French fries! Ice cream! Clean clothes! — A Jedi cares not for these things. Not until said Jedi has spent enough nights without them, however, anchored far from urban civilization, and is forced to re-evaluate.
A Good Day
Our planned trip was about forty-five nautical miles, and as we had left in the afternoon (not early in the morning), we were already set for a late-night arrival.
But before that, a good amount of daylight sailing!
Navigating through the beautiful Swedish archipelago with (sometimes scarily) tight fairways, and charming small islands, and their red and inviting cottages, that certainly was both delightful and exciting.
Absolutely more so also because the sun was at least half-shining again.
Despite my jedi introduction, we weren’t completely without cold and sweet stuff. We didn’t have actual ice cream, but a good surrogate, frozen Sun Lollies! (We were, again, all very happy that our Hanse had a freezer that actually froze stuff!)
A Beautiful Evening
With a bit more than two thirds of our journey behind us, the clouds started to tighten up their formation, in preparation for the arriving evening.
It was quite soothing, relaxing, to watch the sun’s geometrically perfect sunbeams radiate through the slowly but chaotically evolving cloud cover. Something even a bit godlike about it, this higher sun-being extending itself through to our dimension, and touching the imperfection of our everything earth.
Charlotte fried some toasts for the children, helped them (at least the small one) with brushing their teeth, and then sent them to their cabins, before coming up to the cockpit to admire the nature together with me.
“You can read or play for a while before it’s time to go to sleep,” she said to them.
“Can I do watchkeeping shift in the night?” J asked. “I’d like to see what it is like what it is dark,” he continued.
“Sure, I will wake up you,” I replied.
A couple of hours later, we had a spectacular sunset.
Charlotte stuck her head into the boat. “Hey, if you want to see the sunset before you go to sleep, you can come out for a while!”, she called out to the children.
Little L was already sleeping, but the other three crawled out from their beds and appeared in the companionway.
“Ooo,” said J. “That’s really nice.”
We watched the last few moments of the sunset, together. Unusually quietly and peacefully, I thought, and then it struck me, in a warm and happy way. The thing I love the most about sailing, getting closer to the neverending, fascinating, and awe-inspiring nature, they had found that place as well.
For those few moments, I wasn’t watching the sunset as much as I was observing the children watching it. It was really beautiful.
We wished each other good night, and then they went back inside and into their cabins.
With about ten more nautical miles to go, it was quickly getting darker. We would have to dock in the dark, in a place we had never visited before, but we would also have to actually get there before that.
I panned and zoomed around in the digital chart, and everything looked pretty shallow and narrow. The easier route would be somewhat longer. The shorter but slightly more complicated route looked more interesting, however, since it would take us on a flyby mission right next to the industrial area of Öxelösund.
“This will be fun,” I said to Charlotte, a bit ironically. “There’s a tight channel there, where we have to stay right in the middle not to run aground. We won’t see so much, but luckily we have a good GPS,” I added, smiling.
As we got closer to the shore, the industrial lights looked amazing.
It felt a bit ominous, though, to slowly glide closer to this large metallic and machined area rising from the dark. And to hear its sounds. Some, a bit dark and rumbling, others, higher-pitched and lonely.
We turned to the right and motored slowly through the unlit channel, where a small harbor temporarily replaced the industrial area on the shore.
There was a big traditional wooden schooner moored there, appearing from the darkness, with all the lights on, and with maybe twenty or so people having a party on the deck. They were all merrily chatting and holding their drinks. Some of them waved to us while we were passing by, pointing at our Finnish flag that was being lit up nicely by our stern light.
“They must think we are crazy,” I said to Charlotte, while we were waving back. “But maybe in a good way,” I added.
Smells Like …
“What’s that horrible smell?” Charlotte said, with utter disgust in her voice.
We had passed the tight channel and turned north again. To the left, more of the industrial area. Ahead and to the right, a small and black island, barely visible in the dark.
As we got closer to the small and eerily barren island, the smell got even worse.
“It’s like dead fish, but worse,” Charlotte exclaimed.
It really was. Not just like rotten fish, but like rotten undead fish, eating rotten fish, and then rotting themselves. A really terrible smell.
“Wait what, are those birds?” she said, and pointed to hundreds of small black shapes sitting on the branches of the few dead trees left on the island.
The island we were passing was Höga Hästholmen. We didn’t know that at the time, but it was an island notoriously known for its Cormorant population.
And for the smell, obviously.
In a report commissioned by the local municipality, Höga Hästholmen was named the least attractive place in the whole wide municipality, due to it being “one-hundred percent destroyed by the colony of birds“.
Hello, and goodbye!
With one last and seemingly easy leg to go, Charlotte went in to get some sleep, and J came out to experience the night sailing and keep me company.
As we approached the first gate of the red and green marks, it was already quite dark. Not the almost-dark we’ve used to in the higher-latitudes Finnish summer, but rather the really-dark, where there isn’t very much light and it’s difficult to see stuff.
“Can you see those marks?” I asked J. “The red blinking light to the left and the dark pole on the right?”
“Yes, I see the light, but … not that other pole,” he answered, with some hesitation in his voice.
Although the fairway was, indeed, well-marked, most of the marks were actually unlit, so instead of looking for lights in the dark (which is usually very easy), we had to look for small and dark unlit poles, in the dark. Not very easy at all.
“Oh there it is!” he shouted.
We were less than a boat length away from it. Surprisingly close, I thought to myself.
So, unlit and dark small poles, really tightly placed to mark a dredged channel that we absolutely had to stay inside of. And about four nautical miles of this ahead of us.
What had seemed to be quite an easy final stretch, suddenly felt like the most challenging part of our whole trip.
The straight sections of the fairway, fortunately, had leading lights shining and directing us from far away.
The corners were more problematic, though, and even more so when I realized the GPS placement didn’t always match reality. We were moving slowly, averaging just over two knots, and occasionally the GPS would show the boat continuing forward along a path we had already diverted from.
“Hey what is that strange thing right ahead of us?” J shouted.
I put the gear into reverse and quickly stopped the boat.
We were in the middle of a turn and, according to the chart and the GPS, in a good spot in relation to the surrounding marks.
Except that we weren’t, and the GPS was slightly but significantly wrong! A great lesson, that plotter charts and GPSs are great and valuable tools, until in certain situations they aren’t.
For the remaining part of our slow navigation, we changed our strategy slightly.
J went forward to the bow, to make the visual assessments. “Looking good!” he shouted a couple of times for each gate. Once when we first saw the marks, then a few times as we were going through.
I, for my part, checked the leading lights, the GPS and the chartplotter, and just before reaching each gate, I used our searchlight for a few seconds to verify that we were positioned well between the marks.
It was slow and tedious, and after having been awake for eighteen hours or so, we would both rather have been safely docked and asleep than still at it.
We were making progress, though, and our warm cabins with inviting beds, they were getting steadily closer.
The Final Curveball
“Can you go and wake up Charlotte because I need some help,” I said to J.
We had arrived at the entrance of Nyköping, and while J certainly could have helped with the docking, I didn’t want him to accidentally fall into the pitch dark water. Charlotte was certainly the better swimmer of the two.
J went inside and Charlotte came out, half-asleep, fully disoriented.
“Ehm.. where are we? What should I do?” she asked.
“Well, there’s the pier, and a good and easy spot behind that boat, I think,” I said. “I’ll turn the boat around and then we’ll try to go there, ok?”
As I started to turn the boat, it felt a bit weird. It was moving really strangely, slipping counter-intuitively towards where I wasn’t turning.
“Oh great,” I said to Charlotte, with a sigh. “There’s a current here.”
I hadn’t known or thought about that beforehand either.
That right next to the marina, there would be a significant stream of water coming out from the Nyköpingån, adding to the excitement of our nightly docking maneuver.
I put out the fenders, prepared the mooring lines, and then started to reverse towards the spot we had targeted.
Sailing in Finland and the Baltic Sea, it’s not that usual to have to deal with (strong) currents while docking. With our current boat, I had, in fact, done it only one time before, and that time, it didn’t turn out very pretty.
Time time, however— drumroll!—, everything went well!
After just a few nervous minutes, and with some help from our trusted bowthruster, our dear boat was securely moored. (And nobody was swimming.)
It was, finally, time for us, the brave night sailors, and our beloved sailboat, to get some sleep and charge our batteries.
And to dream about all the ice cream we would eat, walking down the sunny streets of Nyköping, in our freshly washed clothes, feeling happy, and smelling like flowers.