Dear Mateńka! – Part 1

Hello again, after a little break in writing at, and one could also say, a break in my usual adventures… but as the song says: nothing can last forever – my break didn’t either. Even though I wasn’t particularly looking for a new adventure, it found me nevertheless.

I got a call from an old sailing friend, who asked me to help transport a yacht from Amsterdam across the Bay of Biscay to A Coruña. The plan was supposed to not take more than two weeks, without any stops, or time to relax. Fortunately or not, my dear readers, you will probably agree that “simple” plans, especially related to travel, rarely go as they are supposed to. Typically we view those changes in plans as unfortunate. Some of you might remember me saying back in the Caribbean “now the real adventure begins”. I forgot about that while packing, with the assumption that I will survive this trip with 3 t-shirts, 3 pairs of socks, foul weather gear, which took most of my backpack space (which is why the rubber boots didn’t fit in, and I also preferred to take some extra toiletries and a warmer, bigger sleeping bag). With this rather limited selection of things (because Wizzair’s luggage policy won’t allow for anything bigger than an additional shopping bag as carry-on) I got into the plane and left towards the Jamaica of Europe, the Netherlands.

Immediately after my arrival in Eindhoven I noticed the hordes of tourists (especially Russian) which were almost running towards the bus to Amsterdam. Because this was my first time in the Netherlands, I gave myself some time to look around, watch people and occasionally laugh out loud (supposedly it is normal here, that people laugh about themselves). Along with the eager crowd, I myself started to long for some new adventures, and despite it being just a one-day stay here, because according to the plan we were going to leave that evening, I wanted to see a little bit more of the Netherlands. After we were to set sail, there was not supposed to be much more. A quick re-fuel and water tank re-fill in the UK along the way to A Coruña, where I might have a little time left to see some sights before my return flight to Poland…. and with those thoughts I didn’t even realize how the adventure had already begun.

Traveling through almost the entire country I felt cheated by the media – I didn’t see a single tulip field or even half a windmill. Or maybe the tulips are hidden away in glasshouses, where young Polish workers can sweat and work on their scoliosis, and the windmills are only in museums. Kind of like you have to search for actual Brits in the UK.

After an almost two hour bus ride I arrived in Amsterdam – a quick phone call to my friend, to try and locate myself in this weird city. I’ve never seen this many bicycles in one place. Crossing the street I realized that one could suffer a fatal accident in at least three different ways here: be hit by a car, a tram or a bike. When I made it through the masses, I finally saw three faces smiling at me (two of which I already knew) – with two of them, at that table eating [delicious] fries with mayonnaise, in this Amsterdam café [with a few beers] our common adventure was about to begin… or maybe mine, previously planned for two weeks (although other peoples plans also changed in the meantime). So, who was waiting for me? Michał, my friend, who was to skipper the boat across the Bay of Biscay. He was the one who called me and asked to come over and help. He is my former instructor – from when I was working on my sailing license. Michał is the master of sarcasm, with an encyclopedic knowledge. An engineer with whom I survived numerous sailing trips, with numerous issues along the way, which he always countered with creative solutions. He is like a boating MacGyver, who sacrifices his own underwear to make a fuel filter if need be. The second smiling person was Miss Ela [Elisa] – the owner of the boat, whom I met there for the first time. A girl with such a joyful attitude, who would need at least a degree from an expensive school for etiquette and to expand her eloquent vocabulary, to carry the title Miss. Her presence brings others in a positive mood, her hospitality makes you feel like home and her openness and sense of humor don’t leave any doubt, that you are gladly seen, and you and your story will be gladly heard. Did I describe Ela enough? I would probably need another hour for that, but I think we will get to know her better over time in this blog. The third person waiting for my arrival was Aneta – my friend, who departed together with Michał and Ela from Kolberg and was supposed to end her journey here in Amsterdam. Aneta ultimately ended up staying until Ramsgate in the UK, and you might already realize, that sailing trips with this group are so absorbing, that you are never going to leave from the place you originally planned. Of course unless screaming kids, a crying wife, or your boss are missing you, but even in this case, after a trip with them, you realize that you won’t leave Ela alone until you know when you can come back for the next trip.

After our dinner in the before mentioned café, slightly tipsy, we went back to the marina. To be honest, before I arrived in Amsterdam, I had no idea what kind of boat we would be sailing on. I didn’t even know her name. I expected another “plastic” version of a sailing boat, with the usual interior, with the same mass-produced solutions and rigging as everywhere else. Oh boy was I wrong! Walking down the pontoon at the marina we passed one boat after the other. Small ones, new ones, bigger ones, rusty ones, polished ones, and the ones in need of care, sometimes a lot of it. I didn’t know what to expect – am I going to be devastated, because the boat will be in such a bad condition, that every single noise will make me wonder if it’s time to evacuate already? I started to regret that I didn’t ask Michał about the boat beforehand. My mild panic was interrupted by Ela’s cheerful voice saying: “Welcome to Mateńka!” and the sound of the Polish flag in the wind on the stern of the boat. Normally if you are in doubt and face the reality of things, you should either be happy or disappointed, but me? I didn’t know what to feel. The boat I saw was definitely older than I expected. However I could see some new parts on it. My doubts were still not gone, but I took a big step and stood in the cockpit. I immediately noticed the steering wheel, which undoubtedly remembers many sailors hands, varying force and an array of conditions at sea where it had to give its best. I went below deck and there it hit me. There I realized I wasn’t on a boat that would fill me with delight, or provide for uncomfortable sailing through the rather demanding Bay of Biscay. I was neither on a new, nor on an old boat. I was home.


Written by Milena Czarnecka for
Translated by Ela Jasinska for

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