Since we last met, Dear Readers, WIDAGO and her crew have finally slept in increments greater than 45 minutes. It is quite something to be happy about, sleeping for four straight hours. A year ago, I might have thrown something at you if you tried to rouse me after anything short of ten solid comatose hours. Times have-a-changed.
Our ARC Europe Rally officially ended, I think, when we sailed (literally) past Portsmouth, UK. However, we are also registered to participate in ARC Baltic Cruise, which begins July 6, for six weeks through – you guessed it – the Baltic Sea. So while we were no longer being technically chaperoned, we remained on their radar (GPS might might be more accurate), as the Baltic Cruise is about to begin.
If you had to ask to me what the tipping point was for my decision to go along with Guyon’s crazy adventure, it would be that we had found the World Cruising Club and their ARC Rallies. Each of the ARC Rallies are very well organized, with captains’ briefings outlining the important, sometimes unique, even treacherous details that one might need to be aware of while sailing into specific areas and ports. Say for example, you are entering a harbor at night you’ve never been to. Well – no problem. Skipper would have been briefed prior to arrival with a colored PowerPoint presentation, detailing exactly how to navigate, where to go, what to do. In addition, if all else fails, you just hail Rally Control on your VHF, where a friendly, familiar, English speaking human, gently reassures you that everything will be fine – someone will be waiting for you on the docks, catching/securing lines, and hand you a cold beverage. Very calm and civilized – dare I say even fun.
So again – we are kinda between rallies here. Gotta get from Point A (Southern UK) to Point B (Rostock, Germany) on our own. Now, we had fantastic weather routing daily, so no problem there. Our electronic charts are first rate, detailing down to the minutia of small unlit buoys – we got that covered. The only slight issue was traversing the Kiel Canal. No friggin’ clue. Now you might think, “Oh, I’m sure the Skipper already downloaded all the important information. Researched requirements. Previewed YouTube videos on Canal and Lock protocol. They won’t have any problems.”
Uhhhh….that would be negative. Thank goodness Pawpaw Moseley sent us, on our satellite email, instructions on transiting the Kiel Canal a few days before we arrived. You’re probably thinking, “I’m sure Skipper studied the document, briefed the crew ahead of time, reassuring them that they were totally prepared.”
Ummm….not so much….so let me paint you a picture…..
Our plan was arrive in Brunsbuttle, Germany (the southern entrance) first thing in the morning Tuesday the 23rd. The canal is about fifty miles long, and then we had another seventy miles to Rostock. We were hoping to get through the canal, and just keep on going to our final destination. Well, the Kiel Canal is about thirty miles up the Elbe River, which apparently has a raging current – against us. We overshot our targeted arrival to the waiting area, arriving at almost 3:00pm. The problem here is two-fold: fuel and daylight. You see, Ahab had calculated that we would have enough fuel to get through the first lock, fuel up, and then set across the remaining 120 miles of our journey. Also, “pleasure-crafts” such as ourselves are only allowed to transit during daylight hours. This probably because the Powers That Be don’t want folks falling asleep at the wheel, crashing into oil tankers, and blowing up the countryside.
So now we are almost eight hours past where we thought we would be fuel-wise. The fuel indicators can be trusted about as well as a Moseley Dog with a chocolate cake/block of cheese/roast beef on the counter. You just can’t risk it – and we were in the red.
Ahab now hands me a four page pict-o-gram in broken English, and says, “Here. Read this. Tell me what it says I’m supposed to do.”
I replied with a sparkle (perhaps a tear) in my eye, “Ummm….Honey? Oh wait, don’t worry…. I found it… It says, ‘You were supposed to read this weeks ago!’ ”. There might have been some other phrases used too.
Are you kidding me? A bit of bile was building up. In all fairness, Ahab did try calling the Canal Meister as we were approaching the Lock. She took the phone call, but quickly realized we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. After asking several important questions like, “How do we know when to enter the Lock?” Ahab was informed by the Canal Meister to “just go to the Internet.” Super helpful.
We quickly identified that the lock was closed when we arrived, and could see with our AIS that there were ships preparing to head out. OK – got it. Wait for the ships to leave, then we should see a white light, which means “Enter the Lock”. Currently, there was just a red light. Makes sense: red=no go. When the lock opened a pilot boat came out first, escorting a huge oil tanker. The pilot boat circled back behind us, the tanker took off down the river, and now there was a white light and green light.
Ahab: “What does it say about green lights?”
Me: “I don’t know. There’s nothing in here about green lights” (panic building – I still don’t know what the inside of lock looks like, what side we will be on, how to tie up the boat, how long it takes, how many other boats – you know, just some minor details.)
The pilot boat that was behind us, has now motored around and past us, back into the lock, giving us a wave.
Ahab: “Well, that guy’s going in. He looks like he knows what he’s doing. I’m going in.”
Skipper dropped WIDAGO into gear and we rounded the corner, heading into the entrance towards the lock. I’m outside frantically getting fenders ready on both sides, and lines in a variety of positions, since we don’t know what side to go to.
Loudspeaker (in an abrupt woman’s voice): “DO NOT ENTER THE LOCK!”
Me (to Ahab): “Umm…honey? Did you hear that?”
Ahab: “What? What did they say?”
Loudspeaker (this keeps repeating perhaps 8-10 times): “DO NOT ENTER THE LOCK! DO NOT ENTER THE LOCK! DO NOT ENTER THE LOCK!”
Me (to Ahab in a slightly urgent tone): “Babe! I think she’s talking to us.”
Loudspeaker: “ONE WHITE LIGHT. ONLY ENTER WITH ONE WHITE LIGHT!”
Ahab: “Whoopsies, I guess ‘Green’, didn’t mean ‘Go’.”
Luckily, Ahab really is a master at the helm. We did a rapid 180, hightailing it back out of the entrance to the waiting area, where we sat with our tail between our proverbial legs. After another 10 minutes, lo and behold, the lights changed from green and white, to one white light. It’s go time.
We are the second last boat to enter the lock. A multi-storied cargo ship taking up the entire length of the lock is tied up to starboard. A pair of experienced monohulls with multiple adult able bodied crew are easily tying up ahead of us, and another to our stern. It’s cold, raining, the wind is blowing us off the canal wall onto the cargo ship, blood sugar is at negative one million since no one has had lunch, and being that it is “Day 27 1/2” for yours truly, I have total PMS retard brain going on. I jump off the boat onto the floating dock, a 12 inch rusted grate covered in slick moss and algae. Ahab is screaming, “SECURE A LINE! SECURE A LINE!” I totally panic. I literally say out loud to no one in particular, “Oh my God. I have no idea what do?”
I run towards the bow and have William toss me line. Of course the only thing on the stupid floating tetanus conveyer belt to tie a line to is a rusty ring, which means two things: A) the calm experienced sailor would deftly weave a perfect bowline knot, with the tail to the outside, or B) thread the line through the ring, and hand back to the capable crewman paying attention on the boat. Unfortunately, I went for option B. This failed for the following several reasons:
- If you want to stop a boat from moving forward, you cannot run a line from the bow forward to the docks. It doesn’t do anything. Duh.
- No way I could a tie a bowline on day 27 1/2 under duress.
- The wind was pushing us off the docks, so I couldn’t even toss the line back – I tried, it went in the water.
I think I might have passed out at this point, because I really don’t remember much of the next 60 seconds. There was perhaps some divine intervention, because somehow Ahab wrestled WIDAGO into submission, and I was able to secure a couple more lines. As I came to, the crew on the multi-storied cargo ship were filming (you can probably find me on YouTube if you search for “Epic Fail in Kiel Canal”) and waving, the monohull guys just sat there shaking their heads, and Ahab was preparing to debrief me with several bulleted points on how I was uniquely positioned to greatly improve my performance. My hands were shaking, sweat pooled in my jog bra, and I smelled like fear. Thinking that I could have a moment to collect myself and shake it off, while the lock did its magic, was foolish. Only a few minutes later, bells start ringing, and the gates begin to open. Slight wave of nausea, as getting off a dock can also be tricky in tight quarters. We managed to escape the lock unharmed (physically at least), and without running out of fuel.
OK – everybody. can. just. calm. down. Now where’s the gas station?
On a boat, sometimes ladies, it really is no different than being in a car. The hubs is driving, not knowing exactly where to go, but maybe “has a feeling” of where to go. Sometimes he may not always plan ahead, scoping out where certain important destinations (like the fuel docks) are. But for crying out loud, how hard is to find fuel? Look for the giant fuel cell, sitting near the water, next to a metal box and long green hose – chances are pretty damn good it’s the fuel dock! Have you ever pointed out something so obvious to your spouse? Then they disagree, circle around the block a few times, well…I’m not going to tell you I didn’t think it, but I did have the common sense not to to inform Ahab, “I told you so.” I still needed to get to land.
Fueling and watering went off without a hitch. We found that our earlier angst regarding fuel was unfounded, as we still had a few hours left to burn. Let’s also just keep in mind that this is the first landfall we have made in 12 days since leaving the Azores. We are just a bit frazzled and haggard. After being boarded by the French Coast Guard in the Straights of Dover, I forgot to mention our encounter the next day. As we continued to make our way up the coast line, the coast guard passed along our information to the next country. We had a Belgian Coast Guard plane circling over us at low altitude for 15-20 minutes. Again, we had been hailed over the VHF by the Belgians, who were “continuing the investigation”. We went through all the same questions, as with the French, but luckily the Belgians did not airdrop any frogmen to come aboard. Long story short, I think the Belgians continued the game of telephone up the coast to the Germans. For as we were gathering our wits while refueling, the Germany Customs Officials show up dockside. Packing Heat. With their service dog.
And then the immigration folks show up. They did not bring any animals with them.
Frankly, it couldn’t have worked out better for us. All the German officials were very friendly and interested in our travel plans. One thing that they helped understand, was why we kept getting such extra special attention all the way up the coast. Apparently, the type of AIS system we have installed on our boat (it’s a Class A – nothing but the best for Ahab) is almost exclusively used by commercial traffic. We are an anomaly. When they look at our data, they see a relatively tiny commercial vessel, that is not registered with any port authority, isn’t showing any cargo data, or the like. So, I guess, that seems somewhat suspicious. Once they see the kids, dirty laundry, wads of my hair falling out, and the general disarray – everything begins to fall into place. No problem, have a nice day.
The good news was that it took us so long to get through the lock, refuel, and clear customs, there was no way we could transit the entire lock before sunset. It was already almost seven. We found the first “rest area” we could, and tied ourselves to a pair of pilons.
Red Wine – Check.
Spaghetti – Check.
Sleep – Check times twelve hours.
The following day we really did enjoy ourselves cruising through beautiful countryside in the Canal. Lush green farm lands, swans, folks walking their doggies canal-side, and USA flag flying fans. We stopped in a little village, Rendsburg, for lunch (Whooo-hoooo! First meal in 13 days – that would be almost 40 consecutive meals- that I didn’t have prep, cook, and clean). Exiting the canal, through the second lock was so much easier. Kinda like having a second (or my case second and third) child. Their was much less anxiety, swearing, sweat, and fear. With only two of us in the lock, there was plenty of room to not crash into anything. Crew was properly briefed and executed their duties without a hitch or tear.
Arrival into Hohe-Dune in Rostock yesterday. Mad dash down to Hamburg today for our Russian Visa Application. A HUGE thank you to Vanessa W. for her leap to help us out today with local knowledge, language, and chocolate! Looking forward to seeing those ARC Yellow Shirts soon, knowing there will be a happy helpful person on the other end of the VHF. In the meantime, I will be happy to get under the covers to finish catching up on sleep. ZZZZZZ….