Goodbye Baltic and Scandinavia (Hello Tides, Currents, and Fog)
Summer 2019—Night Watch in Sweden, Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands
by David Tunick, New York Station
The Night Watch crew began in Saltsjöbaden, Sweden, this past summer in mid-June with final preparations for the two week-plus Stockholm Archipelago Cruise, organized jointly by the CCA, the North American Station of the Royal Scandinavian Yacht Clubs and Nyländska Jaktklubben (NAS), and the Royal Swedish Yacht Club (KSSS). At times, it felt more like planning a Napoleonic invasion than a typical yacht club cruise. We had around 250 participants; 40-plus yachts; two tall-ship motherships; three divisions of the fleet; three crisscrossing routes for the three divisions; four gams for the whole fleet; and multiple dinners, receptions, and excursions. From the time we took on the assignment in 2017 to the farewell dinner in mid-July 2019, it was a great experience that co-chair Ernie Godshalk (BOS) and I could not have pulled off without the significant contributions of our committee of 35, especially cruise treasurer Nick Orem (BOS) and key KSSS members who had been assigned to us by KSSS Commodore Patrik Salén.
Huvudskär, one of the stops on the Stockholm Archipelago Cruise.
The day after the cruise concluded and as the weather (finally) turned nicely hot and sunny, my six guests departed Night Watch, a 1967 Sparkman & Stephens, Abeking & Rasmussenbuilt 55-foot custom aluminum yawl that I’ve had for 35 years. A Danish pal and I cast off and double-handed the 450-nautical mile passage in short order, from near Stockholm in southern Sweden north to Rungsted Harbor, not far below Helsingør, home of Elsinore Castle of Hamlet fame. On the next leg, which I single-handed for three weeks, I first went into the center of scenic, fun, and crowded Copenhagen and then hopped down the eastern islands of Denmark to a series of harbors still active with fishing fleets, but also full every night with pleasure boats: Dragör on Zeeland, where I met up with Ernie Godshalk and Ann Noble-Kiley (BOS) on Golden Eye; Rødvig on Zeeland, where I cycled to an underground Danish fort once armed with American missiles during the Cold War; and Klintholm on Mons, on the western perimeter of chalky white cliffs that mark one of the highest points in Denmark at 142 meters above the Baltic shore. From there I motor-sailed about 100 nautical miles in one easy day to the Walsteds Boatyard on the lush island of Thurø, where in the 19th century, scores of tall ships crowded the well-protected anchorage in any and all weather.
Walsteds has been a favorite of Americans for years, going back to the yard’s close ties in the 1950s and 60s with Sparkman & Stephens. This year, I ran into many old friends, among them Charlie and Heather Lalanne (FLA) on Nellie, which had also been on the Stockholm cruise. Noreen, my first mate, who had gone back to New York for three weeks, rejoined the ship at Walsteds, and we shot over to Fåborg, 25 nautical miles to the west of the busy commercial and pleasure port of Svendborg on Fyn, the big island at Denmark’s center.
Our next destination was due south to the Kiel Canal, but with gale and near-gale conditions out of the south predicted for several days, we stayed in pleasant, old Fåborg for a few leisurely days until the wind shifted to the west. It was a bittersweet farewell when we finally set sail, as Scandinavia, and Denmark in particular, has been Night Watch’s home away from home for the last nine years, more than half the 19 years that the boat has been in northern Europe. A richly mixed international group of sailing buddies, all friends from many seasons in the Nordic countries, assembled on the dock to wave goodbye. We were seeing the last of both Denmark and Scandinavia, at least from the deck of Night Watch, as we were headed farther south and west to stage the boat for the planned sail back across the Atlantic during the summer of 2021.
With the wind blowing hard out of the west, we made the 60 nautical miles from Fåborg to Kiel on the north coast of Germany in very little time on a broad reach under full sail. Upon arrival, we tied up snugly to a tight inner dock in front of the Kieler Yacht Club and the next morning found ourselves pinned by a stronger wind than had been forecast. Night Watch does not have a bow thruster, and even with our powerful Yanmar 110-horsepower engine and a tender with a relatively big outboard, we could not spring off to escape the dock. After three days, there was a short lull, and we jumped to it, springing off with only a couple of inches to spare between us, a big piling, and other boats. We repositioned on an outer dock, blowing off this time. The following day, prior to entering the Kiel Canal, we circled three hours among a fleet of some 30 other yachts that all made a mad dash for the entrance lock at Holtenau the instant it opened. Even with a large tanker and a huge bulk carrier sharing the lock, however, there probably would have been room for another 30 yachts.
With sunset in these fairly northern latitudes still coming late in mid-August, we made it in full daylight to Rendsburg, about one-third of the way west into the canal and the only harbor deep enough for our eight-foot, two-inch keel. Rendsburg has an industrial section and an old town, the latter of which we thoroughly toured (and then some) during our stay. Not long after dawn on our third day in the Kiel Canal, we departed Rendsburg to motor to the canal’s western end, the Brunsbüttel lock, which we expeditiously reached and entered, this time without any waiting. Once free of the lock and in the rush of an ebbing tide in the Elbe River, we sailed northwest another 15 nautical miles amid commercial traffic and somewhat obscured visibility to Cuxhaven, a busy port near the mouth of the Elbe on the edge of the North Sea. After years in the Baltic, we were back to big tides, currents, and fog.
One of the things I love about the CCA is the chance of running into like-minded members in foreign ports. In Cuxhaven, we socialized with Brad and Christine Smith (BOS/GMP) on Robin Leigh and John and Priscilla Moffitt (FLA) on Apria. This pleasant interlude went on for a while since the wind direction continued blasting out of the west in the North Sea, the direction we had to go. Some boats in Cuxhaven had been stuck for three weeks awaiting a weather window. We had to wait it out for the better part of only one week, during which we took a side excursion, two hours south by train, to cosmopolitan Hamburg for a few days of gallery hopping, very fine dining, and world-class museums. If you go, don’t miss the city’s impressive nine-floor International Maritime Museum, in a huge former warehouse on a canal within the attractive and gentrified harbor, and the Hamburger Kunsthalle, with its seven centuries of art, including brilliant examples of German Expressionism that Hitler had outlawed as “degenerate.”
Finally, with a 180-degree wind shift, we escaped Cuxhaven, motored with a big gang of other yachts that had been weather-bound, and made 90 nautical miles in a flat (!) North Sea to the German Frisian island of Norderney. The following day, we motorsailed another 100 nautical miles in the same benign conditions to the Dutch Frisian island of Vlieland, one of the great delights and surprises in my time voyaging. Vlieland, which bans cars, has miles of fine, white sandy beaches and dunes with a cobblestoned village reminiscent of Edgartown, the main street lined with bistros, restaurants (including one with a Michelin rating, Het Armhuis), outdoor cafés, and boutiques. We spent a few wonderful days there cycling and beach-going (me: the non-beachgoer!). I also had the pleasure of slowly rereading The Riddle of the Sands while kind of living it.
Now that it was early September, with the day job calling and the season winding down, we reluctantly slipped our lines and wound south in narrow bending channels between Vlieland and another Frisian barrier island, Terschelling, into waters that practically amount to inland lakes in the Netherlands: the Waddenzee and the IJsselmeer. We enjoyed a touristic two-day stop at the popular and charming port of Harlingen, where, during a street and harbor festival that attracts an annual influx of thousands, the first thing we heard blaring over massive loudspeakers was Frank Sinatra singing New York, New York. In this remote old-world setting, it made me laugh.
A few miles south of Harlingen, we entered the IJsselmeer through a crowded, every-man-for-himself lock in the 20-mile long Afsluitdijk, one of the lengthiest of the Netherlands’ ubiquitous dikes that save this lowland country from flooding, what with one-third of its territory below sea level and an ongoing, centuries-long, successful battle to reclaim land from the North Sea. American coastal cities like Miami and New York could learn a lot from the Dutch and their engineers.
Sailing in these waters felt like being in the middle of a 17th-century Dutch maritime painting. The Dutch are still building yachts today based on the 17th-century model: big gaff-rigged sails, leeboards, large windows paned with rippling glass, ultra-long bowsprits, and flat bottoms. Many of these vessels are highly varnished and sometimes decorated with beautiful wood carvings. Most stream a variety of big, colorful flags like you see in old-master pictures. The flat bottoms serve a useful purpose: when the tide goes out twice a day, these craft settle nicely on top of a dune or a mud flat. In good weather, which was all we had in the Netherlands, the crews climb down from their boats, set up picnic tables, visit other vessels, hike, and swim.
After a quick overnight in the small city of Lemmer on the southwest coast of Friesland, we entered the vast, country-wide canal system for a couple of days to get to our winter destination, a boatyard deep in the interior. The scene shifted to Rembrandtlike landscape vistas—faraway horizons and low, big sky over fields of flat farmland replete with windmills—as we wove our way through small picturesque villages, canal junctions with directional traffic signs over modern highways (what a gas to see cars speeding below the boat!), and innumerable bridges for which a patient crew must bide its time waiting for scheduled and unscheduled openings. At one canal intersection, we opted for a longer route to avoid a bridge that opened only between 0200 and 0400 due to train traffic. Despite rural Friesland with views sometimes stretching as far as the eye can see, the Netherlands is a thriving, modern industrial country, the most densely populated in Europe after city states like Monaco and the Vatican.
Holland is also vigilant. We had been boarded only once before in two decades abroad (in Brittany). In Holland, coast guard, police, immigration, and customs boarded us five times in seven days, checking to make sure that all was legit. A non-EU flag can be a red flag, and what they mostly want to know is whether you’ve paid VAT (we’re careful to remain exempt by exiting the EU at least once every 18 months) or if you’re carrying weapons. The Stars and Stripes in particular attract attention in the Baltic. The first question is invariably, “Did you sail all the way here from America?”
We had done more than a thousand miles of cruising in 2019, but for the last mile the boat had to be trucked because the canal at our destination boatyard in the town of Drachten was not deep enough for Night Watch. This last trip really was a “trip.” I watched with fingers crossed as a convoy of vehicles, with the side roads temporarily blocked to clear the route and with flashing yellow lights on vans leading and following the transport, gingerly wended its way through slender lanes around trees, sometimes millimeters from lamp posts at tight turns and barely clearing overhead wires.
At Mast Jachtschilders (Mast is the family name of the owners), a small team of craftsmen would shortly begin a major job, best done in the Netherlands, where boatbuilding goes back in some families for centuries. One skilled welder working on Night Watch is 17th generation, with the names of his forebears in the business proudly displayed on the side of a shed.
Next year, the plan is to sail Night Watch from the Netherlands to Ireland for the Cork 300 celebration, in which at least 21 CCA members have indicated they might take part as of this writing. When the anniversary festivities end in Ireland, we’ll head down to Spain and Portugal. 2020 will be our 20th and last season in Europe. (The first was for the America’s Cup Jubilee in 2001 in Cowes.) All of it has been exhilarating—the best boating experience I’ve ever had. I’m already thinking of crossing back to Europe, but for now, the little grandkids beckon in the northeast United States, and so I shall return to give them the opportunity to share the sport that has so enriched my life. 2
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
David Tunick is the current rear commodore of the club’s New York Station, past post captain and current fleet captain of the North American Station of the Royal Scandinavian Yacht Clubs and Nyländska Jaktklubben, chair of the New York Yacht Club Seamanship Committee, and a member of the CCA Safety and Seamanship Committee. He is also a member of the Storm Trysail Club, the Ocean Cruising Club, Stamford Yacht Club, an honorary member of the Royal Norwegian Yacht Club and the Royal Swedish Yacht Club, and he was awarded the Royal Danish Yacht Club’s Medal of Distinction. He began boating as a child on powerboats, switching over in his teens to sailing. All three of his boats have been S&S designs. David began out of college with a Lightning that he cruised on with a sleeping bag in Long Island Sound. For the last 35 years, he has owned Night Watch, an S&S 55-foot custom aluminum yawl built by A&R in 1967. He likes to single-hand because he says that no one can see his mistakes. He has made two passages alone from Connecticut to Bermuda, one transatlantic alone (Connecticut to the U.K.), and after 20 years in northern Europe has a second transatlantic scheduled for 2021, when he plans to return his boat single-handed to the northeast U.S. (Portugal to Connecticut). David has a day job as an art dealer and gallery owner in New York, with a specialty in works of art on paper from the 15th century to classic 20th century. He subscribes to what J.P. Morgan said: “I can do a year’s work in nine months, but not in twelve.” David lives on his boat those other three months (though often more like two or two-and-a-half). He loves gunkholing, passages, and he occasionally races, mostly in classic regattas.