Day 17 – we’ve got ourselves a convoy

We left Dihrami as a three boat convoy, slipping lines at 0900 ish and motoring out into the bright Estonian sunshine.  The journey was to be straightforward, with no shallow bits, no rocks to hit and no fog.  Unfortunately no wind either. 

Mains were raised, motoring cones hoisted and onwards we chugged.  Another Rally yacht proposed a lunch spot, but on investigating the water was algae ridden and foul, and there were a disturbing number of wrecks on the shoreline and in the hidden depths.  A nice idea but the Baltic seems to be full of algal bloom this year. 

 A little later, and within a few hours of Tallinn the wind filled in, and sails billowed out as we tried to get at least a few hours of sailing in; but it was not to be.  It veered and with such a header all we could do was fire up the iron topsail i.e the engine and motor once more.  

The entry into Top Marina, host for the sailing events of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, is easy, even with a plump gentleman falling off a paddleboard right in front of us, plenty of room to take evasive action and slide into the Marina.  

Another stern mooring buoy.  But this time we were prepared.  Suzanne hooked it like a pro, walked it to the back as Andrew took in the stern line then walked casually to the front and handed the bowline to Rally control who hooked us on.  Fantastic.  If Carlsberg made berthings they’d make them like this.  A slight rejig of the stern line to straighten the boat up and we were in Tallinn, Estonia’s capital city!  

Time to stock up in the fantastic supermarket, carry out some much-needed maintenance, enjoy a crew dinner in the town centre, and visit the seaplane museum!

Our daily stats

We managed a measily one hour of sailing, one of motoring and 5 and half motor sailing, using 5 gallons of fuel. We were underway for 7 and half hours, making 45 nautical miles, averaging over 6 knots. At least the sun was shining!

You can hear about this sail and more in Episode 23 of our podcast ‘2 in a boat’

Day 16 – crazy channels and buoy hopping

Damp start

A beautiful eery damp fog hung thick in the air as we prepared to slip our berth in Kuressaare.  It was more than an early morning mist, although the hour was relatively early – 6am.

Our exhilarating entry the previous day was replaced by a painstaking crawl, as we buoy hopped through the narrow, narrow channel towards the open sea.  

Hitting Estonia

Things did not go according to plan.  The gaps in the buoys widened and the fog thickened to the extent that we couldn’t see the next one, even with Suzanne on look out at the bow.  Andrew reduced speed to a crawl and became concerned he was wandering off course.  He looked behind to confirm that he was indeed veering off to the left, a fact which was further confirmed as the depth sounder dropped to zero and all forward progress stopped with a shuddering bang as we hit a small piece of Estonia 1.9m underwater. 

It is said there are two types of sailor in the Baltic Sea; those who have run aground and those who are about to.  We are now firmly in the former.  Serious concern was expressed by Suzanne at the amount of water on the cabin floor until she realised it smelled of jasmine green tea and was accompanied by smashed biscuits.  Yes, the only casualty was the tea, biscuits and Andrew’s dented pride.  

The yacht behind us was slightly alarmed by the sight of us reversing rapidly out of the mist in front of them.  They thought perhaps we’d decided to return to the safety and sanctuary of the marina.  We radioed to say what had happened and they pressed on, taking the lead.

This is more like it

By nineish the mist had lifted to a beautiful day.  For only the second time bikinis and bare chest were in order.   Now this is what this trip was supposed to be like!  Watching as we past beautiful wooded Baltic islands, the sun beating down, and lying on the cushions in bikini and sun cream.

After lunch both yachts entered the narrow channels, called “leads”, but what we would know as “swatches” or “terrifying shallow small channels”.  Marked by buoys these must be followed religiously, i.e. praying, as we had already found out.  Rocks, looking deceptively like seals, would appear close to the boat.  We were thankful for our electronic charts and the Estonian buoyage.

Flash in the pan

Early afternoon we took the decision to press on further than anticipated.  To keep us fortified for the extra hours, Suzanne went below and baked a lemon drizzle cake, using our new measuring jug bought on Visby, and halving Mary Berry’s famous recipe, substituting milk (which we didn’t have) with hot water.  It was something of a triumph – moist, delicious and very lemony!  Let’s hope it isn’t a ‘flash in the pan’!  

Late afternoon the wind was finally in the right direction to allow us to swift off the engine, and  round off the day with a two hour reach into harbour at Dihrami, a beautiful small Estonian harbour, where we met up with another rally yacht. The harbour master helped us with our lines, and we handed over 25 euros for the night. There was a great looking fish restaurant over looking the sea beside his office.

A short walk through the fragrant pine forest brought us to a Hansel and Gretel shop, where we bought a couple of beers and Magnum ice creams.  The ice creams were eaten by the time we reached the beach, to watch the sunset over Crystelle Venture and drink our beers (Mexican lager imported from the UK..).  The day was rounded off with drinks on the other rally yacht, and sharing Suzanne’s cake.

Our daily stats

We took 14 and a half hours to make 92 nautical miles, averaging 6.3 notes. We sailed for 2, motor sailed for 10 and the rest was motoring in and out of the harbours. We used 10 gallons of fuel.

You can hear more about our travels in Estonia in episode 24 – Talking in Tallinn – of our 2 in a boat podcast. Due to go live on 8 September 2019.

Day 15 – the best of the two halves

Cow staring

It was with only the slightest hangover that hung over Suzanne as we started out from Ventspils at 7am.  She stayed up long enough on deck to bring in the fenders and stow the ropes, take a good long stare at the blue and white cow at the harbour entrance, and then disappeared back to bed.

Out of the breakwater, and with a favourable west north westerly wind Andrew put the sails up, turned off the engine, and looked forward to enjoying a fast close reach towards our day’s destination – the marina at Kuressaare.  

Raising the Estonian courtesy flag

Blistering

Not only was the wind favourable, so was the weather with the temperature gauge already at 24 degrees at 8am.  It was going to be blistering day on both counts – sailing and sunbathing.

Yes another day, another country – and another first time visit not only to Estonia, but also to its largest island, Saaremaa.  With speeds averaging just over 6 knots, it wasn’t long before we could see Latvia behind us and Saaremaa in front.  

Extraordinary

By quarter to 4 we were making preparations to enter the extremely tight and long lead channel into Kuressaare.  Any straying out of the channel could have calamitous consequences.  The channel was intermittently flanked by rocks and grassy knolls on which sea birds were rearing their screeching young. 

 Kuressare is the capital of Saaremaa and the marina must be one of the most spectacularly appointed ones.  It is overlooked by the largest medieval moated castle in the Baltic – and it is beautifully maintained and the grounds manicured.  It made an already interesting and nerve wracking entrance, even more extraordinary.

Kuressare is twinned with Ronne on Bornholm, and about the same size.  Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to explore, but what we did see has definitely whetted our appetite for a return visit.

An old pro

Today was the day to try out our new boating hook to pick up a stern buoy.  The harbour master was already waiting for us on the pontoon and pointed at the allotted buoy.  Suzanne stood sentry like on the bow, hook poised and looked like an old-hand, capturing the buoy on the first go.  Bow lines were passed to the helpers on shore and Andrew used the winched stern line to manoeuvre us close enough to the jetty to give us access.  Boom, done and dusted by 5pm.

It was then a small matter of paying our 25 euros to the harbour master, who presented us with the flashiest and smartest of town literature and map.  While Andrew had a shower, Suzanne took the opportunity to try out the harbour bar, and was joined by our rally cruising companions.

Tired, tired, tired

Another boat from the rally had preceded us to the marina, and booked us  all in for a meal at a restaurant overlooking the castle, by the side of the moat. After aperitif on their boat, we took the short stroll to our restaurant, and after an hour’s wait for the food, we enjoyed some amazing local fish and specialities.  

Over dinner we discussed the various strategies that were being adopted to get to our final destination Tallin.  The other boat decided to have a shorter day the next day, and a longer one afterwards.  We opted, with our current sailing companions, to break it into to equal days – and around midnight made a decision on our destination and departure time – 6am.  Quick look at the charts and weather, and it was off to bed.  Tired as tired can be.

Our leg stats

We took 10 hours to make 62 nautical miles, averaging 6.2 knots, not bad considering 8 of those hours were under sail. We used only 2 engine hours and 2 gallons of fuel.

You can hear more about our impressions of sailing in Estonia in Episode 23 of our ‘2 in a boat’ podcast due to launch on 8 September 2019.

Day 14 – A sail of two halves

Cunning plan

While the rest of the rally set sail for the island of Gotska Sandon to view seals and lighthouses, we chose another new country and the prospect of raising a new courtesy flag.  Hopefully without any smelly seals. 

A cunning plan that would break the leg to Tallin, Estonia into 4 bite size chunks, two legs to our new destination, and two to Tallin – a new country and more of Estonia to explore.  No overnight sailing, just long day sails with a bit of time to explore at each new port.  What’s not to like?

Sailing Gotland

We were rafted three deep, so after a bit of boat shuffling, we were alongside to fill up with water and hand in our harbour cards.  We set off at lunchtime, and ate as we went.   For our first leg we decided to break our journey in Farosund, the water that divides Gotland from the island of Faro.  

Can you spot Crystelle Venture berthed in Visby?

We managed some sailing up the coast of this limestone island, covered in pine trees, and seemingly sparsely populated once we had left the historic city of Visby behind.  There was only one incongruous area, as the landscape of limestone rock falls continued on our starboard side.  What we thought was an out of place and uncharacteristic city with high rises, turned out to be a massive silo complex for what we guessed must be a cement factory.  After all, Gotland produces mortar to send to other cities around the world to repair their ancient limestone monuments and cathedrals, as well as cement.

Leaving Visby

Sleeping like logs

After several hours we started to follow the buoyed channel into Farosund, as night started to fall.  There are three perfectly good harbours, but we chose to anchor, for the first time on this trip, just to the west of the town.  It was a beautiful quiet spot and we slept like logs, especially after the bouncy nights in Visby – the middle boat of rafting does seem to get the worst berthing experience.

Off at dawn

Up and off at 5am the next day, as our destination was an hour ahead, and with over 80 nautical miles to go, we knew it would take us a good 14 – 16 hours.  As we past the small town of Farosund dwarfed by the bright yellow ferries that connect the two islands of Gotland and Faro, we noticed another of our rally yachts popping out from one of the harbours.  We streamed past the two small bird covered islands in the middle of the channel and then were out into the east sea.

Ghost ship

Around lunchtime we found ourselves in thick fog, and could no longer see the other boat we were travelling with, apart from the odd ghostly appearance off to our starboard bow.  We both kept a good look out and, luckily, there were no other passing ships to avoid. After 2 hours we came back into sunshine.

It was around this point that Suzanne discovered that we didn’t have a full set of Baltic flags.  Latvia was missing.  Discussion ensued on how a makeshift courtesy flag could be fashioned out of other flags, masking tape and colouring pens.  In the end, rather than cause any kind of diplomatic incident with a badly drawn flag, we opted to go without.

Ventspil’s cow fascination

The closest port in Latvia is Ventaspil, a commercial port with oil, coal and ferry terminals.  We called ahead and were immediately given clearance to enter.  An incongruous Greek striped cow stared at us from the breakwater as we entered the outer harbour, and then made way along the starboard side towards the entrance to the fishing and yacht harbour.  

Paint donation

We had prepared ourselves for a bow to and pick up a stern buoy berth – and had got out and set up the new hook we had bought at the chandlery in Bornholm.  However as we turned the corner into the marina we saw to our dismay that the other yacht was moored up against the wall, with old tyres against it.

Marina at Ventspils – Crystelle Venture hiding way at the back from yet another concrete cow

We did a quick rejig of ropes and fenders and the harbour master helped us to tie up.  Unfortunately we hadn’t realised that the tyres were tied on with steel rope, that scraped away more grey paint.  Another small donation to a Baltic country.

While Andrew went for a shower, Suzanne went up to pay for our night’s stay and to practice the little Latvian she’d picked up from google translate.  She likes to think it was appreciated.  At 25 euros it was one of our more expensive stays, however electricity, showers and waters were included – so probably worked out much the same.  

Exploring Ventaspil

We walked up into the old town for dinner, to a restaurant the harbour master had recommended, and in the brochure he had given us was shown to be number one in some local award.  We walked through broad streets with pretty parks, cobbled streets with old wooden houses and ancient doors, and finally found a busy restaurant, with outside seating that was clearly full and very popular.

Ventspils
We’re in Ventspils, so it must be another cow

The waitress spoke perfect english and explained we’d have to wait for a table – which we were more than happy to do.  We perused the menu while we waited, and were impressed by the prices.  We took a punt on a Latvian sparkling wine, 10 euros a bottle, and it turned out to be so decent, we had a second.  Unfortunately, when we checked the label, only for sale in Latvia – and the shop was shut when we walked back to the marina. Probably a good thing, as we have to reduce our alcohol on board before we enter Russia. 

The food was tasty, the portions generous. For the four of us, with a starter and a main, two bottles of fizz, and a cup of mint tea – the bill came to just over 70 euros.  Bargain – we like Latvia!

Latvian starter

Over dinner we discussed our strategy for the next leg of our journey – a respectable departure time of 7am agreed.  We then pottered through more of the old town, which was almost deserted – perhaps not surprising in a country of less than 2 million people – and the only noise was that of youngsters on whiney mopeds – in stark contrast to the boom of the Harley Davidsons on Bornholm.  Finally we took the riverside walk back to our marina, marvelling at the giant cow en route, and enjoyed a comfortable night dockside.

Settling down for the night in Ventspils, Latvia

Our leg stats

Visby to Farosund was just under 7 hours underway, making 38 nautical miles, an average 5.4 knots. Farosund to Ventspils was a longer 13 hour sail of 86 nautical miles, with an average speed of 6.6 knots. A total of just under 16 engine hours in total. So our time to get from Gotland to Latvia was around 20 hours of sailing.

You can hear more about our time in Latvia in episode 22 ‘Loving Latvia’ of our ‘2 in a boat’ podcast, due to go live on 1 September 2019.

Episode 21 hears us chewing the fat on Bornholm and Visby.

Day 13 – Scandinavian sailing

Sad departure

After refuelling in anticipation of light winds and getting clearance from port control we sadly left Ronne at 0800.  A close look at Hammershus castle on the North West coast during our transit past the island and Bornholm receded into the distance.

Hammerhus Castle


Bornholm is well worth a visit.  It’s full of cute villages, nice people and it’s great for cycling.  In Gudhjem on the north coast you are allowed to cycle up the hill through the main street, but not down the hill.  Which is interesting, as in Bray, the main town on Alderney you are allowed to cycle down the hill, but not up.  It’s an island thing…

A happy Danish pastry – or as they call them Vienna Cake – absolutely delicious

Sail away, sail away, sail away


The forecast was for light, variable and generally unfavourable winds, so for the first four hours we motorsailed.  As the wind backed we hoisted the cruising chute, which powered us along to an un-dieseled 5 knots, the sun shone and things generally looked good.  Elixir another rally yacht caught us up and as we dropped our chute due to failing wind, they hoisted theirs, in bright pink.

Thunder, lightening


We motorsailed away from them as they were off to Utklippan to spend the night en route but a dark and ominous grey cloud was in front of us.  We heard the rumble of thunder and saw spectacular lightning in the distance. Visibility dropped, the temperature fell ten degrees and the rain started.  Torrential rain, with a strengthening wind. 

Andrew stayed outside as Suzanne went in to start cooking Swedish veggie meatballs in honour of our arrival in Swedish waters.  The sails were drawing well but engine continued to be used to keep us ahead of the lightning flashes.  Water gushed from the end of the boom as it ran down the sails.

Complete immersion


It stopped as sudden as it had started, with blue skies and failing wind, and it was back to motor sailing as the speed dropped to 2-3 knots. 

For the night watch Andrew opted to wear his immersion suit.  Not because of any impending disaster but because it’s been cold at night, and sitting around in the cockpit watching for merchant ships with drunk, sleepy watchkeepers attempting to run you over doesn’t keep you warm.  It does keep you awake though.

Pre rain and pre immersion suit


Light variable winds all night kept the engine on until 0620 when a bright and cheery Suzanne took the deck and let a cold and less cheery Andrew off to go and get some sleep. 

Visby, Gotland, Sweden

By 1100 Andrew had “slept” for a couple of hours and we were back to motor sailing, into a short uncomfortable chop through the deep water shipping lane.  This slowly subsided but with the wind remaining on the nose we motorsailed our way to Visby, alternatively sleeping and watchkeeping. 

We motored past bird island where we could see no birds and inviting looking beaches which lay at the base of precipitous and crumbling cliffs.


Sailing towards Visby, the main city on the Swedish island of Gotland, you could make out the cathedral spires. We asked for permission to enter Visby harbour and after waiting around on channel 25 with no answer, decided to enter anyway, slowly and cautiously following a huge RoRo ferry.

Approaching Visby

Our final berth was rafted up against 2 other rally boats, both American, and more experienced rally sailors.

Our daily stats

It was a long 35 hours, with 27 motor sailing and only 8 sailing, consuming 17 gallons of fuel on a voyage of 204 miles

You can hear more in episode 20 of our podcast ‘2 in a boat’ – Sunshine on a cloudy day – due for release on 25 August 2019.

Day 11 – getting to our Baltic rally start point

Heiligenhafen to Warnemunde (for Rostock)

We left Heiligenhafen after a delicious, but odd, veggie breakfast.  Two still warm bread rolls each, Irish butter and slices of brie, mozzarella, pesto, tomatoes and assorted dips in a waterside bakery next to the marina.  Hearty fare worthy of the epic to come. 

It was a gusty F4 – 5  as we slipped out of our box berth and pointed the stem towards open sea again.  Except this time it’s not that open.  We were nestled just north of the Fehmarn bridge, a 22m high span that we had to negotiate through with our 17.5m mast. 

There should be loads of clearance, but in a moment of false jeopardy worthy of a TV documentary Andrew still couldn’t watch and steered through looking at the floor and crossing his fingers.  Of course we were fine.  We didn’t come to a crashing halt or cause irreparable damage to the historic monument.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


After the bridge the sea calmed down and with the yankee on one side and staysail on the other we made good progress for a couple of hours – this couldn’t last. 

The sea became as confused and uncomfortable as a pensioner’s driving.  The rain came pouring down and Suzanne disappeared below; there’s no point in two pissed wet through travellers.  Andrew started the engine because he’s impatient and was fed up of wallowing around downwind and a couple of hours later we arrived in Rostock.

Seriously, can we please just have some decent sailing weather…


Suzanne bossed the box berth, getting the ropes on first time and berthing in record time.  Andrew got it in the berth nearly straight and only donated a small amount of gelcoat to the glorious German nation.

Crystelle Venture in her box berth at Warnemunde

We’re here, at the start of the Rally, and we’ve a few make and mend days before we set off on Tuesday.  Time to service the engine, wash the boat and polish out the scratches… (think we might need more than a few days to get those scratches out…)

Our daily stats

7 hours for 44 Nautical miles, which averages over 6 knots.  Nearly our shortest trip but fastest speed.  

Day 10 – heaven in Heiligenhafen

We left Rendsberg at a respectable 0900, completing the last 19 miles of the Kiel canal with ease.  The wind had died down to a reasonable F2 and Suzanne held the wheel for a couple of hours through the flat German countryside. 

Minimal fuss

We expertly docked alongside the pay machine, left the engine running and paid our 35 Euros canal dues.  There was a lock just opening up so we gunned the engine, raced across the canal and took our place in the queue of boats.  Yet again the wind pushed us firmly  into the lock and Andrew brought us to a respectable halt for Suzanne to climb down the ladder and secure the ropes.  Minimal fuss.  

approaching the pontoon to pay the canal fees
Paying the canal fees

Viking raid


The Danish boat behind had less luck.  The lady crew was doing her impression of a waterskier;  but on dry land.  Attempting to stop ten tons of boat using a few tens of kilos of lady crew as a walking anchor is never going to end well.  And to cap it all off she had the bowline, the front rope, so the boat was attempting to swap ends, and heading rapidly in the direction of Crystelle Venture with the lady crew trotting along like she was holding the headrope of a headstrong Grand National hopeful. 

Andrew suggested to the gentleman helmsman that a stern line may be a good idea, his face lit up like a new thing had been invented and scrambled around for rope.  After Andrew secured the bowline and the boat started swinging wildly around the gentleman helm suggested he’d go round again, at which point lady crew jumped back aboard and they reversed away from the quay ready to mount another viking style raid on the stark and unforgiving triumph of 19th Century German Engineering.

Exit the canal


Exit from the canal was a lot less stressful.  We headed out to sea and raised the sails.  It was a squally rolly downhill sail to Heiligenhafen with a maximum speed of 9.7 Knots (no tide to assist either) where we stowed the sails, headed up into the now Force 6 wind and looked for a berth. 

oh no not more box berthing

There was a perfect one, so we dillied, dallied and got our ropes ready, lined it up perfectly until the German boat next door cried out whatever the German is for “stop you fool, it’s a closed berth!” and we performed an admirable controlled abort, reversing out, spinning on a sixpence and heading further into the Marina. 

The next berthing experience is best glossed over.   We didn’t enter straight, as we had 30 Knots of wind pushing us into the berth but we avoided chopping the pontoon in half and got some ropes on (Suzanne got some ropes on….perfectly).  I’m sure we had a 4.0m wide boat in a 3.75m slot – and we arrived.

Heiligenhafen


Heiligenhafen is a lovely place, a nice town square, great Italian restaurant and loads of good shops and supermarkets, including a reasonable chandlery.  The 1000 berth marina has great facilities – although they seem to like giving out the wrong access code for them – and we spent a good part of the next day catching up on our laundry. And getting a hair cut.

If you can fit under the Fehmarn bridge (as you’re wedged into a bit of a corner behind the island) it’s a great place to stop either heading east into the Baltic or West back out.

Our daily stats

We took just under 10 hours to make 58 nautical miles, sailing for 5 and motor sailing for 4. We used 3 gallons of fuel. The barometer stuck around the 1021 mark all day.

Day 9 – Part 1 – Conquering fears

Monday 1 July

Pinch, punch, first day of the month

Today is the day we face our biggest potential obstacle, and my biggest fear.  Entering the Kiel lock and canal, alongside the mighty container ships that dwarf our Crystelle Venture.  

Preparation

I spent the night before, catching up on the weekly Archers omnibus whilst prepping food for the journey.  I managed to cook two meals at the same time – to save on gas – roasting a butternut squash for a curry, while roasting aubergine for a gratin.  Both yummy Abel and Cole recipes I’ve doctored slightly to work around what we have on board – i.e substitute coconut milk for double cream in the curry, and leave out the missing olives for the gratin.  I do this while Andrew finally catches up on his sleep, after our overnight passage  from Borkum the night before.

After arrival in Cuxhaven, we schlepped to the only supermarket opening on a Sunday – about a mile’s hot and dusty walk to the Real supermarket, opening at 11am.  We walked through the monthly riverside market, buying some freshly made mini-donuts to munch.  We needed to stock up on basics such as fresh salad, fizzy water and bread, and our new found cockpit favourite, tortilla chips.  We joined the small queue of locals to wait for it to open, wondering whether the pretty Hansel and Gretel tower across the car park was the local ‘Schloss’.

Andrew had discovered an issue with the gooseneck on the boom, and we really needed a chandlery to buy some washers – but again, out of luck on a Sunday.  We didn’t really choose the best day to arrive – nowhere open, the hottest day of the year touching 40 degrees – but we’d sort of lost track of the days by then and you can’t choose the weather.

Cuxshaven marina

A large marina, constructed of broad avenues with finger berths – our favourite.  Still the wind had caught us out when berthing, and my lack of fendering on the back quarter, meant Cuxshaven has left a mark on Crystelle Venture.

We washed the salt off the boat, before going to pay at the office.  There we had to buy a swipe card to use the toilets and showers.  If they weren’t there, there was a self serve machine to buy the card, to add extra money on and to pay for berthing.

This meant having a 4 minute shower for 1 euro – which was an interesting activity – trying to work out how to get the most out of those 4 minutes.  I was annoyed that I spent 30 seconds just trying to get the temperature just right.  However it can’t be denied that it was probably the best shower of the trip so far – great shower head, great temperature control, decent size cubicle and just the right power.  So couldn’t grumble, apart from the lights going out while I was still getting dressed.  

Pay as you go berthing and showering

I know it must be annoying, my fixation with food and showers, but really when you are sailing, that’s all you think about!  

Morning of departure

Departing Cuxhaven

We wanted to hit the tide just right, so left the marina bang on 9am – after putting in more fuel.  We timed this to perfection for once and were soon motoring down the river Elbe towards the Keil canal – along with a number of other much larger container ships.

White to enter

We followed just outside of the green buoys marking the channel for those larger ships.  We came upon the lock entrance within a couple of hours.  While the large container ship that had been shadowing us for the last few miles took on board their pilot to take them further up the river to Hamburg, we took the opportunity to cut behind her and to the port side of the river to get ourselves lined up to enter the lock.  We waited with a number of other yachts for the light to change from red, to green for ships with pilots, and then to white – indicating that small yachts could now enter.

While we waited, we put out the fenders and our mooring lines ready.  It said in our book ‘The Baltic Sea and Approaches ‘that we should put our fenders out down low.  We didn’t realise quite how low.  The container ship went into the lock on the right, and the white light indicated that yachts should go into the lock on the left.  That was one of my fears immediately dispelled – being squashed by a large ship in the lock.  This was soon replaced by another!

Assault on the senses

Mooring was against low small floating wooden pontoons, held to the side by large chains.  No easy to lasso cleats – but hoops – meant having to climb down onto these swaying, wet and slippy pontoons.  I clambered down and put the stern line on, and Andrew ran down to sort the front mooring rope.  We walked the boat along the pontoons to leave room for the other yachts entering behind. 

As we moved along I realised that the next set of pontoons had swung apart, and the choppy waves were keeping them too far apart for me to jump safely.  Beside the surface was green and look ominously slippy.  I could see that Andrew was struggling as we hadn’t set the fenders low enough.  I waited what felt like an age for the pontoons to come together close enough for me to cross, to help rearrange the fenders.

Entering the Kiel canal is no easy feat. Crossing major shipping lanes, jostling the tide while waiting for entry, and then the harsh and slippy pontoons bashing against the boat below fender level. It is an assault on the senses.

Finally we were set – suitably moored and fendered, just in time to hear the siren indicating that the lock was about to fill.  I looked back and saw that the lock gate had closed behind us.  Big breathe, we were in and the next stage in our adventure was about to begin.

Read Day 9 Part 2 to see how we got on in the Kiel canal.

Day 8 – Bond, barometers and beating

Borkum to Cuxhaven

‘Goldeneye’ had moved in. As the yacht that had moored behind us in the night departed, so the large motor boat arrived and with bow thrusters working over time, not so silently taken its place.  Behind it lay a raft of about 4 yachts.  All blocking a quick and easy exit from our berth beside the jetty.

Leaving Borkum harbour

With a tactical bit of springing off, we glided out past all the boats, and made a smooth exit out of Borkum harbour.   Clearly this was the spot where German boats made to for the weekend.  We thanked our good fortune in arriving a day earlier, and not having to jostle for a berth.

Beating

Suzanne concentrating on the tell-tales

We put all three sails up, and beat in the light winds, under an azure cloudless sky.  Suzanne took the opportunity to practice her upwind sailing, using the tell-tales to guide her steering.  The going was slow, and the wind farm refused to be shrugged off.  Eventually, around 3pm, we put on the engine and stowed the gib and the stay sail.  

Fuel forensics

Knowing we were in for at least a 20 hour sail, Andrew took a rest around 5pm.  At 6.30pm we reviewed our situation.  We hadn’t been able to refuel in Borkum, as the nearest place was 8km by bus (or bike), and lugging two containers full of diesel all that way, hadn’t seemed like a great idea.  However the wind shift that had been forecast, had not yet materialised, and it looked like it might have gone back to 6am. We needed to decide what to do.18 gallons – did we have enough fuel to get to Cuxhaven if we needed to motor all the way?

We started to move towards the island of Norderney, where fuel would be available, and at that point was off to our starboard side.  Checking the chart more closely, we realised that the depth of water in the harbour was too close to our own depth – and the addition of tide still came up a little short.  None of the other islands in between had fuel – due in part to some being without cars.  We just had to hope that the westerly wind would come in due course.  We would never run out of fuel, but we were keen not to get caught with a close to empty tank and a rough sea.  We had experienced that once before, and the upshot had been a tow back into harbour by the inshore lifeboat….

On board dining

We dined on beetroot, onion and feta wraps – delicious.  Another great recipe tried and tested.   By 9.30pm we were crossing the river Jade estuary, the tide with us.  Around midnight we started to sail,  beating again, to save fuel and to let Suzanne get some shut eye! Around 1am the Jade tidal stream and sailing on a port tack wasn’t giving the progress needed.  Starboard tack gave us good progress, but we needed the engine to cross the Traffice Separation Scheme. Back on went the engine.

At around 1.45 am the engine was off and we were back to sailing, and Andrew was treated to a phosphoresence display around 2am before it started to get too light again around 3.  

Falling barometer

Sailing with just the main, to keep our speed down to make sure we hit the River Elbe at the right time. At 4am, Suzanne brought Andrew a hot chocolate.  The sky was glowing red with a crescent moon.  The barometer continued to fall, and it was still 18 degrees.  

At 4.15 were were on the edge of the Scharhorn Riff, just outside of the River Elbe – we put the engine on and followed the buoys.  By 7am we could see the city of Cuxhaven, with pristine green lawns leading down to beach huts and sandy beaches.  Nautical shaped blocks of flats, and new and old lighthouses.  We paralleled the large container ships in the main lane until we turned, at last, into Cuxhaven SVC marina.  We easily found a berth with a green sign, and were confident we would do, as we’d watched a stream of yachts exit as we approached – all heading towards the Kiel canal.

By 8.15 we were berthed, next to a Dutch ship with steering problems, and briefly to a British boat who took off not long after we arrived.  I’m sure it wasn’t anything we said! We again donated a scratch of gel coat to the berth side – a lack of fenders and a speedy windy entry being to blame.

Our daily stats

We were underway 19 hours and 30 minutes, and made 111 nautical miles, averaging 5.6 knots. We managed to sail for a total of 5 hours, with the remainder motor sailing, using 7 gallons of fuel, and 15 engine hours.

Day 7 – and it’s a hostage situation

Oudeschild to Borkum

If you’ve seen the Resistance to Interrogation phase of TV’s “SAS are you tough enough” you’re coming close to our journey from Oudeschild to Borkum.  It’s the part where they blindfold contestants, play white noise at them and occasionally give them a slap.  If you add a cold North sea, Northerly wind and occasional buckets of water being thrown at you that’s pretty much the story of this sail.

A clean exit


It all started well enough, a good clean exit of the box berth to the stunned admiration of the French boat opposite “sacre bleu” he was heard to utter “zat Rosbif, he knows how to drive ze bateau…” or maybe our reputation had got around. 

The infamous fuel pumps at Oudeschild – before the incident

We took on diesel and did a thirty point turn (Read Andrew’s upcoming book “simple things made to look difficult”) to get out of the marina to the amazement of two other British members of the Cruising Association “that bloke” he whispered “does he really knows how to drive that boat??”

Cloggie commandos


We’d had consistent Force 4-6 Northerly winds whipping up a North Sea frenzy and so the “sneaky shortcut” between the Islands was out of bounds, due to it being a foaming wall of white water and breaking waves.  So it was the long way round, adding an estimated 15 miles.  We saw Cloggie Commandos Careering around in inflatables, a landing craft and another submarine, quite entertaining.  

Nice day for a sail…


As we turned and emerged from behind the shelter of the island the seas got worse, much worse with short, steep, high waves.  Every time we climbed up one and fell onto the next we pretty much stopped, so even with a Force 5 powering the boat we made slow progress.  We resorted to the engine to maintain momentum.  Cue sixteen hours of droning diesel, water breaking over the decks and the boat pitching, rolling and slamming like a bucking bronco.  

Andrew’s account to Neptune


During early morning the waves slowly subsided and we could turn eastwards to our intended course and past each of the islands towards Borkum.  As we stopped slamming and started rolling Andrew was violently seasick, projecting his orange squash well clear of the spray dodgers, hull and deck and proclaiming it in fact made him feel better.


We arrived at 0630 the next day and parked on the commercial pontoon, moving later to a nice snug corner berth.

Borkum was OK, a commercial port with wind farm boats and (randomly) a New Orleans Jazz band paddle steamer complete with band and singer.  It was a comfortable haven while we prepared for the next leg, towards Cuxhaven.

Calm before the weekend onslaught – can you spot Crystelle Venture?

Our daily stats

We were underway for 20 hours, and made 119 nautical miles, averaging 6 knots. We sailed for an hour and motor sailed the rest, which meant we got through an eye watering 13 gallons of fuel. Only to arrive at a harbour with no fuel…

Oudeschild to Borkum – tough leg