Classic Boats Overdose

Classic Boats Overdose

This time I’m not going to write that much. Instead, I will fill this post with photos of some pretty amazing boats we had the pleasure to see up close. I have always loved classic, wooden boats, and I don’t think there could be anything more beautiful than a long, slender 12 mR yacht in all her splendour and elegance of good old days… except perhaps a J class boat, that’s even longer and more splendid and elegant – but I have not yet seen one with my own eyes!

When we first heard there was going to be a big regatta for classic boats in our “home marina” – well, we’ve stayed here the whole summer, and feel very much at home, so I might as well call it our home marina – we got so excited we could hardly sleep at night. I did, anyway. Come to think of it, I did sleep just fine. I don’t think anything could really affect my ability to sleep. But I was excited!

The regatta was called German Classics 2018, and it was held at the marina in Laboe, near Kiel, on the weekend of August 16th to 19th.

On the preceding Wednesday we saw a great, dark blue boat in the Laboe harbour as we dinghied into town for our grocery shopping. And she was flying a Finnish flag! We knew it was Blue Marlin, a 12 mR yacht that can often be seen sailing in the waters of Helsinki – we spotted her a couple of times ourselves while sailing there on our little boat.

The next day the town basin began to fill with more boats. There were other 12 mR yachts – ten of them altogether – but many others as well, big and small. Many smaller ones sailed in as they had no engines, and it was interesting to watch the skill and experience of their skippers and crew as they maneuvered their way in through such tight spaces.

Here are some of the 12 mR yachts that participated in the race. Click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures and read more about the yachts!

The races began on Friday. It was rainy, so we didn’t see much of what was going on. But in the evening the skies had cleared and it was warm again as we walked into town to enjoy the lively atmosphere. The harbour basin was absolutely packed with boats, and what a colourful sight it was with all the wet clothing and bright spinnaker sails hanging out to dry!

Saturday was the second and final day of the races, and the weather looked much better. We parked our dinghy just inside the town harbour’s breakwater, where we could see all the yachts heading out towards the sea.

As soon as the big 12 mR yachts were out, we set out to pursue them, but alas! – they were all so much faster than our little dinghy! The starting line was somewhere further off, and with the choppy waves that kept breaking over our bow and sending spray over us and our cameras, we decided not to follow the great fleet of boats any further. Still, it was wonderful to see all these beautiful wooden beauties out there sailing in such great numbers.

Back in the Laboe town quay there were big festivities again in the evening, and for a classic boat enthusiast it afforded a great chance to have a good look at the wonderful boats, so gorgeous down to the smallest detail.

Aren’t they beautiful? Click the thumbnails to see their details up close!

No Plan B – Just Life

No Plan B – Just Life

During the long, dark winter evenings we planned our great journey south. We would cast off on the 1st of June, make a quick stop at Gdansk, and by July we would be through the Kiel Canal and well on our way down the English Channel – in time to cross the Bay of Biscay before the summer was over.

We did cast off on the 1st of June. Our stop at Gdansk didn’t turn out to be a very quick one, but eventually we were on our way again, in the direction of Kiel, Germany. And in Kiel we arrived. Now, almost two months later, we are still in Kiel. What happened?

This is a blog about sailing, about leaving our ordinary lives behind, casting the lines and heading into the unknown. While I have written about some very personal experiences involved in such a big life change, you may have noticed I haven’t actually included that much personal detail about us. Perhaps I may do that in the future, but to me it feels quite insignificant. We’re just an ordinary middle-aged couple, who wanted a change, and made it happen. Those of our readers who don’t know us personally, are probably here for the sailing and for the journey, and those who do know us, will likely acquire their knowledge of our personal matters through other sources. But maybe some kind of an explanation of the delay is in order.

So – what happened? We stopped in the wonderful Marina Baltic Bay in Laboe, a small town at the mouth of the Kiel Bay, for some boat projects. We had a clever electronics wizard onboard who found out why our autopilot and navigation instruments had died – and could breathe life back into them. We had new batteries installed that doubled our energy storage capacity. We had a new battery monitor installed. We changed the whole running rigging. We fixed the creaking floors before they would collapse. And more, and then some more.

But it wasn’t just the boat’s batteries, vents, pumps, wires, and central units that were being diagnosed and treated – some of our human parts needed fixing too. And that’s why we stayed. July was over, August came and went. After the initial shock and worry, there was the festering uncertainty of whether we would be able to resume our journey – and to which direction? How late in the year would it still be possible to cross the Biscay? How long would it still be safe to sail down the Atlantic Spain and Portugal? What would happen to all our plans about reaching the Mediterranean at a certain time? Of seeing a number of islands before settling down for the winter?

It felt aimless and frustrating to be stuck like this. We were the front seat spectators to all the other boats heading through the Kiel Canal and beyond – they would stop at the marina for a night or two, and then be on their way. We would stay.

One of the boats doing a very quick pit stop in Kiel was Ocean Lady, heading towards the Canaries for the ARC Atlantic Rally, with the first Finnish lady crew to participate in the race. A mysterious Finnish couple in a rubber dinghy helped the Ocean Ladies find a berth in the Laboe Marina, but the next morning, before we had a chance to introduce ourselves properly, they were already in the Kiel Canal…

But then, one fine day, it dawned on me. It – the Journey. We were on our journey, we are on our journey. Why should we care if we can’t exactly follow a line that’s been drawn on a chart, or reach a certain town or anchorage or some other spectacular place marked with a dot? We have left our home far behind, we have sailed the first 800 nautical miles quite convincingly. We can stop and stay for a while, and we don’t have to call it a delay. Delay from what? We didn’t miss a flight. We weren’t late for work. There is no deadline for our journey, except – well, the deadline…

So, instead of moping and waiting impatiently for some indeterminable departure date and a permission to leave, we decided to enjoy all the wonderful things around us. After all, not everyone is just passing through Kiel. Many come here to race their boats in the numerous regattas (more about this on our next post!), many more enjoy the beautiful sandy beaches and clear waters. The small towns around the Bay are full of life, summer festivals, excellent food and interesting things to do and see. Buses and ferries run frequently to the city and other villages, and we have a great little dinghy for exploring the surroundings at our own leisure.

The Kiel Bay is full of interesting boats to see! Click the thumbnails to see captions and bigger pictures.

The people are friendly and helpful. We particularly like their cheerful ”Moin, moin!” greeting that reminds us of home – perhaps it was the Hansa tradesmen from around here, who introduced this greeting to the Finnish language. Everything works with the well known German punctuality, be it a boat servicing appointment, a boat parts delivery, or a doctor’s examination. We are in safe and professional hands, as one would expect, but it’s the genuine kindness and warmth we have come across, that has quite taken us by surprise!

So, we are on our journey, and our journey will continue. Soon, but not necessarily on a set, fixed date. We will go south, just like we have planned all along. But we have learned a thing or two about plans lately. It will be hard, particularly for me, as I do so like to make plans – but we have to be ready to chuck them whenever something more interesting or fascinating comes along. 

We won’t make it to the Mediterranean this year, but it no longer matters. Instead of long passages of several days and nights we will make short daily hops and take our time in the places we will stop. No worries, no hurries, no must-do’s or see’s. Just think how many wonderful places we would have sailed past without as much as a passing notion, if we had kept to our original plan? 

Turning that wheel across the Southern Baltic

Turning that wheel across the Southern Baltic

Our boatyard visit in Gdansk was supposed to be a quick two week pit stop on our way far, far south from the Baltic Sea. We ended up staying for five weeks – partly because we kept having new ideas the whole time while observing the work in progress. The end result, a stern arch that accommodates a sizable array of solar panels and quite a lot of other equipment, is a piece of excellent workmanship, so the visit was definitely worth it. Now we should be able to produce all our electricity, without the need of sailing to marinas to plug in. 

Click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures and captions

But we were anxious to leave! So anxious in fact, that we just upped and left – and forgot to clear up and tie down things down below. We had been in the safety of a quiet river and had forgotten all about the big waves in the southern Baltic! What a mess they made inside the boat! But first we made just a short trip to downtown Gdansk, where we planned to do some provisioning the next day. Before the Gdansk Marina there is an opening bridge. We would have had to wait for an hour for the next opening. It proved an impossible mission, particularly as there was a very cosy looking Italian restaurant right in front of the waiting area. We ended up having pizza instead of waiting for the bridge, and made the quayside our own little marina.

We started the next leg of our journey from Gdansk on Wednesday evening, July 11th. It was a downwind sail in a pretty good easterly wind, but the waves were still on the beam because the wind had been blowing from the north for a good while. Poling out the genoa would have helped the awkward situation, but our spinnaker pole lines were in such a bad shape it was out of the question. Our whole running rigging was in such a bad shape, we didn’t want to put unnecessary strain on it. New lines and halyards would be waiting for us in Germany, we just had to get there.

After the first night, as we were sailing west along Poland’s coast, our autopilot died. It had felt rock solid, so it was a real surprise. We were still over a 100 nautical miles from Bornholm, where we had planned to take a little break. After hand steering the whole way we really needed that break! Keeping a steady course is hard enough in daylight, but on a cloudy, moonless night it’s next to impossible. Especially after the wind died and we had to motor, there was no way to tell where the boat was headed, other than staring at the compass.

After a 40 hour sail in gloomy, grey weather with several rainy patches we suddenly saw the island of Bornholm smile at us in bright sunlight. It was a hot day! We made our way into the marina at Rønne, the island’s biggest town. The next day we took a bus to Allinge, a small town on the northwestern corner of the island. Bornholm must be the sweetest place in Denmark, and consequently the whole world, since Denmark must be the world’s sweetest country! We topped up our tanks for beauty, peace and harmony in just a couple of days, but felt like we could have stayed for months – or a lifetime, for that matter.

Allinge’s small harbour was absolutely packed with boats. There was a summer festival at the main square next to the harbour, with live music and a wonderful atmosphere. We had a delicious lunch at one of the several smokeries – “røgeri” – and lazed around admiring the rocky northern coast of the island.

It was time to move on again. Leaving on Sunday, July 15th, we had a good day of sailing before getting caught in a dead calm. The calm lasted all the way to Kiel, but at least the sea was flat which made hand steering easier. And there were plenty of wind farms and shipping lanes to keep the helmsman from falling asleep.

Then we lost all of our navigation instruments: the wind, speed, depth. They had been taking occasional naps before, but now they were as dead as the autopilot. We’ve had such a wide variety of problems with our boat’s systems and equipment, and now yet another one! But what is there to do, but to shrug, smile, and resign to your fate. At least we would soon be in Kiel, where we might be able to find professional help in fixing our systems. And there would be a package full of ropes and batteries there waiting for us – and a brand new dinghy!

The dinghy is here! But how did it get so filthy on our first trip together?
The Malbork Castle and its War Thirsty Knights

The Malbork Castle and its War Thirsty Knights

Navigare necesse est, like they used to say in Rome. But there are other things almost as important to us – like history and architecture, and especially these two combined – that are as much the reason for this journey as the sailing itself.

Three and a half weeks into our two week boatyard stopover, and several days of freezing in a northerly gale we were quite ready for a little change of scenery. So we took a bus to the Gdansk railway station, boarded a train and travelled about 50 km to the southeast. There in the middle of lush fields and pretty country villages stands a magnificent medieval castle by the name of Malbork.

Click the thumbnails to see bigger pictures.

Malbork, originally called Marienburg, is the world’s largest brick castle. Series of defensive walls and moats surround the Outer Bailey, the Middle Castle, and the High Castle, complete with the Grand Master’s Palace and the Church of the Virgin Mary. The numerous yards used to be filled with auxiliary buildings such as workshops, mills, armories, larders and cellars necessary to maintain a large army of knights and monks.

The castle was built by the Teutonic Order, formed in 1190 to aid Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land. Its original services included security and health care, but the Muslim invasion of Palestine made things a bit tricky and sent the knights north in search of new employment. After a couple of detours they found it on the shores of the Baltic Sea, that were inhabited by ancient folks called Old Prussians. Here the humble charity work gave way to a more boisterous occupation of converting pagans with swords and bayonets.

Grand Masters of the Teutonic Order

The brotherhood had notable friends, such as the Holy Roman Emperor, under who’s protection it quickly grew into an independent monastic state that spanned from today’s Poland to the northern reaches of Estonia. The knights monopolised the trade of amber and carried taxes from people and commerce. Their success in battle was based on the latest know-how in fortification technology and on their heavy cavalry. The Malbork Castle was one of over 120 castles from which the knights ruled their land. The building works started in the 1270’s. In 1309 the Grand Master’s seat was moved to Malbork from Venice and the castle had to embody this remarkable status.

The knight’s profession provided a decent career path to the younger sons of noble families, who had no inheritance to look forward to. They took the oath of obedience, chastity, and poverty. But they didn’t have to give up all the pleasures, for big tournaments were held within the castle walls, and the fine vaulted ceilings could undoubtedly tell a story or two of feasts with no lack of food, beer or wine. On a normal day at the office these knights were busy with projects like ”the Slaughter of Gdansk”, which left the whole town levelled, buildings and people and all. After a couple of hundred years, the ancient Prussian language and culture had vanished without a trace.

In 1410 the Teutonic Order lost the battle of Grunwald to the Polish King Wladislaw II Jagiello and his cousin, the Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuania. The Malbork castle could withstand a long siege with no trouble, but the knights’ payroll was delayed. For compensation, they sold the castle to the Kingdom of Poland, and in 1466 it became one of the royal residences. In 1772 Poland was divided into three parts, and the majestic Malbork castle was turned into barracks for the army of the Prussian kingdom. The soldiers had no interest in gothic architecture, and used the great halls for equestrian training among other things.

At the beginning of the 19th century – lucky for us today’s tourists – historical monuments became fashionable. Restoration works were started to preserve what was left of Malbork, and during the next 100 years the castle was painstakingly brought back to it’s former glory. Then the Second World War happened, and in 1945 more than half the castle was destroyed in a battle – back to square one! Fortunately, the drawings and documents from the previous restoration survived, which helped the work that is still ongoing. The Malbork Castle became a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1997.

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First Impressions of the New Cruising Life – and Gdansk!

First Impressions of the New Cruising Life – and Gdansk!

After a strenuous spring filled with boat projects, emptying yet another land based home, getting stuff for the boat and getting rid of land life stuff while working to save every last penny for our cruising kitty we were finally ready to cast off! No, the boat was not perfectly polished and squeaky clean, but it was ready to sail.

The stars didn’t seem all that well aligned for the start of our journey. Firstly, we began our great adventure on a Friday, which, according to some superstitious beliefs, is always bad luck. Secondly, we were on a schedule, and anyone who knows anything about sailing would agree that schedules and sailing just don’t mix. But a good friend of ours would join the crew for the first leg to Gdansk, Poland, and he wanted to to get back home before the end of his holiday. Thirdly, and this was the biggest factor of all, was that we hadn’t had a chance to really test sail our boat before embarking on this multi-day journey. We had done a short weekend trip in very light winds, which hardly counts as a proper sea trial, let alone a real shakedown cruise. We had docked and undocked the boat a few times, so we had some idea of how she behaved under power, but not under sail. But the engine seemed to work, the rig looked fine on a closer inspection aloft, and the navigation and other crucial electronics seemed to work reliably.

So we untied the docklines, and off we went! It was Friday the 1st of June, almost midnight, as we left the city lights of Helsinki behind and headed out to sea, bound southwest. The following afternoon we stopped briefly in Hanko, where we filled our tanks yet again, and did some calculations on fuel consumption – which surprised us, and for once it was a positive surprise!

Sunrise near Gotland island, Sweden

As we continued southwest towards the island of Gotland in Sweden the wind kept increasing steadily, and so did the waves. The wind veered from southwest to northwest, leaving the seas a bit confused and very choppy. Gourmet meals onboard our boat were replaced by simple food, and the V-birth in our forecabin was no longer habitable. The off-watch would try to find a stable place to sleep behind a lee cloth in the salon, or in the lowest part of the large aft cabin bed, while the boat was tossed up and down by the waves.

Cosy, safe nest in the aft cabin

We were on the east side of Gotland after sailing some two and a half days, as our visiting crew member spotted our life raft container bouncing in the water behind the boat. The rack had been bent by some wave, and it had just given up. So we had a very lifelike MOB practice, trying to retrieve the raft. Luckily there were no lives at risk, but the stakes were still pretty high, as it was a brand new life raft! The sails came down quickly and we headed for the rescue. After a couple of near misses we finally managed to catch the raft by its handle, but it took more than an hour of wrestling and struggling to get the heavy thing out of the water. We swung the mainsail boom out with block and tackle to help hoist the heavy beast, and squeezed every drop of sweat we had in our already tired bodies, as the boat rocked up and down, but eventually we made it. Success!

After the MOB episode the wind shifted to the east, then northeast, and gradually the waves started to build up from behind. The rest of the trip we had big waves, bigger waves, and huge waves from the port quarter, as we were making our way south towards Gdansk. It was very uncomfortable! The waves surged underneath the hull, and every now and then a group of steep waves would send the boat sideways down the hill, making everything inside clash and rattle. Most things stayed in their places, but the noise was terrible as everything was moving back and forth in the lockers and cabinets. But our boat just kept sailing at her own pace, she felt reliable and seaworthy, and none of us had anything to fear. Our confidence in the boat kept growing by the day.

Offshore gas pumping station outside Gdansk

The waves followed us the rest of our journey. It wasn’t until we passed the Hel peninsula that shelters the Bay of Gdansk, that the seas calmed down, and with the first light of the morning on Wednesday, June the 6th, we entered the bay. A couple of hours later, at 6 am, we made landfall at the mouth of the river Wisla, some 5 nautical miles east of downtown Gdansk. As soon as we had the boat tied up we walked past the yacht club into a neighbouring hotel, where they just happened to be serving a nice buffet breakfast. It felt like such a luxury after 4 and a half days out at sea in those rough conditions!

After breakfast and a shower we were feeling much more humanlike again, and it was time to indulge in the city atmosphere and spend some well-earned free time with the whole crew, before one of us would fly home the next morning. Thank you so much, Antti, for everything! We had a great crew that worked well together, and it was absolutely the right decision to have an extra pair of hands, particularly with a new (to us) boat, very little routine, and fairly challenging weather for a first passage.

Old city of Gdansk, Poland

We will be staying in Gdansk for a couple of weeks – for as long as it takes to get our planned projects finished. We are staying at a small boatyard by the river Wisla, with a pleasant view from our ”back porch”, and the city life just a short bus ride away. It’s a good place to rest, to sleep away the exhausting boat projects, moves, busy working life, losing our precious furry crewmate… And to take first steps into this new life of ours, with all its freedom and joy, but also the many challenges.

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