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.

More Safety

come on baby and rescue me ... - The Supremes
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Caliber 4 rockets, red flares and orange smoke. And a “rescue me”.

It feels awkward to spend more than 500€ on stuff you’ll probably (and hopefully) never use. After some thinking I did bite the bullet. The old flares and rockets were more than ten years past their due date. Since I (officially) have no radio and electrickery likes to fail just when you need it most, some pyrotechniques might come in handy.

The little yellow/grey fellow is a fine example of modern electronics. Mostly sailing alone, going overboard is considered a death sentence. Your boat probably is on auto pilot and will go on until the battery is dead, the wind changes significantly or it hits something. So there you are, alone in the ocean. Many single-handers used to not wear life vests so it would be over fast if they go overboard. But nowadays you just call a cab. The little fella has batteries which last until 2025, a gps receiver to calculate your position and a satphone (or modem) to text your position to a maritime rescue coordination centre (MRCC). Since registration in germany is kind of complicated and the device must be bound to a ship (even though it’s a personal locator beacon (PLB)) I registered it in the UK. So in case I go overboard in germany, I press a button, the little thingy texts my position to falmouth, cornwall mrcc and then somebody rings up the folks at bremen mrcc who then ring up the nearest SAR unit and/or coordinates the search with other vessels in the area. Amazing!

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Tied to the innards of my life vest/floatation device

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… and its gone 🙂

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.