Having learnt to sail on Lake Balaton in Hungary, the lake and sailing are forever linked in my mind. Even though I have sailed further afield and wilder seas and oceans since, the Balaton still holds a special spot. This lake is amazing: It is the largest fresh water lake in Central Europe-78 km long and on average about 5 km wide (though ranging between 12 km at its widest to 1.5 km at its narrowest points). The winds are pretty predictable, though the lake is susceptible to sudden storms – especially in the summer. Luckily a good warning system has been developed for this.
With all these going for the Balaton, we thought it would be an ideal place to charter a yacht and introduce the Littlins- now 4 and 2.5 years old- to sailing. I scoured the internet for a charter company. After correspondence and some phone conversations, we hired a Dolphin 26 called Anna from Balatonfüred for 2 days. It seemed a safe option- Around 30ºC with light winds was forecast for both days and anyway, if the Littins hated it we’d only torture them for 30 hours by confining them on a boat.
On the morning of our arrival we were met by the charter company rep, who swiftly checked us on to the boat. He showed us the ins and outs of the sailing yacht, gave us the specially provided lifejackets for the children and then left us to move onto the boat.
We had way too much stuff, especially clothes; plenty of food and drink. Thankfully the marina had a trolley to wheel our stuff onto the pontoon where the boat was moored. We got everything onboard, Littlins and all, the kids put on their lifejackets and we cast off. It was about11amand getting hot.
The boat had a built-in engine, so getting her out of the port was relatively simple. However a fleet of Optimists from the sailing school was just coming in… we had to rack our brain on the rules of the waters a bit, even though this one was a no-brainer: Kids under sail on little dinghies versus us on a larger yacht with a motor running… of course they did!
Out of the port we raised the sails- all could go up as there was just a gentle breeze. In the meantime the Littlins were having a ball exploring the cabin below, Little Miss claimed the cabin table and started drawing. Despite not having sailed for 4 years, it all came back pretty well.
The next most important task was to make lunch- some bread rolls with cold cuts and cheese. After enjoying a lunch while cruising along at very modest speeds as water lapped against the boat, the sails gave some shade. The yacht had no heel, so we could all move about with ease.
We got to the middle of the Eastern Basin of the Balaton by the time we finished lunch, chatted a bit, pointed out some of the landmarks around us, then decided to drop the sails. We blew up the inflatable mattress, lowered the swim ladder and jumped into the water. There was no need to drop an anchor, as there are almost no currents on the Balaton and not much wind to take the boat anywhere. We did let out a line. The water was a splendid 22-23ºC. Here we splashed for over an hour.
Cooled down, back on the boat some more nibbles were in order. We tried to get Little Man who was very tired to sleep a bit, but had no luck. In the meantime, we drifted along under sail at a very leisurely pace indeed. It gave us a chance to talk, play, Little Miss to draw some more.
There is an almost continuous ferry service between Tihany and Szántód at the narrowest point of the Balaton. We passed this channel, entering into theWesternBasinof the Balaton and almost as soon as we had, the wind died. What more could we do than drop the sails and float ourselves onto the water? The Littlins got braver and started jumping off the swim platform into the water. It was a joy to see them having so much fun. The water was calm, both shores easily visible but a couple of kilometres away, few other sailboats passing by under motor, others doing the same as us, just drifting and swimming.
As the afternoon flew by we decided we weren’t going to go back into any harbour, but anchor out on the western side of Tihany peninsular – a nature reserve. We gently motored in near the shoreline. A couple of other yachts were there as well, though – as we found out much later – they headed back to their moorings as night drew closer. Anyway, we dropped anchor about 30m from shore in 3-4 m of water.
I prepared a light dinner of tomato and feta salad with some sausages, while Oh-so-lovable-daddy read books on deck with the Littlins. We rigged up the cockpit table and enjoyed one of the most relaxing family dinners we have ever had in an awesome setting. Halfway through the dinner “Happy-Happ”, the lone duck, joined us and appreciated the bits thrown overboard. We also spotted herons, storks, and a plethora of other birds around us. Fish splashed once in a while as the small fry squirted in different direction to escape the predator fish. We even saw a water snake make its way through the water (also called a grass snake; harmless creatures eating small fish, frogs and lizards).
The Littlins claimed the front cabin, where I made them their bed and they went in with great excitement. It took them about 15 minutes. Then there was silence.
We were enjoying the lovely sunset and a gin and tonic musing over matters with my love. As the sun was dropping behind some hills, the lights on the shores came on. Some distance away we were joined by some anglers in a rowing boat.
Just as we finished our 1st gin and tonic we heard some buzzing, then felt a prick… we had been descended on by mosquitoes…big, hungry ones! As we forgot to bring any insect repellent, our only option was to seek refuge inside and put the mosquito net on the hatch. The big nasties tried to follow us, banging against the net, but we were safe! We decided to watch a film but soon drifted off to sleep. Ready for the next day of adventure… or so we thought:
We woke at 4:30 to humming of what sounded like a motor boat coming near. I nudged Oh-so-deep-sleeping-daddy. “go check it out, there might be someone coming”. He looked… no one near. The nearly full moon gave a good view …then I had an inkling and asked him to check the different lines. In fact the wind had picked up and was playing the line of the topping lift like a string instrument and it reverberated through the boat. Problem resolved we snuggled back to sleep expecting to be up in an hour and a bit with the Littlins.