Winter sailing on the Baltic Sea — how exciting does that sound to you? I didn’t even think about it. A little girl inside me was screaming for joy when I typed my response: Yes, I’m in!
Another glance at the Polar Bear Sail description made me doubt about my decision. Did I promise a little bit too much after all? It sounded like I’d have quite a rough winter sailing ahead of me. Oh well, I have been sailing before, no worries. Or have I?
I had definitely been on board a sailing boat before… But did we actually raise the sails at all? Well, at least I was helping the crew of the Schooner Ihana earlier this year… Although on that day the weather was fairly still and sunny, and we only raised the sails for the right atmosphere, not so much for the wind. The Baltic Sea might have something else in mind for this November sailing trip. At least according to this video it might!
Above all, I’m the kind of person who thinks she can overcome any challenge with the power of persistence. Having said that… the mess was made.
On Friday evening the 4th of November I arrived at the meeting point, the sea scouts dock in Turku, on the West Coast of Finland. It was already dark, and a group of scouts were welcoming me in the light of their headlamps. Right away they assigned me my first task.
With the help of a couple of fellow sailors, I was loading the boat with groceries and pushing the heavy sails through the skylight of the bow cabin to the icy deck of s/y Henrika. I felt a bit ludicrous. ‘What the hell did I sign up for’, I thought to myself.
As soon as I heard the first sailing term, it really hit me. I immediately realised I was in such a place, situation and company I had absolutely no experience with. I immediately realised I was the only first-timer of the whole 13-member crew, a real sailing dum-dum, should I say.
Would I really survive this weekend-long winter sailing trip on the Baltic Sea just with the power of persistence?
Already on the dock, the scout crew was mentally preparing us for the stormy Sunday. ‘Then we’ll be going fast’, they told us. I could see their eyes sparkling with enthusiasm, no matter how dark it was.
A little bit late on the schedule, after resolving a frozen water refill equipment dilemma, we finally released the ropes of s/y Henrika and started our adventure. The fast-approaching winter had left its’ marks: besides the water hoses, also the sails, the ropes and the winches were all frozen.
The painters were like they were made of iron, as shown by Terhi, a fellow blogger and ‘Endorphin Hunter’, as per the name of her blog.
The completely calm Friday night gave us sort of a soft landing to the furious winter sailing adventure we had ahead of us. The still Baltic Sea made us an unforgettable favour; While the engines did all the work, we were able to spend our first night admiring the shooting stars that filled the black night sky.
I felt like we were floating at the edge of the world. There were no other sounds anywhere nearby, just the quiet engine of s/y Henrika.
Nagu harbour in November vs. Nagu harbour in July.
We spent the first night on the dock of Nagu harbour. Nagu was way more quiet in November than at the time of my last visit in July. Empty beaches strengthened the feeling like there were only us and the sea in the whole wide world, nothing or no one else. Sailing under the safe wings of sea scouts got even better in the morning. We could crawl out of our bunks and sit down at the ready-set breakfast table. This is life.
The weather on Saturday couldn’t have been any better: the sky was (almost) clear, the sun was literally sparkling on the crest of the waves, and there was enough wind to turn off the engine and let the sails do the job.
Hard work and strong muscles were definitely needed on s/y Henrika in November weather. It didn’t take long to understand this was no cognac-flavoured holiday cruise. Everyone on board was needed. Besides me, the sailing dum-dum, the whole crew was working together like a well-oiled machine. The sailing terms were echoing on the icy deck, and slowly I learned the meaning for a few of them. ‘Jibe!’ ‘Tack!’ and so on.
Even if too often I had to whisper into Terhi’s ear: ‘What do they mean by that?’
Sometimes I just froze completely, feeling like a helpless 5-year-old. I didn’t know what to do or where to go, and I was afraid of being more in the way than useful. It took a while to admit that no power of persistence nor lust for adventure guarantee I would suddenly become the sailing queen if my only vehicle on the water this far had been my kayak.
But what would be a better place and way to learn than sailing with care-taking and patient sea scouts? Only nothing!
It’s ok to sail with skiing goggles in November.
Saturday was still smoothly preparing us for the approaching Sunday storm. Yet we needed to be careful on the icy deck of s/y Henrika. In the afternoon the wind was picking up, so we took out the safety harnesses. Yay, finally a sailing equipment I’m familiar with!
I was able to make myself useful every once in a while. Besides using the safety harness, I knew how to clear snow. Even though I had never believed I’d be doing it one day on a deck of a sailing boat.
How to prepare for an arctic winter sailing? With a million layers of clothes and a snow brush.
The wind kept increasing. I woke up in the middle of the night, and I couldn’t help thinking how bad it would get. Since the early morning, completely new sailing terms were once again echoing on the deck. The wind was freezing, so we added another extra layer under our sailing jackets and trousers. I was so wrapped with clothes I could barely move.
Today, no one was allowed on the deck without a safety harness. Today we would be sailing with safety ropes attached to the lifelines of s/y Henrika.
The waves were washing over the front deck over and over again. Most of the time the whole boat was tilted, and I only remember thinking when the waves would take over the back of the boat as well. One was dipping the coffee pot in the water on the back of the boat, and sometimes it looked like he’s standing on water. ‘Crazy’, I thought. Another one flew on his bum, being surprised by a rough tack. Luckily his safety rope was attached.
And then there was one who just couldn’t stop smiling, no matter how rocky it got.
One happy sailor!
Again, I couldn’t help. I didn’t know what to do. I thought it’s better to let the experienced ones work and just stay out of the way. I tried to listen, watch and learn. All those sailing terms got me so confused. So I tried to be useful by taking as many pictures as I could.
At lunchtime, the plates were flying and meatballs rolling on the tables. Being filled with adrenaline, it wasn’t too difficult to understand why is sailing—not to mention winter sailing—so intriguing.
Now, one week later, I’m feeling sad that I couldn’t participate more. But now I know better, and next time I can be actually useful.
My living room stopped rocking after 1,5 days. This is what they call after-sailing, I suppose. I still get red colour on my cheeks when I look back at our crazy adventure. And how I survived winter sailing on the Baltic Sea as a first-timer.
Arctic Polar Bear Sail might have been a bit of an extreme introduction to sailing, but for me, it was exactly what I needed. Easy and non-eventful holiday cruise would have made me bored, most probably. If you are interested in this hobby, but you don’t have any sailing friends or you’re not sure if you’re interested enough to participate in a full course, these kind of commercial sailing trips are a good place to get started. At least you’ll find out how you really like it. It’s safe to sail with an experienced crew, and you can manage even a rough winter sailing trip like this, as long as you remember to tell your crew you’re a beginner.
Even I learned that sometimes it’s better to admit you’re helpless and you don’t have the knowledge or skills, no matter how persistent and adventurous you are.
How do you feel about sailing? Are you an experienced sailor or a curious first-timer like me? Would you participate on a winter sailing trip like this?
Terhi and I were invited on the Polar Bear Sail by boating service provider Dokk. I’d like to thank everyone involved and on board once more for this unforgettable adventure on the Baltic Sea.
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