Summer holidays 2014

How we spent our summer vacation or: where in the world are we?

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As some of you know, I have a penchant for writing, especially about our sailing adventures. This little story is no different, detailing, as it will, our (mis)adventures at sea.

You, dear reader, can choose to take these vignettes with a grain of salt, or disbelief, or accept them as the gospel truth (which they naturally are).

Our summer sailing plans were to sail to non-stop to Finland, then spend the next 3 weeks exploring the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania before sailing back across the Baltic to Denmark. Non-sailors should know that the prevailing winds in the Baltic are from the southwest – perfect for sailing towards Finland. Copenhagen to Helsinki is just around 500 nautical miles, so a non-stop sail of 4 days (or so).  When planning the trip, Vinni and I had agreed that we would not, under any circumstances, sail to Finland if the prevailing winds were from the east or north, which would mean we would have to tack the entire distance.

Known, as we are, for having the strength of our convictions, when the day finally dawned and we were ready to go, what did the weather report say? The entire next week the winds would be continuously from the east, meaning we would tack the whole way (sigh).

Still we decided that we would do it, the winds were supposed to be mild, only 10 knots or so (15 mph to any landlubbers reading this). I mean – how bad could it be? (we found out LOL).

Like a racehorse breaking from the gate, we charged out into the Baltic from Falsterbo Canal, right into 20-knot winds right in our faces.  Hmmm – our first leg meant we were sailing towards Poland, which is south, not east. Some quick checking on the charts and we decided that we needed to remain on this tack for about 3 hours, then go about and we should just clear the end of the southern tip of Sweden late that evening. 4 hours later, we tacked and as soon as we did, the wind died. How about that? No wind at all. Sheeeit!  Well, time to start the engine, and away we went. Later, towards evening, the winds came back, this time with a vengeance, and right smack in our faces. Back to tacking. And more tacking. And even more tacking.

One of the interesting things about sailing with only two persons is that in reality, you’re single-handing the boat. Because the other person is always either sleeping (most of the time) or perhaps making something to eat (part of the time), or fixing things that have broken (sometimes a lot, sometimes only a little). They are rarely in the cockpit, just sitting and talking or keeping you company. We were using a modified “Swedish watch plan”, meaning a 5 hour watch from 7 to midnight, then midnight to 4 and 4 to 8, thereafter 8 to 1 in the afternoon and finally 1 to 7 in the evening. This system means that the “dog watch”, midnight to 4, changes each night and both persons get at least a 5 hour continuous sleep each day.

Vinni had volunteered for the first dogwatch, so I cheerfully jumped into the seabed and promptly starting snoring away. We had the 1st reef in our mainsail, because the winds are getting stronger. Promptly at 4 a.m. (very promptly damn her), Vinni woke me, announcing it was time for my turn at the helm.

Baah – I was right in the middle of a great dream (something about white sand beaches, girls in grass skirts – well you get the picture). But the sun was up (one of the beauties of living this far north), everything was right with the boat, and the coffee was hot and good. Vinni immediately started snoring and there I was alone with the boat. We were out of sight of land, and as far as the eye could see, only water in every direction.  God damn – it was beautiful.

The day passed with tacking every few hours and with the winds increasing in strength, now we were seeing 25 knots steady and 30+ knots in the gusts. At evening, we decided to take in the second reef in the mainsail and the genua. For any landlubbers still reading, double reefed sails, means really strong winds. By reefing, the boat was heeling a lot less. Unfortunately, as the winds increased, the waves got bigger and bigger. Since we were beating up against the winds as close-hauled as we would get, we were taking an awful pounding from the waves. Still we were making an average of 7 knots, which is quite good.

Vinni had the first evening watch, at midnight, when I relieved her, she said, same course, still double reefed, no changed. When she relieved me at 4 a.m., I said, “same course, still double reefed, no change”. I expect you can guess what she noted when I relieved her at 8 a.m. – yep still same course, still double reefed.

At this point, we were sailing along the western side of the Swedish island of Gotland. Once we turned the northern corner, there would be no possibility for bail-out for at least another 24 hours. Worse, the waves were certain to get even larger once we got out from the cover of Gotland (the waves were now averaging 2 meters, with quite a few over 3 meters).

At 10 a.m. I woke vinni. We’d been on the starboard tack, double reefed for 18 hours and getting a pounding from the waves, which were just getting bigger and bigger. Turning the corner towards Finland would mean another 48 hours of the same thing, double reefed, although now on the port tack. Great. We discussed the situation and decided, hell this is a vacation, not an endurance contest and we turned the boat towards the port of Visby, 10 nm away on Gotland.

Christ, do you have any idea how good a beer tastes after 2 ½ days of being pounded at sea? It tastes mighty good. Mighty good indeed. The second one, for your information, tasted just as good.

Dear readers – I have to admit, we didn’t make it to Finland, nor to the Baltic countries. The winds continued from the east and were extremely strong, so after 3 days in Visby, we checked the weather, saw that a storm was coming and sailed westward to the Swedish archipelagos. It was a tough crossing, with winds over 30 knots, 3+ meter waves and rain a good part of the time. For something new and different, the wind was blowing right up our ass, so we had to tack (more tacking) As vinni noted, “are we having fun yet?”

The crossing was almost 70 nautical miles and took us only 10 hours (averaging 7 knots is very fast indeed).

This first part is being written in Vastervik harbor. Outside it is blowing a storm and I’m getting ready to make lunch. The second part I’ll write as we either lay at anchor between the rocks or are tied up on some rocks in splendid isolation.

The weather report says little to no wind and sunshine from a clear sky the entire next week – who says sailing isn’t fun?

Part two

So we left Vastervik and spent the night at anchor in a small cove behind Spårø. Our first night at anchor in Capri and Vinni was nervous as hell. She claimed she didn’t sleep a wink. I wonder who the blond haired woman snoring up a storm beside me was? Maybe I should have woken her and introduced myself?  Something like, “Hi – thanks for sharing my bed, my name is carsten and I have the pleasure of nuzzling up to????” Early morning (sun comes up at 2 a.m. – but we didn’t) and time for a bath. So like the swedes – jump off the back end of the boat, lather up in salt water shampoo, jump back into the water again and you are squeaky clean.

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JESUS CHRIST ALMIGHTY GOD DAMN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now I know how the Swedish control their population – the water was COLD. Not just cold – but stinking freezing god damn cold. The little appendage that lives between my legs promptly sought refuge somewhere up inside of my body. It’s been two days and the little fella still refuses to come out. God damn. Even Vinni screamed like a young girl.

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The sun warmed us and I warmed some breakfast rolls while Vinni got dressed and started getting the boat ready. Breakfast in the cockpit while at anchor is a peaceful experience, Only the birds and wind make any sounds.

Some of you think that sailing here in the islands means long distances – it’s not. We actually were only going about 2-3 miles as the crow flies (do crows fly in a straight line?), but the Swedish skærgaard (islands) is a labyrinth. So we actually sailed about 8 nautical miles to get the 2-3 miles we needed to go. Here we are at Idø, a big rock with a small harbor and a restaurant. We grilled a rack of lamb last night, with new potatoes, and béarnaise sauce and chased it down with a bottle of really good red wine(ok – two bottles of really good wine) It’s a tough life, friends – but someone has to live it. Aren’t you happy you have a friend like me to shoulder these dreadful burdens for you?

Tonight and the next few nights, we’ll be at anchor or tied to a rock somewhere. I’ll write more when I have time.

It’s been a couple of days since I wrote the above.  Lots of excitement. We were easing into a small cove to spend the night at anchor when BANG! The boat stopped dead in the water. We, or should I say Vinni since she was the helms(wo)man, had hit a rock. Big time. I jumped down and checked the bilge and the keel. Fortunately, we were not taking any water in. The only thing that was wounded was Vinni’s pride, which, as you can imagine, was extremely wounded. It will be interesting when we take the boat out of the water next year to see how big a gash there is in the keel.

We decided to take a round-about way into the cove and spent the next couple of hours trying to get the anchor to hold. With no damn luck. I sort of pride myself on being somewhat of a Danish guru when it comes to anchoring, but no god damn way could I get that thing to hold. Five tries and I finally gave up. So we sailed again, this time to a small harbour called Blankaholme. It was a long sail (about an hour) in through a snaking fjord, between small islands and jutting rocks. Unbelievably beautiful. The harbor wasn’t much, but the view sure as hell can’t be beat.

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Next morning we were treated to sailing back out the fjord – and no the fjord had not gotten less beautiful because it had aged a day.

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We left the skærgaard and sailed out to the island of Øland, a 70nm odd long island off the Swedish east coast. A swede we had met told us that the harbor of Byxelkrok was nice but frequently over-crowded in summer months. Over-crowded? Well, the harbourmaster bicycled around, blowing his whistle and directing boats to their berths with an impressive military precision, filling the harbor completely, completely meaning you could almost walk from one side of the harbor to the other across the boats.

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Byxelkroke is a nice harbor, with a small fresh fish shop. We rented bicycles and rode around the northern part of the island.

So far we have had gorgeous weather, lots of sunshine, only rain one day and stinking hot, really really hot. Superb. But we have turned the corner on our vacation. We have two weeks left and now we are sailing towards Copenhagen, not away from it. Always a sad day when you turn the bows toward home.

Tomorrow, we’ll try to land on the island of Blå Jungfrun, which means the Blue Virgin. Local wags say it is a refuge for Swedish virgins. No one lives there, which, as the wags will tell you, says something about the number of virgins in Sweden. Local lore also has it that it is a refuge for witches, and the devil comes up from the underground once a year to meet them. Another version is that the island is home to all the mermaids in the Baltic.

Take your choice – virgins, mermaids or witches –something for everyone’s taste.

Right now, I’m getting ready to light our grill, and grill up the sea bream we purchased at the local fish market. Yummy, with corn on the cob, champagne and a tomato salad. Just the thing for hot summer days. Good thing we’re drinking this champagne – otherwise it might go bad. It’s a policy I have about champagne – better drink it or it will turn bad. And my policy works. I’ve never had a bad bottle of champagne!

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We skipped on stopping on the Blå Jungfrun since the winds were too strong to land (no harbor there, just jump onto the rocks and tie up) and sailed onto Kalmar. Kalmar, from a Danish point of view is very interesting since it was here that the Kalmar Union was formed. Back in 1327 Queen Margaret the 1st  of Denmark, forced a union between Denmark, Sweden and Norway placing her grandnephew on the combined throne of all three countries. This is the reason the Danish royal coat of arms contains 3 crowns. The Union only lasted about 120 years, dissolved by the Swedes (nasty lot those swedes).

We spent a day, walking around the charming city and visiting the castle. One of the exhibitions at the castle was about how criminals and dissidents were treated as prisoners. It detailed what drawn and quartered means, and “clad in iron to work for bread”. Not to mention some of the punishments for women, buried alive (seemingly a favorite) or being thrown into the sea with heavy weights tied to you. If the woman drowned, she was innocent and not a witch, but if she did not drown, then obviously she was a witch and could subsequently be burned at the stake (nasty lot those swedes).

Yes, those folks really knew how to have a good time.

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Next we stopped at Kristianopel, a large fortification built by the Danish King Christian the 4th, later stormed and put to the torch by the swedes (nasty lot those swedes). All that is left today is the fortification wall and a moat.  And a very nice little harbor. Unfortunately, a harbor that is difficult to get in and out of as our neighboring boat found out when he tried to leave. It took our combined efforts to get him out without smashing our boat. He did manage to break our flagpole, so I have to buy a new one.

On to Karlskrona, a vast fortification built on a number of islands. Admiral Lord Nelson apparently once visited it and proclaimed that it was impregnable. Massive castles and forts guard the few channels into the bay. Nice town, but a terrible restaurant with bad service and worse food.

So far we’ve really only seen sunshine and temperatures around 80 degree F. For 2 ½ weeks now. This is, shall we say, more than a little unusual for Scandinavia. We’re sailing back into the island archipelago, so we’ll spend the next couple of nights at anchor in whatever small cove or bay we can find.

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And we found some beautiful spots. The anchor bit first time and Vinni bathed off the back end of the boat (I stood guard in case any sharks came by and since I’m a manly man, I showered in hot water using our deck shower (my mama didn’t raise me to freeze to death bathing in cold ocean water – no siree).

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I had read that it was possible to stay in a private harbor owned by a sailing club if you called ahead and got agreement. So I called. Sure we could come – no problem. And found a wonderful harbor. The harbor master came out on the dock to greet us, discussed how we wanted the boat to lie (sunshine in the cockpit and sheltered from the wind), pointed out a berth, took the lines and made us welcome. He explained where all the facilities were, showers, toilets, sauna, washing machines and dryers etc. etc. etc. and told us to make ourselves at home. I grabbed my wallet and wanted to pay, but he said he’d come along later that evening.

Later he did come along and apologetically charged us the equivalent of 15 US for the night, all inclusive.  My mouth just dropped open. Unbelievably cheap and wonderful facilities, clean showers, and toilets everything top rate. The members all greeted us nicely and asked if we liked their harbor.

What’s not to like?

Our holiday is drawing to a close. Hanø a small island off the coast is next. Hanø is known for having the most visible lighthouse in the Baltic and having the mark of a dragon on a cliff. Also pirates used to live in caves there. Nice place – only 30 people live there full time, but it is invaded in the summer by tourists (including us). The ice cream was good.

Two more nights before we get home, the first at Ystad, a larger city. I put on long pants for the first time in three weeks. Long pants only because we went out to dinner and we wanted to look nice. Good dinner on the terrace looking out over the ocean.

Finally, we stopped at Falsterbo Canal harbor. Here again I practiced my policy of drinking champagne as soon as possible before it goes bad. We’d had a really rough sail with the winds right in our faces, 25 knots and 2-3 meter waves right against us, so we deserved some comforting. We were both so tired that we hit the sack by 9:00 p.m LOL – so much for romance after a bottle of champagne.

Mother Nature finally smiled on us. After 4 weeks of having the wind either right in our faces or blowing right up our butts, we had perfect winds coming just aft of the side. So up went our gennaker and we sped right along all 30 nautical miles to Copenhagen doing 8-9 knots. What a finish!

4 weeks of sunshine, great sailing (we did 800 nautical miles) and what the hell more can you ask for?

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