A trip across the Baltic and the North Sea

Last week an American I know who keeps his boat in the UK, asked me if I wanted to help sail it from Karlskrona in Sweden back to the UK.  Well, such an offer was not to be scoffed at, and when I asked, my lord and master (Vinni) gave her gracious permission, letting me go for a couple of weeks, even though it meant I would be gone on both our wedding anniversary and her birthday. (yes, yes I know I’m lucky – few other men have wives that would say “OK” to this – but then I’m a great guy, handsome, witty, man of the  world and, and, and  where else is she going to find such a unique specimen of masculinity and – wait a sec…. where was I?

oh  yeah, Vinni said ok, so I grabbed a train to Karlskrona, and got on board a 54 foot Moody and away we went, Cameron, a Finnish guy named Rauli and Cameron’s Russian girlfriend Julia, who speaks no english (Cameron is completely fluent in russian and also in german).

impromptu

Impromptu

Anyway, after sailing all night in heavy weather (and I do mean heavy, with winds of 30+ mph) right in our noses we were close to Bornholm. When there is heavy wind from the southwest (as there was) and the current is from the east, a phenomena known as the Hammer Sea, occurs. I think the name says it all.

We got hammered.

The sea and the wind kept increasing.

 impromtu gennem bølger

 Impromptu pounding through the ever-increasing waves

Finally our foresail spilt from top to bottom and it was more than entertaining getting control of the remnants up on deck, while being tossed around by the waves, the deck awash in seawater (are we having fun yet?)

We did gain control, but had to run for a harbour on Bornholm to pull down what was left of the sail.

We soldiered on, and as the winds continued to increase, decided to make harbour on the German island of Rugen – and the town of Sassnitz, where we are as I write this.

Our problem is that the hurricane Bertha, that ravaged the east coast of the US, has traveled north of Iceland and is now upon us here in the Baltic.  The next two days we are expected to see winds in excess of 50 knots (60 mph) so we’ll wait this out.  The weather forecast notes that Thursday, conditions will let up somewhat.

Cameron has to leave to go to a meeting in London, so he has asked if I am willing to skipper his boat from here to Kiel where he will join us again.

The man is completely mad, of course, giving me command of his 54 footer. But, Rauli is willing and Julia, his girlfriend who speaks no English and is not a sailor, seems comfortable with it.

As I said – Cameron must be completely mad.

Today I have seen two sailboats come in with sails split from top to bottom – happy that we are here snug as a bug in a rug, and tied down to the wharf with lots of lines.

split sejl 1 

 

We’re not the only ones who split sails on the wind

This boat split its sail right outside the harbor, while I was watching it

split sejl 2

This one split his rolling mainsail. The curving line you see is his leech, the rest of the sail is in his mast

I am taking pictures and will keep all of you up to date.

Isn’t life just grand?

Chapter 2

This morning we were treated to two black clad, men packing pistols boarding the boat. This was the German border police, wanting to see our passports. They were extremely polite and spent about ten minutes noting who was on board and complimenting Cameron on his perfect German (he is completely fluent – which is more than I can say I am).

While we lie here, waiting for the storm to pass, Rauli (our Finnish crewman) and I went into Sassnitz town proper and now we know that:

1- The local population does not wear lederhosen and Tyrolean hats

2- They do not yodel in public

3- They are generally VERY fat

4- Despite visiting both supermarkets here in town, it is not possible to find jalapeno peppers, which means we cannot have guacamole tonight with our G&T’s (the arrival of happy hour is eagerly awaited every evening).

5- Sassnitz downtown is about the size of Clinton downtown (and just about as exciting).

6- Peter’s bakery has at least five locations in the downtown area all filled to brim with every type of whipped cream cake imaginable (which may be an indication of why the local population is, shall we say XXXXXL?)

7- The locals are extremely polite (as only Germans can be)

8- Non-German credit cards are accepted nowhere (did someone say we are in the

EU?)

Last night was movie night – we watched Master and Commander (with Russian subtitles), snacked and drank wine.

The weather will clear Thursday.  Cameron is leaving for London tomorrow and the boat (with a new skipper – me) will sail Thursday early morning. We’ll make it a two-day sail, since I’m not completely comfortable with making a 36 hour run with only two who can sail on board – especially in a boat this size and one that is new to me.

I shall endeavor to write the next episode of this monumental series Thursday evening if we get into harbour at a reasonable hour – otherwise you will have to wait, on the edge of your seats, to learn if we made it alive……………….

Chapter 3

Ok – so the completely mad American, Cameron, leaves us after having asked me (a man he only knows from the internet) to take his $500,000 sailboat, his Russian girlfriend and a Finnish crewman and sail it from Sassnitz, Germany to Kiel.

Obviously, Cameron has more than one screw loose

Anyway, early this morning, 6 am for those who care about such things, we loosed our lines and set off.  Actually it wasn’t bad the first hour or two.  Colder than a (hmmm, typically a descriptive term like whore’s tit or a shithouse in February  or similar is used)  let’s just say that here in august, I was wearing a woolen cap, long sleeve rugby shirt, sweater, fleece, and full sailing bib and jacket and I was still cold. (Of course I’m getting old).

The wind was with us until we made the turn around the northern tip of the island, then it came at us from directly west (the direction we wanted to go in naturally) and picked up. And picked up.  And picked up.  Did I mention that the wind picked up?  If I didn’t – it did. So did the waves. 1 meter. 2 meters. 3 meters. Some, I swear were 4 meters. Oh dear oh dear.

I shan’t bother you with the gory details, suffice to say we fought the good fight, sailing as close hauled as we could, a few hours later we got called on the VHF by a huge ship with a derrick on it

“Guys this is a restricted zone, since we are building windmills – please change course by 30 degrees.”  Yeah right – just change course, considering we are a tight on the wind as it is possible to get.

So we tacked dear friends – which means we ended up sailing back the way we came (oh joy, oh joy).  Then an hour later, we tacked again and started our way back northward (of course, we were sailing north – since we wanted to go west).

We kept this up for quite a few more hours before packing in our plan of sailing to Gedser Harbour. Instead we went to Klintholm (I know you are all knowledgeable about Danish geography LOL).

Now, unfortunately Klintholm was completely full. So we were reduced to looking for a boat we could tie up on the side of. A fellow in a beautiful blue 45 foot racer looked us over and yelled we could tie up on him (I’m sure he thought – hell this guy is sailing a 54 foot monster. He is gonna be great at docking this thing (hah – the laugh was on him).

I shit little green pigs during the entire maneuver.  But, believe it or not, I did manage to lay the boat right alongside his (in very heavy wind) without hitting him or anything else.

I am right now, drinking a well-deserved beer and trying to decide if Cameron is so Machiavellian that he’s hoping I sink the bloody yacht, so he can claim the insurance or if he is just totally mad.

More tomorrow, dinner is on the table

Chapter 4

Well – the weather forecast keeps telling us tomorrow is going to get better.  I woke at 5 am, so we could get an early start. No need to get out of bed to see what the weather was like.

The wind was whistling through the rigging like a banshee.  The only real question was:  “Is it over gale force or under gale force?”

Fuck me.

I must admit I’m getting a little weary of battling hurricane Bertha.  Again today. More fucking wind, meaning waves coming out the kazoo , meaning water running all over the deck constantly, meaning damn dangerous to go on deck, meaning – bend over, put your head between your legs (enjoy the view) now pucker up and kiss your ass good-bye.

Therefore, that’s what we did. Left at 6:30 after a good breakfast and got slammed right outside the harbor opening. And it just didn’t let up the whole day.  We managed 30 nautical miles today, tacking back and forth, back and forth.

The good news is that we are in Gedser.

The bad news is that Gedser is a hole in the fucking earth.

The worse news is that this time, the weather report is telling us it is going to get worse the next couple of days, not better.

Just what did we do to deserve this?

The sun was shining and there was a nice spot when we came into harbor, but I had a horrible time landing this gigantic bohemian. Finally got it in, without hitting anything or scratching anything (haven’t got a clue how that happened LOL).

Any way – Happy hour is 1 hour early tonight as a tribute to the brave sailors on board.

More tomorrow – assuming we survive.

Chapter 5

Ah yes – chapter five.

Well, obviously we did survive. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing this and you, dear reader, would be out shopping for dark clothes and a wreath.

Cameron came on the early morning ferry, where I met him.  Gedser may be a hole in the earth but they’ve managed to arrange things so any passengers walking off the ferry have to pass through town and right by the only store in town (community officials and local capitalists at work).

Not only had I been looking intensely at the weather forecast – so had Cameron.  We decided that with Sunday showing winds of 35-40 knots (50+mph to landlubbers), and Saturday looking almost benign in comparison, to just GO right away.  The Saturday forecast showed winds of “only” 25 to 30 knots. The plan was to go and sail straight to Kiel with a possibility of bailout in Hieligehafen if necessary.

I have no tales of derring-do on this voyage. Actually, the wind was rather benign, only running 20 to 25 knots and frequently less (so we could complain about the lack of wind).  The waves were also benign, only 1 or 2 meters which meant we had an uneventful run into Kiel.

Except (there is always an except LOL) for the fact that Cameron and I spent took the entire watch together all the way from Gedser at 11 o’clock to Kiel at 8 o’clock in the morning.

We were somewhat fried around the edges from no sleep for 24 hours.

Julia (bless her) starting making a breakfast of eggs, French toast etc as soon as our lines hit the dock. So a hearty breakfast and then the sack.  It is now 2’oclock in the afternoon and I’m sitting in a sunny cockpit with a cup of coffee.

The weathermen had, as is their wont, gotten it wrong. So much less wind and waves than forecasted and the horrible weather for today (up into what is known in marine terms as storm, the next being hurricane) simply never materialized.

Thank you for getting it wrong.

Sailors are a simple lot, having, in reality few wants. They are:

  • A fair wind and a sound boat
  • Enough grog to ensure the crew’s happiness (are you sure we have enough gin on board? Better buy another bottle)
  • Cold beer and warm girls

Naturally, there are other desires – but if those three are satisfied sailors are an uncomplaining lot. Philosophy is not their strong suit. As it cannot be. Seeing the starry, starry night we sailed under, leaves even poor scribes such as I, speechless. Difficult to comprehend, impossible to describe. Perhaps a poet can catch a wisp of the grandeur, most likely not. Perhaps only a pale ghostly image of that wondrous sky.

Well, we are here for the day. Rest and relaxation. Nachos and guacamole at happy hour and tomorrow morning early, we pass through the first lock and into the Kiel Canal (40 – 50 miles long).

We will be motoring so I will write some more along the way. Tuesday, we will be in Cuxhaven and then out into the North Sea, down through the English Channel and across to our ultimate goal – Southampton

If the weather gurus are right, we will have reasonable weather except for Saturday when a full-scale north sea gale will hit us (of course we expect to be in the middle of the English channel then)

More tomorrow (don’t let your bottoms wear out the edge of your seat LOL)

Chapter 6

Up early and sail over to the locks.

And wait (a sailors lot is to wait.  And wait). Finally they directed us into one of the locks that we would share with a freighter and a cruise ship (goddamn things are HUGE) plus a couple of other sailboats.

kiel kanal

Entering the lock

Then you climb up the lock wall and go into the kiosk, buy your ticket (35 euros) and you’re good to go. Go we did and a half hour later the other end of the lock opened and we were in the Kiel Canal, headed across Germany.  A beautiful day, albeit a bit cool, so we spent the day sailing along, and cleaning and lubricating Impromptu’s winches. They barely make a sound now when they spin merrily along and they obviously needed both the cleaning and them lubrication. We reached the other end, through another lock and here I am.

spil rensning

Cleaning winches

In the estuary of the river Elbe, on the North Sea side of Germany.  I’ve sailed from the Baltic to the North sea, and now the real adventure can begin.

ud i nordsøen

Out through the lock and we are into the North Sea

Despite this being the river, the tides are large enough that the water is just as salty as the ocean. We caught the outgoing tide (have to start thinking about that now) and the river current, so we were pushed merrily along with 5 knots behind us). We almost missed the harbor entrance as we had to wait for a freighter to pass and then we burned outrageous amounts of fuel clawing back up river, now against the 5 knots current/tide, got into the slip and here we are.

I should mention that Cameron’s Russian friend who was supposed to join us in Kiel, had to skip on this adventure, but Cameron had other crew available. He called Rachael and Megan who promptly caught an airplane and joined us in Kiel.

They’re sisters, although they look nothing at all alike, and they admitted that the family joke was that the mailman must have made more than mail deliveries on some days. In their twenties, Megan studies chemistry at the university, Rachael is a physiotherapist. Both sailed dinghies when they were younger so they are completely at home on a boat, albeit a much smaller boat. Megan apparently has also sailed from the UK to Lisbon. Nice with some new crew and they are a pair of sweet gals.

We needed to provision, and of course, the supermarket is at least a mile away, so we had long, long arms when we got back, from carrying all the bags. They were long enough that it called for an extra G&T (well maybe two extra – but who’s counting?).

Now that we have tides to contend with, we have issues to deal with.  Half the boats in this marina are going upstream to go into the Baltic, half are going downstream (like us) to go into the North Sea.

The old expression, “we sail with the tide” has a new meaning. Those going upstream were leaving at 2 am and those going down at 4 am.  We should have left at 4 am, but unfortunately, our new sail that was delivered here got locked into a room and we have to wait for the harbormaster to come this morning.

I looks like we can catch the last of the tide and be off. Today we’re going to Helgoland, a tax-free island paradise off the German coast. Gin, according to Cameron only cost 8 euro for a 1 liter bottle of 50 percent alcohol – so we will be restocking the boat with a couple of cases.

Enough for now, we have to go get out new sail.

More tomorrow – after sailing part of the North sea.

Carsten

Chapter 7

Where do I begin? With the tale of such monumental incompetence, that it requires a saga worthy of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Minimum a couple of thousand pages of pathos, cruelty, deceit and misdirection?

Or a description of my sail on the North Sea?

I shall begin with the trail of tears involved with our new sail. As you may recall dear reader, we blew out our yankee near Bornholm. Cameron managed to find a used sail (through the internet) from a British sailmaker. It was described as an “virtually new, unused high cut yankee” that had come off a 60 foot Oyster.

It was indeed a high cut yankee, a sail Cameron has always wanted; it was cheap and only needed a couple of minor modifications. A strap sewn on to make it 6 inches longer and a new luff tape sewn on. The luff tape is a plastic wire that is in the front part of the sail and goes into a slot. This sail had an 8mm wire and our slot is only 7mm.

No problem, according to the sailmaker. Do it and ship it to Cuxhaven without a problem.

Oh joy! Oh ecstasy! We drank a couple of extra G&Ts that night to celebrate. The clouds had dissipated, the heavens opened, the gods smiled on us – what more could we possibly ask for?

In our hubris, we had forgotten that the gods are sometimes bored and they enjoy playing little games with we poor mortals.

On our way down the Kiel Canal, Cameron contacted the sailmaker who said he had a confirmation that the sail had been delivered.

What more could we ask for?

Arriving in Cuxhaven, we got there late and the harbourmaster had gone home for the day. But no problem. We would miss sailing on the 4:30 am tide, but we could still sail on the afternoon tide. So promptly at 9:30, Cameron was standing outside the harbourmasters door when he came.

He had no sail. He had not heard of a sail. He was a nice guy and immediately starting calling every office in the harbor, asking about the sail.

No sail.

Cameron returned to the boat more than a little depressed. Had it been happy hour, we could have drunk a couple of extra G&Ts to dull the pain.

Call the sailmaker in the UK. “Yes sir! We’ll get right on it and call you back!”

This is typical of the horseshit British companies spew out. Hours went by and the damn sailmaker never called. In the meantime, Cameron had taken it upon himself to visit every office in the harbor to see if the sail was there.

No sail.

Midafternoon, Cameron finally got the sailmaker to scan in all the delivery documents and send them. Then he went to work calling TNT and anyone else he could think of.

In the meantime, the rest of us spent the day in town sightseeing and having a glass of wine.

At five o’clock, he shouted “Eureka!” I now know where it is. He and I grabbed a taxi and drove over to another marina her in Cuxhaven, stormed into the harbourmasters office there and low and behold – leaning against the wall was our sail.

The idiots at the sailmaker had simply addressed the sail to “Jagthafen Cuxhaven” so TNT had delivered it to the biggest marina in town.

Total bloody idiots at the sailmaker. Cameron had sent them an exact address, including the boat name, the name and number of the street our harbourmasters office is on and the name of the our marina.

Joyously we returned with the sail – had we not been going to leave, we would have had a couple of G&Ts to celebrate.

We unrolled the sail on the deck and Cameron noted that it was a vektron sail, meaning it was a laminate and much more expensive sail than he had thought. As we continued unrolling, our joy diminished and some troubling concerns began to intrude ever so slightly.

This sail did not look like it was “virtually new”. More troubling, the luff tape had obviously not been resewn.

We decided to hoist it. Or should I say we attempted to hoist it. Further back in this saga, I noted that the luff tape needed to be 7mm for this boat. It became clear that this luff tape was only 5mm.

This is serious. With it being too small there is a very real chance the damn thing will blow out in a heavy wind.

There were other concerns. We had thought, we could hoist the damn thing and get underway. We couldn’t.

As we made one jury-rig after another, it was clear that this was not a “high cut blade yankee” this was a completely different sail. It took us a couple of hours, but we did get it up.

By now, we had almost missed the tide, but did manage to go.

Here in the Elbe estuary, it is like airspace around an airport. There is an “air traffic control” that has ironclad authority over all ships and boats entering or leaving the Elbe. So, you have to call them on the VHF asking permission every time you want to change course. Or they will tell you – Please change course to XX or Impromptu please move further to starboard in your lane.”

I was helmsman and took Impromptu out. Once clear of the estuary and out on the ocean I left the helm for the others.

So how was my first sail in the North Sea? Damned if I know – I went below and lay down. I had gotten cold standing at the helm. I fell asleep and woke when Cameron docked at Helgoland.

The sail held, but the winds were light, so we haven’t given it any real test. We got in at 1 am, and promptly had G&Ts, including an extra just because we wanted one.

Tomorrow will be spent restocking our gin and tonic supply, sightseeing and getting out midafternoon. The weather forecast will determine what we do from here. If it is a good forecast, we will go northerly to Harwich (about 250nm). If it is bad, we will go to Den Helder in Holland, lay over and then cross the channel.

Time will tell. If we choose the Harwich option, I will be out of touch for two days and you will all be left wondering:

Did they sink without a trace?

Are they being buffeted by heavy winds and storms?

Did the new sail hold up?

Dear reader – I shall send you an update as soon as we are in a harbor somewhere.

carsten

Chapter 8

Some you have been following us on marine-traffic. You therefore know that we have arrived in Great Yarmouth UK. I long for a good old-fashioned soviet shithole. As Cameron noted; Great Yarmouth may not be the end of the earth – but you can see the end of the world from there.

What a dump.

More about that later. Where was I?

Ah yes, Helgoland. Helgoland was a small island in the North Sea at the end of the war. There being enormous amounts of German ammunitions to be disposed of, the Brits decided to pile all of it on Helgoland and thereafter light a match.

Which they promptly did. The resultant explosion was reputedly the largest detonation of conventional explosives the world has ever seen. I don’t know it that is true, but suffice to say that the roar was hear in the UK 250 nautical miles away (a nautical miles for you landlubbers is 1.2 statutory miles).

It was also big enough to literally blow the island in half. So today, Helgoland consists of two islands. Some of the previous occupants moved back and in an effort to help them get afoot again, the German government gave a semi-tax free status. Meaning there is no sales tax on Helgoland, or duties (German sales tax is 19%).

That means, cheap fuel, cheap tobacco (more popular in times past than now) and best of all, cheap booze (namely gin). Everyone cruising anywhere near Helgoland, docks, and restocks the boat with booze and fuel, as we did. Cameron bought a couple of cases of gin and a case of rum (in case the gin runs out). I picked up a couple of bottles of Hendricks gin.

helgoland 1

Schiffsausrustung means Ships supplies in German. The only ships supplies for sale here were booze, smokes and candy

We refueled and by 3 pm we were at sea.

helgoland 2

Leaving Helgoland

A better start simply can’t be envisioned. We had 15-18 knots on a beam reach, virtually no seas, an absolutely clear starry night. Unfortunately, we didn’t see many meteors. I seem to recall that the end of august is when the Penedes (?) meteor showers come around.

Ah well, no matter. An epic start to an epic journey. I had the 4am to 8 am watch and when I got up the wind had freshened and was beginning to turn.

You have, of course, dear reader, already guessed in which direction it was turning. Yes, it was veering and moving around so we would have the pleasure of having it directly on our nose for the next couple of days.

This part of the north sea is clogged with wind farms, oil rigs and ship traffic lanes, which means your watch is spent dodging those, all whilst trying to maintain progress towards you goal. When you have a sailboat – this can require great ingenuity since you also have to keep the wind in your sails.

Cameron had to dodge a windmill farm that was not on the charts. I had to dodge a couple of ships that were towing a 4 nm long cable. They didn’t think I changed course far enough and called me on the radio to tell me to move on. Moreover, just to further their argument they shown a huge search light on us. We got the message and made a radical course change.

One thing that is also a factor in the North Sea that we don’t worry about in the Baltic is tidal streams. The Baltic has no tides to speak of. Here there are huge tides and the streams are powerful. At one point we were being set 35 degrees off our course by a 2.5-knot tidal stream – meaning for every hour we sailed forward at 6 knots, we sailed sideways at 2.5 knots. This is not the way to reach your target harbor. Of course, when the tide changes you get swept back the other way.

 instrumenter

Note that boat speed is 6.9 knots through the water, Speed over Ground 10.6 knots (3.7 knots of tidal stream in our favor

“All ships” “All ships” “Stand by for a weather update” When you hear this, you know they are not giving an all ships update to tell you that it will be fair and sunny and the girls can get their bikinis and suntan lotion out. The only question is “how bad will it be?”

“Weather update for (a long list of warning districts, including ours) Gale warning, force 8, arriving soon”

Ha, ha, ha, so we are going to get hit. Well, the weather reports had been in disagreement – it looks like the one that warned of foul weather was going to be correct. In addition, we are only 50 miles from Great Yarmouth.

Damn. Damn and Double Damn.

The wind kept freshening and we did see gale force, fortunately it held off until we were in Great Yarmouth harbor.

I’ll digress for a moment, since I know you are all on the edge of your seats. “What do they eat on these voyages? Are they like astronauts and just drink protein?”

Well, upon leaving Helgoland, I cooked up a batch of pinto beans and dinner that night was bean burritos with a side of fresh salad. Breakfast next morning was warm rolls, with a variety of cheeses, hams and salamis. Lunch the rest of the burritos, because the weather was acting up, dinner was spaghetti bolognaise. Next morning fresh rolls again, lunch some sandwiches and dinner in Great Yarmouth harbor, lightly seared tuna steaks with a yoghurt/blue cheese sauce and hash browed potatoes.

The cook outdid himself on this trip because our captain had announced;

“The floggings will continue until the morale of the crew improves”

Great Yarmouth arrived (finally) and we docked. As I said, we long for a soviet shithole, which would be akin to paradise compared to this. It is so bad that docking here is actually free. Even the brits don’t feel they can charge for this. (see pictures later). We are in the center of town (dead downtown), the girls went up to find some fruit for their Pimms drinks and came back saying it was a ghost town.

great yarmouth

Great Yarmouth Harbour

We had crossed the North Sea sailing 50 hours and traversing slightly more than 300nm. Whilst this accomplishment is nowhere in the league with rounding the horn or crossing the pacific –it is indeed an accomplishment in itself and one many sailors respect. I will allow myself some sense of pride in this accomplishment (hell, I’m bursting at the seams!)

The girls have announced that they will leave us today, having to get back to school and work. We shall miss them.

farvel til pigerne

Saying Good-bye to the girls

Our journey will continue around the southern edge of England to Dover and then to South Hampton. Both are day sails of about 100nm (a day sail meaning leave at 4 am and get in at 8-9pm if the weather holds).

I shall keep you all informed of my progress, boys and girls. I got a little smashed last night as I had one G&T too many.

Chapter 9

Well, you pay the price of drinking one too many. I was a bit wooly around the edges this morning. A couple of cups of coffee, write a bit to my dear readers and faithful followers (in two languages), take the garbage up, help the girls get their rucksacks up on the pier, take a group photo (jesus all this – it is beginning to sound like work!), kiss the girls good-bye and take a 15 minute walk around downtown Great Yarmouth. We found a café that was open and had some breakfast and bang! We were off.

Actually, our day was wonderful. The wind gods had decided to smile on us (apparently we have been good little boys), so we had a beam reach, blowing 15 knots, the sails pulled well and all was well on the Impromptu.

Of course, we had to dodge some ship traffic and the usual wind farms, but what the hell? It didn’t rain, the sea state was (for the North Sea) relatively calm. The only fly in the ointment (there’s always one of those LOL) was that we had a foul tide for several hours.

No matter. With three such skillful sailors as us on board, we trimmed sails and guess what? We managed an 80 mile run in just under 12 hours, racking up an impressive 6.9 knot speed.

Well, two skillful sailors – Cameron and Rauli

Dear reader, considering we had up to a 2,5-3 knot tidal stream against us for several hours, this is not just impressive – it is goddamn impressive and any sailor worth his salt will nod appreciatively at such an accomplishment.

So here we are at Ramsgate. I know I said Dover earlier, but the tidal stream would have stopped us cold, so we are in Ramsgate, a beach town and from our boat, we can hear the sounds of merry-making from the town.

The cook (moi!) has the evening off and we are going into town for a pizza. This is Saturday, so the center is filled with young brits, doing what young people do best – their mating dance.

The gals are dressed up to show off their wares and the guys are trying to look cool, sophisticated, handsome, dashing (actually they are trying to look like younger editions of me), but not pulling it off.

How can I say this? Do these girls (I’ll only discuss the girls) not have a mirror at home? First – they are almost without exception fat. And not just a couple of extra pounds, I mean really, really fat. Secondly, the British style is very short miniskirts. Skirts so short that in Denmark they are known as “cut short to the hole”. Now on a young gal with nice legs, these skirts can be enticing indeed. On a fat gal with legs the size of California redwoods, uuuuh the effect is – what is an appropriate word?

Aaah yes – downright disgusting.

Secondly, even though the UK has experienced an unusually warm and sunny summer, they are all whiter than the proverbial sheets. Not even a little bit of a suntan. Couple this with gobs and gobs of make-up and – well you get the picture.

Most of them look like cheap streetwalkers on their way home from work after a busy night.

I do know that this is the style – young women are dressing to look like – well – whores. But these have taken it way too far.

All three of us showed our advancing age by noting that even if propositioned by these gals, we’d say “no thank you”.

I won’t bore you with the details of the tattooed guys and what they look like, except to say there must have been a massive prison escape of serial rapists and killers and all of them were in downtown Ramsgate drinking at the pubs.

We need to get up early and be on our way tomorrow if we are to catch the tide. We’ll pass Dover and head for Brighton, a last stop before reaching Southampton.

Chapter 10

I’m writing this at sea, as we pass the famed white cliffs of Dover (yes they are indeed white). We sailed with the tide, beautiful day, nice wind, sunshine and all is right in the world. It is now midday, the clouds have taken over, and the wind has died so we are using our engine.

We had a visitor earlier. A dolphin swam around us for several minutes. Unfortunately, he didn’t get close enough for me to take his picture. Maybe he or another one will come back.

We spent last night at anchor, just off the coast.

cameron sætter anker

Cameron readying the anchor

I had my spaghetti sauce simmering the entire day on the stove and Cameron offered to make a Martinez, since we didn’t have any tonic.

Sailors, you should realize are a conservative lot. Very conservative. We are superstitious and we do believe in Neptune, Poseidon or whatever you want to call him.

So a new drink instead of our normal grog (read: G&T) is suspicious.

Cameron mixed one and I smelled at it like a little dog with a long stretched out neck (could be poisonous you know). Finally, I tasted it and had to admit that it could be drunk. Rauli tasted his very gingerly and also admitted that it was possible to drink.

So we had several.

We had to drown our sorrows at not having G&T’s with something – didn’t we?

A beer with dinner and since a Martinez has considerably more alcohol than a G&T; we hit our hammocks earlier than normal.

We also had to get up at 6 o’clock to sail.

Today is our last day of passage sailing. Tonight we will sleep in Cowes, England’s great sail racing harbor. Tomorrow, we’ll sail for 1 hour to where Cameron keeps his boat moored in the river, and take the dinghy in. Apparently, the UK’s largest boat porn store is there and I intend to spend several hours drooling over all the things I should like to buy.

Strange to think my little adventure is coming to an end. When we moor, Cameron will have sailed over 3000 miles, and I will have sailed more than 800.

Passage making means the boat becomes an entity in itself. A mini society. Everything else happens “out there”.

So you’ll get a couple more updates from me. One for our last day at sea and one after I get home. I’ll try to sum up, what have I learned? Experienced? And crossing the North Sea?

Love to all

Chapter 11

A sailor should never mock the gods. In my hubris, I noted that the day was beautiful, sun was shining and all was right with the world.

Neptune, or whoever, must have heard me and decided that I needed to be taught a lesson. Immediately upon putting my pc away, the clouds got thicker, the wind came up the seas exploded in an orgy of confusion, it got cold and yes, dear friends – it began to rain

Not, of course, a real he-man rain, get drenched and get it over with. No, a continual drizzle of rain that got into everything. Finally, it became foggy.

Ha! You say. You stayed under the spray hood and kept dry – what are you complaining about?

Dear friends, there is a phenomena known as crab pots. The local fishermen put them out everywhere and the last thing you want to do is get a crab pot caught in your screw or around your keel. Getting one caught means someone (guess who the only certified diver is on this boat?) has to go over the side and cut it loose.

So that means no sitting under the sprayhood. You must keep a sharp lookout. Keeping a sharp lookout on a cold rainy foggy day means:

You’re gonna be wet, cold and thoroughly miserable.

Which we were.

We did finally reach Cowes. A hot shower and change of clothes helped on the body temperature and our morale.

Cameron just barely averted a mutiny by having the drinks ready as soon as we came out in our clean dry clothes.

“It is difficult to commit mutiny while drinking gin”

That’s a nice turn of a phrase. I think I shall patent it, have coasters and small signs made that can be sold to sailors all over the world. I’ll become a multimillionaire; have an 80 foot yacht and all the gin I desire.

Or not.

Anyway, Cowes is an old town with many buildings from the 16 and 1700’s. It is the center of all British sailing and is accustomed to catering to hungry (and not to mention thirsty) sailors. Cameron used to live here and is well-acquainted with all the dives and restaurants. He picked one and they immediately threw a round of good quality beer at us. Our dinners came just as quickly and there was a lot of it and it was good.

Slightly mollified, we repaired to a local hotel where we had drinks in overstuffed easy chairs. Here they were also used to sailors and the drinks appeared as if by magic.

It was not late when we came back to the boat. It had been a hard day sailing and we are getting older.

It is morning now, the sun is out and we will go out for breakfast then sail across the Solent to Cameron’s mooring.

cowes tidevand

Here is what “Tide” means

Impromptu will back at her home after over 4 months and 3000 nautical miles. Tomorrow I catch a train to Gatwick and Easyjet home.

All good adventures come to an end, I guess, including this one.

I shall write an epilog, sort out my pictures and send my final version within a couple of days.

Love to all

Carsten

Chapter 12

I’m going to sneak a chapter in here, despite there being little in the way of sailing adventures.

The gods that be finally decided we needed a beautiful sailing day and they sent one. Sunshine, warm good breeze.

Unfortunately, we are only going across the Solent and up the river, but It was nice to not have to battle winds and waves.

This river has to be seen to be believed. There are literally thousands (ten thousand?) boats moored in the middle of the river. Some are on mooring buoys, some on mooring platforms. You moor your boat, get in your dinghy and sail off to shore.

hamble river

Tens of thousands of boats moored in the Hamble River

I can only imagine what all this looks like on a busy summer morning when everyone is going sailing. Dinghies right and left and thousands of boats sailing downriver. Must be quite a sight.

Cameron’s mooring is all the way at the head of the river, nicely sheltered around a bend. Even more important, it is just a 2-minute dinghy ride from the Jolly Sailor restaurant and bar.

We got the boat moored, and lowered the dinghy, did some small repairs and it was cocktail hour.

We had decided that we would show restraint and only have one cocktail since we could have another before dinner at the restaurant.

When it comes to gin, we have no character at all. We finished our first drink, sitting in the sun in the cockpit and when Cameron started making noises about a second one, there was no dissension. A second round appeared as if by magic.

Dinner was excellent and the wine was good.

And here it ends dear reader. It is morning; I’m packed and getting ready to take the dinghy to shore and thereafter a train to Gatwick.

All great adventures do end – this one certainly has been a great adventure.  I will write a summary and send it by the weekend

There is a saying; “Gentlemen don’t sail to weather” meaning that a true gentleman never sails upwind. After all, you might spill your drink.

Since we have only sailed to weather for 2 ½ weeks now, I suppose we can agree that none of us are gentlemen. We did not, however, spill our drinks.

Love to all

carsten

Reflections on the voyage

It is, of course, always difficult to describe a sailing trip. I’m completely filled with experiences and images. Words are a poor substitute for the actual experience. Here is my best:

We crossed the great North Sea. We survived the remnants of hurricane Bertha that split our yankee in half. We were not alone, as the pictures show; with other boats coming in with split sails, (The sailmakers were rubbing their hands with glee!). We sailed close-hauled almost the entire way from Karlskrona to Cowes – 1 ½ weeks and almost 900 nm.

The sail was hard, but not so hard as to discourage me from sailing the oceans. I was surprised at:

  • There is an unbelievable amount of traffic on the North Sea. Oil platforms, Gas pipes, supply ships, and ships channels filled with tankers, coasters, container ships and god knows what else. Thousands of ship, that for the most part, stay inside the marked channels, but there are still many supply ships and the like, sailing outside the marked channels. Some of these ships are doing 20+ knots. They come at you fast. AIS is a blessing out here. I know that mariners have plied the North Sea without AIS, but it does give you a shot at knowing what is coming your way and how fast it is coming. Especially when you have to cross the chipping channels. You don’t want to have to tack out there in the middle.
  • I was also surprised at how much navigation is necessary out here. It is not possible (with the weather we had) to “lay a course and then sail it”. Tidal streams (yes they have a huge impact) dodging windmill farms, ships, oilrigs etc. means you have to change course and tack. Here even the best laid plans of mice and men go astray. Back to the charts and lay a new course.
  • Tides and tidal streams – yes I did learn about them when I took my yachtmaster exam and I did know they were a factor – but you have to feel this on your body to understand just how much influence they have. In the Baltic – we sail when we want. In the North Sea, you sail when the tide is favorable, which means sometimes at 2 am. And you get into harbor when the tide turns unfavorable, sometimes at 2 am

When I came home, someone said – ”you guys have been bathing in alcohol on that trip” Actually, we didn’t. The rule aboard (a sensible rule in my opinion) Impromptu is no alcohol while sailing. Booze is for in port or while on anchor. Happy Hour is something we looked forward to, and most days was two cocktails (ok – a couple of days 3, but then we were feeling either sorry for ourselves or had something to celebrate). So we did not get drunk. Mostly we drank water with dinner.

I can’t write only about big waves or hard winds. On a trip like this, it is the smaller things that become important. What shall we eat? (Big big subject – and when the sweet smells begin to waft up to the cockpit, there is no end to the amount of seamen who just happen to have to come by the galley (and stick their noses deep into the pots and pans). A cook on board does more for the morale of the crew than almost anyone else. Good food and lots and lots of it. But first, the crew should be rewarded at the end of a hard day with a drink.

Don’t forget, it wasn’t until the 1970’s that the British navy did away with issuing a daily ration of grog (rum) to it’s seamen.

I’ll end my little story here with a picture. This is what satisfied seamen look like when they have had breakfast, coffee and the boat is running on a good wind.

cameron rauli

Cameron and Rauli enjoying the morning

Dear friends,

I enjoyed the trip and I enjoy being home again

Love to all

carsten

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