After our wonderful stay on the island of Bornholm, we were now set to sail towards a country and a place none of us had ever visited before.
“That looks so cool!” Charlotte said about Mierzeja Helska, a long sand bar stretching out on the map from the Polish mainland, far into the South Baltic Sea. “And look there, on the tip of the sand bar, there’s a place called Hel!”
This was basically the amount of diligent pre-planning we did before deciding where to go. This, and the fact that going towards Poland, the wind was supposed to (for once) work more with us instead of against us. And the name ‘Hel’ itself, obviously. It was a bit funny to people like us, with an adequately immature sense of humor.
So, forward! Onward! To explore strange new worlds, and new civilizations. To boldly go to Hel, and then hopefully come back again…
WARNING! This post contains a lot of sailing data! We recorded about 12.5 million rows of data during the trip, and my humble attempt was to turn a bit of that data into a description of “what it was really like”.
5 am – 10 am
We left early in the morning, just before 5am.
After motoring out from the Nørrekås marina, we circled around towards our destination, and then hoisted the sails. Sailing along the south coast of Bornholm, we had quite good reaching wind angles, and the crossover sail was flying nicely. Not very much wind, though, and it was steadily decreasing, from about ten knots (true wind) at first, and ending up at about six knots after we passed the island.
10 am – 9:26 pm
After 10 am everything started to slow down. In the picture above, the track is colored according to SOG (speed over ground), so just behind the boat, you can see how it dropped from blue (4-5 knots), through purple (3-4 knots) to white (<3 knots).
A good question, whenever this happens, is “when should we start the engine?”. Here’s a small data-based visualization of our how we made (and usually make) that decision:
|1||5-6||“Yes! Good sailing!”|
|2||4||“Less wind now, but we’re still doing about four knots, it’s good, although we could have some more wind…”|
|3||3||“Oh well, it’s not about the destination, it’s about being out here and enjoying these amazing surroundings!”|
If I happen to have a waypoint somewhere far away, I might look at the ETA. It’s a mood killer, usually, so better to stick to the thought above.
|4||2||“Do we have enough diesel to go all the way? Yes? Ok! We’re starting the engine!”|
… and a bit later. “Oh the wind is picking up! Should we stop the engine and see what’ll happen with just the sails?”
|6||2-4||“Oh, not enough wind…”|
|7||4||[engine sound, a bit less RPM]|
At 9:26 pm local time, the sun disappeared into the horizon.
Charlotte emerged from inside, took some photos, and then we just sat there and admired our beautiful world for a while.
Sunset – 4 am
“Securité, securité, securité”, the VHF crackled.
It was the familiar security announcement we all had learned to appreciate. A heads up that there would be a weather broadcast on another channel. This time it would be from a Swedish station and I was keen to know if there would be any surprises for our upcoming night or the next day.
I dialed in the right channel and started listening. The relaxed female voice went through different areas and their forecasts, with nothing new or exceptional. Then, “… South Baltic Sea … good visibility.”
“… except for some areas with fog and extremely bad visibility.”
And then, a few hours later, suddenly the stars started to disappear from the horizon. Then, everything else started to fade, until it was just we in our small boat, surrounded by thick and impenetrable darkness.
It wasn’t scary at all, though. I turned on the radar and checked the alignment with the AIS data. Although the physical visibility was “extremely bad”, the instrumentally created visibility was (luckily!) excellent.
I did one route alteration, however, due to the fog.
The original plan was to go south to the traffic separation scheme, cross over it (through the gap you see in the picture), and then continue east, below it, and closer to the Polish coast. With the fog, though, I thought it smarter to keep some distance from the separation scheme— and the ships! — so we stayed north of it instead.
4 am – Neverending Fog
Fog has, in my sailing life, usually been quite localized and shortlived. So going in some direction for a while, usually, the fog has cleared. This fog seemed a different breed altogether.
After about four hours in it, in the dark of night, some sunlight started to form— somewhere behind the greyish fog blanket, that was now changing from a really dark gray towards a somewhat lighter gray color.
Then the sun appeared, sort of.
Not like it normally does, edging sharply over the horizon and spreading its stark and brilliant light so powerfully, that it’s hard to watch it but for a few seconds. No, this sunrise was completely different.
At first, the grayish gray started to get some hints of warm orange and yellow. Then, the warm colors kept spreading more and more, slowly and diffusely through the fog blanket. Finally, a blurry, warm, and round shape, not appeared, as much as softly faded in. After having gently formed itself into existence, the sun looked more like a moon, actually, shining softly in a universe of fog.
A couple hours more, and the fog still hadn’t left us. But the scenery, it was among the most mesmerizing and memorable I had ever experienced.
And then, almost seven hours after we had sailed into the fog, we sailed out of it. And that too was very beautiful, since ahead of us was a clear sky, and behind us a fog rainbow— I don’t know what else to call it, but I assume that is what it was.
9:33 am – Land Ahoy!
A short while after exiting the fog, we spotted Poland for the first time. “Land ahoy!” I shouted loudly, as one is supposed to do.
2 pm – 5 pm
For the last hours of our sail, we were fortunate enough to get some more wind, so we turned off the engine and continued with just the sails up.
The weather was great. We were all outside in the cockpit, looking at the shoreline and pointing at all kinds of interesting things we saw.
“There is a huge beach there!” M shouted, and pointed at the coastline right next to us. “Look at how many people ther are!”
It was Plaża Władysławowo — the Wladyslawowo beach, I googled. And she was right, it was filled to the brim with people. Woudn’t want to be there, I thought to myself. Not very coronasafe.
5 pm – 6 pm
Once we rounded the cape, all of Hel broke loose right in front of us!
What we didn’t know (and hadn’t googled), was that Hel is one of Poland’s most popular beach and weekend party destinations (it was Friday).
Not only was the beach stuffed with people (and all kinds of water toys, air castles, slides, the lot), but the water was crowded, as well, with all kinds of boats, small and big, fishing boats, party boats, parasailing boats— any and everything you would find in your popular Mediterranean beach resort, but apparently also in Polish Hel.
So, offering us some last hour excitement, here’s what happened (see flags in the pic above):
|1||“Hey, there’s a fishing net flag over there!”|
“Where’s the other one? Oh there!”
[quick turn to port]
“We’re ok, we’ok!”
|2||“Oh crap, there’s another net right there to the port! But where’s the other flag, I can’t see it?!”|
[quick turn to starboard, guessing it’s the correct side]
[a slight thud when we feel the boat hitting the top of the net and sliding over it]
“Ok. That was the wrong side. But we’re ok, we just slided over it.”
[hoping the net is ok as well and we won’t be met with angry fishermen once ashore]
|4||[mental preparation for upcoming close quarter maneuvering and docking]|
Lost in Translation
We had just entered the marina basin (dodging all kinds of party boats to the left and right) when I saw a man standing at the end of the pier and waving to us frantically.
“Zostajesz na jedną czy więcej nocy?” he shouted*) at us.
“Sorry!” I shouted back. “I don’t understand! English?”
“Więcej niż jedną noc?” he shouted.
“Sorry!” I shouted and waved my arms trying to signal that I really really didn’t understand.
“Tu jest dobrze,” he shouted, in a mildly frustrated tone, and signaled with his hands to the place he wanted us to dock the boat.
The docking itself went nicely.
And so we had arrived.
159.3 nautical miles and 37.2 hours since we started, and one more great sailing adventure committed to our long-term memories, we were now happily in Hel.
*) Once docked, we managed to communicate (barely) well enough so that I understood what he had been asking. “Are you going to stay for just one night or more?” he had shouted in Polish. (And I ‘reverse google translated’ what he might have said into his quotes.) If just for one night, we could have moored further in. If for more nights, he wanted us out at the pier, where he was standing and where we then ended up. So, all’s well that ends well, despite of our small language barrier.