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Month: September 2016

Now It’s Official – Summer’s Gone!

Now It’s Official – Summer’s Gone!

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Such a sad, wretched sight – a sailboat out of the water!

Sailing really doesn’t make much sense as a hobby in a northern country where the sea freezes in winter. Although the summers are warm and light with the midnight sun and so forth, they are hopelessly short. We started our season early, as it was our first and we were eager to get out there, but still… Our boat only got to spend four months in it’s natural element – water! – and now it will likely be standing on dry land for eight months. There is clearly something wrong with this equation!

And yet, there are hundreds and thousands of people who happily sail in the summer and store their boats on the hard for the rest of the year. Every autumn they go through the trouble of dismantling the rigging, removing the mast, washing down and moving the boat to its winter storage, stacking away all the loose stuff – only to put it all back the next spring. Crazy!

We knew even before this first season that sailing as a summer hobby would not be the thing for us. We’re not looking forward to repeating this cycle for the next twenty years, getting to sail just a few hurried weeks every year, seeing only a small glimpse of the archipelagos and coasts and ocean horizons that the world has to offer. But we also know we don’t want to get out into the big world without having some practice first. In that respect, these four months have been just what we hoped for. We have (or at least I have) gathered a lot of experience and self confidence (my husband had enough of both to begin with). My greatest worry – that I might have completely forgotten how to sail during my landlocked years – was unfounded. I guess it’s like riding a bicycle, your arms and legs just know what to do even if your head doesn’t seem to remember. But it’s better to test this theory on a small, cheap boat before potentially proving it wrong on a big, expensive one!

We have no time frame for casting the lines, sailing into the great unknown. Maybe it will happen soon, maybe later, but it will happen eventually. Until then, we will sail as a summer hobby, and live with the pitiful sight of a lonely, dispirited sailboat in our backyard.

In my next post I will get back to our holiday sail to Estonia. How nice to travel back in time to those warm summer days!

Sailing as it should be – and shouldn’t!

Sailing as it should be – and shouldn’t!

 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how many does a video count for? I put together a little sailing video, hoping to show some of the joy and excitement of being carried by the wind, moving fast along the water.

On our way to our next destination, Hiiumaa island off the northwest coast of Estonia, we experienced some of the best sailing we’ve ever done anywhere, on any boat. There was a brisk southerly breeze and we were making good speed on our little boat. By this time she had aquired a large number of affectionate nicknames, most of them referring to her compact size, her pear shaped body, her respectable age, or all of the above. Nevertheless, she proved herself to be a true thoroughbred among sailboats, sailing solidly and effortlessly like a much larger boat. As the wind increased and the waves got bigger she just seemed to grow taller and heavier but remained as responsive to the helm as ever, letting us steer her with just a finger or two.

However, as we got closer to Hiiumaa we found ourselves in a situation we hadn’t prepared for. The sea bottom rises to a very shallow depth many miles off the coast, making the waves suddenly very high and choppy. This combined with the large sail area that just minutes before had given our boat a thrilling speed now made her heel like a mad woman. I had to get up on deck to take the sails down. It felt like riding a bucking bronco, first flying through the air and then diving deep in the water with great green walls rising on both sides. As I crawled my way to the bow and back, I could feel the waves go in through my collar and come out through the trouser legs. What I don’t remember feeling was bumping myself into something, and multiple times. This only became evident later that night, when we were all safe and sound in the Kärdla marina, relaxing in a warm sauna – I’ve never seen such massive bruises in such unusual places!

That’s when I realized that all the sailing channel sailboats on Youtube have furling headsails. You simply couldn’t lounge on the deck in a bikini with bruises like that – no, you should never have to leave the comfort of the cockpit except to take pictures of dolphins! For next summer, we will definitely invest in a roller furler. I can’t wait to shoot some bikini scenes!

Seriously speaking, it’s also a matter of safety. Hank-on sails may be the way to go on a racing boat, but we are cruisers. And when you’re cruising longer distances you’re bound to encounter rapid changes in weather. Although we always clip ourselves to the jacklines when leaving the cockpit, you can still get badly injured if you take a fall. And in any case, the boat deck is full of cleats and lines and other obstacles to smash you body parts into.

In Hiiumaa we got a serious reminder – something much worse than a few bruises – of just how important safety is at sea. Only a week before our arrival in Kärdla a sailboat skipper had fallen overboard, just a few miles out of the marina. The inexperienced crew, unable to stop or steer the boat, couldn’t help him, and despite their efforts the Search and Rescue didn’t find him either. The boat had been towed into the harbour and hauled out, and it was a sorrowful sight. If a simple thing like a harness and a tether can spare a life, how about we all wear them – even before the going gets rough!

I conclude my post with a few hazy pictures from our Tallinn-Hiiumaa leg. After all, a sunset over the sea is one of the reasons we sail for, isn’t it?

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start our trip from the beginning!

To Tallinn – with the following seas

To Tallinn – with the following seas

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The wind forecast showed slightly lighter winds for a very brief moment on Thursday morning. We had been stuck in Viinistu for three nights, but finally, just after 5 a.m. we managed to sneak out of the harbour and into the blue. As soon as we were a safe distance from the rocky shore we hoisted the genoa and headed towards the west. The wind was behind us, and so were the seas – the famous following seas, that you so often hear sailors wishing for each other. Well, it may be nicer having them follow you rather than come straight at you, but with a very short and extremely wide beamed boat I’d rather take the waves sideways, thank you! Our little lady sailed very well, like she always does, but she kept wagging her tail with every wave coming from behind. And the waves were big! Still, we enjoyed every moment, and never felt any fear or uneasiness, even though sitting on top of a big wave looking down to the bottom of the next one almost made us feel queasy!

We had the sea all to ourselves again, until we got close to Tallinn. You could say there was quite a bit of traffic there! Port of Tallinn is a very busy harbour with nearly 10 million visitors a year, most of them from Helsinki but also from Stockholm and St. Petersburg, along with a lot of international cruise ship passengers. We saw several big boats at a very close distance. However, the guest marina in Pirita, also known as the Tallinn Olympic Yachting Center, was nearly empty.

We spent a couple of days shopping, walking around the town and enjoying delicious barbeque dinners on our “back porch” – in a large harbour all to ourselves, with the Tallinn city silhouette in the background.

But suddenly we were no longer alone! A big competition called the Helsinki-Tallinn Race began on Friday evening, an exciting night sail across the Gulf of Finland. The winning boats arrived right after dusk, and more boats kept coming all through the night. We woke up to some other boat’s crew stomping on our deck and adjusting our mooring lines, and as I put my head out of the hatch I could see every single inch of dock and quay taken by more than a hundred sailboats. The atmosphere in the marina was exciting, electric. There were people everywhere, dressed in their foul weather gear, shouting out orders, tidying up their boats, discussing weather and tactics. It felt fun to be in the middle of all this without actually participating in the race itself!

But we are more into adventuring at our own pace, and so we untied the lines once again and continued on our journey – leaving our gap at the quay for someone else to fill.

Continue our trip to the next post – Read the previous post – Start our trip from the beginning!

Like a fish out of water

Like a fish out of water

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We had only completed the first leg of our journey, and already we found ourselves stuck in a marina because of bad weather. I know these things happen all the time when you’re cruising, but seriously – in the first port of call?!

Our boat felt even more frustrated than we did, she kept bobbing and rocking and pulling her lines, as if trying to say it was time for us to go. But the wind and the waves told us the opposite.

So we tried to make the best of the situation. At least there was shore power available so we could charge our batteries, watch a movie cosily tucket up in a bunk while it was raining outside… But wait! The outlet looked nothing like the plug in our power cord! And who knows how long we would have to stay here, and the dog’s food in the fridge would start to turn. The sky was covered in clouds so the solar panels weren’t charging. We would absolutely need some sort of an adaptor for the plug. Besides, we hadn’t really brought too much food for ourselves because we had expected to be in Tallinn by now, hoarding all kinds of good stuff from the supermarkets. There were no shops in Viinistu, and eating all our meals in that nice restaurant would have meant a serious breach of our travel budget – in the first port of call!

But we found a bus stop in the village square, and soon enough a bus came around. We hopped on, payed a mighty sum of 0.70€ per person (dogs travel for free) and rode into the closest town, Loksa. It was raining – no, it was pouring! – when we started our search for the adaptor, and for some food. The latter part was easy, but the salesman in the fancier looking of the town’s two hardware stores shook his head to our electrical problem. However, in the other store, one of those good-old-time shops with floor to ceiling shelves full of miscellaneous tools, screws, bolts and other bits and pieces, I spoke to a very nice gentleman who actually took his time to listen to what the problem was. And behold! – he found all the parts needed for the adaptor, and then he made a phone call to the caretaker of our marina who promised to assemble this electronic widget for us. Problem solved!

Now there was just the part about getting back to the marina. The next bus was going to be in the evening, many, many hours away. We went to a pub for some lunch and to ask if there were any taxis to be found. No, there weren’t – but the bar tender’s brother had a car and apparently nothing better to do, so he offered to give us a ride. And the lunch at the pub was excellent – self picked mushrooms made into the most delicious soup! So in the end it all worked out, and we were impressed with the people’s kindness and willingness to help a total stranger.

Back in Viinistu the skies had cleared enough for a nice walk through the picturesque fisherman’s village.

The wind and the waves were still pounding the shore, preventing us from leaving, but providing a lot of subject matter for photography.

Continue our trip to our next post – Read the previous post – Start our trip from the beginning!

Step on a foreign shore

Step on a foreign shore

Beautiful calm evening in the Viinistu marina

Our first offshore sail – a total of 35 nautical miles! – came to an end early in the afternoon, as we were approaching the Estonian coast in Lahemaa National Park some 80 km east of the capital city, Tallinn.

Not quite like the ocean crossings we’ve all seen on youtube, but we had thoroughly enjoyed our day in the open sea, in the fresh breeze and sunlight. We felt happy and windblown, and it felt good to touch land.

The marina was called Viinistu and it seemed like a very nice place – there was a small breakwater, mooring balls, and a very good restaurant. And on top of it all a big Art Museum built inside a former fish processing plant, something we had definitely not expected to find in such a remote place! The atmosphere was very international, with cyclists, motorcyclists, campers and other travellers from all around Europe. And it was already past the peak holiday season, so I can only imagine how busy this place must have been in July!

The evening was beautiful with calm waters and even a nearly full moon. We curled up in our bunks, eager to get some sleep and then continue our journey the next morning.

But the next morning – we woke up to this!

I had slept like an Egyptian mummy, as I always do, but other members of the crew had witnessed some slight rocking and increasing sound of wind during the night. However, by the time I got up the wind was howling and there were big waves splashing over the breakwater and flowing in through the opening and into the harbour.

There was no way we could motor out of the marina. Our 8 horsepower Yanmar, as reliable as it is, just doesn’t have that extra kick to push the boat against such a current. The worst case scenario – being stuck sideways in the breakwater opening – made us decide to stay and wait for the wind to pass or shift.

Continue to the next post – Start our trip from the beginning!

The journey has begun!

The journey has begun!

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On August 15th, a beautiful Monday, it was finally time to cast the lines and head off into the blue! We had motored west from our home marina the previous day in no wind at all. But at first light on Monday morning there was a steady breeze from the west, meaning a good beam reach – the kind of wind our boat loves the best. And so we were on our way – heading south!

A couple of hours later the Finnish coastline had disappeared beyond the northern horizon and we felt free as birds in the middle of the sea.

A couple more hours later the southern coastline started to shimmer in the distance. No, not some exotic tropical coastline, since it obviously was not that far from where we left – it was the coast of our friendly and beautiful neighbour Estonia! But it was a big step for us, and with the way our boat handled in the moderate wind and some waves gave us great confidence in her.

Three weeks of freedom ahead of us, and it felt good to be on our way!

Continue our trip to the next post!