This Polish swing-keel boat with clever folding mast system is perfect for exploring the vast Masurian lakes
Lake sailing in Poland is very different to coastal sailing. In many ways it’s more relaxing. There are no tides to contend with and because you can find a marina or pontoon wherever you are, there’s no requirement to plan a day’s sailing. You can simply go where the wind takes you. When you’ve had enough, just beach-up or anchor in a creek.
But you need your wits about you too. Sailors have to be tuned-in to sudden wind shifts and lulls, blasts between islands that fizzle into nothing, or vice versa. Some lakes are so big you can barely see the shore, connected by canals so shallow it’s easy to run aground. Masts, keels and rudders go up and down all day – and this is where boat design gets clever. Self-charter is possible, but it certainly helps to have a local skipper… and a forgiving boat.
For our adventure with Undiscovered Sailing, our hosts Wojtek and Patrycja Tomala chose an Antila 33.3. Along with the Maxus, this is one of the most popular charter yachts on the lakes.
Antila Yachts is a Polish family-run business, producing boats from 24 to 33ft. One of the largest yachts you’ll see in the region, the Antila 33.3 has many features that make lake sailing easier. Whilst our boat Dziewiata [the 9th] Lady M didn’t come with a radio or electronics – nor even a wind indicator or compass, it did have a bow-thruster, diesel heating and a very nifty folding mast system.
The latter is essential, because the 180 miles of waterways – stretching from the lower Vistula to the Russian border (Kaliningrad) – are connected by canals and rivers with low bridges. We raised and lowered our mast at least twice a day, and it was a simple task thanks to the clever pulley system, aided by an electric winch.
Usually the Antila 33.3 comes with a fully battened mainsail (28.1m2) and self-tacking jib (18.5m2). However, skipper Wojtek requested a larger (23m2), genoa for our trip knowing that we were keen sailors. A gennaker/ code zero is also an option.
During our five-day charter we only covered a quarter of the vast lake district. Wojtek chose the northern end of the lakes for us, which was quieter (we saw just a handful of boats) with more challenging sailing due to the many islands and narrow waterways.
Buoyage was limited, and there were protected nature reserves where engines were forbidden. Under full sail Dziewiata Lady M pointed high, sailed fast and was smooth and well balanced. Even with the larger foresail she was easy to tack and gybe.
With no instruments, we sailed by line-of-sight and trimmed the sails accordingly. Or, if we just felt like a blast, we sailed around the cormorant-inhabited islands, getting as close as we dared until Wojtek told us to tack. I especially loved the twin helms, enabling us to switch to the high side for better visibility.
To get from one lake to another, or to visit one of the many charming Masurian towns, we had to negotiate road bridges. The first job was to lower the boom to the deck by releasing the lazyjacks.
Next, one of us would go to the bow to remove the forestay pin and lift the A-frame whilst the other released the mast purchase line in the cockpit. This needed to be done smoothly and at a consistent pace, keeping two turns on the winch. The lowered mast then rested on a frame at the stern. The process took no more than 10 minutes.
Once under the bridge, we’d do the same in reverse, taking care to check no lines had got caught under the mast step as it reconnected with the deck. Wojtek continually looked in front and behind. Electric winches are great, he told us, but you need to be careful to avoid snagging as it’s too easy to damage the rig. Indeed, on the day of our arrival we saw a sorry looking ‘banana mast’ in the boatyard waiting for repair (or scrap).
When we passed a yacht raising the mast manually, I was grateful for our electric winch. A crew on the coachroof was vigorously sweating the line to help the winchman in the cockpit. It looked like hard work!
On entering the canals we turned on the engine and lifted the rudder (which can draw as little as 45cm) and keel (which reduces draft from 1.85m to 0.6m). Once raised, the keel swings into a casing that forms part of the saloon table. If you hit an underwater object, the rudder and/or keel will kick-up automatically to prevent damage. This happened whilst I was helming on the canal to Wegorzewo. I moved to the side of the canal to let a vessel past and the rudder must have caught the bank.
Antilla also makes a seagoing version of the Antila 33.3, which is CE category B as opposed to C, and has a fixed keel among other modifications.
Skippers typically moor stern-to in Poland, and fix the bow to a trot mooring retrieved with a boat hook. This is where the Vetus bow-thruster comes in handy. Dziewiata Lady M could easily ‘stand still’ whilst we grabbed the line, or waited for a boat to pass in tight quarters. With an open side, stern and bathing platform, the Antila 33.3 is an easy boat to access from the shore or (if the weather’s nice) the water after a dip.
Whilst in the Med or Caribbean you might typically charter a 38ft to 46ft yacht, we had plenty of space for the four of us on our 33-footer. Laura and I both had a double cabin at the stern and Wojtek and Patrycja shared a large, double-door cabin at the bow.
It would be tighter with six people (two in the saloon), but still comfortable with plenty of room for luggage in the lockers. Antila claims the boat can sleep up to 10 people with a maximum payload of 910kg. However, Undiscovered Sailing sensibly caps it at six.
The saloon was spacious with a large table where we spent lively evenings drinking Polish cider and playing Skip-bo. Because of the pale wood finish, 1.95m ceiling and many windows, the boat let in lots of natural light and we didn’t turn on the LED spotlights until late.
Aside from a canal boat holiday I did last Autumn, this was the first time I’ve enjoyed central heating on a charter. Though the weather was mostly pleasant, we had a few rainy days and cool evenings. The diesel-fuelled Webasto heating was a very welcome addition.
I was surprised by how little we used the Yanmar 21 HP engine to charge the batteries. We did top-up using shore-power in the marinas, but happily spent a night at anchor in a creek, and a full day either side, whilst still having plenty of power for lights, heating, fridge, bow-thruster, electric winch and head.
Not having to power up instruments helped, and for me, this was a big plus-point of chartering in the Polish lakes. It felt like a luxury version of dinghy or day-sailing in a giant harbour. We were surrounded by forest and reed-fringed islands. We rarely knew what time it was and had the freedom to sail where we wanted, and enjoy the scenery and wildlife without double-checking instruments or trying to push the boat for extra knots.
Much as I enjoyed our blustery sails, one of my favourite moments was actually being becalmed. In the busy Solent I’d have no doubt put the engine on, but in Masuria, we simply drifted in silence, feeling the warmth of the sun as it beat through the clouds and listening to a pair of cuckoos call out across the water. When you don’t know how fast you’re going and your destination isn’t important, you stop caring and learn to enjoy the moment, and Dziewiata Lady M is certainly the boat for day-dreaming and relaxation.
Antila 33.3 spec
Draft (centreboard up/ down): 1.85m to 0.6m
Draft (rudder up/ down): 0.45m/ 1.8m
Sail area (jib and mainsail): 51m2
Gennaker/ code zero: 65m2
Transport weight: 4,750kg
CE category: C (cat B also available)
Cost: €60k (plus €30-65k for cat B)