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.

Follow our journey on our Facebook and Instagram pages – they may be more up to date!

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.

You can follow our journey on our Facebook and Instagram pages – they might be more up to date!

Anchors aweigh!

Anchors aweigh!

Last minute jobs included a rigging check. My first time up the mast and it wasn’t scary at all. What a view!

If you’re reading this, it means we have untied the lines and are somewhere out at sea! Heading towards the southern horizon, I hope, and next time you will hear from us when we find land again.

Are we ready? No! It would easily take another year to prepare – but it’s time to leave. We are ready enough for the first leg!

Follow our journey on Facebook and Instagram – they might be more up to date!

Bittersweet times

Bittersweet times

A couple of days into May it was time to launch our boat, Aina. The time came sooner than we had really hoped for, as we were neck deep in boat projects. But the big crane had only been booked for one day, and the costs could be shared by several boats, so we had to be ready. We had the boat survey done, keel cooler units installed on the bottom, two layers of new antifouling applied and all the zincs replaced. Right on time!

Our boat looked huge as it flew over the boat yard and landed in the Baltic Sea. No water was oozing in, so the crane men eased the slings and we were officially afloat. But the projects didn’t end there – they have been ongoing ever since, and there’s still a lot to do. Some of the projects were actually planned, but it seems that new ones just keep appearing. We’re afraid to touch anything, as it feels like everything we touch just crumbles in our hands.

Neglect is a powerful enemy. Many parts and systems on a boat have a certain lifetime, and you have to keep fixing and changing them in order to keep the boat in ship shape. Sadly, it appears a lot of the things that broke on our boat were just left as they were, and if anyone really used the boat at all, maybe they did it with gradually diminishing comfort.

But the boat is going to be our permanent home. We can’t afford to live with rusted gas burners and shot through propane hoses. Shiny new galley stove is being installed while we still have some form of income. We might have to live with a blocked toilet, at least for a while, until we have time to fix it in some exotic anchorage. Because, hear this! – we have two toilets! I will never, ever again consider two toilets on a sailboat a vanity!

I really hope we don’t have to live without pressurized water. We’ll have to block some of the system because of broken water pipes, but not in the galley, if we’re lucky. Our boat has inch parts but we’re in a metric country, so no parts to be found here, and too late to order them from the other side of the Atlantic. It seems the boat is due a very thorough plumbing job, a little later. That’s fine – anything to keep us from getting idle – but now we really need to get going!

The summer is paying an early visit to Finland. We’ve had record high temperatures after a fairly cold spring. Not that we’ve had many chances to enjoy it. I have spent many days with the upper half of my body inside a cool box, adding insulation and preparing for the evaporator installation. Because our boat has large, American style cooler boxes, we chose an energy efficient keel cooling system for our fridge and freezer. I will write more about it as soon as we have some user experience.

In the evenings we’ve grabbed the opportunity to enjoy the summertime and our new life by the water. It’s not bad at all to watch the sunset while having a barbeque by the breakwater, and it’s so refreshing to sleep with the cool sea breeze and the gentle sounds of the water.

But one of us sailed with the first summer breeze…

One of our crew, our soulmate and companion, did not have time to wait for our sailing journey to begin. He already embarked on his own adventure. He lived a full life, the whole long life of a dog. In human years it just happened so fast! Glimpses of joy are still few and far between for us, but I know we will get better. Why? Because we were so lucky to have such an amazing, wise and humorous creature as part of our family and our lives. When the time came, it was his human’s duty and honour to send him safely on his way.

He would have loved our sailing journey, though. Not the sailing itself so much – it was tolerable, but what was the point? The exciting smells in the air, now that was a whole other story! The different islands with people and other dogs on them, your own deck for watchkeeping – and the best of all: that cosy little cabin where you could curl up at night, the whole pack happily together. Pure bliss!

Boat Projects Start Again – with Another Big Bang!

Boat Projects Start Again – with Another Big Bang!

I have read Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time. I know the universe started with a Big Bang, and as soon as it’ll be done expanding it’ll shrink again, and another Big Bang will follow. The same theory seems to apply to boat projects. Last year it wreaked havoc on our little boat, and we had to sweat for days and weeks on end to get everything back together. But in the end we had a much better boat than we started with. I’m really hoping that this spring we can pull it off again – on our new boat! During the Easter holidays we finally had time, and tolerable weather – it’s a rare thing for the two to happen at the same time during the Finnish spring – to delve into the boat matters and to take a better look at our projects.

At least the first part went exactly according to the theory: we produced a massive Big Bang inside the boat. The plan was to empty all the lockers, drawers, cabinets, shelves, bilges, lazarettes, and all other storage spaces there might be, and start cleaning up the boat. We didn’t get nearly as much done as I had hoped. We kept running into mysteries the whole time – a lot of tools and items neither of us could identify, or hoses and wires that didn’t seem to be going anywhere obvious. And we spotted a lot of places that had not weathered the winter so well. There are leaky portholes and hatches, buckled veneer, ice in the bilge, and mold inside a few lockers. Suddenly I felt really depressed – this was not supposed to be a project boat, at least not a huge project boat, and we are supposed to be ready to launch in exactly one month! And ready to leave this country in two months!

What a mess we made of our boat!

After we had filled five big waste bags with miscellaneous things and there was room to move around the boat again, I started to feel a little bit better. The sun lit up the space and made the mahogany glow in a really pretty shade of golden brown. It’s a spacious boat, after all! And it has standing headroom! When we got home that evening I dug up our list of hopes and wishes for our boat and went through it again. I used these symbols to mark every point we had made like this:
✅ Alright!
🔲 Not quite sure yet 
❌ On our list of boat projects

This is what the first part of the list looks like:

Our boat is…
✅ safe
✅ seaworthy
✅ well sailing
✅ solid hull, no core
✅ long fin keel
✅ skeg hung rudder
✅ keel stepped mast
✅ cutter rig 

Wow! Looks really good so far – every box ticked! And the list goes on:

Our boat has…
✅ enough space for two people for permanent, comfortable living
✅ a good sleeping cabin with a proper sized double bed
✅ 1-2 good sea berths and lee cloths for other bunks
✅ good galley with 
     ❌ fridge 
     ❌ freezer
✅ toilet with a shower
✅ spacious saloon with a good size dining table
✅ good ventilation
✅ good heater
✅ lots of hand holds and a well designed seagoing interior
✅ good, separate navigation table
✅ room for 2-4 guest
✅ an aft sleeping cabin 
✅ two separate sleeping cabins
✅ decent tankage for fuel and water
🔲 lots of storage on deck for lines, fenders, gas bottles, dinghy etc.
🔲 lots of storage for food!
🔲 lots of storage for large items

Still pretty good! Just two things absent that we find essential. Well, more specifically the first one is essential, the second a luxury. They will be installed before departure. The last three points will be determined once we start loading up the boat with food and cruising gear, but I’m already guessing the words “lots of” will have to be crossed out.

Moving on to the equipment list we start seeing more crosses… besides, we haven’t tested any of the equipment in action. I’m generally an optimist, but the realist in me says I may have to prepare for some disappointments – although the boat has been very lightly used for several years, time and particularly the long, cold, humid winters also eat away at equipment. Then again, it could be working just fine. All of the equipment on our boat was top of the line when new. 

It is equipped with…
❌ general safety equipment
❌ life raft
🔲 good ground tackle
✅ storm equipment such as storm sails, drogues etc
✅ windvane
✅ good autopilot
✅ radar
❌ plotter
✅ vhf radio
✅ ssb radio and (or) sat phone
❌ solar panels for self-sufficiency
✅ other ways to produce electricity (wind turbine)
❌ water maker
✅ good sails, also a cruising chute or similar
🔲 a good sprayhood
❌ bimini
❌ hard bottom hypalon dinghy

We are in the process of replacing the life raft. We found a reasonable deal at a boat show in February, and the new raft should be arriving any day now. While at the boat show we suddenly felt like throwing money around and also ordered a new dinghy to replace the flat lump that occupies our boat’s foredeck and doesn’t look like a very long term solution. We hope to stay out of marinas, so a good dinghy is really a must. On our way south we will make a pit stop at Gdansk, Poland, to have a stern arch for solar panels custom made for us. Watermaker will be a thing of the more distant future, as well as perhaps a new sprayhood and bimini.

Oh, the Big Anchor Question! It has been solved – here’s our new Rocna.

One big choice concerning navigation electronics still remains. Plotter or no plotter? There are a couple of different camps here with good arguments for and against. I think the whole topic of navigation – with all the associated equipment – deserves its own post, if not several. Stay tuned!

This is how the sea in front of our boat looked like during Easter – no sailing yet! But in the distance the water is free from ice and you can see boats there!

If you have tips, tricks and suggestions about equipping a cruising boat, or just want to say Hello, you can do it here!