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May 19, 2007 (a Saturday, not really a Sunday note)

Hi. Well, it’s Saturday, but I’m fairly certain that we won’t be able to call you tomorrow, because we’ll be sailing. So I thought I’d just bring you up to date on what we’ve done so far. This isn’t a Sunday note, because we’re not traveling. Let’s just say it’s a recap to get started on the story that will begin tomorrow.

We arrived on April 16 and took delivery of the boat on Tuesday, the 17th. Hallberg-Rassy (henceforth I’ll just say HR) doesn’t deliver boats on Mondays, because they spend the day before delivery shining them up and making sure they look their best for their new owners. Normally, it’s a bigger deal, I think, the whole delivery pomp and circumstance. For us, it was our second HR, and furthermore, we got to know our boat pretty well when we were in London.

Roland, our HR representative (and friend), told us that it normally took a whole day to explain the 54 to new owners. We scoffed at that, since the boat is just a larger version of the one we had before. But we hadn’t considered that we have more creature comforts on board this one, such as a watermaker and air conditioning (like we'll ever need THAT up here), and even some of the normal stuff has changed over seven years. For example, the electrical system:

We'd read a book (by Slate's "I see France” Michael Lewis) about Jim Clark, the founder of Silicon Graphics and Netscape entrepreneur. He’d built this very large, very fancy sailboat about five or so years ago. The thing that struck us was that the electric "switches" were computer controlled. In a regular house, you flick a switch, it fosters or stops electrical flow, and the light goes on or off. In Jim Clark's boat, you touch the switch, it tells a computer that you want a light to go on, and the light is managed by the computer without an actual connection to the switch. We thought that was the coolest thing. Now we have that. Actually, I think that everyone will have that pretty soon. So there are more things for the captain to learn, even about systems he thought he knew.

So it did take nearly the whole day to go through the boat, and we didn’t start unpacking until the next day. We thought the process would take much longer than it did, but we could get the boat to a presentable state in only a few days. While we were unpacking, Art cut his finger badly on a box. This is a problem, because he’s on an aspirin regimen and bleeds like a hemophiliac when he’s cut. On the plus side, the box that cut his finger just happened to be the one that held the first aid supplies.

During this time, workers from the yard were coming and going. There are always things around that don’t work the way they’re supposed to, and HR goes to great lengths to make sure its owners are happy before they leave the yard. Last time around, we could barely get everything done in three weeks, and this time we allocated a month. We pretty much needed all of it.

In the meantime, we’d rented a little house in the woods to use as our onshore base. We were worried about the weather (showering in a cold aft cabin isn’t fun) and when the boat would be ready for us to live aboard for good. We thought, after about a week, that wed give up the house after two weeks. We did stop sleeping there, for the most part, but it was nice to have a proper washer and dryer around and other little amenities once in a while. We rented a car, too, which we gave up today. Ellös is a little town and most of what we needed was a half hour away at Uddevalla or forty-five minutes away in Gothenburg.

Art and I have different memories of the weather the last four weeks. He recalls that it’s been very livable. I recall that it’s been as cold and rainy and chilled through as I feared, but that I’ve been better natured about it than I expected to be. Part of that is because we’ve brought so many cold-weather clothes. While the Swedes were out in spring jackets, I was in long underwear, turtlenecks, polartec tops and a ski jacket. The stuff I got is NASA-grade, I think, for expeditions, and the L.L. Bean catalog shows happy outdoorsy models in my clothes prancing around and smiling on glaciers. I’m wearing the stuff in layers in Sweden in May.

Compared to Turkey or even to Malta, we’re in retail heaven. There are department stores that are like Bloomingdale’s, warehouse electronics shops, huge Wal-Mart clones, and anything else you might want. But I’d forgotten that visiting Sweden, as we’ve been doing the last two or three years, is a lot easier than living in Sweden. I’d forgotten how much of this country is written in Swedish. I’m not a zippy supermarket shopper even in the US, but I’m positively catatonic in the Swedish market.

It’s easy to eat lunch in the place we go every day. It’s a tradition to have an affordable fixed-price lunch for the working guy, and the hotel by the yard offers a smorgasbord. There’s a kiosk with salad-like choices, and herring, and lots of legumes, and then you move on to the steam table. There’s always a choice between two main courses (and you can take both). One of them is always fish, most often salmon. The fish, and the other course too, is always served with some sort of creamy sauce. Fish is also ALWAYS served with potatoes, most often just boiled. But you’ll notice on the Swedish menu that you get to choose from six or seven sides with your meal, and every single one of them is some sort of potato.

Our first sailing trip with the new boat was an hour or two out with Roland. HR typically has someone take you out on your first trip, and I noticed that Art didn’t even balk that Roland was handling the docking in HR’s small harbor. Our next trip out was an overnight sail to an anchorage we’d visited the last time we were here. This time around, we have electronic charts, and they make all the difference in this very rocky coast. It took two people and lots of adrenalin to keep us off of the many hidden rocks in 2000. Now, we simply look at a screen or set a course in deep water and let the autopilot take us around.

Our most recent sailing trip was to “export” the boat to the nearby town of Fredrikstad, Norway, which is a nice way of describing tax avoidance (not evasion, which is illegal.) If you don’t leave the European Union immediately, they collect a twenty percent tax on the sale price. That’s like paying tax on your house. It’s worth sailing up to Norway, even if it’s fifty degrees and overcast. Which it was. When we got there, it was quite late in the day (the sun is up well into the evening here) and the marina we thought we’d stop wasn’t up to the task of accommodating us. Art had another marina in mind in the area, but because of the geography, it was hours away. We’d have to find it in the morning. We went to an anchorage nearby and simply dropped the anchor, freezing and exhausted. In the morning, we rounded Fredrikstad to the other marina and realized that the other marina couldn’t handle a boat our size either. Pleasure boats in our range aren’t common here because the sailing season is so short. Anyone who buys a 54-foot boat takes it to the Mediterranean or the Caribbean. Except us, apparently.

So we anchored in the middle of a quiet channel there and took our dinghy to Customs for the formalities. Art had looked at the weather and realized that we could be stuck in Fredrikstad for a long time unless we left that minute. We agreed that if we went right back to Sweden and HR, that we’d bring the car up for a proper visit on Sunday, which we did.

We found more items for the HR to-do list on the Norway trip, and continued to find things for them to do until the moment we were ready to leave. This past Wednesday, for example, was the day before a four-day weekend for them. We knew that we’d be gone before they came back on Monday, and there was a vexing problem with the battery system that had puzzled us since the first time we took the boat out. The symptom was that something shut off the PC every time we left the dock. After the problem had been found to be the boat’s DC system, the yard immediately changed the inverter (the big battery that we use for the electrical systems.) That didn’t fix it. Well, at 6 PM, well after hours on Wednesday, they replaced the entire bank of batteries on the boat. We have no idea whether that will fix it either. On the other hand, Art had expressed concern about a year ago about the boat being completed in November and then just sitting around all winter, possibly being hard on the batteries. So we’re happy to have new ones, whether they fix the problem or not.

We’ve spent some time with our friends Roland (the HR rep) and his fiancé Vickie (who owns the aftermarket business from which we buy lots of parts.) We’ve also met some other people around here, some American and some from here and there in Europe, so we’re having a reasonable social life. Tomorrow we leave and become nomads again, until Sunday of next week, when we’re joined by Claire and Allison in Copenhagen.

So that pretty much brings you up to date on what we’re doing. I’ll try to be a better communicator from here on out.

Karen (and Art)