A Daysail to Russia Introduction
A trio of Strider Clubs, one in each of the standard colours has been prepared for a 5000 km single-handed cruise in company to the USSR and back. The boats left Plymouth at the end of May to sail through seven seas, across 30 degrees of longitude, to visit nine different countries over 100 days. Most days the boats will sail from 50 and 100 km between dawn and dusk, and they ill enter and leave the Baltic via the Kiel and Gota canals. They will first sail to Helsinki where they will meet up with the International Council for Cruising Yachts Rally, and will then sail in company with them to Estonia. They will spend three days in Tallin which is the Russian National Sailing Centre. This was the site of the 1980 Olympic sailing regatta and is situated far enough north for the sea to freeze between December and April. The area has been closed to the West until Glasnost thawed the icy relationship.
The long trek back to Plymouth will be against the prevailing wind, but they do say that itís not the arriving that counts, but the journey. This voyage will demand more than the usual physical fitness and courage. MOCRA and Sail Multihull wish Lilian, Stuart and Richard the very best of luck in their adventurous endeavour.
Daysail to Russia Part 1
These four articles were written by Stuart Fisher and appeared in various issues of The Multihull during 1989
We have reached the border between Holland and Germany, having travelled a distance of about 575 miles or 1110km. This is a good average for singlehanded daysailing and one which has been aided by unusual weather conditions, a determination to progress regardless of conditions and a no-expenses-spared attitude to outboard fuel. Singlehanded sailing in small boats, albeit three in close company, quickly brings home a number of truths. Firstly, without self-steering gear, seventy and eighty mile (150km) passages would be almost impossible. Secondly, modem electrical navigation equipment is an enormous help and, thirdly, without electrical power none of these things would be possible. The battery, its charging and its state of charge are a constant worry .
How the old-fashioned singlehanders managed is difficult to visualise, and it is no wonder that they were regarded with awe by their contemporaries. On a lesser note, marina charges are an important factor when there are three 7.30m catamarans to consider at each anchorage. So far we have only paid twice, mainly by planning the trip to stop at free anchorages. Dover, in this respect, is a boon. It is possible to anchor at the west end free of charge. Another small unresolved problem is that of weight. Whereas a well-provisioned, loaded vessel is dead in the water, with a consequent lack of progress, a lightweight boat proceeds with greater ease.
The three boats represent three conflicting ways of dealing with this problem. Lilian Woods in the red boat Sundance has fitted out the interior with the lightest possible fitments and ensured that each hatch cover, shelf or locker will serve at least three purposes. She has stored a minimum of food, intending to buy on the way. Her boat is the lightest and, being sailed very well, is the fastest. Richard Woods in Yeta (Yeta-nother Strider Club) also has a minimum of food, and a single-burner camping gas cooker, but carries a comprehensive set of tools and spares, a long spare warp, a sewing machine, a garden lounging chair (for use on deck), and a set of table top billiards. This boat is sailed very well and is very fast when sailed by Richard instead of leaving it on auto-pilot. Stuart Fisher in the yellow boat Northern Oasis has tea, marmalade, jam, chocolate biscuits and package soups sufficient for seven weeks. He has a deck lounger, a parasol, and a unicycle which he hopes to learn to ride before the journey is complete. His boat is the slowest. Between the boats there are one hundred and fifty charts, a Satnav, a Decca, an echo sounder, three self-steering gears and three towed logs. Not all operate as well as they should. Each boat has an asymmetric spinnaker and sails to windward with less than 90 degrees between tacks, in spite of having LAR keels rather than dagger boards.
So far, the fastest speed that we have recorded is about 16 knots in one wild reach down a short steep sea off Ostend. 10 knots seems satisfactorily commonplace and we expect, by hook or by crook, to travel at 6 knots come what may.
Close attention to the tide tables has meant a series of 4am wakings and 5am starts, but it has paid off with some good passages. We managed Salcombe to Swanage around Portland Bill in 14 hours and, notably, Scheveningen to Texel in 7 hours, a distance over the ground of about 70 miles. Some old truths have reasserted themselves: how quickly objects, buoys, anchored boats and passing ships appear out of nowhere; how quickly a controlled swift sail can be changed into a flapping, flogging hullaballoo by a sudden windshift or wrong helm movement; how quickly land and sea marks take to pass once they have appeared and, overwhelmingly still in these modern times, the power of the tide to dominate our lives. Hey ho, for the tideless Baltic. We are currently battling our way east through the Waddenzee towards the entrance to the Kiel Canal against 25-knot easterly winds and over the watersheds and passages between the withies and buoys of this inland water.
Daysail to Russia Part 2
Another Rubicon crossed,at least in the eyes of English yacht fiction readers. We have rounded the dreaded Scharnhorn Reef, entered the Elbe and passed through the Kiel Canal. Having battered our way north-east across the Waddenzee in the face of stiff north-easterly winds, past Bensersiel, stopping overnight at Borkum (horrible) and Baltrum (nice), and after a splendid sail behind Langeoog and Spiekeroog, we anchored at the far eastern tip of Wangerooge. We have followed the tides north, so it was another 5am start to round the Scharnhorn. We were fortunate in our weather. The wind briefly went north-westerly, and 3.5 hours after leaving the Wangerooge channel buoys, we entered the Elbe channel. With a roaring tide and a fair wind we spinnaker-reached up to Brunsbuttel and the canal entrance. The whole trip took just over 7 hours. At times we were making 11 knots over the ground. No echoes here of Davies' dangers and miseries as recounted in the Riddle of the Sands.
The Waddenzee is all very civilized now anyway, with perfectly marked and charted channels plain for all to see. Most of the areas visited by Davies and Carruthers are now prohibited access nature reserves. Ecology lives, romance goes down the plughole. So, the good news is that we have reached what for English yachtsmen are foreign waters: the Baltic.
The bad news is that we now have a much clearer idea of how the old-timers managed singlehanded sailing. The answer is, with great difficulty. We can repair our boats. What (to misquote the song), we can't repair is our electrical equipment. Of the three self -steering gears and three trailing logs, only one of each is now functioning. One self-steerer just stopped after having behaved irrationally from time to time getting its norths and souths mixed, resulting in an occasional startling broach. Another started rattling and stopped working at the same time. Needless to say, we ignored the manufacturer's stricture and opened them up. The piece which rattled was re-fitted and re-soldered back into place, but subsequently the unit failed again. The third one melted down in the Kiel Canal.
Of the trailing logs, one has not been waterproofed. Although it was successfully dismantled, washed in fresh water and methylated spirit and re-soldered, it still did not work. Another log got its numbers mixed and regularly gives miles covered in 3 or even 4 figures. All three of the units have backing board contact plates, and all three have broken, leaving no contact between the dial and the trailing units. Finally, needing an early start, we anchored where our echosounder indicated one fathom of murky water. Half an hour later, drawing 1ft 10 inches, we dried out. The tidal difference is 6ft 6 inches. The three outboards gave trouble and oiled up their plugs, even when run at constant
We all watch each other constantly, have an agreed radio schedule and each of us has agreed that we should wear a safety harness when at sea and moving. We motor constantly when there is no wind, often in a short line of three boats towed by Sundance, which has the most powerful engine and the only self steering gear now working. This is one put together from the parts of all three which worked when tested with Richard's multimeter. We're fortunate that his electrical education ended only where the maths was at an abstruse philosophical level. The practicalities of the wiry insides are clear to him, but a melted component can only be replaced. Apart from these problems, we now face another teasing question or two as we motor peacefully in line astern, in warm sunshine over calm seas and in a state of decent Nordic nudity. Should we make tea next, or coffee, or perhaps cocoa for a change? Do I really want to eat any more of that German cheese that smells so disgusting but tastes so good? Most difficult of all, will some-one eventually call our bluff and say "yes" when we ask yet another yacht's chandler, in loud English tones, if they have any Russian courtesy flags?
Daysail to Russia Part 3
It's not easy to say just why we decided to daysail, singlehanded to Russia for a weekend, and then sail back. It is difficult to find anywhere within striking distance of England that feels really foreign. France, Spain and the Mediterranean are all familiar; Holland, Germany, even Denmark and the North Sea coasts of Norway and Sweden have environmental similarities with our own waters, but the Baltic! We thought if we went far enough, life would be different, and we were right. However we had to travel 750 miles before the difference became really apparent, and another 500 miles before feeling we were truly on foreign soil.
Three thousand miles for the round trip is a long way by any standards. Three thousand miles of close navigation by day in coastal waters is a serious undertaking. Three thousand miles meeting a deadline date halfway, and a deadline date return is a major project. Every day demands its mileage. Relentless pressure builds up and takes its toll, we are now tired. Yesterday in a near calm in a narrow gorge only 100m wide with boats close at hand, it took three attempts to put on my safety harness, a task I undertook because I felt that I might drift into sleep involuntarily and perhaps, embarrassingly, topple overboard. I am writing this now in full daylight, and it's nearly midnight. Night will come, but by 3.30 am it will be gone again. No-one sails at night here, there isn't enough time. We are 60 degrees north, level with the Shetlands and 20 degrees east beyond Gdansk in Poland or Budapest in Hungary. The language is liquid, polysyllabic and totally incomprehensible. The seascape is strewn with islands, rocks, skerries, all covered in a rich variety of fir, ash, birch, wild flowers, shrubs, mosses and lichens; everywhere there are ducks, geese, sea birds, even swans.
Our three brightly coloured catamarans are anchored from the stem, lashed onto a raft and tied to trees amongst the boulders near which our bows rest. In this remote lagoon there are perhaps 100 or 150 yachts all on passage, all pale cream or white, all with enormous masts, few with any means of anchoring from the bow and from whose stems on the dot of 9pm the ensigns will disappear like the barbecue smoke which drifts along the shoreline. We are at last in truly foreign waters. The Aland islands are an autonomous Swedish speaking region of Finland.
And what of the sailing? We all flew spinnakers for several hours going up the channel between the west coast of mainland Sweden and the island of Oland in a force seven which raised very short steep and quite high waves. Richard had 17 knots on his log, Lilian nearly the same but she was steering so as to get no water on deck because she hadn't, as yet, put on her oilies. I took my spinnaker down and had a comfortable lunch under reefed main and jib. The seas were so steep that sometimes I felt that the bows must dig in, and the rush of speed was so intense that the boat seemed to be sailing me. In fact the flare on the bows and the underwater hull shape is such that just as you start to need the extra buoyancy so it appears, and the only water which comes on deck is surges and splashes from rogue crests.
Even so, Richard gained only about two miles in the last one and a half hours as we ran up to the old fortress town of Kalmar. Incidentally this marina had the most expensive charges that we met in Sweden, £7.50 a night; however they charged everyone the same, regardless of size, and a Swan 61 we met there paid an equal amount. The skipper said that he had been motoring into the same wind at 5 knots when we were sailing down, and he had 35 knots of wind over the deck.
The Swedish archipelago in particular is a revelation. There is no commercial traffic, and there are more buoys, marks, lights and beacons on this 200 mile stretch of water than .around the whole UK coast. The whole area is iced up every winter and is subject to snow-laden gales and rough breaking seas over rocks. The cost of maintenance is enormous but everything works, all the buoys are exactly where they're supposed to be and it's all done for pleasure, recreation and the revival of the Swedish people during the summer. The government carries out the work as a national necessity without any discussion of commercial viability or cost effectiveness.
The result is a wonderland for the visiting yachtsman. Everything is strange and oddly back-to-front. One anchors by the stern and goes ashore through a divided pulpit, often over a carpeted step. In England, one sails during the day seeing no-one close-to, but in the evening enters a marina or anchorage where there are lots of boats, with pubs and restaurants ashore. In Sweden, one sails or motors all day amongst an endlessly intriguing panorama of yachts and motor boats, often passing at close quarters, but in the evening one turns off the channel and finds one's very own secluded bay or anchorage. Around the English coast one uses the buoyed channel to get to the open water. In Sweden one keeps to the buoyed channel and stays out of the open water, unless one is very sure from the chart that it is clear and unrocky. In English waters, if one sees a notice on the chart referring to submarine practice areas, restricted access, or army shooting ranges, one may ignore it. In Sweden, when they say, "no entry", they mean it and you go around. Yachts sail into the naval docks at Plymouth and Portsmouth and no-one turns a hair. No-one sails near Karlkrona's naval docks. Around England the sea is salty, often polluted and subject to the tides. The Baltic is virtually fresh, tideless, unpolluted but is subject to unpredictable currents.
In English supermarkets you can buy a vast range of cheap splendid vegetables, in Sweden you can't, they don't have a vegetable consciousness. Sweden is a country where the national language is Swedish but everyone speaks English. We have yet to meet anyone who replied "no" when asked if they spoke English. They learn it in school from a very early age. Gale warnings are issued in the Baltic for winds of force six and over, but the forecasts seem totally detached from the actual weather. English yachts have tricolour lights and fit steaming lights as an afterthought. Baltic yachts have steaming lights but few have tricolour. Around England, it gets dark, around Sweden, in the sailing season, it doesn't, by and large. Anchoring in Sweden is a casual affair, one finds a gap and drops the hook overboard, no calculations needed about scope of chain, swinging arcs or proximity of other boats. Finally, around England one avoids rocks like the plague, in Sweden one looks for nice steep ones and ties the front of the boat to them. Helsinki and a week at rest is near at hand, but it's not the rest that is so necessary, after all, even as things are, we get eight full hours sleep a night.
What we need is a break from routine and from pressure, a change of scene and surroundings and a different, less responsible approach to life in general.
In short, what we need is a bit of a holiday from this holiday.
Daysail to Russia Part 4
Tallinn, our long looked for destination, was worth the trouble. A uniquely foreign country, a people going unselfconsciously about their business, an opportunity for us to be travellers rather than tourists, and a brief view of another way of life. Daysail to Russia Part 4
The Russian catamaran we saw was a fascinating example of self-help technology and that design idiosyncrasy which is typically Russian. Twin forestays, one to each hull with a jib on each, inward facing bow hung foils and capacious hulls giving a light, well canvassed low rig craft. There were more multihulls in Baltic Russia than there were in Baltic Scandinavia. Tallinn, our long looked for destination, was worth the trouble. A uniquely foreign country, a people going unselfconsciously about their business, an opportunity for us to be travellers rather than tourists, and a brief view of another way of life. Daysail to Russia Part 4
Coming back was a journey in total contrast to the trip out. From Tallinn to Gothenburg we sailed very little and spent only a small proportion of time amongst the islands of Finland and Sweden. We sat out a gale on the remote, fortified and militarily garrisoned island of Uto, the last far flung outpost of Finnish dominions before the open Baltic and Swedish territory. The Finns were particularly territorially minded, both officially and privately. In such a vast, inhospitable and under-populated country this surprised us. We were constantly checked and examined, in the friendliest way, as we lay at anchor in Uto and had to obtain permission to stay 72 hours instead of only the regulation 48. On the other hand, when we arrived in Finnish waters from Tallinn, a long wearying and frustrating voyage, we were thrown out of our first chosen anchorage, a large open bay where we were at least 150 yards from an inhabitable shore, by the local busy body. He represented the local holiday home owners who didn't want their privacy invaded, even to this tiny extent, by three small foreign yachts. There was no question of "how long?", "where are you from?" - just "on your way now".
We made our Swedish landfall at Svenska Hogarna, another remote out-island, after motoring 60 miles from Uto over a windless sea still heaving with an immense swell from the gale of the previous day. We were actually able to sail from there via Dalaro to Nynashamn where once again prohibited area maps had to be consulted carefully before we chose our anchorage. The wind on the way to Nynashamn was as strong as we had sailed in up till then and under reefed main and foresail we often passed 10 knots.
The Gota Canal, running across the centre of Sweden, is an enigma for anyone writing about its charm and usefulness. Parts of it were fascinating, parts very commonplace and one or two parts were starkly emotive. There was an area where the canal passed across a large shallow lake and a line of decayed collapsing stone bollards and a towpath straggled across the water completely cut off from the nearest land. It was an eerie sight in a grey dusk on a mirror surface iron-grey lake while an ancient white passenger steamer hung with birch pole fenders passed slowly and silently along its length.
Progress through the canal was frustratingly slow. During July a full summer service of keepers and opening was provided from 8am to 9pm, but vast numbers of holiday-making Swedish craft used it and the lock walls were thronged with sightseers whose desire to look down into the lock was at odds with the need of the boat owner to tend his warps! After August 7th a winter service was operated, at the same full cost but only from 9am to 6pm and with a skeleton lock staff. There were almost no other yachts using the canal but lock-keepers then attended up to 4 locks whilst carrying out other duties, and often travelled from lock to lock by car. If there were flotillas going in opposite directions one invariably lost out. It was frustrating, to say the least, to miss the last lock or bridge before a long stretch of open water by ten minutes after having stood holding our boat before an empty lock for 3/4 of an hour because there was nothing to tie it to and no keeper to pass us through.
Going up the big flights from East to West was very hard work, going down the vast flights of the Gota river canal was a gentlemanly existence, but going up must be an awesome experience. The locks were built to carry the seagoing ships that carry the 1.5 million tons of cargo up to ports on Lake Vannern every year and they had a uniform rise of about 25' 0". We crossed Lake Vannern in Sweden which at 45 miles wide and 160 miles long was not so much a lake as an inland sea. We beat up to a tiny port on a long headland against a fierce and gusty wind which obliged us to reef and sail with care, the strongest wind we had experienced so far.
For over 5 hours we crept slowly nearer and nearer to Lasko expecting the seas and wind to diminish as we went into the lee of the land; they didn't, the seas just got shorter and more confused and the gusts fiercer and apparently appeared from increasingly vertical angles. We were pleased and proud to make the tiny harbour beneath an imposing whitewashed castle. The next day the wind was the same, we didn't sail!
We had faced strong south westerly winds for the past week and the forecast predicting them for the future did not help. A further difficulty was the problem of obtaining sensible weather forecasts; those we heard in the Baltic were vague, untimed and wildly inaccurate and across Sweden and at Gothenburg they were laughably useless. Because the weather seldom reached the impossible levels of the Channel or the North Sea, local boats put to sea whenever they wanted regardless of conditions, and provided cover for bad weather by making sure that their boat was big enough to carry an engine large enough to drive it at 7 or 8 knots regardless of sea state.
We could now almost hear the Radio 4 weather and shipping forecasts and as the lows swept in one after another from the far Atlantic we felt nearer to home than we actually were. We hoped to reach Kiel by August 25th and planned to lay the boats up in Holland for the winter. We finally arrived at the end of the end. We finished not, thank heavens, with a grand finale but an exhausted sigh. Since Gothenburg we had travelled south against south-westerlies, southerlies, calms and gales. Fortunately, by employing Richard and Lilians' sea and weather instincts, we had slid under, passed or gone behind the storms which raged across our route. We reached Kiel fjord half an hour before the wind changed direction. We motored straight into the lock and away from the devastation which had hit the area; the recent gales in the German Bight we sat out in a tiny marina called Fedderwardsiel, opposite Bremerhaven.
We had travelled, sailing and motoring, over 3000 miles. It had been, at the same time, a simple and complicated existence. Simple because we had one object in view, to get there and back in time, sailing our small boats singlehanded. Complicated because no day finished as it had started, no day was the same as the previous day and the demands of boat handling, navigation and food, petrol and water supply were complex. Our boats functioned well, no structural failures, no obvious improvements required, they sailed well, went to windward well in extreme conditions, sailed beautifully off the wind in all wind strengths, were stable and gave confidence to the helmsman; they were handy and steered well, being capable of sharp turns at low speeds when coming alongside for mooring. Very little water came aboard, particularly on the boats with trampolines, we often sailed in force 4 or 5 without oilskins. The tents and the moored living arrangements were splendid for one, two or three people on each boat.
We had no serious illnesses, no injuries beyond bruises and very small cuts. We were all still giggling at each others foolish jokes at breakfast time on day 90 and had managed to get on with each other in what is termed a very enclosed social environment. Significantly we had filled our water cans here, there and everywhere, and as far as we could tell did not suffer from it. Lilian lost 4lbs, I lost nearly a stone, and Richard looked to have lost weight, although we couldn't persuade him to test the theory on the scales. I only fell partly in the water, and only on two or three occasions at that.
On the other hand a lot of my kit did seem to find its way permanently over the side for one reason or another; 2 hats (boom), a bucket (wind in the night), my best sailing trousers (weak clothes pegs), my best sailing shirt (missed my aim for the opposite hatch), my autohelm (carelessness), my compass (casualness), my cereal bowl (forgetfulness), a fender (thoughtlessness, but Lilian picked it up), my tent pole (twice, but I picked it up), a gallon of petrol (poor aim, but Lilian picked it up) so it can be seen that the Baltic is in fact rather a dangerous sort of sea.
People ask if we enjoyed the trip. Enjoy is too weak a word, one enjoys a nice meal, a fortnights holiday or a birthday party. What we had done was a rich, life-enhancing, mind broadening, self-revealing experience and we quite enjoyed parts of it. The Baltic; Scandinavia, Finland and even to some extent Estonia, are no longer mere names to us, we have a picture of a people and their life-style in our minds.
The Swedish Island Archipeligo forms a stone coronet which glittered and sparkled for us in a succession of long blazing days and soft short nights. The endless moving panorama of islands, rocks, channels, buoys, yachts, boats and anchorages forms a composite picture in the memory which only the deck log and daily journal can separate into individual events.
Does anyone want to buy 3 lightly-used Strider Club Catamarans which have sailed to the USSR and back?