The last part of my trip started in Porto in Portugal, to Villagarcia in Spain, then across the Bay of Biscay to Cherbourg in France, then Bologna France, through the narrows of the English channel and Dover Calais and on over the cold wet North sea past the Netherlands to Helgoland island at the entrance of the Elbe estuary and Hamburg, then up the Elbe estuary and through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic sea, then up to Gedsel Denmark and on to the coast of Sweden to Stockholm.
I arrived in Porto Portugal from Spain. Portugal and Australia have a diplomatic wrangle at present, when I tried to fly there from London after a break off the boat I was not allowed because I didn't have a visa. Getting one was too difficult so I flew to Santiago de Composta in Spain and caught the train into Portugal. There were no border checks at all on the train. Porto is the second largest city in Portugal a picturesque city set on a large river estuary. The Tide here is several meters so the river tide runs up to 8 knots, you can't go against it. The yacht arrived on the outgoing tide so couldn't enter. Outside is a man made one called Porto de Lexious that's where we were staying. We left with no breeze and motored up the coast intending to go straight out into the Bay of Biscay and cross it to Cherbourg France. Late in the night the wind and sea really blows up so we decide to head for the second large bay near the northern tip of Spain, the Pilot book says it's ok to pull into 2 ports, one does't welcome yachts, the other Villagarcia does.
We Arrived in Villagarcia very early in the morning and spent the day in town, nice seafood lunch with vino bianco and an afternoon siesta. It's a holiday today in the province of Galacia, a fair is setting up in town for tonight and for a big street show, what a good choice of port. Had fun at the show, roden the ferris wheels, bump cars and rocket ships. The street show was brilliant a really talented troupe of singers and dancers who performed until 2.30 in the morning and had us on our toes dancing and clapping. Next day in Villagarcia is beautiful, shorts and T-shirt for the first time in a long while. Gunnar goes up to the internet café and checks out all the weather maps, seems to me there are too many, Rota in Spain, Germany and of course Bracknell UK. All have different stories, the worrying thing is a Low pressure maybe moving into the Bay of Biscay. "We will head off at about 3pm," says Gunnar.
Started to get windy as soon as we got out into the bay a big one the size of Sydney Harbor from the bridge to the heads. But outside the sea is better than I thought it would be but from the wrong direction so we motor into the night. "Once we are clear of the coast the wind will blow from the west, this is the prevailing wind here" said Gunnar. That's what happened, we sailed on a broad reach most of the way across the Bay of Biscay. The days are dragging by for me "I've had enough" I am thinking. "Maybe it's time to jump ship". The continental shelf of Europe rises from the depths two thirds of the way across, the sea rises from three thousand meters to a few hundred, this is where the notorious wild seas can be in a big blow. One morning I awoke to find us roaring along at 7-8 knots with just a little main and headsail. Hilmar woke me up, "want some Porridge, it's nearly ready" he said. "What the heck is he waking me up for now? " I thought.
Visibility is poor, this is real English channel North sea sailing Gunbritt is on deck in full wet weather gear and Hilmar wants to get ready, that's why he woke me up he is breakfast duty and he is on watch at 9am. The barometer has fallen from 1019.5 at midnight to 1005.5 at 9 am. " The low pressure has come down," said Gunnar. "We can expect gale force winds later. Fortunately we are over the continental shelf, that's the scary part of the Bay of Biscay. We are 70 or so miles from the island of Le Qussan list off the first tip of the Normandy coast. Cherbourg is on the second tip of Normandy, about 120 miles further on.
By my afternoon watch the breeze was dying, I was sitting on the rear deck fiddling with the Mizzen thinking I would put it up when up comes Gunnar. "The breeze is swinging, we will have to jibe soon" he says. Five minutes after jibing in comes a huge front from the nor northwest 30-40 knots. Wow what a call could hardly have jibed the main in such a blow. We were soon being pushed off course towards the top corner of the Bay of Biscay reeled in the Heady to a pocket handkerchief and dropped the main too. We cleared Le Quasan ok and had a nice sail most of the way to Cherbourg.
Coming into Cherbourg in the very early hours of the morning wind blew up to 30 knots plus again, we were doing 6 knots under bare poles. Another strange thing happened, the GPS started reporting us in the wrong position 400 miles away. We took out the hand held unit and found the same thing. But getting in was no problem we could see the coast and followed the lighthouses arriving at the same time as the ferry from Poole UK. The Americans promised to eliminate the errors in the satellites. We think that at that time early in the morning they were reprogramming the satellites over Europe, the GPS came good again after half an hour.
Cherbourg a delightful small city. They say it is the biggest man made harbor in the world, the French have been developing it since the days of Louis 4th. They have a large well-organized yacht marina and cater for the brits who come in droves in both yachts and powerboats to dine out and purchase French wine. Lots come in convoy, they must meet in their yacht clubs at Portsmouth and other place to plan the trip then come together communicating on the VHF radio all the time. Lots of mum and dad crews both in the convoys and coming singly some in only small powerboats. I made friends in a small French bar not frequented by tourists but by locals and some real characters. Janne left us there and we were joined by some new people for the final leg of the trip, nothing like some new blood to wake you up. One guy Kari in particular who I was on watch with was such an enthusiastic sailor and very good on the trip to Kiel Germany.
Approaching Dover Calais from Cherbourg France a week ago the same thing happened, the weather was also terrible, wet cold and Foggy, if we went by then we would not have seen anything of this the narrowest part of the English channel. So we pulled into the port of Bologna, just south of Calais had a nice hot cup of coffee and a few drinks at a couple of seaside taverns. After a good nights sleep tied up amongst the fishing boats the next day was beautiful. Up to have a walk around town early to see the town this morning but I am delayed French customs who wanted to check us out. Then off to the moneychanger and the Coiffure, needed a haircut and beard trim real badly. Feel much better now and had a nice walk around town a very pleasant French provincial town. And after the shitty weather of the last few days to be in sunshine with clear blue skies feels great.
After we left I felt great and made a speech. Napoleon came here and set up his army to invade England. He didn't do so but built a grand monument instead. He must have made some grand speeches to his men so I just made a speech like Napoleon must have all those years ago. The green hills look terrific, I am thinking of the battles that were fought near here in the old days, Waterloo and others. All the soldiers lined up in their pretty uniform facing each other, must have taken days of preparation, then someone charged and it was on. I used to set up battles with toy soldiers as a kid and this is the countryside where many of the real ones happened. Then the first world war and all those trenches nice today but yesterday in the cold and wet, god that must have been a miserable life.
Dover Calais is spectacular, I've heard so much about the white cliffs of Dover. It is a near perfect day with clear blue skies, just like on Sydney Harbor. Gunbritt and Gunilla cook a perfect fish lunch, a 5-10 knot wind from the southwest and a northerly current nudges us along through the channel. I am staggered at the number of ferries, one after another, large Frenchline and P&O ferries, wave piercing catamaran ferries, Hovercraft ferries the lot. You would think with the tunnel in operation the ferry business would be dead but it's alive and well. Gunbritt dons a costume and has a swim so she can say she has done so but I declined to join her.
The breeze comes in stronger from the south east in the evening and it's sailing again all through the night. Looks more like the North sea I have read about today, cold wet and misty nearly all the way past Holland to Germany. But the wind is from the southwest so it's a broad reach all the way. On one mid day watch a large tugboat approaches, at first to within 500 meters, then to within 150 meters. So down to the VHF I go and I ask, "what do you want". "We are escorting the ship you can see downwind, she is laying seismic cables, dragging cables for 2 miles, would you bear away to the south west for one and a half miles" he said. We had the headsail poled out, in releasing it to bear away I bumped my head and fell on deck but we did so and after going two miles I called "Are we clear enough to resume our course now?" "Sure but I must report you to coastguard for not listening to your radio. I was trying to call you for an hour before" he said. That gave us all a good laugh. At about this time we saw he first of the North Sea oilrigs. They are everywhere and lit up brilliantly at night. Later in the evening we went close to the coast and rounded the top of Holland for the final 100 miles run to Germany. Around the corner the sea died down a lot, the breeze was coming from off shore instead of way out in the North Sea. In addition to the Oil rigs there are lots of buoys and lighthouses to mark the port entrances and the major shipping channel to Hamburg. Lots of ships and ferries passed us during the might. The channels are well marked and ordered so in the westbound channel we only had ships overtaking us. We could see the eastbound channel several miles away.
Helgoland island is a popular drop off spot to enter either the Kiel canal, or the channel to Hamburg. The tide here is some 4.5 meters, it's 50 miles up the inlet to Hamburg and 35 miles to the Kiel canal so of course you have to enter on the incoming tide. It is also a duty free port. Everyone buys their diesel. Liqueur and cigarettes here. During the war the Germans had the V12 rockets here in tunnels in the cliffs. So the allies bombed the place to smithereens, it used to be one island but is two now. We arrived at about 5 PM. The tiny man made harbor was chockers with yachts and motorboats. Tied up and had a few beers, a shower and a German steak. It's a no car zone so walked nearly the whole village, full of holiday flats and hotels. As I was sitting on the porch of the pub in the cold misty weather having a beer all rugged up I was watching the Germans all rugged too and thinking, "So this is mid summer German style, no wonder they think Australia and the red sea too is paradise. The girl in chargeof the douches was selling Sydney 2000 T-shirts, "was there last year with my husband, you are great people" she said.
Woke up next day to the pitter-patter of feet on the deck, we are tied up in a long line of boats and nearly everyone is leaving port. Our plan had been to spend the day there. "The forecast is for shitty weather tonight and tomorrow either we go now or else we could be bailed up here for a few days" said Gunnar returning from the marine office. So we made a quick decision to forsake the duty free shopping and leave right away to catch the morning tide to Brunsbüttel the town at the start of the Kiel canal. It's a beautiful morning sunny with a light northerly wind and calm seas but cold, a real chill in the air. They say there is a nudist colony on the other island of Helgoland Brrr. Hamburg is at the head of the Elbe river estuary, the Elbe is a huge river going a long way inland to near Berlin and carrying lots of water, the countryside is like England with a huge amount of rainfall. The channels are clearly marked and deep but there are huge amounts of tidal flats both in the estuary and out to sea Lots of ships using these channels both to Hamburg and to the Kiel canal, the canal entrance is about half way up the estuary. Passed a large town called Cuxhaven I was amused at all the bathing and sunbaking enclosures along the shore. Some were on sandy beaches, others on the neat grassy banks. It seemed to me the banks were graded and contoured into levebanks. We tied up at a town called Brunsbüttel early afternoon after passing through the lock, the lock dropped us about 1 meter into the canal. Just inside there was a nice marina to tie up to.
It took all day to motor the 80 miles through the Kiel Canal a waterway mostly about 200 meters wide with well ordered traffic. Huge numbers of feeder cargo ships pass through here to and from the Baltic to the large ship ports of Hamburg and Rotterdam. Gunbritt's uncle and aunt came along for the ride, her uncle has a farm not far near the Danish border with crops and 600 pigs. The canal went all the way to Kiel with no locks, just one lock at Kiel where it entered the Baltic, the lock lifted us one meter into the Baltic. Where the North Sea has tides of 3-4 meters the Baltic has none and the water is Brackish, not salty.
Kiel is a very impressive yachting city, there are lots of marinas all around the Kiel Fiord an open bay the size of Sydney harbor from the bridge to the heads saw lots of mum and dad yachts and motor cruisers from Germany and all the neighboring countries at the marina we were at just outside the lock of the Canal. There are about 10 Dutch sailing ships, some like schooners, others like Dutch barges tied up nearby. Looking around the Kiel Fiord there are lots of other tall ships and yachts everywhere. It's Kiel Yacht week soon a really big event around here and everyone is getting ready, I have heard about it before, one of the Star guys came and said there were 300 Stars racing. In our next port Gedser Denmark the weather was lousy, cold, wet and drizzly. We had another unscheduled stopover there when the wind started to blow hard from the wrong direction and even with motor we could only make 3 knots. We only had to wait 8 hours for a change and off we went at 6.5 knots. That's one advantage of sailing hre, there are so many ports to pull into. Gunnars rule is, if we cant make 5 knots under motor or sail wait for a change. As we left the crew of German yacht all rugged up in brightly colored wet weather gear waved enthusiastically as we were leaving, they had been out for a sail in the lousy weather. I shook my head thinking, "If you didn't have too why would you go sailing today".
I always had the impression that living in far northern latitudes like these would be awful, snow and ice and cold long winters with only short cool summers. The thing I hadn't been aware of was the delightful long days in summer. In Stockholm at this time of the year the sun is up till 11PM at night and dawn is at 2 AM. No wonder Golf is so popular you can play 20 hours a day. That's also why everything comes out green so quickly in spring, the sunlight is not that warm but there are so many hours of it a day. The changes of season s are so dramatic here. I have noticed the long days at sea all the way up from the Bay of Biscay, it doesn't get dark till 11PM and dawn is from the north not the east at around 4AM. The differences in the weather are dramatic, the day before yesterday was cloudy drizzling and wet, yesterday was cloudy and clear yet you could see for miles, We arrived is Sweden at the wharf near Anders summerhouse in the Stockholm archipelago. There are 25000 islands in this group, it's lik the Hawksberry only much bigger waterways, bays and anchorage's everywhere. I took the watch on the first leg of the passage from the open sea to Anders wharf at 10 PM last night, following the sector lights up the channels. even after sunset I could easily see the Islands and shoreline in the never-ending twilight. We tied up at the wharf in brilliant morning sunshine at 5 am.
Yachting in this part of the world can be a very cold occupation. I have always looked at the Musto type wet weather gear and chuckled at what apparent overkill the suit type outfits seem to be. Then I haven't done a Hobart race. Here even in the middle of summer they are essential, everyone wears them, it's so cold on the sea. I bought mine and have used it regularly all the way from Portugal. The water temperature is way below what it is on the land. The temperature ashore at a port is always at least ten degrees higher than off the port at sea. They tell me if you fall overboard you won't survive much longer than half an hour. When it's been wet and cloudy I have asked myself "what am I doing here". I can honestly say if I lived in this part of the world I don't think I would be nearly as keen a yachtsman as I am. Gunbritt one of our crew loves it. "I much prefer cold water sailing to warm water sailing," she says while I am saying how much nicer it was sailing on the Indian Ocean.
The Swedes tell me an amusing story about the town of Karlskrona we passed yesterday, the largest naval base in Sweden is there. In the eighties a Russian Nuclear subs slipped unnoticed right into the port area of the naval base. The Submarine then ran aground and couldn't get off so of course it was noticed next day. The Swedish sailors went out and knocked on the Hull but the Russian skipper was too embarrassed to come out and show his face, a stand off lasted for three days till the Russians finally came out of the grounded submarine and offered them a tow off the mud bank. The navies of both Sweden and Russia became the laughing stock of the country.
But Yachting is very popular in all these countries.
The trip is all over now, Jan the owner was waiting for us on that small wharf in the Stockholm archipelago and keen to walk around his yacht again. "I lived on it in Hong Kong, and am looking foreword to using it in summer in this beautiful place" he said.