Ride Around The Baltic Sea

The northernmost rally
in the world

With the GPS and navigation system left at home and only a map and a compass allowed: The “Baltic Sea Circle” spans 7,500 kilometers around the Baltic Sea. The vehicle used must be at least 20 years old, and highways are completely off-limits. The teams have to solve challenges along the way and collect donations for a good cause. 272 teams raced from mid-June to the beginning of July.

The thirst for adventure can lead you down many roads. For example, 3,000 kilometers away from home to Northern Russia, close to the polar circle. Jens Schlöffel, Kai Müller and Jens Schindler decided to participate in the “Baltic Sea Circle,” the world’s northernmost rally. The route spans around the Baltic Sea, over gravel roads and glacier passes, through Russian pothole roulettes and dense pinewood forests, past raw nature and impressive cities. Simply stunning.

 


GLACIERS, GRAVEL, POTHOLES


 

But even with the car sputtering and no rescue in sight while being in the middle of the barren landscape of the polar border – the desire for adventure does not abate in the slightest. After all, the team’s motto at the beginning of the race was “there’s always something.” The unexpected happens, the car breaks down – so what? The team has enough technical expertise to fix problems.

 


Nature, vastness, stillness: For such moments you take on the adventure.


“Made in 1992 –
that’s quite something!”



 

Jens Schlöffel (46) and Kai Müller (35) work at the Schinner Opel car dealership in Weimar, Jens Schindler (40) works at a dealership in Straubing. Their vehicle of choice for the rally is an Opel Frontera. They know this model well. When this all-terrain car came onto the market in the early 90s, the three of them were already working mechanics.

“Made in 1992 – that’s quite something,” says Jens Schlöffel. It is one of the strict rules of the “Superlative Adventure Club” rallies, which also applied to the “Baltic Sea Circle”: Participating vehicles must be at least 20 years old. And as much experience as some of the mechanics may have, some spare parts are extremely hard to find. Especially at the Arctic Circle, 360 kilometres south of Murmansk.

 


→ The trio bought the Frontera a few weeks earlier in Erfurt for 2,500 euros. They then joined forces to restore the off-road vehicle. The transmission, alternator, and tank were replaced, and a spare part they needed for the gearshift was ordered from Thailand. Everything was good to go.

The rally started in Hamburg, but just a few hundred kilometers into the race the fuel pump decided to call it quits. What now? Other teams caught up with the stalled trio. They all stopped to ask if they could help. “That alone will be etched in our memories forever: the helpfulness between the teams,” Jens Schlöffel recounts. But – unsurprisingly – nobody brought a fuel pump.

So the team had to wait for a tow truck. But that takes time in these latitudes. In this case, no less than 24 hours passed by before the Frontera got hitched, and was then towed 600 (!) kilometres to the next workshop. “It’s like when your car breaks down in Munich, but you can only be helped in Schwerin,” Jens Schlöffel illustrates.

Discovery: The wreck that was rusting away in a wooded area near Ryd was once the tour bus of the pop band ABBA.


 

“That’s what the distances are like in Russia.” The workshop at the end of the world had an old Lada pump lying around, and the expert rally team knew immediately: it’s going to fit. But: it’s three o’clock in the morning. No Russian mechanics are up to the task at that time of day. So the customers had to roll up their own sleeves.


Burning twice: The participants celebrate midsummer with a swim in the polar sea and a dance around the fire.


The Frontera was up and running again at five in the morning. Take a deep breath and relax for a moment? No way. After all, the team had already lost two days that they now had to make up. So they hopped back into the Opel and drove off. For the next 48 hours, the trio took turns driving non-stop. And the scheduled sightseeing day in St. Petersburg was cancelled without further ado – there’s always something.

In the end, the team reached the final destination in Hamburg within the scheduled 16 days. Their arrival is just one of the many unforgettable memories of the trip. That is because the team had to contend with more than just unexpected challenges. The “SAC” rally management had numerous tasks for the participants to solve, which required quite a bit of improvisation skills. One more bizarre than the other, that is another trademark of these trips. After all, you have to get in touch with the locals.



OF GOATS AND HORSES

 


 

At one point, the team was asked to take pictures in wetsuits – in the middle of Russia, mind you. Or have a goat ride along on the passenger seat. Or have the car pulled by a horse. “Try to explain to a Russian in the middle of the pampas that you now need a wetsuit,” Schlöffel grins. But the team from Thuringia had a slight advantage. They had learned Russian in school. “But in all honesty, not much of it stuck.” It is easier to communicate with your hands and feet. “And all in all, Russians are very hospitable and helpful people.” Only the ones working at the border are a bit more difficult to deal with.

“Try to explain to a Russian in the middle of the pampas that you need a wetsuit.”


 

One of the challenges the team had to solve on the way: Have oneself photographed in a diver’s outfit.


Watching out: The mascot will be auctioned off for a good cause.


→ The “Baltic Sea Circle” was not over upon arrival at their destination. The fundraising campaigns, which are an important part of the rally, will continue until the end of the year. The “there’s always something” team is collecting for Kinderhaus Weimar and “Wünschewagen Jena.”

On board, for example, was the teddy “Wünschi”, the mascot of ‘Wünschewagen.’ The rally drivers photographed him in front of all kinds of panoramas. Soon it will be auctioned off for a good cause.

And what will happen to the Frontera, which – apart from the minor mishap – did an outstanding job? “For now, we will hold on to it. And maybe it will even be on display in the showroom of our company one day,” Jens Schlöffel divulges. The Schinner dealership was one of the main sponsors of the team and – among other things – paid for the numerous spare parts required to prepare the Opel.

But the oldie will most likely be sold by the end of the year. “Preferably to someone who also wants to participate in the ‘Baltic Sea Circle’,” the team captain says. “We can highly recommend the car – because it truly showed what it is capable of.” ♦

 


July 2019

Text: Eric Scherer; Photos: private, Baltic Sea Circle