Richard Bessey (email from the Baltic, July 2003)
Hel is a small fishing town not far from Gdansk. It made a good destination for us, not least because it was pronounceable (unlike our port of arrival in Poland, Swinoujscie). However it was about 170 miles away.
We set off at about 9:00. Passing the border post, we turned our backs on them as retribution for sending GLAYVA back to Germany the day before. However they were having none of this, and fired projectiles across our bows. Happy to start a diplomatic incident, I tied up and asked "What's your problem?". "No, vas is your problem!" was the sharp reply. I quickly switched to ignorant foreigner mode, and we soon made our escape. It seems you have to check in and out of every port here.
The day was fairly quiet, with not much wind, so we motor-sailed much of the time. As night fell, however, spectacular thunderstorms lit up the coast, and soon we were in torrential rain and squalls. Our autohelm was broken, so someone had to be at the wheel at all times, and it was during Naomi's watch that we were struck by lightning. No damage, but a bit of a shock for her!
It rained steadily for most of the next day. The coast is an endless stretch of
sand dunes with few signs of settlement and hardly any other boats. Eventually
we rounded a headland and set off along the 20 mile Hel peninsular. At this
point it began to blow and rain hard, and it became something of a sleigh-ride.
Unfortunately our fore-sail ripped and we had to motor the last few miles,
arriving in Hel harbour just before dark.
Arriving in Hel
Excellent flounders for dinner at a local cafe, then damply to bed. Next morning another sleigh-ride the last 15 miles to Gdansk, where we are staying a couple of days to do repairs and recuperate.
Entering Gdansk harbour gave us a first glimpse of a major Eastern European port. The crumbling wharves are frequented by few ships today, and shipyards that could once launch several ships every week, are almost idle. Only the grain warehouses and scrap yards showed much activity.
By contrast, the city centre is a miracle of reconstruction. Gdansk was the target of extensive bombing by Britain and Russia during the war, and the area is still surrounded by ancient warehouses with cracked walls and gaping roofs. The waterfront however, and an extensive area of streets and broad squares, have been built from the ruins in the original style, and the view is not so different from the days of the Hanseatic League.
We were met by a local representative of the Cruising Association who was most helpful and friendly – putting us in touch with engineers and other marine suppliers. Jon replaced his broken autohelm, and we had sails repaired. Without this kind of help it is hard to get things done – many times we found ourselves unable find supplies, or wasting days waiting for an engineer.