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Gulf of Gdansk
-- May 27th to June 5th 2018  --
3 days beating against the wind to reach the touristic paradise of the gulf, and its masterpiece: the beautiful city of Gdansk.

For more pictures and cultural discoveries of Polish history; nothing better than our page "Pictures".

241 miles sailed
707 miles since the start

Our stops, click on the names for more details:
Gdynia (marina) - Gdansk (marina) - Hel (marina)
27th - 29th May : Kolobrzeg – Gdynia (211 M)
The Polish coast is a long dune, interrupted by ports every 30 miles or so. To the East of Kolobrzeg, most of the ports are exposed to the North-East and according to the guide Imray it is imprudent to enter there by wind of force 5 and more.

Too bad, we always have North-Easterly winds. Every afternoon they reach force 5 through thermal breeze. This phenomenon is impressive here under the current conditions (NE wind and anticyclonic conditions, sea still fresh, hot sun warming the land): at 4pm every day the wind rises around 20 knots until 8pm. Then we have 3-4b until dawn (3am), when the wind falls completely until about 10am. 3-4b again until 4pm - then the cycle starts again.

Impressive sand dunes of Leba

Sailing in the moonshine
57 hours of sailing can be summed up thus: change the genoa for the jib at tea time, take a reef or two, wait for the softening in the evening to put on more canvas again while cooking dinner, drag ourselves slowly during the night, with a chilly 10 ° C moist with condensation - under an amazing moonlight, enjoy a beautiful sunny morning, lunch to get some strength for the upcoming windy maneuvers – and start again. All this punctuated with tackings every few hours. The only constant factor is the very short swell in which Saltimbanque bumps and stops every 5 seconds or so. The varying factor is the force of the current from 0 to 1 knot – always against us, though.

There are also fire zones along the Polish coast, which can be closed to navigation during military exercises. It is imperative to listen to all navigation warnings on the VHF: the exercises are very regular and there is almost always one of the areas closed to navigation. Some areas extend more than 10M offshore, up to the traffic separation scheme. Better to stay informed! Reviews are also available on the internet here. We will be lucky and will not have to avoid hostile fire this time.
Firing danger areas offshore Hel. Note also the former mine danger area from the cold war. Sailing in the Baltic is so romantic !

Oilies and crew drying after long hours against the wind.
The piece of plastic that Laure is holding is the only thing we managed to fish during this leg...
The commercial traffic intensifies during the second night, we must approach the Gulf of Gdansk. This is the moment chosen by the mist to fall in the early morning, always very comfortable to be blind in approaching a large commercial port ... We use the website vesselfinder as an AIS receiver, which allows us to locate the ships around us. Sometimes those smartphones come in handy…
Finally the fog disappears, the soft wind of the morning increases to a nice 3-4b at noon, we pass the point of Hel and enter the immense gulf of Gdansk. Destination Gdynia, where according to the guide we find good ship-chandleries, and we have some shopping to do for Saltimbanque. Apart from that we do not expect much from this industrial port.
A boat towing a soon-to-be boat

Saltimbanque in Gdynia !
The marina, with its narrow entrance to the South of the city, is masked by a pack of dinghies of all kinds! Lasers, Optimists, 470, they are everywhere like a cloud of mosquitoes intent on crashing against our hull ... In the end, our nightly arrivals were quieter!! Once in the harbor, the visitor dock to the East is full. Even if we are out of season ... (most are rental boats though, out for the long weekend here). We notice a small First 32 with two young people onboard, we will be very comfortable alongside.

We barely tied up the lines, that the neighbor calls out to us: "Hello! Where are you from ?  Your boat is cool! And 2 girls who sail, it is super cool! And you come from Norway? Ah! (at this moment the conversation switches from English to Norwegian) I grew up in Kirkenes! And I got tired of working and we bought a boat! We spend the winter in the Canary Islands and summer in the Baltic. Wait, I'll come with you to show you around and talk in Polish with the harbor master»

Wahoo, that’s a welcome! Quite typical of this place with a strong sailing culture, both dinghies and cruisers. After a nice shower, we have a beer on the port to enjoy the atmosphere ... We appreciate many things after 57 hours sailing against the wind...

30th May 2018 : Gdynia (onshore)
We came here for the ship-chandlers, let’s go to the ship-chandlers. To our disappointment we don’t find much in the on shop of the harbour. We are also warned that tomorrow everything will be closed. Of course it’s May 31st. And ? Well it’s a day off, “Corpus Christi” obviously ! In such a Catholic country as Poland it’s a reason to organize various concerts and march bands in the streets.

Second mission of the day: replenish our inventory of fruits and vegetables. Full success this time in the market of the city center, offering a wide range of very appetizing vegetal stuff. And very exotic ones too for us doomed to standardized Norwegian supermarkets. We treat ourselves with cherries and strawberries.
Strolling the streets of Gdynia, we need to revise our premade opinion. It’s still indeed a large industrial harbour, but it’s also clearly a first choice tourist destination. Endless rows of kiosks sell ice-creams and beers to the crowd rushing to the beach. The city offers long and wide avenues typical of a post-war reconstruction, full of flowers and sun. The church of the sacred heart (Kościół pw. Najświętszego Serca Pana Jezusa) is worth the visit, we like the modern architecture, the mosaics and the chapel devoted to seamen (not mentioning the cool temperature)
The chapel dedicated to seamen lost af sea

Gdynia, the beach, the city, the harbour
At the end of the day we decide to do like the local tourists and walk the sea promenade before jumping in the warm water (over 20°C ) and swim with … the swans !

31st May 2018 : Gdynia – Gdańsk (12M)
A nice breeze from abeam awakes us this morning, calling for the asymmetrical spinnaker. And we glide under the sun across the Bay of Gdansk. Apart for the 2 main traffic schemes, the bay is free of large boats, and we arrive peacefully at the entrance of the channel to Gdansk.
We like the asy spi :o)

Gdansk shipyard, formerly known as the Lenin shipyard
After clearing with the Harbour Control Office (VHF 14), who asks us many questions about the draft, the height of the mast and other vital statistics, we enter the harbour. First on your right the lighthouse from which the first shots of WWII were fired, and on your left the « Westerplatte », a huge monument celebrating the 180 polish soldiers who here repelled 570 nazis soldiers during 7 days.

From there it’s a mere 6 NM in between shipyards and ruins of grain elevators, rusty Russians trawlers, a few Norwegian cargos loading wood. (2nd time we see Noggies loading wood here… replenishing the inventory after a harsh winter?) A chimney smokes, behind the chemical plant covered in dust. We sail along a loooong steel wall… looking up we can identify a ro-ro ship! Called the “Mignon” (means cute in French). Worst name ever, or too much irony for us !
We are still thinking of the rusty trawlers when “Watch out, there is a pirate boat catching up… and another one ahead ! and kayaks crossing before us…” The transition between the industrial harbour and the city center is brutal! The water is suddenly colonized by small crafts of all shapes and colours, electric boats, paddle boats, jetskis and kayaks. The bridge is fortunately open (it opens for 30 minutes at every full hour during the day).

Zigzagging to avoid all the obstacles, we sneak in to the marina right after. Off-season as we are there is plenty of space.

The marina is in the heart of the historical/touristic center of Gdansk
It’s a very modern and clean marina right in the city center, with 24/7 security, water, electricity and wifi, all free.  Showers with the inevitable coins of 5 PLN. We paid 64 PLN / day.

Like in all Polish harbors, we also find –at least – one school-boat. A middle age man is standing in the cockpit a talks, talks, talks. Around, half of dozen pupils of all age and sex listen. From time to time they are let to touch a rope or a fender, or manoeuver in harbors from 8am to 8pm for 2 days in a row. Apparently you have to pass a 9 level curriculum to get a boat license in Poland. Respect to all the Polish skippers…at least for their patience!!

31st May – 2nd June : visiting Gdańsk
The following days are spent walking through the old city. Gdańsk (Danzig in German), has an incredibly rich history, and the whole center has been beautifully preserved - or rather, rebuilt after being destroyed at 80% by Allies’ bombs...
Facades of Gdansk

Art in amber
Founded around 980, Gdańsk is located on the Vistula River, which drains 60% of Poland, reaching up to Warsaw and Krakow. On this river flowed the grain and wood of this fertile plain. The other source of wealth comes from the sea: amber, a fossilized resin that sleeps at the bottom of the Baltic, is dug out off and thrown back onto the shores of the bay by winter storms.
A prosperous city of traders and fishermen, she changed hands many times over the course of history. First Polish, then part of the domain of the Teutonic knights, then the Hanseatic League, then again Polish, Prussian, independent city with different degrees of autonomy ... whatever the political regime, trade was maintained and developed. The buildings, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, testify to the wealth and diversity of influences - here rather Germanic, there rather Flemish or English. We travel the city following the instructions of the informative site  A walk around Gdansk for physicists , which also reveals importance of the Danzig scientific community as early as the 15th century.
A renaissance skyscraper: 8 floors in the 16th century is quite an achievement!

The famous middle-age crane, powered by human size hamster wheels

As for museums, we cannot miss the Maritime Museum. In particular, we visit the emblematic crane of the Middle Ages, which raised up to 4 tons thanks to hamster-workers treading in two large wooden wheels day-in, day-out. Really basic system of ropes and pulleys - not a single trace of effort reduction, a pre-Leonardo da Vinci machine!

It was also in Gdańsk that the free trade union "Solidarnosc" was born in 1980, which accelerated the fall of the Soviet regime and the exit of Poland from the sphere of influence of the USSR (the first country to achieve this). A museum now stands in the shipyard where the events took place. It is brand new and extremely well presented, very informative for us who are too old to have learned this piece of history in school, and too young to remember it. 38 years after the fact, the scars are still fresh in the minds and the exhibition feels sometimes a little one-sided - history as written by the winners.

The building of the Solidarnosc museum, just by the memorial to the victims of the 1970 strike, violently  repressed by the communist state

One part of the castle seen from the river nearby
Last cultural visit: Malbork Castle, 35 minutes by train South of the city, through a flat farmland landscape. It is the largest brick building in the world. At its heyday, it was as big as half of the present-time Vatican.

It was built by the Teutonic Knights as the center of their domain that covered the north of Poland and the current Baltic states (1226 - 1525). The castle witnessed all the changes of regime, hosted Polish kings during the golden age of "elitist democracy" (kings were elected, but only the aristocracy could stand as candidates) and the trade agreement with Lithuania (1569 - 1795).

The castle (beautifully restored after the War and reopened in 2016 only), was also used as a military hospital by Napoleon's army after the battle of Eylau, and has welcomes distinguished visitors for more than 100 years.


3rd – 5th June : Gdańsk - Hel (18M)
We would like to resume our journey, towards the North this time, and onwards to the Baltic States. The sandy coast offers only a few far-spaced shelters, and ports impenetrable by strong onshore winds. Next stop is the Gulf of Riga, and we need a good weather window. A gale from the north is expected Monday / Tuesday. Moreover, Russia has just announced military exercises and closed to the navigation 95% of its territorial waters off Kaliningrad. The Russians, but also the Poles and Lithuanians, have a propensity to shoot in the water with guns that surprises us ... Naïve us thinking that the Cold War is over…
We will wait a few more days for more favorable winds. We rent bikes to go around the bay and enjoy the long sandy beach and the hot water for swimming. There are even small pieces of amber to be treasure-hunted among the pebbles of the beach. We decide that, in the absence of our usual lucky shells, these beautiful translucent pebbles will do as talismans against bad weather. 
Treasure from the beach
On Monday, we leave the port through the same gigantic shipyard and cross the bay. We are going to Hel – a very nice place actually (despite its name), at the end of the sandy peninsula that closes the bay.

The harbor is wide and easy to access (just mind to fishing nets). Numerous visitor places on finger berths - occupied mostly by visiting yachts, especially Germans, but also Dutch, Russian and even New Zealanders! The fee is 40PLN / day, to be paid to the gentleman riding his bicycle on the quays (the port office is on the other side of the harbor and we never found it). 8PLN for the showers, water and electricity. No internet. The harbor is unexpectedly rolling, the swell easily coming in around the tip of the peninsula.

The city of Hel is also very touristic. Once a major center of commerce and fishing, it couldn’t keep up with the development of Gdańsk, and was converted into a military base, then a tourist city. Dozens of buses and some ferries bring the tourists every day. They flood the few streets and keep the souvenirs shops and waffles sellers going. Past 6pm however, there is no one in the street, everything closes and only the famous pub "Captain Morgan" can offer us some dinner (with a background of famous sailors songs translated into Polish).

There is an aquarium with seals in Hel, and it's good business...

The huge beach fringing the peninsula is beautiful (white sand and big waves along the forested dunes). Unfortunately, the amount of rubbish here is once again discouraging. Some come from fishing activities (nets) but most items are from everyday life. Bottles, plastic bags, coffee cups, balloons, packaging - often written in Cyrillic, proof that they traveled. We collect nearly 100 liters here, before deciding it is time to stop and get some lunch.

The splendid beach of Hel, hard to believe that this is (almost) fresh water, isn't it ?

Game: find the objects that have nothing to do here (guaranteed photoshop-free picture)
Enjoy beach and waffles: done! Now the paint is almost dry on the homemade Latvian flag (not easy to blend, this “Latvian red” ...). We are ready. We just need a little help from the weather...

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Brigitte - 14/06/2018 08:57:50
Coucou, super vos reportages, grâce à vous j'ai trouvé ma prochaine destination de voyage : la Pologne...; par contre les déchets impressionnant !...
Que pêchez vous comme poisson ?

Mum - 13/06/2018 09:44:00
Grâce à vous on découvre cette Pologne tellement snobee par les médias français ,nager avec des cygnes ouaoh!!!q

Florian - 12/06/2018 09:16:14
Excellent! Merci pour cette pause polonaise!

la mamou - 11/06/2018 21:52:45
encore un bien bel article !!!

la mamou - 11/06/2018 21:50:23
super !!!

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