Extracts from: „Segeln in die Freiheit“ (Sailing to Freedom) (Greifswalder Seglergeschichten 2) (German Edition) Kindle Edition

Walter Last, Helmut Pratzel, and Conny Müller, were passionate about sea sailing. They were the second generation of Greifswald sailors at the Ernst Moritz Arndt University after the end of World War II. They had all taken the C license and also taught this sport to other interested students. A gaff rigged 11-meter yawl, the "Viking", was their only sea-going yacht.

At first it was still possible to experience sea sailing on the Baltic Sea, circumventing official requirements. Since when sailing, you make as large crosscuts as possible in order to get to your destination, it was easy to change the original plan from Wieck to Warnemünde outside the three-mile zone if necessary. Bornholm, Copenhagen, Oslo, and other Swedish ports were coveted destinations for a crew sworn to keep quiet about the unauthorized expeditions.

The situations for a liberal sailing sport became increasingly narrow in the years of the Cold War and so it was not surprising that sailors in particular repeatedly used the opportunity to flee across the Baltic Sea.

Walter Last bought an old cutter for 400 Ostmarks (about $400.00) that was jacked up one day from Berlin on a low-loader in Greifswald on the Ryck-Ufer. The oak-hulled ship had been standing on dry land for about 10 years and you could sometimes get your hand stuck through cracks in the planks. To use this hull, it either had to be sunk in the water to swell the wood or - and Walter decided to do this - it had to be clad with a new outer skin.

Fiberglass mats were already available at the time, but there were delivery difficulties with the polyester. It was therefore obtained in small quantities from an Aunt who lived in the west and so, jacked up in the open air, a plastic hull gradually emerged over the old oak hull, despite wind and weather.

For Helmut, as a rigging master at the time, it was a pleasure to splice the standing rigging and to take part in the construction of a seagoing ship.

The first attempt to escape in 1961 failed because the authorities were notified. Walter was captured in the Bodden waters and was lucky not to end up in prison for attempting to flee the republic.

In June 1962, on the second attempt, the escape succeeded. Walter Last (28) and Walter-Heinz Dunkel (28), nick-named Dunkie, first sailed to Kappeln in Schleswig-Holstein, then later passed the Northeast Sea Canal for the dramatic journey across the Atlantic to America where he worked at the Bio-Science Lab in L.A until 1965.

On his last voyage in 1969, he sailed with his wife and their daughter, who was still in nappies, on a new yacht, not only across the Atlantic, but from Italy across the Pacific to New Zealand where they settled until 1980 and where Walter wrote his first best-selling book "Heal Yourself".

In 1981 he moved to Mackay in Queensland, Australia where he lived until his death in April 2021.


Greifswald/DDR 1961
Preparing the 6 metre "Bluewater" for escape from East Germany

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