Midsummer revelry, a Russian cargo ship, and an English graveyard

The forecast for the morning is for a south-westerly, which is good for us. We leave Sassnitz early, heading for the island of Bornholm, some 60 NM away. Soon we are passing the Königstühl cliffs to our port side. They look more impressive seeing them in their entirety from the sea.

Chalk cliffs of Königstühl from the sea.

The wind is favourable for most of the way, and we make good speed.

In the afternoon, we arrive at Rønne, the main town in Bornholm, and motor slowly into the small marina. It is packed, and there doesn’t seem to be much space for us. There are a couple of empty berths, but they both have red boards showing, indicating they belong to someone who is returning soon.

“I’ll call the harbourmaster”, says the First Mate. “Let’s see what he can suggest.”

“What size is your boat?”, says the harbourmaster. The First Mate tells him.

“I am afraid there is no room left for a boat that size”, he says. “Your best bet is to go up to Hasle, the next harbour a few miles up the coast. There will definitely be space there.”

He pronounces it ‘hassle’.

“I hope it doesn’t turn out to be what it sounds like”, I say.

We unfurl the sails again and head northwards on a nice beam reach. Sure enough, there is plenty of space, and we tie up alongside in one of the inner basins where it is nicely sheltered.

“I like this place already”, says the First Mate. “Alongside berthing is just so much easier than those box berths.”

Tied up in Hasle harbour.

Bornholm is strategically placed within the Baltic Sea, and actually belongs to Denmark, despite its proximity to other countries. Lübeck ruled it in Hanseatic times, it became part of Sweden in the 1600s, was occupied by Germany during WW2, and then by Russia for a short time after the war, but was eventually returned to Denmark.

Bornholm island.

I decide to have a day fixing my folding bike. The bottom bracket is still clacking noisily, and the pedals sometimes lock up. So something is clearly wrong. I had bought a new set of folding pedals from the UK, and a new bottom bracket sealed bearing unit had arrived by mail order while we were in Greifswald. So time to fit them.

I carefully remove the pedals and dismantle the bottom bracket, and am amazed to see that it is not a sealed bearing unit as I had thought, but just two ball-bearing races badly rusted. Clearly water had found its way in and corroded them. Out they come and in goes the new unit, tighten up the locknuts on both sides, then on with the new pedals.

Fixing the bike.

As I work, I am reminded of the book I had re-read over the winter, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert Pirsig. I had read it first while at high school, and had enjoyed it, although had not fully understood it. In it, he distinguishes between the Classical and Romantic ways of looking at the world. The Romantic approach focuses on enjoying an experience for what it is, the Classical approach is to focus on the inner workings of that experience. Some people just like the experience of riding a motorcycle, others like the challenge of understanding and solving a problem the motorcycle might have, and getting it to perform its best. Romanticists tend to see the appearance of an object, Classicists its function. He concludes that to achieve an inner peace of mind we need a balance of both perspectives. In fact, not having this balance is the source of much of the frustrations in modern life.

“Which am I?”, I ask myself, as I screw in the new pedals. “A Classicist or a Romantic?”

I do enjoy the experiences of sailing and cycling without thinking about everything that is happening to make those experiences, so that must make me a Pirsig Romanticist. But I also enjoy analysing a problem with the boat, bike or whatever, breaking down a problem into its component parts and finding a solution. So that must make me a Pirsig Classicist. Or am I both? That then would mean that I should have achieved inner peace of mind. But I feel that I am far from that.

“You are taking a long time to get that bike finished”, calls the First Mate from the boat. “Daydreaming again?”

“Just thinking about the meaning of life”, I respond. “Nearly finished.”

“What’s fixing a bike got to do with the meaning of life?”, she asks.

“You’d be surprised”, I say.

I test the bike by riding it around the harbour. It goes perfectly, and there is no clacking or pedals locking up. Classical satisfaction!

In the evening, there is a party to celebrate the Danish midsummer. Everyone in the town and the harbour is invited. And anyone else who wants to come.

Dating from ancient times, Danish midsummer celebrations are a fusion of pagan ceremonies and Christian rituals. It is actually called the Feast of St John after John the Baptist, who was supposed to have been born six months to the day before Jesus, so it is held on St John’s Eve, June 23rd. In reality, the Christians appropriated it from earlier pagan celebrations of fertility and light, with fires being lit to ward off evil spirits to ensure a good harvest. Harking back to those times, a straw witch was introduced on top of the bonfire just in the 1920s. The story goes that when she is burnt, she takes any evil with her and flies off to the Witches’ Festival in Bloksbjerg in Germany.

“The Danes really don’t like the Germans, do they?”, says the First Mate. “Don’t you remember last year all the battles between the two countries over territory that we learnt about?’

“Don’t take it personally”, I say. “It’s just a pagan ritual.”

We arrive fairly early, but already it is heaving. We buy some drinks and wander over to the group of people on the mound next to the bonfire.

The witch waiting to be burnt on top of the bonfire.

“Look, the witch is smiling”, says the First Mate. “Surprising, given that she is going to be burnt to death shortly.”

“She’s probably looking forward to the Witches’ Festival”, I say. “And all that evil she will take with her.”

A local dignitary gives a speech. Mercifully it is short. The band from the local school marches up, led by their teacher carrying the school standard.

The band arrives.

“Oooom-pah, ooom-pah, ooom-pah-pah”, goes the band. The majorette accidentally drops her baton. She picks it up smoothly and continues twirling it. She must drop it often.

The band stops, and a group of young children advance towards the bonfire carrying firebrands. The witch looks more frightened now, but perhaps it is my imagination. They light the base of the bonfire.

The bonfire is lit.

At first it seems there is nothing, but then the flames catch hold. There is a crackle and a roar and in a few minutes the whole bonfire is ablaze. The witch lets out a shriek as a firework concealed within her goes off. Then the flames die down. The witch has disappeared. Evil has flown off to Germany and the harvest will be good.

The witch starts to burn.

The next day, we cycle down to Rønne, the main town of the island, to explore and do some shopping. The cycle path is through a forest and follows the coast. The pine cones crackle in the heat and fall to the ground. From time to time we have glimpses of the sea through the trees.

Cycling to Rønne.

We have an ice cream, then explore the narrow streets of the old town, with their cute houses and hollyhocks.

Street in Rønne.

The church is imposing, overlooking the harbour.

Church in Rønne

Unfortunately, the small theatre is closed for July.

Rønne theatre.

On the way back, we see two old American cars parked near the cycle track.

Cars of yesteryear.

“A Ford Fairlane and a Ford Galaxy from the 1960s”, I say. “I remember these when I was growing up. Look at the size of them. You could almost have a game of tennis on the bonnet.”

The owner and his better half appear out of nowhere.

“We imported them from California”, he tells us. “We had been looking for years for this type, then we spotted them for sale there. They were in a pretty bad state, but we decided to bring them back here and do them up. We reconditioned the engines and replaced most of the bodywork. It cost a lot, but it was worth it. I’ll start one up for you.”

He climbs into the Fairlane. 400 cubic inches of American V8 engine burst into life with a throaty roar and settle down to a gentle burble.

“I just love driving them around the roads on the island with the top down”, he says.

We sail the next morning for Simrishamn in Sweden. To get there, we need to cross a Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS), virtual lanes in each direction for the large ships to follow to avoid colliding with each other. Smaller boats, like us, are required to cross these lanes at right angles to minimise the time spent in them. I decide to sail outside but parallel with the lanes first of all to make use of the easterly wind as long as possible, then cross at the buoy marking a turn in the TSS.

Buoy marking the turning point of the TSS.

As we arrive at the buoy, I check our Automatic Identification System (AIS) and see that a Dutch freighter in the east-going lane is coming up fast on our port quarter at 12 knots. We could probably make it in front of her, but there is no point in taking risks. I heave to by turning into the wind. We come to a standstill, and we watch the freighter as she reaches the buoy and turns eastwards. Once she is clear, we turn and fill the sails again, and start our crossing.

The AIS shows five large ships in the far lane travelling westwards, and that the Closest Point of Approach to one of them is 200 m. That’s not a lot. I feel a bit like a rabbit on a busy motorway – no sooner have I dealt with one, there are four others to contend with.

Running the gauntlet (we are the red boat, cargo ships are green).

We pass in front of the first two comfortably. I notice that the next one is a Russian cargo ship.

“The AIS says they are heading for Iskenderun in Turkey.”, I say to the First Mate. “I didn’t think anyone was still trading with them. I wonder what they are carrying? Missiles?”

“I am surprised that their ships are still allowed to sail through here”, says the First Mate. “I would have thought that the Swedes had prohibited them.”

“I think that this bit is an international sea lane”, I say. “So I suppose they are allowed to. Shall I sail in front of them and force them to stop and declare what their cargo is?”

“Don’t you dare”, she says. “You know what the Russians are like. They don’t care much for international rules. In any case, I’ve read that it takes about five miles for a boat that size to come to a stop. We’d be matchwood.”

The Russian ship bears down on us. It looks touch and go. I trim the sails to get as much speed as possible. Slowly we cross in front of them and they pass a few hundred metres behind us. Through the binoculars I can see a Russian sailor leaning over the rails looking at us.

The Russian cargo ship passes safely behind us.

We arrive in Simrishamn in the mid afternoon. We are helped to tie up by Luc, a cheerful Dutchman. He tells us they are travelling as far as Karlskrona then have to be back to Copenhagen for their daughter’s wedding.

“You have to go to Hanö”, he tells us. “It’s a little island north from here. It’s really beautiful. We’ve been several times before.”

We walk into Simrishamn to have a brief explore. It is a pleasant enough town, but we decide to stay only one night and set off the next morning to Hanö.

St Nicolai’s Church, Simritshamn.

The sail over is boisterous, to say the least. Shortly after leaving Simrishamn, the wind picks up to more than 20 knots, and there is quite a swell. We reef twice, but still we heel alarmingly.

“You didn’t tell me it was going to be this strong”, shouts the First Mate, as the water flows past one of the side windows. “You know I hate heeling.”

“I didn’t know”, I shout back. “It wasn’t forecast to be this rough.”

Water rushing past the side window.

We eventually arrive in Hanö and manage to find a spare berth alongside the outer harbour wall. The harbour is delightful, surrounded by picturesque Danish-style houses, a small restaurant, and a kiosk. The harbour-mistress comes and collects the berthing fee in person.

Tied up in Hanö harbour.

“She really takes care of everything here”, says the First Mate, returning from the washing block. “It’s all so spick and span, even down to small pots of flowers in the toilets and showers. A woman’s touch, and such a contrast with marinas where everything is automated.”

“Ah, men have a lot to answer for”, I say.

In the morning, we walk up the path from the harbour to the lighthouse. The view out over the bay of Hanöbukten is superb.

The lighthouse on Hanö.

“We have to see the Drakmärket”, I say, perusing the map. “The legend is that there once was a dragon that used to fly every night between Hanö where we are and the neighbouring island of Tärnö”, I read on a board near the fence around the lighthouse. “Even though it is 20 km, he was able to do it in two wingbeats. Then when they constructed the lighthouse here and switched it on the first time, it blinded the dragon and he fell to earth and his claws left a huge scratch on the rock.”

“It all sounds a bit far-fetched to me”, says the First Mate. “But I suppose we had better go and see it.”

We follow a path with blue markers around behind the lighthouse and find a peculiar wave-shaped mark carved in the rock.

“It doesn’t look natural”, I say. “Someone must have carved it.”

The Dragon’s Mark, Hanö.

From there, we drop down from the lighthouse to the northern-most point of the island. On the way, we pass the so-called English graveyard, where twelve English sailors were buried during the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century. The Royal Navy had used the island as a base at that time, although apparently the sailors had died of disease rather than combat. The Navy still comes periodically to hold a service for them, and a few years ago had erected a large wooden cross.

The English graveyard, Hanö.

We reach Bönsäcken, a shingle spit that stretches in a curve westwards. The islanders seem to have loved their legends, as the one for this was that there was an ogress who lived on the island who began to feel lonely, so she started to build a bridge to cross over to the mainland. She would work flat out during the daytime collecting stones and depositing them on the spit, but each night the sea would come and wash them away again.

“Don’t you remember a similar story from the Dornoch Firth in Scotland that time we explored there in our little boat?”, I say. “There it was the water-kelpies trying to build a bridge out of sand. A never-ending task.”

The Bönsäcken shingle spit.

We follow the white track around the coast of the island. Following the white markers becomes a bit of a game. From each one, we have to look for the next one. At one point, I see a line of white posts stretching off into the distance. Some of them seem to move.

“Which glasses are you wearing today?”, asks the First Mate. “Those are seagulls, not painted posts. Come on!”

Spot the real white marker!

Much of the island is granite from Mesozoic times.

Granite outcrop, Hanö.

I somehow manage to trip on one of the rocks and graze my legs and arms and sprain my thumb. Luckily we have a small first-aid kit and some plasters. The First Mate practises her nursing skills.

Feeling sorry for myself.

Eventually the landscape gives way to dense woodland.

At one point, we spot some deer through the trees.

Fleeting glimpse of deer.

“Sssshhh”, says the First Mate. “Keep quiet or else you will frighten them.”

“Pardon?”, I say, as I clamber over a log, breaking one of the branches with a loud snap.

The deer run off into the undergrowth.

“Clumsy clown”, complains the First Mate.

6 thoughts on “Midsummer revelry, a Russian cargo ship, and an English graveyard

    • Mark, thanks for your kind comment. There seems to be so much to write about in this part of the world, so it isn’t difficult to cobble something together.
      P.S. I think that there is a ‘Like’ button after the blog text 😉.


  1. Hi Bridget and Robin,
    Thanks for a very nice chat yesterday. Great to hear about your past and future adventures. All the best and fair winds,
    Martin & Mia aboard Alba,
    Callsign 8SY6625, mmsi 265542430


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