My first lonesome 582 miles

I received an information and blessing from the owner of the yacht called Wanda (already well known), for less than a few days before the start of SailBook Cup 2014. If you have no idea who’s Wanda, you can check it here:

Almost 9 tons of mahogany, oak and teak on the deck, almost 12 meters and less than 10 of watermark is ringing everyone’s attention. If you add the 1967 as a year of the production, you’ll get a nice treat for the enthusiast of the vintage stuff.

Usually the regatta has only one goal – to win or gain the best place. And so it was. Almost all participants, and there were 94 of them on 18 units!, felt the competition in their hearts and souls, blood, sweat and tears.  I wrote „almost” intentionally, because I took a part in the race from different reason – I had a different purpose, thought the character was the same.

After a lot of months of contemplation, excitement, reading about Remiszewska, Puchalski, Linski and Tabarly my little dream could come truth. I could feel the taste of the single sailing in the sea regatta. As if it was not enough, in the boat made of wood, just like the one I used to read about in my favourite books –  that might spice things up.

It’s like a lovage in chicken soup or fresh bread with butter and grandmother’s jam, or apple pie with ice creams and whipped cream. Wanda was like the cream and the icing on the cake, and a goal was to sail the race. The result was not so important.

However, I had to prepare the boat for such a voyage. Wanda is not suitable for sailing in single. So I started to form autopilot. Although the boat has a classic construction based on keelson, which gives an amazing stability that is uncommon in those modern one’s, I had to had such an device anyway. Krystian Szypka helped me by lending his ST2000.

The new sail was another issue. I begged Mr. Stanisław Sawko from Ocean Sails to come, measure and sew new sails. The things were not looking very optimistic, because he had only 8 days. Have you ever heard, that you can pick up your sails after 5 days after taking measurements? No? Mr. Sawko called me after 5 days and said that I can pick them up. So I picked them 2 days before the race, right before midnight, quickly visited sailmaker and after 2 hours they were hung on Wanda’s mast. I will talk about it later.

While I was waiting for the sails, I got from one of my schoolmates handheld GPS and maps – general classification of the Baltic Sea, Gothland, the Central Baltic scouts that I used to know (one of them was from Generał Zaruski!). Mr. Piotr Myśliwiec gave me a few gadgets: the huge gennaker, a beautiful pair of binoculars and a life jacket. All I had to do is install a huge radar reflector from commandor of the regatta (I didn’t have AIS, unfortunately), prepare the rigging and get rid of all unnecessary stuff from the yacht. I managed to do it during the last day. I was at the Sopot’s marina in the evening. Maciej Makuła of Marineworks gave me block to support the gennaker and he obligated himself to get some food for me, in another way I will have to eat only bread. Ah, and I made 2 training cruises at night.

I had a mood swings during the preparations – I will do it or not? Will I be enough prepared to start without feeling guilty? I cannot retire! Whatever! Yeah, maybe I will finish only the first leg and then I will say that I have some technical problems and I will go back home and keep my face. During the last night, we had some feast in Sopot’s SKŻ. Because I had a lot to do on the boat, I came when everyone already had their strategy for the race, a boar was already gone, other participants and immortal sea-shanty band… Well, life is life…

The atmosphere in SKŻ was very, very pleasant, and again, I sat at the table with one friend, and after one second I was calling everyone using their names – this is the part of a charm of this regatta.

The next day everything went very quickly. The official beginning of the race, accompanied with the sounds of the orchestra and food promised by Maciej. Photo shoot with the crews, a few words from the commodore, we got the Yellowbricks tracker – thanks to that yellow device, my mom and my brother could follow the regatta by clicking F5 in their browser.

It was 12.00 finally and we started. All different feeling that you experience is unbearable – there’s an excitement because of start of next cruise, regatta on the one hand on another you have a lonely race, you don’t know if you have everything what you need, or if you can make it. After a tacking right from the start you could see that the participants are going to split. GoodSpeed had to retire from the first leg after some damage, Blagodarnost II had to return just after passing Hel, because of some problems with electronic. It was a big surprise, and so it begins.

I finally ate my breakfast after passing Hel and set a course for the southern tip of Gothland. I trimmed my new sails and I did more than 6.5 knots in close hauled, 3-4 B – great speed for a yacht with such a weight and design. I didn’t expect that Wanda will fly so fast, despite of the new sails. Soon I realized that it’s not the end – it’s just the beginning.

We made almost 8 knots from the most of the time and max. 8.2 knots. EXCELLENT! Maersk Line, a container ship, passed me at sunset and proposed that he will change the course – it was a miracle! This is probably the first time when a more than 300 meters long container is changing course for a small boat.

It was getting dark when I made some dinner and then I could check if my system of a snooze will pass. I decided to go for a 19 minutes of snooze between 2.00 a.m. and 5.00 a.m., depends of the fatigue, then I spend an hour or two on board, ate some meal, and another 2-3 hours of 19 minutes of snooze. Generally, I had to say, that that kind of system passed the test, more or less – depends from the conditions, when I could leave the boat unattended.

The alarm clock from Andrzej of Resume, made of gas sensor, pestered me after each 19 minutes. I wrote down every snooze and very board control not to miss any of it. I have to admit that the system worked very well. The first night I fell asleep amazingly well, perhaps the best time ever at the sea. I slept well during the first leg. In the second leg, I felt a little bit anxious so I could rest well. In addition, I took a shower every day in the evening. Oh, and at the beginning of the race I decided not to sleep in the cockpit unless I meet German… Hmmm, well, nowadays I should rather say a Russian ;) Anyway, I decided to sleep in the mess.

The wind was constant for most of the time, but from the right tack for all the time. When the boat was making a good speed and hold the course, I realized that the result of the race, which was a secondary goal, is as imporant as making the whole route of the race. Realizing that helped me in my work on the board, my motivation increased just like enjoying the sailing and taking a part in the regatta, which is probably most important. I had to walk on and on from the cockpit to the starboard, because you cannot see the genoa from the cockpit. You can add beautiful views and scenes directed by nature, sunsets and sunrises which I always tried to watch and be a part of them;  the coast of the Gothland with high cliffs and sharp rocks were the icing on the cake. It’s beautiful, I thought.

After 30 hours, as I started to reach the Gothland’s shore I figured out, that I made a lot more miles than I thought. FM turned red because of the number of conversations between the participants and additional competitions organized by the commando Jack Norris, but also because of the information and complains about decreasing wind and stuff like that, maybe it’s a drop off forms or something. Despite the fighting spirit, we all asked each other about their positions, morale, is everything ok and so on. Kind of a friendly support.

I wanted to go near to the shore, hoping to find a night breeze and it succeeded  in some way, but, just like the other participants, I had to wait before the breeze finally came.

I was fourth in the general classification for a while, which was a nice surprise for me.

Those who were further in at the sea, stuck with no wind, but not for long, because the fresh  breeze came at night.

I have overdone a little bit in the halfway of Gothalnd. I wanted to go between the mainland and the first island, hoping for a little drift, and so it was, the wind, however, was quickly changing its direction but DTF hasn’t decreased so fast. Adding to this late hour, fatigue and being close to the mainland – I wasn’t well. After three or four uncontrolled turns I decided to let go and go more safely, calmly, a little bit faster to fall asleep for 2-3 hours. It was a heavy fight with Bystrze, Endorphine, Four Winds, who passed each other tacking at every half a mile. Amazing finish of the first leg, so many miles and hours behind, early morning, with increasing wind, passing by ferries, we dind’t let go even for a minute, none of us. We could feel the taste of rivarly, oh yes! My engine/battery/rather the power or lack of it surprised me after I entered to the port. I couldn’t turn the engine on, because there was no electricity.

Once I’ve read a few pages about sail maneuvers so I made a recognition to find the boats of other participants, I threw a wheel, dropped genoa and I managed not to damage Endorphine while docking to her ans as you can see, my attempt went very well :)

As soon as I moored, Jacek is appearing with a hugh bottle of champagne and congratulations. It was very flattering. I didn’t open the champagne, I decided to wait to the end of the race. I ate a quick breakfast with Szymon Kuczyński, who visited me and Wanda. We talked about our first impressions from the first leg and what we experienced (or not) and then we agreed to go out in the city. I went to sleep and I woke up in the evening just at the Polish Day. I wondered what is all about and how would it be. And I felt it before I could see  it – the atmosphere was amazing. Great fun at the end of the quay, next to Generał Zaruski – well stocked with famous Jacek’s beverages. Everyone had enough of chuck, sausages and vegetables served by Aleksandra, named Ola W. (she’s the aide of Jacek).

The feast lasted till the late night, while other yachts came to join us. After a Polish Day, or rather Polish Night, we went to explore the city – as we planned with Szymon Kuczyński and the crew.

What’s so interesting out there? Perhaps the most striking is architecture and the citizens. Architecture because the houses are small, neat, cozy and it’s suited to the landscape, and people are nice, friendly, they’re smiling and saying „good morning” or whatever it means in their language. Even a lady on the street, who collected the money, was smiling while asking for a donation. Quick reconnaissance after Mak, which has wifi, several e-mails, weather check, and yes, yes, Facebook too – and we rounded the ramparts to explore another part of the city. What strikes me is the cleanliness, despite a lack of garbage cans – there’s no rubbish at all. But there’s some animals made of roadblocks – they represent the animals from Gothland – a sheep and a ram. Oh, what’s more surprising it a number of Porshe, Ferrari and Lamborgini on the streets.

The same day, we had a briefing with all skippers – it was a great opportunity for the crews to rest a little bit of their captains, and for captains to rest from their crews. We’ve established that the start of the second leg will be at 12.00 on Wednesday, July 23. Some of us were afraid that we return to Poland belatedly – you know, scheduled holidays, datings, work, children, wives and lovers… However, Commandor didn’t change his mind. At the end of the evening, we greeted Łukasz from GoodSpeed – after the start of first leg he had to go back to the harbour to fix the problem and then he came to Visby to start in the second leg with us. And so it was the end of a day. The next day I went to pay for the marina – 100 zł per day! – and buy some bread for the rest of the race. I checked my reserves and I gave the overplus to Rysiek from Konsal. I filled with a fresh water to have a shower and the race has begun at noon. Bliski i Piorun 4 retired from second leg and Barnaba tore his mainsail and he returned to Poland.

The weather conditions were great at the beginning, though the wind could blow from a different direction, but most important was that it was blowing. The first hour decided about the whole race. Those who were lucky to catch some wind went north like stink and the rest was deal with wind direction and speed.

I managed to take a lap around Gotska Sandön after circa two days from the start, though I had some problems with electricity, I was tired and the sun was taking its toll – all of it started to lower my morale. There was nothing I could do. The breeze was too light to go forward and wrong direction, so I couldn’t use the gennaker, I had no appetite and no willing to do something. Lack of the wind, monotony and knowledge, that the wind is blowing beyond the island and those, who were there, are moving fast – it was killing me. I had a radio contact only with Kristi. So far, I wasn’t keen on talking with the radio, but in this case it was good to talk to someone. Later we turned out that Kristi was a repeater station between all participants over nearly 100 miles.

After we took a lap around the island we headed to the finish line. Kristi was flying on the spinnaker and I was using gennaker and genoa alternately – depend from the conditions. I had a lot of free time, so I could think about life, old Poles and stuff. I made up for writing letters and so it was. The electrical installation was making a lot of surprises to me. I wrote down how long and the capacity that the engine and autopilot were working on,  so I could figure out the charge/discharge of batteries. I turned off unnecessary equipment, a fridge wasn’t working long time ago.

I haven’t seen anyone, sunny day and my crew was light-hearted and didn’t want to follow the instructions and eat breakfast or lunch – not to mention to prepare anything.

Kristi drop me a line in the evening and we have begun the famous conversation about children ;)

Afternoons, the wind was getting weak, to let go completely for 3-4 hours. The yacht revolted, so I couldn’t do anything. I dropped off the sails, I didn’t need them now and I didn’t want them to get burned in the sun. I gave a little bit of Żubrówka to Neptun, for a better conditions ans I guess it helped, because we moved at night. The wind became stronger so I had to exchange my genoa for jib and reef the mainsail to a second reef. I was too much for that kind of wind but I wanted to sleep through the night, not to dent the autopilot. I forgot about the race long time ago, because I had no chance to catch up.

Last day at 5.00 a.m. I was sitting next to the helm. I turned off the autopilot, lay down in the cockpit and corrected the course of Wanda in every 10 minutes. About 1.00 p.m. I passed Hel and entered the Gulf, when half-way to Sopot eastern wind blown with 25-30 knots to decrease to 5 knots shortly after. Something amazing, I was greeted by two IMOCA’s Open 60 – Energa and Hugo Boss, but what I enjoy the most was the visit of Four Winds just before entering Sopots marina, the finish line of the race.

I entered marina using sails, as we agreed, I docked and I heard from the young boatswain from marina, that there’s no place here and I have to sail away. But, fortunately, Jacek has an eye on everything and the problem was solved. Jacek, Ola and Szymon Kuczyński awaited me on the quay, we shake our hands and I have to say that I was flattered by sincere congratulations from such a contender, Michał from Piorun and Ela from Barnaba came to us and then my brother with his family.

We opened the champagne and started to celebrate. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to shake a hand with other participants, who parted to their home ports few hours later.

The ending is most important, just like now, because I would like to thank a several people who give me motivation to do something. First of all, I would like to thank the most expressive single sailor on this side of Motława for being my patron during the race. I called him no matter whether it was day or night and he always helped me. Huge A for the help! I don’t know if I could make it without your help and motivation. I could feel that someone’s care about us troughout each and every mile of the race, provide the information on VHF and asking, if I’m ok. What’s most incredible is that I’ve never met Mr. Zygmunt – owner of the boat – who trusted me lend me the boat for the race. I prepared the boat for the race with my brother Piotr, who worked very hard with me all the time. Huge thanks, guys! You are awesome!