Day 9 – Part 2 – Kiel canal

We exited the lock at around 1215, with Suzanne steering and Andrew tidying up the ropes and fenders. We streamed out along with the other yachts.

Sailing in the River Dart has given us a sixth sense about ferry movements, and Suzanne twigged early that a ferry was emerging on our starboard side, only a few minutes after exiting the lock. She took evasive action, but the yacht to our right carried on oblivious, meaning the ferry turned at the last moment missing the back of their yacht by about a metre.

The NOK (Nord-Ostsee-Kanal), to give it its official title, was built with military purposes in mind – to allow the German fleet to avoid sailing around Denmark when moving from the Baltic to the North sea. It is 59 nautical miles long and can accommodate ships up to 235.50 metres (772.6 ft) in length with a maximum beam (width) of 32.50 metres (106.6 ft), and draught of up to 7.00 metres (22.97 ft), although if you are less than 160.00 metres (524.93 ft) you can have a draught up to 9.50 metres (31.2 ft).

Needless to say a fair number of these large vessels overtook or passed us on the opposite side. We’d read that if you were unlucky, the wash from these vessels could push your boat out of the water and onto the side. Despite the figures cited above, we noticed that close to the edge the canal was certainly not deep enough for those kinds of draughts, so we tried to keep in safe water between the middle of the channel and the edge. Despite this we still seemed to get spray in our faces whenever one passed.

At lunchtime we enjoyed the aubergine and potato gratin I’d made the day before, sitting out on the comfy cushions in the cockpit. The canal, for the most part, is bordered by green reeds, cycle tracks and trees. Every few miles there seemed to be a family of swans, and we saw large flocks of Canadian, Egyptian and grey geese. The occasional windmill, numerous small ferry crossings, and lots and lots of campervans.

A couple of times our GPS dropped out – for no apparent reason. We’ve since spoken to others who had exactly the same happen on the canal, around 57 km along. You know exactly where you are on the canal, as there’s a small km sign every half a kilometer.

The wind was gusting and the trees were bending, and the wind grew in intensity as we travelled down the canal. As we turned to port to follow the entrance into Rendsburg the wind snatched Suzanne’s pink Musto hat, and despite it being clipped on, tugged it away and into the canal. There was no time to retrieve it.

By the time we reached the marina in Rendsburg, the gusts were approaching force 6. We searched for a berth against the side, but were left with only box berths to choose from, in the most difficult position with the wind conditions.

We girded our loins, set our lines and made to enter. This time we had help from the pontoon, and we moved under the separating rope into the next berth. It was horrific weather, and it took about half an hour – but finally we were in.

We checked in at the marina, which had a small shop and chandlery all in the same space. However there were no washers for the goose neck on the boom. There was nothing for it – a DIY store was the next option. The nearest was a couple of miles away, so we decided to walk. We started off walking by the water out of the marina, and into the old part of town, this was soon followed by leafy suburbs and then into poorer suburbs until we ended up at the immigration holding centre – in what looked like former barracks.

Ordinarily we might have been concerned walking round in such neighbourhoods – but with Andrew’s ripped trousers, and our travel weary clothes and faces – we probably scared most people who saw us!

Finally we found the orderly, pristine and huge DIY store on a retail estate. Andrew found what he needed, and we trailed back, in the rain, Suzanne nursing blisters.

Our daily stats

We left Cuxhaven at 9am and were berthed in Rendsburg at 5.30pm, so spent a total of 8 hours 30 minutes underway. We travelled 50 nautical miles, averaging 5.9 knots. We motor sailed for 45 minutes and motored the remaining time (you’re not allowed to sail in the canal), so using around 7 gallons of fuel.

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.