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Sunday, May 17, 2009, in Ebeltoft, Denmark

Hi all. The journey has begun. We’ve already made a lot of progress in one week. Too much, maybe, since we don’t need to travel a lot of miles this season. Last I wrote to you, we were still in the boatyard, awaiting good weather.

On Monday morning, we left the yard in calm winds and headed offshore from Ellös. The air was cool and the day was sunny. The winds would be behind us all day. This would be a fine opportunity to test the new cockpit cover that had been made for us during the winter.

Last season, I started to measure the temperature by the number of hats I needed to wear on each sailing day. A resourceful HR54 owner named Alastair had seen my online grousing and suggested this cover as a way to improve the temperature in the cockpit while we’re sailing. Vickie documented our order as “Karen’s cover.��� Sorry, Alastair.

We already had a canvas ���house” that covers the whole cockpit and is a godsend when we’re in harbor, but it’s too cumbersome to use underway and hampers visibility while we����������re at sea. An alternative to a whole house is this new little drop-down cover, which affixes to the hard dodger and falls in front of the steering wheel, enclosing only the area under the dodger, and making it possible to see out around us. Because it closes in the area where we sit, the wind doesn’t blow on us when the wind is behind us. Its isinglass windows, as a bonus, create a little greenhouse, and the area under the cover outdoors was actually warmer than the air inside the boat during our sail south. In theory, it was a delightful sail.

Alas, it was only theory for me. I admit that it took me much longer than it usually does to feel cold and not quite right. And this wasn’t a bad seasick day. I even ate lunch. But the winds of the previous week, combined with the winds of the current day, created what Art describes as confused” seas. They didn’t seem confused to me; I was sure that they were making me sick on purpose. Art also describes such seas as “lumpy”. Just what I want, moguls in my ocean.

We arrived in Skagen in late afternoon, none too soon for me. This wasn’t our first visit to this northernmost point in Denmark. We found a weather window in late summer last year and took ourselves out for a three-day weekend to Denmark. We didn’t know at the time that we had selected the unofficial last weekend of the season, the way Labor Day symbolizes the end of summer in the US. We knew that the weather would be great and that Danish harbors are notoriously packed tight in the summertime. It’s probably just as well we hadn’t thought it through, because we’d probably have lost our nerve. Once you commit to coming to Skagen, if there’s no room for you, there’s no backup harbor. For that weekend, we were in the commercial harbor, as there was no space in the marina, and by the time the day was over, we had been packed into the dock seven boats deep.

This time, the main harbor was nearly empty. Boats that would dock fore-and-aft in the summertime were side-to against one wall. The other two sides of the harbor (one side is open as a way to get in and out) were empty, with lonely floating docks. As there was no room for us on the wall occupied with other boats, we tied up to one of the floating docks. The demographics of the harbor told me that the season hadn��������������t yet begun. There wasn’t a single Scandinavian flag on a boat. Germans, as always. One of the boats flew an Australian flag. And our American flag.

We took advantage of the temperate late-afternoon temperature and had a beer and some smoked salmon at a café in the small boathouses rounding the harbor. That interlude released my pent-up desire for a meal that I didn’t cook, and we grazed an onboard dinner before heading to bed.

If Skagen hadn’t already been on the sea, someone would have had to carve out a moat for it. It’s just too cute not to be a resort. There wasn’t much to Skagen for most of history. For one thing, it’s the tiny tip of Denmark’s Jutland, so it’s pretty far away from most of the rest of the country. For another, it’s plagued – or blessed – with sand drift that creates lovely dunes for visitors, but makes the land unfriendly to those who tried to make a go of life there. One of the casualties of this drift is now a tourist attraction called “The Buried Church”. It was a 14th-century symbol of the strength of the settlement and is now a lovely stair-stepped spire above ground, with the rest of the edifice swamped by sand.

Skagen was founded in the 13th century, although habitation goes back well before that. For most of its history, the economic engine was the fishing industry, and the dried, salted catch was sold all over Europe. The omnipresent sand and sea (and undoubtedly snow) also supplied unusual and captivating lighting in the region. (Indeed, North Jutland calls itself “Lysets Land”, or “the land of light.”) In the late 19th century, an artists’ colony prospered, with noted local artist Anna Ancher and many artists who braved the difficult voyage to Skagen to practice their craft under the midnight sun.

We visited the museum that celebrates these artists. There were a dozen rooms, each with a theme that explored a certain focus of the art. One room depicted the portraits made of the locals, who were doing ordinary tasks: shearing a sheep, knitting, convalescing after an illness. The artists captured a life of hard work, sacrifice, profound sadness, yet the light, even from a torch, was exaggerated and almost too cheerful. Others showed the stark, sandy beachscape, also bathed in sunlight, or the flowers of springtime. Not that I’m any sort of an expert, but I was struck by the resemblance in style to the work of Andrew Wyeth, who wouldn’t be born for nearly a century after these guys had made their mark.

Hans Christian Andersen had, of course, also visited Skagen. The life of the storyteller (they just call him “HC”) is the Danish counterpart to our obsession with the sleeping arrangements of George Washington. If HC dined somewhere, or studied somewhere, or mentioned something in a story, you'll see the homage to his presence anywhere you go in Denmark. I'm surprised there aren't bumper stickers on the swans "I used to be ugly".

This posthumous celebration of the man is especially true of his home town, Odense, which wraps its identity around its talented native son. Its native son who left as soon as he came of age, and never visited again. So, he couldn't send a postcard? Even the affable Danny Kaye never looked back once he got to wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen.

In its defense, we visited Odense during the summer of 2000 and found it as charming and fairylike as the stories he wove. There's little doubt that we'll visit there again whenever it’s feasible sometime on this trip through Denmark.

There’s a more active day we might have had in Skagen, a bike ride to the point at the top of Jutland, but we decided against it. First of all, the day would barely make it to 60 degrees (about 15 Celsius). Though we saw more cyclists than autos in our day in Skagen, neither of us was keen on increasing the apparent wind on our faces. Second, we did that bike ride on our one day in Skagen in 2008. Instead, we walked up and down the cobblestone pedestrian shopping street.

The buildings of Skagen don’t all toe the style line, but most of the two-story structures are painted yellow and have red roofs. This gives the place a kind of liveliness without the crowds actually being there. One thing that was notably absent on the shopping street: a place for us to buy telephone service. Usually that’s the first thing we do when we arrive in a new place. Telephone service is our link to the rest of the world, especially because it gives us an unending source of Internet service. Our situation wasn’t desperate, because Denmark is part of the footprint of the Swedish wireless Internet service we have had for two seasons, as was Norway in 2008. But we always like to have a number for local merchants to call, and we needed to test out a new network router that we’ll need when we leave Scandinavia in a few weeks.

The winds were good again for a trip down the coast to Sæby. They were behind us again, but not quite as strong as the winds that blew us to Skagen. They also didn’t last for our entire journey. But the trip was short, and we’d left ourselves the whole day to get to Sæby, and we motored only a short time before putting up the sails again about four miles out and dawdling into the harbor for the last hour of the trip.

Denmark doesn’t look like Sweden, even though I’m sure that the Danish coast was geologically torn away from the Swedish coast we left. Sweden’s terrain is rocky, rugged, and stark. Denmark’s is hilly and green. The greens are almost unnatural, like the colors of last season’s polo shirts: hunter green, velvet green, and lime. The land is punctuated by modern white windmills that don’t look as though they could possibly draw energy from their lazy sway in the wind. Some might complain that they interfere with the pastoral landscape, like billboards on a highway in a forest. People probably complained about utility poles a century ago, and gaslights before that, and roads. I like them all, because I like to have some anthropology with my geology.

Spring is a good time for us to travel. Marinas are empty. Even the sea is sort of empty. There are still lots of giant freighters around, but we can see them on our AIS display (where ships transmit information about themselves and our electronics calculate whether it looks like we’ll collide), and they’re usually easy to spot on the horizon even without electronic assistance. Some of them were actually anchored just outside of Skagen. I was fighting the waves, and these freighters were oblivious to them. That didn’t seem fair.

The name Sæby is derived from Seeby and means “town on the sea.” Apparently the town’s founders didn’t get out much. Most of Denmark is on the sea. The Danish coastline/area ratio (meters/kilometers) is about 172. That compares to the ratio of the US of 2.175 and the ratio of the island of the United Kingdom of 51.5. Here are some of the countries with a more compelling coastline: Federated States of Micronesia, Solomon Islands, and the Bahamas. It was hard to find a higher ratio for a country that wasn’t an island, wasn’t tiny, and wasn’t so remote I’d never heard of it. All of this to point out that this is quite an unoriginal name. And not worthy of Vikings, who should have known better, having been seasoned travelers. So I have to presume that they were just tired of being creative.

The sea figures in other claims to fame in Sæby. The Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen spent a summer in Sæby. He became acquainted with the tragic suicide of local author Adda Ravnkilde. She’d written three novels about women writers at odds with the expectations of a male-dominated society. Unable to find a publisher, she committed suicide at the age of 21. The suppression of women was a topic of great interest to Ibsen, and he studied her works and her life in Sæby. Her story became the inspiration for Ibsen’s play “The Lady from the Sea”.

We frittered our day away in Sæby, looking at the half-timbered houses that bulge out on the first floor, ambling down the shopping street, exploring the Carmelite church.

This church is merely a portion of its fifteenth-century self, when it was established by the local bishop as a monastery. The stair-stepped architecture of the spire is typical in northern Europe. What is not typical is the interior, brimming with frescoes and carvings, an ornate Dutch alterpiece that, according to legend, was “donated” when someone tossed it from a boat in the harbor. It’s rare to find a pre-Reformation church in Scandinavia with all of this lavishness inside. It’s even rarer to find any church in Scandinavia with any worshipers inside.

We left Sæby early, but not very early, in the morning. We knew that the weather would be colder than our previous sailing days. Our destination was Grenå, farther down the coast of North Jutland. The wind was behind us, Art reefed the main and the jib, and the sail was fast and pleasant for most of the day.

Eventually, the wind decreased, and Art put out the rest of the sails. By mid-afternoon, Art was having second thoughts about this harbor. He knew that all around the Grenå entrance and inside the harbor, the depths were just a bit deeper than we needed. He also knew that the last two harbors were shallower than they’d been marked on the charts. We had to do some research.

We tried the Internet. The Internet wasn’t connecting. Art tried to call the marina from his Swedish phone and couldn’t get connected. Maybe it wasn’t roaming. We’d already been in two harbors and neither of them had a proper phone shop. I sent an email (thank you, BlackBerry) to the marina begging them to call us: no answer. Art called the marina on the VHF radio: no answer. Art called on the VHF to “any boat in Grenå” and got no answer. We passed Grenå by, planning to sail three more hours to Ebeltoft instead. Within three miles, the wind died off and our speed dropped by two knots, twenty percent. It was getting cloudy and cold, too. For the first time in the season, I had to retrieve our Arctic bonnets and top them with wooly watch caps. Yes, it had become a two-hat day, even under Karen’s cover.

Then Art noticed a sailboat transmitting AIS data on his way into the harbor. He hailed the boat on VHF and got an answer. This sailor promised to let us know what depth he saw on the way into the harbor. He did, and it was just enough, and we turned around and went into Grenå harbor to tie up.

We didn’t know a lot about this place, because nobody bothered to write about it. Grenå got barely a mention in my guidebook. Other than the warnings about the depth of the entrance, there wasn’t a lot to read in the cruising guide either. We knew that whatever the town was, it was three or four kilometers (at least 2 miles) from the harbor. Our plan had been to slow down our traveling pace and spend most of the weekend onboard, surfing the Internet, watching US television through our Internet-based viewer, and making phone calls on Skype. Every one of these plans depended on having great broadband Internet access, and ours wasn’t working. We needed to fix that, and fast.

At a pizza place on the harbor, we cornered a waitress to inquire about what sort of shops might sell us phone service in town. She was moderately helpful, but like any Scandinavian female under thirty, she was immoderately beautiful. I couldn’t tear my glance from her perfect face, blue eyes and blond hair. I could see that Art would be willing to eat a second dinner, just to remain within her aura. We’d noticed, though, that some young Danes are apparently unsatisfied with this Nordic look. They’ve taken to dying parts of their hair to black or dark brown. What’s next, painting on wrinkles?

The shops in town would open at 10:00 on Saturday, but they’d only be available until 1:00 in the afternoon. We left the boat at 9:00 for our four-kilometer trek into town.

Denmark takes its pedestrian and bike paths as seriously as it does its roads. We learned this the hard way in 2000, in Åbenrå, when we took a walk to the sailmaker’s and didn’t bother to look for the walking route. Because there are pedestrian paths, some highways and tunnels don’t bother with sidewalks and curbs. That made for an adventurous stroll. Once we figured this out, though, we learned to look for the walking road to town, and found it at the end of the marina.

The path to town was labeled as a “nature street” and had a narrow river on the right and a paved road to the left. One side of the river was fringed with tall grass, the other with reeds. The strip of lawn that separated us from the road was lined with trees flowering in purple and green. Geese were grazing in between the dandelions and didn't scatter when we came near. We stepped off of the path occasionally to let a cyclist through on their way to town. Even the cars drove within the speed limit. I could understand why Hans Christian might fill his head with fairy tales. This place is a fairy tale. I half expected animated birds to come flying down and land on our shoulders. We learned that the tiny river’s name is Å. Thats all. Ahhhhhh.

It didn't take us long to find acceptable, though very expensive, Internet service that we could use in Denmark. The unlimited broadband we’ve been gulping down in Sweden and in Norway in our previous season just wasn’t working in Grenå, although we had every reason to believe it should. It had been fine in Skagen and Sæby. We’d have to look into it. But Denmark goes into hibernation from 1:00 PM on Saturday until Monday morning. So we’d have to find other amusement.

We stopped at a restaurant in town for a dish the Danes call a Pariserbøf. It’s a burger patty on a piece of bread, and this version was topped with diced cooked beets and shredded raw beets, onions, capers, and shredded fresh horseradish. All of this was served with a raw egg yolk on the side.

Sunday is always a good day for a sail. For one thing, there’s nothing to do in Scandinavia, as shops are closed. Sunday appears to be a day to be with your family, which these folks seem to enjoy. We enjoy that too, but we don’t need it to be Sunday for that. On any day for the five or six months that we’re here, we’re never more than about twenty feet apart. Once in a while, we lose each other in a supermarket, but that’s usually pretty temporary. So every day is Sunday for us, and the real Sunday is just a day when we can’t do much in any of the places we visit.

Our plan was to sail to Århus, the second-largest city in Denmark (after Copenhagen, of course.) The winds were right, and it was a place we could stay for a few days if we wanted to slow down our pace. We’d begun our plan to go to Århus before we bought phone service in Grenå, but that stopped being a reason to go there.

We’d worried a lot about the depth in Grenå��s entrance and marina, but once we got in without incident, we stopped being too concerned. Our departure was timed to coincide with the small high tide in the area. Nonetheless, we bumped twice, gently, as we tried to exit the harbor. Then, when we finally breathed a sigh of relief that we’d made it out of the harbor, we bumped again. A lot less gently, on the muddy bottom. It’s a good thing we didn’t bump on the way in. Art wouldn’t have slept for two nights, worrying about our departure.

The winds weren’t too strong after we left the harbor, and we began to sail south along the coast. The winds picked up and Art reefed both of the sails to keep us from heeling over too much. The sail was spirited, and I was happy that Karen’s cover, among its other virtues, tended to dull the sounds of the sea’s fury. I was convinced that the greenhouse warmth and the muted noises contributed to my avoidance of seasickness in these conditions.

Once we rounded the point that would take us to Århus, Art started to have second thoughts about the marina. Danish marinas often use “boxes”, parceling out harbor space with pilings between the berths. We had a difficult experience with a box in Åbenrå in 2000 with our other, smaller boat. We were pretty sure that we could have big problems squeezing our girth into a berth that wasn’t meant for a boat with a width of nearly five meters (more than fifteen feet). On a Sunday. Out of season. When harbormasters and helpful holiday sailors are few and far between.

Instead, we turned up towards Ebeltoft, a medieval town we visited on our previous boat in 2000. And out of nowhere, our Internet came back. We can be bandwidth hogs again. The skies were cloudy and the wind had picked up, but we managed to get into the harbor easily and get tied up before lunchtime.

We haven’t even gone ashore yet. But I wanted to let you all know that we’re doing fine, running the heater and dressing like astronauts.

Love, Karen (and Art)