So, Maik, tell us a little something about your cruising to date and where you have been as I understand you have been on S/Ys, M/Ys, tall ships, fishing boats, research vessels, navy vessels and even cargo ship?
I am German by origin and was born in the Russian controlled sector where cruising was out of the question due to its locked down borders. However, I also happened to live in Berlin, which, little known fact, back to Kaiser times was the hotspot for yachting thanks to the rivalry with the British Kingdom. This custom carried on through the decades and is the reason why, to this day, Berlin’s many rivers and lakes are home to a high number of water sports clubs. So, I began boating in rivers and lakes at first, mostly sailing and motor boating on weekends with the parents, but also windsurfing, ice sailing, model ship regattas, and more.
After the Berlin wall came down during my teenage years, my first cruises took place in the Baltic Sea aboard a tall ship. With it, I discovered Europe by entering each place from the sea instead of by plane or by car. Next, I served as an engineer for the German Navy. It was then that I got a first taste of professional seafaring. From there on I went into the world, living, working, travelling in places like Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. To this day, I am very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had aboard yachts experiencing these exhilarating new waters. But I also realized that I wasn’t a person for the hot climates all that much. About a year after returning to Germany, I left for Iceland, where I live to this day. Why? There are vast opportunities in all of my interests, the weather is anything but ordinary, and the ocean challenging. It is here that I have been busy on big and small fishing vessels and freighters, on yachts during summer races, conducted research aboard marine research vessels, worked as mate for charter yachts, and guided whale watching and general seaborne adventures in all surrounding waters. It truly is a land of seemingly endless opportunities for people who love the sea. I get to access great exploration grounds like E-Greenland and regularly meet interesting cruisers from all over the world. Both circumstances that proved to have had a significant impact on what I am doing today.
To answer your question, waters I have explored include: Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic, Irish Sea, North Sea, Denmark Strait, Greenland Sea, South Pacific Ocean, North American Eastern and Western Shores, the Tasman Sea, and the Coral Sea.
View during seaborne research in Isafjardadjup
Hard days work
What has been your cruising highlight so far?
Well, that’s not easy to put a finger on. I was quite taken by the Finnish and Swedish shores, but also by what New Zealand had to offer. The Dutch boating scene and lifestyle is also quite special. I regularly return to the British waters and recently poked around Maine a little. I’d definitely like to see more of the latter. My favourite shores to explore, though, are the vast uninhabited lands of E-Greenland and its challenging icy coast. It is so different from anywhere else. Demanding yet peaceful, raw and wild, and of incredible history, culture, natural life and beauty. There are places where you truly might be the first human visitor in a very long time. To me, an unsurpassed magical wonderland filled with adventure. So, I guess there you have it: Greenland. But let me add this: To me, a significant part of love for cruising is the time spent moving, preferably surrounded only by a wide-open ocean.
It’s clear you have numerous maritime skills so I have to ask, what training or skillset do you consider a “must have” prior to buying a boat and going to sea?
I don’t think anyone needs special training or skills to get started. All you need is a strong will, desire to learn, patience, and confidence in your own abilities. Don’t be afraid of failure; give it your all and commit.
My son taking charge
What one piece of equipment do you believe most boats should carry? Other than a working engine of course!
It’s a simple and small device, but it can mean the world to the people you’re close to and might be used by you more often than you’d expect. I am talking here about a small gadget that allows for tracking, communication, and emergency services at a very reasonable price, like the Garmin/DeLorme InReach.
You don’t need to tell the whole world where you are, but trust me, having your loved ones know where you are, knowing that you have the ability to call for rescue from your pocket regardless of where you are, and being able to exchange a few short lines every now and then goes a long way. I understand you live in Isafjordur which is roughly 180nm E of E-Greenland's Forbidden Coast and about 30nm south of the Arctic Circle? The question has to be asked, why?
To me and anyone who loves the outdoors and adventure, this place is heaven. It has fantastic cruising grounds in the surrounding fjords, including a glacier in a Nature Reserve. Better even, it is the closest point to E-Greenland you could be when approaching from the east. Much like Ushuaia for Antarctica, Isafjordur is a true gateway to E-Greenland’s exploration grounds. Each year, vessels from around the world flock into this little village in anticipation for the ice at sea to retreat, prepare their exploration, and summon their crew. The wait itself isn’t so bad either. The Westfjords are abundant with magnificent landscapes, majestic waterfalls, shoreside hot springs, and plentiful wildlife on land and at sea. I don’t know any other place where I can go sailing, surfing, kayaking, diving, hiking, skiing, and climbing at hearts delight and within minutes reach. The community is special, too, and the place is filled with history of Vikings, whaling, explorers, and fishing. Even the independence movement of Iceland started here. Naturally, the weather can be challenging to some, certainly humbling to many; something that the meteorologist and explorer in me relishes. The surrounding waters can be very demanding and, especially in winter, are nothing for the fainthearted. Sailors here are a tough breed, and I learned many lessons. I truly feel at home here.
Isafjordur during a calm spring day
Maik, tell me a little about your business HafStrand and how it all started?
I founded HafStrand to help yachtsmen and women overcome obstacles to fulfilling their dreams. It started when some friends asked for my advice to sail to Canada through Greenland. They are experienced and ambitious sailors who felt they had reached the boundary of their abilities yet dreamed of pushing themselves further. They turned to me for help, knowing my background and skill set. Not long after, other friends asked for my guidance to sail across the Atlantic from the US via Iceland to Europe.
I started to recognize that there may be a real need for my services. While there are plenty of resources that model weather and sea conditions, access to them is limited and expensive at sea. It is also simply time-consuming and difficult to find the specific information needed, when it is needed. The one-way “pull” system of information is insufficient for yachtsmen and women who are truly interested in pushing their limits in high latitudes, during the off-season, or on challenging passages. Professional input can be the decisive make-it or break-it point.
My services combine my passion for adventure, experience in yachting, and academic training in meteorology and ocean sciences. I offer personalized adventure support and consider myself an extended member of their crew. I care deeply about each of my clients and spend time getting to know them, including details about their goals, their yacht, and the skills and comfort level of each crew member. I combine this personal information with oceanic and atmospheric data and my expertise – including in sea ice navigation – to provide guidance on route planning, route optimization, and risk management. Additionally, I act as an extra layer of security in case of emergency; I continuously monitor my clients’ progress and can serve as a point of contact for authorities and/or loved ones. It is important to me that my clients don’t feel remote controlled but instead receive the best applicable insights to ultimately make the best-informed decision. I am proud that HafStrand is able to offer more comprehensive and tailored assistance than standard services provide, which my repeat clients can attest to.
No doubt your professional background and degrees in meteorology, naval architecture, and marine resource management all play a part in the service you offer?
Yes, absolutely. In addition, I am a member of the Icelandic Search and Rescue team, hold various mariner licenses and certificates, and work as a professional exploration guide. Pooling my academic training with my personal and professional yachting experience is what gives me an edge that appears to be unique.
Most routing services are tailored toward industrial vessels and professional crews, which operate within completely different parameters than recreational vessels. They are ill-equipped to address the personal needs of recreational sailors and their vessels. Similarly, routing programs can only be as good as the data and equations they are fed with. Users of these programs need to carefully select which model to choose, as all have characteristic shortcomings. While cruising, poor and expensive connections often make it difficult to get the information needed.
With HafStrand, my clients get personalized, on point information that takes their personal preferences, ambitions, and abilities into account. I’ve been told that I save them time and take a huge weight off their shoulders. I attribute this to my diverse background and skill set. Have you looked after any Nordhavn owners in their quest for high latitude cruising?
I have a wonderful group of ambitious Nordhavn clients. All are eager to use the vessels for what they are made of – getting out and about exploring. Together, we have crossed oceans, explored the shores of Canada, navigated the ice of Greenland, and pushed the furthest north any motor yacht of its kind had been to date. Helping MIGRATION reach 81°27’44”N has been one of my proudest moments since I founded HafStrand.
I am always excited when I find out that a new client has a Nordhavn because I know these yachts to be extremely capable and reliable. With some clients, their yachts are the limiting factor in what they are able to achieve. However, with Nordhavn clients, I can help them reach their potential with full confidence in their vessels.
Nordhavn in high latitudes, client image
Any funny stories you can tell me about them? I promise it will go no further!
My clients know that I always go above and beyond to satisfy them. I had one client who was about to arrive in the Caribbean after a successful Atlantic crossing. Having been at sea for almost 3 weeks, they had one final urgent request: find an open bar on shore! I’m not sure if they remember it, but I assure you that I delivered on their request! So how do folks get into touch with you if they want to use your service?
The easiest is to contact me is via the HafStrand website: www.haf-strand.com What is the longest passage you have made?
On a leisure vessel, that would be about 1800nm short-handed. With the Navy, I travelled much further, but it’s a different thing and I don’t recall exactly. As I said earlier, long passages are my favourite kind. I like being out there, surrounded by this other universe, seemingly untied from the usual worldly responsibilities. It usually takes up to three days for me to feel the deep peace of being at sea. I know I am there when I don’t really remember the day of week any more, where time doesn’t really matter, and the yacht and crew have found a self-adjusted rhythm within the natural circumstances. In blue waters, you rely on your own abilities. It sharpens some senses and frees others. I have an ever-longing hunger for more. The sea is constantly calling me.
What have been the tallest seas and strongest winds you have encountered?
Judging heights of waves at sea is really tough, and I learned that the perceived height increases the more time passes and the more drinks the yarn spinners telling their stories have. I honestly couldn’t put a finger on it, but it was big enough for professional sailors to lose the color in their faces.
Consciously, the biggest waves I purposely went into were the ones I surfed in Fiji in my 20s. I still feel their power just thinking of the wipe outs I experienced. Once I returned to Europe, I looked into freak waves, rogue waves and their alike academically. The lessons I learned have a big impact on the way I conduct risk assessments and route planning for my clients today. It’s definitely not always the biggest wave that is the most dangerous, but rather the circumstances accompanying it. Personally, I prefer a tall long ground swell over the short choppy seas of the Irish or Baltic Sea.
Talking wind speeds: I have been exposed to 12 Bft several times during autumn sails back in my tall ship days. These ships can take quite a beating; much more than most crew. Definitely not pleasant in my books. Most memorable of these events are the astounding navigation and ship handling skills of the crew in the shallows. It was akin to ferry gliding in strong tidal currents. With the engine full throttle, we approached the inshore waters under such a sweat-breaking wind-forced tracking angle (on the mechanical translated steering wheel, mind you), it demanded the helmsman to literally look out the bridge’s starboard door to keep the ship between the buoys. I was very impressed!
Aboard a leisure vessel, the wind max I experienced was somewhere around 55kn sustained on the N-Atlantic. It is such conditions that have made me appreciate a solid-build blue water cruising yacht. While the crew is busy taking care of its own wellbeing, a boat that doesn’t demand much looking after can make life considerably easier. Under anchor, I experienced close to 80kn sustained katabatic winds out of nowhere. Let me tell you, seeing your tender steady aloft can be surprisingly frightening and it certainly makes you re-evaluate the anchor used as well as the overall approach. There are always lessons to be learned.
If you decided to own a boat, what boat would you buy?
In hindsight of my experiences of the last 2 decades and the grounds I prefer to cruise in, I would combine features of M/Ys and S/Ys more than is common today. It would be a solid, simple built 50-60ft pilothouse, cutter rigged sailing yacht with an elegant sheer and straight bow.
What are some of the key features you would look for?
A mix of things comes immediately to mind: A deep cockpit, no covered running gear, strong rigging, high freeboard, sheltered weather helm with large steering wheel and secondary steering in the pilothouse, solid sea fence and higher coamings throughout, good vision with comfortable seating from within the pilothouse, thick insulation, reliable heating system, advanced fuel polishing system, plenty of head room. A reliable oven for making bread! Wish list features would include unusually large oil and water tanks as well as strategic ballast tanks to port and starboard to help performance. I’d add some essential classic yacht features as I am a fan of certain aesthetics. A simple but redundant communications-, navigation-, and safety package including a powerful autopilot are a must. I think I’d also be open to experimenting with diesel electric propulsion and fitting her out for scientific research. Would you describe yourself as more of a hunter or more gather?
Ammasaliik, E- Greenland
What do you believe is the one lesson every boater should learn?
To learn and to be able to apply analogue navigation skills. In a world increasingly dependent on technologies, it is both valuable and wonderful to possess the ability to operate independent of them. And should your systems ever break down, these skills are all you are left with. To me, this is part of good seamanship. What is your favourite anchorage and why?
Hornstrandir nature reserve in the Westfjords of Iceland. Empty anchorages with energetic wild life in the midnight sun, exploring the surrounding mountains, discovering their history and significance, collecting berries and mushrooms and mussels, simply spending quality time far away from a TV or phone connection is priceless. It is the closest Greenland-like area and just as poorly charted. It’s somewhat like a training ground if you will, and it features snow deep into summer, a glacier with the typical katabatic winds and terminal moraine anchorages, whales, seals, foxes and abandoned settlements.
My son and I love going there. He was just five years old when we did so the first time, and he truly blew me away. Maybe it was the surrounding; I have never seen a more natural born sailor. He would command the tiller of a 36ft S/Y without hesitance and in such controlled manner usually found in weathered hands, read paper charts and was aware of their significance, and saw his first whale. Naturally, I am very fond of this place.
But don’t take my word for it. Just ask Tony Fleming, who came with VENTURE II a few years back, or Scott & Mary Flanders aboard EGRET, to name a few!
What is your favorite activity while aboard one of the many boats you have been on?
Something I realize I always do, almost ritual-like: At least once a day, you’ll find me in quiet posture outside; scanning the horizon, feeling the wind in my face, sniffing for salt and moisture and other smells in the air, closing my eyes while sensing the motion of the yacht, listening to its sounds in tune with the whisper of the sea. I do it regardless of the weather, or, maybe because of it – to reconnect.
I also enjoy baking bread and reading a good book over a hot cup of tea.
Bread baking preparations
What is your favourite quote and why?
“The first time you reach the Arctic is for the adventure, the second, for the record, and the third is because you can no longer function anywhere else.” – The Highest Latitude: An Arctic Svalbard Yacht Expedition (documentary by Shelton Du Preez) What’s the funniest thing that has ever happened to you while at sea?
I’m afraid I’ve been sworn to secrecy. What’s the biggest mistake you have seen made on the water?
I think the worst thing that can happen on the water is a communication breakdown between leadership and crew. It can be terrible from a psychological standpoint, it definitely is bad when you have to rely on each other, and, in worst cases, it can lead to serious harm and chaos. What is your most hated boat job?
It would be the hand-laying of anchor chain head-over first through a small floor hatch into the chain locker for what seemed forever. Physically very exhausting, dirty, wet, and at times quite claustrophobic work. It was a good lesson to learn, but I am glad these days are over. Tell us a little something about you that nobody knows?
I discovered a rather unexpected new hobby: watercolor painting, especially coastal landscapes and boats at sea. What is the one thing you are most afraid of?
Not being able to sail anymore. What’s your favourite photo ever taken while at sea and why?
It is a picture of my son during one of our trips. These cruises bring us extremely close. The time spent together is most precious to me. Besides the bonding, I see first-hand how he starts to create value for himself, discover beauty in nature, and push his skill development all on his own.
Yachting is fun!
Since we are talking about emotional memorabilia: There is one other picture that is close to my heart. I took it in late July of 2014 with my old 4x5 plate camera. It is of a sailor friend and his mountaineering buddy in front of their boat, minutes before departure. Their goal was an unclimbed mountain top in E-Greenland located beyond the Scoresbysund latitudes. They succeeded after overcoming multiple hefty challenges. Over the winter, we worked together to tell the story in an upcoming book. I stopped hearing from him in early summer and only after returning from Greenland in September, I learned why. He died in the Swiss mountains doing what he loved most, chasing another adventure. The day I took the picture was the last day I ever saw him.
Kirken expedition about to start
What would you never leave behind when heading out to sea?
(One of) my Icelandic sweater(s).
If you were to give one piece of advice to someone thinking of cruising the high latitudes, what would it be?
Go for it. And when you do: Don’t commit to a fixed or tight schedule. Embrace uncertainty and develop alternative plans B, C, and D. Otherwise, you may end up accepting more risk than you should take on. This environment demands the ability to show great patience and the courage to make swift decisions and stick with them. If you were advising someone, as to the best area of the world to go cruising, where would it be, and why?
It depends what you are after. Places you can feel like an explorer, or even truly be one, are fewer and farther between. I like to visit areas that are uncommon. Chances are, these locations are the most authentic and you have the opportunity to have genuine interactions with the locals, not motivated by tourism or profit.
One area that has a lot of interesting, diverse options is the eastern board of North America. If you want to see ice but stay within your comforts, go and discover Newfoundland. It is full of hidden treasures. Maybe even go a bit further north to Labrador and test how happy you are with stepping into a wilder world. These areas still have a good safety network and pose good training grounds. If you long for even greater adventure, Greenland’s W-coast has a lot to offer and is much more navigable then the E-side of Greenland. I am absolutely convinced you will make memories for a lifetime.
High latitude exploration – client image
And finally, where to next for you?
I am itching for another adventure. I don’t know yet where, when, or with whom, but I am sure it is going to happen. I have this book lingering about in my office called ‘Atlas of Remote Islands’, by Judith Schalansky. It talks about 50 remote islands of the world one is certain to never never step foot on. If you know anyone else crazy enough to take up this challenge, please do put me in touch!
Thank you very much for your time. Good luck with your travels and keep those calm forecasts rolling as you may indeed need to help Pendana make it safely to Reykjavik in the not too distant future.
Thank you. It’s been my pleasure.
To read more about the wonderful service Maik offers high latitude cruisers please visit HERE
This is the FINAL
interview in the Pendanablog series. Time to pass on the responsibility to someone else! After some 55 interviews dating back to June 5th 2014 with Ken and Roberta Williams it’s now time to hang up the keyboard and do other things. Thank you to everyone who was involved in the process and for sharing your story.