Recently I have been and still I am often approach by people who say to me, what a great trip I am doing or have done. In particular, I am always amazed that even long-time sailors have hardly no idea of how it works with this boat. They would like to undertake such voyages themselves. I don’t believe that. Even in the planning stage, I think many people would give in with a 10 m yacht because of the demands and strains that come with it. Not for nothing seems to be that the minimum size of aboat in these areas 12 metres. Everything else is consider too small.
I have only met a few people who could get an idea of how strenuous it is without asking too many questions. In particular, I have to point out the seafaring English and those among the cruising sailors, who are also on the move for longer time. They know what it means to spend 4 months on a 7-metre boat. In addition, the English are mostly small-boat sailors under the 10-metre limit. Quote from my English friends: Those who have bigger boats have to work a lot and don’t have time to sail. Being out on a boat for longer is also a pain. Apart from the many inconveniences, you also physically break down.
To put it bluntly, what I do or have done here is extreme sailing. Not in the category of faster and further, but harder, more uncomfortable and more exhausting. Not everyone can endure that. Many people associate such a trip with summer, sun, drinking coffee, sunsets, fun and relaxation. No, that’s not it, there’s hardly anything relaxing here. I didn’t spend four months on holiday on the water, I didn’t have any time off either of what. It’s been more of a journey of discovery, experiencing and observing – a project? Or to be on the seek, as an Englishman say to me?
This is far away from that beautiful sailing world depicted in glossy pictures, sunshine and light breezes. Sunshine often goes hand in hand with doldrums, so there’s no sailing. When the sun burns all day and there is no mercy for 12 hours, there is no rest. There’s no shade, no place to hide, no pool bar. I’ve stayed in port more than once, gone below deck and I learned to hate the sun. On larger yachts in these areas and more southerly, they often have a bimini-top, a “roof” in the cockpit area, or a larger sprayhood in the companionway. This is bitterly necessary when travelling to the south. This is not possible on small boats. And who knows the other extreme, having to evaporate the moisture in the boat with electric fans after a lot of rain or fog. Sometimes it smells musty.
This leads us to the essential part of the trip, the boat. My amica is small boat. Seaworthiness be ensured, among other things, by the bridge deck, a connection between the side decks in the companionway to the cabin. Getting in and out is quite uncomfortable, you have to climb first half a metre up and then just over a metre down to the floor with only one step. Stairs would take up far too much space. When the sliding hatch is fully open, you have about 60×60 cm of space for this climb. If you don’t open the sliding hatch all the way, you’ll get bumps on your head and/or bruises on your shoulders and back. Getting into the cabin is hardly possible in rough seas. Then there is nothing to eat or even a coffee, which is always ready in a thermos flask. It’s especially stupid when the water bottle slips out of the holder and lands at the bottom of the cabin. Then quick acrobatics are required or there is no sip until the next port. So there is no cosiness with a cup of coffee in the cockpit. Oh yes, there is of course no wet room with WC on board, the bucket will have to do. I could go on and on with these descriptions of everyday life on board, but let’s let it be enough.
My amica is also a sporty boat. Fast sailing is nice, so are nimble manoeuvres, and many are impressed by the manoeuvrability in the harbour. On the way in rough seas, you get wedge, support yourself with your feet, you can’t move freely any more. And that goes on for hours. My legs have often fallen asleep, and I had to develop a technique to switch from one buttock to the other without leaving my sitting position. It works! Well, the arms also get tired sometimes. To chance the position is only possible to a certain extent, because simply sitting down on the other side to leeward is usually not possible. Sailing for 8 hours or even more under motor is either no rest.
When I’m sailing, my eye level is about one metre above the water, so waves quickly appear very large and, logically, they splash over the deck more quickly. This requires constant attention to the sea if you want to have as few breakers on deck as possible. Four hours of concentrated sailing in the sea is very exhausting.
Now, some may remark, he does have a wind pilot. This self-steering system is very excellent under many conditions, but not all. Logically, it doesn’t work, if there is no wind. Downwind, amica is often too fast, especially in light winds. I don’t feel any draught on my cheek, but I’m already sailing with 3 knots at 2 Bft. Even when surfing, i.e. at speeds above 6.5 knots, I don’t let go of the tiller. It takes a lot of feeling to find the right moment between steering without pressure and tiller pressure, so that amica doesn’t get out of hand. And sometimes the waves are too high. When amica tips over the top of the waves, she swings quickly from one side to other side and there is suddenly wind from the side. In addition, the stern comes very free, the rudder of the wind pilot is then no longer in the water. That’s not what the wind pilot is meant for, but running the boat in half-winds is just great with this automatic.
I have found the limits on this tour: what I can do to myself; where the limit for a small boat is. No more Raz Blanchard at Cap La Haque without absolute neap time and calm. In retrospect, I was also glad not to have continued along the south coast of England. There are also races and eddies, especially the Portland Race, which is only passable for a short time between 2 tides. This, of course, affects primarily coastal sailors. If you have a large yacht, you should steer well clear of these dangerous areas.
My amica is an old lady, as a Dutch woman express it, now 46 years old. Waarschips are very sturdily built, glued and screwed, but how long do glued seams last? Unfortunately, I have found that it isn’t good for the boat, to fall constantly into the wave troughs. The leaky spot of amica is defined and therefore easy to repair, but I don’t want develop other spots, where glue seams open up. So only gentle sailing now, please.
May be I am getting too old for such a tour. I lack sufficient sleep, my muscles ache, well, the bruises have become less, but instead of this tension has developed in my neck and back. The last few days have simply been too cold. The one-sided posture on long trips does the rest. Sometimes I also had the impression, I was beginning to lack sufficient stamina and strength. Then I get nervous while mooring, but it still went well. These are things like putting out the fenders in the wrong place, atach ropes incorrectly and being too slow when deploying the lines. And the fact that the new, still hard sails don’t fall as easily as the old ones sometimes annoyed me.
I am writing this to make it clear, it is hard sailing. And I have given myself the confidence to do it. These single-handed regatta sailors in France are also deliberately taking strains and it counts only to have been there, to have done it. There is certainly a parallel to my trip. This is one of the positive aspects of the trip, to have done it, to have endured this and to be somehow belonging to a circle of sailors who are braving the sea. This strengthens one’s self-confidence enormously and that radiates. An inner peace has developed inside me, and a different view of the world.
Perhaps it may be the most beautiful sentence: I went out as a North German and come back as a European. There is no longer a centre that I like to call my home. I feel just as much at home in the travelled areas. I have developed a bond to the coastal regions of England, France, Belgium, and even the Netherlands and Friesland. I think I could live there anywhere. I’ve probably spent far too many holidays with a boat in the Scandinavian countries, there I don’t have had this feeling. There are fien towns and landscapes and it is a great sailing area, but nothing more. You don’t wrestle something from sea, you’re just glad to be able to get to a safe harbour quickly, because it’s become uncomfortable.
At the same time, I notice the differences, especially in relation to England and France; people behave differently than in Germany. The culture of life in the Netherlands, also partly in Belgium is very similar to ours. Everyday hectic life, sometimes arrogance towards others. In conversation, I sensed a dishonesty in their friendly manner. Busy conversations that doesn’t ask for deeper meaning or perhaps the narrative have no idea of it.
In France, I experienced an open face for the most part, they also speak with their facial muscles. An oui or a pourquoi also looks like that on the face. I wonder if they can pretend at all. I don’t know any urban centres like Paris, where things may be different, people more restrained and polished. Like in every big European city, everything is similar. Here on the coast it’s even more French, and of course they bitch about the Parisians here. And yes, I know the political landscape on the coast, especially the thing with the fishermen really got to me. Centralism has always been a problem in France and now there are also incomprehensible EU decisions been affected over their heads. It may already be clear, which pied pipers they’re voting for.
When I arrived first in England, I have been a little disappointed about the way of their talking to me, but then many English sailors set the record straight to me. The area from Dover to Southampton is more influenced by the urban juggernaut of London. People find it hard to get out of themselves. It’s supposed to be easier in the pub after a few beers. When you meet them in France, they are very compassionate conversational partners. I have experienced a lot of knowledgeable appreciation from these sailors, not a superficial pat on the back (great, what you’re doing), but an inquiring, deep desire to understand. This immediately reconciled me with all the negative experiences on the English coast. And sometimes I even think these English are more European like us in old Europe. At least in their values, in their feelings, there is a beyond of business. Trade is nice, but when all ethics, all moral behaviour is lost, there is something wrong with this world.
Norman fishermen mainly fish crustaceans and mussels. According to French law, these may allowed from October onwards in order to preserve stocks. France has transposed EU law into national law, England hasn’t done this. And so the English fishermen come over to the French side in September and start fishing. They are still in the EU and be allowed to do so. Who is there to explain these injustices? The anger of the French is more than understandable. Life on this coast is certainly not characterised by wealth. Modern slavery is not be overlooked. A conspicuous number of Africans have be employed as helpers at markets and in the fishing industry. Yes, you can also look away and only see the colourful sides, many tourist shops with fashion and other odds and ends.
And of course I also met those long-distance sailors who simply want a different life, not to prove themselves permanently, not to be permanently successful and who don’t want to celebrate and show this all times. I was surprised about how many people have the feeling: Ääääh! Pourquoi? Why? What’s the point? Life is too multifaceted to toil away in this machine, to become a part of it and suffer from it. And than you realise at the end, yes, that’s it? But who still ask themselves these questions?
The group of long-term sailors seems to be very large, in contrast to the round-the-world sailors, Caribbean sailors, Icelandic sailors and Greenland sailors. They are not temporary drop-outs in search of adventure, no “we-want-to-go-around-the-world-sailors” and no hunters after successes, records and special features. Logically, this cannot be marketed and one looks in vain for written experiences on the relevant book market. They have swapped their life on land for life on board. More often, you stay in the harbour, after all, you don’t want to go anywhere, you just want to be here, in another world.
It is the wrong idea, that only those with enough money can afford such things. You have to like it. Rather, it seems to be the other way round, you don’t meet the financially well-off here at all. Probably they love the comfort, to buy everything they want. As a rule, here you meet people upwards 50 who have had all their experiences and now have become thoughtful. But there are also some younger people over 30 who don’t even want to dive into this world and know that they will soon have missed the start of a successful career anyway. They all have in common is the search for different values in this world.
Conversations among them are not only about equipment, technique, experiences with currents and wind. They quickly turn to their own sensitivities: Can you still do it? Why are you here? And about the state of the world or region in which you are at the moment. A constant topic is the rubbish in the sea, about a lot of things, sloshing back and forth in the canal, and the reckless fun people have on the cruisers (exhaust fumes, balloons being released).
Oh yes, the thing about the supermarket checkouts, I actually wanted to report it much earlier, that’s how much it impressed to me. In Germany you can’t pick up the goods as quick how there are scanned at the checkouts. In France, people at the checkouts have a long chat and either you bring patience or you join in. Same in England too, the speed of scanning is extremely reduce. A question of quality of life versus labour productivity, or rather, who really earns from it?
There is more in life than to being inspired of superficialities, consumer society offers. The soul atrophies, authentic life is lost, sensitivity for others is dead, for what? Multimedia landscapes without end, accumulation of uselessness, money at the bank account and listings of questionable successes.
The intention among us (I add myself among them by now) long-distance sailors is identical, we are looking for those been lost to us. And we find a great richness leaves us amazed and excited. Only to share this with others who have not been in this world of experience is very difficult.