From a single handed status to an almost single-kidney-ed one

(How a breaking wave off Karlskrona caught me unawares)

Why single-handed in the first place?

Many sailboat owners in Latvia are quite happy with their compact Gulf of Riga sailing area, a couple of regattas per season and the typical odd over-the-weekend destination Ruhnu (a tiny Estonian island),

worse even, I am told that locked in a lake in Kurzeme (formerly known as Kurland) isolated from the sea there is a 32 foot Bavaria among quite a few smaller sailboats united by the lake-based Usma sailing club. Unlike them I become claustrophobic every time I so much as think of sailing in an aquarium like that. Since my own preference is to endure a little bit of distance and hardship in order to better appreciate the coziness of a far-away harbour I find I can’t summarize the sensations pertaining to my mode otherwise than, yes – Freedom. A few friends join me now and then but usually by the time we reach Gotland for reasons of sea- and/or home-sickness they suddenly remember they have urgent business to return to.

Mere thirty feet of boat (in my instance a Carter 30′) should not be scorned upon because

(i) to a single-hander bigger size than that is often difficult to moor in wind and tide and a strange marina;

(ii) you can easily afford to avoid co-ownership which factor in combination with (i) grants you the added sense of Ultimate Freedom in the knowledge that, should other crew for some reason fail to show up you can cast off and sail in any direction at all – be it broad daylight or middle of the night.

(iii) Carter 30′ was designed (by Richard Carter in the UK) with tough scenarios in mind, which circumstance often allows the owner to shift his six weeks sailing vacation toward the fun of September and dynamics of October.

Latvian seafaring tradition (which a few centuries back boasted the possession of colonies like Tobago and Gambia), was all but wiped out by the 50 years of soviet presence. It is high time the order of things is reinstated, short of the colonies, perhaps.

Patrick was lucky to get off in Visby, Gotland

My formula of getting over seasickness involves a three day cycle, says Patrick, a colleague and dedicated sailing companion of mine. I accept two days of whatever and on the third day I’m fine. We had encountered various winds since we left Riga, then one rough night whilst moored at Montu, Estonia and it so happened that this time round his third day fell on the day ashore- we were lucky to catch the last glimpses of the Visby annual Medieval Festival with boats arriving at the harbour with crews fully attired in appropriate albeit strongly out-of-date costumes. We had literally a fabulous time in the most medieval of places; after which he took a ferry on the next morning to Stockholm to meet somebody on business. But I must hand it to my friend that never, ever in my sailing experience, have I come across a happier (as close to a grin as you could safely get) puker – he treats the process as both good riddance and cure of the preceding unhappiness, after which one can only feel better. The only adverse side effect is his reduced appetite, a state not easily pictured by those who know him as a brilliant chef and sworn gourmet. Long after he had left my boat there were caches of calamari tins, rare spices and good wine ingeniously stowed away by him in forlorn corners that I occasionally kept finding throughout the rest of my journey.
As will follow from my further narrative, for Patrick to quit my boat there and then, was a smart move after all.

The coastline of Oeland seemed like a neverending experience but ultimately things became more jolly

Smoked eels (aah…!) at the fishing harbour of Boeda in Northern Oeland was nourishment enough to keep me overweight and happy through two days (and nights) of constant tacking against SWerly winds to reach the southern tip of the prolonged island and cross the Kalmar (Calamari?) Sund to approach the picturesque Blekinge in the south of Sweden. Karlskrona harbour with its proximity to the city centre distinctly suggested itself as my next port of call.

In the early hours of August 14, as it often happens, continuous winds blowing between 35 and 55 knots and gusting 65, combined quite well with cheerful sunshine which added to my appreciation of the transparent green of the taller crests. The black ball could be clearly seen rigged from the top of a far-away tower ashore emphasizing the obvious: some of the waves rather belonged in the North Sea. After two back to back sleepless nights of lousy steering, I suddenly found myself so high on adrenalin that I was standing upright in the cockpit in order to better foresee and dodge the formation of waves that started to break at right angles to my course – where my echosounder showed 35 meter depth. The singing that I occasionally heard through the general roar of the turbulent seas turned out to actually be my own. With the genoa rolled away to half a bedsheet my Single Malt seemed to have forgotten that she was a mere cruiser and performed tricks that would have fit nicely on Sail.tv.
This bliss could not go on forever because somewhere between the rocks to my starboard there had to be the fairway entrance buoy. Seated on the windward side I needed to bend down low to the lee side to consult my chart plotter under the sprayhood. What with the Range and Find the ship buttons I must have taken too long, for out of the blue came the explosive bang right into the well-exposed port topsides, so violent that it threw me high into the air – right before I landed with my left kidney area against the edge of the cockpit seat. Holding onto the mainsheet with my left hand had saved my life but not health – when I recovered from the shock of pain shooting directly up to my head, I found I could not raise my left hand above shoulder level and the spine had difficulty agreeing to any posture I could think of. Had I not been the only person onboard (and perhaps in the whole area) I would have been written off as unfit for anything but Intensive Care, but survival instinct demanded presence of (what was left of) mind and body.

Krank…hilfe, bitte works wonders when you need to moor next to a German boat

When safely through the inner skerries and into the harbour, I half expected a fire engine and an ambulance, or at least a brass band, to salute my heroic arrival, however, the eager and numerous pairs of hands that grabbed my mooring lines (I must have looked that miserable) was gratifying enough.
My next concern was the extent of internal damage sustained, but the moment of truth during the very first call of nature was treating me friendly: There was no blood in my urine, after all.
Some genius (really myself?) had packed postcard size Olfen patches into my First Aid bag: with their analgesic and anti-inflammation effect I was soon able to make gradually increasing up-town shopping rounds. Since my intended trip to Malmo (to meet my daughter Linda’s family, residing there) was cut short by this kidney accident, they kindly drove over and joined me in sightseeing around Karlskrona and exploring its impressive maritime museum. It only took me a week to recover sufficiently, allowing me to make a further trip to the Danish island of Bornholm (unlike Danish colours visiting flags for that island better be a green cross on a red background), before turning back NE to finally make blessed use of westerly winds to Ronehamn in the southern Gotland and then home to Riga.

The Baltic wave is capable of becoming a less comfortable one

Two British skippers, from their boats also moored at the same Karlskrona city centre harbour, came to meet me on the following (how discretely British of them) morning to tell me that they had observed my arrival with some interest. After futile attempts at some mast head job (it was blowing 36 knots in the marina at the time) they had consulted a swedish (smhi.se?) website, which had, allegedly, reported 6.5 metres of wave height – precisely where I had passed through. Once back in Riga, I felt sufficiently intrigued to switch on my p.c. to look up the all time highest waves in recorded history of the Baltic sea – 7.7 metres of wave height, with an individual tallest wave reaching 14 metres, had featured in 2004, during a storm in the area of Almagrundet off the Swedish coast. The Baltic wave can be relatively steep and often multidirectional. Peak areas of the wave height maps show 4–5 metre wave expectancy at winds as low as 28–36 knots.

Painful should-have’s learned

(1) Should have buckled up in a storm like this even in the relative safety of the cockpit;

(2) Should have given but divided attention to the chart plotter, i.e. looking out for wave development more often;

(3) Briefer trips between marinas should have been adhered to in order that better
quality judgements and physical fitness could be achieved when it mattered most;

(4) Irrespective of First Aid medication immediately available, professional medical attention should have been sought especially considering further extensive single-handed passages.

Another, less dignified advantage of the single-handed approach

During my three day stay at Tejn harbour in NE Bornholm, I met a British couple more or less living aboard their beautiful, two masted yacht Hornpipe. Apart from recommending to me a trip to the near-by art museum and some other items in the must-see category, they invited me over to their boat to have dinner with them.
My manners being ruled out by default, their sheer sympathy with my apparently lonely-plus-traumatised striking person remained the only likely factor imaginable as to why the invitation was repeated on the subsequent two nights. How utterly noble of them! And many thanks in retrospect.

Does the kidney still make itself felt two months later?

It does. When I drive for too long, or the weather’s changing, the contour of the kidney is still felt; perhaps proving that those deeper impressions of our travels are sometimes there to stay.

Uldis Ozolants

Owner/skipper/helmsman/cook/deck hand/ship’s doctor

S/y Single Malt

Riga, November, 2008