Sauna Therapy, Ep. 192

For a fleeting moment, we thought we could keep pace with them. Heli and Kalle, our newfound friends from Finland, were creeping up behind us as we both sailed away from Sweden on our way to the Aland Islands in Finland. But Sea Rose, loaded up with cruising gear, was no match for their fancy X-Yachts racing boat, especially when they popped open their colorful spinnaker in the appropriate royal blue and white colors of the Finnish flag. Our plans to keep in touch as we both sailed towards Helsinki seemed to now be, like I would tell some of my team members during performance reviews, an overly aggressive stretch goal. We settled in for a full day crossing of the 26 nm gap at turtle speed, while Heli and Kalle played the part of the hare. It’s the journey, not the destination, I had to remind myself!

Heli and Kalle, onboard Xperium, gaining on us outside Fejan
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Swedes 1, Drama Queens nil, Ep. 191

North was the name of the game onboard Sea Rose, as we eagerly headed out from Kalmar to discover Sweden’s skargard (“sharr-gourd”). Loosely translated skargard means archipelago, but most Swedes would be a bit disappointed in this meek description. Breaking down this compound word, ‘skar’ refers to a rocky outcrop, and ‘gard’ has several meanings, the most enticing to me is garden. So we have ourselves a ‘rock garden’. The populated centers of Gothenburg on the west coast and Stockholm on the east coast are literally chock full of rock gardens. In the waters near Stockholm, a staggering 24,000 islands comprise the largest skargard in Sweden and these draw summer holiday-makers out to a reported 50,000 cottages. The density of islands is mind-boggling and caused Karen and I to feel at once both titillated and intimidated. Would we be able to safely navigate these congested waterways? Would shifting winds above and submerged rock pinnacles below find their mark on a track record that we had so far kept clean? A little warmup would help allay our concerns, and we found it this week as we wound in and out of the smaller archipelagos south of Stockholm.

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Honeymooners, Ep. 190

With our cameo Denmark experience in the bag, Karen and I set out from Bornholm’s Hasle harbor into sloppy seas to make good on our summer’s promise to reach Sweden. The wind had moderated slightly from its ferocity of the last two days, giving us hope for a manageable passage. With at least 75 miles to go, we had no choice but to drop dock lines at first light. Outside of the harbor breakwater, a shoal bulged out from the shoreline, forcing us to make a wide arc in the opposite direction from our destination before we could turn on to our northerly heading. Hauling our sails in tightly, we just barely clear Bornholm’s northerly tip. Our inshore course gave us a close view of the Hammershus ruins that we had toured by land yesterday, albeit through misty sea spray thrown off Sea Rose as we crashed through waves to windward. In our previous boats, it was difficult to sail close-hauled like this to windward. It felt like all of the physics onboard were conspiring to slow us down. But Sea Rose is a different animal, with a thirst for going upwind, a savage desire to heel over and slice through seas, even to the point that we had to occasionally rein her back in. Like a pent-up racehorse, she was clearly ready to show the world what she was made of after resting for two days at the dock. Speeds in the high 7’s were a welcome start to our long day.

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More Experiences, Less Stuff, Ep. 189

The clear sky, as the sun rose at 4:15 am, seemed to be a fitting metaphor for our departure from Germany. Seventy nautical miles to the northeast of our anchorage lay the island of Bornholm, a fresh new country for our logbook with all the optimism and anticipation that comes with a new courtesy flag raising. It’s difficult to miss Bornholm as you enter the Baltic Sea. It sits out in the middle, begging mariners to make a stopover just like the family dog sitting squarely in the doorway waiting for your loving return. Bornholm’s geographical anomaly is only matched by its political oddity. Located as it is solidly off the southeast corner of Sweden, you might wonder if there was a cartographer’s error that classified it as Danish soil. But, no, it is indeed part of Denmark. And, to fully explain the how and why of changing territorial lines between these Scandinavian states would easily fill a complete blog on its own. As Karen will attest, my fascination with history becomes more acute every day, but some stories could be so engrossing, we might run aground on the other end of the Baltic for lack of attentiveness!

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The Former East Germany, In A New Light, Ep. 188

“You are entering an active shooting area. Change course immediately to 045 degrees for Tango 7 buoy.” 

Regardless of whether you have had your morning coffee or not, hearing these words from the VHF radio will bring any boater to complete, 100% attention. As we departed the Kiel fjord with our friend Pedro onboard for a week’s exploring along the northern Germany coast, we were following a series of waypoints we had carefully programmed into the chartplotter, a route that would miss all the shallow areas on our way to Heiligenhafen. I had noticed that much of the electronic chart was criss-crossed with purple boxes and tiny, hard to read symbols. These charts are the digitized cousins of the old established paper charts that mariners have used for decades. But ‘digitized’ is a bit of a misnomer. A human being, of unknown skill and compensation level, reads the paper chart and enters the latitude and longitude of all the features on the chart. Given that it is human, mistakes and omissions are possible, and to be expected. Place names are commonly misspelled. Important footnotes on the paper chart that explain the meaning of boxes and symbols are left off or buried in a menu deep enough that you should pack a canary for the journey. But this was one region you wanted to dig for the details. We were indeed headed into an active firing range and a fast-approaching patrol boat was ready to reinforce the verbal instructions with their imposing physical presence. We locked in a course for the T-7 boundary buoy without delay, and examined the chart closely for the full perimeter of the firing range. With the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the navies of the NATO countries were understandably on high alert. Our role in this conflict was to stay out of the way, and the explosions and staccato sounds of automatic fire in the hazy distance were a regular reminder for us to not cut corners. 

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Break On Through To The Other Side, Ep. 187

Neither of us could handle another 5am start. It was nice to know the sun had that kind of endurance this time of year, but after the big push in the last few days to get around the Netherlands and Germany barrier islands (area known as the German Bight), Karen and I needed some R&R time. Cuxhaven, at the doorstep of the Elbe River, is at the crossroads of history. Just a few steps away from our marina stood the ornate arrival hall for the Hamburg America Line which, until it ceased operations in 1969, was the major departure point for German and other European emigrants to the U.S. During World War I, the German Navy operated airships out of a nearby hangar. Today, like many coastal cities, a majority of the economy has pivoted to tourism. However, just south of the historic cruise ship terminal is a state of the art offshore wind farm assembly plant run by Siemens Gamesa. These wind turbine components are so massive, much more so than the land-based wind farms, that manufacturers strategically locate their plants at ports like Cuxhaven where they can immediately load the components onto custom built ships for transport to the offshore sites. It also frees them from any over-the-road size constraints. We got a chance to see the multi-story high nacelles (the central hub of the turbine where the gears and generator are located) being loaded onto a ship at Cuxhaven. Hats off to the men and women in this industry, doing their own pivot like other neighboring European countries, as they shift focus from oil and gas production to clean energy production.

A nacelle being prepared for transport (Photo Credit: Siemens Gamesa)
Custom-built ship for transporting nacelles. Cuxhaven
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Rules and Regs, Ep. 186

Playtime in the tide-free protected waters of Netherland’s inland waterways was over. The proverbial school-yard bell was ringing, calling us back to our main purpose at hand… finding our way into the Baltic Sea. Not only were we entering back into tidal waters, but into a stretch of narrow shallow estuaries running out to the North Sea that required precise planning so that we wouldn’t run aground. We would need to leave on a rising half tide, allowing us enough deep water for the next 6 hours before the water level started falling below half tide again. The winds were howling at our anchorage in the morning behind the Kornwerderzand lock from a low pressure system that blew through overnight, and we briefly considered tucking back into our berth to wait it out for another day. The clutches of a warm bed can be a powerful separator from one’s goals. 

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Introspection, Ep. 185

One of the curious oddities of boating in the Netherlands is the extensive network of inland waterways. We had already been on our first one – the North Sea Canal that runs into Amsterdam from the sea – but the guide book described countless others running in all compass directions, like the fissures running outwards from a cracked window. We knew they had not been built specifically for pleasure boaters – that point was made crystal clear by the numerous fleets of commercial ships plying the waters – but what pleased us was the numerous miles of ‘mast-up’ routes. Commonly, these inland waterways are crossed by low-slung bridges, forcing sailboats to either skip the route or remove their mast and rigging. But the Netherlands had made a concerted effort to accommodate taller vessels, either by constructing bridges much bigger, tunneling roads under the water, or installing lift bridges. As we eased away from the dock in Amsterdam, and passed through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it lock at curiously named Oranjesluis, which raised us a meer 6 inches, we waited patiently for the bridge at tongue-twister named Schellingwoudebrug to open for passage. Unfolding before us on the other side was the massive inland body of water named Markermeer. 

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Locked Up, Ep. 184

Like land travelers that had a taste of the sea on a sightseeing boat, we had a peek into life ashore during our tour of medieval Belgium through Brugge and Ghent. But it was time to get back to our chosen mode of transport. We had intended to push away from Oostende at first light the next morning, but it would seem other plans were being hatched. At midnight, Karen awoke with a start, insisting that someone was onboard our boat. Regular readers will note this as a common occurrence – Karen awake at the slightest noise, trying to shake me from a dead sleep. She was right of course. A small sailboat was rafting up to us, apparently having just pulled into the port in the eery shroud of darkness. It didn’t make sense that someone would be underway so late, and then disturb someone else’s rest by rafting to them, but not all of my brain cells were reporting in for duty. We had the pleasure of informing them we were leaving at 5am, which would require their presence to break free from the raft-up. They were indeed gone without a trace at 5, but high winds had arrived, prompting us to turn in for a little more sleep. Ha! This time, an hour later, I’m startled awake by loud noises up on deck. What now, I fretted. Another sailboat had decided to head out but was having difficulty turning quick enough in between the other boats. Their bow, complete with a hard-edged anchor on the bowsprit, was pressed against our toe rail and lifeline. I rushed to the foredeck to push them off, as another neighboring boat pulled on their stern. They commenced forward gear again and were off without a word, not even an apology. I would have even accepted a hand gesture of sorrow. Lucky for them, I could not find any obvious signs of damage. 

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