Gotland Runt 1986: Challenging, educational, instructive - Patrik Salén

There is a first time for everything, even a Gotland Runt (GR). For me and my two younger cousins, Staffan and Erik, 1986 became our first Gotland Runt. A race that may not have gone down in history as the absolute toughest, but many certainly remember the gusty winds and choppy seas at the start outside Sandhamn and the subsequent tacking along the coast to Svenska Björn in a fresh northerly wind and high seas.

My first GR took place on our family's classic, the Offshore Cruiser “Ballad”, a Sparkman & Stephens 63-footer built in 1952. The crew was competent with several famous profiles, including three world champions in 6 Metre, Patte Fredell together with the Salén-brothers Sven Hampus and Christer, also my uncle and father. Sven Hampus was also at the time the Commodore of KSSS. On board we had a skilled navigator, Commander Göran Roman, a successful sailmaker through Arved "Greven" von Gruenewaldt, good food guaranteed by chef Göran Lindersson, and skilled sailors through Svante Tengbom and Claes Törneman. Finally, us three young cousins ready to learn, work hard and enjoy our first Gotland Runt.

A clean Vanderbilt start

Our start in 9-10 meters per second northerly wind was a downright masterpiece. We were taught what a "Vanderbilt start" meant (a so-called timed start, named after the 3-time Americas Cup winner Harold Stirling Vanderbilt) and this very time it worked perfect! At full speed we passed over the starting line with both Krackemut and Carat VI comfortably to leeward. This fantastic start was even portrayed in the KSSS yearbook 1987. So far so good.

However, it was soon thereafter that the challenges began. Ballad is most competitive down-wind, not in upwind sailing. In the strong and increasing northerly breeze there was an extremely stompy tack up to the mark at Svenska Björn. During the afternoon and evening we experienced several issues; the boat started leaking; our genoa halyard broke and the large main sheet winch on the aft deck broke down.

Fitness session at the pump

The leak was discovered by our chef in the galley, who, when preparing the upcoming meal, suddenly stands with shoes wet among floating floorboards. In the clear hierarchy, that we quickly learned prevails on board, the task of bilge pumping Ballad lands on us three juniors. During the rather uncomfortable sea we started with the pumping using a hand pump in the galley. We may have been young and strong, but this became a clear educational task combined with good exercise. While we pumped, other parts of the crew were working to find the origin of the leak. It turns out a little later that a starboard rigging screw attachment had broken and water practically free flowed into the boat. However, the safety equipment includes several sizes of conical plugs that we quickly found and plugged the whole and the problem was temporarily solved. The starboard berth in the saloon was now soaking wet for whomever was expected to take a quick nap there, but the leakage was fixed and the bilge was rinsed and emptied. At the same time the three young boys did get a good fitness session and an introduction to all dimensions of offshore racing.

Top jobs at dusk

Happiness and tranquility do not last very long when offshore racing. Soon we heard a loud bang and we quickly understood that the Genoa halyard had broken, even though it was made of heavy steel wire. Some of us had learned easier form of splicing at sailing camps, but a much higher level of competence was required when splicing wire. Claes Törneman showed us his good seamanship and for half an hour we admired his skill with wire-splicing. Once completed, however, the halyard must now be put back in place at the top of the mast. Once again, the three young cousins were reminded of the ranking onboard and the youngest man, Erik, ends up in the boatman's chair in the heavy sea to climb the mast. Erik clearly remembers a somewhat hesitant feeling during the upwards journey. However, he remembers his pride just as clearly after completing his top mission as well as the beautiful view at dusk when all participants gradually turn on their lanterns for the night. A lovely youth memory from the best vantage point for a sailor.

The main aft winch collapses

During the demanding tack towards Svenska Björn, our genoa winch also gave up. On the aft deck, this impressive "coffee grinder" that with great power brings the 100-120 square meters of genoa sail, which together with the main sail drives the 34 ton heavy boat forward. On the night watch, the brake on the winch released and the grinder spun at full speed in the wrong direction, and luckily no one got hurt. We were now forced, in the darkness, to salvage a rapping genoa sheet, an exciting but quite dangerous task. After completing the tack and much appreciated rounding of Svenska Björn, a well-deserved and enjoyable downwind trip towards Gotland commenced. During the slightly calmer downwind, we saw the craftsmanship of Svante who carefully and confidently dismantled the grinder into its smallest parts. He then polished, oiled, trimmed and reassembled the winch and it functioned flawlessly for the rest of the race around Gotland to the finish in Sandhamn. Great respect for this craftmanship!

Satisfied and inspired

Setting off after rounding Svenska Björn on a long downwind leg in good breeze is Ballad's favorite mode. The enjoyment on board was great when the spinnaker was up and the 150NM long journey towards Hoburgen, the next rounding mark, started; An appreciated reward after a tough first day.

And the results? We beat many strong, modern contenders, where Blå Carat was perhaps particularly inspiring to beat. Ballad finished in sixth place, which we were very pleased with. The three cousins received good training at sea but enjoyed solid land in Sandhamn. When waves, wind and pain in the pump muscles subsided, we were many lasting sailing memories richer and looked forward to the next opportunity to race around Gotland. It would take a few years, however, but that is a different story.

By the pen,

Patrik Salén aboard S/Y Ballad 1986