Stormy Weather in Visby, Gotland


An empty guest harbor ('gästhamn')in Visby. By Mia.

Note: This was originally from my hand-written journal, written on 23 August. I copied it to the computer, changed it to the past tense and edited/added a few things here and there...

It blew hard in Visby the day we arrived. Unfortunately from the west, and right through the opening in the breakwater. The wind brought with it a very annoying swell that battered the empty guest harbor. We were one of six boats in an area of floating docks that could have handled over 200. And one of those six was from Visby, so presumably is always there.

We arrived in the evening around 7pm, and not an hour too soon. The 250-mile passage from Malm


– with a brief refueling stop just outside the city in Limnhamn, and a canal passage through Falsterbokanalen, where we waited an hour for the drawbridge to open – was slow and tedious. My initial impressions of the Baltic, at least as a pure sailing area, were rather low. In nearly 72 hours of sailing, we probably motored for 12 through absolute calm. Save for the last two hours, when we rode the first hints of the westerlies on the fringes of an approaching low, the rest of the passage was in very light winds or strong headwinds, and progress was slow.

South of Ystad we endured a 24-hour tacking duel along Sweden’s south coast, one long board towards Germany, then another back towards Sweden. The wind was fickle then, gusting close to 30 knots at dawn on Mia’s watch, then laying right down again an hour later. Reef the main, unreef the main, reef the main, unreef the main, reef the genoa, unreef the genoa. You get the picture.


Using a mooring ball to kedge 


the dock. By Andy, with the GoPro.

But that’s not to say we didn’t enjoy ourselves. No, in fact we did, quite enjoyed ourselves. I’ll go to the foredeck many many times to make sail changes, so long as we have wind. That type of work keeps me spry, gives me a challenge. It’s far more rewarding than sitting at the tiller in the dark and steering under power while staring at the compass for four hours. We did plenty of that too.

The forecast we received before leaving Mal

indicated an approaching low pressure, with westerly winds to 30 knots on the GRIB files. But that was for Wednesday. We left Sunday night. For three days, Mia and I kept anticipating a windshift, kept hoping those westerlies would fill in. So when the wind came up out of the east, and strong, we were a tad disheartened. That began our little tacking duel.

Tuesday night a tickle finally came up from the southwest and quickly filled in to 8-10 knots and convinced us that was it, the wind had arrived and we could sail full and by right for Visby. Before sunset I dropped the genoa and replaced it with the small jib, set it on the pole and waited for the wind to increase. By dawn, it was calm again. So I motored for four hours. Ugh.


Arcturus' squished fenders. By Mia.

Finally, yesterday afternoon the west wind arrived in earnest. We’d watched the barometer slowly creeping down from a high of 1020 to 1008 in about 12 hours, so we knew something was bound to happen. Though we were premature with the small jib, we needed it on the approach to Visby. Twenty miles out the wind freshened. I took two reefs in the mainsail, jibed the jib off the pole and set the windvane to steer northeast, on a broad reach towards the harbor. We made hull speed for the first time in three days, sailing fast beneath a darkening sky in the west. It drizzled as we sailed through the breakwater. I furled the main while Mia steered us in under the small jib, and we motored the last few hundred yards to the inner harbor. Normally boats are to tie up bow- or stern-to on the floating finger piers (there are moorings to accommodate this), but with no boats around we simply arrived side-to, letting the breeze blow us down onto the dock. That was a mistake.

An hour after we arrived, the front arrived, and the wind with it, in earnest now. It was gusting strong in the harbor, the boat riding up against the dock and smashing into the poor fenders. We spent the night like this, the docklines squeaking and the fenders about to burst under the pressure.

It was no better the next day. The front cleared the sky, but it was still windy as heck. We launched the dinghy and I led two lines, one forward and one aft, to one of the mooring balls, basically kedging off the dock to give some relief to the fenders and protect the boat from the dock (and the dock from the boat – the night before, the rubrail had etched a nice groove into the 6x6 wooden frame on the outside of the dock. Splinters covered the side deck in the morning). We still rocked and rolled in the swell, but not onto the dock.


Photo by Mia

Initially I thought we’d try and warp the boat around to the leeward side of the dock, nudging her off the edge and letting the wind bring the stern round. This caused me two concerns – one, that the wind and swell was strong enough that we might lose control of the boat, causing more damage than if we’d done nothing at all; and two, that tying off to leeward would put a heck of a strain on the docklines and associated deck fittings (and squeak us to death trying to sleep). The dock, being that it floated, was moving too, and every so often it moved in opposition to the boat, snapping taught the lines and putting one heck of a shock load on the cleats. This would be markedly worse on the leeward side.

Then I recalled Lin and Larry Pardey’s lamenting the lost art of kedging to keep a boat from bashing into a windward dock. With stout moorings already in place, this would be far easier for us than moving the boat round. So I launched the dinghy – after only half-joking that it would have been easier to just swim the lines out – and had myself a little pre-breakfast adventure. And it worked, marvelously in fact.