A different travel narrative

In 2018, I met curious English people in France who were interested not only in my journey in a small boat, but also in my motivation for doing it this way. They said I must have a special concern to take on such trips in a boat that is not exactly comfortable. I would not interest in “collecting trophies”, i.e. reaching far-flung goals, listing many ports of call or putting as many miles as possible under my keel. Far too often, I would stay in the harbour and look around, let the area and the people have an effect on me. I would probably be more on the lookout, wanting to discover something. There are more people like that than you’d think – people who spend a lot of time on their boat, make it the centre of their lives, and are very happy with themselves.

At that time, I felt it more and guessed what I hoped to find. If you are looking for something, you certainly want to find something. Sometimes you discover something that is actually constantly present at home. One of the first things I noticed when I returned to Hamburg: there is a lot of ranting here. Likewise, work seems to be the most important thing in life, always present, in conversation (everything terribly exhausting), at every appointment (don’t have time) and in the cityscape (hectic people). Some claim that this is “real life”. These phenomena were really absent on my trip.

On my sailing trip along the edge of the hectic world, I am not interested in taking a kind of time-out, in moving outside “real life” for a while. No, I am looking for answers whether we can also feel, think and act differently. In order to understand other thinking, other feeling and other acting, one has to free oneself from structures that imprison one. Being on the road for a long time, sailing for a long time, seems to be a good way to do this. This letting go of obligations, deadlines and tensions does not happen automatically. I also met some sailing people who were travelling according to a timetable. For example, they had already booked a return flight somewhere. That’s where they had to go, no matter how nice it was, what their mood was or what the weather was like.

This time I was also on the road very quickly, because I wanted to get around Spain, i.e. with a target. I had a schedule that was slow down a bit in Aber Wrac’h, but especially in northern Spain. Those were places with longer port days, when I realized, that having time is something very important. The one thing is that no one is forcing me to enter my homeport in autumn 2023. The other is a special value: you have to learn to watch time pass. I don’t have to do anything with “my time”, I don’t have to plan anything or work through a list. Everything can be postponed or is even superfluous, doesn’t have to be.

So I decided to make a break for a while in Aviles, to write down what had happened, so as not to forget it. It was and is becoming difficult to remember all the little events that impressed me. The specialness of the experience simply fades too quickly, especially when you have to deal with the daily craft of sailing.

January 2023


In the last few weeks, as I write this at the beginning of July 2023, I have often had conversations with Spanish sailors. They were very surprised when I told them about my itinerary. The Spanish north coast, the Cabo Ortegal and the Costa de la Muerte are all areas that have to be navigated with great care. Big heavy boats are an advantage, with such a small boat of less than 8 m it is a sporting achievement and probably also connected with a lot of sea experience.

I remembered that last year, after the rounding of the Finisterre, the passage through the Chenal du Four and through the Raz du Seine, Frenchmen also said something similar. Just as in 2018, English people showed me a knowing respect when I told them so about the rounding of Cap de la Hague and crossing the English Channel.

Sometimes I forget that I am travelling in a very small boat. Occasionally I have thought that a few more metres and a few more tonnes and life on board would be easier, but I quickly forget that. For me, my amica is a normality to which I have become accustomed. From this perspective, I experience dealing with the sea, wind and distances that have to be covered. That’s what makes my trip special, the way I plan a trip, the respect for the Atlantic swell, especially on the coasts, the life on board, underway and in the harbours. However, I cannot suppress the fact that I am travelling single-handed, but I will write about being alone later.

Besides the experiences with people on land, these are of course things that shape me, that change me. It’s just not so visible and easy to put into words. Sure, in France you can’t get past respectful politeness, in Spain you experience an open-heartedness and great willingness to help in many things. I would have to be an idiot to ignore this. And, it goes without saying that I adapt and enjoy it.

I don’t even notice that I’m on a big voyage any more, that’s how much I’ve got used to it. Now my centre of life is on board, with all the restrictions. I have the wide horizon, the blue sky and the big sea, so what do I need comfort and convenience? I know intuitively the dimensions of my boat, there are no more blue bruises. Everything has its manageable order, I never have to look for anything.

Washing clothes in the lavanderias has become routine. Shopping in the Supermercados Frios or Eroski is an experience in itself. What is that I’m holding in my hand right now? Of course, I can’t avoid the ham, preferably freshly cut: diez lonchas de Serano Reserva, por favor. The Google translator is always helpful. The discovery of Parafina as a substitute for petroleum (Paraffin), as well as Alcohol de quemar without perfume, is also part of it.

And of course there is the sea, the waves, the weather, the climate, the sky, and the horizon and dolphins. I have made peace with the sea, which moves me more or less constantly, even in ports. There is no more balancing, the movements belong to me. I can sleep soundly even with Amica twitching on the lines. When on the go, it has become a matter of course only to crawl or to sit, standing or walking is an absolute taboo. So the sea doesn’t bother me.

The weather is different here in Spain, there are hardly any fronts of low pressure passing through, only in winter fronts stripes the coasts. I was able to see and observe this in December from a distance in Hamburg. Even in May there were still isolated fronts passing through, then it was cold and windy and the swell goes high. At the same time, I had my first experience of the phenomenon of hot Spain on the north coast of Spain. In the morning it is relatively peaceful, but from midday onwards it increasingly freshens up. In the meantime, a high pressure area has stabilized between the Azores and here, as well as the famous wedge towards Brittany. This pushes the swell from the north flat. Here on the west coast, the Nortada, the north wind, has set in. With the typical rhythm, peaceful in the morning, strong in the afternoon. This rhythm also determines the sailing behaviour, nothing with sleeping in, it’s always early start and back in the harbour by noon. Then we take a siesta, it gets much too hot anyway. Already I do that in the harbour, in the morning I do everything that needs to be done, then at noon I pack myself into a shady corner. That’s just how you live in the south.

When planning my circumnavigation of Spain and Portugal, I also took into account my physical fitness. In particular, I considered the climatic conditions in the south, where it can quickly get well over 30 degrees. So it was clear from the start that I would only sail the south of the Iberian Peninsula, i.e. from Lisbon onwards, in the winter half-year. Last year, in 2022, the heat wave in Normandy took me by surprise. My thermometer recorded the highest value, 41.3 degrees. Fortunately, that was only a one-day event; for a while, I froze at 22 degrees after that. It was a sign that temperatures in France, Spain, and Portugal rise extremely in summer. Now Spain has already had more than one heat wave and even here, in the north on the Atlantic coast it is far too warm. Add to that a UV index of 10 and Spain and Portugal in summer it is not recommended for a sailing nomad, especially if you are no longer one of the youngest. I have to move carefully, planning a trip now includes the position of the sun and the temperatures. Spending the summer here in the Rias is an option for many.

9 July 2023