Minimumm of efford - maximum of joy and distance

Six month ago we were invited to two weeks cruise through the Windward Islands in the Caribbean Sea. We lived on a 43ft catamaran with showers in every cabin and a big motor to support our sophisticated "sailing livingroom" with the energy it demanded. Of course it was fun - but not at all the way of sailing I prefer.

Since I read the book of Wilfried Erdmann (first German who sailed around the world and several times non-stop one time against the wind) "Mein Grenzenloses Seestück" where he described a summer long dinghy cruise he made through the waters of Eastern Germany few weeks after the two parts of Germany reunited, I was hooked by the Idea of that way of sailing.

I had sailed with a 13ft self made catamaran and my girlfriend on the Lake Constance, made a costal trip with the Tahiti Wayfarer prototype of James Wharram Design when I had made a practical internship in his office, and had camp cruised our 15ft Topcat on the Lake Geneva till a short but horrendous thunderstorm destroyed that simple but effective boat.

But now I was back with the ideal boat for townies with no space at all but a big aspiration to cruise the world!!! This pdracer no.139 was built partly in our cellar, partly on the mutual ground of our community garden and later stored under our balcony. I built it because for a long time I had been admiring the Brick design of Phil Bolger and was linked one day to the web site of David "Shorty" Routh with the pdracer concept. I immediately started to design and nearly built such a boat like "sleeper" which I fancied for several months. But then I decided to keep it easy and built one with enough buoyancy to keep floated in case of an accident. I got a windsurf sail and mast from a friend, yellow paint from an other friend and reused my two rudders of my destroyed catamaran as well as the sheet ropes and blocks. I did a test sail in July 2007 and was rapt by the good performance even clause hauled in 3-4 Beaufort wind with two adults on board.

rowing with the sail up

Then on Monday the 13th August my wife and me got a lift with our boat on top of our car to Altenrhein near St. Gallen - Switzerland where the old delta of the river Rhine meets the Lake Constance (Bodensee). We started sculling down the "Alter Rhein" against moderate wind from north-west. Our boat was filled with two waterproof bags which contained our sleeping bags and clothes, one bucket with the newly acquired 5kg folding anchor and all other wet things and a plastic bag with food and drinks. Immediately after one minute sculling the bushing for the starboard oar got lose and I had to deal with this handicap till the end of the journey causing me to row with irregular strokes. My mother in law had spent two inflatable cushions which I didn't want ( I am not a wimp) but which we had finally taken with us - what a bliss - later the most appreciated equipment on board because it helped our backside to survive.

Immediately after leaving the mouth of the estuary we set our sail with the goal to sail as north west as we could go this day. The next point north west was Romanshorn. Dark clouds built up behind the hills of the coast and I was frightened to cross directly to Romanshorn which meant to have about 4 km distance from the shore in case of a thunder storm. So we copied the coast along Rorschach and Arbon with the distance of about 1 km. We had little to no wind from the east and this wind pushed us gently with wind astern towards our goal.

We both sat on the "lee side" giving the box a little heel well balanced in the middle, arm in arm and Manuela my wife started reading while I enjoyed the tranquillity of the workday empty lake, the long stretch of water in front of us and the sun. The clouds disappeared after a while - don't know where they went- and we could point our bow directly to Romanshorn.

sitting on the side of the gunnel

About three hours later we passed Romanshorn in 500m distance. It was hot, my wife had slept, lunched, steered and read so far, got bored and started to swim in front of the apparently slow boat. I chased her for a while - she was surprised that the boat was so "fast" went back refreshed and was ready for the tea and coffee on board. I got rid of my clothes and jumped over board. What a joy swimming next to my self built boat, the love of my life sailing and no one around us who could destroy this experience. Compared to the swimming around the catamaran in the Caribbean Sea, there was no fear of sharks or prying eyes of other shipmates, no running machines destroying the calm to fill the batteries, no fear of broken complicated machinery… sheer bliss of simplicity.

Later we laid in the sun, got dry, the wind awoke again and we decided to head to Uttwil because Manuela had been growing up in this area and knew a pizzeria where we wanted to have dinner. At seven o clock we arrived after about 11 miles air-line distance in total. We pulled our yacht on the shore, buried the anchor under big stones, took our drybags with us and went uphill to the restaurant which was still there. About 9 o'clock we headed back to our boat and pulled to a flock of buoys where we found buoy no.11 free to join.

rowing in the evening

Of course it was tricky to set our roost but with all the wet gear on the foredeck, everything we didn't need for the night in the front hatch and the setting of the air mattresses in two legs, we finally laid there almost happily. Almost because there were thousand of little moth like flies no mosquitoes but ugly ones. We covered our head with clothes and listened to the loud splashes of the waves to the flat hull bottom side. The mast squeaked in its bracket with every little wave and after one hour trying to ignore the ordeals I fixed the mast got rid of some clothes which blocked the sight of the stars, the wind died and suddenly we had a calm and luxurious bed under the starry sky.

sleeping aboard a pdracer

The morning started with few raindrops but I could resist to erect my polytarp tent which I had built just before we left with the knowledge that it looked really messy - so I was not keen on using it. The morning sun rose and the wind came - but - we had to point our bow to the next camp ground to have a decent breakfast at the bar and later we went into the village to get fresh water and food. When we finally left it was about 10.30 in the morning and the now nearly not existing wind pushed us gently towards Konstanz our next destination. Again the same ritual than the day before, sunbathing, steering, chatting, kissing, swimming, reading, relaxing, and sleeping. While I took a nap the wind increased and Manuela made a few easy miles until our successful cruise was stopped by another sailer who motored out of the marina of Seedorf to tell us that some people where calling and waving us. There was Manuela's Family searching for us and wondering how far we came (with enough wind they could have found us many miles ahead - they didn't expect a coffin like shape to sail at all). We stopped for a coffee break and then Manuela left me sadly heading home for work next day.

view in the morning from sailboat

I continued with sail beam reach and arrived on the crowded "Konstanzer Trichter" (Konstanzer funnel) where the Lake narrows and calls river Rhine again for about 4 km before the water spreads out again into the Untersee which provides a totally different setting comared to the main lake.

A lot of power boats with loud motors where cruising around with no proper goal except to show of and provided the narrowing lake with huge irregular waves which nearly capsized my boats twice. Here I realized that my boats name "Minimumm" with two M's at the end- Mumm means balls, guts, sands, spunk in English was the right choice because you really need guts to stand the arrogant looks of the proud elegant boat owners with their boats capable of sailing big oceans but just mooring on little lakes like Lake Constance. By the way, if you are the lucky owner of a berth on this lake you could moor a rotten canoe on this buoy and sell it for a fortune because moorings are the hardest thing to get on that lake. The other fact is, that statistics say that the average of these yachts are sailing three and a half days per year!!

In the "funnel" the wind changed and blew harder so that I had to sail on a close reach and had to tack many times while taking care of the other sailers who wanted to go back to the marina after their two hours afternoon sail. I think I tacked there for about 1.5 hours until I felt the current of the river Rhine pulling me towards the first bridge in Konstanz.

bridge over the water

Till that moment I hadn't built up a concept how to dismast my boat while floating but needed an instant decision while hanging between ferries, skiffs and private motorboats which claimed the now narrow piece of water for themselves. So I just dropped the mast, wraped the sail around it and started river rafting. Few days ago there where heavy rainfalls and the Rhine swamped many towns - here I felt the energy of the current and rode the rapid like stream through the pillars of the bridges until I could set my mast again after the third motorway bridge.

By then it was nearly sunset and along the beds there where many barbeques, filled "Biergarten", angling, sculling, paddling and passenger boats. I reached Gottlieben a picturesque little village at sunset and the reeds of the wildlife sanctuary "Wollmatinger Ried" were glowing beautifully.

calm water - almost no ripples

The wind died and the little insects came back - again not the stinging ones but masses of meat in the air so that you really could inhale it. I started to row, passed a birds observation platform with a lonely volunteer peeping eagerly towards the flock of male swans ( they told me that these are only the male swans who couldn't get a partner this year) and pushed me through the crowd of bachelors with frenetic strokes on the oars because the cloud of flies surrounded me grew and I ineffectively tried to escape.

I used the buoys which outline the birds sanctuary for orientation because it was dark now and I could just see the lights of the villages on the Swiss shore and the lights from the cars on the embankment which connects the Isle of Reichenau with the mainland. Few years ago during my studies I had lived on that Island for one year so I could distinguish the lights of the houses on the shore. I rowed and partly sailed the next hour until I dropped anchor at about 11 o'clock in total darkness next to a dark silhouette which I thought was an anchoring sailboat. It was the first time I put out an anchor on my own responsibility. It was about 20m from shore and the little folding thing touched ground after two or three meters. I pulled and nothing moved, I made a bearing to a street light and prepared for the night. Next morning I realized that it just laid on the ground still folded with only the weight holding the boat. The waves were like loud drumbeats on the bottom of the boat but because I was exhausted I drifted of immediately. Next morning I woke up at dawn on a totally calm sea with the colour of lead, an overcast sky and a private harbour wall very close which I had spotted the night before believing it was a boat. I set sail with the rising sun and soared with a light breeze towards Gaienhofen a little artist village where Herman Hesse lived for a while. I was alone in the middle of the lake so I undressed, jumped into the lead like surface and later the warming sunrays dried my body while I had a simple but unforgettable breakfast in perfect solitude. The next hour light wind changed with no wind and sometimes I used the oars trying to scull as perfect as possible making sometimes100 strokes nearly in trance. Using the life vest and the inflatable pillow as a seat it was like a shifting seat and worked quite well.

I arrived at Gaienhofen at about 10 o'clock but decided to sail on into the narrowing lake. I stayed close to the shore and admired the boats and houses along my way. In Wangen I left my boat to make a phonecall to my father in law who wanted to pick me up at the end of the journey. I arrived at a steep ramp at an overcrowded campground with all people starring at my unfamiliar construction. I pulled the boat over two little fenders two meters from the waterline and needed more time than expected to find a phone - then I had to search for a card for the phone - I swore that I would buy me a cell phone after that trip - which I haven't done so far. When I arrived back a big motor boat wake had pushed my little boat nearly into the sea again and I had to swim for one floating fender watched by all the bored campers with their home like gadget starring like cows on a meadow. No reaction - no comment - no understanding, no help. If it had been an expensive boat I would have cried because of several scratches - but in this case I just remembered the proverb James Wharram told me when he instructed me how to take care of his boat in the tide. He said "a real sailor ties down his boat even it lays on a cornfield"!!!

I continued floating down the lake with wind in the back feeling the beginning current and dropped my sail at the first rapids just one kilometre before I reached Stein am Rhein my final destination. Just in front of the Isle of Werd with monastery Wagenhausen I left the current, dropped the anchor, dismasted the boat and had a swim because it was very hot at 12.30 that day. I drifted down to the bridge where my father in law waited for me. I could have drifted down to Schaffhausen where the Rhine runs in a big cascade over the Rheinfall, but my time was limited and so I ended these wonderful, relaxing day after about 32 miles beeline distance.

Maximum of pleasure with minimum of preparation, maintenance, money and fear of destroying the boat. Wonderful sailing full-size bed!!

map of the route taken for this trip