Burger Zerlina’s Incredible Voyage

Built by Burger in 1967, Zerlina fell into disrepair and was on the verge of being abandoned. At least, until it was found by Fugl and Polito and a seven-month restoration process began, after which she began the longest journey of her 44 years.
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The Burger Boat Company has been building boats in Wisconsin since 1863, but it’s a hull built in 1967 that caught the eye of Bjarke Fugl and Karla M. Polito in 2011. Originally owned by the Cotton family and christened Leipal, the 71-foot yacht was later purchased by Paul Ilyinsky who renamed her Angelique. Unfortunately, after Ilyinsky sold the yacht, she fell into disrepair and was on the verge of being abandoned. At least, until it was found by Fugl and Polito and a seven-month restoration process began, after which she began the longest journey of her 44 years.

Once restored, Fugl and a crew of three—Anders Bjarnø Rasmussen, Richard DeWolf and Robert Keim—sailed the yacht from her refit yard in Green Cove Springs, Florida, up the eastern coast and across the north Atlantic until they docked in Denmark. The journey took six weeks and covered 4,860 nautical miles, an impressive voyage for any vessel, but especially one that had already fallen into disrepair. Currently, the owners plan to sail Zerlina around Scandinavia before cruising through the seven seas.

Below are excerpts from the ship’s log, cataloging the team’s incredible expedition.

June 28, 2012 — Atlantic City, New Jersey to New York, New York

We arrived in New York harbor on the eve of America’s 236th birthday and found no place to dock Zerlina. Captain Bjarke, maneuvering in the choppy waters of the Hudson River, brought the nimble Zerlina alongside the walls of Battery Park, where our new crew members, eager to start the voyage, tossed their bags and leaped aboard Zerlina.

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There is no greater place to enjoy the Macy’s fireworks spectacular then on your own yacht in the Hudson River! An evening of fireworks, seeing old friends and creating new ones was what the first day of our voyage was all about. Bjarke, Anders, Richard and Bob were now the team to take Zerlina to Denmark.

July 12, 2012—Port Hawkesbury, Nova Scotia to Nanortalik; Greenland to Frederiksdal; Greenland to Prins Christian Sund Greenland—one of the most beautiful places on earth with huge icebergs.

The straits of Bells Isle are where we started keeping a double watch for icebergs. During Richard’s watch, he spots another whale—a Killer Whale this time. It was noted by all that the whales were always seen on Richard’s watch. To our starboard side is Cape Breton Island with vertical cliffs and quaint white farmhouses dotting the shoreline. The waters off Newfoundland and Labrador can be rife with ice and icebergs, so caution is advised. Icebergs are usually visible on radar, but the bergy bits (small icebergs) and growlers (small remnants) may not be.

The moon is getting smaller each evening. The compass slowly and gracefully swings, telling us which way to go. As we are drawing a line to Greenland, we clear the deck of anything that could be lost to the seas in rough weather. Expecting 20’ waves on a calm day, what should we expect or be ready for? Of all the boats built in the world, most stay close to their home port, but Zerlina is in unfamiliar waters, with unfamiliar sunsets and sunrises.

What a week! Nothing was written as the seas of the Labrador Sea were very heavy. The crew watches were now four hours on and four hours off, with two people having a two hour overlap. We zigzagged through the fjords to the weather station on the eastern side of Greenland, called Prins Christian Sund, where we were served Danishes, coffee and juice. The weather report showed a favorable high pressure so we headed out into the arctic, dodging icebergs, growlers and bits for 24 nautical miles.

We arrived in Nanortalik earlier in the week after four days of bad weather and angry waves! Tossing about makes some men tougher and weakens others. No matter which you are; it feels good to have your feet on solid ground. Darkness was still on the shore as we approached Nanortalik, forcing us to take turns on the bow with the VHS giving signals to Bjarke as we navigated the iceberg strewn waters. The fog began to lift and an incredible coastline of jagged mountains, towering icebergs and small islands softened by the power of the eroding waves gave us a view worth the four days at sea. Bjarke skillfully docked Zerlina and, after crafting a rum and coke with ice from our travels, we jumped ashore.

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The next morning we enjoyed fresh bakery and headed back to the boat. Bob had stayed on board to protect the fuel from thieves. Bob and Richard changed the oil and Bjarke and Anders worked on adjusting the starter motor. Zerlina was carrying the four of us through the most amazing waters with icebergs of every shape and size. We had two goals for icebergs: to get beautiful photographs with Zerlina and to climb aboard an iceberg and make it our playground.

To get photographs meant we had to be in a different boat, so Richard captained the dinghy while Anders took the photographs. The iceberg we wanted to photograph was simple in shape but with two ribbons of blue flowing through it with grace and beauty. The ribbons somehow matched the shape of Zerlina. We spent an hour taking the most incredible photos. Driving the dinghy so the sun would shine through the pure blue streaks, maintaining proper distance from Zerlina and keeping Anders with the lens pointed in the right direction was Richard’s job. It was beautiful, pure perfection, the best, or so we thought. After capturing the best photos anyone could possibly get, we took off towards Frederiksdal.

Just a few miles further east, Bjarke’s and Anders’ eyes lit up as we saw another iceberg we had to check out. Back into the dinghy and we were off. The right side had a gentle curve to the top, the left side was much steeper, but the two sides were about the same height. What drew our attention to this iceberg was that it gradually sloped to a perfect flat center, just about 3’ from the surface of the icy arctic water, providing us a perfect height to climb aboard.

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Bjarke donned a bright red US Coast Guard survival suit and was the first one to the dinghy. Richard drove the dinghy and pushed the nose straight into the berg and let the motor run so there was constant pressure between the two. With a successful dismount, the big red Bjarke was running around the ice. Feeling that everything was safe, Anders joined Bjarke and Richard stayed in the dinghy for security reasons.

Climbing onto a huge chunk of ice was like stepping on the moon. Something you just can’t imagine, so beautiful and scary at the same time. Tossing the anchor onto the ice, the three of us met and played like little kids seeing snow for the first time. There was a shallow pool, maybe 20 yards across, where we all drank the coolest and most refreshing water ever. Climbing to the top was, to say the least, very difficult and slippery. We slowed as we reached the tiny summit because we didn’t know what was on the other side. We were climbing with our hands and feet, but when we reached the top, we were able to stand and face a perfectly blue lake, about 80’ across, with the sea between us and the mountains of Greenland. Though it was so inviting to try and go swimming, we were sure the shock of the ice cold water would paralyze us. Instead, we slid down the hill we had just climbed. Not with a sled, or disk, or chunk of plastic, just on our rears, our backs and arms, laughing all of the way. We had too much adrenaline to feel how cold we should have been and, after a few moments of reflecting on where we were, what we had just seen and done, we got back in the dinghy and headed back to Zerlina.

August 4, 2012 - Thurøbund Shipyard, Thurø, Denmark four days before Bjarke’s 27th birthday. Captain and crew warmly welcomed by friends and family all waving the Danish flag.

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