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It´s just four weeks since we have bought our sailing yacht. SY OLIVIA is a long wanted and now very warm welcomed new family member. From the first day on it was clear that we´d have to take her to Hamburg where I live because despite the fact that we´ve bought “much ship for the money” there´s still plenty of work to do. So, having her current port of registry on the Schlei – one of the most beautiful spots here in Germany – I´ve planned the transfer cruise well ahead (you may read the article on sailing cruise-planning here) and I was full of joy when my first day off arrived and we drove some 2 hours to the Schlei the evening before casting off. Ready for the big trip home.

My plan: Bringing the ship to Hamburg in 3 to 5 days.

Just setting sails and away we are … well, not quite so. A multi-day sailing cruise is a complex thing to plan: Apart from the fact that I had prepared a 7 waypoint-timetable, gathered all information on how and when to sail along the Kiel Canal and of course the data on the tidal times on the River Elbe there was much more to be thought of. We would be a party of 4 people on board OLIVIA, 3 adults and an infant. Three full meals a day of which one had to be as easy as nothing to be prepared when underway, enough to drink and the “sweet stuff for the brains” had to be stored on board. Clothing: What would the weather forecast for our cruising time? All that kind of thinking was occupying my head all of the past week.

Good morning Schlei. Only minutes till casting off all lines.
Good morning Schlei. Only minutes till casting off all lines.

Now, it is well before 7 o´clock on day 1, I´m standing on deck, breathing the clean, fresh but icy-cold air. Waves of humid fog are taking any views waterside. Still nobody on land to be seen. It´s just a few hours until we cast off. I can´t keep my eyes off the beautiful sight – we have to return here! It would be perfect to have a berth for OLIVIA here at the Schlei during the sailing season, but mooring is strictly limited here, expensive and very scarce. We will see.

We´ve spent a cold but happy first night on board. Even if this morning would be perfect for a long, voluptuous breakfast I have no time at all – there´s still one crew member missing. Since my wife and me are absolute beginners in sailing and OLIVIA is a big 33 feet-cruiser with some 60 square metres of canvas (apart from our son, barely able to walk) I am very lucky and a bit proud having won the company and help of an old friend.

Sailing for the first time? Don´t panic: Pilot on board.

He is the married husband of one of my oldest friends from Kindergarten. A classic seafarer – the perfect companion for our cruise. He has every certification you may think of, the captain´s patent and is a well experienced boatmaster. Ranging from classic regatta sailing in his teenager-time to years at the helm of a classic tall ship, First Officer and Captain on fast ferries in the Baltic Sea and Mediterranean and – the most important – his spontaneous “Yes, of course!” without hesitating or thinking it over just when I phoned him. Yeah, he is just the best choice for this job – taking a freshmen crew over 130 miles home safely.

We were not the only yacht on her way that day.
We were not the only yacht on her way that day.

Let´s call him “the Pilot”.

He visited OLIVIA just 4 days prior to sailing. Wanting to get familiar with her, keen on seeing which kind of ship she would be, inspecting her mechanical and technical equipment it was his approach to this trip. When we met on this cold icy morning, he had read nearly everything available on the Fiskars King´s Cruise 33 on the internet. A true pro.

Farewell to the Schlei.

After a brief breakfast at her previous owner´s house boat we prepared the boat, stored everything away, put on our lifevests and the Pilot´s wife helped to cast off the ropes. Freefloating and under engine OLIVIA slowly left her berth. I couldn´t really grasp the whole situation: Have we really set sails on our trip? Unbelievable!

Waiting loops behind the closed bridge.
Waiting loops behind the closed bridge.

Weather forecast promised some perfect days ahead: Warm, dry and – best for sailing – with a steady, not so strong westerly wind. OLIVIA´s Diesel was running smoothly as we approached Kappeln, our first waypoint. Here a bridge for cars and land traffic blocks every ship. Waterborne traffic has to wait for a quarter to full when the bridge opens up for boats and ships. We were the first to arrive and had some 15 minutes in holding stacks until just in time the bridge slowly opened up.

“Thank you, bridge master”, we finally greated to old man at the control levers as we gave flank speed and steamed toward the Baltic. The Schlei is not a river, many people think so, it´s a firth. A very rare thing in Germany. As far as I know, the one and only real firth we have here. As beautiful as the Schlei may be, it´s a dangerous water as well. It has a very narrow waterway, beyond the tight line of buoys shallows of less than 50 cm and big rocks are grimly awaiting the all too risky sailors to ground their boats or damage their keels.

Dangerous shallows and a narrow waterway: That´s the Schlei.
Dangerous shallows and a narrow waterway: That´s the Schlei.

So I was strictly steering inside the waterway, keeping the green buoys right at my port side. The closer we got to Schleimünde – entry to the open sea – the narrower the waterway got. As we had two or three boats incoming I experienced some swell, having to work hard at the tiller to steer the boat clear from the waves but keeping her on course as well. Passing Schleimünde at around 10 o´clock it was nothing like the blue sea ahead of us – most of the other sailing vessels changed course to their starboard side immediately after leaving the Schlei. We´ve had other plans.

Offshore in the Baltic Sea: A perfect sailing day

“Reduce speed and put her into the wind“, came the Pilot´s order. “Go midship and hoist mainsail at my command.” I responded, grabbed the crank handle and worked my way forward. There was no sea-movement worth calling it this way, but the boat was giving me quite a ride – one hand for the ship. Always! “Ready to set mainsail”, I yelled into the wind. The Pilot nodded, I began shoot. Slowly the canvas came up, first at no counterforce but the more I set the sail, the heavier it got to set the remaining rest. After one or two minutes and an aching arm later the sail was fully set.

Schleimünde Lighthouse: Here´s where the Baltic Sea begins.
Schleimünde Lighthouse: Here´s where the Baltic Sea begins.

Back into the cockpit the Pilot was trimming the sail, pulling the tiller and OLIVIA slowly turned away from the wind, bringing the blowing force along her port side. The sail went bulgy and I could feel her accepting the push from mother nature.

“Ready to set Genoa sail”, another command from the Pilot. I let loose the Furlex return rope and the port side-sheet rope as I pulled the starboard-sheet as hard as I could. The jib furling-system worked so precise and nicely that it took just seconds to uncover all of the big Genoa. Two pulls by the Pilot and the sail was also trimmed – just instantly OLIVIA leaned over to her starboard side and gained speed.

“Stop the engine”. This time it was me giving the command.

OLIVIA under full canvas.
OLIVIA under full canvas.

As the rumbling of the Volvo Penta-Engine died away it was just the splash of the waves and this very particular sound of material being pushed through the water by the not-quite-so-quiet force of the wind. Wiping away some drops of sweat off my forehead I looked to the Pilot. He smiled: “Look at the sails, Lars.”, he said full of joy, pointing his eyes back up the mast: “They´re standing in the wind all tarted up. It´s sheer pleasure.” I nodded. Looking at my wife and son, I realised there was no place on earth where we rather would be instead being here now. A perfect moment.

Military restricted areas, fairwater buoys und land cover.

Where all of our accompanying boats turned southwards right after clearing Schleimünde we were holding our easterly course steadily. Getting away from land meant two things: We assumed we´d get more and steady winds by clearing the land coverage and second – more important – we would have no trouble negotiating all the shallows near the coastline. After all, our course would put us therefore nearer to the multiple military zones off Eckernförde, Germany´s submarine base and testing ground. But a good chance to exercise navigation by buoys: Restricted areas are clearly marked by yellow buoys and it took us no ten minutes to spot the first, the northernmost buoy marking the no-sail-zone.

Concentration whilst at the helm.
Concentration whilst at the helm.

We´ve had some commercial traffic astern but it was far off. Looking at the sea around us it was (close to) nothing but just us. OLIVIA was making steady progress and we had some time for contemplation, talk and letting loose our thoughts.

Steady winds at 10 knots: Easy sailing.

The Pilot was right: Just as predicted we managed to catch a steady wind. But as evenly as it was blowing, the cushy it was. We had only about 10 to 14 knots in the mast-top, pushing our boat not faster than 5 knots through the water. Which was welcomed: Remember, we were the freshmen and these conditions just perfect for a first sailing trip on our own. I took my chance to ask every question that came to my mind whilst having the Pilot on board. He, uncomplaining as he was, answered each and every one of them.

A perfect sailing day on the Baltic Sea.
A perfect sailing day on the Baltic Sea.

I explored every line and rope, tested reactions of the boat by either luffing her or falling off wind. Easy sailing as it was, it was as perfect as it can be for a rookie sailor. The Pilot sat in the cockpit, letting the sun touch his head, dreaming away every now and then. My son closed his eyes as soon as the engine started his work, he barely opened them up until we finally moored in Kiel.

I went down to the pantry, prepared a drink for everyone (non-alc, of course) and after being relieved from helm positioned myself on the foredeck leaning at the mast, letting my thought cast off. The constant blurring of the sea, the beams of the sun, fresh air and light breeze. OLIVIA´s rolling in the slight waves, every now and then a splash of water hitting our freeboard. The hours went by, we passed another buoy and changed course to Kiel Approach – 3 hours into the cruise I was fully disconnected from land, my job, my previous life …

Leisure time relieved from helm.
Leisure time relieved from helm.

I loved it. I really loved it.

Kiel Approach and so much traffic.

Back to reality. We approached the Kieler Förde, the big horn funneling all the traffic to Kiel or – as we were part of – to the entrance to the Kiel Canal, connection between the Baltic Sea and the North Sea. “Steer her right into Kiel Lighthouse”, the Pilot commanded. “Aye.” Holding her sturdily on course. Wind freshed up a bit, but not too much.

Mainsail and Genoa fly in light wind - still 5 knots over ground.
Mainsail and Genoa fly in light wind – still 5 knots over ground.

“I would eat a broomstick if we could sail all the way right in front of the Holtenau locks!”, the Pilot said, full of joy over this happy sailing day. He was giving the boat compliments all the time for her sailing qualities (which really calmed myself because I feared having bought a piece of junk), her fine sails and most of all her quick response to the slightest increase of wind. “She´s a fine boat”, he asserted me for the tenth time. I was so happy.

Getting way to the big commercial boats I steered her well on the right side of the green buoys. So did many other sailing vessels. “What´s that?”, my wife asked, pointing to a big, big grey shadow on the horizon. It was certainly a ship, but which one? The nearer we´ve got, the clearer the impression, that this may be a sailing vessel too. “Oh my, that´s the famous BLACK PEARL”, the Pilot said. “She´s probably on test trial here and currently being built by HDW.” Yeah, now I could see her very clear: Fully rigged but under engine she was performing some engine tests, as we could hear by listening to her master´s radio conversation with Kiel Control.

The famous WHITE PEARL. World´s largest sailing vessel.
The famous WHITE PEARL. World´s largest sailing vessel.

Not being able to catch her, we changed course well before reaching Kiel Lighthouse to due south and sailed right into the Förde. Some more traffic, which we kept well away on our port side, the sun was entering her descent. This perfect first cruise day neared end as I hurled in the Genoa and took down the mainsail, under engine we slowly approached the famous Tiessen-Kai where we would spend the night.

Mooring in Holtenau at the famous Tiessen-Kai.

„What a day!“, the Pilot rhapsodized as we neared the quay. “What a fine, perfect day! We sailed all time, no engine! Do you know just how much luck we´ve had?” I nodded. Yeah, could be raining or blowing hard – but this time. “Maybe we were lucky to catch the last few warm nice days of 2015 on our cruise?”, I answered. Could be.

Sun goes down - we approach this day´s finish line.
Sun goes down – we´re approaching this day´s finish line.

Sailing yachts are allowed to sail the Kiel Canal only during daylight-time, so it was clear that arriving after 4 o´clock P.M. would mean to stay overnight outside the channel. Which was absolutely perfect since the famous Tiessen-Kai is a maritime classic and a must-see. During it´s Golden Ages this quay was a regular destination for small freighters and fishermen, some of Kiel´s most famous ship chandlers had their headquarters along the waterfront. Nowadays it´s a nostalgic place, one or two small restaurants and a famous Tango dancing-bar holding up the name. And yachties of course: A lot of sailing cruises start and end here at Tiessen-Kai.

Just as OLIVIA was moored along the small marina where about 20 yachts could spend the overnight, we got ready to celebrate our first day at sea. “I´ll take you all to the best restaurant”, I promised. We were in a good mood, all the strain and stress of the past days fell off and I was in party-mode.

SY OLIVIA safely moored in Holtenau.
SY OLIVIA safely moored in Holtenau.

We´ve managed to sail all the way from the Schlei to Kiel, had favourable winds all the time in a smooth manor. There was virtually no traffic and I was able to apply my knowledge in navigating and steering the boat. The Pilot was of great help – had fun by himself, which is great. It was a pleasure to see OLIVIA flying full canvas – although the wind was of the weaker kind. Feeling her prowling the waves, producing neither sound nor exhaust fumes triggered a deep feeling of satisfaction. This first day brought everything I was seeking in sailing on a yacht: Being outdoors with my family and friends, tasting the salty water on my lips and experiencing “travel” of a different – a special – kind.

Having moored OLIVIA alongside Tiessen-Kai was a great moment for me: This was the first ever cruise in my life with that boat.

How clean the water is - what a difference to the North Sea!
How clean the water is – what a difference to the North Sea!

After clearing the ship we proceeded. Having invited the whole crew to eat out was a bit hasty since I didn´t check my cash in the first place. We´ve had different plates of fresh fish and big pints of beer. A nice chatter about sailing, weather and what to do the next day let the hours fly by. It grew darker outside and slowly fatigue began to grab us. I was able to pay the restaurant with virtually my last cash money and as we headed back the day was crowned by a fantastic sunset with colours ranging from deep blue to bright pink and rosy tunes. A harbinger for a good second cruise day?

First day done: A résumé.

Wife and son quickly disappeared in the forecastle berth just minutes after we arrived back on board. Me and the Pilot kept on talking a while tomorrow´s plans for the locking into the Kiel Canal and what to expect. “I hope that there won´t be fog too long – If we pass the lock after 11 o´clock we won´t make it through the whole channel in one day.”, the Pilot was calculating. “Then it´s another hour later in the tide of the Elbe which makes it even more complicated for the third day to reach Hamburg in time.” Everything is connected to everything …

“Well, we will see.”, I said, not fully aware of all the implications. Yet. The Pilot wrote an SMS home and we switched off lights, let the day fade away by recapping the pictures of this wonderful, wonderful first cruise day on our fine King´s Cruiser OLIVIA.

Stunning sunset is the sailor´s pay.
Stunning sunset is the sailor´s pay.

When I finally fell asleep I tried to visualize the pictures of this wonderful day. I dreamt of sailing boats, the kraken and Cape Horn, slept a nearly sleepless night, listening to the squeeking and clanking of the masts and rigging in the wind … the ever so slowly but steady rolling of our boat … the smell of salty water and Diesel fumes.

Wonderful …

Upcoming Article: Day 2: Sailing the Kiel Canal.

In which the author will get to experience the race of 40 yachts into the Holtenau lock and a speedy regatta under engine and full throttle through Kiel Canal to reach Elbe River/North Sea and a perfect solitary place called Gieselaukanal. Stay tuned for another day on board SY OLIVIA on her transfer to Hamburg.

Cosy warm home for the night: OLIVIA is a perfect home.
Cosy warm home for the night.

This is how our first day under sail began, unfolded and ended. We´ve had everything a rookie sailor can think of and wish for. I got to know OLIVIA ever more under sail and was happy to have the Pilot with all his passion, his vast experience and his joy on board. Seeing this seafarer who he has seen the whole world and has steered every kind of ship one could think of having so much fun with OLIVIA makes my heart warming up and me happy. So I dreamt away, couldn´t wait see the sun come up again tomorrow. Ready for stage 2.


What was your first ever cruise on your own sailing yacht like? I´m looking forward to your comments & thoughts.