Another day in Hel

Thursday 31 May

To be fair, apart from the expensive fee, it wasn’t such a bad place to visit. Skipper washed, soaked and soaped all my running rigging (the ropes that control the sails), that was thick with salt, stiff and unwieldy, using copious free water that ran warm from the tap for most of the process – thank goodness we didn’t need to put it in our tanks. He also rigged our lovely new hammock for a first trial – a huge success comfort-wise, but a little draughty in the strong Northerly wind that blew all afternoon even in port. We enjoyed a stroll around the seaside town in the cool of evening, and discovered today is a National Holiday for Corpus Christi, one of many religious festivals celebrated in this predominantly Catholic country: Pope John Paul II was Polish.

Having arrived earlyish yesterday, we avoided the ensuing mayhem, and today again enjoyed watching the often clumsy berthing attempts by rookie crews out for the holiday weekend in unfamiliar charter yachts, as the harbour steadily filled to capacity. Reminiscent of harbours all over the Mediterranean in the season!

Seaway to Hel

Wednesday 30 May

Although tempted to stay another day, and explore the local national park with our new friends, Desiré’s crew, we decided to press on, and were away earlier than planned as the survey vessel berthed opposite started their day none too quietly around 0500. Heading out down the channel, Mate discovered the chart plotter wasn’t willing to wake up this early either – yet another victim of lightning? Skipper twiddled and fiddled and did what he does best, and eventually discovered that somehow the brightness had been turned down to zero, so the screen was blank.

Having sorted out that almost catastrophe, Mate put the radar through its paces as we made our way through yet another early morning fog bank – beginning to get regular senses of déja vu here. We narrowly missed a fishing net stake, because they are often fitted with a radar reflector, which ours saw long before Mate did, and she also changed course to avoid a much larger ‘blob’ on the display, with no corresponding mark on the chart. It turned out to be a large yellow buoy carrying a solar panel, maybe a weather station or a remote data collection point for some other kind of scientific research.

Once we’d cleared through the fog, it was another day of sunshine in a clear blue sky, but the persistent N/NE wind was still cold, limiting opportunities for sunbathing on passage. The chart indicated that we were nearing the TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme, a kind of two-lane highway for traffic into major ports that yachts should keep well clear of) into the Gulf of Gdansk, and the fact that we could see ships that weren’t showing on our chart plotter confirmed that, as well as not transmitting VHF or AIS, we were now not receiving AIS reliably either – definite electronics sabotage by storms. Thank goodness we carry a resident electronics expert on board – he sat at the chart table clipping and twisting bits of wire until he’d got everything back in full working order, without having to go up the mast again to dismantle the aerial.

At lunchtime the wind dropped to nothing, and it felt much warmer. However, it proved to be just a lull, and by early afternoon the genoa was unfurled and the engine turned off, and we had a lovely sail along a slightly more interesting stretch of the Polish coastline, past the seaside resort of Władysławowo, nicknamed ‘Gladys’s Volvo’ by my tongue-twisted crew. Sandstone cliffs rise attractively behind white sandy beaches to give structure to a long spit of sand dunes that reaches across the NW tip of the Gulf of Gdansk.

Having received no berthing instructions when we radioed into port for permission to enter, we found most of the finger pontoons in the yacht harbour empty, and helped ourselves – in a difficult crosswind that made for a challenging manoeuvre. Yet again, just as we were secured and tidied up, the bosman came along shaking his head “nooo, you’re too big and heavy, pontoons not strong enough…” and indicated we should take a berth on the adjacent quay wall – where we were charged 80 PLN (zlotys), the highest fee so far in Poland: £16. Oh, and where were we? Just around the corner of the end of the sand spit – in Hel.

For the first time since we crossed the border from Germany, Polish border police in the form of a pretty young blonde in combat fatigues, soon arrived with a polite smile and a few routine questions. Obviously satisfied with our answers, she wished us a pleasant stay.

A better day’s sailing

Tuesday 29 May

After an ignominious departure we left Ustka early, knowing the proposed 30M passage would be a lot longer. By 1000 the mainsail and genoa were set, and we came off the wind slightly to fill the sails for the first of a series of tacks between the shipping lanes and the five-metre contour, that is as close as we choose to sail to a lee shore in reasonable weather. We maintained a pattern of tacking around each 45 minutes, reefing the mainsail and changing down to the staysail as usual, when the wind built in the early afternoon.

By teatime we had covered 46 Miles, and sailed to within ¼M of the port of Łeba, where we furled the jib and Skipper dropped the mainsail into its bag along the boom. Once again we surfed into the entrance around the mole, and headed for the marina. The bosman was waiting to direct us to a very bouncy hammerhead fitted with small mooring rings, where we were glad of his help to tie us on. A number of familiar yachts were already in harbour.

A day off

Monday 28 May

We stayed in Ustka to soak up some of the sunshine and holiday atmosphere. My crew wandered along the promenade and around the town to a very attractive patisserie, and then enjoyed the balmy evening, sitting in the cockpit until after sunset.

Another thrashing

Sunday 27 May

We slipped Darłowo ready for the 1000 opening of the bridge, and soon found ourselves in a dense fog. It was still sunny, as the fog was lying low over the sea, but with visibility down to a boat’s length, the radar was switched on to give us warning of oncoming hazards. Fortunately, many of the flag stakes used hereabouts to mark fishing nets are fitted with a radar reflector, which helps the alert helm avoid tangling with them.

As ever, the wind was on the nose once we had passed safely through the fog, and it became a day of long tacks towards Sweden, away in the North, and shorter tacks towards the Polish shoreline. As many sailors will attest, as you tack a boat, the wind bends, and it became progressively more frustrating trying to make a decent angle that would give us some forward progress, particularly as the wind built towards a high F6, and Skipper took the second reef in my mainsail. At least it stayed dry and bright today.

Today’s distance was meant to be a nice easy 20M; our log recorded 33, so it may come as no surprise to read that, around a couple of miles from our destination, Mate gave up the battle, called for the sails to be dropped and motored into Ustka behind a fishing boat, rolling around in the swell. She handed the helm to Skipper for the entrance, which required a deep breath, gunning the engine and going for it, as I slid inelegantly sideways over the shallows and round the corner between the breakwaters into the harbour basin.

Once in calmer water, Mate prepared me for berthing, whilst Skipper tried in vain to call the port Kapitan for permission to enter. It later transpired that we suffered more electronics damage in the thunderstorms than we had realised: we already knew our windex had been fried, but also, both our VHF radio and AIS were receiving but not transmitting, and our water temperature gauge was telling us the Baltic was a balmy 50˚C!

The bridge here was open ready for us (actually it opens for shipping for the last 40 minutes of every hour in the daytime), and we were welcomed to our indicated berth by a friendly bosman, once again against a quay wall amidst the pirate ships. Ustka felt warm and ‘seaside-y’, with attractive buildings lining the quay, many of them wharves and warehouses converted into hotels and restaurants. The facilities left a little to be desired, as is often the case in Mate’s opinion, but then they have to be good to match what I offer.

The first 1000

Saturday 26 May

…nautical miles, that is, since we left Amsterdam around ten weeks ago. All well and good, this leisurely cruising pace, but we have a date in Tallinn at the end of June. In fact, in exactly one month’s time, and there’s around 700 more Miles between us and that rendezvous…

Anyway, back to the present, and we continue to take small steps Eastwards, mainly because we are pushing into a consistent if unseasonal Easterly or Northeasterly wind, which makes for a less than comfortable point of sail, close hauled, heeled over and slower than we would like.

We followed the usual routine, Mate slipping me cleanly out of Solna marina and back to sea, setting my mainsail ready for the anticipated breeze while I was heading straight into what little we had so far. As usual, the wind built around lunchtime, and grey clouds soon surrounded us. Skipper changed my genoa for the smaller foresail, and took the first reef in my mainsail.

Away to the North, Mate spotted forked lightning, and sure enough, soon we were thrashing through a thunderstorm, with torrential rain segueing into stinging hailstones. Visibility was very poor, mainly because Mate was squinting through slitted eyes, trying to avoid the worst of the onslaught. Skipper had turned off all non-essential electronics as a precaution (to try to preserve any that hadn’t already been fried in the last storm), so Mate concentrated on the depth reading, as we were following a lee shore. [For non-sailors, the wind blows onto a lee shore, and could beach/shipwreck an unwary vessel; watching the depth soundings for reducing numbers indicates the boat is drifting in too close].
After around half an hour, the conditions eased, although by now Mate was very wet. Skipper relieved her at the helm, and she went below to change into dry, warm clothing, and all was well for the remainder of the 37M passage. Another factor in sailing into the wind is that tacking adds miles to whatever the pilot book suggests is the distance to be covered that day. This was a better day than some, from that perspective, as we only covered an extra five miles: possibly the ‘good’ to balance some of the ‘not so good’.

Glad to reach our day’s destination, the heavens opened again as we made our way without difficulty into the mouth of the Wieprza river for Darłowo, soaking Mate once again as she prepared my lines and fenders. We timed it nicely for the bridge opening. Passing the local pirate ships, done with their day’s trips into the bay with holidaymakers, we swung by the fishing harbour for a look. This has been converted into a yacht basin, but for smaller vessels than me, judging by the length of the finger pontoons, so my crew followed the suggestion of both the pilot, that they know is somewhat out of date, and the harbour guide, published this year, and tied up alongside the Usteckie pier.

As usual, they spent a weary half hour or so tidying me up and securing everything for the night, so you can imagine Mate’s reaction when, at the end of all this, a man purporting to be ‘harbour staff’ came along to tell us we could berth in the ‘marina’ we’d already rejected. Luckily, Skipper was on hand to thank him politely and decline the invitation, whereupon he explained that the port’s pilot had told him to ask us to move, as the pilot would be guiding a large vessel out to sea past us during the night. Skipper assured him we wouldn’t be bothered by the activity, and reluctantly he left us in peace.

Skipper then wandered across the bridge to a quayside fish stall to buy lovely freshly landed flatfish to fry for supper.

Follow the band

Friday 25 May

Tempers having cooled overnight, it was decided to give the bikes an airing and have a look around town: a Leclerc had been spotted on the Google search for local supermarkets. A military parade had been heard and seen crossing the arched bridge beside the marina, pretty at night with colour-changing LEDs, so we followed their route and found a row of wooden huts, like you see at continental Christmas markets, full of all kinds of tourist-tat. Down along the town quay, where the pirate ships were lying, was a statue of a man in military uniform, and lined up in front were ranks of representatives of Poland’s armed forces, along with their standard-bearers. Beside the statue, a small gazebo protecting a length of red carpet sheltered a line of glad-handing local dignitaries. What it was all about, we had no idea.

We followed the coast out onto the promenade, which mostly lies behind the sand dunes in a lovely shady wood. Notices along the route explain in Polish, German and English that the dunes are protected as they offer storm protection to the low-lying land behind, and highlight points of historical interest along the way. Even close up, the sands are still pristine white, between the locals soaking up the unseasonally hot sunshine.

We turned inland and came out on the edge of town, where a convenient restaurant with tempting pavement seating offered us traditional Polish dishes. Mate enjoyed fish soup, while Skipper tucked into a chicken kebab wrapped in a tortilla. On the roadside we stopped at a stall selling strawberries and tomatoes, both of which proved delicious.

The supermarket was the best we have found in Poland, especially for Mate’s gluten free supplies, and our favourite brand of red wine. Soon all four panniers were straining at the seams, and it was a slightly wobbly ride home through the old town to take in the sights.

Bearing gifts

Thursday 24 May

Apparently ‘Mrs Michael’ had had words with the harbourmaster about our water problems, because he arrived alongside early this morning with a handful of ‘souvenirs’ and abject apologies for the lack of facilities. I have a new friend amongst my menagerie – although I’m not sure Skipper was impressed.
We set off once again, motored until the wind filled in, and then enjoyed a good sail to Kołobrzeg. Before entering the harbour, we radioed ahead for permission from the port control, but heard no response, so we followed the channel past a huge replica pirate ship carrying day passengers out into the bay, and even bringing them back.

The first part of the marina was very small, so we went through the fishing harbour to the second part, but the pontoons were still too short and the only likely space out on the end of a line of berths, on what Mate felt was a vulnerable corner, so we turned back out to tie up on the quay wall, well beyond the ‘Reserved’ sign, behind another British-flagged yacht. The crew spent the usual ‘happy hour’ tidying me up and putting me to bed, and only then did the Bosman from the marina come by to tell them we had to move into the marina as one of the pirate ships needed our berth – well, technically, theirs, for the night.

Mate was not impressed, and the Bosman assured them he’d show them which berth he felt was suitable when we got back into the marina. Unfortunately, it was the end slot she’d already dismissed. He tried hard to help us berth, but it was in a nasty crosswind, that blew my port bow hard against a concrete pile, the pontoon finger was too short, and very bouncy, so all in all it was an ignominious docking. Wisely, the Bosman soon made a discreet exit and left us to it. Hell hath no fury like a …Mate denied a rest and a cup of tea at the end of a passage.

The daily weather pattern

Wednesday 23 May

As we are still under the influence of an unusually static high pressure area, the weather seems to follow a daily pattern, familiar to Mediterranean sailors, of winds building in the afternoon. Today we left port and hoisted the mainsail, as we were heading directly into the very light Northerly or Nor’easterly wind. By late morning we set the genoa as well, the engine went off and we were actually sailing. The air is cold but the sun is warm and pleasant.

Around lunchtime the wind strengthened to around a Force 5, and we were down to the staysail, still with full main. This was another easy day, and by 1530 we were secure on the new quay opposite the small fishing and holiday village of Mrzeżyno. We enjoyed another warm welcome from the enthusiastic harbourmaster, and were very grateful for the kind assistance of Michael, an ex-pat British local, who was very handy with anything mechanical, and in no time had made and delivered a fitting of the right size for the water tap, so my nearly dry tanks could be filled.

Back in the Baltic

Tuesday 22 May

We took our time leaving, and Mate took me off the pontoon and out into the channel amidst the big ships, spotting a tug named after one of her former colleagues, which brought back fond memories. We cleared the distinctive landmark lighting the way into the port, and soon had the sails hoisted as the cloud cleared and the day became sunny and very warm.

With no wind as yet, Trevver and Jeanny were left to do the hard work, while my crew enjoyed the ride and views of the lovely coastline: white sand beaches backed by sand dunes and pine woods, under a cerulean sky – almost perfect, but another 10˚C in the air temperature at sea would be very welcome.

By mid-afternoon we had found the small port of Dziwnów, an unusual crescent-shaped marina currently resembling a building site. Taking the prudent course, we remained outside, and tied to the quay wall with my bow in the reeds.