As winter closes in, we take advantage of the things that are on offer. Here on the north side of the Alps we have a wonderful called the Föhn. On the south side the winds blow up from the Adriatic, rising and cooling, dumping huge amounts of rain on Graz and other cities that are usually a few degrees warmer than here. As the wind falls back down on the north side of the Alps is is not only dry but also warming up and a good southerly. And around Linz, the Danube funnels that wind into a south easterly and then an easterly, blowing directly along the river.
So it was time to get ambitious. Could the previous record of the Autobahn bridge be broken? How far could I sail against the current? How many big barges would be out there keeping me nervously hovering along the shore? Many questions. Only one answer: try it!
According to the law, a sail boat on the Danube under 200kg does not need an auxiliary motor. I have always had one because it relaxes me a bit, but it is heavy and drags in the water on the port tack. Last year I finally mounted rowlocks on the good ship so I packed oars, an apple and a water bottle and we dropped the Bumst into the Winter Harbour at the boat ramp. Tacking out of the harbour was a good exercise in boat handling; the wind got fluky at the entrance and I was worried it might drop off completely. Around the corner, avoiding the lines of the fishermen (they can curse if you get to close to them; I am ashamed to admit I have gotten too close on occasion) and out into the current.
The wind was pretty much from astern in the corner of the Danube, so I felt good as I saw the water rushing past me. Looking over to the spit with the fishermen sitting on it my enthusiasm waned. I was barely moving. The water speed and my speed pretty much matched. I knew that on the left shore (rivers are annotated looking downstream left and right, which means that red is on the right – confusing if you are used to port (i.e. left on a boat) being red!) the water speed was higher, but as I pulled over into a very broad reach my speed increased more than the water speed did and so I began to move more solidly upwind.
But it was still a hard sail. Boring. Sitting in the river sailing full speed like some Red Queen just staying in place. The Bumst used to be red, but with her sexy new blue paintjob she should not be like an Alice in Wonderland character! I decided that I would sail up to the stony beach, pretty much on the river side of the ramp I had set out from. Then I could take a pause, fiddle with the rigging (I had left out one of the battens) and sit out in the current again like one of the seagulls that like to sit outside the Brucknerhaus on the Linz foreshore with their underwater legs paddling full speed against the current so that they can just about stay in place against the current, looking nonchalantly around trying to act all cool and unflurried.
But by the time I had reached the beach the wind was stringer and I was using it better, swapping between a broad reach using the slight southerly touch to the wind and then pulling the job over to batwing up against the current. Trying to keep away from the fast flowing water in the middle of the river but also not wanting to be too shielded by the trees and shrubbery on the shoreline. Before I knew it I had pulled past the beach and was on my way to the autobahn bridge.
Maybe I would get there. Maybe I would manage to bash my head against the current long enough to get through the bridge. I doubted it, as the bridge is of course a wind blocker and the current slowly picks up as one moves up river. Last time we tried this we kept sailing backwards as the current pushed us more than the wind could. Then forwards again. Then backwards. Over and over again. We got through the bridge, just out from under it, before the wind died completely. But there were enough other interesting things for two tired sailors to do that day.
With a surprised look I realised I was out the other side. I turned to a scull rower who was was gliding past and exclaimed “I won. Through the bridge!” Only after he had scooted off (of course he was faster than me!) did I realise that he probably thought I was saying I beat him through the bridge. Dear Mr Rower: No! I was just so happy to have gotten the furthest I have ever been. It is a strange thing to celebrate, but sailing against the current is a strange sport anyway.
The stretch to the Railway bridge was a nice sail. The wind was picking up, I was working out the strangenesses of the current and the effects of wind. In the lee of the pylon of the bridge I could feel the turbulence in the water as it sucked against the centerboard, twisting me slightly, but then I was under the bridge and with the klankety klank of the bicyclists overhead I emerged through the second bridge. Huzzah!
Having come this far I was resigned to being swept back again. I tried to keep to the shore away from the main current, alternating between the broad reach and dead downwind positions of sail. The wind backed and veered a bit, gusted up and fell away, I even had a few surprise jibes but I was still moving inexorably upstream. Trying my luck I slowly headed out into the center of the flow, where the current and the wind were stronger and kept moving. I kept marking spots to say how far I had got; the line of the fences on the football pitches on the left (north) shore, the second sculpture in the park. I suddenly realised I had reached the Brucknerhaus and was still moving. I considered stopping at the li+do for a drink! I jibed behind the Schönbrunn and then pulled up past the Stadtwerkstatt DOnaiTik buoy. Someone waved from the former mooring of the ill-fated Linzer Auge.
By this stage the wind had picked up a bit more and the side channel of the Niebelungenbrücke acted as a jet, spooting me through and out into the foreshore of Alturfahr. Past the pebbly natural beach and the concrete flood barricades, the couple of moored Zillen (local wooden boats) and up to the waterski school. As I rounded the corner, I has technically left Linz (at least on the northern side) and realised that I would most likely not get back before dark if I did not turn around and face the next problem: tacking against the wind in the river with the current! So ignoring the option of simply sailing as far as I could until it got almost dark, then beaching the Bumst somewhere for the night and getting a bus or train home and dealing with the downriver part of the trip the next day, I hardened up (which means aiming the boat closer to the wind) and began tacking.
Now we were sailing! Oars, hooks and floorboards moved around as the boat tilted up on a port tack, I unclipped the tiller stick and hiked up onto the rounded sides of the hull. The jib halyard was on too loose and the missing batten was really annoying now. Three tacks later I was almost back to the beach. The whole trip I had not seen a single freight barge, so tacking was a breeze. I aimed in on the fourth tack and put the boat up on the beach for a quick adjustment. Of course I forgot to tighten the jib halyard! But the batten went in, a time check was made (90 minutes so far, 90 more minutes until the sun started getting close to the horizon, and then back on the water.
It is remarkably easy and remarkably hard to tack with the current. One is used to setting a point on the shore to aim for, to keep the boat on course. But then the current keeps pulling you downstream. All you really need to do is sit still and you will get somewhere. Then by tacking you are moving quite close to the sides of the river, where there are moored ships, pontoons and other bits and pieces. Not only hitting one would be difficult, but getting into strife going about and being washed down onto and then under a boat by the current would be a right pain.
So one has a certain amount of apprehension as one scoots from side to side across the river, aware of the wind shifting around the buildings and other obstacles, keeping eyes open for fishermen, rowers, moorings, wind gusts and everything else. As I got to the railway bridge the drought finally came to an end and a freighter came upriver. The first one in two hours. I am remarkably nervous about these things as they do not stop, they cannot really steer, they have stupidly powerful motors and it is hard to know what they really are doing. So after pulling through the bridge heading downstream I simple fell off and sailed back upstream until the beast had worked its way past me. Just to show it who was boss I hardened up again and tacked out towards it as it went past, sailing into the turbulent propellor wash which still had enough energy to twist me around. Huge things they are.
The rest of the trip was simple delightful, sailing under the autobahn bridge again, the stony beach and tacking up to the entrance to the harbour. I should have taken an excursion to the Industrial harbour to visit the Time’s Up spaces from the water side, but I was a bit wary about the wind dying off. So I sailed into the harbor and moored happily on the Eleonore residency ship. Rigging down, sails folded and the most wonderfully perfect Danube sailing afternoon had come to an end.
PS: If anyone has photos, I would love to see them!