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Blanche Tickle Girl
Book Two of the Full Sails series
Wes Boyd
©2012, ©2014

Interlude II: Trade Winds

Chapter 22

The weather in Copenhagen seemed a little milder than it had been in Blanche Tickle, but somehow it seemed like spring hadn’t quite arrived yet.

Of course, the first thing they did was to find a cab and be driven to Knud’s boatyard. “I thought you might be getting a little anxious,” their friend told them. “Your little boat is fine. I’ve checked on it every now and then, and it seems to have gotten through the winter all right.” Even with his reassurance they could hardly wait to get out and strip off the tarp that had covered it throughout the winter, after looking the Mary Sue over carefully it appeared that Knud was right. Best of all, it didn’t appear that there had been any rodent infestation or winter damage they could see.

Back in Blanche Tickle Matt had estimated that it would take a week to get everything put back together and the boat in the water. There was a lot to be done, including a more careful inspection, a few repairs that had been put off, and some things like varnishing some of the brightwork, an annual task familiar to Matt. Then everything that had been rodent-proofed for the winter would have to be taken out and put back where it belonged. On top of that, they’d have to stock up on groceries and other items. Matt and Mary had already put together a long list of the things they’d need to do, but on looking the boat over and consulting with Knud, the list got even longer.

There wasn’t a great deal they could do the first day, but they did what they could. As the day wound down they locked their boxes of things they’d brought from Blanche Tickle below, and walked to the familiar little hotel near the boatyard where they’d stayed in the fall, anxious to get started on the serious work in the morning.

The next several days were spent chiseling away at the list, with some major items and some minor, mostly working up and down the ladder while the boat still sitting on land in the cradle that had held it all winter. However, it was still early spring, and there were some days that just weren’t very pleasant for doing outside work. A couple of those days they spent just being tourists around Copenhagen, which was a city that appealed to both of them, but from time to time they just holed up in Knud’s office to talk with him. It was something they could get away with in this slow season but probably not later in the year.

Over the course of those sessions they went over their plans for the summer with him. “It looks pretty good,” he finally said. “But you’re talking being on those canals from perhaps around the first of the month to November or December? There are a lot of canals to explore, but it seems to me it would get a little tiresome for open-water sailors like you. If you were in a hurry you could make it from here to Marseilles in a month, or perhaps a little more. You ought to at least spend some time sailing.”

“We thought about that,” Matt said. “But it seems like it’d be pretty cold to be sailing the Baltic in the spring.”

“Yes, it will be cold,” Knud told them. “But there’s no need for you to be out in the worst weather. Don’t forget, you can always find a place to tie up and rent a warm hotel room if the weather gets too bad.”

After considerable discussion, some of it with maps and charts involved, they made some revisions to their plans. Knud eventually sold them on doing some Baltic sailing despite the cold weather, and they’d get onto the main European canal system in late May or early June, roughly a month later than they’d planned. That would leave them plenty of time to wander around the extensive Dutch canal system for a month or more, and still have plenty of time to pick up Amanda sometime in mid-July.

“Remember,” Knud told them when he heard of their visitor, “You don’t have to be exceptionally close to the airport to pick her up. There are plenty of buses and trains, and with only a little planning you could easily do it from a couple hundred kilometers away. And you don’t have to have the boat close to put her back on the plane for home.”

That firmed up their plans quite a bit, and also firmed up things about how they’d handle Amanda. “Ye know,” Mary said at one point. “I don’t know her well, since I only met her that one time at Winchester Harbor, but she seemed ta be a sweet child. It almost seems that since we’re goin’ to all the trouble she could stay with us a bit longer.”

“About all we can do is run it past Uncle Jake,” Matt said. “But I’m not opposed to the idea.”

They stayed up late to call Winchester Harbor that evening; due to the time difference it was about dinner time there. Amanda was excited by the proposal; they could hear her scream with delight at it. After some discussion, it was worked out that they’d meet her flight in Amsterdam in mid-July, and put her on a plane for home in mid-August, so she’d have a few days to get herself reorganized for school. Matt figured she’d be spending a fair amount of time next fall boring her classmates with her stories about her European holiday.

As the days progressed they got closer to having the Mary Sue ready to go. A couple days after they got fresh anti-fouling paint on the bottom, Knud appeared with a big travel lift. With surprisingly little problem, the Mary Sue was afloat again, tied up alongside a pier in the dockyard.

The list was getting under control by then. One afternoon they found a grocery store and stocked up on a month’s worth of groceries, enough that they had to call a cab to haul them back to the boat. There were still a few things to do, but the next day they’d pretty well completed the list. They thanked their friend and said that they hoped to see him again some time. Then, with the report of several days of nice weather approaching, Matt fired up the Mary Sue’s diesel to run out of the harbor where the boat had been for almost seven months.

As it worked out, they wound up spending most of a month in the Baltic, stopping at a couple towns along the Swedish coast for fresh supplies, and at Visby on the island of Gotland before running on into Stockholm. That was an interesting city, especially for a couple sailing a Folkboat– they were close to where the Mary Sue had been built decades before. They didn’t draw much interest until the port of registry on the stern was noticed– a Folkboat with “Winchester Harbor, Michigan” was a long way from home, Swedish built or not, and that attracted some attention, helping to make their stay there a pleasant one.

After several days in Stockholm, they decided that they might as well at least visit Finland, since it wasn’t far away; that took most of a week, part of which they spent in a small-town hotel sitting out some bad weather. It was the middle of the month before they got under way again, and decided that since they were in danger of falling a little behind schedule, they’d better get moving. They spent several nights at sea running direct from Helsinki to the southwest, remembering what it was like to really be at sea once again.

Since it wasn’t far out of their way, they decided to go back to Copenhagen for a night or two, just to see Knud and tell him that his advice to go sailing in the Baltic had been good. It was also a convenient place to restock their grocery supply, which had become a little depleted.

After bidding goodbye to their friend, they were off again, heading south and west in several short daysails until they reached the Nord-Ostsee Kanal at Kiel. Better known as the Kiel Canal, this was no little ditch built for barges; it had been built for battleships back in the days prior to World War One. It was big, wide and busy, especially now that the days had turned nicer. Contrary winds mostly kept them from trying to sail down it to the Elbe River and the North Sea, so they had to run its 61 miles on the diesel with the sails down. It took them the better part of two days to make the trip. They laid over at Brunsbuttel on the Elbe River, and the next day headed down the Elbe for open water again.

With two more days’ easy sailing, much of it behind an island barrier, right at the first of June they reached the northern Netherlands town of Delfzijl, just across a bay from the German town of Emden. From here on they planned on spending the next several months on the canal system, perhaps until late September or early October. While much of the route ahead had sufficient clearances to get through with the Mary Sue’s mast up, there were places where it would be a problem, and having it up might preclude interesting side trips. So they found a boatyard that could take the mast down, not a big problem. They spent most of the day using odds and ends of lumber to rig cradles to carry it on the boat, high enough that they could stand up in the cockpit without bumping their heads. The sails were dried and packed away; it would be a while before they were needed again.

The first leg of their canal cruising took them to Groningen, not twenty miles away, along the Eems Canal. However, it was a busy commercial route, and they’d been warned by Knud and others that they’d have a better time if they took the lesser-used canals when they could, so they took the smaller but mostly paralleling Demster-Diep Canal. From Groningen on, however, they took a complex route through many smaller canals, sometimes backtracking, and never in a hurry, slowly working their way to the southwest, taking the quieter and more scenic routes whenever possible.

They saw a lot of classic windmills along the way, but the more modern wind turbines to generate electrical power were not uncommon, especially when they were close to the coast. Even the side canals were busy, although more with recreational traffic than commercial, and again, the sight of “Winchester Harbor, Michigan” on the Mary Sue’s stern drew a lot of comments, and a fair amount of socializing with other recreational travelers.

It took them almost six weeks to get to Antwerp, just inside Belgium. By now, the date of Amanda’s arrival was getting close, so they found a good place in a marina to lay over and top off their provisions a bit. The next day, while Mary stayed with the boat to keep an eye on it, Matt took a train to Amsterdam to meet Amanda at Schiphol Airport. He felt strange to be leaving Mary behind, even for part of a day; it had been over a year since they’d met at St. John’s, and they’d never been apart for more than a couple hours since.

As luck had it, Amanda’s plane was on time, and she came out of the customs section carrying a single large carry-on barrel bag and no checked luggage; she’d kept the promise to keep her stuff down to a minimum. Before long, they were back on a train to Antwerp, and by the end of the day he was back together with Mary. The next morning they were heading southwest again, this time bound for Paris.

It was still a long way to go, especially since they were still trying to stay off the busy commercial canals as much as they could. Sometimes this involved a roundabout but more scenic route, and it always took time at the three or four miles an hour that the Mary Sue’s diesel could push them. A thirty-mile day was a big one; sometimes, when they felt sure of a path along the shore, Amanda would get on the shore and run alongside the boat, training for her upcoming cross-country season.

Amanda proved to be an excellent shipmate; she enjoyed her turn at steering the boat, and she was good at it. She was a bright and intelligent kid, and she’d done some study of tour books of the area to get ready for her time here. Most days they stopped somewhere for a couple hours up to half a day to shop, service the boat, or visit some local sight in the Belgian and later the French countryside. After a few days the countryside was especially interesting to Matt. They were passing through the area of the old World War One battles; he was no great expert on the subject but had done some reading. One day they tied up in a small village and explored a small area of restored trench system where one of the great battles had taken place.

It took them a full three weeks to get from Antwerp to Paris, the big goal of the trip for Amanda. They found a good place to tie the Mary Sue up for a few days, and set out to explore the city. Mary’s limited knowledge of French proved useful in this, often simplifying things as they spent the next several days seeing some of the usual tourist sites. One of the high points was going to the top of the Eifel Tower, where they could see the city spread out below; since they knew where to look, they could pick out where the Mary Sue was tied up.

Unfortunately for Amanda, her time with them was drawing to a close, and one sad day they had to take her to Charles de Gaulle Airport to put her on the plane for home. “Thanks, Matt, and thanks, Mary,” she said as she hugged them goodbye. “It was a great trip, I had a great time, and I’ll remember it always.”

They were sad to see her go, and when they got back to the Mary Sue the boat seemed almost empty without her presence. That night, Matt and Mary had dinner at a neighborhood bistro, and talked about what would come next. “As much as I hate to say it,” Matt said. “Knud was right. This canal cruising has been fun, but we’ve been doing it for almost three months, and I’m getting a little tired of it.”

“Aye,” Mary agreed. “’Twill be good ta see some open water again. It’s been very scenic and picturesque, but I’m achin’ ta be under sail again, b’y.”

“Then I think the time has come to be moving toward it,” Matt agreed. “I’ve heard it said that boats can make it down to the Mediterranean in a couple weeks from here. I don’t think we want to push that hard, but I think we need to be moving right along. If it takes us a month, there’s still some good sailing weather for us down there.”

“Then let’s be doin’ it,” she agreed. “The season’s gettin’ on an’ it won’t be long before there’ll be the smell of fall in the air.”

The next morning, they had the Mary Sue on the move again, heading south from Paris.

They didn’t push exceptionally hard, but they didn’t dawdle, either. As always, they took the scenic route where possible, but they didn’t have the choices they’d had in the Netherlands and Belgium. In an effort to miss the heaviest commercial traffic they decided to try taking Canaux du Loing and the Canaux de Briare, then onto the Canal du Centre, which brought them out on the Rhone near Lyon. There were a lot of locks along the way– sometimes every mile or so– but they’d had a lot of practice with locks the last few months, and they were prepared for them.

The Rhone is a big river with a lot of current, and even with dams and locks taming it every so often they made good speed downstream. It was supposedly slow this time of year, but Matt figured that the little engine in the Mary Sue wouldn’t make much progress against it going upstream. That was fine; by now he’d had enough canal cruising to hold him for a while. Even with a brief sightseeing stop at Avignon, it only took them three days in the fast current to make it down to Sete, west of Marseilles, where there was a place that could put their mast back up for them.

They dumped the rubber tires and planks they’d been using for fenders in the locks and along the way for the last three and a half months, in a place where northbound yachtsmen could pick them up to use on their trip. After a final night alongside a pier, in the morning the Mary Sue once again had a bone in her teeth as they headed out into the Mediterranean.

They spent a couple days sailing around the French Riviera, just getting themselves and the boat tuned up again and seeing what was there; the area seemed a little rich for their blood, so before long they were on the move again. They were in the mood to do a little serious sailing, so they headed southeast, with their next stop at the Island of Elba. After a two-night stop there, they sailed south again, stopping at Naples for a few days, backtracking on a bus to Rome; when they returned, they also made a day trip to Pompeii.

Late September and October are a glorious time to be sailing in the central Mediterranean, and they made the most of it, even though thunderstorms often blew up in October, but there were none they couldn’t handle in the Mary Sue. By the end of the month they’d rounded the tip of the boot, going through the Straits of Messina and making a couple brief visits in Sicily.

The weather in November and December is cooler, and there’s the potential for bigger storms, so they were warned to keep an eye on the weather and keep their voyages short, as mariners have done that time of year in the Mediterranean for thousands of years. They waited around Syracuse for several days for a good weather report, then set sail for Patras in Greece, the last longish open-water passage they were willing to try for a while.

Again they were exploring, taking their time, and being careful about the weather. By the first part of December, the Mary Sue was sitting in the harbor of Heraklion, the largest city on Crete, in the Greek Islands, and for once, they were a little disappointed and downhearted. The weather was cool– not cold by any means, especially by Newfoundland standards, but they’d been expecting semitropical conditions and found it to be more like northern Florida, perhaps. The skies were often overcast, there was a lot of rain, and storms kept coming by. It was not the sunny winter playground they’d understood it to be. In conditions like that the tiny cabin of the Mary Sue could get very cramped at times, but there were restaurants ashore that were glad for business in this off-season period.

“Maybe goin’ back ta Blanche Tickle for a couple months ain’t such a bad idea after all,” Mary suggested. “If we were ta get out of here right soon, we’d be back in time for the mummin’.”

“That’s a possibility,” Matt agreed. “But I’ll tell you what, I’m not sure about how bad I want to be leaving the Mary Sue here for two or three months unattended. It’s not like Copenhagen, where we could trust Knud to keep an eye on her.”

“Aye, but I’m gettin’ tired of sittin’ around here not doin’ much of anythin’. If we’ve got ta be doin’ that, we could be doin’ it much cheaper in Blanche Tickle.”

“You’re right,” he agreed. “And I wouldn’t mind spending some more time there myself, although I don’t think this is the time to be doing it, at least partly because of the question of what do we do with the boat while we’re gone. I think this is the time to do a little planning ahead. We’ve had two summers in Europe now, and maybe it’s time to be seeing what’s elsewhere.”

“What do ye have in mind, b’y?” she said, brightening up at the thought of moving on.

“I don’t know,” he admitted. “We’re pretty far east in the Mediterranean, and I suppose it would be possible to go through the Suez Canal for the next leg of our round-the-world trip, but I don’t think it would be a real bright idea. From what I’ve been told, the Horn of Africa isn’t the smartest place to go in a small yacht because of all the piracy that’s been going on there the last few years. I mean, it might be possible to go in a group of boats if everybody had some serious weapons on board, but I don’t think I want to try it that badly.”

“I don’t think I want ta try it either, b’y. So that means we go west, right?”

“That’s about it. Let’s face it, the weather here in the Mediterranean is going to be iffy at best for at least the next month or two. But I do know that now up to about April or May is supposed to be the best time to do a crossing from Gibraltar down to the Canary Islands, and then on across to the Caribbean.”

“Not havin’ a map in front of me, in my mind’s eye that’s got ta be a long haul, but it’s pretty far south so it ought ta be warmer than here.”

“It’s not short,” he agreed. “Gibraltar down to the Canaries is about seven hundred miles or thereabouts, and it’s something like twenty-five hundred to three thousand miles on to the Caribbean, depending on how far south we have to go to catch the easterly trade winds. Say four thousand miles, to figure it on the fat side.”

“That’d take a while,” she said.

“It sure would. We did a little less than a hundred miles a day from St. John’s to Galway a year ago last summer. We might do a little better than that if we caught the trade winds right, but that might not happen. Being a little conservative, that means we’d have to figure on ten days or so to get from Gibraltar to the Canaries, and maybe five weeks from there to someplace in the Antilles.”

“It’s soundin’ promisin’,” she replied, brightening up quite a bit. “I don’t think I’d mind a long passage at sea right now. It might be we need it ta shake the rust out of our systems.”

“The problem with it is that it’s probably fifteen hundred miles to Gibraltar,” he pointed out. “I haven’t tried to plot it out but I can when we get back to the boat. This time of year it could be an iffy proposition. We’d have to be real careful with the weather, and there’s some places we might have to be three or four days at sea or go way the hell out of our way. But I think we could get away with it.”

“An’ you’re sayin’ go on around the world after that?”

“We could,” he shrugged. “We don’t have to make up our minds about it right now, that’s for sure. We’d have, hell, three or four months to think about it. Say if we got to some place like Puerto Rico around the first of April or something like that, we need to be well out of there by about the end of June, because that’s when the hurricane season starts to set in. We could head for Panama and think about going across the Pacific, or we could decide to turn right, spend the summer going up the East Coast, and wind up in Blanche Tickle for the winter again. Like I said, we don’t have to think that far ahead now, but we’d have to be making up our minds in four months or so.”

“B’y, I think I’m for it, at least the part about crossin’ the Atlantic again. How soon can we get started?”

“About as soon as we pay for this so-called coffee and get back to the boat,” he said. “The weather’s good right now, so we ought to be able to make Souda Bay this afternoon. Then we could check the weather and see about making it to someplace on the mainland tomorrow.”

“Let’s get goin’ b’y. It beats the livin’ hell out of sittin’ around here.”

It took them seven weeks to make it to Gibraltar, and at that they weren’t messing around a lot or being very touristy. Most of the trip consisted of day trips, along with several overnights when they couldn’t avoid them and the weather seemed promising– and often, it didn’t turn out that way. They wound up going farther up the west coast of Greece, then hopping over to the boot heel of Italy, then down around the toe and through the Strait of Messina again. Several times they had to lay over for a day or two to wait out the weather, and one time they were stuck in an unpromising small village for five windy days, riding to an anchor that didn’t seem like it was set in the bottom very well. They followed along the north coast of Sicily, and had to wait out the weather again in a small town near Palermo before they dared make the three day and two night crossing to Cagliari in Sardinia.

Again they had to wait out the weather for several days before starting the over three hundred mile passage to Alcudia on Palma, one of the Balearic Islands of Spain. This time they got caught out by a bad storm that they didn’t even feel comfortable about riding out under bare poles, so for the first time on the trip they broke out the parachute drogue to keep the boat under control. They had to ride it for over a day, getting pushed backwards nearly fifty miles in the process, before the storm blew itself out and they were able to get under way again. The popular resort seemed like a great place to pull into a couple days later and for once they were glad to be back on dry land.

After a couple days to rest up, they were on the move again, this time an overnight run to the city of Palma, then a day trip to Ibiza. After a night there they made an overnight run to Alicante, on the Spanish coast. They made it in just as another storm was brewing, and had to sit there for two more days before they could consider making several short day runs along the Spanish coast in unexpectedly steep seas to Gibraltar at the western end of the Mediterranean. They were glad to get there; they’d had enough of the ancient sea by the time they found a slip to tie up in close to the famed rock. It had taken them seven weeks to do a trip that would have taken them only about a third of that time if they’d been able to sail it directly. If they’d come directly there from Sicily and skipped the Greek islands, they could have been there nearly three months sooner.

Even though they’d spent a lot of time just sitting and waiting out the weather, they took a few days in Gibraltar before they tried to do much of anything; they found a hotel room because they needed the break from the close quarters on the Mary Sue. Finally, they got back to work on the boat, since a lot needed to be done before they started across the Atlantic. The food stock on the boat had come close to giving out on their voyage down the Mediterranean; now they needed to load up for at least two months at sea, and preferably longer. At least the labels on the cans in Gibraltar were mostly in English, so they had some idea of what they were buying; they had been places where that hadn’t been the case.

The Mary Sue needed a thorough inspection and some repairs. There were a couple places where they were less than pleased with the condition of the standing rigging, and after some indecision they wound up having the whole works replaced, not a cheap job on even a boat as small as theirs.

One of the items that had always irritated Matt about the self-steering rig was that it wasn’t very capable of steering the boat dead downwind unless it was blowing pretty hard. Since that was a fair description of what they expected for much of the voyage across the Atlantic, Matt shopped around at a sailmaker’s and found a jib that would match the one the Mary Sue already had. With a little bit of re-rigging and some pieces that they had to have built, they could sail across behind twin headsails, using the sails themselves to steer the boat. This was something neither Matt or Mary had tried before, but Matt had read about it, and talking with other cruisers convinced him it would work.

There was a long list of other things that had to be done; they’d spent much of their way across the Mediterranean working it out. These included things like Matt’s getting his quarterly blood test, which had a report about like normal, and Mary getting her birth control medication renewed. There was also a long list of minor repairs and hunting down small things they would need on the long crossing.

After almost two weeks in Gibraltar they were more or less ready to go, but a series of storms blew in. Reasoning that it was better to not start out into the teeth of the storm, and liking the comfort of their hotel room, they decided to wait out the weather. It cost them several more days, so it was getting late in January before they were back on the water.

They managed to get several days out of Gibraltar before one of the series of storms that had been plaguing the region caught up with them. By now, they’d seen a lot of storms, and this one didn’t concern them as much as it would have on their last Atlantic crossing. They rode it out under reduced sail, and it didn’t cost them much time.

After eight days at sea they reached Las Palmas on Gran Canaria, the third largest of the Canary Islands. The place was crowded with tourists; this was the kind of weather they’d expected to find on the Greek islands, and they found themselves wishing that they’d avoided the whole Greek side trip and just planned on spending a big part of the winter here instead. As it was, the crush of people made it less appealing, so after only a couple days they topped off their fresh water, bought some fresh food, and set sail to the west.

The weather was a lot better to the west and south of the Canaries before they started getting into the reliable trade winds and were able to set the twin headsails. The Mary Sue sailed well with them, and steered well, too, but the winds weren’t always dead out of the east and they often had to sail on a broad reach under the conventional rig with the wind vane doing the steering.

It was a lazy time in warm conditions. In over a month at sea there were only a couple times when the weather got wild enough to cause concern, and they never had to reef a sail. It was warm, and sometimes going downwind, downright hot. They hardly ever saw any other boats or ships, and the combination led them to spend a lot of time going nude. After they’d eaten their supplies down a bit they did some rearranging below so they could use the V-berth, which up till now they’d only used at anchor or on the canals. They managed to spend a lot of time up close and personal, with only occasional glances outside at night to be sure there were no ships in sight.

The trade winds weren’t quite as strong or as steady as they had been expecting, so the passage was slow, not that they minded terribly; it more than made up for all the hassles and troubles they’d had in the Mediterranean back in December and January. Slowly the little crosses of their daily position plots on their map worked on westward, and after a month at sea they were starting to draw close to the Caribbean. It was a comfortable, relaxing time, but it was coming to a close.

When the sun came up on the morning of April 6, the high green island of Antigua was in front of them; they made it in that afternoon after the longest passage they’d ever made. They were back on the western side of the Atlantic again, just a year to the day since they’d flown out of Gander on their way to the Mary Sue in Denmark.

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To be continued . . .

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