From the Isle of Wright to the Baltic -Dispatches from the great Northern Seas

Dear friends, Yes, I’m back again with further dispatches from distant seas and great adventures. Some of you will remember that last year I helped sail a 54 foot sailboat from Karlskrona Sweden to Cowes in the UK, my first crossing of the north sea. A memorable trip, it included a hurricane, torn sails and Cameron, the owner leaving me in charge of the boat to sail it onward (yes I still think he has a screw or two loose).

Well, Cameron decided he wanted to come back to the Baltic again this year and asked, “did I want to keep him company on the trip?”

Well hot damn – you better believe I did. So did Vinni, but unfortunately her employer decided that she should be at a conference in San Francisco at the same time.

Talk about pissed. Vinni would much rather be sailing than at some crappy conference. Since we needed more crew, I asked my good friend Tonny and Niels if they could be persuaded to spend a week being cold, wet, tired and generally miserable sailing a boat across the North Sea.

As both of them have an acute lack of good sense, they immediately said yes and that meant we had a full crew for the trip.

They're smiling, only because they don't know what they are in for

They’re smiling, only because they don’t know what they are in for

This morning, a flight to London (thank you, easyjet), and a train to Bursledon.  All easy peasy, then a 300 meter walk along the public footpath and we were in the Jolly sailor, a restaurant some of you may remember from my stories last year. Now the Jolly sailor is everything you can ask for, old stone Tudor cottage and big fireplace.  We immediately grabbed a table by the fireplace and the bay window looking out over the river and the thousands of boats. The Jolly Sailor doesn’t have the word sailor in its name for nothing and the waiter immediately placed 3 large cold draught beers in front of us. As they rightfully should, since they have been serving thirsty sailors grog and some such for almost 500 years. Practice makes perfect, after all.

Life was looking up.

Jolly Sailor

Jolly Sailor

We ordered lunch, Tonny fish and chips, Niels and I, burgers and fries. All delicious. Unfortunately, someone had managed to drink our beers in the short time we waited for the food (damn those sneaky’s), and we had to order 3 more (poor us). Sailors, as I’ve noted before, are a simple lot. Good food (lot’s of it) cold beer (lot’s of it) and warm girls (lot’s of them) and sailors are quite content with life.

Hmmm, come to think of it – who wouldn’t be content with that? The food was good, the beer cold and plentiful and the only thing we were missing were the warm girls.  Good thing too, because if we started on something like that our wives would chop us into small pieces and feed us to the fishies.

We did talk to the couple sitting at the table next to us. She was an old salt who had come ashore after sailing the Atlantic thin in her own self-built sail boat. She had a ton of great stories and we could have listened for hours.

Cameron called while we were eating, he was on the way from Cowes, where he had sailed over to get some parts and repairs done on the boat and would land in a half hour. Just about right for us to finish our beers and lunch. Cameron came, Tonny and Niels got on board and I went food shopping at Tesco.

Due to minor repairs and other last minute things, we didn’t get off the dock until 4 o’clock. Tonny and Niels were blown away by the thousands and thousands of boats moored in the river. An hour later, we exited the river mouth and turned south towards Lymington, where we made port as Cameron needed to pick up a new sail there.

For those that have read my previous stories, you’ll remember our unfortunate experience with a new foresail. No problems this time. The sail was sewn for the boat and it slid right up the forestay as it was supposed to.  Pure carbon fiber – it had cost Cameron a fortune – and then some.

Mounting the new headsail

Mounting the new headsail

We left, out the harbor and turned south towards Guernsey.

But wait!

What does he mean towards Guernsey? Guernsey is south of the Isle of Wright. As a matter of fact, Guernsey is at the end of the English Channel and lies just in the beginnings of the Biscay bay. Are they on their way to Spain?

No, no, boys and girls, we’re on our way to the Channel Islands because Cameron needs to pick the rest of his new sails there. So Guernsey – here we come. It is a mere 105 nm across the channel. A piddling little hop, perhaps, with the exception that we have to go through the Needles, a treacherous pass between Wright and the mainland, filled with tidal currents (Yubiiii!), then across the channel and finally through the Alderney races where the currents can run as high as 12 knots.

Alderney Races - 10 knots

Alderney Races – 10 knots

Are we having fun yet?

Yes we are.

Yulia (Cameron’s girlfriend) whipped up some huge portions of spaghetti bolognaise and we stuffed ourselves.

Yulia making a ton of spaghetti (bless her)

Yulia making a ton of spaghetti (bless her)

It was getting on 8 o’clock and Cameron and I discussed the watch plan. If things went as planned, we would be in Guernsey at roughly 8 am, so we decided to just make two, 6-hour shifts. Niels and I would take the first shift, Tonny and Cameron the second. The wind had died down, Tonny was off in bed and Cameron was headed that way, when I decided to start the engine and do some motor sailing to keep our speed up, which we needed to do if we were going to hit the Alderney races on time. I turned the key and……………….

Nothing.

I turned the key again and

Nothing.

Hmmmm. This is not quite right. So I called down to Cameron, “Cameron, is there a special reason why the engine doesn’t turn over when I turn the key?”

I won’t repeat his answer here, since it is not something one would say in mixed company, seeing as how women have tender ears. But the words fuck and shit seemed to be included. More than once actually.

We really needed the engine for when we made harbor in Guernsey. Cameron started faultfinding and Niels and I drove the boat. Tonny slept like a newborn babe.

Niels and I on watch

Niels and I on watch

The wind picked up, and picked up and picked up. We were making over 10 knots of speed and the temperatures were around 5-6 degrees C, the wind chill factor making it feel like several degrees below freezing. We entered the traffic separation systems and the ships came at us like angry mosquitos. At one point, I counted 22 ships flying about us like Indians around a wagon train in the old westerns.

Now trying to navigate through a swarm of ships like that, all of them moving at 20-25 knots, means that when you turn to get out of the way of one ship, you’re turning into the way of another ship.

Are we having fun yet?

Yes we are, although I did wonder why I thought it was fun to be standing on the bridge of a sailboat in the middle of the night in the English Channel in freezing weather, dodging ships.

Maybe I’m just a masochist. If so, then so are Cameron, Tonny and Niels. And any other sailors out here.

3 hours later, Cameron said, “Try the engine” and after a few brief prayers, it started. O happy day! Of wonderful. Now we could make harbor in Guernsey.

Tonny woke and Cameron went to bed. Niels said he would take an extra hour or so with Tonny, so I went to bed. Oh sweet bed. Warm and inviting.

I dropped off immediately and slept like a log, waking when Tonny said “Guernsey in 15 minutes”. So up and attem, and back out into the cold and damp. Niels was also up as Cameron steered us into the harbour.

Welcome to Guernsey

Welcome to Guernsey

We found a pontoon to moor at and I made breakfast, lots of coffee, lots of rolls, hams, cheeses etc.

No G&Ts as it was actually early. We all hit the sack for a couple of hours and now we’re discussing whether we should spend an extra day here exploring Guernsey.

Cameron is studying the weather reports and things are not looking good. Not at all. We have a full-blown gale moving in and later in the week as get into the North Sea, we have an even worse gale coming through.

The only solution seems to be to leave early this afternoon and get as far north as possible and make harbor somewhere along the way, perhaps at Den Helder, Holland.

Ok – so that’s a plan. We need to get over to the fuel docks and tank up and then get going. Cameron turned the key and………..

Nothing. Nada, nothing. Which means that once again we are into engine repair. Tonny and I get sent to shore in the dinghy to finish shopping while Niels and Cameron work on the engine.

It is now a couple of hours later and Cameron and Niels have finally determined the problem, which lies with the starter motor, which we are trying to fix. But we won’t make our time at the fuel dock. So we don’t know if we will leave tonight or end up spending a couple of days here.

The Channel Islands are an interesting place. They originally belonged William the Conqueror and he gave them a special status as tax exempt and self-governing. Which they have kept to this day. As a matter of fact, the Island of Alderney is still a feudal society. The island and everything on it belong to the Lord and Lady of Sark. As do the population. If you don’t like what your neighbor has been doing – you can appeal to the Lord and Lady who mite out rewards or punishments as they desire. They are responsible to no one – being the complete lord and masters of the island.

I shall write more and let you know what happens when I next see an internet location.

Well, we’re still on Guernsey, working on the motor, which we finally got jury-rigged fixed. Unfortunately, it took so much time to repair the starter motor da we missed the tide. Damn!

But every cloud has a silver lining as the saying goes. Missing the tide meant we were spending the night. Spending the night meant we could have G&Ts. Oh Joy! Sailors are by nature a thirsty lot and we had not had a drink for almost 2 days.

First drink in two days

First drink in two days

You cannot commit mutiny while drinking gin, I wrote last year. The opposite of that is that you can commit mutiny when you are not drinking gin.  We all forgot about mutiny and got ready to have a G&T.

Appalling! Catastrophe! Mutiny!  There were only a couple of ice cubes.  The crew gathered and muttering curses under their breaths began to sharpen their knives, all the while plotting and scheming. Should we make him walk the plank? Or keel-haul him, flog him, then make him walk the plank. The ideas were numerous and we had great difficulty deciding on a painful enough punishment.

Cameron then had a great idea. I had bought a bottle of The Botanist gin with me as a gift for him and his eyes had gotten big and round when he saw it, proclaiming that it was the best gin in the world, bar none.

We only had a little ice, but it was enough to make martinis, which he promptly did, using the Botanist gin.

My friends, that was the best martini I’ve ever had. Damn it tasted good. Probably a good thing we didn’t have more ice or we would have ended drinking the entire bottle. Instead, we switched to wine as I made chili con carne. After dinner, The Sandman came by and everyone hit the sheets and crashed out.

We slept late, getting up at 8 – which really is late for me. We made a big breakfast, picked up our new sails and headed out.

We’re sailing a bit of a roundabout, since the direct route would have taken us through the Alderney races at their height, meaning we would have had 10 knots of current against us and 35-40 knots of wind behind us. We would have been sailing 10 knots through the water but actually sailing backwards due to the current. On top of that, the wind over waves means we would have taken a beating from the confused seas and the high waves.

We truly aren’t masochists, so we’re taking the long way round.

Another day

Yes dear friends, another day in the continuing saga of Carsten and Impromptu. We did set out from Guernsey and sailed along under strong winds through the rest of the day and night.

moonlight at sea

moonlight at sea

It was cold during the night, but dawn broke with a clear sky and sunshine. We had bacon and a cheese omelet for breakfast, lots and lots of coffee and things were beginning to look right in the world.

But just as every cloud has a silver lining, so is there a seed of devilishness in everything.  The wind died down and after all the crew said their prayers, Cameron turned the key on the engine, which decided to start right up as if nothing had ever been wrong. So we motor-sailed most of the day.

This meant we were burning diesel.

And so what? You rightly ask. If you’re running the motor, you’re burning diesel.

The problem was that we had not been able to bunker diesel in Guernsey since it was a holiday weekend and we were now running low. Cameron and I took turns looking at the gauge, hoping it would suddenly begin showing more diesel instead of less.

No such luck.

Well, this meant we would need to put in somewhere for fuel. Cameron navigated and decided that Boulogne sur mer in France was the best place. Just sail in, bunker fuel and get going again. The crew began muttering in the corners. Landfall meant a drink for thirsty sailors, but not if we were putting to sea immediately.

Mutter, mutter, mutter. The background noise is the sound of our knives being sharpened on the whetstone. Hang him, perhaps?

Cameron then noted casually that it was his birthday. This prompted the crew to begin mobbing him about holding a dry birthday party while at sea. After taking the abuse like a man for several minutes, Captain Bligh agreed that it was possible to bend the dry ship rule on extremely special occasions (his birthday for example) and 1 drink per man would be allowed.

Oh joyous day! The crew put away their knives and the hangman’s rope and began to dance the hornpipe and all was well on the good ship Impromptu.

We were getting confusing weather reports, and we decided that one of the things we would do when we reached port was pull down some good weather files and see what was going to happen the next couple of days.

Uhhhh. They showed a serious storm was going to hit, with 50+ knot winds out in the canal.

Who talked us into this?

Who talked us into this?

Ha, ha, ha – Cameron and I looked at it and Cameron said – “you know Carsten, this is not worse than we were out in last year. That was fun wasn’t it?”

Uh – no Cameron – that was not fun – it was survival and whilst the human mind has a wondrous ability to forget the bad things and only remember the good, I can still remember that it was survival.

So to make a short story very long (I need to give my readers some kind of value for money), we decided to spend the night.

The crew started up on the hornpipe again. Spending the night meant we could have 2 drinks (no, we are not alcoholics – we are investigating whether or not The Botanist gin really is the world’s best gin – so you should all be grateful. I mean, here we are, sacrificing our bodies for the purposes of science. It’s a heavy burden to bear my friends, but someone has to do it).

We set the yellow flag (which means, “We are infection free and wish to make port” and sailed into Boulogne sur mer.

Yellow flag hoisted to starboard

Yellow flag hoisted to starboard

Boulogne sur mer

Boulogne sur mer

Interesting place. There is no charming harbor front here. Typical French, cement and more cement buildings.  What really is interesting is that there is a 7.5-meter tide here. That’s huge.

7 meter tide - this is at 2 meters

7 meter tide – this is at 2 meters

Shortly after we tied up, three (count ‘em 3!) pistol-packing customs agents showed up and climbed aboard.

Ships papers and passports please.  Ok, no problem. The head honcho immediately started giving Cameron the third degree. Where bound? Where are you coming from? Why does an American have an English flagged boat etc etc etc?

Meanwhile, down below, the two henchmen (well, one was a henchwoman), started searching the boat. Open all the closets, suitcases, look carefully under the bunks, Niels and Tonny had to show them how much money they were carrying, and on and on.

I sat on a sofa with my arm draped across a carryall bag. They never asked me a single question, nor did they search the carryall. Strange. Finally, after a half hour of searching, the female agent came out from Cameron’s cabin carrying a small basket filled with envelopes and papers. She had a smile on her face like the cat that ate the canary.

Now we’ve got ‘em. Here is all the contraband and we can start getting out the handcuffs. Well, the basket was filled with Cameron’s bills, diverse receipts and mail. The head honcho agent decided the farce had gone on long enough and finally said “welcome to France” and the three of them left.

Welcome to France indeed – what a surreal experience.

Ok – so we’re here for the night, it’s Cameron’s birthday, so we need to have a good dinner. Off to the Carrefours and shopping.

Dinner turned out to be Guacamole for starters, Chateaubriand, small potatoes, béarnaise sauce and salad along with a couple of bottles of pinot noir. Yulia had bought a birthday cake.

Impromptu’s male choir, also known around the world as The Three Tenors, then lifted their voices in song and gave a rendition of the Danish happy birthday. Cameron is a trained classical musician and he strained mightily to not cover his ears as the three angels sang. But he did admit that he had never been celebrated with a Danish birthday song before, nor one sung with quite so many off key notes.

We did taste the Botanist gin again – it really does make the best martinis in the world. Normally I’m not an alcohol snob – I don’t need to drink expensive booze. Cheap booze is fine with me. But this The Botanist is something different.

Further investigation is required (meaning we haven’t finished the bottle).

Dinner was great, the wine and fellowship excellent and we hit the sheets just before midnight. It is now morning and I’m writing this sitting here alone (I’m the only one who has gotten up).

Will we sail today, out in the teeth of the storm? Will we stay and investigate The Botanists peculiarities?

Only time will tell and I shall write more later.

Boulogne sur mer to Helgoland

Well you’re getting a short update because I won’t have time to write again later. After studying the weather and tides, we’ve decided to leave this evening at 10 pm. The reason for this is that if we wait, we’ll get absolutely hammered later when we try to sail from Helgoland to Cuxhaven, because the wind will be right in our faces and it will be a full blown gale force (40+ knots).

Instead, we’ll sail tonight into a gale, but with the wind from our back. Tomorrow, we’ll get hit with a full storm (50+knots), but again it will be at our backs. We’ll also catch the tidewater current going north so we’ll be flying along at 9-10 knots, putting in Helgoland in about 30 hours (which of is right about when the storm is expected to die out). The waves should be something like 4 meters (and we’re hoping less, not more), but it will be one hell of a ride.

Cameron has said it will every man on deck for the whole trip, with lifelines and vests mandatory.  So we’ll be trying to catch some sleep ahead of time and make good hot dinner to tide us over.

We spent the day making diverse repairs on the boat.

On my way up the mast

On my way up the mast

adding barber-haulers

adding barber-haulers

You need tools when you're repairing a boat

You need tools when you’re repairing a boat

Tonny cuts cordage

Tonny cuts cordage

Engine finally repaired!

Engine finally repaired!

We repaired and Yulia made a BIG dinner

We repaired and Yulia made a BIG dinner

No drinks tonight – but we’ll be looking forward to some at Helgoland.

Wish us luck – we’ll need it. Only Englishmen and mad dogs go out in the noonday sun and only seamen like us would think about going out in the North Sea in 50+-knot winds.

Look for the next installment – will they make it? Does Helgoland have The Botanist gin? These are the important questions (not the least of which is the one about the gin LOL)

One Hell of a Ride

Ahhh, where to start? The beginning I guess is best. But first, let me warn you that this installment is rife with cliff-hangers, death-defying actions (believe me when I say death-defying), and tales of sheer exhaustion.

I shall start at the beginning. We decided to sail at 10 pm and as I’ve said previously, everyone went to get some sleep. I woke when I heard the engine start. Seems everyone else had gotten up and they decided to let me sleep as long as possible, since that way I could take the dog watch (midnight to 4 am for you lubberly types).

I jumped out of bed and started getting dressed. Long underwear, 3 pairs of socks, long sleeved polo, bluejeans, thick woolen sweater with a wind-proof lining, my foulie overalls, my neck wind break, my foulie jacket and finally my thick thinsulate cap and gloves.

I was putting on my bib overalls when I felt what every sailor dreads.

Ker-thump.

And the deck stood still. Oh shit! Oh shit! We’re aground. UP the ladder with jacket, gloves and cap flying. Cameron is cursing and trying figure out where we are.  We’re outside the inner harbor, but inside the outer seawall (thank god), but we’re still getting hit by gale force winds and a lot of wave action. Impromptu is slowly but surely bumping her way towards the beach.

This is every seaman’s nightmare – to go aground on a lee shore with gale force winds pushing you further and further towards the beach. I could see by the strained look on Cameron’s face that he had visions of losing Impromptu as she was thrown onto the beach.

Ok – action is needed and right now. We need to quickly set a kedge anchor. I ran to the anchor well on the bow and dug out the fortress kedge anchor and the 15 meters of chain attached. I need to attach the 100 feet of line and the shackle pin dropped out of my fingers into the well (the one thing you don’t want to have happen).

Tonny! Tonny! I need a light. I yelled. Tonny came running with a flashlight, I hung head down in the well and found the pin. We got the line attached to the chain and Tonny threw the anchor as far out as he could.

Now anchor-throwing is not for those with weak arm muscles and even though Tonny gave it all he could, the anchor only flew about 5 meters and then dropped into the water. We let most of the anchor chain play out and then wrapped the chain around a clamp. The anchor grabbed hold of the bottom and now at least, we not going to end up on the beach.

Seems Cameron had let himself become distracted and had not been aware of how much the sideways force of the winds were setting the boat when we exited the inner harbor. It literally blew us sideways out of the channel and into shallow water.

Lest you forget just how frightening this was – it is completely dark and the winds were pushing the boat towards the beach.

Just to add a dash of excitement to all of this, a big ship made its appearance and starting passing the outer seawall and coming into the harbor.

Are we having fun yet?

Damn right we’re having fun.

The tide, thank goodness, was coming in, not going out, so in a couple of minutes, Impromptu floated again and we were able to use the engine to sail the anchor off the bottom, recover it and get back into the channel, avoid the big ship and make way out into the English channel and a gale.

Ah yes, the gale. Did I mention that we sailed out into a gale? Oh I did. But I’ll repeat it anyway, we sailed out into a gale, meaning winds of 35 knots and waves of, oh say 3 meters.

Weather for pussies, not bad at all, just get into the groove and away you go.  Which we did, away we went at 10-12 knots with the current at our backs and 30+ knots of wind. We only have a half a headsail flying since anything more would be unsafe.

Lots of breaking waves

Lots of breaking waves

We sailed through the night, always 2 persons in the cockpit, which meant 4 hours on watch, 2 hours sleep, then 4 hours on watch again.  We slept in our foulies, just in case the cry of “all hands, all hands” was raised and we were needed on deck immediately.

Dawn finally broke, or a semblance thereof. The winds were still whipping through at 35+ knots and the waves were growing and growing, 4 meters, 5 meters and some of the biggest ones were 6 meters. Worse than that (if you can imagine anything worse) was the fact that the waves were breaking, making them exceedingly dangerous. The sea around us was whipped to a froth by the winds and standing by the wheel keeping the lookout was almost painful, with a wind chill factor shoving the temperature well below freezing.

Lots of breaking rollers

Lots of breaking rollers

Some bigger than others

Some bigger than others

Some downright scary

Some downright scary

Are we having fun yet?

Damn right we are.

By early afternoon, we were seeing lots of 6 meter waves. To put this succinctly – we were getting the shit kicked out of us. We were cold, wet (everything was wet) exhausted and taking a pounding. It rained occasionally just to add insult to injury.

One particularly high wave broke just as Impromptu rose her stern to slide over it.

Impromptu never made it. The wave crashed over the side and into the cockpit.

I yelled “Broach” at the top of my lungs, hoping to give everyone a chance to grab hold of anything hard and fast and hold on tight. Impromptu leaned over, heeling 10, 20, 30 degrees, slipped free of the wave and began her fall towards the bottom. 40, 50, 60 degrees , sweet god please stop, no more.

And then she broached, landing sideways at the bottom of the waves, heeled over, her spreaders close to touching the water.

Tonny dived for the sail, reeling it in while I dived for the wheel. Maybe I could get some rudder on her and turn her stern towards the next wave already towering above us.

Slowly, incredibly slowly, Impromptu began righting herself, 60, 50 degrees heel. Please just a little more and her rudder will be in the water deep enough to bite. If it bites, I can steer. If I can steer, I can get us oriented with the stern towards the wave.

40, 30, 20 degrees heel. The stern began to lift and the next wave began to run under us. I twisted the wheel desperately to get her turning. 10 degrees and her bows began to turn away from the wave, her stern rising and letting the wave slide under us.

We made it!  Down below I can hear Cameron and Niels crawling around through the carnage. Everything that was not tied down had flown throughout the cabin. What seemed like a couple of million gallons of  water had come down the companionway and landed on the nav table. Cameron’s PC, monitor and other assorted electronics were ruined. Charts, books cups were scattered everywhere. Niels was trying to get up from the sofa where he had been lying. Yulia came out asking if we were sinking.

This is like the one that nailed us

This is like the one that nailed us

Up top, Tonny and I were ankle deep in (freezing) water in the cockpit and still fighting with the sails and the wheel. Technically, this did not classify as a knock-down, since our spreaders did not touch the water. But it was close enough for me.

We righted her and cleaned everything up. Tonny was exhausted, as was Niels, so I took the afternoon 4 hours watch up top alone. It began to rain, the rain stinging my face like bb’s as it was propelled by 45 knot winds.

Unfortunately, I was forced to keep looking into the wind since I was watching for the next wave that could broach us. If one came, I need to switch off the autopilot, grab control of the wheel myself and steer the boat down the wild ride to the bottom of the wave.

Four hours later, I had done that about a half a dozen times and I was nearing my limit. Tonny came up, took over, I hit the sofa, grabbing two hours of sleep. I think I remember my head hitting the pillow – but perhaps that was a figment of my imagination.

Later, Cameron and I decided that we needed to out of these waves or at least get some shelter from them. No way we wanted to be in this in the dark. The only way was to cross the traffic lanes and get close to shore where the waves would not be so large.

Ha, ha. Crossing the traffic lanes and heading towards shore meant running with the waves on our beam, not our stern. This would really be asking for a beating. Not just a normal beating like we’d been getting all day, but a real “let me kick you in your teeth” beating. The ride we would get would not be the pussy shit we’d been experiencing, but a real he-man ride. Cameron got on the radio and asked the coast guard if they’d let us cross the lanes obliquely and not at 90 degrees as you are supposed to.

They acceded to this request without issue, since obviously it was a matter of safety.  Cameron immediately got on the radio and issued an “All Ships, All Ships” “securitie” warning that there was a sailboat crossing the traffic lanes and sailing against the traffic flow. This kind of sailing is not for pussies. Only madmen would do it (or nice guys like us). Strong men would have paled and weaker men fainted. A couple of hours later we were close to shore, the wave action was less and we turned north towards Helgoland.

Are we having fun yet?

Damn right we’re having fun.

I hit the sack again and slept like a log for a couple of hours.

Morning broke with clouds and some sunshine. Shortly the sun had burned away most of the clouds, the wind died down and it got warmer. Life was actually beginning to seem to be worth living again.

I’d made a big potful of pinto beans the day before. Eating a warm meal is really important when you’re out in this kind of weather. You need something that is hot and fills you up. Beans are good, because you can just reheat them each time.

I made breakfast for Tonny and me, beans, a fried egg, bacon and a tortilla. Man oh man, did that taste good. Good strong coffee to wash it all down and life started to be pretty good.

Cameron and Niels got up and I dropped into my bed like a dead man, taking off my clothes for the first time in 2 days. Later when I got up, I grabbed a shower and put on fresh clothes, made coffee and joined the others in the cockpit. Helgoland only a couple of hours away. Tonny went below saying he was just getting in from the cold. We saw him sit in the sofa and as the next few minutes went by, he developed a pronounced lean, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Finally the foundation gave way and he collapsed on his side on the couch.

We now have a next nickname for taking a nap – called the Leaning Tower of Tonny.

Not quite a

Not quite a “Leaning Tower of Tonny”, but close

With salvation in sight, so to speak, the crew began discussing important philosophical matters. Should we have a beer while Cameron mixed the martinis? Was there enough gin for us to have two martinis?

Helgoland Ho!

Helgoland Ho!

I shan’t keep you on the edge of your chairs dear friends. We did manage to drink a beer (damn it tasted good!) as Cameron mixed the drinks. In the interests of science and wanting to pursue our investigations regarding the world’s best gin, we finished the bottle. As a side note, I can tell you all that after being beaten to death for 2 days, a cold martini tastes just about as good as anything you’ve ever had. The second one tastes at least as good as the first.

We’d been underway and battling the storm for just shy of 48 hours, making the 330 nm run. For those lubberly types reading, 330nm is around 400 land miles, for those thinking metric, it is 660 kilometers. Wind speed works the same way. So 45 knots is roughly 60mph or 90 kilometers per hour. For the initiated (meaning real sailors), 45 knots is Beaufort force 9. Beaufort force 10 starts at 47 knots. We had gusting that took us to force 10. The Beaufort scale goes to force 12 (which would mean a big badass hurricane).

It was Yulia’s birthday and to commemorate it, Impromptu’s resident choral trio (otherwise world famous and known as The Three Tenors), gave anew a stunning rendition of the Danish Happy Birthday. Cameron grabbed a video camera to immortalize it (I mean, how often do the three tenors do a gig on your boat?). I’m not sure about the quality of the video – He was laughing his ass off and that meant his hands were shaking like mad. Yulia tried womanly to smile and not fall to the deck laughing. Afterwards we agreed that fishing around Helgoland would be pretty poor the next couple of days, since every fish in a 10 nm circumference had undoubtedly hightailed out of range of our voices.

Cameron and Yulia went off to have a quiet dinner for two and we marched around the town looking in store windows. We were all “sailing”. This is a phenomenon where your inner ear balance is slightly off and your body still thinks it is on a rolling ship. Actually, this is where the idea of a “drunken sailor” comes from. You can be perfectly sober, but if you’re “sailing”, then you stagger around like someone who has really tied one on. We weren’t staggering, but we certainly were weaving a bit.

Oh joy! One of the booze shops had The Botanist gin in the window. Price- a mere 25 euros for a taste of pure heaven. The only problem will be, where will we store all the bottles?

Provisioning The Botanist at Helgoland

Provisioning The Botanist at Helgoland

Dinner was at a dive down near the piers. Not memorable, but we washed everything down with a couple of bottles of red and when we got back to the boat, the last couple of days of exhaustion caught up with us and we dropped like sacks of potatoes.

Helgoland to Cuxhafen to Kiel        

 

We bunkered fuel (very cheap here on a tax-free island) and more importantly, we bunkered booze (read: The Botanist gin). We had all slept late, as we were still tired from our rough sail and perhaps also because we ended up tying one on. We deserved it, having spent the last 48 hours, 4 hours on watch, 2 hours off. So next morning, none of us as particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.

But we got going, a bit later than we liked because we had to wait for Cameron and Yulia to get stamps in their passports.

We were going to regret that late leaving when we got to the Elb – the tide would be against us. But it was an uneventful sail, nice in the sunshine with just enough wind to keep us moving. When we got to the Elb – yep the tide was against us. Almost 4 knots of current and we fought it the whole way up to Cuxhaven, arriving at 9:30.

Which meant it was time for cocktails.

Are we having fun yet?

With a martini in my hand – Damn right we are having fun!

We got up this morning, made our way to the Canal and got lucky. The lockkeeper was just loading a polish freighter into the lock – there was room for us and in we went.

Tying up in the lock

Tying up in the lock

So dear friends – I’m writing this as we sail up the Kiel Canal. I’ll write the next chapter when I have time.

writing away

writing away

The Kiel Canal, Gedser and Svaneke (Bornholm).

So we’re sailing up the Kiel canal in beautiful weather, sun shining and really just a gorgeous day. Nothing much to report, the canal is 100 kilometers long and it took us most of the day. At the Kiel end we again got unbelievably lucky. We called the lockkeeper and he said hurry up and you can exit with the ship that is in the lock now.

Ths ship we exited with

Ths ship we exited with

This kind of luck only happens to those with a clear conscience and good karma.

Out of the Canal, Cameron poses us some difficult questions:

“ok, here’s as I see it.” He said. “We can sail right on and we’ll be Gedser sometime early morning where Tonny and Niels have to get off. Or we can drop the hook, have a couple of good drinks, a nice dinner and then leave early in the morning, which will put us in Gedser tomorrow evening.”

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Oh the cruelty! Placing the onus of such a momentous decision on our shoulders. Since we have the backbone of a worm, we looked at each other and said,

“Let’s sail on to Gedser.”

Yeah, right in your dreams – of course we said – drop the hook, we’ll get out the glasses.

Which we did. Yulia made a great dinner and we started in on the days serious business – drinking. Now it turns out that Tonny had a problem. No matter how fast we filled his glass, it became empty. Something about it having a hole in the bottom.

We had one or two too many – but it was deserved. We’re losing half the crew tomorrow and we needed to say good-by properly – which we did.

Next morning (not too early) we got underway and had a perfect sail. Wind just across our stern, blowing 20-24 knots, which meant we were cruising at 8+ knots and the wind kept it up all day, with us arriving in Gedser at about 8 pm. Marianne (Tonny’s delightful wife) was waiting. Niels and Tonny packed got off and we set sail for Bornholm.  Marianne had been thoughtful enough to bring along a cake for us, which will be our dessert tonight somewhere asea. (thank you Marianne!).

Yulia made sausages and french fries(!), thank you Yulia, and we had Marianne’s cake for dessert (thank you again, Marianne)

I caught a couple of hours of sleep and then relieved Cameron at midnight. Out here the sea is empty.  And dark.  Very  dark.

If my words did glow

With the gold of sunshine

Grateful dead, Ripple

Would indeed that my words glowed with the gold of sunshine. If they did, I could describe the beauty of this night. Billions and billions of diamonds strewn across the heavens with a careless hand, all twinkling merrily. Some places so thick that it reminded me of creamy coffee – no wonder it is called the Milky Way. I saw 4 shooting stars – so I have a few wishes at my disposal.

Dawn 3:30 am

Dawn 3:30 am

Cold - but beautiful

Cold – but beautiful

Cameron relived me at 5 am and I hit the sack for a couple of hours. Later, a good lunch as we sailed in glorious sunshine finally making port in Svaneke at 4 pm.

Tonight we’ll eat at Svaneke Bryghus, a microbrewery that serves excellent spareribs and, of course, their own beer.

Svaneke

Svaneke

Oh yes, I almost forgot, I haven’t released the result of the tasting jury’s decision regarding if the Botanist really does make the world’s best martini.

And I won’t. At least not quite yet. Otherwise, dear friends you might become unfaithful and not read the last few chapters of this saga. So you will just have to wait for the revelation (am I not malevolent?)

Svaneke to Karlskrona and the end of the adventure

We had dinner at Svaneke Bryghus, a microbrewery here in town. It is situated in a charming old building with lots of wooden beams in the ceiling and, naturally, a couple of huge copper urns for brewing beer. Svaneke brewery is quite well known in Denmark, one of the more successful ones, you can find its beer in most supermarkets.

Cameron and Yulia had a beer menu with their dinner and Yulia simply fell in love with one of them, made with elderflowers, demanding that Cameron buy a case. For someone who didn’t drink alcohol when she met Cameron – she’s learning fast.

A wonderful evening and we hit the sack as soon as we got back to Impromptu.

Next morning, Cameron and I looked at the weather forecast. Hmmmm. So today not much wind, but warm and maybe some rain as we get close to Karlskrona. Tomorrow, probably no rain, but a shitload of wind, forecasting 40 knots.

Having had our fill of heavy winds, we decided that we would brave the rain and leave today.

And the weather forecast held most of the way, cloudy, warm and we didn’t see any rain until we were about 20nm from Sweden, when the heavens opened up and unloaded a few billion gallons on us. We couldn’t see a damn thing and sailed on, relying on our radar.

If nothing else, I’ve learned on this trip that my foulies are truly waterproof as they proved again today. After an hour or so, the rain let up and we began to have visibility of perhaps a couple of nm. The end was in sight and we began discussing martinis and dinner.

But King Neptune hadn’t finished with us. The gods are fickle and Neptune not the least. There is an old Danish saying:

‘Tis a fool who fears not the ocean.

Oh my, how true it is. In our arrogance, we had not shown enough respect for Neptune.  Cameron went below to catch some shuteye and I took the bridge.

An hour or so later, the wind picked up, blowing nice and steady at right around 18 knots. Perfect sailing weather and I debated setting some sail so we could turn off the motor. I decided to wait 10 minutes or so to see if the wind held.

It held indeed and just when I was about to set the sails, Cameron came up. He agreed with setting sail and we promptly unfurled the foresail. Our boat speed immediately picked up and we were busy congratulating each other on our prowess as seamen when,

WHAM!

We got hit by a vertical wall of wind. Wind speed jumped from 18 knots to 45 knots and once again we were in a Force 9, gusting 10 gale. Impromptu heeled way over as we scrambled to reduce sail. First halfway, then 2/3’s and finally we furled it all together.

The last hour of this adventure was spent fighting the wind and sea spray, until we finally docked at 10 pm. Yulia had already gotten busy making goulash and Cameron got busy mixing drinks.

Friends, all grand adventures have an ending, even this one. After sailing 1000 nautical miles (nm) in 11 days, I’ve packed my seabag and am having my second cup of coffee. After breakfast, I’ll catch a train back to Copenhagen. Rauli, the Finnish fellow who sailed with Cameron last year will come aboard tomorrow and sail onward with Impromptu.

It has been a grand adventure. We survived everything the North Sea threw at us, which included groundings, 10-12 knots tidal currents, a force 9, gusting 10 gale, a broach and a multitude of minor things. Did someone say, “Heavy weather sailing?”

Oh, I almost forgot. You are naturally on the edge of your seats waiting for the results of jury’s deliberations regarding The Botanist.

After due diligence and a multitude of taste tests, having sacrificed our bodies for the furtherment of science and the enlightenment of you and the general populace, the jury brought in a verdict.

The Botanist makes the best damned martini on the planet. None of us have ever tasted one as good.

I’ll rewrite this little adventure and include pictures and send it all out again after I get home. But let me finish by saying:

Did we have fun?

Damn right, we had fun.

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