they should be, but the strange winds in the bay veered to our disadvantage every time we got closer to coast. Anyway, we enjoyed the sailing like God meant it to be enjoyed.
Kiel is a surprisingly nice city. Surprisingly, because I have always had this image of a german city in my mind - everything efficiently built and designed, with the famous german precision. However the city was a mixture of old and new, well preserved old buildings living together with newer architecture. The streets were so organically laid out that it took some time to be able to navigate without a GPS. In short, I enjoyed my visit to Kiel more than I expected. There's also a lot of delight for an avid bicyclist: almost everywhere you go, there will be a bikeway accompanying you, or at least a bike lane.
After spending two days in Kiel and driving around with the bike, I had this strange realisation that I am actually free to do and explore anything I like. It is a very enjoyable state of mind, after programming my life to a certain extent for the last god-knows-how-many years. Ultimately, these days are like a vacation to me, a short break away from sailing. Nothing wrong with being at sea per se, but you get tired, little by little, when every day is a sailing day and you have to prepare yourself for bad weather, sharp waves and cold wind.
After my vacation (from sailing, that is) in Northern Denmark, it was time to loosen the ropes and head towards the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal. Doing the kanal singlehanded is not an achievement in any sense, the helpful people from another boat in the locks helped me tie the boat down and the channel itself is completely sheltered from wind and waves. Because you are not allowed to sail in the channel, the whole journey was done under motor power. It makes your senses dull. I tried to ignore the motor and enjoy the yellow and red colors of autumn foliage. The wind was ripping swathes of leaves from the trees at the waterside, and blew them at the boat. The water was soon full of abandoned leaves afloat. A beautiful message from the Autumn gods. After about 4 (long) hours, I arrived in the marina of Rendsburg. The city itself is small but has an interesting, almost medieval, center. However, it was a rather quiet friday night at the city, so I got back to the boat early.
Another day of motoring. Luckily, there was less rain and more sun than yesterday. This channel is looooong. There are no words to describe the mind-numbing length of the channel. If I were not sailing alone, I could give the tiller to someone else and meanwhile do something more creative than to just sit tight and stare at ships coming against you. It wouldn't be prudent to e.g. read a book, since it will distract your visual senses a bit too much and then you'd suddenly wake up from the book's lure when there is this huge ship in front of your tiny boat. So, I chose to listen to music instead. Usually I don't listen to anything but quietness and waves while sailing, but this place is an exception. It seems that my music consumption has drastically dropped since I started sailing. I guess I should get a guitar onboard.
After arriving at Brunsbuettel, I was amazed by the amount of industry squeezed to such a small town. Right now I realise that Kiel is actually a really nice and beautiful city as far as major shipping cities go. I already miss its extensive bike lanes.
I was ready to test out the tidal streams of the river Elbe, so I set out from the yacht harbour of Brunsbuettel at high tide and headed out to the locks. I've become used to the procedures in the lock already, so nothing spectacular there. However, the real stuff started when I got out of the locks and saw a huge number of ships passing, going in and out of the locks and heading out to the river Elbe. I had to cross this shipping lane somehow, and I managed to cross it to the starboard side of the fairway somehow, but I was quite nervous nevertheless. It's not so much the natural hazards that make me nervous, but these huge steel monsters when they get close and you don't know how they will be maneuvering. So, now I was out of the harm's way on the other side of the buoys and running down the river Elbe faster and faster the further the tide went down. I reached 10 knots ground speed with the motor so the strength of the stream was up to 5 knots. I ended up in the vicinity of Cuxhaven earlier than I anticipated, so the stream was running at its full force. It would have perhaps been wiser to start out a little late in the tide so that when entering the harbour, the tidal stream would already be dying down. But now it was getting dark and I had to try to get in to the harbour between the narrow gates and the stream running strongly down the river. The stream at the approach looked so formidable and my little engine felt so helpless against it that I decided to head for the bigger harbour in the north, which seemed to have a wider passage. So, I had to go up with full engine power for quite a long while, since my ground speed was down to 1-2 knots as opposed to the log speed of over 5 knots. Finally, I was positioned in such a way that I could attempt entering the harbour, anticipating the velocity of the boat because of the strong stream. Amidst much teeth grinding, I was able to hit the entrance (it is very wide after all) and slip in to the harbour where the stream immediately weakened. This was my first experience of entering a harbour under such circumstances. Now I fully understand why the Cruising Almanac warned about the strength of the current at the entrances.
The city of Cuxhaven is quite different from cities like Rendsburg or Kiel. Everything looks quite worn out and dirty in comparison. Maybe it's the marine traditions or something. The guest harbour in Amerikahafen is by far the most interesting place to berth so far. There were industry and big ships loading in the same harbour basin and a lot of noise of cranes working during the night. There was a deserted passenger terminal next to us, it must have been a busy point of embarking in the past decades. There's even a train station with a big clock tower, in disuse. Eerie.
Time to test out the new waters. This was the first time for Lorelei at the North Sea. After setting out from Cuxhaven at high water and enjoying the benefits of the tide running out of the Elbe, it didn't seem too bad. The winds were moderate, the waves were quite small. It's a nice feeling to be sailing on a completely new sea, although all the seas are fundamentally the same. This time we had to sail during the night hours because the high water for leaving Cuxhaven happened at really early in the morning or late in the day, so navigation in darkness was unavoidable. The night sailing itself was pretty much uneventful, as it usually goes. Lots of stars, a line of ships creeping along the shipping lane in the distance, some anchored ships lit like a christmas tree, a lone gas drilling platform. After enough cold winds and darkness, the sunrise is always a welcome sign. A new day, a new island. This time it was the island of Borkum, but the approach was long against the wind and increasing waves. I was told that approaches to the Frisian islands are difficult, but now I really started to understand what it means in practice. Did I mention it was a long approach?
The island itself is a weird mixture of late-season tourists, pensioners, some seafaring business of yore, and lots of small bikeways going through the sand dunes and the woods. There's even a train link for the tourists to get to the main town from the ferry harbour. The island's nature and geography somehow reminds me of the fabulous island of Hailuoto back at home. Of course, this place is much bigger in the sense of human activity and much smaller in the geographical sense.
Spending some days on the sandy island of Borkum is nice, but the lure of the sea is strong and the voyage must go on. After some days of Force 6 winds on the North Sea, we got our opportunity when the forecast promised Force 4 winds for the entire day and next morning. We set out sailing at high tide, around 3 pm, and took advantage of the few remaining hours of light by admiring the sandy islands of Borkum, Schiermonnikoog and some smaller ones in the horizon. This time we could hoist full sails, and we did, since the winds were actually very weak, like Force 3 or something. However, eventually we catched some more wind. During the long, dark night, we passed many Frisian islands. There's nothing special in these night shifts, you just try to figure out how to spend 4 hours alone and try to keep dry and warm. Of course, the occasional fishing vessel must be evaded. Actually, this time we only had one close encounter, and it was with another sailing vessel. We sailed so close to the islands that we couldn't actually see the shipping lanes full of lights of the North Sea. When the sun was rising, we were already approaching Harlingen, doing a snake-like trail while trying to avoid the shoals and sandbars of the Waddenzee, which the Cruising Almanac describes as an inhospitable expanse of wild seascape. On the contrary, the Waddenzee was full of life, seals, birds and all. Maybe a keelboat would consider the area hostile; the tidal streams reshape the landscape constantly, so even my recent (2007) chart from the area was a little too old. We found some buoys displaced by half a mile, so navigating by GPS waypoints was out of the question. Luckily, because of good timing, the tidal streams were our friends once again and we arrived at the mouth of the harbour already before noon.
After a long journey, we took the locks in Harlingen, moored up the boat, and went shopping for some food in the city. The main pedestrian street was full of different small kiosks selling all sorts of edible stuff. We decided to grab some gyros from the Greek kiosk, and it's hard to explain how good they tasted after almost 24 hours of sailing and all that tin can food that we had to eat. I found that I like these small Dutch towns, the relaxed and quiet way of life, and of course, the plentiful canals.
So, after deliberation, we decided to embark on some sailing on IJsselmeer. The weather forecast promised Force 4-5 winds to IJsselmeer instead of the tougher winds the North Sea coast was experiencing. It would be around 40 nautical miles to the city of Lelystad, just the right distance for a day's sailing. After getting through two different locks, we were finally in IJsselmeer. Time to hoist the sails and start tacking. The weather was just fine, albeit a bit windy, and the sun was finally shining upon us. No more night sailing! This was as close to family sailing as one could get in late October on the North Sea region.
After arriving at the city, we docked on a marina, but we were just too tired to have a walk in the city, which was anyway located 2 kilometers away. After a gracious dinner, beans, eggs and all, it felt inescapably nice to just lie down and fall asleep. In the morning, we noticed a sign on the quay that says something like "private property so keep out" in Dutch. Well, you make mistakes in the dusk of the evening, I guess. We detached the ropes and sailed away.
This was our last leg on the way to Amsterdam. It was supposed to be a short sail, but it proved to be a long one. In the first tack, the wind went up to Force 6, unlike the previous day, and our Reef 1 was beginning to make the boat heel a bit too much. I wanted to make the boat go more upwind, so I tightened the mainsail sheet as tight as possible with bare hands. Soon enough, the mainsail sheet broke loose with a loud snap and the boom hurled itself back and forth with the wind. Not nice. I set up an emergency mainsail sheet from a rope and tied it tightly around the sheet track. Needless to say, from this point on, sailing was a lot of work, especially tacking. I literally had to wrestle with the mainsail to get it to work for us in the hard winds. We did our best for 5 more hours with wind gusts sometimes exceeding Force 8 and the progress seemed really slow. I was already beginning to wonder whether we can bring the boat to safety in one piece. Eventually, we reached the surroundings of Oranjesluisen and took down the sails and motored the rest of the way to Amsterdam. It really felt an accomplishment to be in the Dutch capital and we celebrated it with the traditional Docking Rum.
It's a strange coincidence that I haven't been in Amsterdam before. After all, it is quite unique amongst the European capitals. The salient features include the liberal tolerance of different human activities, the strange structure of the city with its canals and all, and the balance of power in the traffic which is shifted away from cars and towards the bicycle. The bicyclists are the absolute kings in the traffic in Amsterdam. The sheer volume of people moving around on bikes is daunting. If you analyze the stream of bikes and translate it mentally into cars averaging at 1,5 passengers per car, you'd need to construct roads of 20 lanes or so to contain the same amount of people trafficked. Anyhow, the city has a totally different atmosphere from your average European capital - since almost everyone is moving around in bikes, you see surprisingly many people everywhere around you. Waiting for the green light, you see persons, faces around you, not cars and windshields. Everything that we, as modern citizens, have forgotten about humanity, gets remembered, restored here.
This will be my last entry on the ship's log for a while. I have decided not to continue this winter any further but concentrate on getting the boat to a good shape for crossing the treacherous waters of Biscay in June next year. Now, after almost one month in Amsterdam, I have to say that this is not a bad place to leave one's boat. If I am to go and explore strange, remote countries and understand their culture, I should first understand the western culture where I come from. One of the best places to do that is the Netherlands, the birthplace of capitalism, banking, stock exchange and just about everything that we correlate with Western society. I will write about my experiences in a different medium at some point. For now, the adventure will have to wait a few months. I'm patient.