I´ve got a very important announcement to make. At the end of this text, of course. But in order to understand the magnitude of this announcement and the true meaning, the value of this undertaking for me as a person, I encourage you not to scroll all the way down and say: “Ah, yeah, the usual transatlantic crossing blabla …” but to stay here with me and let yourself follow me on a journey back through time, to my younger me. To understand, why I sail and why I must sail, to fully comprehend what drives me in my decisions and – yes – to grasp the full scope of my upcoming transat-venture, I invite you to a very intimate and personal story.
At home in my small flat there is a cupboard, right hand side of the TV-flatscreen I only rarely use. Items are presented there, more good for catching dust and be of decorative value. But some of them have their story: There are the Jolateros from Arecife, a stone from Mont Ventoux, an Oyster from St. Gilles Croix d´Vie (my first visit at Beneteau) or an empty palm seed from Tenerife. There is also a small piece of wood, strangely formed. And this is the thing that it is all about.
A little East German boy
I found this piece of wood around the year 1987 when my family was on summer vacation on the Baltic shore, namely the Island of Usedom. I come from the German Democratic Republic, a country that is long gone. In this, the summer vacation at the sea was always very special for me as a kid since looking at the wide horizon and letting my thoughts fly, dreaming myself away and building up my own world in my imagination was something I liked to do as a little young boy. Now, at one day I found this piece of wood at the beach. There was something about its shape that caught my attention.
I brought it back to our beach-base and somehow my dad got aware of it. I asked him why this piece of wood had this shape – oddly formed by smoothly sanded. He looked at it and said: “Well, maybe it was part of a ship? A Viking-ship maybe. Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, this ship maybe was on a raid here in Sweden or Denmark, sunk by a powerful storm. The ship went down, bursting into pieces. Somehow, your little piece there was a full plank where one or two surviving Vikings hung on to. And maybe, just maybe, this plank was washed up on the shores of the Baltic and made its way here. Washed up and sanded down by each wave that was rubbing it on the sandy beaches, every 15 seconds, every hour, every coming day, for a year, a decade, a hundred years and more … until you found it now.”
My dad used to invent stories which captured my imagination (something I do with my own kids as well all the time) and this particular story was so fascinating and striking, that I never let go of this piece of wood from that day on. I keep it in my possession for 34 years now. At one point I even glossy painted it. This small piece of wood turned into a talisman. Solidified wanderlust. The point is, that I as an Eastern German boy, sitting on the beach, watching at the horizon, I knew perfectly well that behind that horizon a land called “Denmark” was situated. And I also knew that I shall never ever see this Land of the Vikings: Even at the age of 9 I was perfectly well aware of the fact that there was an Iron Curtain.
My Dad turns 40
The story goes on. I remained curious. Reading all the books I could get a hold of about seafaring, ships, maritime warfare, Uboats, battle ships, sail ships, pirates and alike, I preferred “Robinson Crusoe” over “Grimm´s Fairies” or chose “Treasure Island” in favor of any other Good Night story. I read and devoured the stories of sailing, the wide ocean and somehow became a “specialist” in seafaring matters – though I´d never been on a boat up to this point. Why should I? I was a kid in Eastern Germany. Well, that changed back in 1988, a year or two after my fateful finding at the beach of Usedom. My dad was about to celebrate his 40iest birthday. Now that I am 42 years old and having had this occasion as well, I now how important this date is for every man, possibly for every woman too.
We´ve had the luck of being assigned a holiday slot in Hungary at Lake Balaton. Vacation in the GDR wasn´t a matter of freely choosing where to spend your holidays but a matter of where your employer assigned you to to make your holidays. This time we were so lucky: Hungary was top notch. My mom asked what he was wishing for as a present for his birthday. “I want to sail a boat”, he said. My father is a fighter jet pilot (MiG 21) and to me the strongest man on Earth at this time, but even I knew that you cannot board a sailboat without any training and cast off. Well. He could. Somehow he managed to charter a small 5 metre keelboat and we set off to a wonderful afternoon sailing on a windy Balaton.
Always in transit
Why am I telling all these stories? That is because I am – as well as you are – the product of the things that happened to me in the past. This little 9 year old boy, knowing he lives in a country where travel is heavily restricted, began dreaming of ships and sailing, of the world beyond the horizon. He kept a piece of flotsam all the years, grooming it like a little treasure, focusing his dreams onto this little precious wooden totem. What I´ve learned from my dad, boldly stepping up in front of a charter base, showing his jet-fighter-pilot-license and getting a boat, just to make his dream come true? It showed me that you can do it, really, in some way, somehow, if you want to.
Sailing remained an obsession but as a Berliner living inland it was so far away, that even after I grew older and the GDR became a unified Germany I did not consider sailing something I really could do. Instead, I bought a fast touring recumbent bike and set off to conquer the world: I crossed the Rockies in Canada from Calgary to Vancouver and further down South to Seattle, I cycled from Toyko to Hiroshima. Hundreds of Kilometres through Spain, Portugal and Sweden. I did my personal “Tour de France” as well as cycled all the way down from Venice to Sicily, For three years I even had a semi-professional Racebike-Team managed, doing +50 races in all over Europ. I was always “in transit”. And then, finally, started my sailing “career” some 6 years ago.
A dream coming true: Atlantic Loop!
In all my journeys I never forgot where it all started. I am dusting my wooden “Viking”-talisman every week and smile to myself, thinking of the skinny little man dreaming of Denmark – a land that I visit by sailboat so regularly now that it brings tears to my eyes, thinking back to my first ever sailing trip with my own kids (my oldest son is 7 years now): The privilege as a father of kids being able to sail with them starting almost exactly where I was sitting on the beach more than 30 years ago. Now, how does this all sum up now? Well, one week ago I screw up my courage and went to my boss, asking for a talk.
I know he knows that I do have the ambition to set sails one day for a really long trip. He knows it. I am constantly in transit and this is what I am dreaming of since I found that wooden piece. I came up with an idea: I want to take GEKKO on the Atlantic Loop. That is, sail her to the Canary Islands next summer, bring her to the Caribbean in Winter 2021/2022. Then have her stored safely until Hurricane Season is over and sail up North, to my beloved New York City. Once arrived, I will leave her there in winter 2023 to bring her back the North Atlantic route in 2024. I suggested this to him, hoping that he would agree to grant two months of unpaid leave.
What should I say?
You can´t imagine how happy I am. The little boy on the Baltic beach suddenly became so present, so real. Yes, it may be just “only” the standard Atlantic crossing, and yes, it may only be the “ordinary” Caribbean island hopping. But it is indeed so much more. The dream of that little boy on the shores of a country long gone becoming reality. A life in transit even more pushing personal limits further. Everything falls into place now: Me joining the boating industry. Working my ass off. Writing this magazine. Getting my own boat. I am astonished. Amazed. Excited. And certainly feeling 20 years younger. I am about to embark on an epic journey, maybe the journey of my lifetime. And it is so satisfying, making me so happy, getting me a smile on my face every time I think of it.
I wanted to share my feelings with you. Marking the start of this great project.
I hope you stay tuned and be my company in this Atlantic Loop.
All future articles on this topic will be flagged with hashtag #atlanticloop
You may also find it interesting to read these articles:
Sailing around the world. Half way.
Alone around the Baltic Sea.
MiniTransat single handed