Friday, 24 August 2018 - Heiligenhafen to Kiel
The Baltic Sea is a bitch.
She’s like the queen of the mean girls in high school. You know the one … the girl who is beautiful and talented, engaging and alluring. She’s the girl who every boy wants to date and who every other girl wants to be. Everyone loves her, and everyone hates her.
When she’s nice, she can make you feel like the most important and wonderful human on the planet. But rub her the wrong way or catch her in a bad mood, and there will be pure Hell to pay! You won’t see it coming. It will blindside you and leave you scratching your head wondering what you did to piss her off.
Make no mistake—I am in love with the Baltic. I learned to sail on the Baltic and have been sailing on her for the past five years. The Baltic Sea is gorgeous. She is alluring and engaging, and I thought I was her friend. I’m not sure why she is turning on me this week.
I am the girl who doesn’t care if the mean girl likes me or not. I generally just admire her from afar and find other friends in other circles. I’m not interested in the drama. But I’m also the girl who will not get beaten up or beaten down without a fight. I’m just not that girl. At least that’s been my heartfelt belief for the past 51 years.
This week, the Baltic has forced me to question that belief. She’s gotten the best of me. I spent two days of utter misery over the side of Seefalke fighting a mean girl that just didn’t want me on her turf. She had mercy on me one day and reminded me why I love her so much. But was this just her way of manipulating me to come back for more?
During this journey, we had only one more day on the Baltic, and I was determined to defeat the mean girl that was torturing me.
It was a rainy and windy morning when we left Heiligenhafen. We knew that the weather report called for heavy winds and currents against us… again. And it was cold. But we decided to forge ahead anyway.
I was nervous and afraid. I wasn’t afraid of the weather or the conditions. My fear was with fighting the seasickness again. At least there would be no surprises this time because we knew the weather would be rough. I gave myself a pep talk and tried to stay busy with preparations. I told myself that I wouldn’t let The Baltic Sea beat me down again. She had rewarded our early week battles with a gorgeous day of slow, relaxed cruising. But who knew what kind of mood she would be in on this cold, wet day.
We had three options. First, a straight route directly to Kiel. But there was a military exercise zone right in the middle of our route, so we needed to continue to listen to the radio to avoid this. There was a chance we would hit that pocket at the end of the exercise and could push through. Or, second, we may have to re-route just a little to avoid the artillery. Or, third, we would have to swing around it entirely, which would add five hours to the passage and an even tougher battle with the currents.
After feeding and walking Cap’n Jack and Scout, I bundled into my cold weather gear and helped Maik get Seefalke ready. Staying busy was keeping my mind off my fear of another day of over-the-rail puking.
We got out to sea with the rain and wind, but it was not bad at all. We got the pups settled down below and got the smaller jib and main sail hoisted. Maik had double-reefed the main ahead of time in preparation for the heavy wind.
We had chosen not to drink coffee that morning in preparation of avoiding anything acidic or lactic in our bellies. I was fighting to keep my eyes open so I decided to take a short nap. This would also help to relax me, Maik said. The puppies hopped in next to me for some extra cuddles, and I let them.
Probably an hour or so later I awoke to a rocking boat. I could hear Maik rushing around on the deck above and caught glimpses through the upper hatch windows of him adjusting the sails. The boat began to tilt and a few more of my well-secured items went flying across the cabin. Damn! Am I ever going to get that stupid puzzle to fit together correctly?
Then the pups and I both began to slide. I didn’t know it at the time, but we were in the middle of a heavy gale-force thunderstorm with winds at 38 knots! We were on a 36-degree tilt … and by the way, Maik was having the time of his life.
I was laying flat on my back on the bunk. My right leg was stretched out straight and propped against the board that generally keeps the pups secure in their bed. My left leg was bent and upright, blocking the pups from flying across the cabin with the various items that were still not secured. I couldn’t move to secure the pups in their bunk. I could only hold on to keep them safe as we were practically vertical at this point. They were barely fazed at all, but I was using every muscle in my body to stabilize myself, and them, in this awkward position. I think this is what yoga is supposed to feel like—holding one unusual, uncomfortable position as long as possible while your muscles flex and spasm.
I called up to Maik to be sure he didn’t need me. He looked down at me and had the biggest grin on his face. I thought to myself, “What are you smiling about?” He was loving the challenge of fighting the storm. “Just keep holding on,” he said.
Then an alarm sounded.
It was coming from the bilge and this meant water had gotten in and risen to a level that would trip the alarm. Maik told me to check it. What? Are you kidding me? How the hell will I get out of this position without slamming into the other side of the cabin?
First I had to secure the pups. I somehow got them settled and surrounded them with three sleeping bags to give them extra padding. They were now in their usual barricaded bed, which stabilizes them in a confined space and keeps them from moving around in the boat. They curled up and went right back to sleep. Why can’t I be that relaxed?
Then I needed to get to the bilge, which meant pulling up the floor covering and opening the two hatches that led down below to Seefalke’s stomach. I was doing all this on a 36-degree tilt during gale force winds. I felt like I was in one of those old black-and-white movies where the room spins and the actors dance around on the walls and the ceiling.
There was a little water in Seefalke’s belly, but not enough for concern. I closed the hatches and plopped back down on the bed, this time with both legs giving me leverage.
It was a forceful squall, but a short one. Soon, we were back on some sort of evenness, and I could see through the upper hatch window that Maik had pulled in the jib. It was flapping just a little on the edge. I asked if everything was ok, and he again looked down with a ridiculously happy grin … so I knew I was ok to just stay put. He was fine.
I wanted to go up with him. But I was afraid. In fact, I was paralyzed. Paralyzed with fear. Again, there was no fear of the boat or the conditions. I was afraid that if I got up, I would hurl and spend the rest of the day in misery. I didn’t feel sick or queasy at all, but the fear of getting sick again was keeping me from joining Maik in the cockpit.
I lay there for what seemed like hours, just staring blankly through the hatch window at the flapping jib. I don’t even think I blinked. I was hypnotized. I don’t know why. I learned to sail on the Baltic. I spent the past five years sailing on the Baltic. I love The Baltic Sea! She’s my friend. Why was she kicking my ass this time?
I knew that this was the last time we would be sailing on her during this trip. Once we get to Kiel, we go through the Kiel Canal and then meet the North Sea on the other side. I’m wasting my time down here when I should be up there with Maik and the Baltic!
I remembered what Maik always tells me. “The brave one is not the one who has no fear. The brave one is the one who has fear… but does it anyway.”
Then I just snapped out of it.
I got up and said to myself, “If I get sick, I get sick. I need to be out there.”
The boat was still rocking, but it was manageable. I could see the high waves through the portholes. I put on my life vest and walked up the four stairs to the cockpit. Maik was standing on the cockpit bench, wind in his face, wearing the biggest, silliest smile I’ve ever seen. How could I possibly be afraid of this? I have a captain who lives for this shit!
He is not going to let anything happen to us. He is happy and in his element—facing the sea and the storm with absolute joy! I stood up on the bench, too, and let the cold wind chill my face and blow my hair. It was exhilarating. I had wasted seven hours in the cabin below fearing something that usually makes me so happy. And in this moment, I remembered why.
We can battle the sea, or we can embrace it. Sometimes she will be sweet, and sometimes mean as a snake. But either way, this is her turf. We must embrace the experience and trust that we will get through it. If I get sick, I get sick. But I’m out here, and I have this opportunity to challenge myself. I may not beat the Baltic, and I can’t expect to… but I will NOT beat myself!
We still had four hours to Kiel, and the Baltic was breathtaking. Seefalke was surfing on the two-meter waves like she was performing a choreographed dance to a mesmerized and appreciative audience. We were all flying.
Yes, the Baltic Sea is a bitch. She can be bitter one day and sugary-sweet the next. But I love her.
Now, we venture through the locks of the Kiel Canal—the Panama Canal of Europe. It’s a 98-kilometer freshwater canal that is considered to be the most heavily-used seaway in the world with 90 to 130 ships transiting through it each day.
Then I will meet The North Sea for the first time on the other side.
I’ve been told that if The Baltic Sea is the mean girl you love to hate but can’t help but love, then The North Sea is the schoolyard bully.
Bring it on! Here we come!