Night sailing

Sailing in the Danish Belt Seas is really nice and easy, usually with day sails from island to island. But I have been doing that type of sailing with my parents for many years, and still do. So this summer we were ready to go a bit further. We actually wanted to cross the North Sea and go to Scotland, but the weather put those plans on a hold. Our backup plan was to go to Bornholm. Preferable directly from Kiel Holtenau to Bornholm, without stops on the way. We figured that this way we would get much further much faster – and Runa would be able to sleep some of the way instead of feeling seasick.

This plan turned out to work really well for us. Yes, I did have a bit of trouble sleeping, especially the first night, but it was good for both of us to see that Esben had no problems sailing alone at night. In the spring, Esben did a week long sailing course in Svendborg, combining theory and practical sailing, and this definitely helped his confidence in navigation. Also, we have nautical maps on our iPad, and before we left Esben had managed to set it up so it receives the AIS signal from our VHF. This means that we all the time knew if there were large ships around us, and even more important, if we were on collision course. This was a big help, and though we so far only have an AIS receiver, a transponder is on our wish list for the winter. For me, the biggest problem about sailing alone was handling the sails on my own. But Chip-Chip’s sails are actually kinda small, and as long as I made a point of reefing in time it wasn’t a problem.

So we ended up doing all the longer stretches of sailing during the night this summer, the longest being the 44 hour sail from Kiel Holtenau to Hammerhavnen on Bornholm. And we will definitely continue sailing this way in the future. At least for as long as Runa still gets seasick while sailing.

Food was one thing we had been contemplating how to handle under way. Eating hotdogs does, after all, not work day after day. Even though Mattis would probably like it. I know many people prepare food for a few days before setting out, but the size of our fridge ruled that option out. We had wanted to try canning food in the pressure cooker for a while, and after some googling, we figured we would try to make some canned meals.

The first time we canned a meal we just got out what we had and ended up with beans, some vegetables and a sausage. It didn’t look great, but when Esben and I spent an evening working on the boat some days later we tried it out. And it was surprisingly delicious. We later canned both goulash and pumpkin soup. I found the goulash great, and the kids liked the pumpkin soup. For our summer trip we used the canned meals both on the trip towards Bornholm and on the way back as we waited go through the bridge to Stralsund. Still, we ended up not using it all during our summer holidays. Instead we used the last glass one weekend when we returned late a Sunday evening from a visit to Denmark. Handy.

All in all, we find that sailing longer distances during night worked great for us. Runa was appalled when she woke up after the first night on the way to Bornholm and realized that we would be sailing on for the whole day – and for another night. But she appreciated it once we arrived and could spend the saved time exploring the island rather than sailing short distances each day.


Detour on the Ejder

When Runa, Mattis and I returned to Chip-Chip after visiting the Stralsund Aquarium, Esben was nowhere to be seen. He had stayed behind to change filters on our motor and to take a walk in the old city and do some grocery shopping. We began preparing the boat for leaving, and went up to get our deposit back for the shower card. Of course it turned out that the deposit was lost, as the harbor office only opened for one hour at lunch, and naturally there was no other way of returning the card. This is Germany after all. We wanted to cut up the card and leave it in their mail box with an angry note, but ended up giving it to our neighbors instead.

When Esben was back, we were ready to go to the diesel dock. The wind was still predicted to be against us, so we wanted to be prepared to motor some of the way to Kiel. The sail out from Rügen goes through some narrow dug out channels, which are well marked, but it was still nice to keep an eye on the other sailboats, as we sailed just a few meters from birds standing on the bottom. It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon, and we all agree that we should come back to Rügen sometime when we have more time. But for now we set sails and continued westwards in the light breeze towards Kiel, while cooking dinner and getting ready for bed. The wind had died completely, so we chose to take down the sails and continue motoring. And since we had forgotten part of our self steerer at home, that meant hand steering for most of the night. In the early morning I took over, and found that Esben had found a way to use the wind vane to do the steering. Very practical. I continued under the bridge to Fehmern and then actually managed to set the sails again. The water was choppy, the wind had picked up – and was against us, so it wasn’t the most comfortable sailing, but at least we had a break from the motor.

We reached Holtenau, where the lock to the Kiel Kanal is located, in the late afternoon. It’s not exactly our favorite place in the world, and we had thought out a plan to get through – we would not go into the cosy little harbor outside of the lock, assuming that it will be easy to go through in the morning. We had learned our lesson, as we waited for three hours outside last year. Rather, we would line up outside, and hoped to squeeze in as the only sailboat right next to the big cargo ships. And the plan worked. Once all the big ships were in they actually signaled for us to enter. Once again it was a bit too exiting for our taste, as we ended up right at the stern of a large ship with its propeller still running, and with our forestay up against its moorings. Luckily, the water difference between the fjord and the Kiel Kanal is minimal, and soon we were allowed to leave the lock again. In the Kanal, sailboats are only allowed to make stops in designated areas, and since it was getting late, we continued to the nearest anchoring spot and spent the night there.

To shake things up a bit we had decided to leave the Kiel Kanal at the Giselau lock, and do the last part of the trip on the Ejder, a small river that used to mark the Danish-German border until 1864. It was a very calm sail compared to the Kiel Kanal, but we ended up having an unanticipated problem; our boat was too large for the berths in the harbors. That does not happen a lot to us. So we ended up sailing a fair bit longer than planned, and still had to spend the night anchored along the bank. But that was fine, just not what we had expected.

On the second day on the Ejder river we would enter the part of the river that is affected by tides, so we had to get up early in order to hit the tides at the right time. To pass through the Ejder, we had to go through a number of locks and bridges. In the beginning we would call them up when approaching, but we soon realized that they were keeping an eye on the little traffic that there was on the river, and automatically opened for us when we were getting close.

It was our plan to spend the day in Tönning, the town located closest to the North Sea, and then continue towards Helgoland with the outgoing tide in the evening. We knew that the harbor of Tönning fell dry at low tide, and had planned our trip so we would be able to sail in. But despite of that I could see the depth sensor go uncomfortably low as we entered the harbor. Later when the water had disappeared, it became clear that sailing in the middle of the entrance to the harbor is not the way to go; you have to keep right as there is absolutely on water on the left side. The very friendly harbor master came by with a leaflet about the town in Danish, and told us that we ought to visit the Information centre about the Wadden Sea, which is located close to the harbor. The Wadden Sea is a national park as well as designated UNESCO world heritage, and we figured it would be a good way to spend the afternoon. It turned out that the centre was really cool, full of kids exploring how nature works and Mattis and Runa threw themselves right into it. We ended up on the big play ground with coffee and ice cream and found that we had had a great afternoon.

After having the best tuna steaks ever from the local fish shop, we prepared to leave with the outgoing tide. Despite of being in a tidal harbor, we had one more lock to go through before entering the North Sea, and honestly, I don’t really get how that makes sense. It was a beautiful calm evening, and we had a lovely sail out. The whole way we had to keep a good eye on the markers of the channel, and having our position on the iPad helped a lot. As we went through the last lock in the Ejder, the Ejder Sperrwerk, the sun was beginning to set, and soon we had be very aware where we were sailing. The problem is that the dug out channel moves a lot, so the charts do not necessarily show reality. We found our way combining the charts with the lights on the buoys, but we were happy as we passed the last buoy marking the entrance to the Ejder.

Again, Esben took the first watch. But halfway through I went up to him and asked if he would mind going directly home instead of to Helgoland. I was realizing that it would be a good idea to have a day at home before I went to the Fram Strait for a month. So Esben changed course, and when he approached the Elbe, I joined him so we could cross together. The mouth of the Elbe has a lot of traffic, so it was nice for one person to steer and one to keep an eye on the AIS.

Of course, our course change meant that we hit the tide into the Weser at a pretty bad time, so I spent most of the day sailing against the current. And of course also against the wind. We were actually surprised that we never sailed less than 2 knots, our usual speed is around 5. The nice thing about approaching Bremerhaven against the tide was that for once we could see the seals resting on the sand banks as we sailed in. But we were really happy as we entered the Fischereihafen lock that leads to our harbor, and that evening we all fell a sleep early.

From Bornholm to Stralsund

As time passed on Bornholm, I became more and more aware of the departure date that was looming in the distance; we had planned our return date so I would be able to catch a plane from Hamburg to Tromsø, to join the Polarstern on a Fram Strait expedition. And the south-westerly winds, which had been such great help in getting us to Bornholm, were still there – and now they didn’t seem so appealing.

So after some debating we decided to leave Gudhjem in the evening, sail down the east coast of Bornholm and get the kids to bed before we were out of lee of the island. It turned out that it was a fairly good plan. The first couple of hours of sailing were lovely and fast, we could have dinner while the water was still calm, and the kids got in bed without too much trouble.

But then we decided that I should take the first part of the night shift because the winds were pretty strong and we were having difficulty going in the direction we wanted because the wind was just a bit more from the front than we had hoped. And soon I was cold and tired – and ended up throwing up. After a few hours I asked Esben to take over because I was so miserable, and he was nice enough to come up, even though he hadn’t slept much at all. But it was after all just one night, and when Esben was too tired to continue, I took over. Together, we decided that it was time to take down the sails and once again rely on our 1970 Volvo Penta. The wind had a taken us a bit far east during the night, and we spent a few hours motoring towards the landfall mooring eastwards of Rügen. The closer we came to land, the calmer it became, and we ended up motoring through the  shallow channels in the most beautiful weather of the whole trip. If we had had more time, we would have loved to anchor in lee of Rügen, but instead we continued on the whole day, reaching the city of Stralsund in the evening. And once again we were happy to have a small boat – we managed to squeezed in to the very last free space in the marine, right next to the harbour master’s office.

Instead of going jogging in the morning, Runa and I took a walk to see the city. Stralsund is UNESCO world heritage and is filled with old and beautifully preserved buildings. It also has a long marine and naval history, and a huge oceanarium has been build at the water front. Runa, Mattis and I went to visit the Ozeanium and were hugely impressed. I have visited a lot of aquariums – did after all study marine biology, but this place is probably the best I have seen so far. We walked under large models of phytoplankton and made a virtual dive in a submarine. And in the end I bought my first ever book in German, about the Seenomaden, an Austrian couple who write about sailing to Canada and Greenland.


We arrived in Hammerhavnen in the morning, and after getting some breakfast, we decided to take a walk in the area. Bornholm has many hiking paths, and one reason we had chosen to go to Hammerhavnen was its location right next to the nature reserve Hammeren. On this northern tip of Bornholm, granite makes up the ground, making it very different from the rest of Denmark. We filled our backpack with drinks and snacks in the hope of making Mattis want to walk the whole route with us, and started the route that took us up the coast. We soon came past goats and sheep living in the reserve, and met many other tourists taking in the beautiful nature. When we reached the ruins of a small chapel we consulted our guidebook and decided that the 7 km route was too long for us. Instead we started back and crossed over and up towards the light house located at the highest point of Hammeren. The road up there was steep, and Mattis didn’t find the hike that great anymore, but in the end we made it, and from the light house we could see all the way to Sweden. On the way back to the harbour, we made our way along the man made lakes in the area that originate from the granite quarries. Nowadays, they are impressive rocks which I guess most people visiting Bornholm go to see.

Hammershus is a medieval castle build on the hills above Hammerhavnen. We new it from a kids movie, so naturally we had to go for a visit. Once again we could follow one of the many hiking paths, this time along the coast towards the south. On the way we made a stop at the tiny light house that guides sailors into the harbour. It was so small that we could see the tinted glass, and Runa got a small lesson on navigation.

Our kids are not keen on the sailing part of our holidays, so the deal this year was that we would take the longer turn to get to Bornholm, but once there we would explore the island from a few harbors only. After three days in Hammerhavnen we decided to move on Christiansø, a small rocky island just 20 nm away. Bornholm is known to be crowded in the summer, and Christiansø is probably the worst harbor of all in that regard, so we left early in the morning in order to arrive before the crowd. It was a nice, but very misty sail, in which we could hear the fog horns from the cargo ships in the nearby route. But soon the sun broke through, and Christiansø appeared in the distance. We could see a number of sailboats heading towards Christiansø, but still managed to get a nice spot on the smaller of the two islands that make up the harbor. Christiansø has most likely been used as a natural harbour for centuries, but in 1684 a fortress was build on the islands, and today approximately 80 people live there year round, mainly making a living from the many tourists visiting the islands. We visited the museum and took a walk around the very small island, but in the end, the most exiting thing happening was that there was boat in the harbor with a girl Runa’s age on board, and the two went shrimp fishing. And ended up catching so many shrimps that it took three ours for us to clean them.

Christiansø is an amazing place, but after three days we were ready to move on to our last destination on Bornholm, Gudhjem, the tourist capital of the island. The harbors on Bornholm are tiny, so we decided to leave early in the morning once again, in the hope of getting a place. And we were lucky, and got a place right next to Runa’s friend from Christiansø. At night time, the whole basin had been filled with sailboats, with the last couple of guests being told that they could tie up, but would have to leave the next morning before the post boat needed to get out.

After successfully fulfilling our first mission of getting ice cream, we continued to the dinosaur museum. We love dinosaurs. We have countless numbers of books for kids about dinosaurs, and somehow they also manage to collect endless dinosaur dolls and teddies. So obviously we needed to visit the dinosaur museum. Actually, it was more like a geology museum, but that didn’t really matter. We learned about how the island of Bornholm was created, and saw rocks that had taken shape after the sea floor. It was very cool. And when we missed the planned bus back, we went to a flee market and bought comics for Runa to read sailing back towards Bremerhaven.

We kept Gudhjem as our base for the rest of our time on Bornholm, enjoying the place, practicing rowing in both of our dinghies and visiting nearby Svaneke where we bought beer and herring. And ice cream, of course.

When it was time to leave and head towards Bremerhaven, we had fairly strong winds from south west. Pretty much from the direction we were heading. After an extra weather check, we decided to leave in the afternoon. That way we could sail down the coast of Bornholm in lee of the strongest winds, reach the open ocean when the wind had abated a bit in the evening and take the worst part while the kids were sleeping. But for that plan to work out we needed to get ourselves out of the harbor. And since we had been there for some days, we had been packed pretty far into the corner of the basin. But after waiting for a couple of hours, as the other boats that wanted to leave slowly took turns to get out, we finally also made it, and could spend the day in the outer basin, preparing to go sailing again.


Back to the Baltic

The kids had gone to Denmark to spend some time with my parents, so Esben and I could sail the first leg of our summer holidays alone. As it turned out, that was lucky – the weather was not cooperating, and I ended up motoring directly against wind and waves from Bremerhaven to the entrance of the Elbe, while Esben was dying from seasickness below. As we turned and sailed down the Elbe towards Cuxhaven, we finally had following winds and I could pull out the genua, turn off the motor and continue inwards by sail. And after a while Esben came up to join me for the last part of the day. After almost 12 hours of sailing, we tied up in the harbor in Cuxhaven where a seal greeted us at the pontoon.

We weren’t interested in fighting the tide in the Elbe, so we could choose between leaving the harbor at 3.30 in the morning or in the afternoon. The morning didn’t seem appealing after the long day of fighting the elements, so we had lots of time in a rainy and windy Cuxhaven while waiting to depart in the afternoon. I went for a run in the rain, and afterwards I was so cold that 35 degrees in the cabin still seemed cold. Esben, meanwhile, fled outside from the heat. In the end we decided that we could handle a bit of current, and left at 1.30. We were supposed to meet my parents and the kids in Rendsburg the next day, 60km down the Kiel Canal. In the Canal, night sailing is not allowed, so we wanted to get as far as possible that night. We had a nice sail down to the first lock in Brunsbüttel, taking care not to get in front of the many cargo ships that were also making their way to canal. From experience we new that there is sometimes long waiting times for the lock, but this time we were lucky and could pretty much sail directly through. We were so happy. In the end we made it all the way to the Giselau lock, where the Eider river branches off from the canal. There’s a pretty little harbour where we spent the night.

In the morning, we got up at six to make it to Rendsburg in time. While I steered, Esben prepared bread in our Omnia stove top oven, such a luxury with fresh bread. In Rendsburg, both my parents and the kids came on board to sail the last part of the Kiel Kanal, and we quickly made it to the second lock in Holtenau. Here, only one lock can be used currently, and sailing yachts are of course last priority, so about 50 sailboats were drifting around in a rather small area with fairly strong winds. Later we learned that some had waited for five hours. Once they opened the lock gates, all boats sped towards the lock, with us keeping a bit to the rear. The cocktail of 50 boats trying to enter the lock at once, five big cargo ships already in the lock, with the propellers on and strong wind from the rear meant that it all ended in chaos with sailboats lying crosswise in the lock. We managed to stay outside without hitting any of the others there, but in the end, as the lock crew signaled that they had no more time for this circus and would close the lock, we sped past the outer boats in the lock, to get in where things were calmer. My dad was in the bow yelling back: “You need speed to steer through the turbulence from the big propellers”, and we sped through, managing to tie up in the front of the pack and get through the lock without having to wait another five hours. A bit more stressful than we would have liked. We tied up in Holtenau and had dinner before my parents got the bus back to their car in Rendsburg.


Moored in front of the pack in the big lock of Holtenau

One of the things we wanted to test during the holiday was sailing longer distances over night. Our reasoning being that we would get further quicker, and the kids could sleep on the way, making it easier on them. The downside is of course that we, the adults, would need to stay up at night, but we figured that was something we could manage. So at noon the next day we started out from Holtenau with our course set on Bornholm. The fjord in Kiel is full of sailing dinghies, surfers etc., so there was lots to see on the way out. Soon we were out in open water, and Esben and the kids went down below. The waves were getting bigger and Runa wasn’t feeling well, so she was medicated with salt chips and coke and went to bed listening to an audiobook on the iPod.

At dinner time we had made it past Fehmern, were we got in lee of the island. We decided that hotdogs were a good choice for dinner, and soon after, the kids and I went below to go to sleep while Esben took the first night shift. We figured that we wanted to sleep as long as possible, so only divided the night into two shifts. Esben went first since he is good at staying up late. I, on the other hand, usually start getting tired around eight at night, but can easily get up early in the morning, so it seems we’re a good match for night sailing. Of course I couldn’t really relax lying below listening to all the sounds of the boat, and soon it was my turn to get up.

We were approaching Rügen and sailed past the white cliffs during the day. Esben had prepared dough the night before, so once again we had fresh bread for breakfast. And then Runa proclaimed that she was no longer sea sick, so her and Mattis got the lego out and played for a couple of hours. We do not have a lot of fridge space, so I had the idea that we should try out canning meals. At home I had prepared gulasch in mason jars in our pressure cooker, and for dinner we tried it out. All  we needed to do was heat it up. Easy and delicious, and something we will definitely continue doing in the future.

The wind died out during the night, but Esben was kept awake by fishing vessels sailing slowly in, to us, strange patterns around Bornholm. We wanted to arrive in the morning, so slow was okay, but a couple of hours after I took over the shift I took down the sails and continued under power while the sun and Bornholm slowly rose in front of us. We arrived in Hammerhavnen at northern tip of Bornholm in the morning and found a nice spot in the small harbour. It was a beautiful sunny morning and the kids were ecstatic to get back on land. On the hills above the harbour, the castle from the kids movie “The Lost Treasure of the Knights Templar” towered, and we couldn’t wait to get out and explore the island.

The month on Polarstern coming to an end

The cruise on Polarstern basically spanned a section across the Fram Strait, with the last station being in Kongsfjorden. As we sailed eastwards, approaching the station, Claudia and I were on deck to do underway measurements with a towed CTD. The night before we had seen the mountains of Spitzbergen in the distance, and whales had followed us all night, but now, the sea had become misty. Suddenly Andreas pointed behind us, and we now saw that we had sailed into the Fjord without noticing, and that we were now surrounded by steep mountains.

When the last station was finished we sailed down along the coast to meet up with AWI’s smaller research vessel “Heinke” which was doing fisheries research around Svalbard. For logistical reasons, some samples were transferred to Polarstern, so the dinghy went in and sailed over to get them. At the same time they took some awesome pictures of the two research vessels side by side. Mind blowing that Germany chooses to post so much money and energy into Polar research.


Heinke and Polarstern in Isfjorden

As we had been really efficient during the cruise (mainly because we were lucky with the weather) we had time for us to go visit Longyearbyen on Svalbard while the crew handled official things. We all queued up for the life boats, which took us to land despite of rain and 7 Bf wind strength. Longyearbyen came off as rainy and cold, and most of us made our way to the small shopping centre for a coffee and a cinnamon bun. Later we walked around a bit, and then went to visit the small Polar museum, which showed the history of adventurers trying to reach the North Pole in more or less crazy ways. After a few hours we were all pretty much cold and wet, and it was time to go back to Polarstern. In the small harbor sturdy sailboats were moored, and I love the north, but I have to admit that I wondered if the trip to Svalbard really is worth doing in a sailboat. The wind had picked up even more, and a few people were beginning to feel sick on the way back to Polarstern. So As we pulled up alongside, most were happy to leave the life boat. Makes you wonder what it would be like if we had to enter them in a real emergency – I guess the water and the people are not likely to be calm in such an event. Good thing that they make emergency drills with us on the first day on every cruise.
When everyone was back onboard we started the trip back to Tromsø where Polarstern would get ready for the next cruise. On the way we packed up our instruments, cleaned the labs and wrote reports. But many of us also volunteered to help out doing a “plastic transect”.

I guess many people have become aware of the growing problem of plastic in the ocean, with the horrific picture of whales washing up on beaches with bellies full of garbage and the so-called “plastic islands” in the large oceanic gyres. Despite of this, the large amount of plastic observed in the Arctic Ocean has surprised my colleagues working with the subject. On our cruise, Mine was in charge of measuring micro plastic with pumps on the CTD, but also used a number of different methods to account for larger pieces. One of the easier methods is to put a person on the deck of Polarstern for an hour, asking them to note the plastic they see as we steam towards our destination. Only problem is that it’s quite cold, so you need a fair amount of people to get a full transect from Svalbard to Tromsø. And in the end I think they managed to sign up enough to cover every second hour of the trip.

As part of her work at AWI, Mine has created a website with a litter database. Here, everybody can volunteer to count plastic while at sea. All that is needed is to take a georeferenced picture – automatic on most mobile phones as long as they have a signal I guess.

We reached Tromsø early in the morning, and sailed in through the Lofoten Archipelago in beautiful sunshine. Again. The trip to the Fram Strait was a great experience, but we were also all looking forward to seeing our families again.

A day on Polarstern

I wake up from the buzzing of my phone. It’s dark in the room and my eyes refuse to open. Whatever, I will sleep a bit more.

When I’m woken again, I don’t feel any more awake than I did the first time. But I know I should get up. I have been sleeping for nine hours – that somehow should be enough. The door behind our room is repeatedly slammed open and then closed, accompanied by running feet and muffled talking. There’s probably whales outside.


I go out in our room and look out the window. Claudia is still asleep, but I know that she wants me to open up the curtains so we get a bit of light in. It’s the Arctic summer, and never really gets dark, but our curtains block out all light. After taking a shower in our tiny bathroom I go out to find some breakfast. It’s noon, and everybody else already had lunch at 11.30. It’s the main meal of the day on Polarstern, and usually consists of potatoes, some meat, sauce and a bit of vegetables. It’s great if you’re into traditional German food. But it’s usually not really my thing. So I go downstairs to the crew’s cantina and fix myself some breakfast. Usually coffee and bread with peanutbutter or pancakes.

Then it’s time to drop by the winch room where Laura and Wilken are working to check up on what’s happening and how their watch has been. On Polarstern cruises, there’s a tight schedule of the different instruments that go in the water to collect the samples. Sometimes everything works out as planned, but often changes occur, so before each watch we need to know what’s going on – and then continuously keep an eye on the plan.

We have divided the watches in two 12-hour shifts, and I share the night shift with Claudia – working from four in the afternoon to four in the morning. In the beginning it was hard to get used to, but as time passed we actually came to like the night shift. On a busy ship like Polarstern, with almost 100 people on board, it’s actually quiet nice to get the quiet night to yourself.

We don’t work the whole 12 hours, only when the CTD goes in – which it often does at night. So I go back to the room, where I spent a couple of hours working on the computer. At home, I usually work remotely on supercomputers through the internet, but on Polarstern this is of course not possible. Instead, I read up on papers that I need to read, and work on my own papers. Later I meet with some of the others for coffee.

In addition to the physical oceanography work we do on board, Claudia and I have agreed to keep an eye on a machine that continuously measures gases in the atmospheric. So I go to the floor beneath the bridge and note how the measurements are coming along. Then I get a small bottle and go down to the working deck, where we take a water sample everyday. Here, all the work is carried out when we are on station, and I chat a bit with the crew before going upstairs again.

Slowly, people are going to bed, and Claudia and I start preparing for the CTD. In the winch room Mine is already writing down a detailed plan for the in-situ pumps that will be attached to the line. Mine works with plastic pollution, and the pumps will measure micro plastics in the water column. We talk through the plan with the crew, and Claudia suits up to go on deck and drive the CTD out. I stay upstairs to turn on the CTD and guide the measurements. It’s all a matter of communication between me, Sebastian who is controlling the winch and the crew on deck – both Claudia, Mine’s people and the deckhand.

Once the CTD is in the water I turn it on, and ask Sebastian to start the decent. On the way down we do stops at the depths discussed with Mine to mount the pumps. In the end the CTD is at depth, 1600 metres, we take the water samples that are planned here and then pull it up so far that the pumps are located in the designated depths. And then we wait. The pumps need to be in for 1.5 hours, so we have time to get a coffee and talk, while we also keep an eye on the bottom depth and the CTD depth. The crew on the bridge always make an effort to keep the ship in the same place for the duration of the station, but there will always be some drift, so we need to make sure that the CTD does not suddenly hit the bottom. Despite of it being in the middle of the night, it’s still light outside, and the mood is good in the room – though Mine is tense, she is always worried that something will happen to the pumps. Towards the end of the pumping, the deck crew go back down to receive the pumps, and when everybody is ready I ask Sebastian to start raising the CTD. On the way up we help each other to keep an eye on the pump depth, so the CTD can be stopped in time for the pumps to come off. And we stop at the designated depths for water samples. As we approach the surface, Claudia starts calling the people who will work with the water samples. They are in bed sleeping, and since we never really know when the CTD will be at the surface, we have a list with people to call. On the computer screen we have plots of the measured salinity, temperature and chlorophyll, so many of the water sample people drop by the winch room to get to know what to expect in their sampling; the physical environment affects the biology, and the biologists may decide to do extra measurements in certain cases.

Once the CTD is back on deck it is secured, and our job is over for now. The next is Nicole who measures plankton in a net. It’s early morning, and it’s time for Claudia and I to go to bed.



Steaming northwards through the Norwegian Sea

The Norwegian Sea is calmer than the Baltic had been during our three week summer holiday, and we are now steaming steadily northwards. People are busy preparing their gear for the first station and finding their way on the Polarstern.

Polarstern usually spends our summer in the Arctic and our winter in the Antarctic, with relatively short stops in Bremerhaven in between. This year, two cruises have been carried out in the ice covered area north of Svalbard already, and two additional cruises are planned in the Arctic after our cruise has finished.

Before the ship leaves Bremerhaven in the spring, everybody who will carry out research during the season will pack their gear in boxes or containers and have it put onboard. On Polarstern, everything is stored in such a way that the gear needed at a specific cruise will be stored in an accessible part of the ship. So when a cruise starts, everybody has to locate their storage area. Unfortunately, there had been some miscommunication, and it turned out that our container had been put in storage for the next cruise leg – with the opening right against a wall, and on a deck were containers can only be moved when the eight containers located at the deck above are lifted out of the ship. Luckily, the main instrument we are using, the CTD, is already in place, and the container mainly contains spare parts.

Our group is responsible for measuring salinity and temperature in the water column, and additionally for taking water samples that will be used by other groups to determine nutrients, chlorophyll, species composition and other things that I am not fully aware of.

Our cruise is a so-called “Hausgarten” cruise. The Hausgarten is an area in the Fram Strait where the state of the ocean has been measured by the AWI for many years. As the Fram Strait is one of the main gateways to the Arctic Ocean, these longterm measurements help us understand how the inflow into the Arctic is changing.


Towards the Fram Strait

As the plane approached Tromsø, we could see the rugged coast line below, with the islands of Lofoten clearly standing out. We landed in bright sunshine, marveling at the beautiful landscape around us. The trip had started at three in the morning when the sound of my alarm clock woke me up, and at four, before the sun had risen, a bus with passengers still half asleep left the Alfred Wegener Institute and headed for Hamburg airport. In Oslo our group met up with those who had flown from Bremen, and soon we were on our way towards Tromsø where the research vessel Polarstern was waiting.

We spent the night in a hotel at the water front, and in the morning I had the opportunity to take a walk along the harbor and across the bridge that connects the island with the mainland. The sun was shining brightly and the scenery absolutely breathtaking.

A bus picked us all up and drove us the short way to the fuel dock where Polarstern was waiting. Inside, we found our rooms and I found out I would was in a room with Laura and Claudia. I never even new that Polarstern had rooms for more than two people, but ours was really nice, with a section for use during the day and a section with beds that was somewhat closed off, making it easier to sleep while others are awake in the main room. This is great because the ship continues working during the night, so those on the night shift will have an easier time sleeping during the day.


It turned out that we would have to stay at the fuel dock until early evening, so we took the opportunity to go back to Tromsø for a couple of hours. It was Sunday, so the only stores that were open were the souvenir shops and the cafes. Laura got a thermo cup with northern light on it, and Claudia got a present for her husband. We went to the Polar Museum, which looked pretty small, but had elaborate exhibitions of the Norwegian early explorers like Nansen and Amundsen, and it displayed the story of the hunters who would over winter on Svalbard to hunt for walrus, polar bear and seals. Crazy lives they had. They had a shop selling books about the Polar ocean, but I didnt find Nansens books about the Fram expedition, which were bought by my great grandmother and I now have at home – it turned out that they were part of the exhibition inside

In the evening Polarstern started moving slowly away from the dock, and soon we were steaming out between the beautiful and majestic Lofoten Islands in the midnight sun. Most people were on the deck above the bridge, but it was cold and windy, and soon there was only a few people left. We entered the Norwegian Sea around midnight and continued northwards towards Svalbard and the Fram Strait.

Where to go on a sailing holiday

I asked Runa what she likes best about sailing. “I don’t like sailing!” was the answer. This is something we practice with her – to notice the good thing that happens and not just remember what you didn’t like so much. So I asked her again, there must be something nice about sailing, right? “Maybe walking the little paths on Nordbjerget” she said. That was on Anholt last year. We talked a bit longer, and it turned out that we she really likes is exploring a new place. I like that too. Arriving somewhere and go out and see the place you ended up in. Actually, I like it so much that I’m dead set on not visiting the sailing grounds south of Funen, which I have visited plenty of times with my parents throughout my childhood.

Esben and I want to take some overnight trips to see if we can make it work and to get a bit further away faster. Since our base is currently in Bremerhaven on the west coast of Germany, it would make sense to go somewhere around here. But we honestly don’t find the sailing great here – always having to pay attention to the tides, either on the North Sea, or in the shallow channels behind the Frisian islands.

So we thought about going to Scotland. But that required somewhat nice weather for the kids not to hate us forever. But as the departure date approached, and we saw one low pressure system after the other building up in the North Atlantic we came to accept that we would be visiting the Baltic once again. This time we aim for Bornholm.