Phase one complete: Finland to Portugal – 2500nm
Or 4600km for the landlubbers amongst us! Anyway, it’s a long way and yes its really happening. This first part of the journey has been a bit rushed. We’ve been heading south as quickly as we can to miss the start of the winter weather in the north. With some success… So we are looking forward to the next leg that will take us down to the Canary Islands and then across the Atlantic with the ARC Rally. Hopefully we can slow down a bit and enjoy some warmer weather and sunshine! Here’s a quick review of the trip thus far.
The Baltic Sea
If we never see that piece of ocean again, that will be too soon. What a shit. It was cold, we had wind on the nose for 90% of the time and we just smashed into short sharp 2-meter plus swell. Usually a swell of that size simply doesn’t matter. In the Baltic on the nose? Its truly awful. And we had day after day after day. Our last run to try and make the Kiel Canal before the weather turned was the worst – and yes, the weather forecast got it wrong so we had 12 hours in the dark of complete rubbish. Coco came through with flying colour’s. Us? We were just bloody pleased to see the canal.
However, we did really enjoy our time down the Swedish coast – beautiful little villages, friendly people (incredibly hospitable!). Herrings were a big deal. We stopped in one village where they are renowned for their cans of fermented pickled ones. “It’s like a gorgonzola” we were told, “terrible smell, amazing taste”. The sold us a “vintage” year (i.e. I think it was old and they needed to get rid of it). They were right on one count, terrible smell – I’m glad I didn’t open the can on Coco. Amazing taste? Horseshit. I’m not quite sure why we weren’t all ill the next day….
The Kiel Canal
My first ever canal transit – after running around trying to find out what the process was to get in, we discovered you pretty much just turn up, wait for the white lights then race for the entrance! It reminded me a bit of those old running start Le Mans races. First in, first served – tie up, the gates shut, they adjust the water level, gate open and off you go.
It was kinda cool going through, not what I expected at all. Rather pleasant German countryside, massive ships coming towards you in the middle of the canal pushing us to the side. We stopped half way through in the marina at Rendsburg and had a good old German dinner (tough as a vegan I can tell you – thank God beer is vegan).
We had a funny moment when it occurred to me that for the first, and maybe the last time, Gabby and Coco crossed paths. We went under the very bridge that we drove over in Gabby on the way to Iceland two years ago! I’m sure there was a moment of love…
The North Sea
Our first day on the North Sea was actually okay – we were lulled into the false sense of security after everything we’d heard about it. The sun was shining, wind on the beam and a great sail across to Helgoland. Now this is an interesting place. It’s a German owned, tax free island that’s like an English holiday resort for German day trippers buying cheap booze. It had the shit bombed out of it in both the first and second world wars, then England used it to test explosives after that. In fact they detonated the largest ever non-nuclear bomb there and blew up half the island. So kinda kooky, but sort of cool.
We set off from Helgoland with visions of making 200 miles over 38 hours getting us close to Southampton. Hello North Sea! The forecast deteriorated so we made a call to hide for the night. We ended up in a small holiday resort town called Burkana. The funny thing was we thought that we had stopped in Holland – imagine our surprise, we were still in Germany… Apart from our navigational error, I’m pleased we tied up. It blew like a bastard all night and at 2am, a yacht was towed in by the Coastguard and unceremoniously slammed against the marina by 40 knot winds with its Genoa blown out and flying like a kite in the wind from the top of its mast. They looked scared and very pleased to be in!
The English Channel
Not a lot to report really, we sailed most of it non-stop taking about 2 days to get from The Hague to Southampton. I’ve never dodged so many ships in my life… However the weather was okay so we actually had a reasonable transit. But thank god for good navigation systems – the investment (and I do mean, investment!) in the B&G nav gear has really paid off – it’s been brilliant. We relied on the AIS (for ship tracking), the radar for things that go bump in the night and the fishing boats that don’t have AIS, and of course the Navionics charts. Some days you feel like you’re flying an A380. However, its great kit. Speaking of AIS, if you want to know where we are Click on this link and you’ll get our AIS tracker.
We spent a week in Southampton (unscheduled) at Universal Marina getting Vortec Marine to sort out a few niggles and teething issues (thank you to Duncan and his team – awesome), but primarily to get the rig pulled out because the stays had been calculated incorrectly and were floppy so they had to be re-machined– once again thanks Selden (not).
We also crossed GMT – moving from east longitude to west longitude. I guess that’s a bit like the English version of the Equator? Just not quite as warm or exciting – so yes, I guess it is English…
The Bay of Biscay & North Atlantic
Leaving Southampton we had a good weather window ahead of us so we made the call to head straight to A Coruña on the north western tip of Spain. So we went non-stop for 3.5 days. The forecast (for once) was right on the money and we had awesome sailing conditions most of the way across! It was a bit of a relief to get such a great crossing – I’d heard some horror stories about Biscay, so I’m pleased we didn’t have to experience that piece of water at its worst. The dolphins we cute, the whales breaching near the boat were great to see – however, need I say more. And we managed to get the new red gennaker up with the Koru on it – awesome! Goes well with our 3Di carbon mainsail – both from Norths.
Hitting the north coast of Spain (as opposed to a whale), we finally got some warmer weather – hurray. Again the weather worked in our favour heading down the coast to Lisbon – we hit a new record in top speed, 17.7 knots (SOG) with 30 knots of wind behind us and a big following sea. We made good time! We decided to ease back on the overnight sails here and day hop the final few days down to Lisbon after seeing a yacht getting towed into the marina at A Coruña around 2am by the Coastguard after running into a fishing net 12 miles out in 30 knots of wind – completely stopped the yacht and ended up with half the net wrapped around its keel. Ouch.
Anyway – now a few days of forced layover in Lisbon. The watermaker has packed up. I’m starting to understand how much shit on a yacht breaks. And yes – we kinda need that piece of gear…
Good to see you have made the first leg safely – great blog as always 🙂
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Still think you are mad however
Look, it’s quite possible you may be right. I tried to be normal and failed! Oh well….
Great blog about your first trip with the new beauty! ….super answer about your madness…
Thanks Thomas! We are certainly enjoying Coco. And I guess we are all a little mad… Thanks for the support. Alex
Looks amazing! Keep safe
Thanks Julie. I’m trying to do just that! We are planning to leave Lisbon tomorrow bound for Madeira.
Great article, amazing experience. You will remember the good times. 👍🏻⛵️
Thanks Marcus! We are really enjoying the journey.
Wow Coco is beautiful & well done on surviving the first leg!
Thanks Tess. We are loving sailing life!
Hey Alex, I like your blog and your boat in black (or is it dark blue?) looks very elegant. I have been on the Swan 54 2 times and I am doing a field trip to Nautor later this month to go over some things. If it works out, I would love to do a little tech-talk (via email) with you at one point, if you’re up to it. The only thing I disagree with is that I consider the Baltic one of the most beautiful waters, yes, slightly more demanding (specially in the fall), but so rewarding… Safe travels!
I’m smiling about the Baltic 😁. We really loved the stops down the coast. Beautiful little villages. It was awesome. However in fall the sailing was terrible. That chop on the nose is something else! Summer would be amazing. Would love to help out. We learnt so much through the process and no one can really tell you the intricate details so I can share what we learnt, it should help out a lot. Especially when choosing options. She’s dark blue, but in some light it looks black! But shouted right, the 54 is a very elegant and sleek looking yacht. We love ours. Make sure you reach out when you’re ready. All the best. Alex.
We have been following your sailing from then you docked in Gävle Sweden. I can see now that you soon will be at Saint Lucia. Nice! Really loved the comments of the Baltic Sea – our home water. Meanwhile we did cross the Atlantic with SPV Star Flyer.
I hope you had a crossing that was as nice as ours! We had good steady winds and only a day of squalls so we really enjoyed the sailing. Now looking forward to some relaxing time in the Caribbean. Thanks for following our journey 👍
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