Kadey Krogen Rendezvous 2017

I had planned on giving a presentation at the Rendezvous, but it’s not to be.

So, here is the outline.  I will post this on my blog, DauntlessatSea.com

I have also posted, somewhat unedited, three galleries of pictures, you need to use these links:

  • The most recent videos from the Atlantic crossing,

https://dauntless.smugmug.com/Dauntless-Atlantic-2016-Videos/n-ddh7xF/

  • My northern Europe pictures and some videos from April thru November 2016, including the painting of Dauntless in the spring and a few of my side trips to Galicia and Veneto, Italy.

https://dauntless.smugmug.com/Dauntless-2016-Northern-Europe/n-6MSG6Q/

  • The pictures from most of 2017, including the Atlantic Passage, the Caribbean, the Panama Canal and other things.

https://dauntless.smugmug.com/Dauntless-2017-Panama-Canal-/n-TWg5MZ/

Most galleries are in chronological order. The date time group is also embedded in the file name. Please forgive all the redundancy.  It’s always easier to take too many pictures than not enough, though it makes sorting after the fact a real PIA.

Also, should you see anything and have a specific question, please feel free to email me.

Kadey Krogen Rendezvous 2017

Richard on Dauntless

Dauntless has come so far

 

Dauntless’ Second Atlantic Passage

  • Four Legs from Europe to the Caribbean
    • Leg 1 Rota Spain to Rabat, Morocco, via Gibraltar to fuel up
      • 250 nm
      • 50 hours total
    • Leg 2 Rabat Morocco to Las Palmas, the Canaries (unexpected stop)
      • 600 nm
      • 4 days, 1 hr., 35 min
      • Avg speed 6.1 knots
    • Leg 3 Las Palmas to Heiro, the western most island in the Canaries, Fuel top-up
      • 172 nm
      • 31 hours and 45 min
      • 5.5 knots
    • The last & biggest leg, the only one that mattered, the Canaries to Martinique
      • 460 hours, (19 days, 4 hours)
      • 2582 nm
      • 7 knots
    • The “Oh, BTW, you still have 2000 miles to go” leg, Martinique to Panama Canal and Mexico
      • 460 hours, (19 days, 4 hours)
      • 2582 nm
      • 7 knots
      • Same strong easterly trade winds; same large, mixed seas
      • Avg roll +13°/-09° ext 22°/-10°

Overall Winds & Seas

  • Conditions are Very Different than the North Atlantic
  • Trade winds prevent turning back
    • Constant wind speeds of 20 to 35 knots
    • Direction varied over 90° from NE to SE
      • 3 wave sets produced large 25° roll every 8 to 10 minutes for 3 weeks
      • NE & SE wave sets, smaller, longer period
      • wave heights predominate 10 to 15 feet at 8 seconds
        • 3 different wave sets produced large 25° roll every 8 to 10 minutes for 3 weeks
        • First week very disconcerting to have stern fall to stbd so suddenly every periodically
      • Since leaving North Africa, until the Panama Canal, more than 5,000 nm and more than 60 days underway, all but two of those days required the paravane stabilizers.
      • Entering the Pacific and turning northwest from Panama City, in the first four days we had no need of stabilization. They call it the Pacific for a reason.

Crises In the mid-Atlantic

Fuel Loss

  • What Happened
  • Possible Solutions
  • What I did
  • What I now think I should have done (hint: Much Ado About Nothing)

Hydraulic Hose for Rudder failure

  • What Happened
    • I was screwing around
    • Possible Solutions
  • What I did
    • First fix did not work
    • Spares, spares and more spares (but not the right fitting)
  • What I now think I should have done

Overall Summary of My Second Atlantic Passage

Considerably harder than I had expected

I’m still organizing the data, but the big take-away, is that the fuel consumption for the last two years has been about 1.5 gal/ hr. or a little above 4nm/gal

Average cost has run between $75 to $133 per day when I’m on the boat.  Even during the most recent passage, cost was $104 per day, with fuel being $80 a day.

 

Krogen Cruisers Rendezvous

My Contact Information:

 

Richard Bost

Dauntless KK42-148

1.212.289.7274

Wxman22@gmail.com

DauntlessNY@gmail.com

 

Link for the blog:

DauntlessAtSea.com

Follow Dauntless at:

Share.delorme.com/Dauntless

 

 

 

 

Cruising Costs of a 42 foot Kadey Krogen

Having some time on my hands for another couple of weeks, I thought I would share with everyone what the Cruising Costs have been for Dauntless, a 42 foot Kadey Krogen Motor yacht over the last two years.

I’ve broken out the numbers, so for instance, if you only go to a marina 10% of the time, you can adjust the numbers accordingly.

If you have any specific questions, I will be glad to answer them, but please email me vice PM.

May Thru October 2016 My approximate route. Most of the little black dots are stops

The number don’t add up to 100% because there are some personal travel expenses, which I track but are not pertinent to the story.

Also, the significant difference is that in 2016 I was able to buy 900 gallons of fuel in Ireland for very reasonable prices (far less than UK “red” diesel).

In 2015 because Dauntless range under such conditions, I had to refuel with very expensive fuel in Finland, Sweden and Norway, arriving back in Ireland with almost empty tanks.

Marina costs were significantly higher in 2016 because Portugal, southern Spain, Atlantic France are significantly more expensive than many Baltic and North Sea marinas.

 

 

2015 Baltic and North Sea Cruise

Food costs are pretty much for a couple.

In the next weeks, I will update the latter half of 2016, the trip from Rota Spain to Gibraltar, Morocco, the Canaries and Martinique.

2017 update will be from Martinique to Panama Canal, Costa Rica and up to Mexico for the winter.

 

 

I Paid the Ferryman Before He Got Me to the Other Side

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The Harbour in Hamburg. What? This isn’t Waterford. Not even the same country! Stink’in Ferryman

Yes, I know; “don’t pay the ferryman until get gets you to the other side!

A little wear and tear
A little wear and tear

How many times have I heard that sage advice in the last 30 years, certainly more than a thousand!

But you know me, follow convention, but with a twist. OK maybe more than a twist.  Maybe simply unconventional, so of course, I will try to see what will happen if I dare to pay the ferryman too soon.

What’s the worst that could happen I asked myself?

Dauntless being hauled in New Ross
Dauntless being hauled in New Ross

Well, the worst happened.

Dauntless sits naked in Ireland, out of the water in the boatyard in New Ross; with her bottom is full view for everyone to see. I hope there are no Kennedy’s around to see her.

Her hull and keel do show some signs of rubbing on harder things than herself.  The red splotches are old anti-fouling paint showing through.  It’s clear that the new stuff on top stuck not so well.

The work this winter will be repairing those places were the fiberglass (GRP) is showing, as well as patching the numerous nicks and gouges the gelcoat and rub rail acquired since leaving Rhode Island.

Dauntless is very good hands in the New Ross Boatyard.  Stephen, Michael, Tomas and Gary are both caring and meticulous.  They will get done what needs to be done at a price I can afford.  I’m fortunate I found them.  It just adds to the great experience I’ve had in Ireland. Virtually every interaction I’ve had in Ireland has ranged from good to great.  Even going through security at the airport in Dublin is an almost pleasant experience.

Berfranks Cafe on the Quay
Berfranks Cafe on the Quay in Waterford

So the worst part of the Krogen being out of the water is that I will not spend as much time this winter in Ireland or Waterford.  I’ll miss that. Waterford is a great town, full of wonderful, warm people.  I’ll miss the bakers, the butcher, my barber, Aiofe (see the link for the background of that name, http://www.visitireland.com/aboutireland/normans.asp) Berfranks Café, a delightfully cozy little place,

Carmel, Peter & Joan at their dry cleaners/laundry, the guy playing the flute with his dog outside Dunn’s and all the others I see routinely that makes Waterford such a nice place to be.

So now, all of a sudden, I find myself in Germany. Why not. I had a week to kill before going back to America and flying Ryan Air is relatively cheap. (I actually visited Ryan Air during my stint as Product Manager at Jeppesen in the late 90’s.   We were already giving them weather forecasts for the Galapagos, so I was on the hunt for more sources of weather data for that part of the Pacific.)

No Comment

I’m in Hamburg; it’s been 30 years since the last visit.  Much like New York, it’s traded its edginess for gentrification or better yet, Disneyficatin, which makes the whole family want to visit.  The rough and tumble seaport (think Amsterdam) that made it quite different than the rest of the large German cities, is now tamed.

The hardnosed seagoing folk have been replaced by the engineers of Airbus, with Airbus’ second largest (after Toulouse) workforce here in Hamburg.

Flying down the autobahn at 100 mph, on my way to the home of friends I met this summer in Riga with their sailboat Bagatell, I thought about how my life has evolved.  I used to live for fast cars.  I did the passing, hardly ever having to yield to a faster car.  Now, even at 100 mph, I ‘m content to stay out of the left lane, as cars much faster pass, even SUV’s going over 140 mph.

OR maybe it’s not me that’s changed, but simply the circumstances, knowing that this poor rental car doesn’t have much beyond 110 in it in any case.

Another nice feature of the roads in Germany is that in addition to the normal rest areas, with gas, food, etc. every 30 to 40 miles, they have little rest stops, just parking places every few miles.  These spots are sometimes quite near the road, but also there are some a few hundred feet way with NO lights.  In other words, dark, enabling a tired driver to get some sleep.  Being far enough form the road, the noise was also minimal.  Now, I wouldn’t be going for a walk there, but to have a peaceful place to stop was really nice.

Important facts About Waterford

So, I was able to sleep a few hours and got to my friend’s house at 07:30 in the morning, feeling relatively good.

I’ll go to England on Tuesday, also visiting English sailors I met in Riga.  Then it back to Dublin and NYC next week.

 

Coming up:  The Hamburg Boat Show and the Future.

Not deep; but deep enough
Not deep; but deep enough

 

 

Baltic Recap

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The Krogen along the wall in Gdansk. The marina is on the right. But our price was right!

I’ve written about many aspects of the Dauntless’ Summer Cruise 2015, the good, the bad and certainly the ugly.  How ugly I’ll find out next week.  But now, I thought I would share a few more mundane issues that I think will be of interest.

Let me say up front, that if you have any questions or comments you would like to share privately, please email me.  My contact information is somewhere in WordPress.

A few interesting tidbits. No, not Tim Horton’s Timbits, (Sorry New Yorkers, even if you have visited one of the Tim Horton’s in NYC, it is Tim Horton’s in name only. The version sold in New York is owned and made by the same person who owns the Dunkin Donuts franchise in NYC.  Needless to say, the only thing they have in common is the name).

 

Type of Overnight Days of Trip Percent Cost
All 128 100% $ 2,562
Marina 59 46% $28.15 / night
Dock or wall 32 25%
Anchored 17 13%
Tied to land, with stern anchor 8 6%
Dock in Canal (Scotland) 5 4%
Underway overnight 7 5%

 

I merged the two categories of marinas and docks because I was a bit arbitrary during the course of the summer.  Generally a marina means a marina as we know it with amenities like:   an office, a secured dock (but not always), showers, laundry, etc.

Dock or wall is just that, a dock that is floating or a wall .  Sometimes I paid, sometimes I didn’t.  In general the prices were cheaper since they had little or no amenities.

But again the line between the two types, dock or marina is not that large.  A good portion of the marinas had no security; while some cheap docks did.  The last dock we stopped at, Arklow in Ireland, was free, and within 30 minutes, two different guys (fishermen) came by to tell us the security code of the gate.

Since we are talking bout security, maybe in the first weeks, I felt a bit apprehensive with the no security, but I’ve been in Europe enough that after I bit I did not even notice.  Much of the Netherlands was like that.  The river, canal wound through the center of town, there were bollards placed in which to tie.  You then found the nearby post, the same as one uses to pay for car parking. You paid your 12 Euros and placed the sticker on your boat. This included electricity that I usually did not bother with.

The far west and far east has the most expensive marinas.  The Channel Islands and the first stops in France were $50 per night for a 12 meter boat, as was Tallinn.  Helsinki took the prize for the most expensive marina at $60.

The rest of Scandinavia was really good.  Stockholm was only $35 and while Copenhagen was more at $45, the small towns I stopped in Norway ranged from $15 to zero.

In the middle, Germany, Poland, Latvia were all great places to visit and inexpensive; in all three of those countries marinas cost about $25.

Poland and Latvia turned out to be our favorite places.  In Gdansk, Poland, were right downtown and our Krogen must have been featured in a thousand pictures.  We were on a wall right next to the marina. The wall was free, in fact, the second day, the Bosman, the person in charge of the marina, came by to ask us if we needed electricity, telling him no, he said were welcome to stay on the wall since it was free.  I was happy.

The Poles love Americans.  Like virtually the entire trip, so many people in seeing the stars and stripes came by to say hello and hear our story: “yes, we took it across the ocean on our own, yes, we are from New York, No, it is not a Grand Banks, it’s a Kadey Krogen”

It was also in Gdansk that I met a couple from Stockholm on their catamaran.  Like virtually everyone we met on the water, they were so helpful.  They also gave me good advice about Navionics charts in that “Europe HD” was detailed enough to use and there was now no need for paper charts.

And all that for $87.

I always run with two different navigation charts, since last year, Navionics and Jepp’s C-Map.  I like the color rendition a bit more on the Navionics, but I must admit that I have not seen any significant difference between the two in Europe.

Speaking of navigation, I found it easier than the ICW, in that it is not critical to know whether the channel is going to or coming from the ocean. Instead, in the skärgärd they will declare “pass red on the left or green on the right” or vice versa.  Now in that situation, it is different in that once there was a red of the left and a green on the right of the channel meaning I could NOT go in between where the rock was.

In Riga, I was doing something in the engine room when I felt someone get on the boat. Thinking it was my friends, I kept working; but not hearing their voices, I came up to see this couple having their wedding pictures being taken on the fore deck.

Cute.  Latvians loved us too.

All in all, we averaged $28 per stay for the 90 odd days we stopped. Not bad considering a hotel room in many of those cities would have cost 10 times more.

Now you do not have to pay for fuel for that hotel room, but even with fuel, the daily cost is only $76 and with fuel at today’s price it Ireland, that daily average would have been $7 cheaper at $69 per marina.

And it’s sure nice seeing the wonders of the world pass by your living room window.

 

 

Quest for the Real Danish

And to think it only cost $17,000!

Kadey Krogen in Honfleur, France
Kadey Krogen in Honfleur, France

Well I suppose our Baltic Cruise did have other objectives, but let’s not minimize my fondness for morning baked goods, in particular Danish.

Now, you all know the capital of the Danish; no, not Copenhagen, but New York.  And of course, we are talking about the morning pastry, not the people.

New Yorkers think they invented the Danish.  That flaky, layered pastry filled with or with a dollop of fruit or cheese in the middle.

Never packaged in plastic, and not made from a lot of chemicals and artificial crap, that one gets in the rest of the country.  Yes.  It was hard duty living in places like Seattle, Denver and of course, the city with the lowest average annual temperature in the USA, Fairbanks, Alaska. But someone had to do it.

A Honfleur Cafe just off the Bow of Dauntless
A Honfleur Cafe just off the Bow of Dauntless

No our Danishes are always fresh.  Places that try to sell day old stuff in NYC don’t last long; unless of course, they are in one of those “new’ neighborhoods, like Battery Park City, that is full people from west of New Jersey, who don’t know any better.

By the way, speaking of Battery Park City, this large deluxe apartment complex, built to the west of the World Trade Center largely on landfill from the WTC and other projects of the 60’s and 70’s.  So during Superstorm Sandy, the Weather Channel had their goofy looking reporters in Battery Park City, watching the water rise to almost street level, as its inhabitants walked their dogs and babies, like every other rainy, windy day.

A Wonderful Restaurant in Honfleur
A Wonderful Restaurant in Honfleur

In the meantime, in Brooklyn alone, more than 500,000 people watched their cars float away in 8 feet of water!   The water getting as much as a mile inland.  Power in the Trump Village buildings, some of the buildings that made Trump senior rich and his idiot son think he “earned” his money just by being born, was lost for a week.  Cars were left were the water dropped them for months.  It was more than 6 months before banks and food markets were able to open again.

But since the Weather Channel did not show it, it must not have happened.  This scene was repeated along the coast of Staten Island and much of New Jersey.

My point is that television seldom can give even a representative picture and never the whole story.

So, back to my quest for the Danish.

I ate a lot of ice cream
I ate a lot of ice cream

At $135 a day, this 120 day quest could have seemed like a waste of money.  But, my attitude about money and Dauntless is simple: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  At least until after the fact, as my last post shows.

Ummm

Our quest started in France, the town of Trebeurden.  After the mile walk uphill, the offerings were a big disappointment.  The little pastry places with coffee and wonderfully baked goods were not to be found.

Next country Belgium, Oostende, only 30 miles from Holland, but finding coffee in the morning was also not so easy.

Then Holland, Zuid Holland to be exact.  Pastries much like I am familiar with both in NY and from 30 years of visiting the Netherlands.  Delicately done apple and cherry turnovers, but layered far more than in the US.  Also far less sweet than in the US and of course, made with mostly natural ingredients and not crap. Flakey, light croissants, almost as nice as the best of France.  The coffee is also very good, and the prices are reasonable.

And not yet realizing how much I took for granted those Bäckerei und Konditorei would be open by 6 a.m. and always around.

Two Krogens in Holland
Two Krogens in Holland

Honestly, after three weeks winding my way thru the Netherlands, Holland, Brabant, Gelderland and Friesland, I was really spoiled.  By far it would end up being the most convenient in terms of where the boat was and were the people were.  I got very spoiled.  Great pastries and coffee every morning. Always warm and fresh and costing not more than $5 to sit, drink a cup of java and enjoy at last one pastry (though I usually always got two).

Germany was next.  Bäckerei und Konditorei. The western half, like the Netherlands, only slightly more dour, the people and the food.  Not surprisingly, the eastern half, of the DDR, was noticeably more dour.  Much like the dwarfs of Tolkien’s Middle Earth; but taller.

Pannekoeken in Brabant
Pannekoeken in Brabant. We’ve been coming here for 20 years. Very tasty.

Poland was a treat in every aspect.  The 8 days we spent in our four stops in Poland, were the absolutely best for eating.  Morning was more about donuts and fried, filled things, but really good, really fresh, tasty and cheap.

Dinners were sublime.  Every dinner was fantastic.  Beef cheeks, pig ankle, herring tartar; all so exceeded our already high expectations. Prices more reasonable than lands to the west.

I had already planned a 2016 trip back, but Julie point out that Ryan Air would cost about a billion dollars less than taking Dauntless again.

Poland Black forest cake.  It's even better than it looks.
Poland Black forest cake. It’s even better than it looks.

Sad, but true.

Bakery in Liepaja
Bakery in Liepaja.  If you look closely, you can see that those cakes are around 3 Euros.

After avoiding the Russian minefield, Latvia was next.  We stopped in Liepaja and Riga, one of our goals for almost 10 years.  Again, not enough time in a wonderful place.  Riga was much as we expect, but Liepaja was a very pleasant surprise.  Extremely inexpensive, one of the few Euro countries those prices did not rise overnight upon the birth of the Euro. The markets, both indoor and outdoor, were fascinating and full of stalls with berries.

More berries than you ever thought possible.  In Riga, there were over a hundred stalls just selling baskets and buckets of berries of every kind.  Tasty and cheap, after easting the berries of Latvia, you could never eat those cardboard tasting blue berries that are ubiquitous here.

The Same Bakery in Liepaja.  this repast, including the THREE bags on the table, and the two coffees cost $8 U.S.
Bakery in Liepaja. this repast, including the THREE bags on the table, and the two coffees cost $8 U.S.

Estonia was the last stop on the Baltic Republic hit parade.

More expensive then Latvia, but lacking some of the warmth we got from the people of Latvia, let alone the genuine warmth and friendship se experienced in Poland.

While the pastry choices were limited, the coffee was very good and they had a loaf of bread with butter and knife to cut bread, which was free for one and all. Right up my alley.

Warsaw Pork Knuckle and Beef Cheeks
Warsaw Pork Knuckle and Beef Cheeks

Coming up:  Rocking and Rolling and Rocking in Scandinavia, I am Curious, Yellow and of course, Danishes in Denmark.

Dauntless in Leipaja
Dauntless in Leipaja
Another stop in Holland. Dauntless likes being Downtown so everyone can see her!
Another stop in Holland.
Dauntless likes being Downtown so everyone can see her!

And We Never Spoke of it Again

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The Tower in Ueckermünde

Just when you thought it safe to reenter the water…

Waking up in the now Polish town of Swinoujscie, I had two problems to solve; one more vexing than the other.

But first, let’s talk about Swinoujscie, gateway to the Baltic and until 1945, a German city, aka Swinemünde.  With the looks of an old German town, it boasts a certain charm, with a few modern touches.  One of those being an almost identical fountain in the main square to that of the Brooklyn Museum, that I had mentioned in a previous post, you know, the one that started out much like this one in  Swinoujscie, until the lawyers got involved.

So Swinoujscie, aka Swinemünde, became one of thousands of cities and towns in which whole populations were uprooted and “moved” at the war’s end.  Why because Stalin wanted half of Poland and therefore Poland moved west, but never fear, the western powers and the press don’t talk about it, better to tut tut about displaced people in third world countries, than issues they created themselves.

So on that note, let’s get back to our story.

As you recall from our previous episode, Dauntless limped into Swinoujscie, with her tail between her legs, well maybe not a tail, but a thin line that had wrapped around my bow thruster.

But I was determined to at least fix the autopilot.

If you have read our Atlantic Passage, you may remember that the autopilot was one of the most critical pieces on the boat and I had absolutely no spare anything’s for it.

Having Eve and Nigel onboard, did mitigate the loss, but even with three people, hand steering a power boat for long stretches of time is both boring and fatiguing.

Assuming there is no such thing as coincidences when it comes to mechanical problems, in other words, you change, add, replace any part of a particular system, and then that system craps out on you, there is about a 99.9% chance you whatever you did caused the problem.

So, I got out our hydraulic fluid and the handy fitting for the upper helm station and proceeded to run the system and turning the wheel to get the air out.

But little air came out.

At this point, I figured I better get serious, I got the ComNav book.

In the book I discovered a self-diagnostic the ComNav can run.  I ran it and got the ominous response “hard right rudder too slow”.

I could not find the bleed screws that were supposed to be on the hydraulic ram.  But I did not want to screw with the ram in any case, since it worked fine; it was the autopilot part that was not working.

I ran the self-test again.  Same result.

I went down into the engine room to look once again at the ComNav pump.  Maybe I could bleed it there. No, no fittings I could see for easy bleeding.

I took a picture of the pump, maybe the writing will give me a clue or I can better see bleeding screw fittings.  Nope. Nothing. Nada.

Run the self-test again.  No change, but I realize that while I can turn the wheel and the rudder responds as it should, in fact better than before with no groaning while turning it quickly, meaning I had gotten what little air there was out of the system, when I used the auto pilot control head to turn the rudder, it barely moved the rudder to the left (port).

Clearly the auto pilot was the issue, not the hydraulic steering itself.

I looked at the autopilot’s control panel.  A lot of green lights. So at least electronically, the autopilot thinks all is OK.

Back to the engine room to look at that pump again.  I crawl over to it.  I read both sets of labels on the pump.  One reads, “to remove the pump without losing fluid, close the thumb valves”

What thumb valves?  Those brass “T” handles that I occasionally play with, wondering what they do?  The ones that I had decided should be tighter, but not too tight the other day, while I was changing the main engine oil and in a moment of “let’s turn this and see what happens” madness??

I noticed the one on the left side was tight, the other two, one on top and one on the right, were close to being closed, but not tight.

Umm, could these be the valves that are to close when removing the pump?  And if so, should not they be OPEN now?

I have Eve use the autopilot control head to move the rudder, it now moves, not quickly, but better than before.  I open all three and she tries again.  Much better, almost like it’s supposed to.

We run the self-test again.  This time, rudder movement is normal.

I had changed the oil on the main engine a few days earlier.  So I was working at the back of the engine and it my spare time I was fiddling with those three T valves.  Sort of aimlessly fiddling.

So it seems my fiddling closed at least one valve and we had a few days of indifferent autopilot response, culminating in it not working at all.

The Innocent Victim
The Innocent Victim

Now all is fine. No air, valves open and the autopilot has worked better than ever.

When people ask me about crossing the Atlantic and why I like Kadey Krogen yachts, I say that quite simply I have never had a problem with the boat that was not caused my operator error.

We just passed 4000 engine hours.  That’s 2300 hours we have put on the boat in the last 28 months.

I’ve put 300+ hours since leaving Waterford two months again.

I have also been breaking down the cost of this trip during the last few days.  That will be the subject of a later post.

We love Dauntless because she never lets us down.  Now if only I could find a way to control that nut behind the wheel.

And we shall never talk of it again.

Coming up,

Leba, Gdansk and leaving Poland for the lands to the east

 

 

A Gaggle of Greece and Two Ugly Ducklings

It’s been an eventful few days.  Now into Day 5 of our 8 day Cruising Association’s 2015 Baltic Rally, having all those sail boats around keeps you on your toes.  The winds had been howling since Wednesday.  Therefore it was decided to remain in Kröslin until Saturday morning.

Dauntless in Ueckermünde with the fish boat restaurant to the left.
Dauntless in Ueckermünde with the fish boat restaurant to the left, not leaving me a lot of room for the U turn

But I needed to be in Ueckermünde, the next stop and our last in Germany, Saturday morning, as Ivan my dutiful crew member was returning to Italy that day and Eve and Nigel were scheduled to come that afternoon.

Therefore I decided to leave Friday morning in spite of the winds.

And they were howling, 25 knots, gusting to 38.  But at least, my position at the end of the “T” combined with the winds pushing me off the dock, made for a relatively easy launch.

Between Kröslin and Ueckermünde, there are two bridges with set opening times, a few times a day.

We got to the first bridge early, we had 45 minutes to wait.  After a few anxious moments, we got a line onto a large steel piling and made a bridle from the bow cleats.  Worked well and Dauntless kept her bow to the wind at about a 30° angle.  Easy Peasy.

We got to the next bridge, in spite of traveling as slow as I could, we still had an hour to wait.  There was a shallow anchoring area for boats waiting for the bridge.  Only 7 feet of water, (D takes 4.7 ft), but it was on the windward side, so that meant if the anchor did drag, we would at least be push to deeper water closer to the channel.  And the day’s winds meant there was virtually no one on the water except for us and two sailboats, one German and one Danish.

Dauntless flying the Kadey Krogen flag in Ueckermünde, Germany
Dauntless flying the Kadey Krogen flag in Ueckermünde, Germany

Anchor out; I also have an anchor buoy, which is attached to the anchor with a very thin, but strong Amsteel line.  Too strong.

An hour later, we weigh the anchor and get underway down the very narrow channels (much like the ICW in Georgia) towards Ueckermünde.

Arriving in the quaint town, my directions told me to proceed until the bridge, at which point one cannot go further and tie up along the wall close to the bridge.  Sounds easy; I was calmer than usual knowing Graham and Fay of the Cruising Association would be on the dock to help tie up.

As I come into the narrow part of the channel, towards the anticipated docking spot, I turn on the power to the bow thruster.  I try to minimize bow thruster use, but I will use it and would hate not to use it and hit another boat as a consequence of me being stubborn.

The 25 knot wind is now right on my stern. I know D turns well to the left and backs to the right, so I can usually do a 180° turn to the left within a 50’ circle.  With not winds that is.

I pull to the right as much as I can. But leaving room for the stern to kick out to the right and still miss the restaurant boat.

All went well, until about half way through, so now I was perpendicular to the canal,  the fish restaurant boat was just a couple feet from the swim platform, the dock wall just feet in front of us and the bridge, that effectively made this a dead end for us, about 50 feet away with the wind blowing us towards it.

Then the light on the bow thruster went off, which told me, it had blown the fuse.

I was actually unfazed about it, I try to minimize my bow thruster use in any case, just for reasons like this, and though the wind was now pushing me closer and closer to the bridge, it was still a boat length away.

Backing and filling like I have practiced many times, the Kadey Krogen with its large rudder swung her stern around quite smartly and we were parallel to the dock 30 seconds later.

Ivan on his last full day on Dauntless got us tied up and I thank the lucky stars for another good end to a stressful day with 25 to 38 knot winds, a narrow dock space and having to wait two hours for two bridges in winds in strong, gusty winds.

Now as for the 300 amp slow blow fuse, this had happened once before a few months after we got Dauntless. Then I did not have a spare fuse and since it powered the Inverter also, I had to resort to extreme measures. Don’t do this at home.

This time I had a spare, so I promptly found it and replaced the blown fuse.  I simply assumed it had blown because I had used the bow thruster for too long or continuously.

I had also changed the engine oil while in Kröslin. With Ivan’s help it went easily, too easily.

Ivan left on the train early Saturday morning, it was sad to see him go.  A great kid, and a real big help.

Eve and Nigel were there to replace him and I looked forward to leaving Germany on Sunday and entering Poland for the first time in my life and Dauntless’ too for that matter!

With a bit of a hangover from the night’s before bbq.  A comment about German bbq’s.  They are just that, meat on the grill.  By speaking to the cook in German, I even got extra meat.  Maybe too much meat.  Since there was virtually no salad or other fillers, I ate a lot of meat and washed it down with a lot of white wine.

Meat, wine and great company, one cannot ask for a better life.

So, the next morning Sunday, a bit hungover, but all seemed right with the world.

The fuse was replaced, the oil had been changed, and D was really for new places.  But one nagging problem.  Leaving Kröslin, having to stay in a number of narrow channels for hours on end, the ComNav autopilot did not seem up to its usual precision.  It was over correcting too much and also more noise than usual, usually an indication of air in the hydraulic lines.

So, we had a late morning departure planned for Ueckermünde and the two power boats would bring up the rear of our little gaggle of sail boats and the two ugly ducklings following behind.

The plan was to travel at about 5 knots which was the fastest speed for the slowest sailboat.

I knew it was going to be a slow day, very slow, in any case.  While Dauntless is not fast, nor even quick, she does like to travel around 6 to 7 knots.  Any slower and she starts to get ornery, below 5 knots, she gets downright rambunctious.

So I figured once I started the engine, I would be in no hurry to leave and would check the hydraulic fluid of the wheel and autopilot.  So we did, but discovered no great amount of air in the steering system, in fact virtually none.  That made me worry, if there was not air in the system, then why was the AP acting strangely.  The day before, even though I had it set on the highest sensitivity to keep us in the very narrow channel, it was not responding fully like normal.  As the heading drifted off, it was not correcting quickly.  On numerous occasions we had to quickly shut it off and hand steer to get back into the 5 mile long, straight as an arrow channel.  But then we would try it again and it would sort of work.  And then do the same thing.

So when we get underway from Ueckermünde, while I hoped I had fixed it, I also knew I had not done anything significant and this was more like a wish and a prayer.

Well we catch up to the fleet and now, the one power boat, Tudora, a beautiful maintained older cabin cruiser, came by to tell me I had a line in the water.

Now, I had remembered that a day earlier I had seen the small, thin line that is connected to the anchor buoy had fallen in the water.  I had forgotten to get it out and now, I was a bit embarrassed that another boat had to remind me.

As I pulled on the line, it was stuck; on what I didn’t know, but clearly it would not come up.

I pulled harder.  No change and it did not budge an inch.

I had a brainstorm. I fastened the anchor buoy to it and let it go.  I figured if it was stuck on the prop, it would trail behind the boat.  Now, I was sure I had purposely not had enough line for it to reach the prop, but then …

After a few seconds the buoy bobbed the surface; at amidships.

In a flash, it all came together.

The line had been in the water when I made my U turn.  I had used the bow thruster for a longer period of time, maybe 20 seconds versus just a few seconds normally.

The line had been sucked into the bow thruster, wrapped itself around the shaft, stopping the shaft from rotating and lo and behold, the fuse blew.

Sure enough, as I pulled on the line, it was clear it was emanating from the front of the boat.

Knowing that, I was not overly concerned, I don’t use it very often and now, my practice backing and filling would reward me, so in spite of my fellow travelers concerns, we’d be fine without it, until haul out at least.

What had made the day so difficult was that the autopilot was acting like never before.  In the past I had had problems, significant ones at that, with the compass connected to the autopilot.

I knew how to deal with that.  This wasn’t that.  That was the problem.

The last few hours, the autopilot went from bad to worse.  It was not even following its own commands.  This to me was a more serious problem. The end result was that Eve and Nigel had had to hand steer virtually all day.  The times we did try to AP, it would work for a bit, but then as the compass heading changed, first a few degrees, then 10, then 20°, nothing would happen.  I would lunge for it and turn it off so we could get the boat back on track and in the channel and the gaggle we were supposed to be following.

Pulling into the dock at Swinoujscie, it was good to be tied up, but it had been a long day that ended with two major problems, the worst being an autopilot that all of a sudden wasn’t.

I went to bed that night with two issues, not the best ingredients for a good night’s sleep.

 

 

 

Italy, Holland, Germany and the Tower Incident

IMGP1762 (1280x848)
THe Tower on Ruden

Sort of like the “Bedford Incident” but without Sidney Poitier, or a submarine or the drama, but let’s start at the end.

So, I just had a little conversation with the conductor of the train taking Ivan to Berlin for his plane to Venezia.  The fact that I could have this conversation in German reminds me how comfortable I am in Germany, in spite of a few glitches and now being locked in a tower.

This past year, having Dauntless in Ireland, afforded me the opportunity to spend much more time with my old friends in Italy, the Netherlands and now, new friends in Germany. Since September, I’ve spent five weeks in Holland and three weeks each in Italy and Germany. The most time in many years.  I do like Germany, maybe not as much as Italy or Ireland, or Holland, or Spain, or …, but I do like it.

I have some wonderful friends from Germany and being here this long actually makes me miss them more, but that’s a saga for a different day.

So it is with an understanding eye that I relate my incident in the tower.

Let’s set the scene.

For the last week Dauntless has been in the company of about 20 boats, all members of the Cruising Association which is headquartered in London.  We are doing a week long “rally” in Eastern Germany and into Poland.  I figured it would be a good way for me to wet my feet, figuratively, but hopefully not literally, for my first ever trip to Poland.

While all these travels are new to me by boat, before I became a boat based gypsy, I was certainly a car based gypsy and travelled extensively all over Europe, but never Poland or the Baltic Republics.

So on a windy, but sunny day, our little band of boats set off for Kroeslin from Stralsund, with a small stop for those who are interested on the island of Ruden.

Dauntless on Ruden
Dauntless on Ruden

Now, one pleasure I get out of being on a tour organized by others is that I don’t have to do any thinking.  I don’t have to worry about bridge opening times nor actual routes.  In fact, it was only after I was tied to the wall, just outside the little, very little harbor of Ruden that I realized only about half a dozen boats made this detour to check out Ruden.

OK, I was here now, so I figured I may as well traipse down the dusty path and check out the watch tower that looked south over the V1 and V2 rocket development area of Peenemunde and later as the observation post to make sure no one left the people’s paradise known as the Deutsche Democratic Republic (DDR).  It’s actually comical to write that.  You have to hand to the commies; they certainly have a sense of humor.

So, there was Dauntless, right at the entrance to the harbor, flying not one, but two Stars and Stripes, with of course the German flag, a large one mind you and my newest addition, a Kadey Krogen flag thanks to the great people in their Seattle office.

Thus while I was securing the lines and then changing from by boating clothes to my walk a dusty path clothes, a little German boat, carrying maybe six people came in and tied up in the inner harbor in a spot reserved just for them.

One of the Displays of a B-17 Over Germany
One of the Displays of a B-17 Over Germany

So an hour later, I find myself walking down the dusty path, past the island caretaker’s house, past the 1960’s style barracks, though it could be 1930’s, it’s hard to tell in the DDR, with not a soul in sight.

On the path just in front, I pass a German coming from the tower and figure he was with that little boat that came in after me.

The tower is basically a four floor, 20 feet by 12 feet structure.  Each floor had one room looking south towards Peenemunde.

Now, while I was alone in the bulding, I was making noise.  Under such circumstances, I usually talk to the photos and ask them questions.  I don’t get many ansers though. I was also humming a tune; rather loudly as no one was about and it turned out the tune was from the Victory at Sea soundtrack done by RCA Victor and Robert Russell Bennett.  It had been in my head for a few days as I had played it after some arduous crossing.  At the time, I had no idea what particular track I was humming, but did discover later it was “D-Day”.

On each floor they had some information on the wall about the history of the island and one floor was about the war years. There was a photo of a B-17 in flight over Peenemunde.  Now my German is not so great, but I could glean from the explanation, that they were not thanking the B-17s for liberating them from the madman who was Hitler.

And I really had no idea the tune I was humming was titled “D-Day”.

Really, I didn’t.

Having walked to the top floor, I figured I may as well go one more flight up to the open air roof.

It was open air and it was the roof.  30 seconds later, feeling my duty was done, I go down to the ground floor, but realize something is different; it’s dark.  The metal door, which had been propped open when I had entered, was closed.

I actually went to look for the stairs to go down one more floor thinking I had forgotten how I came in.

Nothing.  I go UP one floor, maybe I was in the basement?  No, I can see I’m two stories up.

The German Boat
The German Boat with Tower in the Background

I go back to the metal door, which I had tried to open initially.

I try harder this time, now 98% sure it was the door I came in, I push really hard and see that there is a chain holding the doors closed.  I push harder. Nothing.

Now, at this point, I am not panicked; but simply perplexed.  I am still thinking I had possibly come in some other entrance.

Now, folks, this is a simple building.  We’re not talking Taj Mahal.  So, I realize that someone has chained me in the place.

OK, I check out the windows.  Not only are they bolted closed, but the first floor has those iron gates covering them.  I do see an English couple walking up, so I go wait for them and they confirm that the chain is padlocked.

Now, my phone is on the boat.  Who would I be calling on this island?

I thought to myself, maybe I should have brought my chain cutter with me. The fact that it weighs 20 pounds and is three feet long was probably the main reason I didn’t.  I also am not sure why I even bought it, as I can never remember using it.  Maybe I bought it for just this occasion?

No, brute force will be my last resort.

Free at Last, Free at Last
Free at Last, Free at Last, the Eyebolt hanging down with the nut I put back

I look at the door and the eye bolt the chain is connected to on the outside has one nut holding it in place.  I pull on the end of the bolt hoping to relieve the pressure and maybe I can get the bolt off.

I do; it does and I unbolt the eye bolt.

Push it through and I am as free as a bird.

I consciously put the nut back on the bolt.

I start walking back to Dauntless, who is probably now wondering what is taking so long on this forlorn island.

Just before the harbor, I pass one of the Germans I had seen earlier, now sitting on a bench waiting, watching or maybe just plain resting.

He smiles. And it all becomes clear.

His smile gives him away.  He gives me that mischievous smile that explains the whole situation to me at a glance.

I give him my “we’ve beat you twice and we could do it again” smirk and continue down the path, back to Dauntless with her two American flags standing straight out in the brisk wind.

I’m proud to be an American.

And, I really didn’t know the tune was titled, “D-Day”

 

 

 

 

Germany, A Few Thoughts and Bugaboos Too

Yesterday, we arrived at the harbor of Stralsund at 23:15.  Jeremy from the Cruising Association was ready, waving a flashlight so I knew where to go and I cannot tell you how relieved I was having that last uncertainty removed.

Ruden the little Island North of Peenemunde
Ruden the little Island North of Peenemunde

We had D tied up and engine off in 10 minutes, surely a record.

Saturday started in a frustrating fashion and ended the same way.

I use my Kindle for most books and I use the Kindle app on my phone for magazines and newspapers.  The app works better because it’s in color and the newspaper I read, the Wall Street Journal is formatted far better for that medium.

Why do I like the WSJ?

As I moved around the world, the WSJ was the one paper that one could get consistently and I liked the mix of world, US and business news.  Since I’ve gotten it on my Kindle, I like it even more since the version I get is for NY and has stories of the NY sports teams.

During this past year, I have come to realize that after a long day or before a long day starts, I really like having my cup of coffee and the newspaper. On reflection, I realize that while Dauntless is my main job now, almost as important, is reading the newspaper in the morning.

I grew up that way and since my first job was delivering newspapers, a job that was setup by the upstairs neighbors who wanted the four morning newspapers and therefore found another half dozen customers for me to make it worth the while of a 10 year old. So, I had the paper every morning to read before school.  As I got older, work and organizing my day mentally took precedence.

But now on Dauntless, I find a satisfaction on sitting down in the morning with the paper and my coffee that can hardly be described.

With my Samsung Note I can take it with me anywhere has been great.  I’ve even gotten used to the fact that it is not available until just before 8:00 Ireland time; which means an hour later on the continent.

OK, fine.  But since I have been in Germany, my internet connections seem to have vanished. Last week I was in a particular foul mood all day, just because I could not get the day’s paper.  Now Amazon certainly has its issues.  About once a month, the kindle has a hissy fit and tells me something stupid like all of a sudden I have too many devices or there is no new paper today.

Peenemunde Brochure
Peenemunde Brochure

If you email Amazon support, they now give you the boilerplate answer:  cut off your pinky, use the blood to wipe the screen, say praise be to whatever god your believe in or not, and that should do it.

Well, not exactly, but it’s usually just as bad, erase everything on your phone, reinstall everything and it will work. Sometimes.

Yeah, I don’t do that either.  Strangely most of the time, within a few hours it starts working again.

OK, but now, it’s not Amazon.  It’s the many places that say they have Wi-Fi, but really don’t.  And that now includes the Telco’s.

So no paper, email for days.  I didn’t miss it crossing the Atlantic, but now people think when I don’t respond to their email I’m ignoring them.  Worse, Gmail manages to send some stuff, but other stuff sits for days in the Que.

So this weekend ended on a sour note for me.  No paper, made worse because it took me a day to figure out the WSJ had not published on Saturday, the 4th.

Then Monday dawned bright and first thing it was back to the O2 store that sold me a data only SIM on Saturday to find out why I still had no Internet.  Now, I had returned to the store Saturday afternoon, just before closing to ask why it was still not working and the response was many people are having the same problem.  That was confirmed by my German friends who had checked online for me.

OK, so off I was to the O2 store for a resolution one way or another.

But this time, when I inquired why still no joy, I asked the question, that I should have asked on Saturday, but naively didn’t, assuming I would be told the whole story from the beginning.

But I had forgotten I was in the former DDR.  Germans are a bit reserved, at least compared to Italians or Irish, but the denizens of the former DDR are even more reserved.  With extra information, words, even necessary information, comes the risk of saying the wrong words to the wrong people.  Living for three generations, 60 years, under the watchful eye of the Gestapo/Stasi will do that to you.

So I was understanding; I smiled and did not say what I was thinking as he finally told me I needed an APN (an internet protocol).  In Italy, and with Verizon, the phone needs an APN, but is not needed in the Netherlands, or Ireland.  But, behind my tolerant smile, you know, the kind you give your puppy after he eats your favorite shoe, I wondered how he could have neglected to mention this after I returned to tell him it still wasn’t working?

But little did I realize how my mettle would be tested just 36 hours later locked in an old watchtower on Ruden.

 

 

 

Deutschland

Well my faith has been renewed in the human race or at least my decision making whichever is lessor.

Dauntless in Cuxhaven
Dauntless in Cuxhaven

We had an uneventful night passage from Lauwersoog in Friesland, the Netherlands to Cuxhaven Germany.

Unlike the English Channel, which really whipped my ass, the currents north of the Frisian Islands were as advertised; we got a good boost for about half the time. This allowed me to keep the rpm’s low, 1400 pretty much the entire way, and thus fuel consumption low.

With the help of the current we still averaged 6.0 knots, and that is in spite of the outgoing ebb coming up the Elbe, which kept our speed between 2.5 to 3.5 knots for last three hours.

Ivan and Bas had watches of 4 hours on, 4 off, and I pretty much dozed in the pilot house bench ready at a moment’s notice to further confuse any issue that came up with my groggy head.

When we left Lauwersoog Sunday morning, the winds we SW at 12 knots and pretty much stayed like that for our entire trip.  The day became grayer, as the clouds increased during the afternoon and evening, leaving us in that murky grey world.  Winds became southeasterly as a minor trough moved past us, and then stayed that way, so as we started up the Elbe estuary, the current was running with the winds, keeping the waves pretty flat.

Sunrise on the Elbe
Sunrise on the Elbe

Remembering the debacle that could have been in Oostende, Sunday afternoon, a few hours after departure, I looked hard at the numbers and realized that even with the helping current, our best ETA would be 03:00.  Being further north, and June, nautical twilight would be about that time, but still too O’dark thirty for me.  So we slowed even further, timing our arrival after sunrise.

Turned out a much more open, straight forward harbor than Oostende, but I was still pleased with the decision.

I am also getting excited about the Baltic.

Poor Dauntless looks like she has been through a battle, as she shows the battle damage of the over 30 locks and bridges we had to tie up to. Doesn’t sound like a lot compared to the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), but what is different is that one must tie to something, as the wait times for bridges that “open on demand” vary greatly and the “open on demand” in the Netherlands means, if you are waiting in front of the bridge, they will see you and at that point put you on the priority list, but every train, bus, bicycle and pedestrian has a higher priority and probably a few planes also.  But the real issue in the waiting is the tieing up to all sorts of things at all sorts of heights and materials.

It was frustrating two days until Marinius, explained these facts of life to me during the European Krogen Rendezvous 2015.  What you didn’t hear about the rendezvous?  That story is still in the making.

Anyway, all this results in the poor D refuses to have any close-ups made.  So pictures shall have to be from a discreet distance. I shall have to find a real gel coat master at some point.  And please do not tell me how easy it is and that I should do it myself.  I once painted a set of chairs; at the divorce, my wife reminded me of the drips I left.  How was I to know I needed to thin the paint!

Last night, I finally decided to re-read the Baltic material I had collected from the Cruising Association meeting we had attended in London in February.  Having that information reduced the anxiety I was feeling about the Nord-Ostsee Kanal (Kiel Canal).

So tomorrow we leave, three hours before high tide, go to Brunsbuttel and wait.  They too have a priority order.  We are on the sub-order list.  Yes, Russian submarines even have a higher priority, but then the Germans will pretend they did not see them as they do not want to provoke them.

Back to the topic on hand.

I also realize that as different as many of these places are from the sea, I have spent so many hours driving around Western Europe and Germany and the Netherlands in particular, that I’m ready for new places, faces and cases.

If you wonder what a new case is, so do I, but I needed a word that rhymed.

Yes, that is my biggest worry right now!

How Big is Your Anchor?
How Big is Your Anchor?

 

 

Dauntless Cruise Plan – Baltic 2015

Well folks, as we get closer and closer to summer, the moss in growing under my feet, so it’s getting time to move on.  As initially planned a few years ago, this summer will be spent in the Baltic.  The attached picture shows the tentative route from our departure from Waterford in late May to our return in early October.

Summer 2015 Baltic Cruise Plan
Summer 2015 Baltic Cruise Plan

As planned, this voyage will be about 4100 nm with 72 legs spread over 130 days.  A bit ambitious, but that’s us.   While some of the major stops:  Holland, last two weeks in June; East Germany, 4 July; Gdansk, 18 July;  Riga, 24 July; Tallinn, 30 July & 15 Aug; Helsinki, 6 Aug; are hard wired in, pretty much everything in between is open and will be determined based on weather, seas and moods.

Our usual mode of travel is about 6.5 knots, consuming 1.5 gal/hr. or 4.2nm/gal (2 liters/km) so the total cruise will need about 1000 gallons, 4000 liters, of fuel.  So will need to pick up about 300 gallons along the way, to get back to the UK, Ireland with near empty tanks.

Normally we like cruising one day, then stopping at the same place for two nights.  By cruising every other day, it keeps the batteries up and in hot water for about half that time.  I am in the process of putting the water heater and washer on the Inverter circuit.  Thus we’ll have hot water on the non-motoring days.

For charts, I am using the Jepp C-Map charts running on Coastal Explorer, plus Navionics on my tablet and smart phone.  I looking for some large scale paper charts to facilitate the long range planning.

Though we will have cell phone coverage most places, I will have our Delorme InReach running and on Dauntless 24/7 to keep a running track of our trip.  I will also attempt to take better pictures, videos and document the trip better.

I really appreciate the postings of Dockhead and Carstenb on Cruisers Forum.  Their information and enthusiasm about the Baltic have been contagious.

As always, I’m open to suggestions, but keep in mind that some places are locked and loaded and that no trip is ever perfect.

If anyone knows the price of fuel at the Brusnichnoye Lock on the Saimaa Canal, I’d love that information, but I won’t need to know it until the very end of July.  That far eastern jaunt will probably be eliminated in any case, unless fuel is 33 cents a liter, as I do need to cut down some miles.

Italy, Germans, the Euro, the Lire and the Road to Moscow*

*Al Stewart’s haunting song about the last time the Germans were in charge. Now you’re asking yourself, what does this have to do with Dauntless and how are events from 75 years ago applicable to today.  Having Dauntless in Europe, gives me the freedom to visit my friends in Italy at a more leisurely pace than any time in the past.  Besides drinking Prosecco, I have the time to think and observe.  It’s quite nice really, but I’m seeing many disquieting signs and the fact that I am at this moment, sitting on the couch, writing this while wearing a tee shirt, a turtle neck, a sweater and a vest, while wondering if I could type with gloves on, says more than I could ever explain about the anemic Italian economy.

Treviso
Treviso

Driving from my friend’s house on the outskirts of Treviso to the little mountain village of Budoia, is a route I have taken countless times in the last 38 years.  It’s a route that provides a lot of variety, from the large factories, stores and shops along the main Venezia to Pordenone state road to the road that skirts the mountains from just north of Conegliano and passes through towns, each with its town center and stores common to almost every town.

This trip however has been an eye opener:   shuttered factories, vacant parking lots, closed stores.  During the last 20 years, I have probably come to Italy almost 20 times and seen the same towns  and roads.  By not living here, it is easier to see the gradual changes that have taken place.  Even in a Province like Treviso, probably one of the richest in the country, one sees vacant stores and prices that hare far higher for virtually everything than one would pay in Germany or the Netherlands.

This annual snapshot  shows a continual decline, only stopped at times with a leveling, a plateau, but not real growth. The advent of the Euro has locked in this decline, but the last few years have seen an acceleration of this decline.

Oh my friends are hopeful, yes, things are tight, but they will get better… it’s a refrain I hear every year.

I on the other hand, see a picture, not so bright and getting even darker.  I’ve never seen so many vacant shops as I see today, but in those vacant shops and factories, I also see the Euro and its impact on the places south of the Alps.  The refrain throughout Europe is the Germans, that altruistic lot; do not mind paying large subsidizes to help their less fortunate neighbors.  But in those vacant places, I see the real motive; whatever Germany must pay to keep the southern littoral in the Euro is worth it, as it eliminates European competition.

Budoia Rooftops
Budoia Rooftops

Having close friends in Germany also, and visiting there only a bit less than Italy, I see another side of the story.  I wonder why prices are actually lower in Germany and the Netherlands, yet their average salaries are much higher than in Italy.  In the old days, I did most of my shopping in Italy, with Germany second and the Netherlands third, and that was based on price.  While the quality of goods was a bit better in Germany, especially clothes, the prices were significantly higher.

With the advent of the Euro, everything got turned on its head.  I have not done any significant shopping in Italy in 15 years.  Prices are totally out of whack; whatever it is, I know I will find it cheaper in Holland or now, Ireland.  Italy is also flooded with items made in China.  It’s become the Wal-Mart of Europe. So now the land is flooded with LED light bulbs that inexplicitly, turn off for a second or two every couple of hours.  Houses are heated or not, to an ever lower temperature.  Every few years I must add an extra layer.  Soon I’ll be as tasty as a 6 layer cake.

Here is a little story I first heard on CNBC’s Squawk Box I think it’s worth repeating:

 Michelle Caruso-Cabrera recounted the comments made by Margaret Thatcher  in the 1990’s. Ms. Thatcher was saying how she had asked the Italian Prime Minister why he thought joining the Euro zone was going to help Italy? He responded that it was the only way for Italians to have any fiscal discipline.

I had not planned on recounting this story until one of my Italian friends used the Euro as the same excuse. But I wonder, what fiscal discipline have the Italians shown in the last 15 years?

In fact, to a certain extent, the Italian bond market certainly does not reflect the coming train wreck and has contributed to spending that cannot be sustained, well, it can be as long as the Germans are there to help!

This brings us full circle back to Al Stewart’s haunting song, Road to Moscow. The last time the Germans were calling the shots, the Italians lost an entire division of Alpini on the eastern front, never to be seen again. In this region of Italy, the Veneto, it’s not been forgotten.  Who knows if the Italians will ever have the discipline to cut the waste and fat that so many in this society benefit from, but one thing I have figured out in my life, it’s far better to suffer the consequences of one’s own mistakes, than those of others.

So, let’s see if the Italians can be their own masters and become competitive again, while they won’t be cannon fodder, they will be Euro fodder.