I was asked to help them sail the boat back to Helsinki. I picked them up at Luton Airport the last week in April 1990 and they brought with them a friend who was a racing helmsman also from Helsinki. At least he could sail which as it transpired the owners could not as their previous vessel in the Baltic was a powerboat and to boot none of them could navigate! Fortunately, Steve a friend of mine also wanted to come but could only come as far as Kiel in Germany. We could at least get some sleep by sharing the navigation. On arrival at Brighton I discovered that they had no passage plan nor charts of any description with them.
The first thing to be done was to draw up a portfolio of charts for the voyage plus any pilots that were likely to be needed in case we had to seek a bolt hole in the event of bad weather. Things started to go from bad to worse as a number of the charts we wanted were out of stock and no charts of the Baltic were available at all. At least we could get as far as Cuxhaven on the mouth of the Elbe albeit only on small scale charts. We would have to see what charts we could buy when we got to Kiel.
My log shows that we departed Brighton at 0805 on the 29th of April 1990 .A beautiful spring day, The barometer reading 1026mb and no wind and motoring. At 1425 we rounded the Royal Sovereign Light Vessel. At 1900 we picked up some wind from the the NE a fitful 2-3. At 0500 on the 30th we were off North Foreland and altered course to cross the shipping lanes over to to the French coast not wishing to fall foul of the numerous sand banks of the Thames Estuary and of course the notorious Goodwin Sands with only a small scale chart to navigate by.
At 0600 the wind died and the engine started and at 0805 we had cleared the shipping separation zone. 1100 and a slight breeze came up from the NE and we had logged our first 100NM. The wind was right on the nose as was the tide so we kept motoring and by 1600 the wind had increased to NE3 and still on the nose, our course being 060M. We tacked our way up the Belgian coast during the night past Zeebrugge and across the Westerschelde during the morning towards Walcheren in Holland.
1315 the wind had increased to NE5 and we ran into a dense North Sea fog bank. We were in a very busy shipping area and I deemed it prudent to motor on a straight course and switch the Radar on. 1715 and we suffered our first gear failure, the engine room extractor fan motor burnt out. As it kept the engine room cool and extracted any build up of fumes it would have to be replaced especially when we would have to motor the 90 odd miles when transiting the Kiel Canal.
Vlissingen (Flushing)in the Westerschelde seemed the best option to get a replacement and so we altered course, as we closed the mouth of the estuary the fog cleared but were met by a foul tide,the water was running out like water out of the bath and we struggled to make 1Kt over the ground. The new owner wanted to know where all the water was coming from and it became apparent that they had not been in tidal water before, the Baltic being tideless of course. We locked into the Walcheren Canal and berthed at the Yacht Club Basin at 2355.
Wednesday 2nd may was spent acquiring and fitting a fan and at 1730 we left our berth and locked out into the Westerschelde on the first of the ebb on our way out to sea. It was getting dark and I think that every ship from where-ever they were wanted to go to sea that night. It was bedlam. By 2200 we were out at sea, hoisted sail and headed north for the Elbe estuary in an E5. For the next 12 hours the wind was 4-5 from the E or ESE and for the first time we were making good progress and then it went back to the NE just at the time we had to alter course to 045M so it was right on the nose again.
Through Thursday night, Friday and Friday night and into Saturday we relentlessly tacked our way Northeastwards passed the Friesian Islands and at 1600 we came onto 095M and entered the mouth of the Elbe. The tide was on the ebb and again we struggled to make distance over the ground. 2000 saw Cuxhaven abeam to starboard and as pleasure craft can not transit the canal at night decided to put in and wait for the morning flood to take us up to Brunsbuttel. We could also have a leisurely meal and a good night's sleep, well at least 6 hours.
0545 we slipped from our berth and headed up the Elbe on the engine for 16Nm to Brunsbuttel and the lock entrance to the canal. We had to mill around for an hour waiting to be locked after all the merchant ships had passed in or out. It was just as well we put into Cuxhaven as there was no where to moor or anchor. 1215 we were in the canal and on our way to Holtenau at the other end of the canal. 2000 and it was getting dark and we found ourselves at Rendsburg where we moored up for the night and enjoyed an excellent meal ashore in a Jugoslav restaraunt.
0745 Monday 7th May and we are on our way again to the locks at Holtenau arriving at 1215 and locked out 1245 in to the Baltic Sea or more accurately Kieler Forde, an inlet on which Kiel sits more or less at its head. Motoring up to Kiel we berthed alongside at 1330. The weather since leaving Brighton had been superb but the glass was slowly falling and had dropped 10mb in the last 48 hours.
We awoke in the morning to thick fog and remained fog bound all morning. Steve left the boat at 0800 to catch a ferry to Copenhagen and then fly home. We were now down to three watch keepers including me as the only navigator. More importantly we had no charts for the Baltic and would have to get some from somewhere as we had not been able to get any in Kiel. We were advised to try Friedrichsort which was opposite Laboe on the south shore at the entrance to Kieler Forde. We had to go to Laboe to clear German Customs so it was on our way. 1300 and the fog had lifted to let us depart and navigate using No 1 Eyeball. We berthed in Stickenholm Marina and walked into Friedrichsort. The only charts we could get were German and none of us could speak German let alone read it! They had to do, we had to have charts. We motored across to Laboe but were too late to clear Customs so stayed the night. We were now falling well behind the owners schedule to be in Helsinki by Sunday 13th May.
At 0900 we were at last on our way to Finland. The morning heralded a sharp change in the weather being murky, overcast and cold. Motoring for the first two hours the visibility was getting noticeably worse and down to under a mile. The wind NE2 seemed permanently stuck in that quarter and again we had to tack to head NE to our destination. Passed through the Fehmarn Belt, the narrows between Denmark and Germany at 1700. The wind had been slowly veering to E and strengthening and the boat was creaming along. At 2200 we put our first reef in and our second at midnight as the wind increased to 30kts. As quickly as it built up so it fell, 2 hours later we under full sail and at 0800 the engine was on as the wind went round to the SE and virtually died. The only time the wind had been abaft the beam the whole trip so far and not enough of it to use.
Shortly before midday a Naval vessel travelling very fast was approaching us from astern, as it drew closer it was recognised as German and as it drew alongside ordered us to stop. Having sorted out the language barrier of German, Finnish and English and telling them our destination were politely told that we could not maintain our present course as there was a German Naval exercise going on up as far as the Russian border and that we would have to pass to the west of Bornholm and Gotland. Who were we to argue, they had big guns. This would add miles to our journey as I wanted to go east of both Islands being the shortest route, This diversion was to have further complications as we were about to lose the Decca Chains as there is no cover in the South Baltic. My log entry at 1630 says " Where the hell are we". To make dead reckoning easier I decided to motor. I also knew where the next Decca Chains covered from, but to lock on to them I had to be within 3 miles of a known position whose co ordinates I could enter into the instrument.
Comparing the Decca chain cover against our German chart there was a single buoy to the south off the southern tip of the Swedish island Oland. The type of buoy or why it was there I could not interpret as the I.A.L.A system of buoyage is not used in the Baltic. I had its Lat and Long so entered it into the Decca with the intention of hitting the Enter button when we were within 3 miles of it to lock on to the new chains. Navigating by Radar we rounded Bornholm and were also able to establish our position by Radar fixes. Oland was some 80 miles away and the buoy 65 and I hoped that as we closed I would be able to pick it up on Radar. 1800 and it was flat calm with not a breath of wind and the visibility had closed in to half a mile and remained like it throughout the night.
0500 Friday morning and my dead reckoning said we should be near the buoy. I did not have it on Radar but hit the Enter button on the Decca and hoped we would lock on-- we didn,t. There was little hope of a visual sighting in the visability that we had. I punched in the Lat and Long again and left it for half an hour and hit the enter button again, to my surprise it locked on and we never did see the buoy. We would still need to confirm the Decca position with either a visual or Radar fix to establish its accuracy. We managed to get a Radar fix off of the Lighthouse on the tip of Oland. The Decca gave us a position ½ Nm to the east of the Radar fix. I could live with that.
Friday 11th May out of the blue the fog cleared and we were hit by a line squall with 35kts of wind from ENE with torrential rain and it went very cold, by 1300 the wind eased to ENE 6 so the sail was set, and throughout Frday night until 1400 Saturday we tacked our way up the East coast of Oland under 2/3 main and genoa and staysail. The wind had now eased to 5 but had gone round to the dreaded NE, all the reefs were taken out. At 1800 they were put back in again and at 1930 were in a full gale 8 and it was bitterly cold. I had not come prepared for this sort of temperature and had to borrow fleece lined body suits to wear under my foul weather gear from the rest of the crew, I had wondered why they had brought so much gear with them- I now knew! The cold also made me very tired.
The gale blew itself out at 0500 Sunday morning and slowly dropped to NE 5. The hills of Gotland were sighted to starboard and we altered course 050M to clear the northern tip of the island. Still tacking our way north east, 0100 Monday the lights of Visby were on our starboard beam, another day and night of tacking our way towards Finland. The further north we went the colder it got. 0900 Monday Stockholm lay 67 miles to port and Russia 45 miles to starboard, by noon the wind had gone round to the east and died and once again we were on the engine. An hour elapsed and we were in very thick fog with visibility about two cables. On went the Radar and in the early afternoon were investigated by Swedish Naval patrol boat. I had been plotting her on Radar for about half an hour so was not really surprised when she drew up alongside. There was no language barrier this time as the Finns could speak Swedish.
They asked our destination and exchanged pleasantries and disappeared back into the fog. We motored through the fog for the rest of the day and into the night. At 0300 the engine coughed and died, out of fuel so we switched to the reserve tank which would give us another 200 miles of motoring enough to get us to Hango Hanko. At 0400 I had to switch to new Decca chains and to me the position it gave was suspect and I was not at all happy with it and nothing to check it against other than my last plot on the chart and something wasn't right.
To make matters worse it was dark and it made the visibility look worse and all that could be seen from the cockpit was a reflection off the fog of our port navigation light. 0700 and we were about 20 miles south west of Hango Hanko but this was at best a guess.
If you look at a map of Finland you will see that it is surrounded by thousands of islands and those are only the big ones a large scale chart will show thousands more and these were the ones I was worried about as I didn't have a large scale chart. They are not islands they are rocks. The Finns call them "stones" as they have been polished smooth over the centuries by ice as this part of the Baltic freezes during the winter and they are only two or three feet above the water. The situation was getting serious so we reduced speed and put a look out in the bows and switched the Radar range to ¼ mile in the hope that we could pick up these "stones". It was bitterly cold and damp and the bow look out had to be changed every half hour,so three of us alternated between bow look out, helm and radar watch whilst Ulla kept us supplied with hot drinks as well as keeping look out.
Scanning the chart looking for anything I could get a radar fix on I discovered a sectored light on one of the small islands about two miles to the east of Hango. Increasing the radar range I picked up a very strong echo and altered course to run down the bearing relying on the look outs to spot any stones. Three or four times there was a shout from the bows and we would alter course to go round them. When we were close enough I switched back to ¼ mile range and slowly nosed towards the island whilst I shouted out the range to the helm. Suddenly the engine went full astern and the "stone" complete with lantern was 20 yards ahead. The "stone" was no more than 3 feet above the water and the top of the lantern about 4 feet above that. The light was out and we had no way of telling what the sectors were and there were no bearings on the chart as it was too small. The only reason that I managed to pick it up at all was because of the radar reflector on the top of the lantern, the light was out because it was still out of season. Whilst the boat lay still in the water and I contemplated what I could do I opened up the radar range to see if I could see anything moving, a small echo to starboard of us kept intermittantly appearing and it was moving very slowly to where I thought Hanko should be. I laid off a course to intercept it and set of slowly in pursuit. It was a small open fishing boat and was going into Hango so we tucked in astern of her and followed her in through the "stones" which were in some places no more than 30 feet apart.
I would never have found my way in. It would have been difficult enough in clear visibility and we had anything but that. We eventually tied up stern to (Scandinavian Fashion) at 1200 Tuesday 15th May. Someone that day was looking down on me.
Nobody could leave the boat until Customs and Immigration had been on board, the boat was being imported into Finland and I was the only immigrant. The formalities took nearly two hours to complete. At last we got ashore for a genuine Finnish sauna with birch twigs and cold pool. Nothing like it to shake off tiredness and restore warmth to the body. Enjoyed a good meal ashore and repaired back on board. Ramar was leaving us as he was already two days late for work after his two weeks holiday. I turned in.
Wednesday 16th May and we are fog bound in Hango Hanko. Jactra the owner told me he knew these waters well and that he and Ulla would navigate the 60 miles to Helsinki taking the inshore passage through the "stones" as they often did the passage in their power boat and that as soon as the fog lifted we would go. Whether or not they were navigating I still wanted a large scale chart and went ashore to get one, albeit it was a Finnish chart that I aquired but I had two interpreters. The fog did not lift all day.
To prepare for the passage I decided to check the Decca against our known position in Hango and the "Suspect Signal" light came on. The displayed position was 1.3 miles ESE of where we actually were. I cleared the memory and entered our Lat and Long and hit the Enter button. When it had locked on to the chains it displayed a position only yards from where we were. I felt happy again. Later in the morning we moved to the fueling jetty and bunkered with both fuel and water. We went ashore for a meal and on return took the boat back to her berth and waited for the fog to lift. By late afternoon it was clear we were not going to get away today.
Thursday 0830 and the visibility was about 1/2 mile and with just the three of us onboard Jactra said we could go, we slipped our mooring and motored out of Hango and would be motoring all the way.
I was introduced to a new system of navigation. Some of the "stones" on the route to Helsinki had top marks of some description. Jactra linked them all together and marked in the course and distances between them. He told me that we had to maintain a speed of 5Kts, he then calculated the time taken between the "stones" and entered that on the chart. Jactra took the wheel, Ulla produced a stop watch from somewhere and sat in the cockpit with the chart. It worked splendidly for the first mark which happened to be what looked like a scaffold pole about 4ft high and painted black, white, black sticking out of the "stone".The course was changed for the next "stone" and the stopwatch reset and started again, Not long into the next leg the fog came down.The next stone did not materialise at the allotted time. I went below to search for it with the Radar but had no chance of picking up a piece of round pipe 2 inches diameter and 4 feet high if indeed that was what I was looking for. A few minutes past the allotted time Jactra turned to me and very curtly said "you navigate".
I took the chart below, plotted our position and looked for open water. We were just one and a half hours into our passage and I ordered a course change from 075M to 150M to get to open water away from the "stones". Visibility was about 200 yards and there was a nice SE3 blowing but I could not use it until we were in clear water. Out at sea the visibility was a lot better. The sun came out at 1100 and it was still extremely cold. Just on noon it was safe to turn onto 075M and point our nose at Helsinki stop the engine and get underway with all sail set. With the wind abeam "Kestrel" picked up her skirt and creamed along. Half an hour later the sun went in and as evening approached it got even colder, 2000 and we could see the lights of Helsinki and at 2225 "Cornish Kestrel" was tied up at her new home at Helsinki Sailing Club. She had Sailed 1583 miles through the water and 1410 miles of it against the wind and taken her 19 days.
Whilst in Las Palmas preparing to sail across the Atlantic Ocean in the Atlantic Rally for Cruisers event I established contact with a Finnish boat from Helsinki Yacht Club. This boat was also participating in the event. I asked them if they knew of a cutter rigged sloop called "Cornish Kestrel"and whether or not they knew the owners. To my surprise they knew the boat but only knew the owners in passing. She was still in Helsinki and had in fact circumnavigated the world taking about two years to do it.
It was comforting to know that both the boat and owners had accomplished this feat and that their belief in the boat's capabilities, like mine, were well and truly vindicated.