The Air was Soft, the Stars so Fine: A Sailboat in Europe

In the weeks since Charles returned from sailing in Europe, I’ve listened enviously to his adventures and daydreamed about sailing in waters far, far from home. He spent five weeks touring the coastal waters and canals of Europe and the Mediterranean on the maiden voyage of a Swan 54, directly from the factory. Yes, it still had that new sailboat smell.

Some of us are making plans to spend the rest of the season on the water, never to be heard from again (until the end of the season). Others are just daydreaming about sneaking out of work a little early on Friday afternoon. Whichever camp you fall into, you’re welcome here so cozy on up while Charles answers some questions about his trip. Can I get you an ice cold Dark and Stormy?

Sailing the Swan 54 sailboat.
Sailing the Swan 54 sailboat.

How did you end up on a sailboat in Europe?

With plans to cross the Atlantic in a few years, I was looking for ways to get more offshore sailing experience, so I joined a group called Offshore Passage Opportunities (OPO).  The majority of OPO trips involve delivery captains looking for crew to help transport sailboats from port to port, and this aligned with my desire to gain open ocean experience and become a better sailor.

During a spring 2018 delivery from Newport to St. Maarten, by way of Bermuda, I met Captain Murray Jacob in Bermuda. After discussing my sailing experience with him, he invited me to crew a delivery from Stockholm to Italy.

Captain Murray Jacob behind the wheel of the Swan 54 sailboat.
Captain Murray Jacob behind the wheel of the Swan 54 sailboat.

Tell me about the boat.

Swan produces high-end sailboats known for their performance and luxury. The Swan 54 is marketed as a bluewater cruiser for two, and this one retails for approximately $2M. The accommodations were comfortable, and the interior was streamlined and modern. The Swan has a fin keel; however, I prefer a full keel for heavy displacement so this would not be my ideal sailboat even if I had the budget for it. Preference aside, she was safe, comfortable, and sailed exceptionally well.

Tell me about the crew.

We had three Australians and three Americans aboard for the majority of the trip, although we finished with two Americans and four Australians. My time spent with Captain Jacob was invaluable, and in five weeks at sea with him, I gained more knowledge and experience than I learned in five years of sailing solo.

I consider myself to be a competent sailor, but I picked up a few practical tips during this trip; a clever way to stow sail ties, an assortment of rigging tweaks for a variety of conditions, and how to pour the perfect beer.

European Tall Ship
European Tall Ship

In which ports of call did you stop?

I flew to Stockholm, Sweden to meet the boat and had a few days to sightsee while it was delayed leaving the factory in Finland.

After getting underway in Stockholm, our first port of call was Kiel, Germany. After spending one night in a marina, we entered the Kiel Canal. The canal in bisects Germany and allows sailors to quickly transit from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without sailing north around Denmark. It features pastoral meadows and paths adjacent to the canal, and as we motored its length, we spent the afternoon watching joggers and cyclists, picnicking families, and landscape painters on the banks

Kiel Canal
Kiel Canal

After leaving the canal, we sailed a few hours to Cuxhaven, Germany and the entire crew had time to take the train into Hamburg, Germany for the day.

Sailing Through Germany
Sailing Through Germany

Following Cuxhaven, we spent two days on the German island of Heligoland, a popular vacation resort also known for its large population of seabirds.

Heading south through the English Channel, we pulled into Falmouth, England where we watched England get knocked out of the World Cup in a standing room only pub.

European Tall Ships
European Tall Ships

Leaving Falmouth, we entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Straits of Gibraltar. The last time I entered these straits, I was in my early twenties on a Navy submarine, so I was happy to see them from the surface this time. During our four days in the port of Gibraltar, we inadvertently crashed a birthday party, convinced a guy in a bar that not all Americans are like the ones he’s seen on TV, and I saved an Aussie crew mate from spending a night in jail.

Our next stop was the island of Mallorca. We pulled into the city of Palma which has a population of 1M offseason and swells to over 5M during vacation season. Even at 54’, we were one of the smallest boats in the marina. Palma appears to be a classic European city if European cities all had palm trees. I wish I’d been able to spend more time in Mallorca and it would not be hard to spend a year exploring the island and the surrounding waters on my own sailboat.

European Ship on the Kiel Canal
European Ship on the Kiel Canal

Did you meet any interesting locals in your ports of call?

In Italy, the crew had our final dinner together on the night before everyone went their separate ways. Just before dinner, I accidentally destroyed my phone by dropping it down a stone staircase on the way to the restaurant. Nudia, the Castillian waitress who was studying in Italy, was kind enough to drive me thirty miles to the closest store that sold iPhones. She also translated for me the following day at the small local train station that did not accept credit cards.

Street Photography
Street Photography

How many offshore miles have you accumulated since you started delivering sailboats?

I’ve accumulated approximately 8,000 offshore miles. Aside from this delivery in Europe, I’ve done a few deliveries to and from Newport, Rhode Island, and the Caribbean, always with a stop in Bermuda, as well as delivered sailboats to multiple cities along the US east coast.

Street Photography
Street Photography

What are the top things you’ve learned in your time on the ocean?

Not in any particular order: be conservative and don’t rush, everyone has something to teach you, and fear is the mind killer.

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Our hearts go out to our blog friends and sailing friends who have been impacted by Florence. If you’re in the Carolinas, please let us know how you’re doing by sending us an email at thesailboattara@gmail.com, or complete the form at the bottom of this page. We’d love to chat with you! 

Coming soon: I’ve been publishing articles, oh, so many articles! Also, we took a little vacation, meaning we sailed our house north for a while, so we were both far from home and right at home. Even after living aboard a sailboat for all this time, sailing away in my house still seems strange.

Charles was happy to share stories from his trip. Please let us know if you enjoyed reading them!

“The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream.” – Jack Kerouac

 


5 thoughts on “The Air was Soft, the Stars so Fine: A Sailboat in Europe

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