18 July 2017 | Navishamn Marina, Stockholm, Sweden
Barbara/warm, sunny and windy
The time is passing so quickly, and there are many places we wanted to go, but just not enough time to make them happen. We are in Stockholm now, and it's clear that one could spend several weeks here and just begin to scratch the surface. But today we are leaving, heading for the Åland Islands in Finland.
Let me back up a little bit. I last wrote when we were in Västervik, surrounded by reminders that Björn Ulvaeus (ABBA) was a beloved local hero. We left there headed for an island anchorage to be determined. It was a lovely passage through the Swedish southern archipelago. This could be the San Juans or the Canadian Gulf Islands. Great swaths of glaciated granite push up from the water, topped with twisted trees or sometimes whole forests. In the San Juans the red-barked trees are madrona (arbutus); here they are a variety of pine. Most of the boats (whether sail or motor) will nose right up to the granite shore, throw out a stern anchor a short distance, and then tie on to a tree or ring on shore. You climb off the bow right onto the shore, so you don't need a dinghy. There are no tides to speak of here, and this is just the way it is done. But Craig tends to worry about whether the anchor is sufficiently set, and what happens if a wind comes up from the stern and pushes you right onto shore. So I think there's no risk we'll ever do the "nosing up to the shore" thing. We'll anchor out and inflate our dinghy when and if there is a need.
While in Västervik we had managed to acquire a cruising guide to the southern archipelago. This is not the one the sardonic British cruiser/writer had referred to as "the Bible", but it does have excellent chartlets and aerial (drone?) photos of all possible anchorages on sunny days. It is breathtakingly expensive, but having gotten ourselves here, we decided to bite the bullet and buy the guide. All the descriptions, of course are in Swedish. I've downloaded the Google Translate app for Swedish, and in theory you can point your phone's camera at a page of Swedish, and it will show you the page translated into English. But Google Translate certainly hasn't heard of most nautical words, and what tends to come up is a lot of gibberish. (I have found it useful, though for translating labels on packages of food in the grocery store - "Cold smoked salmon" - YES!!)
But I digress - Using the new book, we chose an anchorage named Gubbö kupa. It was very much like many Pacific Northwest anchorages, a horseshoe bay protected from three sides, and room for a lot of boats. We were fortunate there was only one other boat that wanted to anchor. We spent a quiet evening there, enjoyed another beautiful sunset and slept well, before setting off again in the morning for Nynäshamn.
The Finns who had given us some destination advice back in Västervik had been enthusiastic about Nynäshamn. We found it to be a mixed bag. The pleasure boat harbor is right next to the ferry landings. There seem to be three or four monstrous ferries that land there regularly. There are acres of concrete lanes for cars and trucks to wait for transport to Gotland and other destinations. All the people waiting for ferries wander into the area next to the marina, where dozens of small shops are deployed to catch their attention. Plenty of ice cream stands and hamburger spots. Next to the docks is a walkway thronged by sunburned tourists eating cotton candy and towing tired children. But on the plus side we found an excellent "Smokehouse" restaurant featuring some of the best smoked salmon we've had in quite some time. We liked the meal so much that we went next door to their shop and bought a couple of big pieces to put in the refrigerator.
I walked up into town and found a phone store that was finally able to sell us the necessary sim card and top-up voucher to enable us to download podcasts, keep up with the latest news (oh horrors!) and watch Steven Colbert. Not to mention catching up on email or facebook and posting to our blog!
We ended up tied to a very long dock (very far from the showers) which proved to be a good promenade destination for people waiting for ferries. Many people walked by and asked the usual question, "Did you sail all the way here?" I got into conversation with one Finnish fellow who wanted me to know, in no uncertain terms, that he thought Michelle Obama should run for President next time, and that she'd be sure to win. I told him I was pretty sure she didn't want to do that, and that even if she did, it might be a very ugly contest with no certain outcome. He didn't believe me.
From Nynäshamn it was two days to Stockholm. We anchored the first night at a lovely anchorage near Dalarö, where we were all alone but for one sailboat nosed up to one of the shores. Again we watched a peaceful sunset. I can never resist taking photographs. Back home the sunsets come and go pretty quickly, but here they last forever. I run up to take the first picture, and it keeps getting better and better. It's a good thing I'm not wasting film, but only electrons.
As we approached Stockholm, the channels got narrower and more complex (more rocks and other things to avoid) and the traffic got heavier. We began to see more and more small ferries. We passed an old stone fort in the middle of a channel, which was just opposite an island of dead trees covered with thousands of big birds. It felt as though there must be a story involving the fort, the dead trees and the birds. Perhaps an Ingmar Bergman film?
The entry to Stockholm was through a narrow channel called Baggensstaket. The entrance is invisible until you're on top of it. It swings into a narrow, relatively shallow channel lined with sailing clubs and millionaire homes. Big elaborately decorated houses have little matching boat houses. The gardens are gorgeous. The channel passes an extensive park that turns out to be a cemetery. A ferry full of tourists seems to command the entire channel, and we veer off into a wider spot to let him pass. After some time the channel widens out into a lake and then narrows again. The cliffs on either side are higher and the docks have long staircases going up to the elaborate houses. The wealth on display is frankly jaw-dropping.
Finally we exit into the main channel, and there the traffic is thick and requires a lot of attention. We had debated about which marina to enter, and as it turns out we headed into the first of the close-to-downtown marinas, called Navishamn. The harbormaster came out to meet us in his dinghy and then, before getting or giving any information, raced off, saying "follow me." The slip he led us to was impossible to enter without bow-thrusters (which we don't have) and we quickly cut away. There were no other available slips, so we opted for an outside side-tie. Everyone warned us it would be awful. The waves from passing ships, ferries and hot rodders were enormous, so it was a very rocky place to tie up. The boat would slam up against the dock, squeezing up a fountain of water that would splash across the dock and all over the boat. We put up with it for the afternoon, and in the evening things calmed down. The next morning we were able to get into a slip further back towards the shore. It's still pretty rocky, but better than that first afternoon.
Across the big channel here is the sea wall where the giant cruise ships tie up. They are three-at-a-time, each of them carrying thousands of tourists. They stay only a day or less, and the next day are replaced by new ones. We are here on the island of Djurgården, with dozens of museums within walking distance. A tram runs by the gate of the marina and takes us to the downtown of a newer part of the city, and to ferry, bus and train connections to all other parts of Stockholm.
Here in the marina there are more nationalities than we have seen in most other places. Plenty of boats, of course, from Sweden, Finland and Germany, but here we saw our first American boat (other than ourselves). We also saw boats from Poland and Spain, and one flying the Welsh flag. On the hill above the marina (just on the other side of the tram stop) is the very large Italian embassy. We've had many conversations with the folks who stop by and ask whether we sailed all the way here from Oregon. An American woman and her Swedish husband stopped by and offered much helpful advice about where we might find a good boatyard in the Gothenburg area, should we decide to winter the boat over in that area.
Last night a Finnish single-hander ("Uka" --spelled Yka) came in to the dock and Craig helped him with the lines. Uka came over after he had settled, and joined us in the cheese course of our dinner. (We've been collecting different cheeses as we travel, and sometimes we'll start dinner with a taste test of the latest acquisitions.) Uka had lots of good advice to offer about our next destination, the Åland islands. He says the people there speak Swedish, and would rather be part of Sweden, but due to long-standing political reluctance, remain a part of Finland. They've been allowed, though, to have their own semi-autonomous zone, along with a different flag.
The day after we arrived in Stockholm we were joined by friends Mark Downing and Fern Elledge. With them we have explored many interesting sights in Stockholm, including the old city in Gamla Stan, the Vasa museum and the Skansen historical park. We took a small but crowded ferry across the water to Gamla Stan, the very oldest part of the city. There are wonderful narrow alleys, 17th century buildings of an amazing variety, with beautiful and sometimes odd architectural details. Lots of restaurants spill onto the narrow streets with outside seating. Many stores and galleries look tempting, but most were closed. We happened upon a band concert in front of the Nobel museum and spent a delightful few minutes listening. Yesterday we went to the Saluhall, a public market, for supplies. It's delightful, upscale, and full of small trendy restaurants. We bought some take-out and sat in a big church yard, watching the people. Stockholm is a wonderful city, and one could easily spend weeks here. But prices are high and other destinations beckon, so we are headed northeast today to the Finnish islands of Åland.
Best wishes to all!
Craig & Barbara Johnston
Songs, singers and other interesting people in Västervik, Sweden
08 July 2017 | Västervik, Sweden
Barbara/cloudy with sun breaks
We (Craig, Barbara, Chip & Kit) left Oskarshamn on a beautiful, sunny day and headed north through the Swedish archipelago. There are islands everywhere, with every sort of boat nosed up to a rock, spilling its Swedish sunbathers and barbecuers onto the shores. The outer islands are just low mounds of rock; the inner islands have rock outcroppings, but at least a few trees and sometimes substantial forests. Many islands have a summer home or two or many. The passages between the islands are sometimes quite narrow, with just enough room for pleasure boats to squeeze by each other.
Just after passing through one such narrow passageway, we entered the Västervik harbor, carefully picking our way along a tortuous buoy-lined path, and finally arriving at the gästhamn (guest harbor). Despite the presence of a line of buoys 20 meters away from the outer dock, we saw that many larger boats were in fact side-tied to the outer dock and not using the buoys at all. On crowded days the harbormaster certainly wouldn’t like that, because you can fit 3 or 4 buoy-tied boats in the space taken by one side-tied boat. But here, evidently, you were allowed to side-tie for, it turns out, a higher fee. So we did.
(I must diverge for a moment and say, for the benefit of cruisers from back home, that guest moorage fees in Sweden have been very reasonable – on the order of $25 or $30 a night, INCLUDING electricity, water, showers, washers and dryers, and in the case of Västervik, use of the swimming pool. Oops! Craig just told me that today is the first day of “high season” and the price of a night’s side-tie moorage here went up from 250 krona ($29.65) to 304 krona ($36.05))
It turned out that the dock we chose was so new that it didn’t yet have electricity or water. But they were working on it. When we first tied up, there was a worker cleaning up scraps of wire from the dock, and other workers closer to shore were wrestling electrical cables through heavy yellow tubes. They said “maybe tomorrow” we’d have electricity. With all credit to those hard-working guys, we did indeed have electricity the next day. No water, but now we have plenty of that coming out of the sky.
We came to the gästhamn in Västervik despite a dire warning from Martin Edge in his acerbic 2014 Baltic guide (165 Rocks and other stuff to tie your boat to in eastern Sweden and Finland):
"The rip-off 'Promarina' marina in the town centre is to be avoided, as are all the new marinas owned by that company as they try to build an empire and establish a monopoly in a lot of Swedish harbours. It’s double the price and about a tenth as well sheltered."
Well, it turns out that the Promarina operation was so hated that it was boycotted by many boaters, and ultimately failed financially. The marina was recently purchased by a group of investors, including, notably, Björn Alvaeus of the musical group ABBA. They have already invested substantially in the marina’s infrastructure, including the dock we’re on, and they have ambitious plans to substantially increase the number of moorage spaces, and a new building across the way will contain additional boater facilities (and a number of luxury apartments). There are plans to build a grand hotel on the site as well. It will remain to be seen how much moorage prices will be affected by all this.
We first learned about the ABBA connection when we asked a local fellow, passing by, to take a picture of the four of us. He happily did so and then continued down the dock on his walk. A few minutes later he made a U-turn and came back to make sure that we knew that the building on the far side of the harbor was being built by Björn, who, by the way, was this fellow’s classmate in school. After that, we were told of the ABBA connection by numerous other local residents and fellow boat owners. They’re obviously all very proud of their local hero/star. We were invited to a poolside cocktail party in the evening, where “the owners” were showing up to thank their local customers. We did talk to one of the owners, but sad to report, Björn was not there.
The center of Västervik is a good walk from here. I walked over there the first day with Kit and Chip, while they checked out the bus and train transportation to Stockholm, as they would be leaving us the next day. They had good success, finding a bus that would take them to Stockholm in 3 ½ hours. We walked from the train station past a gorgeous brick church (St. Petri Kyrka) with soaring steeples and interesting wind vanes or decorative filigree on top of each spire. From there, to the grocery store and past some very interesting store fronts, restaurants and harbor facilities.
That evening we had a truly delightful dinner in the restaurant that is a part of this marina complex. They were offering a dinner special: paella and a glass of wine for 180 krona (about $21). (That is extremely cheap for dinner out in Sweden). We were served by a Swedish young man, Axel, who is still in high school. He was an absolute charmer, excellent English speaker, saying he was interested in physics and music, among other things. A future renaissance man, perhaps. At the end of the evening he brought his guitar over and sang us a Swedish folk song.
We said good-bye to Chip and Kit the next day, walking over to the train/bus station to see them off. We’d had a very nice visit, seeing wonderful things together and sharing boat duties. The boat, although 44 feet long, is a small space, and it’s a real credit to our guests when we can all get along together so well. We wish them a good rest of their trip (they are headed to Oslo before returning home).
Craig spent the rest of that day fighting the cell phone wars. We had bought a “hot spot” device in England, but it turns out that topping up the megabytes in Sweden is next to impossible, despite representations to the contrary when we bought the little device. “Three” (the mobile phone company) will not allow you to top up the device online unless you have a British credit card with a British billing address. (Which we obviously don’t.) Hmmmph!!! Further efforts to address this problem will take place in Stockholm.
We are the only American boat. We have not seen another American-flagged boat since our arrival in Europe in May. People will wander by and stare at the boat, and if we are around, they want to know “Did you sail it all the way here?” Certainly the number of times we’ve been asked that is approaching, or maybe even more than 100 different times. We’ve been able to get our standard answer shorter and shorter, because retelling the story gets pretty boring to us.
A number of the visitors to the boat have been American expats. Here in Västervik, a man came down from his top-floor apartment onshore to welcome us and talk to some fellow Americans. In Kalmar we had a visit from an American who had been in Sweden 25 years, never had a job here, just invested and sailed his boat around. We also had a visit here in Västervik from a RN/EMT who, when on duty, was required to be no more than 90 seconds from the aid car. (He thought our boat qualified). He had grown up in Southern California, but has been happily in Sweden with his Swedish wife and four boys for many years. He had some great island destination advice for us, and encouraged us to call him if we ever had any difficulties.
We also get plenty of visitors who are Swedish, Danish or Finnish, German or Dutch. Those seem to be the predominant nationalities that are cruising here. We’ve seen perhaps 2 or 3 cruising boats from the UK on this trip, but they are almost as rare as Americans. Last night we met a Finnish couple and invited them aboard for conversation and drinks. They were able to offer some very helpful advice about marinas in Stockholm as well as cruising destinations between here and there. We talked about languages, cultures, politics and many other things.
Today it’s been raining, although the sun is trying to shine through. It’s a day for boat projects before we head out into the islands tomorrow, and spend a few days on anchor or nosed up to a convenient rock. We hope that your summer is as much fun as ours has been so far!
Best wishes to all.
From Rainstorms to Rock Music: Kalmar to Oskarshamn
05 July 2017 | Oskarshamn, Sweden
It seems an eternity since I posted a blog entry, but in truth it’s only been a week. We’ve packed in so many interesting experiences that it seems like many weeks instead. When I last wrote we had just arrived in Kalmar after an exciting sail up from Karlskrona. A rather too exciting docking had left us wondering what damage had been done. We later watched some landings that were just as exciting as ours, and people told us that Kalmar is renowned for its strong and unpredictable winds.
After a good night’s rest we checked out the damage. At one point during that sail from Karlskrona, a piece of elderly shock cord broke, allowing the Monitor self-steering gear to bang from its stowed to its fully deployed position and, we later discovered, knocking the dinghy’s 5-gallon gas tank out of its (we thought) completely secure straps. (The gas tank, we hope, didn’t leak and subsequently washed up on a Swedish shore, where someone can use the fuel rather than us being guilty of an oil spill…) We have one bent metal fitting from our Kalmar docking, which will likely need to be replaced at some point, and our name on the side of the boat will need to be renewed perhaps a bit earlier than expected. We did no damage to anyone else, thank heavens!
Kalmar proved to be a very interesting place, and we ended up staying four days. This was mostly because of bad weather, but also because it was on a direct train line from Copenhagen, by means of which Chip and Kit Gardes could easily arrive a couple of days later.
The first day in Kalmar we visited the Kalmar Slott (castle) which had interesting exhibits of Swedish history, as well as suits of armor, a fully-furnished dining hall, amazing 400-year-old marquetry (pictures made of 17 different types of inlaid wood), royal bedrooms and a secret passage. There were period-dressed young Swedish women, ready to tell us about what we were seeing, including the renaissance uses of herbs and the reasons for the secret passage (for the king to escape his annoying brother, and to use the loo). Somehow we missed the chapel, which Lonely Planet tells us is a highly-sought-after wedding venue for young Swedish brides.
We walked around the old part of the town and saw lots of strawberry vendors, several American shops (Ben & Jerry’s, Subway…) and plenty of nice restaurants that spilled out into sidewalk cafes. An elaborate fountain had bronze panels featuring scenes of mayhem and triumph from Swedish history. Craig frequented the nearby chandlery, looking for various necessary bits and pieces of boat hardware, including a new 6-gallon gas tank to replace the one that mysteriously disappeared between Karlskrona and Kalmar.
Then it turned rainy and windy. We dashed up to the restroom to take showers, and into the adjacent shopping center to shop for food. We got out the sewing machine and made a Sunbrella cover for the new gas tank. We caught up on our reading and used the harbor wi-fi to learn the latest about the weird political situations in the United States. I made a bus trip (in the rain) up to Kalmar’s Ikea to replace a couple of aging pillows. You may or may not be surprised to know that the Ikea in Kalmar is about the same size as the one in Portland. It was absolutely crammed with people escaping the rain to shop for household furnishings and/or eat at the reasonably priced Ikea restaurant.
Chip & Kit arrived in the rain (the train station was about 500 yards from where we had docked the boat), and after they dried off and settled in, we decided to visit the Cathedral in the old City and a couple of interesting-sounding museums. By far the hit of the day was the Kalmar Län Museum. They have an exhibit of artifacts from a 1676 ship which exploded mid-naval battle. Because of the unique conditions in the Baltic (low salinity) and the mud into which the wreck settled, there was very little deterioration. The exhibit included many articles of daily living including leather shoes, complete uniforms, wood carvings, brass navigation instruments that looked to have been manufactured yesterday, all the parts to a nice violin in its case, hundreds of gold and silver coins, and sets of bottles – both pewter and glass – in fitted boxes, some of which had been opened by the museum conservators and found to still contain liquor with 40% alcohol.
After gawking at these incredible exhibits, we found ourselves on the fourth floor where there was a nice restaurant, featuring a salad bar with pickled herring and lingonberry jam. (What more could a person want?) (That was Chip’s favorite – he’s a Swedish herring fan). I chose the meatballs and pasta dish, not realizing that no sauce was included. The waiter offered me ketchup instead. Hmmm… I remember when one of our exchange students, Henrik Olsson, came to live with us, he asked whether we had ketchup to use on pasta that already had quite a bit of tomato sauce. I guess he’s not the only Swede with a taste for ketchup.
The next morning we planned to sail to Borgholm, on the island of Öland. I was awake at 6 am, as was Chip. Our respective spouses were still asleep, so we decided to walk into Kalmar’s Old City in search of coffee. There were certainly plenty of trendy coffee shops we had seen a couple of days previously on our walk through the City. But it turns out that at 6:30 am on a Sunday, nothing at all was open. Coffee shops had signs that they were opening at 11 am or later. We decided that a hotel might have coffee for their guests at all hours. So we made our way to the Stad Hotel on the City’s central square. The clerk said they did indeed have coffee, and he said it was freshly brewed. He offered us a couple of to-go cups “on the house”. We accepted the coffee and took our first sips. Walking out the door we agreed that it was certifiably the worst coffee either of us has ever tasted. Imagine McDonald’s coffee after it has sat on a burner all night. We walked far enough to be out of view of the hotel’s windows, and poured both cups down a street drain. Back at the boat, Craig and Kit were awake, so we ground beans and made good coffee for all before our morning departure to Borgholm in sunshine and light winds.
At Borgholm, we found that no side-ties were available, so we actually managed to tie from the bow to a buoy and from the stern to a floating dock. We hadn’t seen this particular docking arrangement before, but it seemed to be, and was, workable for us on this particular day. Much depends upon the height of the dock and the direction of the wind. As the evening progressed, a lot of wind came up, but we found that we bounced around less with this docking arrangement than we had with a side tie in Kalmar.
One of our cruising guides, by an irreverant Englishman named Martin Edge, describes Borgholm as “The Home World of the Hive,” a reference to the Borg Collective, featured in Star Trek Next Generation. But that description is pretty far-off from what we found in Borgholm. It’s a pleasant town with a sea-resort feel. The Swedish Royal Family has their summer palace nearby, and the residential parts of the town are filled with posh Victorian Swedish houses. (It turns out that the English Queen Victoria had quite a presence here, and she was the one who actually instigated the building of what is now the Swedish Royal Palace.)
We visited Borgholm Castle the next day – it’s mostly a huge ruin, but parts have been restored with interesting historical exhibits. The Swedish Royal family abandoned it when the wood roofs and other wooden parts burned in the nineteenth century. Parts of the castle have been restored, but most of the new work going on seems to have to do with turning it into a “historically sensitive” rock concert venue. Speaking of rock concerts, on our way back to the boat that evening, we learned that the hotel at the head of the docks was having an “after beach” party that evening. The idea was, evidently, that you (hypothetical, young, with-it vacationer) spent all day on the beach and now it was time to PARTY! The weather in the afternoon and evening was awful enough that no one was on the beach, but that didn’t stop anyone from coming to the party. The thumpa-thumpa of rock music during the evening was fortunately mostly drowned out by slapping waves and clanking halyards.
The next morning it was still quite windy, but sunny. We had decided to rent a car and drive around the island. When we first went into the hotel where we were to rent, the electricity was out (apparently on the entire island) so getting signed up was a somewhat tedious process. After the power finally came on, we got underway. The guide book told us that there were over 400 Dutch-style windmills on Öland, so our first stop was at the largest of them. We were able to climb up to the sixth floor of eight, seeing grinding stones, complicated sets of gears, chutes, steep ladders, sail parts, and ultimately a deck with a 360 degree view of the Öland countryside. Unfortunately neither this, nor any of the other dozens of windmills we saw were operational, although there were plenty of modern wind turbines generating electricity for the island.
We stopped at Kaffeestugan in the little town of Böga and had our morning dose of fika (the Swedish coffee-and-pastry occasion which I described in my previous blog entry). Wonderful coffee and spectacularly delicious (and expensive) pastries. Then we drove on further north, looked at a couple of harbors, a lighthouse, more windmills and beautiful scenery. We stopped at a nature reserve to have a look around and found that we had parked on top of a bed of wild strawberries. They have an intense strawberry flavor and were perfectly ripe.
We visited a medieval church, which unfortunately only opens Wednesday through Sunday (we were there on a Monday). We looked at ancient gravestones, where the writing was completely eliminated by centuries of weather. We looked through the windows, but there wasn’t much to be seen. I was interested in this church because it reportedly had a Viking rune stone inside, but there was no joy to be had.
Next we entered a forest preserve where they reportedly had 1000-year old oaks. It turns out that almost all of the Öland oaks had been cut down in past centuries for ship-building. Forests have been replanted, but not many of them contain oaks. We did find some old oaks, as well as beech trees and a beautiful untouched forest floor. Right next to the forest preserve was a huge camping operation, primarily for folks with campers or trailers. There were swimming pools, Segway rentals, kayaks, beaches and who knows what else. Many of the campers had huge zip-on canvas living rooms larger than the camper itself. Obviously, everyone is prepared for rain.
When we got back to Borgholm, we saw a beautiful sunset and prepared to sail to Oskarshamn the next morning. The winds were quiet, so the sounds of another thumpa-thumpa concert or nightclub clearly reached us across the water. Never mind, we slept well that night after our fabulous day of exploration.
When we reached Oskarshamn, we were told that we could stay only one day because they have reservations for boats coming in for the upcoming rock festival (biggest festival of the year). Obviously we’re following the wrong calendar! In fact there was a stage going up about 30 feet from where we docked, and fencing was being erected to separate the boaters from the concertgoers. The harbormaster has assured us that it will be very loud here. We’ve managed to wangle an additional day’s moorage, and the rock concert won’t start until the day after we leave. We walked up into town, got groceries, got most excellent pastries from Nilsson’s Conditeri, and have managed to wash our dirty clothes in the marina’s free machines. Kit is making us a most-excellent lamb stew for dinner, and we’re feeling very relaxed.
I hope this blog post finds you all in a pleasant place and excellent spirits like we are.
Bornholm to Kalmar
27 June 2017 | Kalmar, Sweden
Barbara/Sunny and warm
In our last blog entry, I left you contemplating the rising sun during our overnight passage from Møn to the island of Bornholm. As we approached the island the air became misty, and we didn't actually see the entrance until we were quite close; don't worry, we have excellent electronic navigation and so there was never any doubt about where we were. [Tech note from Craig: our nav instruments include paper charts, electronic charts on both the pc and plotter at the helm, AIS (a transponder that sends out out position to boats in the vicinity and more importantly allows us to see them) and radar to see small boats and natural objects.]
We entered the main harbor of Rønne and set out to explore what the various mooring options were. There was a small enclosure for yachts, but we did not spot it until we were already settled. We looked at the north basin, where some ferries land, and then we looked at the south basin, which was obviously a fishing terminal. We didn't look at the separate yacht harbor a mile to the north, because it appeared to be all "boxes" (see previous blog entry) which made for difficult docking. (We later learned that some of their docks have been converted to floats - previously unseen by us in the Baltic, still exceedingly rare, and which we would have vastly preferred!)
Never mind, we settled on the fishing harbor and tied up to a quay there. The quay was concrete, equipped with giant but ancient rusty mooring rings and old tires alongside. Sequoia's sides are now showing some evidence of tire schmutz, deposited there before we could get a dark-colored bumper in between the boat and the tire.
We met the owner/restorer of a 101 year old Danish sailboat named Rønne, which was just across the quay from us. He told us this boat was built and used in Bornholm and he has been restoring it over the last two years. He works as a restorer for the local maritime museum ("just over there...") which he said we ought to visit.
We had only a day and a half on the island of Bornholm, and plenty of sights to see. The harbor seems to have at least 3 different ferry lines landing there, and apparently they disgorge hordes of tourists, starting about the first of July. There are beaches at the south end of the island, cliffs at the north, historic sites, plenty of bike trails and lots of mostly-empty restaurants. Just a bit more than a week before the first of July the tourists had not yet arrived. We decided to rent a car and take advantage of the 18 hours of daylight and the relative absence of tourists. We visited the tourist office and got some recommendations, and decided to drive to Svaneke, across the island (about ½ hours drive) for dinner.
We parked by Svaneke's small harbor and had a look at how the boats were moored. The harbor had been carved out of the granite rock at some time in the past. There were actually three different mooring basins - the inner one mostly for local, smaller boats, the middle one for visiting boats and an outer one for larger boats. We talked to a couple of the different boat owners in the middle basin. The mooring method there was this: Nose up to the wall, and tie the bow onto the wall. Then, grab the harbor line hanging there on the wall and pull it up from the bottom. The other end of that line is tied to an anchor in of the middle of the mooring basin. Needless to say it's covered with very smelly seaweed and who knows what else. Pull that line to the back of your boat, pull it tight, and attach it to your boat. Eeewww! Now go wash your hands!
Svaneke is one of those towns which is determined to be historically accurate. People there cannot make changes to the outside of their houses without permission. It's a charming place, full of very expensive restaurants, art galleries and gift shops. We looked at the posted menus for a couple of the different big restaurants, blanched at the prices and kept walking. We finally found a burger bar in the basement of a big waterfront hotel, and were able to order inexpensively priced dinners there. I made the mistake of ordering a "guacamole burger" and it came slathered in pale green stuff that tasted like mayonnaise. The burgers were, after a few bites, fork-and-knife meals. If I ignored the fact that it was sold as "guacamole" the burger was actually quite delicious.
Neither of us have any proficiency whatsoever in Danish. Usually that's not a problem, because most Danes speak English quite well. The proprietor of the burger establishment, however, did not. One of the other patrons came over to help us with the ordering process. While we were waiting for our dinners to come, we got into conversation with him and his wife. They had retired to Bornholm a few months ago from Copenhagen, and had plenty of opinions about retirement and European politics. He described at some length his view of the difference between Danes and Swedes, and it seemed to come down to a difference in bargaining styles. Danes, he thought were hard bargainers, while Swedes insisted on price stability. The fellow must have been in some business that was involved in such negotiations.
As we were paying for our food at the end of dinner, we noticed a Golden Retriever waiting politely just outside the door. We spotted the dog's owner and complimented her on her beautiful, well-behaved dog. She spoke English well, and wanted to know how we felt about Trump and the future of the country. It turned out she was a pastor at several of the historic churches on Bornholm, and once we were done with the political discussion, she started to tell us about some of her churches. One of them is a round church which has inside a stone covered with Viking runes. I asked her why some of the churches on Bornholm were round - she explained that they were built to be multi-purpose: churches, fortresses (complete with arrow slits) and grain storage. Life was uncertain on Bornholm in past centuries and the people looked to their churches for security.
The dog was continuing to wait patiently, and the pastor's take-out dinner was getting cold so we said good-bye. She was a fascinating person and we could have spent all evening with her. I regretted that we didn't find out which church with Viking runes was hers. The next day we came upon a round church, and walked around it. But it was locked up tight, being after 5 pm. Another reason to come back to Bornholm.
After dinner in Svaneke, we walked through the town to the north, past the expensive restaurants. There was a herring smoking establishment, with five chimneys and lots of tables waiting for tourists. There were big cannons trained out to sea, waiting to defend against invaders in past centuries. There were art galleries and gift shops, all closed now, as the day drew to a close. We drove back to Sequoia, into the setting sun.
The next day was laundry day, particularly important now that we had a rental car to haul the big bags. There was only one laundromat on the island. All the washers, dryers, centrifuges and mangles(!) were connected to a master console covered with buttons, coin slots and complex instructions in Danish. We tried to decipher it and then called on another customer to help us. She spoke no English, but another much younger customer heard our efforts and came over to help. We loaded four machines, and promptly discovered (after putting money in the master console) that one of the machines was broken. There were various other technical glitches. The man at the other end of the laundromat's telephone number said we ought to come around at 8 am the next morning for our refund; he couldn't get there any sooner. We'd be sailing by that time the next morning, so we wrote it off as tourist tax.
The laundry done, we went to a cafe and had smørrebrød sandwiches for the second day in a row (they had been that good the day before). We got into an interesting discussion with the proprietor about economic conditions on Bornholm. As with many of the tourist places we are visiting, they must make their entire year's income in 3 months. Weather conditions can be very harsh in the winter. Most of the young people leave the island for college education, and many don't come back. The island is losing general population and increasing the number of elderly and retired people. People in the ages of 30-40 don't see good opportunities to make a living or further their education. We talked about all that, but could offer no solutions.
We timed our afternoon expedition to get the rental car back before the end of the day. Our plan was to see Hammershuset Slot Castle at the north end of the island. It was a good day not to be sailing because the wind was really whistling around the high promontory where the castle was set. There is no admission fee for the castle ruins, and they are just starting on a major restoration. In one previous restoration many of the walls were rebuilt out of red brick, instead of the original granite stone. It's a large castle, and it's easy to imagine what it might have been like to live there. Signs described the life there, and the historic twists, turns and wars that swirled around the place. A group of pre-teen children followed around a mentor, listening (we presume) to descriptions of life there. Evidently this was part of a "Viking camp" or some such thing which takes place at the site for young people each summer.
We ended the afternoon with a visit to a round church, and then hurried to get the car back to the rental agency. Bornholm seems to roll up its sidewalks at 5 pm. No one is on the streets and most of the shops are closed. We had talked about eating at the Sydhavn (south harbor) Grill, which appeared to be a sort of diner catering to fishers and harbor workers. There were no cars there when we approached, and we feared it was closed. But as we approached we could see people inside, and we were very glad to find some good food that wasn't at sky-high tourist prices. I had a very interesting dish called "Kabob" which turned out to be a huge plate of french fries covered with little bits of seasoned beef and drizzled all over with peppery mayonnaise. Very strange, but tasty. In the diner with us were various dock workers and an athletically dressed couple who (by the logos on their shirts) have a business running bike trips for tourists.
We headed back to the boat and prepared for our sail the next day to Karlskrona. In the morning the wind was relatively calm (at least compared to the previous day) and we had an easy (but long) sail to Karlskrona. We sailed in past old naval forts, the naval museum with its historic ships and finally a huge coast guard ship docked right next to the City Marina. We easily tied up to a long dock, and were soon greeted by our friends Solveig and Lennart Olsson, who live in Karlskrona. Their son, Henrik, was an exchange student who spent a year with us back in about 1992, and we have enjoyed a growing friendship with Henrik's parents. (We'll see Henrik and his family later this summer).
This was the weekend of Midsommarfest, a traditional Swedish celebration of the longest day of the year. We were introduced to the Swedish custom of "fika", which is a morning coffee-and-pastry get together. The first day we had fika with Solveig, Lennart and son Niclas with his family. Delicious food, and a sunny, friendly time on the deck. The second day, fika at the home of Solveig's brother, Christer and his wife, GunBritt, who offered us good advice about sailing and Sweden and the various destinations we might visit in the weeks ahead. The third day we tried to put on a fika of our own on the boat. We don't have quite such nice tableware as do the Olssons in their lovely home, but a good time was had by all. We visited the Naval Museum one day, and did an excursion to Kristianopel (flowers, cottages, shops, seaside) the next. Altogether a relaxing and delightful interlude in our sailing summer.
This morning we left Karlskrona for Kalmar. Strong winds were predicted, but they were supposed to taper off during the day. That didn't happen, and we had somewhat of a wild ride all the way here. We had the main rigged with 3 reefs, and the staysail reefed to about half size. (For non-sailors, that means we made the sails much smaller than normal). Even with reduced sail, the boat was pushed to hull speed. We expected the wind to lessen as we entered the harbor here in Kalmar, but that turned out not to be the case either. A big gust happened just as we were approaching the dock and it was a somewhat rough landing. We're a bit exhausted tonight, but we'll need to assess whether there was any damage in the morning.
Docking in the Baltic
23 June 2017 | Karlskrona, Sweden
Barbara/warm and sunny
We’ve just arrived in Karlskrona, Sweden to celebrate Midsummer with our friends Lennart and Solveig Olsson. We’re looking forward to renewing a warm friendship and sharing Swedish experiences together. But I’ve fallen behind on my blog submissions, so I’ll take you back to the beginning of our time in Denmark (only a week ago!), and catch up as quickly as I can. So much happens that is new and interesting that it’s hard to find time to stop and record our experiences and memories.
For me, the challenges of docking the boat Baltic style have been a worry. So I’m going to talk about that for a bit, and then we’ll get back to the fun stuff. If you’re not a sailor, and you’re not interested in boat handling, I suggest you skip ahead until you see, at the beginning of a paragraph, “BUT LET ME DIVERGE...”
As part of our planning for this trip, I spent a lot of time on the internet, looking at possible destinations, including photos of marinas. Google Earth allows you to see what the harbors look like from overhead, including type and size of boat, and what the docking arrangements are. Most Baltic Sea marinas have the sailboats with their bow (front end) to the dock, and stern (rear end) tied to two pilings. Each boat appears to touch or almost touch the boat next to it.
So how do you get off? I contemplated this for awhile, then did some research and found out that sailboats in the Baltic have an open bow pulpit, often with wooden steps for climbing off. One cruising guide said we would need to have a ladder to get down from the bow onto the dock. There are other docking systems too; one involves floating pontoons that won’t carry the weight of a person; another involves picking up a slimy rope off the bottom that you tie to your boat (ew!) There seem to be variants of each system.
Apparently these different systems are easier and cheaper for the marina owners, and they work because the Baltic has tides of less than a foot, making it more or less like a lake. So they can build fixed docks onto pilings instead of having floats that ride up and down the pilings like we have in the Pacific Northwest. Then they build one of these docking systems and I guess all the folks around the Baltic learn to do it.
Climbing down from the bow pulpit sounded mighty acrobatic, and I couldn’t picture how we would do it with our closed bow pulpit and no such ladder. We discussed it, and decided there must be a way to do it, and we would just improvise when the time came.
We first saw Baltic style docking in Brunsbüttl, just inside the entrance to the Kiel Canal. Each boat nosed up to a concrete quay and tied a stern line to a big orange buoy. The boat owners climbed off the front end onto the quay. Fortunately that marina also had some side-tie spots available for larger boats (which we are). After that, I think our mantra had become: “Please, let there be side tie space available!”
We found side-tie space in Kiel, on the dock with the six or seven historic Dutch sailing ships. And we looked for, and found, side tie space in Maasholm, where we spent a couple of days with Cori’s family. But it was only matter of time until we had to face the inevitable and wind up in a harbor with no side tie available.
We looked with interest at how the Kosyna family boat was tied up in Arnis, in the typical Baltic method. We had a chance to go on their boat, and experience the Baltic-style on-off system through the open bow pulpit. It turns out that there is no need for any ladder, because the dock is set at a height that is just a few inches below the bow of a middle-size sailboat. This began to seem possible.
In Baltic-style moorage, the space for the boat is called a “box” not a “berth”. The front of the box is the dock, and the back of the box is the two pilings. You have to go between the two pilings to get into the box. Cori told us that it is common to have to push the two pilings apart a bit to get between them, so the pilings often scrape along the side of the boat. Cori pointed out that almost all the sailboats have sacrificial rub rails on their boats. An extra strip of wood is often used, or a strip of rubber that sticks out farther than the side of the boat. We saw some boats that had thick sections of rope added along their toe rail. We decided that we might be able to figure out how to do the rope thing, and indeed, at a chandler in Kappeln, Craig found such ropes available, 240 Euros ($290) for the pair of them. Yikes! (But, we decided, cheaper than the boat repairs we would have to do after only a few such scrapes.) So we bought and have now installed them.
As I described in our last blog post, we said good-bye to the Kosynas and headed for Marstal on the island of Aerø, Denmark. We knew that we would have to face “the box” for sure there. Craig called ahead to ask if by any chance they had any side-ties available, but no, box berth it is. In this particular case we didn’t have to worry about poles that were too close together, because the guest “boxes” radiated like petals on a daisy from a circular dock, making the back of the box wider than the front.
We hadn’t counted on the wind being as strong as it was. We got one line around one piling and almost got the bow up to the dock, but weren’t able to get a line onto the dock. Unexpectedly the cleats were not cleats but instead giant inverted U-shaped staples. The wind blew the bow off, and now all of a sudden we were sideways in the space. Fortunately a Norwegian guy on the dock offered to help, although as it turns out, we couldn’t get a line to him. Then a small boat came along and was able to carry our bow line to the Norwegian guy, and we managed to get the boat docked. We figured out how to climb on and off the bow pulpit, and all was good. We felt somewhat better when the two boats that came in after us (both regular Baltic sailors, one from Germany and another from Denmark) had great difficulty getting docked in that wind. In each case a lot of help was required from adjacent boats (including us).
BUT LET ME DIVERGE from the docking question, and get to the fun parts of our trip. We are seeing beautiful, historic places and meeting all sorts of interesting people. After the very interesting docking exercise at Marstal, we invited the Norwegian guy (Per-Arne) who had helped with our docking, and his wife (Kari-Anne), over to the boat for snacks and a drink. It turns out they just shipped their boat back from the Caribbean after spending seven years there. We talked about the unique position of Norway in the world economy, as well as the challenges of US politics at the present time. The next morning we heard a rap on the bow of our boat and a very gregarious couple introduced themselves. She, Karen, was an American who had been living in France all of her adult life, and her companion (the boat owner, Jean-Luc) was a French guy. They had gone through the Kiel Canal entrance lock with us, unbeknownst to us. Karen had noticed that we were an American boat – being American is pretty unusual around here – we have yet to see another boat with an American flag. We have been traveling more or less along the same path, and Karen has wanted to say hello. They had spotted us on their AIS receiver. Although both of our boats were docked on the island of Aerø, they were in different harbors. So Karen and Jean-Luc hopped on the free bus between the harbors and came down to find us.
We had a delightful conversation with Karen and Jean-Luc (verging into US and international politics, as we do with most Europeans), and they invited us to join them for lunch the next day in Aerøskoeping (their harbor). It seemed like a good opportunity, so we gladly accepted.
Marstal is a shipbuilding town with an interesting collection of old houses and a maritime museum. The iconic beach cottage that is on the cover of the current Denmark Lonely Planet guide is just south of Marstal – we could see it from our boat. We bought some strawberries from a sidewalk “honesty” stand (there seem to be lots of those this time of year, mostly featuring strawberries, jam and new potatoes.) We got to be pretty good at climbing off the bow of the boat onto the dock and enjoyed exploring the town.
The next day we took the free bus over to Aerøskoeping, which is described by the guide books as a “fairy tale” town. The very old houses are beautiful to look at, and full of interesting shops. We ate lunch with Karen and Jean-Luc at a very elegant French-style restaurant, very expensive, as it turned out. (We have found out throughout our time in Denmark that food is expensive here, particularly for the tourists.)
The bus trip to Aerøskoeping and back took us through rolling hills of agricultural country. The island of Aerø has set the goal to become energy independent by 2025, and we rolled past their six giant wind turbines and fields of photovoltaic panels and solar water heating panels. It seems like they are on track to reach their goal.
The box berth at Marstal was less difficult (but not easy) to leave than it had been to arrive. The problem in this case was that the area behind the berth (where we needed to back and turn) was only about 20 feet wide before it started to lose depth. Once again we envied the European boats with their bow thrusters, who can turn in a much tighter radius than we can. We stirred up a lot of mud but didn’t actually touch bottom, and then we were headed for our next Danish destination, Gedser.
Gedser is on the island of Falster (which sounds like it might be a line from an opera where the soprano is accusing the tenor of being a scurrilous liar: “Falster!”) Never mind, Gedser appears to be a delightful place, although we didn’t spend long there. We came in, found a side tie, and secured ourselves to the dock with the assistance of several other boaters there. After we arrived there was a steady stream of sailboats arriving and looking for a side tie. We were glad to have arrived and found one of the few available. Nearly all the boats were German, and nearly all of those were charter boats. Typically it was six guys (an occasional lone woman) all decked out in full foul weather gear. The weather was pleasant and warm, and we were in our shorts. They energetically attacked the various tasks of docking and must have been sweltering in their foul weather gear. Apparently Gedser is one day’s easy sail from a chartering base in Germany. Some of the boats were out for 4 days of what is apparently a long weekend in Germany. They were all headed elsewhere early the next morning.
There was no harbor master on site in Gedser, so we dealt with the very complicated machine we have seen in several other marinas. It asks you various questions about your length, width, number of nights (sometimes number of people aboard) and then takes a credit card. Typically, then, it issues a sticker for the boat, a receipt, and a key card for the onshore facilities which carries a refundable deposit and an amount to spend on showers and perhaps electricity. If you’re lucky, the machine has a button marked with a Union Jack, so it will give you your instructions in English (or at least something that has been machine-translated into English). When you leave, if you’re lucky, you can stick the key card back in the machine and it will refund the deposit and any balance onto your credit card. Pretty cool if it all works (which it did in Gedser).
We only stayed overnight in Gedser because we wanted to have a longer time in Møn. So we left early the next morning and made the relatively short passage, arriving at Klintholm, Møn in the early afternoon. Klintholm Havn was originally built in the late nineteenth century as a port for shipping out natural resources from the Klintholm Estate. More recently it has been made into a resort, both for visiting yachts and for land-based travelers. As such it has nice facilities, but there is no real town nearby. The little grocery store caters to tourists and there are three fairly expensive restaurants. We ate at one of them, that for 189 Danish kroner (~US$29) offered a seafood buffet. Many kinds of Danish fish, including poached salmon, wolf fish drowned in onions, breaded deep fried patties made from ground fish, pickled herring, fried “plaice” (which appears to be a form of flatfish related to sole), and a fish soup (with small oysters) which was absolutely delicious. There were also various salads and several different kinds of potatoes. The restaurant looked out over the harbor, so was a very pleasant dinner setting.
At the restaurant, we were approached by a fellow sailor from the sailboat Intention, who said he had seen us at the Dutch island of Vlieland, where we were all hunkered down waiting out the big storm. We invited him, Jan-Bernard and his son, Pieter to come aboard Sequoia for an after-dinner drink. We learned that they were from Utrecht, Holland, and they were planning a trip more or less like ours: north through the Swedish islands, Stockholm, and then through the Gøta Canal to Gothenburg. From Gothenburg they’ll head south back to Utrecht, and they are allowing a month to make it back, to account for likely adverse weather and winds. We got to talking about our plans allowing only two weeks from Gothenburg to get to Portsmouth, England, and it has certainly gotten us thinking about whether we should allow more time, or consider again the possibility of leaving the boat somewhere on the Baltic for the winter, rather than trying to make it to England. We’ll be thinking a lot about that.
As with other guests on our boat, conversation turned to politics, and we talked a lot about what the future may hold. I expect we’ll be seeing Jan-Bernard and Pieter again during our trip, and that will be lovely.
Our next passage in Denmark would be over 75 miles, so we decided to do an overnight passage. We left Klintholm at 6 in the evening, motored over to the Cliffs of Møn, and anchored for dinner. The Cliffs of Møn are upthrust chalk cliffs and are quite spectacular. We sat there in the evening sun and enjoyed a delightful dinner. After washing up, we got started on our night passage to Bornholm. Mine was the first watch, and it was beautiful watching the sun go down at close to 10 pm on this nearly longest day of the year. The sun goes down quite diagonally, and it must take 15 or 20 minutes between the time its lower edge hits the ocean and the time the upper edge slides out of sight. That northern horizon never really gets dark during the night, and the sun comes up again at about 4 am just a bit further to the east along the same northern horizon.
This blog entry has gotten way too long, so I think I’ll leave you there, and we’ll continue with the arrival in Bornholm and beyond in a later submission.
Storms and Friends
15 June 2017 | Marstal, Aero Island, Denmark
Barbara/7 knots wind, thin high clouds
We last wrote as we were arriving in Vlieland following a very interesting passage through the North Sea. As it turns out, the North Sea wasn’t done with us. We had only planned to spend two leisurely days in Vlieland, enjoying some beach time and learning about the Frisian Islands culture. But the sun was nowhere to be seen, and instead we found ourselves buffeted by strong winds, thunder, lightning, and occasional downpours. We paid for one additional night and then another, after hearing that the North Sea had waves of 5 meters (16 feet) plus.
We had moored along one side of the marina, alongside the dike between the marina and the sea. As it turns out that wasn’t so wonderful, although there weren’t really many places in the marina that were better. The maximum wind gust we recorded was 58.6 knots, and for the first day and night we had sustained winds of 45-50 knots. The wind blew at us sideways, across the dike, and for most of that first day and night we were heeled over 15 degrees, just from the force of the wind on the mast and rigging. You’d think it would have gotten better at low tide, when we were 10 feet or so lower alongside the dike, but it didn’t seem to make much difference. I got out our high-seas rubberized mats so that the dishes wouldn’t slide across the counters. We doubled up our mooring lines, and added many ties to the rigging to attempt to stop the clatter. As I lay in bed that first night, I could hear at least 5 different rhythms clattering in my ears, and I truly thought (in one of those sleepiness-enhanced fears) that we were going to be torn off the dock and thrown across the harbor. I moved onto one of the center-of-the-boat settees, and slept much better.
That first day, a ferry came into the marina, docking with an amazing feat of seamanship in a harbor that didn’t have much more room for her than just to rotate on an axis. It was a three-deck ferry, and we can’t even figure out how she got in the narrow entrance. Certainly the rotation was done with the assistance of bow thrusters and stern thrusters, but still incredible.
(We’ve now learned that most of the sailboats and motorboats in our size range have bow thrusters, and the marinas are sometimes built with tight turns and narrow waterways that seem to assume everyone will have them. At first we were a bit scornful because piloting a boat with bow thrusters seems to require a lesser degree of boat handling skill, but I think we will come to regret that Sequoia doesn’t have them.)
After that first day and night in Vlieland, things improved a bit, but the forecast was still for high winds (in the 40 knot range) so we elected to remain. We ventured out to the harbormasters office, to the Marina’s restaurant and to the little convenience store for some basic groceries. The convenience store catered primarily to the tourists who weren’t there because of the weather. Out in front of the store they had a big display of beach chairs, sand toys, pails, shovels and the like. It seemed incongruous given the actual weather out on the beaches. In heavy rain, we walked the kilometer to the showers in our foul weather gear. It wasn’t actually that cold, so there was a risk that coming back from the shower you’d need a shower again.
We met some of the other sailors who were stuck there for three or four days, and made some new friends. Many people were able to advise us about sailing in the North Sea, passing through the Kiel Canal, and some of the places worth visiting in the Baltic. One generous sailor headed in the other direction has loaned us his charts for the Kiel Canal up to the south of Denmark, and we’ll mail those back to him in a week or so. It seems like an incredible act of generosity.
There were a number of historical Dutch boats in the harbor, apparently there for sail training. They didn’t go out during these stormy days, but there were always plenty of people aboard. As the weather improved we walked to the village of Oost Vlieland, found some groceries and a nice restaurant. The walk took us by the village’s ferry landing, where we watched more incredible feats of seamanship as the ferry headed into the landing, then used a heavy piling to pivot around 180 degrees ending up with its stern to the vehicle ramp. (All this during winds of about 25 knots). During the process, the engines stirred the water into a frenzy, and the seagulls went crazy, going for small sea critters that were sucked by the turbulence onto the surface.
We very much liked Vlieland, despite the rather trying circumstances of our first visit. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Finally, after consulting with the harbormaster and the weather forecast, we decided to head out on Friday midday. The Dutch historic training ships were headed out as well, and we enjoyed watching them handling the big sails and the huge leeboards. The route north around the island and into the North Sea requires careful navigation. We were told that the sands shift with every storm, and that the Dutch relocate some buoys every week. (None of that is reflected on current charts, so you just have to trust the Dutch Navy that the buoys are going to be in the right place.) (They were).
We planned an overnight passage to Brunsbüttel, which is just at the entrance to the Kiel canal. The passage was more or less uneventful. In these northern latitudes at this time of year, it never really gets dark. The sun goes down at about 10 pm and it’s back up by 3 am. The horizon is light all that time, and there was a full moon to boot. We had an easy time seeing all the huge ships heading to or from Hamburg or the Kiel Canal. There was an extensive wind farm with a red light on every wind turbine, oil platforms, and every kind of navigation buoy at frequent intervals. There was a large field of freighters anchored, apparently waiting their turn for dock space at Bremerhaven. The wind was favorable and we made good time for our entrance to the Kiel Canal.
You never know what the lock set-up is going to be, what lines you need to have ready and where to position your fenders. Our first lock experience was in Ballard (Seattle) many years ago, and my recollection is that you had to have two 150 foot lines in case they routed you through the big locks and you needed the lines to go up and back, even when you were at the lowest water level. The smaller locks had floating bollards that slid up and down in channels, so you were always tied closely to the wall, level with the boat. We had no idea what the Kiel Canal locks would have.
As it turned out there was a third system in use – floating platforms were along the sides of the locks, with rings on the floats as attachment points. The platforms were only about 8 inches high, so your fenders needed to be down in the water. Someone had to be prepared to jump off to run lines through the rings. So of course we were prepared for something else altogether, and there was a mad scurry to change our arrangements to match the conditions. It was something of a fire drill, and some of the other boaters looked on with amusement (or perhaps I’m imagining all that).
The water level changed very little between the North Sea and the Kiel Canal, so locking through didn’t take much time at all (except for the wait while boats filed into the lock). We exited the other side and immediately turned left into the Brunsbüttel marina, where we were to meet Cori and Jens Kosyna. There was a fair/flea market in full swing, with amusement rides, food carts, vendor tables and big crowds. Between the fair and the dock there was a narrow waterway and a railing. We felt somewhat like zoo animals on display behind a fence and moat. The amazing thing about Brunsbüttel is that when you turn away from the fair in the opposite direction, you’re just a few feet away from absolutely monstrous ships heading into or out of the lock. We felt like awe-struck children in the land of the giants.
Cori and Jens were driving over from the Kosyna family sailboat, two hours away in Arnis. The plan was that they would ride through the Kiel Canal with us, meeting the rest of the family at the other end, and retrieving the car at a later date. After they arrived we had dinner together and then got some well-deserved sleep for an early departure the next morning.
The Kiel Canal is a wonder of 19th century German engineering. Very well maintained, and big enough to accommodate large ocean-going freighters. It was our job to stay out of their way. Being Sunday, the charges for commercial boats was much higher, so the traffic was very light. Every now and then there is a ferry crossing, almost always with a hotel or cafe alongside. Sometimes the buildings appear to be quite historic at the ferry crossings. Alongside the canal, on both sides, there is a path for hikers, bikers and even an occasional motorcycle.
The canal is 53 miles long, so it took us pretty much all day. At the end we reached the Holtenau locks, where quite a bit of construction is taking place. Only one of the four locks is now in operational condition, so they’ve waived the lock fees for recreational boats. Ahead of us in the lock, there was an extremely large barge, with tugs on both ends, carrying what appeared to be the bottom of a very large ship under construction. Each half of the ship bottom was the full width of the barge. The barge filled about 80% of the lock’s width, so this ship, when assembled, will not be able to go through the Kiel Canal.
Waiting for us at the Holtenau Marina in Kiel were the rest of the Kosyna family – Cori & Jens’s two children and Jens’s parents. Cori was an exchange student from Austria who stayed with us for a year, back when we lived in Forest Grove. We have maintained a close relationship with her and Jens, although the last time we saw them was at their wedding 6 years ago in Hamburg. They now have two happy, bright boys with a lot of energy. The boys reminded us a bit of our two sons when they were that age. We had met Jens’s parents at the wedding, but we really got to know them better on this trip, and we feel like we have become good friends.
Kiel was getting ready for “Kiel Week” which is a nautical celebration with many historic ships. We ended up tied on a dock with 6 or 7 big Dutch sailing ships, some square-rigged, and all with lee-boards instead of keels. They were all in the range of 70-100 feet long. During the 18 hours we were there, we saw more and more of the Dutch ships come in, and as we have moved North, we have seen yet more of them, mostly heading south toward Kiel.
Monday morning, accompanied by Cori and her older son, we sailed north toward the Kosynas’ home port of Arnis on the Schlei inlet. We headed into a Northwest wind, which gradually quickened to 30 knots, making for somewhat of a wild ride. We pared the sails down to a minimum – 3 reefs and a reefed jib. Two of those historic Dutch ships blasted past us, having a great sail, likely heading for another of these historic ship festivals known to Cori.
Arriving at the Schlei inlet, we found the marina at Maasholm, which had side-tie space available. (More about the trials and tribulations of docking at marinas in the Baltic Sea in a future blog post.) For the next two days, waiting out the strong winds, we had a great time with the Kosyna family, checking out available restaurants, re-provisioning, and having lots of good conversation.
I will leave you there, and I promise lots more good adventures to come!