Swedish sailor Thomas Madsen joins the schooner Nina in the Nordic region’s largest classic ship regatta, the Limfjorden Rundt, where 68 magnificent old commercial ships race around the Limfjorden strait in northern Jutland

Kenneth brings the champagne on deck. ‘I have saved a couple of bottles for a special occasion – what could be more special than this!’ We have just won today’s race and Kenneth, one of the owners of Nina, is very happy. For us aboard Nina, it’s the fourth day of the Limfjorden Rundt, the magnificent annual six-port race around the fjords and islands in the 180km Limfjorden strait in Denmark.

We have just moored in the harbour on the small island of Fur. And to top it all, the sun is shining from an almost blue sky. For now, things can hardly get any better.

It is a far cry from how it looked four days ago on that Tuesday in September, when it all could have been over before it began. On Tuesday, the start of the race, we woke up at Løgstør, after sailing from Helsingborg and Aalborg the previous day. There had been a tremendous send-off festival party in the harbour on Monday with around 700 sailors coming together to eat, drink, dance and hang out.

The Limfjorden Rundt route

So on Tuesday, the atmosphere at breakfast is upbeat and everyone is preparing to set off for Thisted and the first day of racing. During the night it was very windy and some smaller vessels had left the previous evening to be safe. But Nina, modelled on an old Danish mail boat from 1867, can handle most weather conditions at sea, so we are not especially concerned. At least, not until we discover that the gaff jaws linking the gaff to the mainmast is broken. This is a complete disaster! If we can’t use the mainsail, we stand no chance at all in the regatta.

Closer and closer

After putting our heads together, we decided to see if one of the two boatbuilders in the harbour could help us out. So Tomas, our carpenter and the other owner of Nina, and some crew head off to see if the gaff jaws can be fixed. It is a long and nervous wait, but after three hours they are back with a replacement and we can finally be on our way.

The author sails aboard the topsail schooner Nina, modelled after an old Danish mail boat from 1867. Photo: Brian Amtoft

On the way to Thisted, there is a message over the radio: today’s leg of the race has been cancelled due to winds over 40 knots. We all cheer! Now we are still in the race.

Thisted to Struer, with some calmer wind. Some of us, myself included, are a little bit out of practice when it comes to regatta sailing. But we are still doing pretty well, and when we get the topsails hoisted we are slowly but surely getting closer to the lead.

At the end of the day we finish in third place! We are all pretty excited, not only at the result, but at the joy of being able to take part in the Limfjorden Rundt – the first time for a few years since the pandemic.

Christoffer Jaama adjusts the sheet on the outer jib on Kvarsita. Photo: Thomas Madsen

The tactics begin

The next day is a repeat of the first. We have the wind against us again, reaching up to gale force at times. The race committee hesitates, but for many boats the wind strength is just too much. So the race is cancelled. Too bad. We were sailing nicely towards the starting line with both the gaff-topsail and one of the staysails and I think we would have had a pretty good race in these winds.

In Nykøbing Mors the sun is out again, and we are all enjoying a nice morning in the harbour. As we approach the starting line amidst all the other ships, I take the helm for a brief moment. What a fantastic feeling, steering through the fjord together with 67 other ships, all racing for the start.

At this point we are coming together well as a crew, and I realise that we could even start applying tactics even though most of these old schooners are built for transportation, not for racing.

The Limfjorden Rundt includes plenty of music and festivities in harbour. Photo: E. Petersen / Alamy Stock Photo

We are now racing close to the Danish yacht Lilla Dan and the Swedish yacht Kvarsita, both of them also topsail schooners, but they have the edge with a few more sails up than Nina.

But it is not just the sailing that makes this Danish regatta so much fun. It is also soaking up the wonderful atmosphere in the harbours, hanging out with other crewmembers and just admiring these gorgeous boats. One of the oldest boats here is the cutter Eureka, built in 1880 in Great Yarmouth in England.

It’s the last day of the regatta, and the beautiful weather continues. But there is almost no wind, so we set the broad jib for the first time. The fleet is bow-to-bow over the last few miles to the finishing line. For us, we are just not fast enough. We are third overall, out of 15 boats in our class. But it’s still our best ever result here. On deck, basking in the late summer sun with a cold beer, it doesn’t really matter. We’ll get them next year!

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