First Week at Sea - 121 nm (Aug. 18-23, 2018)

Saturday, 18 August 2018 - Stralsund, Germany

Anticipation had grown as the excitement began to swell in sync with the Baltic Sea waves. We were already 18 days past our original departure date, but we wanted to be absolutely certain that the ship and the crew were ready! After five years of talking about this and almost a year of intense planning, Maik finally made the decision that tomorrow at 09:00 we will set sail on the first leg of our 6,000 nautical mile journey that will take us across the Atlantic from Stralsund, Germany to Gulf Shores, Alabama.

We were checking off our final list and frantically taking care of the final details. Thilo, our superb electrician and mechanic, wrapped up his final tasks and cleared the electrical systems ready to set sail.  Maik ran out for a few more provisions while I washed some clothes and gave Cap’n Jack and Scout a bath. I was also responsible for securing all the items in the cabin that could be tossed and thrown during rough conditions.

We turned the boat’s bow toward the bridge to the entertaining delight of a very large crowd dining in the outdoor restaurant right next to our mooring.

We finished getting everything ready, took a proper shower at the machine shop, I FaceTimed with Shelby and Bo, and then we took the pups on a long walk and had a nice dinner. We knew we needed rest, but the excitement and anticipation was keeping us from relaxing. We set the alarm for 06:00 and forced ourselves to sleep.

Sunday, 19 August 2018 - Stralsund, Germany

Departure time 09:00

First stop – Kiel, Germany – Approx. 100 nm -  Approx. 48-50 hours in current conditions

Maik bounced out of bed at 05:30, long before any alarm sounded. I tried to squeeze in the last 30 minutes of sleep, but my brain would not stop swirling, so I decided it might be best if I bounce out of bed with him. 

I took care of feeding and walking the dogs and securing the cabins, while Maik got the boat ready. I continued to fight the battle between nerves and excitement. It’s hard to say which one was winning. They were both taking their punches.

It was just minutes before 09:00 and our celebration flags were flying high. The Seadogs were securely tethered, and the weather was clear and beautiful.  We toasted the journey and gave Neptune a shot of whiskey to ensure a safe voyage. 

The bridge began to open and we thrusted into line and went happily through the bridge and into the Baltic Sea—waters we know very well. We put up two of the sails and were cruising along nicely for about four hours.

With no warning, the waves began to roll and swell to about two meters high. We began to fight against the currents and the wind. We safely secured Cap’n Jack and Scout in the cabin below and took our seasickness medicine. We were pushing heavily against the wind and the current was attacking us—pushing us back further than we could move forward. It was a battle of nature against man and ship…and while Seefalke was holding her own, nature seemed to be beating the humans by a landslide.

It’s in moments like these that you forget how soothing the sea can be and you remember it’s power and force.

Maik continuously adjusted the sails, switching back and forth from the genoa and a smaller jib. We reefed the main and continued to tack and fight and battle the Baltic, which clearly did not want us invading her home on this day.

I began to feel queasy and told myself to fight it.

Look at the horizon. Ignore the motion that is slamming us. Stay busy. Think of something else.

I worked hard to convince my brain that I didn’t feel the harsh effects of the roller coaster that was once the Baltic. The harder I tried to convince myself I wasn’t getting seasick, the more the uneasy feeling took over.

I looked at Maik and told him I was about to lose it.  Within 15 seconds of that statement, I leaned over the port side deck outside the cockpit and spewed all the cereal and yogurt from the morning’s breakfast onto the stern. 

At first, I felt ok after emptying my belly. I have been seasick before and this was not as bad as that last time. I just fed a few fish. I’m really ok. 

But as the ship continued to sway back and forth, up and down, my body finally gave in and let the Baltic win the battle.  I got comfortable in my position over the side of the boat, strapped myself in, and stayed there for a couple of hours.  It didn’t take long for my belly to empty completely, but the contractions and heaving continued until I was literally throwing up only stomach acid and possibly pieces of my stomach lining. It was so forceful, I actually peed in my pants uncontrollably.  I was embarrassed, but Maik just gave me a sweet, reassuring grin and told me it was going to be ok.

I worked my way into the cabin below to find some clean panties. This is when I realized I had done a terrible job of securing the cabin items. Almost everything we owned was thrown all about the cabin in heaps and piles of disorganized rubble.  It looked like someone had shaken the boat like a cup of dice and thrown its contents into the belly of the boat. I somehow made it through the messy maze to the head and cleaned myself, but then realized I needed to get comfortable again and just hug the toilet for a while.

I lay on the floor, lifeless, for about another hour, completely paralyzed and unable to get up from that spot. Seriously, if someone held a gun to my head and told me to move one inch, I would have just had to let them pull the trigger. I could not move.

At one point, I looked at the puppies, sitting so sweetly in their little bed in the cabin saloon, all cuddled up and being so good. I could tell they were worried about me, but fortunately, they seemed fine.

I grabbed a trash bag to hopefully catch anything else that might want to exit my body, and worked my way to the table bench in the saloon and just crashed.  I kept apologizing to Maik, and he kept reassuring me. The pressure of not pulling my own weight was making it worse. It was adding anxiety to the mix of nerves and excitement. I wanted to help him. But I couldn’t.

After 12 hours, the waters began to calm, and Maik decided to anchor for the night. As soon as the motion stopped, so did my misery.  This is the amazing thing about this phenomenon we call seasickness. When the motion ends, the sickness ends. I got up and felt just fine cruising along on the calm waters. I helped him drop and secure the anchor and then walked the pups on the deck.  We had sailed for 12 hours in these brutal conditions. By the time we got the ship secure, it was around 23:00 and we all went immediately to sleep.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Anchored near Prerow Shoal, just North of Darßer Ort

At 03:30, Maik bolted out of bed. “The anchor is dragging,” he said. He is an experienced sailor and can feel things that others can only see or hear. I sprang to my feet, too, and we both lept onto the deck in our skivvies.

The water was no longer calm. Two-meter waves were rolling us and providing a cold saltwater shower as they crashed onto the bow.  The heavy wind was chapping our faces and pushing all of Seefalke's 11 tons.  Maik turned on the engine and tried to retrieve the anchor, but the chain got jumbled inside the windlass and completely jammed it. It wouldn’t go down and it wouldn’t come up. The anchor was dangling from the bow sprit and we feared it would strike Seefalke and rip into her bow.  We tried manually to retrieve the anchor, but it wouldn’t budge.

We fought and tugged with all our might. Finally, we were able to attach a line and leverage our weight to pull up the anchor and secure it. It was now 03:45 and we had no choice but to move forward. We didn’t even try to put up a sail. We cranked the motor and forged ahead. We both took more seasickness medicine. 

It was pitch black dark.

For some reason, when you can’t see the motion, your body tells you it’s not there, even though you can feel it.  At least this seems to be how it was for me at this time. I’ve read a lot about seasickness. It is an interesting phenomenon and has a lot to do with balance of the inner ear, the sinuses, blood flow, heart rhythm, hydration, and many psychological factors including nerves, excitement, and fear. Different parts of your body send different signals to your brain. The wires get tangled and the confusion of all these crossed signals to the brain can cause the uneasiness.

As the sun began to rise, so did the empty insides of my belly.  Maik told me to go down below and sleep for two hours.  I did.  The entire time the boat was rocking, but I felt ok. I returned to relieve Maik, and he said he would try to sleep for two hours. So I took my shift. But I basically just strapped myself in the cockpit and held on for dear life for 120 straight minutes.

Maik returned two hours later, as promised, and I went below to take another two hours rest.  This is where I made a crucial mistake. I should have stayed in the fresh air where I felt fine and steady.  I lay down on the bunk and felt it all set in again. I could feel something rising in my throat and ran to the head as fast as I could…just in time. Then I hugged the toilet for the next couple hours. There was zero food in my belly, so I’m not sure what was still coming up.  But something was.  At one point, Maik checked on me because he saw my lifeless body sprawled out on the floor and thought I was passed out.

If you’ve never been seasick, let me try to describe it for you. 

Imagine the worst hangover you’ve ever had, combined with the worst possible food poisoning. Then throw in a nasty case of Type A flu complete with vomiting, chills, cold sweat, and a pounding, throbbing headache.  Then, feeling all of this simultaneously, put yourself inside a washing machine and turn it on the fast spin cycle. Then, just to get the full effect, hop onto the fastest, most swirly, most topsy-turvy roller coaster you can find. This is kind of what it feels like. Complete disorientation. Boiling vile in your stomach and throat ripping through your innards and tossing and turning your insides out. Gut-wrenching heaving that you can feel in every part of your body. It literally jerks your body from your waist as if it were attached to a hook on a crane.

Then imagine all your muscles starting to cramp as the dehydration paralyzes you. Some people see visions, and others just completely black out. I can remember sailing from Rönne, Denmark to Karlskrona, Sweden with Maik a few years ago. This is the worst seasickness I’ve ever experienced. Maik had to D-ring strap me to the boat to keep me from falling out…or from throwing myself out, because that is what I wanted to do. This was not as bad as that, which is the only positive thing I can say about it.  I guess I also wanted to lose some weight, but I will never recommend the Nordic Seafarer’s Diet to anyone!

And all this doesn’t stop until the motion stops. Curiously, when the motion does finally stop, you feel just fine. When I’m not experiencing seasickness, I’m fascinated by it.

We rolled into Rostock around 16:00 and just as soon as we were on calm waters, I felt just fine.  Absolutely fine.  I was able to jump up, get on the deck, secure the mooring lines, secure the fenders, and help Maik moor Seefalke. After six hours of utter and complete misery, I felt just fine.

I took the dogs on a long walk and cooked dinner for Maik. I even cleaned the entire boat and re-organized all the items that had scattered all over the cabins.  We went to bed early and got some much-needed sleep.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018 - Hohe-Düne Marina

We got some sleep and awoke to assess the damage. It was severe. We knew the anchor windlass was broken. But we didn’t know that all the bolted down boards of the bow sprit had been blown away. There was nothing there. Nothing. We also realized that one of the sheaths of the genoa had gotten tangled underneath Seefalke and chewed up inside the motor of the bow thruster. This reminds me of when you roll your vacuum cleaner over a cord and the cord just gets sucked up into the mechanism and cannot be retrieved.

Maik tore apart the cabins that I had so carefully organized again, and began to work on the repairs. He discovered that the anchor windlass just needed a new fuse, but he had to completely empty the bow cabin to get to it.  He then knew that he would have to take a swim underneath Seefalke to try and untangle the line that was sucked into the bow thruster.  We measured the space on the bow sprit where three heavy boards were bolted down tightly just one day before. They were gone. The Baltic apparently ate them for dinner—a nice entrée after the appetizer of my belly contents.

I set out on a hunt for supplies. Hohe-Düne is a gorgeous marina…however, a bit fancy and “high society” for our taste. I think this is where huge yacht owners moor their vessels and leave them for someone else to repair while they go stay in a five-star hotel. There were no marine shops to be found.  So I took a ferry into Warnemunde and searched for supplies there.  No luck.  After about four hours, I returned to Seefalke empty handed.  A failed mission.  Again, I felt the disappointment of not being at all helpful for my captain.

Maik decided to swim under the boat and was able to disengage the mangled line from the bow thruster.  He had to cut the line to get it out, so this added another sheath to the list of supplies that I had already failed to find. But the good news is that we only had to replace the sheath and not the bow thruster.  It was now working just fine. 

Maik and the Seadogs and I decided to go into Rostock to look for the fuse and boards. We took the ferry back into Warnemunde then took a train into Rostock. The pups were loving all the new smells as they always do when we stop at these different ports.  We walked two kilometers to the marine shop. They didn’t have the boards we needed or the correct fuse voltage, but we found a fuse that would work.  When we returned to Seefalke, Maik was able to quickly fix the anchor windlass and then I spent the next two hours putting everything back into it’s proper compartments and securing all our belongings….AGAIN.  I logged more than 28,000 steps on my FitBit that day.

We showered in the marina facilities, and went to bed early looking forward to another day of rest.  I planned to do laundry the next day and catch up on some work.  But the Baltic had something different in mind.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

sunset.jpg

Departure for Heiligenhafen - Großenbrode, Germany

There is a popular saying for those who sail regularly on the Baltic Sea. “If you don’t like the weather, wait an hour.”

The weather here changes on a dime. I can remember sailing on the Baltic with Maik one afternoon when our port side was sunny and calm with blue skies that reminded me of a warm sunny day in Alabama. To the starboard side, the skies were black with high waves swelling and coming toward us…complete with thunder and heavy rain. It was that different to the right and to the left of us.

We awoke in Hohe-Düne to a gorgeous sunrise, calm waters, and favorable winds.  Maik went to the washroom to shave and made a decision that would instantly change our well-planned day of rest. He texted me that we needed to take advantage of the conditions, get the boat ready and set sail around 10:00.  So I bolted up, and got the pups fed and walked. I decided to unleash the hounds and let them play on the beach for about half an hour so they would be well exercised and a bit worn out for whatever the Baltic had in mind for us today.

We got the boat ready and I carefully collected seasickness medicine, crackers, water, bananas, ginger tea, and any other supplies I could think of that we could put in a handy place in the cockpit…just in case. This time, I would be prepared.

As bitter as the Baltic had been on our first two days at sea, on this day she was as sweet as pumpkin pie!

Under a perfectly sunny, bright blue sky, we sailed at about 3.5 knots along the sea that was now welcoming us into her nurturing arms.  It was so calm Maik was able to do a little work, and I took the first shift at the helm.  We put up all four sails and Maik was even able to play with his Drone a little and get some remarkable photos and video of Seefalke under sail on a perfect afternoon. We sailed 43.4 nautical miles in 14 hours into Großenbrode and the four of us enjoyed a glorious sunset from the Seefalke's bow.  It was midnight when we began to get close to the Heiligenhafen Marina. Maik had never been in this marina and it was pitch black, so we decided to anchor for the night right outside the marina.

Oh, how we needed this day to simply enjoy the sailing, relax, and NOT be seasick! This reminded me why we do this.

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Heiligenhafen - Großenbrode, Germany

 A day of rest and recovery and real work was needed. We both got a lot accomplished and as a bonus, I got to connect with my lifelong friend, Yvonne Habermann.

Yvi, a native of Hamburg, lived with our family in Decatur, AL when she was an exchange student in the late 1980s. The first time I ever went sailing was with Yvi in Hamburg in 2013.

Many years ago, Yvi took two long voyages in a very small, 7-meter sailboat that took her along the same path that we are taking. She didn’t cross the Atlantic, but she covered much of the same waters along the Baltic, North Sea, and around the European Atlantic coast and into Morocco. She gave me great advice and a lot of confidence that I can do it, too.

We talked a lot about seasickness and how to fight it. She recommended either standing up or lying flat when the sickness sets in. She also said one of the best things to do is simply stay busy and perhaps even stand up and take the wheel. This will help to focus on the horizon and also gives you a sense of control of the motion, she said. Great advice from an awesome girl sailor who totally rocks! 

She confirmed the notion that seasickness can be psychological. She told me that years ago when she was a sailing instructor, she would tell students that if they just held a potato in their left hand, then they wouldn’t get seasick. This mind over matter worked for most of them.  I have some potatoes on board, and I’m willing to try anything.

Tomorrow we make the final move toward Kiel. It should be around 30 nautical miles, but we could face heavy currents the second half of the day and will definitely face cold and rain—perhaps even thunderstorms. But I’m ready. I have a celebratory bottle of champagne chilling and ready for this first milestone of our trip.

“I am not afraid. I was born to do this!”   - Joan of Arc