PDQ flotilla explores Scandinavia

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Seven PDQ power cats are shipped across the Atlantic for the “Baltic Adventure”

Seven PDQ power cats are shipped across the Atlantic for the “Baltic Adventure”

Henry Clews saw it as a unique opportunity to cruise Scandinavia and northern Europe on Sno’ Dog, his 34-foot power catamaran, and do it with six other PDQs — all from the “Yank” side of the Atlantic.

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us,” says Clews, 62, a semiretired engineer and technical writer, who kept a blog of the July and August trip (www.geocities.com/snodoglog ). The Clews had cruised Holland in canal boats before and even owned one for a time. “We’d always wanted to cruise up the Scandinavian coast,” he says. And the prospect of doing it on their own boat was appealing.

Clews and his wife, Nancy Chandler, of Hanover, N.H., along with the flotilla — six 34-footers and a 41 — cruised the Gulf of Bothnia from Rauma, Finland, to Stockholm, Sweden, threading their way through the tens of thousands of islands in the Finnish Ålands and Swedish Archipelago; traveled west across Sweden from Stockholm to Gothenburg on the cross-country Göta Canal; continued down Sweden’s west coast and Denmark’s east and south coasts (including a stop in Copenhagen) to Kiel, Germany; took the Kiel Canal across Germany’s northern neck to Cuxhaven on the North Sea; and cruised down among the Frisian Islands on Germany’s northwest coast to Holland, where they finished with a tour of the scenic Dutch canal system to Amsterdam.

A baker in the Åland islands delivered fresh-baked bread to the flotilla in a wheelbarrow. The power cats pulled up to a drive-through ice cream parlor on the Göta Canal and overnighted in the moat outside a medieval castle in Vadstena, Sweden. The cruisers saw a tiny sauna tied up to the bank on one of the Swedish lakes and later saw Denmark’s KronborgCastle, the inspiration for Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. They saw a car ferry on the Kiel Canal that’s suspended from a bridge and crosses the water without touching it. Just about every Dutch village had a quay where the visitors tied up and locals stopped, chatted — in English — and marveled at the roomy, fuel-efficient twin-hulled cruisers. Many had never seen boats like these before.

PDQ Yachts, of Whitby, Ontario (www.pdqyachts.com ), streamlined the logistics for this “Baltic Adventure” by securing the cats’ passage across the Atlantic and back on the deck of 600-foot Dutch cargo ships. The shipping, arranged through Sevenstar Yacht Transport BV, a Dutch company, cost about $18,000 round-trip, a group promotional fare that is about half the normal round-trip cost for a single yacht, Clews says.

Clews says he and his wife never would have taken their boat across the Atlantic on its own bottom, nor could they have afforded the full round-trip fare for shipping Sno’ Dog across. He also doubts he could have found a company that would let them charter a yacht for two months for a 1,200-mile cruise from Finland to Holland.

Six of the PDQs were hoisted aboard the M/V Suomigracht in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., June 6, and a few days later a seventh was loaded aboard in Portsmouth, R.I., the ship arriving in Finland July 5 to offload the boats. Two months later, on Sept. 1, they were loaded aboard the M/V Slotergracht at the port of Ijmuiden, Holland, for the return trip to Portsmouth and Jacksonville, Fla.

“I see this as the future of boating, as more and more people start doing this and the cost of shipping boats back and forth comes down,” says Dick Tuschick, 60, of Stuart, Fla., owner with his wife, Carol, of PDQ dealer Rhumb Line Yacht Sales Southeast. “This opens up a whole new world of cruising for small boats to do this kind of trip.”

Flotilla cruising not only reduces shipping costs, Tuschick says, it encourages some who wouldn’t attempt to cruise that far afield alone to go ahead and do it, if they can cruise with other boats. Tuschick points out, too, that traveling in Europe for two months and staying in hotels is very expensive. “This way you stay in your own home, and you see things you would never see in a car,” he says.

In Stockholm, the Tuschicks turned their PDQ, Rhumb Line, over to their daughter, Beth Simkin, of Newburyport, Mass. — who runs Rhumb Line Yacht Sales Northeast — her husband, David, and their children Steven, 12, and Erica, 6. The Simkins hadn’t done a lot of cruising as a family, so they weren’t sure how the children would like it. “They not only adapted to their new surroundings — the culture, the language, the food — Steven even helped with the navigation and set waypoints,” Beth Simkin says. “Theyreally got into it.”

A $900 pass buys passage through the 360-mile system of lakes, rivers and canals known as the Göta Canal. Most of the 60 locks are manually operated, and though there are tenders to oversee the locking, boat crews are expected to operate the locks themselves. The PDQ 41’s beam is 18 feet, and the 34’s is almost 17 feet. The width of the canal’s narrowest parts — bridges and locks — is 23 feet, so it can be a tight squeeze at times. Clews says the cats were never too wide to fit.

The Swedish government has built a network of guest havens along the canal, which are free to pass-holders. The guest havens offer slips, restrooms, showers, washing machines, restaurants, gift shops, and usually a miniature golf course, ice cream shop and grocery store close by. “Every day we’d leave at 9 and pull in at a guest haven at 3,” Simkin says, which gave the kids time to get off the boat, do some exploring, have an ice cream, and play a round of golf. Evenings were family time — no television.

“Whether we were playing a board game or watching a movie, it was a real family thing,” says Simkin. “We weren’t pulled this way and that. We pulled together as a family, and we survived. It gave our kids a lot of first-time experiences.”

Not the least of which was the smoked fish. “We ate more smoked fish than I’ve eaten in a lifetime,” she says.

The weather was cool, the days long. Early in July the sun didn’t go down until midnight, then came back up at 3 a.m. The Simkins turned Rhumb Line’s keys over to friends in Gothenburg, having spent two weeks crossing Sweden.

The canals aren’t a slam-dunk, says Simkin. Working the locks is challenging and exhausting work, and the lakes are deep, long and narrow, so they can be rough in bad weather, she says. So can the Gulf of Bothnia. Clews chose to navigate through the thick of the Åland islands, while others bypassed them. He had to punch 30 waypoints into his Raymarine chart plotter to thread his way through, but he says the electronic charts were very accurate. “They showed us right where we were,” he says. And the extra effort needed to chart a course through the islands was worth it. “The scenery in the Ålands was spectacular.”

The Frisian Islands were no cakewalk, either, says Tuschick. The tide rises and falls 9 feet there, so the group had to time their passage through the islands at high tide or become mired in mud. Tuschick says the PDQs’ shallow draft (2 feet, 4 inches on the 34-footer, 2 feet, 10 inches on the 41) was well-suited for the Frisian adventure, and their frugal fuel consumption was ideal for cruising Europe, where marine diesel cost more than $7 a gallon this summer — and as much as $9.45 a gallon in Sjondorp, Sweden.

Clews says over the 1,185 miles Sno’ Dog voyaged, its 100-hp Yanmar turbo diesels burned a total of around 435 gallons of fuel, or 2.7 gallons an hour. “Ninety-nine percent of Europeans own pretty economical boats,” he says. “[The PDQ] is a great boat, very economical.”

The flotilla used VHF radios to communicate between boats when they were in range and cell phones at other times. A Verizon phone with dual band and a Simcard for calling overseas “worked like a charm everywhere,” says Tuschick. E-mail was readily accessible by laptop, since at just about every village dock they could tap into a Wi-Fi network. He says they communicated back home using Skype — voice over the Internet — wherever they could find a high-speed Wi-Fi connection. “It worked wonderfully,” he says. “You could keep in touch for very little cost and have long conversations.”

Tuschick says PDQ is talking about organizing another Baltic Adventure next year, and he thinks the concept of shipping small boats to faraway cruising grounds is feasible for other destinations, as well — the Caribbean, the Pacific Northwest and the Mediterranean.

Clews, meanwhile, is still savoring where he’s already been. “That’s a beautiful part of the world,” he says. “I’m just glad we got to see it.”