After a few days in Hel, we were now out on the sea again, and heading in the general direction of Lithuania and its seaport city Klaipeda. Not too directly, though, to avoid all encounters with potentially unfriendly Russian warships and submarines.
As a wrote in my last post, we were stressing a bit about having to sail through the Russian EEZ to get to our destination. In the picture below I’ve made a rough visualization of our routing challenge.
- The large area within the red-blue gradient line is the Russian EEZ (exclusive economic zone).
- The innermost red line is the Russian territorial sea. It’s an academic question whether one actually should have the right to innocent passage through it, but in the real world, it’s smarter to stay out (see Stuart’s comment here).
- The yellow line is the consensus cautionary distance of twenty miles from the shore, and that was the amount we planned to bend the dashed “straight route” to stay clear of trouble.
Not Much Wind
We motored out from Marina Helska, and then, because there was very little wind, we just kept the engine running.
Now We’re Sailing!
Then, the wind slowly increased, and turned from coming at us, to going with us.
This was roughly what our weather routing had forecasted, and it felt great to hoist the code zero, turn off the engine, and finally get to hear that wooshing sound when the boat starts to really move!
Here’s what it really looked like. A video from 20:48:39 to 20:48:56 local time (17:48 UTC in the image above).
Below the video, you can see the actually recorded data during that time.
Just a few minutes later we crossed over into the Russian EEZ.
Now, although we were a bit cautious about this whole Russia thing (they did, after all, invade a country quite recently), we didn’t want to be too fixated on our preconceptions. So, O drew a Russian visitor’s flag and as we crossed the border, we offered our humble salutations as well. Thank you for letting us pass through!
“Oh ok, now there’s a gust,” I shouted to Charlotte and grabbed the wheel from the autopilot. From “whee, we’re going fast”, the wind had quickly escalated to “whoa, hold on to your hats!”.
With a full main and the code zero up, we were quickly approaching the limits, and it was time to reef.
Except, that time had gone a few minutes ago. And with a second gust, stronger than the one before, the rudder let go and we started the inevitable quick turn upwind.
“We’re broaching! Hold on!” I shouted to the others, all of them inside the boat.
There were some frightened screams (I think Little L), but after I got the mainsheet out, the situation was quickly over.
“No worries!” I shouted. “It was just a broach, everything is ok.”
A few suspicious faces appeared in the companionway. They were clearly not completely buying it. And truth be told, I think my heart rate had gone up a bit as well!
After the broach, we took down the code zero, rolled out the jib, and put in the first reef in the main.
And then, a half hour later, the wind shifted gears again, and went from a steady 16-17 knots to a steady 23-24 knots, and gusting to 27.
If this was the wind’s second gear (already far above the forecast), I was a bit afraid of what might come next, so we just dropped the main altogether, and continued our downwind sailing with only the jib.
A Scary Night
It was getting dark. The wind wasn’t giving up and now there were pretty substantial waves forming as well. Despite the somewhat gentler forecasts, this was now in fact a bit closer to “real” sailing than we had expected. And we wouldn’t be out of it any time soon.
Charlotte was sitting next to me out in the cockpit, staring at the dark waves with a blank look in her eyes.
“I don’t like this. I don’t like this at all,” she managed to say.
I felt bad for her, to say the least. “I think you should just go inside and get some sleep,” I said to her. “You know, I’ll be fine out here alone, and there’s nothing to worry about.”
“Ok,” she said, unclipped herself, and climbed carefully inside.
Fortunately, the wind never put in any third gear (except for some serious gusts!), but rather it remained quite constant throughout the night.
The going wasn’t very comfortable, though.
I kept thinking (without really wanting to do anything about it) whether hoisting a reefed main would make it a bit better. Getting a bit more speed might have kept us more often on top of and surfing down the waves instead of “falling” down on the backsides of them. On the other hand, broaching in the dark wouldn’t have been much fun either.
Here are some numbers from the night:
Finally, a piece of poor quality night video, looking much more gentle than it really felt!
It’s always great when daylight arrives, and this was no exception. The waves looked even bigger, though, when they became clearly visible. And they were breaking, all around us, so it really felt like being quite offshore.
Little L’s face appeared in the companionway.
She had just woken up and climbed up the stairs to have a look outside. “Oh wow! Look at those big waves!” she proclaimed, happily, and turned back inside, giggling.
In a surprising turn of events, none of the kids (or Charlotte!) had any symptoms of seasickness whatsoever. And this was during our absolutely most extreme sailing trip ever! So yes, wow, “look at those big waves!”. Apparently, fortunately, luckily, when there is no seasickness, and everyone is happy, the waves are cool, not scary. (And I’m all for that!)
The Russia thing, that had quickly become a non-issue. We had crossed over to the Lithuanian side in the night, and apart from a couple of military ships on the horizon, nothing much had happened. No VHF calls, nothing.
The next challenge ahead, though, was the tight entrance to Klaipeda.
With big waves rolling from the west, directly towards that very entrance, and with the approaching coast making the waves even bigger — that was the next obstacle preoccupying my mind.
For the final downwind approach I turned off the autopilot and started steering by hand, trying my best to avoid the waves pushing us sideways and broaching us.
It was pretty exciting, but also a bit nerve-wrecking to see the approaching concrete breakwater structures, and to realize how easily and quickly a big wave could lift us in the wrong direction, and too close to the lee side of the entrance.
So there I was, trying my best to accomplish this delicate balancing act, when the hand-held VHF crackled.
“[unclear], [unclear], this is the Lithuanian coast guard.”
I couldn’t quite hear what they said because of the wind. Were they calling me?
“Charlotte, Charlotte, this is the Lithuanian coast guard,” a female voice said again.
I had both hands on the steering wheel, focusing on keeping the boat heading in the right direction, so I felt a bit concerned to do it with just one hand.
I let go and picked up the VHF. “Lithuanian coast guard, this is Charlotte,” I managed to squeeze out.
“Hello, Charlotte, channel six, please.”
“Channel six,” I replied, and fiddled the channel buttons with one hand while keeping the other hand firmly engaged in active steering.
The coast guard person wanted me to go directly to their station (“Do you know where that is?” she asked. “Sorry, no,” I replied) and check in with them before anyone leaving the boat.
“Do you know the river Dane?” she asked.
“Sorry, no, I’m not sure,” I replied, a bit embarrassed of the fact that I probably should know, that it’s probably a very famous river and only silly, uncaring tourists don’t know it.
“Ok, so after the entrance, go about two miles down the channel, then turn to the left, then go about [unclear], and [unclear] and then you see a building on the right and then [unclear]. Ok?” she asked.
I absolutely didn’t really understand it all, but I wasn’t really optimistic that asking again would make it any better. “Ok, yes. You know, I’m just outside now and trying to cope with the waves. Once I get in and get the sails down I will try to find it, and if I get lost, I will call you, ok?” I said.
“OK!” she replied.
About ten minutes later we were inside the breakwater. No more waves!
But it was really quite fascinating and industrial. A lot of ships, tug boats, and cranes on the shore. Smoke billowing from factories.
We motored down the channel and tried to look for the correct river entrance. With less multitasking, it was, in fact, quite easy to find it, but the rest of the instructions, some building somewhere something. Couldn’t really remember that anymore.
We were both, Charlotte and I, trying our best to spot anything coast guard related, when suddenly we saw a man waving at us frantically on the shore.
“Hello! Hello! Come in here!” he shouted.
And so we motored into the small river Dane (very much too slowly and carefully, he thought, I think), and followed the man walking next to us on the river bench. No coast guard in sight, though.
“Turn to the right here! Tight turn!” he shouted, and then I understood he was guiding us into the harbour we actually originally had intended to go to. The Castle Harbour.
“Go to the left and take spot twenty-six,” he shouted.
And that was it. A slow and gracious stroll down the other slips, a gentle reversing into our slip, and we were safely and soundly in Klaipeda.
The coast guard, he was standing there waiting for us, looking quite coastguardy.
It wasn’t any building I was supposed to go to. It was the backseat of his car, in the parking lot next to the harbour, and he was really quite actively waiting for me.
“Yes, come now,” he said several times, with a slightly frustrated voice, while I was adjusting the mooring lines.
The official “check-in” took about five minutes and consisted of the usual questions about nationality, what was our last port, and so forth.
“Welcome to Lithuania,” he said, and then quickly “Goodbye,” and looked at me like I was too slow at opening the door and getting out of the car.
“Thank you!” I said, with a broad smile, and left.
I checked later, that the significant wave height had been 3.0 meters somewhere in the neighbourhood of where we sailed.
Charlotte told me, that after she went inside “to sleep”, she hadn’t been able sleep at all, but was lying in the bed in a sort of X position, using her hands and legs to hold her in one place. “Several times, during the night, I thought I was going to die,” she recollected.
The children, on the other hand, slept right through it, and when they woke up, they seemed pretty unconcerned. And no seasickness!
It was a good reminder, though, that the sea is great, and that forecasts are good, until sometimes they aren’t.
As always, the boat performed well, and we got to where we wanted to go, in good spirits, and in good health.
In Loving Memory
When I started writing this blog, I did it in part because I wanted to tell my mother a bit about what was going on in her son’s life.
She had been suffering from Parkinson’s (and other related diseases) for over ten years, and because of that, and maybe a few other reasons, we were never really good at talking to each other. But she did have her computer that she was frequently using, and so, I thought, she might appreciate having the opportunity to read a bit about our adventures.
And she did, and that made me (and I think her also) happy.
Not that she liked sailing that much, though. She thought it was absolutely too dangerous, and one of the more frequent questions she posed to me was “Are going to sell the boat soon?”
Somewhere beneath that, though, under this primary protective feeling, I do think that she was very proud us. She had embarked on quite a few adventures of her own, in her youth, and I know that a part of her appreciated us doing the same.
I’m deeply saddened to write, that last week, on the 4th of November 2020, my mother passed away.
In loving memory, and with the heartfelt hope that life doesn’t end, but turns into a happy beginning, and a new adventure.