Turning back

Written on Ranö, near Stockholm
Log: around 880nm

After chilling out in the Stockholm Archipelago for some weeks I’ll start heading home. The 300odd nautical miles to the German coast seem like quite some distance. I’m sort of afraid. Will I manage to go there? What if I don’t find a harbour/anchor spot in the evening. What if my engine fails? What if I fuck up mooring in a harbour? What if my anchor drags? I kind of feel like I’m just acting as if I’m a sailor. The same stuff happens to me at work and with different hobbies. It’s called the imposter syndrome. Many folks have these issues. For me the solution is to make my accomplishments visible to myself. I’ve been sailing around 1500nm this season, more than half of it single-handed. I’m just sailing back the way I’m coming from. Also I’m technically a newbie on this I’m not doing too shabby. It’s good that I question my skills. That’s what keeps me sharp. But sometimes it drives me crazy as well.

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If you’re good at stuff plenty seems granted. An example: Lately a really nice guy had problems with his engine. It wouldn’t start up, supposedly the starter solenoid. So he waited to Monday to drive to the next town to shop for new solenoids. While changing them I had a look at the problem and the hardware he bought. A 30A Solenoid for the starter of a 4cyl perkins diesel? Unlikely. Some retracing of wires later we found out that he exchanged the solenoid which disconnects the two battery circuits (so you do not drain the starter battery while at anchor) and the one for the charge control indicator (I had to look up the magic behind it on the interwebs). Both do not interfere with the starter in any way. After identifying the actual starter solenoid and some measuring / hot wiring we diagnosed some rotten connectors and a broken cable and replaced it. From my point of view this was no biggy. Besides that the old perkins has “positive ground” so all the logic is backasswards. I should remind myself that being able to that kind of stuff is quite an achievement. No rocket science for sure but still a skill which takes time to pick up.

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Owe and Helina, the swedes with the broken cable

I can’t quite wrap my head around it but on this trip I don’t feel to much like blogging. One reason might be that I didn’t have any 12V computery with a keyboard with me and I try to avoid harbours because of cost and hassle of berthing. Maybe I’ll do some writing in winter. Probably not. After all there is not much to write about. Scandinavia is freaking beautiful. Swedes, though often too shy for my taste, are a really nice and helpful bunch. I left as a landlubber and will return as a sailor.

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Swedish Mooring. Drop a stern anchor, slowly approach the rock, jump over and either tie bow lines to trees or hammer nails in rock crevices.

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It’s been a while…

Log: 812nm
Engine: 431h
Position: N58' 54.1" E17' 26.7"(south of stockholm)

Still not too much to write home about. I’m just south of Stockholm and decided to take a break. I’m on holidays after all. So I spent more time listening to audio books, tanning or rummaging through the interwebs.

I’m getting more confident with stuff but sailing is throwing new challenges at me constantly (or I pick them). I finally installed a solar panel. A sorry resemblance of what I would like to run but this boat is small and it is difficult to fit a panel. It’s almost enough though, since I have no fridge and no 12V computer (only a tablet) and most lights are converted to LEDs I don’t need much Wattage. But I miss the solar array of the van. And the fridge.

After some nights of worrying I’m more comfortable with lying at anchor. Mostly because retrieving the anchor is quite some work in most cases. So it sticks there pretty good, the ground is mostly composed of some clay/mud mixture. And there are no waves in the Archipelago.

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Different types of mooring still give me trouble at times. Luckily it’s high season right now, so there is always a crowd of spectators when I’m drifting around in the harbor preparing/trying to get into a berth. So far I love the swedish Y-style finger berth because every boat has it’s own box so it’s impossible to crash into somebody else. Anchoring with a stern buoy or anchor still gives me troubles. Doing it single handed there seems no other way then leaving the helm, walking forwards, jumping over and attaching a line. I don’t like that. And I still haven’t dared to directly anchor to a rock in the wilderness like most locals do. All in good time I guess.

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just some guy paddling his plane the last meters to his weekend cottage

On the upside I’m getting more used to sailing. When I began sailing close hauled with quite some list sort of creeped me out. My brain said “It’s ok” and my gut said “I’m afraid”. I didn’t touch my genoa for the first weeks because I was afraid of the wind becoming to strong and loosing control of the boat/changing headsails under wind. Yesterday I caught myself bashing 5.5 knots upwind under genoa leisurely listening to an audio book while seawater was filling up my kitchen sink through the drain and was just about to splash out of there. This hasn’t happened before, so I guess the boat never leaned over that far yet. After a short “ooopsi” I just closed the seacock of the sink and adjusted the main traveller to reduce the list a bit. Yeah, I’m getting used to that shit…

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Sailing in a archipelago sometimes resemble flying a heli in your living room. See the red and the two green posts. Yep, you have to pass between red and green or you’re on the rocks. A tight bent to the left of the picture. Under sail in really gusty conditions (double reefed mainsail)

My biggest problem so far has been loneliness I guess. Not just for the complications of single handed sailing but also for a lack of company. You meet sailors in every port but most of them live quite a different life. It’s difficult to connect to them. They give me weird looks while they wash their boat every day. I give them weird looks for wasting so much water. My boat is too shabby, my clothing to used up, … Most folks could be my parents of even grand parents.

But every once in a while there are some folks who get me. Like one couple well in their 70s on a 50 year old steel vessel. Some passer-by described the boat as “she has seen things”. Yep, they are sailing her for 40odd years and after circumnavigating the world they now have a look at the places they speed by on previous jouneys, like the hanö-bay for example. I spent at least an hour just looking at the boat and the gazillion little details they added over the years.

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Definite role models for getting old…

And they’re tough as nails. For example constant problems with sea-sickness is no reason not to sail around the world. And Inge had the best reaction to my story so far. She basically was just surprised that other folks see what I’m doing as daring, brave, haphazard, stupid or whatever. “You did get training, your vessel is suitable for single handing, so where is the problem?” she asked. It is weird, most seasoned sailors I meet approve of what I’m doing while most hobbyists more or less disapprove. I guess listening to the pros really is a generic piece of advise.

Three month anniversary!

On the 26th of march I set foot on a sailing yacht for the first time. Or at least so far I can remember. Since then I passed a sailing license, bought a boat (which btw. doesn’t require a license) and fixed her up to a state which allows travelling. I did around 550nm during training and sailed around 450nm miles on my own, most of these “single handed”, meaning I was the only person on board. So I didn’t really come that far up to now but it’s still quite an achievement.

Most delays were due to fixing stuff. From the top of my head: Alternator belt, starter motor, impeller, throttle/gear lever + morse cables, topping lift and main halyard including guidance thingys, autopilot, miscellaneous electrickery, main traveler + rail, replacing misc cotter pins, adjusting stays, removing bathing ladder (to make place for the windvane), replaced ground tackle (two new anchors, new anchor rope + old chain, new swivel, fancy belt on a roller for the stern anchor), new winch foundations, disassembled cleaned and re-greased almost all winches, replaced mooring lines, replaced pyro signals, added a led strip, …

In my head this kind of sounds like two days of labor but it took much longer. There were some lengthy failures like for example reviving the speedometer (log). It still doesn’t measure my speed but at least it shows stuff on the display and measures water temperature.

People say it takes about two years of getting to know every nook and cranny of your boat. I’m guestimating I’m already there.

But yeah, most folks are only able to put a couple of hours after work/on the weekend into the boat or into sailing. I did that almost full time. 1000ish nautical miles with an average speed of around 4.5 knots would mean around 220 hours of sailing. Another 200ish hours for tinkering on the boat or on boat related stuff (f.e. examining at least ten boats between the baltic sea and the netherlands), maybe 80 hours of “other stuff” like work/taxes/organizing being away for a couple of months. 480 hours in three months. Thats working a full time job without vacation. No wonder I feel exhausted.

I literally felt like walking away from the whole thing for a couple of times. For different reasons sailing is a very lonely experience, as is staying in harbors. Everything is kinda sorta new and scary so it’s mentally exhausting. With competent crew it always feels like you have a choice whether you do a certain task or not. If you don’t feel like going on the foredeck in choppy seas to raise the sails somebody else will. If you choose to cook you most likely don’t have to take care of the dishes, …

In single handed sailing you have to do all the f*cking tasks all the time. And you have to multi-task. While fiddling with stuff on the foredeck you have to keep an eye out to not crash into other vessels, buoys, shallow spots, … If the auto pilot f*cks up you have to go back to the cockpit, take care of it and then go back on the foredeck. If a line gets caught somewhere you have to go there and untangle it. You have to do all the shopping and even if you just want to fasten a simple screw going through the deck there is nobody around to hold the wrench on the other side.

One of my goals of this undertaking was to find out if I’m able to single-hand a vessel for a longer period of time. It seems I can. I need more practice and the fun to exhaustion ratio is still off but it seems feasible. I’m doing not too bad at all. The big question will be if I want to.

Here is the last couple of weeks in pictures, didn’t really feel link writing much.

My first “passage”

log: 246nm
engine: 393,3h
Location: Heiligenhafen, Germany

With around 36nm (66km) my first passage might also be the longest of the trip. At least it was the longest stretch of open water I “had to” pass. Why not just hug the shore you might ask? Well, our friends from the German navy are protecting our freedom just here by celebrating fireworks every f*cking day from 9-17h. At least in the summer season, they do less shooting when the weather gets crappy. And they don’t shoot on weekends, but the lack of wind crossed that on off my list of possibilities. So my beloved government is wasting my tax money and forcing me to take a detour at the same time. They post their shooting schedule on the interwebs. They announce it via radio. There are signs in the harbours around which show the times. There “traffic light” kind of installations which blink when they are shooting. And there are these buoys marking the territory. Let’s say I’m pretty unhappy to pay for all of this.

you got to stay outside the yellow “x”es

So I was sailing clearly going around the shooting range when a navy ship approached me. They circled around me and used their loud-hailer to ask me to turn on my radio. I tried to signal that I don’t have a radio so they went on: “for your information: we are shooting today, so pass all yellow buoys, …”. Ok, so I’m paying these guys as well to annoy the fuck out of me and tell me stuff I already know. Awesome. One might think our cost savy navy would use a small, economical vessel for running parameter security. A small vessel like the ones used by local fisherman. Or like the ones of the local search and rescue (SAR). Maybe even a RIB. Nope. Meet the Todendorf Class:

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Y 837, the “Baumholder”

Named after this range and purpose build for running parameter security. 29 meters long, 2000hp engines, a whopping 125tons of steel. Unarmed and probably useless in combat. And from the looks of it stock maritime radar, no fancy navy stuff. Five of these were build, one sold to the Lebanese, rest still in action. What a waste building these things just for yelling at pleasure vessels/small craft.

Turning another page

Log: 210nm
Engine: 391,7h
Location: Wendtorf, Germany

Alright, I guess the prologue is about to end and we’ll enter story-mode soon. The last couple of days were spent with daysailing, training, socializing and getting stuff done. The training part is also the explanation of the increase in engine hours, the baltic is mostly “box” berths, so no jetty in parallel to your boat.

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box berth

It’s funny, I loved this kind of berths in training because with crew, you can hardly fail if you know the right line handling manoeuvre. No it’s taking me quite some time to get used to them because single-handing these is kinda tricky and my boat is kind of special/different with quite some prop walk and the very narrow stern.

Talking of training. I did two training trips this year, one with a very nice instructor and one with one I hate. Not my kind of guy, some stuff he teaches is ok, some is haphazard or dangerous. Oldschool drill Sargent, if you don’t succeed he yells at you until you give up or succeed. Some crew broke into tears. Totally unacceptable. Luckily that guy skippered the second trip so I had decent training before. Bad luck for the other crewmates because I had to do all tricky manoeuvres “because I did it before”. Or the skipper took over because he thought we were not skilled enough. Anyways, I liked him best when he was under deck and I was not. And him being lazy he was under deck a lot. So one day I see a boat with the ensign of my sail school. Hmm, looks like the one I did my training on. Shoddy sail trim, nobody on deck looks like an instructor, it’s Thursday so the course is almost over. Might it be W.  So I turned and ensured my sail trim was ok. And I started gaining.

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looksie! That’s the boat I mastered my license on…

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and then I overtook them. Leewards. Easily.

When I was alongside W. finally came up and we exchanged some pleasantries. At least he knows his sailboats and correctly identified my iw-31.

Some kind folks gave me very comfy cockpit cushions and one of my neighbours even fabricated some mounts for the windvane for me. Thanks guys! Hanging out in harbours is kind of weird. Seems sailing (or boating in general) is not too common for folks of my age or younger. There are few, most folks you meet are 50+ and are sailing their whole life. So I feel kind of lonely and well entertained at the same time. Sometimes it’s sort of looking at different possible “feature me”. Sometimes it’s just plain awful, like today, sitting at a bar, eating horrible food and listening to old people talking about death and different funeral options. And my phone’s battery was dead. I really hope I’ll die on my feet doing something I like. Or maybe lying down and doing something I love. Whatever, as long as I won’t just spent my days waiting for death. I hate waiting.

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kiel lighthouse

So yeah, did I finish all work on the boat? Nope. Is the boat ready to go? Kinda, sorta… Do I feel ready to tackle this adventure? Not really. So yeah, all in all it’s time to go. If you wait too long you’ll never get started. Having problems along the way gives you a good incentive to approach folks. Spilling the guts of whatever technical on your deck makes nice folks stop by say hello. After all travelling is the name of the game, not holidays.

(Disclaimer: I put a month worth of work and a good amount of money into the boat, mostly on safety related stuff. The vessel is a sea-worthy offshore cruiser-racer, CE Category A-rated (meaning it’s able to withstand winds with more than force 8 and waves over 4m height). People crossed the Atlantic with this thing. I’ll do short leisure sails in good weather. I’ll be fine.)

… and so it begins

Captains Log, Stardate 69864.7. We left the river Elbe through the Brünsbüttel Lock, entering the Kiel Canal. Currently berthed at Brunsbüttel Harbor. We left the influence of these weird reoccurring stream phenomena and set course to this seasons research ground: the baltic sea.

Happy Geeks Pride Day Everyone! And mind your Towels while watching Star Wars Episode IV. Quite cramed day it is. Ok, enough of that.

Today started as any well planned passage starts. I prepared everything I could and announced the ship is ready for sea. Sure, there are a gazillion of items on the ToDo list but I crossed of plenty of important stuff. So I woke up at the prepared time and my crew showed up at the time we agreed upon. Then we turned the ignition key and all we heard was the whining of a starter clutch which isn’t engaging the flywheel. No spinning flywheel means no cylinders moving meaning no combustion which renders a combustion engine useless. Tried ten or more times, just wasn’t starting. Hmm, isn’t there some item on the ToDo list for investigating the starter solenoid because it was acting up occasionally? Yep. Didn’t cross that one off. So there we were, ready to leave on the falling tide with no time to spare. And Kiel Canal legally forces you to use your engine and mostly has no wind so going under sails alone wasn’t really an option.

So we busted out the trusted special tool for non-cooperating mechanical stuff and started classic percussive maintenance. Worked like a treat and off we went.

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My favourite “friendly enforcer”. Metal core filled with sand for recoil reduction, hard plastic hitting surface and a long, grippy rubber handle. If you hold it on the front of the handle you can make very gentle tap-a-di-tap-tap and if you grap the handle fully you can beat the crap out of things without leaving indentation marks.

Smooth sailing from there, forgot to take pics.

I was kind of afraid of single handing the lock. Luckily S. agreed to tag along, so I had great and also very skilful company. We agreed that I would take the first try on my own and he would only engage if things went sideways. And as always, when you bring skilled folks along to help you out, the conditions are ideal, you are totally relaxed and everything goes super smooth. It is as if the situation smells that your specialist has done the thing a hundred times and so it plays nicely, hoping to fuck you up badly next time when you come alone.

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Some local sailor.

One last picture which pretty much sums up sailing the elbe. There is a lee shore and a pile of stones leading into the water marked by a cardinal warning sign. My instructors told us to keep well clear (100m or more) of these signs and keep a even wider berth to lee shores. These rules don’t apply here. Some say if you can sail on this river you can sail anywhere. I don’t know, I sailed around 100nm on the river, half of which alone. I did survive but it wasn’t relaxing. I had to be constantly on my toes planning my route between moving and stationary obstacles while coping with weird tidal phenomena and constant wind shifts. I’m looking forward to go there again sometime to explore the beauty of it. But for now I’ll seek out less crowded waters to take my time to actually learn how to sail. Drinking water from a firehose is kinda fun but it wears you out after some time.

Another day another sail

This time with more wind (4-5bft) and competent crew, another first! Some friendly local who is sailing for his whole life and really into the iw-31 volunteered to show me the ropes of both the ship and the local waters. That really helped a lot, especially concerning sail trim. IMG_1884 IMG_1891

And I again realized: I really like this boat! There were some bigger boats which should have been faster. But if their crew made some slight mistakes like shoddy steering or running a little too much canvas and bam, the little iw-31 was either onto them or got ahead. I hope I’ll soon learn to get her dialed in nicely as well, the puzzled looks on the other, much more expensive vessels seems well worth it.

But before that she needs some love. The main sheet traveller gave up and under close inspection I realized the sheet winches where attached with pieces of rotten plywood. Seems she hasn’t seen heavy weather for a while. So I took off the winches and the traveller is to follow. She is not ready for sailing anymore 🙁 As soon as I am back to hamburg I’ll have to throw some money at the right folks and put in long work hours… But these issues are neither very complicated nor expensive so I just have to pull through…

Elbsegeln (sailing the river elbe)

I did the first sails on the Elbe. Alone as well as with friends. I think I did ok. And I no longer consider the Kieler Förde crammed.

We already established the high density of traffic on the elbe because of the Port of Hamburg. So yesterday we thought “hey, lets catch the last hour of the rising tide to go in the direction of Hamburg and go back when the tidal current reverses”. What we didn’t know was that the grand opening ceremony of the 826th harbour anniversary was scheduled for the same afternoon. And since tidal streams are something like train-tables to the tidal-aware sailor EVERYBODY was on that rising tide train to the city, including the honorary guests.

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The green one (Alexander von Humbold II, famous for Becks Beer commercials) and the white sailing vessel (Dar Młodzieży) actually took the lead of the parade. We caught them both on the way to party, so to speak.

As a kicker the wind came directly from the city so we had to tack up the river, (crisscrossing the waterway). Plenty of folks were doing exactly that so watching them gave me a feeling of what is ok and what not. The only mishab on my side was a ferry captain who used his loudhailer to inquire if I had been drinking. Nope, I was sober and that was too close. My mistake for sure but all he had to do was to ease the throttle a bit to let me pass. So nobody was harmed or threatened.

 

My first real single handed sail

After hoisting the sails for shits and giggles for a couple of times I actually used them for their dedicated purpose for more than a couple of minutes being all alone aboard. That was a definite first. And quite entertaining, going upwind you have to tack (crisscross) over the waterway. This needs a careful timing because the large freighters are fast, and can’t break nor steer in time to avoid a collision.

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I did it.

Well, my mood is still rapidly changing between happy and terrified. I a did buy a boat. The idea was to get something as small as bearable for a summer trip, slow and safe, easy to handle. Then start in a place which is great for beginners, easy waters, no tides, Kiel for example. And how did it play out? Yeah, well. I bought an 9,3 meter heavy displacement offshore racer-cruiser. The thing dominated races back in the 70s. And I bought it in Hamburg, famous for having the third largest port in whole Europe. And about 4m of tidal range. So there is all kind of weird current phenomena going on and container vessels and ferries produce large waves.

On the upside, the vessel is known for being pretty bulletproof and easy to single-hand. And she is a beauty!

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Designed by famous sparkman and stephens (S&S). Build by IW-Varvet in 1970 on the island of Orust, Sweden. A modern (at the time) US Design build by shipwrights whose lineage goes back to the vikings. Literally! Technical details: http://sailboatdata.com/viewrecord.asp?class_id=5505

The last couple of days were spent mostly working on the boat or planning on what to change. She is old and battered but she wears her scars with pride.

Disclaimer: I don’t believe in the myth that all ships are female, if they have a gender at all. Her current name is Baldur but the pronoun she fells more appropriate then “he” or “it” or the singular “they”. I guess there is some nonbinary genderqueer thing going on. I’m pretty sure she’s got balls as well. And in GB she was actually marketed as the “SHE-31” (South Hants Engineering being the name of the shipyard)