Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Midsummer Sailing

Despite coming from a long line of superior seamen (I think we all see what I did there), I am not what can be described as an accomplished sailor. I have managed to fall in the water and be on a boat that ran aground. So it may seem strange to you that my last Midsummer in Sweden, I chose to go sailing in Denmark. It may seem even stranger that this sailing expedition was actually an amateur sailing race hosted by a sailing club in Helsingør. The key word being amateur. When I finally got back to Stockholm, my decision seemed strange to me too.

The sailing started off well enough. The sun was shining as we sailed the boat from Landskrona to Helsingborg. We managed to get our nautical maps with us, the GPS and depth meter were all working, all in all, a good start. Of course, no sailing trip with me involved would be complete without forgetting something. We chose to forget the battens (I had to look that word up in English. I suddenly have learned lots of new sailing vocabulary words that I have no idea how to translate into English). It worked though. We made it home safe and sound. We did not run aground. I did not get wet.

Friday, we set off early to be ready for the race. We piddled around between Helsingborg with scores of other boats as we waited for the start. Ten minutes before the start we noticed one of the battens was loose. We attempted to lower the sail and save the batten. To no avail. It fell out and sunk to the bottom of the sea. Just a few minutes later, my cousin’s hat, which he had spoken so highly of, also fell into the sea. Not a good omen for the trip to come. But we sailed on.

For several hours we sailed without incident. The sun was shining. Sailing was fun. Sails were changed. Dinner came and went. I went below deck to sleep a while. While asleep, the electricity went out. Completely. Which meant we were sailing without GPS. It also meant that our engine would not start. Of course, if you start your engine, you are immediately disqualified from the race, so that wasn’t a problem. Of bigger concern was the GPS. For obvious reasons. But we sailed on.

I awoke to no GPS but a shining sun on Midsummers Day. Good times. The other three members of our ramshackle crew went to bed. My cousin, her boyfriend, and I stayed awake and carried on. We decided to change sails to a spinnaker. Essentially a big ass sail that balloons out and is supposed to give you a whole lot of speed. This being a race, speed was essential. So we changed sails. No problems at all. For about 45 minutes we were chugging right along.

At this point, I think it is important to note that the boat we were sailing in was 40.7 feet long and said to be uncapsizable in just about all conditions unless you find yourself out in the middle of the Atlantic. And despite not having any GPS we had not gone that far off course.

I can, in fact, confirm that the boat was uncapsizable. Because were sure as hell tried. The three of us attempted a jibe. Basically we wanted to turn. Except jibing with a spinnaker in high winds with three people, one of whom, me, knows not a damn thing about sailing is not a good idea. That’s because the sail will be ripped from your cousin’s hand, catch the wind, and attempt to drive the boat into the water at a 90 degree angle. The ropes will be ripped from your hands, leaving blisters on the tips of your fingers. The rudder man will be helpless because the rudder itself will be out of the water and turning a rudder in the wind doesn’t do anything. Your other cousin will come running up the stairs, knife in hand, ready to cut the sail loose. He will take stock of the situation, release several ropes, which will suddenly turn into formidable whips capable of decapitating a man, and eventually get the sail into the water, thus allowing us control of the boat. And that is exactly what happened. It’s not a good idea. No one and no thing fell in. So we sailed on.

I went to bed a little while later. Excitement is exhausting. I awoke when I realized we were not moving. At all. Awesome. I went upstairs only to see that we had run aground. Straight into a sandbank right under a large bridge. Awesome. There were attempts made to free us without starting the engine. We didn’t want to be disqualified you know. They failed. Then attempts were made to start the engine. Of course, as mentioned above, the engine would not start. And so we sat there. For quite a while. Eventually, an anchor was thrown in and my cousins began heave-hoing our way to freedom. And by freedom I mean off the damn sandbank. With no engine, we sailed into the nearest port, Stubbekøbing. That’s actually Danish for Time to Stop Sailing Port. Or something like that.

And we did just that. A phone call was made and we had withdrawn from the race. The next phone call was to an electrician, who came out to us within about 10 minutes. Now my Danish is less than stellar, but it turns out that we had just managed to flip a switch somewhere along the way to the wrong side. This resulted in the batteries running down. So basically, we forgot to press the on button. Awesome. Then the friendly Dane began to babble on about the race. And suggesting that we continue. We hadn’t started our engine (for obvious reasons) and so we had not cheated. So another phone call was made and we were back in the race. And so we sailed on.

Late Saturday night, or early Sunday morning, I don’t know the time because I spent my shift on deck shining a flashlight at the compass due to the compass backlight being broken, it was just my cousin and I awake. We were clipping right along, no problems for several hours, heading straight for the lighthouse with the red light that was supposed to be on that particular compass degree. We were feeling good. Until suddenly we noticed that red light was gaining on us. And we weren’t going that fast. And it was getting bigger. Turns out it was a boat. We had been sailing on a collision course with this boat for hours. Just following the red light. The boat turned to the right. We turned to the left. Which was unfortunate because that means we essentially turned into another collision course. We turned further left. The boat this time also turned to its left and disaster was avoided. As the boat whipped by, I could have probably hit the broadside of their ship with a baseball. That ship was moving so quickly, that within about ten minutes, it had disappeared over the horizon. With everyone intact, my heart beating furiously and adrenaline coursing through my very tired veins I decided it was time for some chocolate. So I settled into my position of shining a flashlight on the compass and ate some Marabou. And we sailed on.

Several hours later I went to bed thinking we would cross the finish line right about the time I was waking up. But again I awoke to the ship not moving. My immediate reaction, because I can apparently be conditioned into thinking things, was that we had run aground. Again. I went upstairs. We had not run aground, but instead found ourselves in a pocket with no wind. Which was unfortunate because, judging from the boats closer to the coast, there was wind to be had. So there we sat. Kronborg jutting out from Helsingør was in sight. The finish line was in sight. But we did not sail on. We couldn’t.

Since we had come this far without an engine, we sure as hell weren’t going to use it. Of course, we were assuming we could get the engine started despite the GPS blinking on and off due to a very tired battery. So we waited. And I ate. Because that’s what I do when I’m bored and there is food around. It’s a damn good thing I am not bored very often or I would be a very fat man.

Finally, a few gusts of wind came by and we were able to get moving. We sailed past the finish line 49 hours and 36 minutes after having left. And we tried to start the engine. Which, of course, did not start. The battery was dead. So instead of sailing into Helsingør's port, we headed over to the Swedish side and Helsingborg. At this point, sailing into a harbor without an engine was old hat to us and we glided right in. The crowds at the café stood and applauded as we gracefully touched down, men asked for our autographs, women threw their bras at us, life was good. Or I was suffering from a lack of sleep. I don’t remember.

Having unloaded the boat, loaded the car, unloaded the car, eaten dinner, and driven up to Stockholm, I was in bed by two in the morning on Monday.

But we made it. No one was hurt. No one fell overboard. No sails were damaged. No boats were damaged. Maybe most importantly, no relationships were damaged. It was a success. Or a failure. Or a successful failure. I suppose it depends on your definition.

Welcome to Sweden. And my likely retirement from amateur Danish sailing.

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  1. Wow! What an adventure! Thank goodness no one was hurt, but it sure was eventful :) It's very easy to romanticize sailing but I think your journey reminds us how unpredictable and dangerous it can be. Still, what a cool experience!

  2. At least you the food to entertain you with...

  3. Absolutely hilarious!! I sure hope you continue your blog when you arrive back in the states. "Welcome to America" and all that. Can't wait!

  4. cool ... waiting for the next episode ... the french versaillais

  5. I'm no expert at sea traffic rules, but I don't think you needed to turn at all, as motor powered ships have to give way to sail ships.

  6. But aren't you gonna miss the Marabou moments?

  7. Well, I managed to get sunburned, seasick and hungover - not to mention dipping a leg up to the crotch :) Damn those sailboats!

  8. @anonymous – true, and it is much more fun to discuss now than it was while in the middle of it all.

    @TNT – very true.

    @Julie – Must we laugh at my misfortune? But its true, it is pretty funny now.

    @Versaillais – thanks.

    @Mazui – at two in the morning, when there are only two of you awake, you turn. And you turn quickly.

    @m8 – I actually ate some marabou while we were stuck on the sandbar.

    @anonymous – I avoided all those actually, so I suppose it’s a wash.