It was the first evening of our summer vacation.
After having spent a long day getting ourselves and our belongings onto the boat, after casting off from our own harbor and waving farewell to Charlotte’s mother standing on the dock, and then, after just a few hours of relaxed sailing, we were at our first anchorage.
If measured in miles behind us, not very far from our home. Looking ahead, though, a whole summer’s worth of stories and adventures eagerly waiting for us make them happen.
It felt like such a big relief to finally be out there, on our way. What we didn’t have yet, however, was a clear idea of where to go.
Sure, before the coronavirus pandemic, we had made grand (but in truth, also very open and preliminary) plans to go to Norway. Then, due to the virus, it was at times unsure whether it would be possible (or smart, for that matter) to go sailing at all. Now, we still did have the dream of maybe reaching Norway, but at the same time, that dream seemed even farther away than before.
“Well, the weather is good for a couple of days now and then it turns bad, cold and windy,” I reasoned to Charlotte. “If we do want to start going at least in the general direction of Norway, it would be good to get going and cross over to Gotland now,” I continued.
“Then again, it’s really warm now,” she replied. “And if we stay here, the children can enjoy swimming before it gets cold,” she added, looking a bit conflicted. “But I don’t really know? You decide.”
I didn’t know either, and it was a difficult choice. Of course, I wanted the children to be able to enjoy the last of the remaining foreseeable warm weather (and water) we had. On the other hand, not taking our weather window to Gotland would mean waiting for at least a week before trying again. In the bigger picture: folding the Norway dream already on the second day of our vacation.
“Ok, let’s sail to Visby tomorrow,” I said, with a sigh and a smile.
Charlotte, well she wasn’t really focused on our discussion anymore, because she had noticed first a couple, then a couple more, then a whole extended family of mosquitoes inside the boat.
“Ok, let’s do it,” she said quickly, just before jumping up from the sofa and swatting one with the palm of her hand. “Got you!” she exclaimed, victoriously.
We lifted the anchor and got going fairly early in the morning. With about two-hundred miles ahead of us— and going against (of course!) a light wind—, we’d be fortunate to make the trip in about two days and two nights of sailing. Quite the journey for our newbie sailing family!
During the night, the wind went to sleep, and it was time to turn on the engine, or— said the trip computer— arrive in Visby a couple of days later than planned. Going from a sleep-inducing 1.7 knots to a decent 4.8 felt great. Seeing the ETA (estimated time of arrival) first leap, then jump, then happily skip closer to a value measured in hours, not days— that felt rewarding, as well.
After night, and about twenty or so hours of sailing, came day, but still without any sign of wind.
That wasn’t a problem, though. Our Hanse 388 has a 160 liter fuel tank. So, with an hourly consumption somewhere between 2–3 liters, we had plenty of fuel to drive all the way to Visby, if needed.
The children spent a lot of the day inside, playing with each other and doing stuff they normally do together. Without wind and waves, and our small diesel engine gently propelling us forward with its soft purring sound, we were a bit more a passenger ferry than a sailboat. And nothing wrong with that. The children enjoyed it, certainly.
It was a bit later in the afternoon and O came up to me.
“I’m not feeling so well,” he said.
We had had some issues with seasickness the year before, and although we did approach this year with new and different ways to try to prevent it, apparently it hadn’t worked.
“How long until we will be in Visby?” he asked, looking like he probably didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Tomorrow morning, I think,” I said. “But hey, try to put on your life jacket and come out in the fresh air for a while? Ok?”
Luckily, his brand of seasickness was quite light. Still, it obviously drained most of the joy out of everything for him, so we tried to do our best to make it better. I don’t think we had much success, though, so quite early in the evening he just wanted to go to bed to maybe, hopefully, sleep it away.
With our second sunset, we also got a bit of wind!
Not enough wind for turning off the engine completely (as we really wanted to reach our destination in the early morning), but well enough to go “hybrid”: using the engine, as well as all available sail area to go forward.
I noticed that with just a slight amount of wind, and both the mainsail and the jib in use, I could drop the engine RPMs down from 2,200 to 2,000 (saving about 0.4 dl fuel/hour) and still get at least 5 knots of speed. Which was exactly what we needed so that we wouldn’t reach our destination too early (before sunrise) nor too late (want to sleep! soon!).
The wind picked up further, and after a few hours of exciting hybrid motorsailing, we got a chance to enjoy the sunset without the motor running.
It was getting darker and after about forty hours of sailing, we had the last night ahead of us. A bit worryingly, I was starting to get really tired.
We had, indeed, used a watchkeeping system from the start of the trip. Three hours on, three hours off, divided between me and Charlotte. It had been very difficult for me to get any sleep during my “off” times, though. I had slept for a bit less than an hour during the day, but that was about it.
Going into the second night, it started to feel more and more challenging to stay awake. Or— easier and easier to start drifting away into my own thoughts, into the repetitive sounds of this and that clinging and clanging on the sailboat … clanging and clinging … on the sailboat, the water rushing–rushing–shing–shushing–shh-ssh … by the hull … rushing-ssh-ssh … by the hull …
As a precaution, I set my phone to sound an alarm every twenty minutes. Just in case.
For me, there is that certain time of each night, when it’s the hardest for me to stay awake. And this was now. From the bright light of day, I was now in the deepest of dark. With my eyes open, out on the sea in a sailboat, but with my eyes closed, walking slowly forward on a dark, strange, grassy hill somewhere far and away. And the dark of night offered me wings, and wanted me to fly. I wanted to fly as well, run forward on the dark grassy hill, and feel myself slowly lifting towards the warm and inviting skies.
And then, all reality started to gradually disappear from around me, and around the boat.
A soft white curtain reached out with soothing gestures, to gently fill the void between us and everything else.
It was not me falling asleep, though. We had sailed into a thick belt of fog!
It immediately freshened my mind and pulled me away from my almost-slumber. Wow! Exciting! And how beautiful it all was!
I turned on the radar, calibrated it to the chart, and switched myself from visual flight rules to instrument flight, from slightly groggy to wide awake and on a mission. Cool!
A few hours later, and there were just patches of fog left. Sunrise wasn’t far away either, maybe less than an hour.
Looking in the other direction, the best moment of every new day near!
The final few hours went well.
When we got close to Visby, I woke up Charlotte and Aiko. We glided slowly forward, all three of us, admiring the slightly surreal seascape being painted around our boat, in all kinds of bluish–reddish colors, by the rising sun.
We drove slowly into the harbor, checked for free mooring buoys, and then found one. I rigged the mooring lines so that we could reverse into our slot, and gave the buoy hook to Charlotte.
“Ok, so I’ll go back slowly and you’ll just have to get the hook onto the buoy,” I started. “Then, once it’s there, just keep the hook and the line away from the boat, and walk forward with it to the bow, and then tighten it to the cleat,” I continued, and checked that she was still awake.
“Mmm. Okay. I’ll try my best,” she said.
It was the first time she had done it, and it went perfectly!
After some tweaking of everything, we were all set, and I turned off the engine.
Good morning, Visby and Gotland! We are here! (Yes, we really are!)
And then, finally, it was time for Charlotte and me to go inside to our own cabin, and get some well-deserved sleep.