NOEL (DESMOND) MORELY AND BRIAN SMITH TRAVEL THE BALTIC PORTS IN ‘PILGRIM’
Thursday 23rd June 2016
Thunder and lightning with torrential rain all night and still raining. Very miserable. It takes us so long to dry ourselves and the boat out, we have decided to delay moving on until the weather improves.
Saw the first Brit boat today, an X boat 42, sporting the defaced blue of the Royal Northumberland Yacht Club. It hailed from Newcastle crewed by four old boys even older than us. It’s been a very slow day the main highlight being our evening meal, Brian’s Green Thai Curry. Hopefully we can get away to Oest-Vieland tomorrow.
Friday 24th June
We left Oudeschild’s Wadden haven at 9.30 into 8 knot wind on 065 degrees. It was a glorious day, warm with a misty mile vis. Our course ran between the mainland and the islands that looked to be open sea, but consisted of very winding narrow buoyed channels.
These channels are naturally scoured by the strong tide and we made good use of them reaching over seven knots c.o.g. We had been advised the shallowest parts had to be crossed at high tide to avoid grounding. As we approached Oest-Vielandall yachts were coming through different channels towards the harbour. The cruising association details say it can get so busy the harbour master shuts the marina and you have to anchor outside while he organises boats within.
On this day he met us in his rib and we followed him to a free pontoon. We arrived at 4.30, and there was plenty of space, but within three hours the marina was jammed to busting, with rough count 350 yachts, Dutch and German, all bigger than Pilgrim. Although less developed than Oudeschild it is another holiday island that is one big wetland bird reserve sponsored by among others UNESCO. The whole place is sandy and the small village has a very refined Dutch feel. The church had a commonwealth war graves area containing a few dozen WWII RAAF, RAF air crew and British Mariners. The nearby museum had a very large aero engine with bent back propellers mounted on a on a plinth outside, so the island must have seen some action.
On our last evening we had just finished planning our next move and I walked down to recycling near the outer harbour when I was amazed to find ten historic sailing ships rafted up. They can have only arrived an hour earlier. All types, trading barques to traditional sailing barges. Two were three masted and over 80 feet long and one of the largest had a brass plate marked 1888 These were pay-to-sail boats with crew numbers posted on the vessels displayed licence. 50 to day sail and 35 to sail overnight. On the quay side were some 200 crew gathered in groups bar-b-cueing, eating, drinking and generally having a good time. Good to see such fine old ships still sailing.
Sunday 26th June
After some debate we decided to miss out the next island in the group. Our plan is to get Borkum ultimately to Keil in daylight hops. Unfortunately, all the islands have marinas on the mainland side with tight shallow channels. This creates delays getting in and out to the open sea and we lose some of the north running tide. So today we leave for Ameland and will further consider our exact route after that.
Sunday 26th June
We took the tide out of Oest-Vielandall which gave us a good start. As we followed the channel around the end of the island it hooked back south into the tide rushing north on the seaward side. This was the tide we needed, but could not use it until we had cleared the sand bank to starboard. Our c.o.g. dropped to one knot and in frustration we took a slight chance. With an eye to the sounder left the channel, crossed the end of the bank and rocketed north with the tide with an instant increase of c.o.g. to 7 knots.
Sand banks and depths in Dutch waters are a bit of a worry. Dutch boats seem to take chances, which is probably is no more than local knowledge on safe places to cut corners. We tramped up the coast and eventually turned south around the end of Ameland island to the landward side, past people on sandy beaches and started the twisting route along the buoyed channel to Nes marina. It proved to be very small, but large enough to take a mainland ferry that carried cars and lorries.
As with every Dutch marina so far, the harbourmaster was there to there to take our lines. Could it be the Brits have a reputation for cocking thing up and this was self protection or are they just welcoming? Ameland is less of a holiday island, with light industrial areas and a small group of expensive fashion shops, art gallery, smart bars, cafes and the standard vast cycle hire shop. With so few people about one wonders how they survive.
Our next destination was to be the German island of Borkum, but with the complication of narrow channels and tides we would arrive in darkness. The Harbour master suggested we go to Lauwersoog on the Friesland mainland and leave for Borkham from there in more of a deep water channel. So that is the plan.
Tuesday 28th June
We left Nes marina at 1 o’clock for Lauwersoog with others who were going to Schiermonnikoog, described as “an island with no cars that has a slower pace”. Sounded good, but the harbour dries giving a tidal complication to our move on to Borkum. It took us about five hours to pick our way through the shallow winding channels to the deep water approach to Lauwersoog.
Stretches were in two metres of water and it demanded some concentration to follow the narrow twisting buoyed channel. At one point the channel took a right angle bend, we missed the buoy, touched bottom and Pilgrim came to a halt. With the depth alarm buzzing and an increased engine revs we slide back into deeper water without too much fuss. Quite suddenly, one of the historic 90ft two masted ketches, that had been trailing us from behind charged past, paying little regard to the buoyed channel leaving us mystified why it had not run aground.
The chart plotter was of little help in a lot of these channels. They must be constantly on the move, resurveyed every year and the buoys re-laid. The three-year-old Navionics charts were of little help here. The Dutch 2016 paper charts were much better. At last we broke into the Lauwersoog deep-water channel and made our way the last couple of miles down to the port to catch the last locking in of the day. We are now in Jachthaven Noodergat. We were lucky to get a pontoon, rather than the a box mooring, and finish our day with grilled sole, sauté potatoes, salad and a beer in the marina bistro.
Wednesday 29th June
Woke up this morning to unforecast gales from the south west. A new forecast offered no let up until Sunday. The harbour master suggested going by canal to Delfzijt on the river Eems which wide estuary opens out onto Borkum. This would in effect get us half way to Barkum by Thursday evening. We will make up our minds in the morning We now had a day fill so between the showered of rain we took a walk around the area. The marina is full of Dutch steel boats mostly barge style. Nearby is a traditional barge marina and museum. Some restored, others in a poor state awaiting restoration. At the end of our pontoon is the most over-the-top traditional Dutch barge yacht I have ever seen.
The 40 foot plus steel hull is painted in black as high gloss as a grand piano and the rest of the boat is finished in scrubbed teak and heavy section mahogany, all varnished to a glass like finish. It is called the Otter and has a delicately carved otter on the timber rudder head and a decorative carvings of otter motifs on end of the coach roof. All metal fittings seem to be one-offs in stainless steel or bronze with even the fisherman’s anchor in polished stainless steel. Although it exudes quality and is undoubtedly the ultimate example of the traditional builder’s art it seemed like an exhibition piece that should never be put it in the water.
Thursday 30th June
The morning brings more rain and a gale warning for the German Bight. The hoped for improvement on Sunday is now unlikely until Wednesday, So the canal to Delfzijt it is. We left very late at 11.00.and made our way across the meer to the canal and the first Bridge. Gone are the bridge and lock keepers. It is all happens from central control using cameras and computer links, so after your first call on channel 84 you are followed on camera to the next bridge which initially show a red light as you approach then green on opening. For locks it is a similar principle and the whole system seems to works well with only minimal radio contact, but the Brits can be trusted to find the flaw in any system.
Flaw 1 – You have to be able to pronounce the name of the bridge well enough in Dutch for the controller to identify where you are. “I cannot open the bridge until I know which bridge I am to open” came the reply.
Flaw 2 – The controller has to be able to identify you on camera. I now realise they are dealing with vessels up to the size of coastal tankers and my description of our proud vessel as “Yacht Pilgrim” seemed not to be enough. Control came back “I cannot see you.
Oh! are you the little white boat on the waiting pontoon?”
After this, now identified probably not in a very complimentary way, we made our way with bridges and locks magically opening before us until we reached Reitdiep Marina outside Groningen, a little over halfway to Delfzijt.
Friday 1st July
Stocked up from the JUMBO Super market, we left the marina at noon and continued our journey to Delfzijt. We had to round the city of the Groningen where the bridges are not in the hands of central control, but a man on a bike. He allows a few boats to build up and rides his cycle from bridge to bridge opening them by hand. Clear of the city we were again in the hands of central control. Realising we were on camera I no longer bothered calling on VHF which just seemed to confuse the issue as the bridges opened when there was a gap in road traffic using them. Fourteen bridges later we arrived in Delfzijt to find it in the middle of a sea festival. The place was packed. No room at the inn or marina and we had to moor on the canal bank among vintage work boats in a space marked for G16. G16 seems not to have arrived so we were expecting to be moved on.
Saturday 2nd July
Still on mooring G16 so I think we can claim it as ours. An English speaking Dutchman from the classic work boat next to us told us enthusiastically about The Delfsail – Festival of Energy held every 7 years. “You must walk down to the harbour and see it. There will be a grand parade of ships at 3.30. It will be wonderful”.
It was certainly worth the walk. The large harbour was crowded with classic Dutch boats of every type, rafted up by the dozen. Some renovated. Some very expensive replicas. There were small steel launches dating from the 30’s to larger steam harbour tugs. The array of different types was extraordinary. The Otter at Jachthaven Noodergat that had seemed like an exhibition piece was suddenly common place. The stars of the show were 26 tall ships. The largest two from Russia, followed by a Pole and a Norwegian. The UK was represented by two ships, Earl of Pembroke and Kaskelot, both from Bristol. There was an intense carnival atmosphere as thousands of people enjoyed music, the fairground rides, shanty choirs and drum bands while many took boat trips round the harbour. It was all covered by Dutch TV and the most amazing thing of all, it was free. One annoyance was when we got back from the harbour we were asked to move from G16. Grrrrrrrr……
If the weather holds we will be of to Borkum tomorrow
Sunday 3rd July
We set off for Borkum at 2.30 following advice from the harbour master at the canal marina. We were badly held up at the sea lock that would take us down to the sea level by the dozens of small boats going to see the tall ships leave, so by the time we cleared the harbour it was 3.30. Then we met head winds gusting up to 23 knots dropping our speed down to under two knots. By 4.15 it was obvious we could not make Borkum in daylight, so we turned back and found a marina pontoon berth on the seaward side of the sea lock, which should give us a better start tomorrow.
Monday 4rd July
We left at 12.30 for Borkum. It warm and sunny and the best weather we have had on the trip. The only down side was the wind was against us virtually all the way, but the tide ripped us along at over 6 knots. Compared to yesterday’s attempt this was very relaxing and Borkum slowly grew in size on the horizon. We have three options for mooring on Borkum, Large pontoon jetties in the main harbour also used by commercial craft, Henry Harbour and a private yacht club. We had been warned Henry Harbour was silting up and we touched bottom as we entered, but would have waited for more water if the place had not been so run down and ramshackled. This was where Brian had been storm bound for ten days in 2000. and it did not look as if it had any maintenance since. Altogether very un-German. We limped out, entered the main harbour next door and took the first vacant space on the yacht club pontoons.
The Haven Masters office was shut, but an unlikely Frank Zapper look-a-like in the bar next door proved to be the man we were looking for. He pointed out it was a club and not a marina, but on payment of 32 euros for two nights we were eventually moved to a spare pontoon. He ran the bar with his Scottish wife, an Annie Lennox look-a-like. They made an interesting couple.
At last we had made it to the first German Frisian island. We are now in “Riddle of the Sands” country, the ripping yarn by Erskine Childers centred around the German Frisian Islands set well before WWI. The islands of Borkum, Nordeney, Langeoog and Wangerooge featured as does Cuxhaven, all places we hope to visit if the weather holds.
Tuesday 5th July
The weather didn’t hold. We woke with a full gale blowing, a force 9 warning on the German bite and yet more rain. A German Hallberg Rassy 29 pulled in beside us with its main in tatters. The reefs had torn out and destroyed the sail. When the rain stopped we took the bus into the main town. There is beautiful sandy beach and a short promenade with some 1920’s hotels, but most of the town is very modern with a smart shopping precinct. Apart for buying the new chart pack for the German Frisian Islands it was not a very exciting day.
Wednesday 6th July
Sunny, but howling winds. Another Hallberg Rassy 29 moored on the next pontoon having sailed down from Norway. “We had all three reefs in and it was not enough’’ he said “So much wind and always in the wrong direction”. After that we decide to stay another day and cycled off to a find the supermarket we had noticed from the bus. We splashed out on Alaskan red salmon and vacuum packed boiled potatoes. The fish was not pink, probably pollock, and the potatoes were large pasta balls filled with cheese, I believe called Gnocchi. Grrrrrrrr……rubbish!!
Wednesday 13th July
Cuxhaven although it is pleasant enough place it is a transit port for the Kiel canal. We saw several Brit yachts here. I had a chat with a Southerly owner from the Deban on his way home via Nordinier. From what he said Nordinier is developing into a transit port for brit yachts going home although when we were there we saw not one red ensign.
Fully victualled we set off into the Elbe for Brunsbutteel where the Kiel canal begins.
This river is vast with a massive international traffic of ships going either to Hamburg or the canal. It is also river with a two or three knot tide, so leaving Cuxhaven at the right time is critical. The canal is on the north side of the river and Cuxhaven on the south bank so there is a tendency to remain on the south bank side until you reach the canal. This is where the river narrows and there is a concentration of very large ships in both directions with very small gaps between them. So it was with some trepidation we crossed the traffic flow wth large ships uncomfortably close and reached the yachts marshalling area.
We were lucky to get into a yacht only lock. Most had to share with a large ship when there is a certain amount jostling to find a space to squeeze into. As you lock out Yachthafen Brunsbuttel is on the port side. Lock after lock of yachts being disgorged into this marina could be a bun fight, but order was maintained by the harbour master who shouts orders in German, French and English through a portable PA system. Those who ‘didn’t jump to it’, got a blast from a bull horn. Despite the chaos all boats were eventually rafted up four abreast, and all was calm. This was also the cheapest marina so far at €8 a night, but you had to queue for the showers. I didn’t bother and Brian gave up.
Thursday 14th July
Woke up to a warm summers morning and after an abortive attempt to buy diesel, set off for Kiel. As sailing is not permitted on the canal we motor-sailed with gib The town of Kiel, at the Baltic end of the canal, is 90 kilometres away which is more than a days’ sail and overnight stops are only allowed at designated areas. The designated area we chose was a lovely spot called Oldenbuttel Sidings about the half way mark. It was almost deserted when we arrived, but later in the evening, as the 9.30 pm canal curfew for yachts approached, there was quit an influx of boats. The only drawback with sidings, though they are free basic jetty moorings there are no facilities. In particular no showers.
Friday 15th July
Got away to a good start for Kiel. Strong variable wind, but nothing we could use. Then it began to rain and rain and rain. In the end we gave up and found a lake mooring for the night off the canal at Rendsberg. This is somewhat short of Kiel, but the rain was getting too depressing plus we could get a hot shower. After a meal of chicken and noodles, life seemed much better.
There are some five marinas on the lake. The big and the posh with 200 spaces to the end of garden marina with 10 spaces. The first mooring we came to we took. It proved to be the end of garden type. Perfectly adequate, but the loo and showers were 150 yards away, uphill along a grassy path between high hedges until you reached an iron gate. This you opened with a loan key and dropped down 12 steps to a mini shower block built on the side of a hill. Good view of the moorings and cheap at €11, but quite a tramp.
Saturday 16th July
We arrived at the Kiel Lock in good time. Although we had to mark time in the yacht marshalling area for over an hour. We eventually locked out with 15 other yachts and two large coasters.
In the Baltic at last!!! Our next stop was a mile down the coast to the fabled British Keil Yacht Club. The officer of the day pointed us towards a box mooring large enough to take a 50ft yacht. and said “moor like the others bow or stern to”. “I’ll give you a hand”. I got out my longest lines, we made up two large loops and reversed in. It was fiddly, but we got it right in the end, even so Pilgrim looked very small in the oversized space.
Sunday 18th July
We decided to stay a second night. The club is fairly deserted so it a good place to sort out laundry in a Free washing machine/dryer and to clean up the boat before our next move to Flensburg on the German/Danish border via Maasholm
This place is a fascinating oddity. At the end of the WWII an enterprising brigadier came down to the waterfront and found six 10-metre yachts supplied by Hitler to each of his military services for the 1936 Olympic Games. He promptly requisitioned the lot as spoils of war and divided them up between the occupying British services. The Flamingo belonging to the Luftwaffe, was Goering’s favourite and was still at the club until April of this year when it was sold to a German dentist, but the rest have long since gone.
Over the years there have been many replacements. The current fleet is four new Hallberg Rassy 342’s and two immaculate GRP folk boats all moored in line, true military style, immaculate and identical in every way, with the tillers standing to attention. Even the SSR numbers are sequential and the boats are moored in number order. In the TV Lounge was a half model presented by Hallberg Rassy recording ten 342’s purchased by HMG, so there must be six others in Germany or the UK. Soon the estate that includes the club is to be handed back to the German government.
After all, they are now our best mates.
Bang! A small sail boat had run into the side of our yacht. It was a Hunter Horizon 23, the baby version of Pilgrim, sailed by an elderly Scotsman, “I had to come over when I saw another Hunter. No worries. No damage”. Then we spent the next half hour getting him into the oversized box mooring. You have admire the old goat sailing the boat from Scotland single handed and then around the German Baltic for the past 10 weeks.
Monday 18th July
Still no summer, and Brian is wearing every jumper he has with him, but at least it is not raining. A cracking sail to Hafen Maasholm hitting 6 plus knots most of the way from 16 knots of wind. Navigating without tides gets some getting used to though. We persuaded Pilgrim into no 1 box mooring in a ferocious crosswind and made slightly less of a mess of it than at Kiel. It seemed odd in a crowded marina the space had not been taken, but we soon discover why. There was a nesting gull six feet away which set up howling racket every time we went into the cockpit. Grrrrrrrr……hate gulls!
This is the first marina we have been in that has a chandlers on site and, low and behold after a month of looking, we have managed to buy a spare belt for the Yanmar.
Tuesday 19th July
There was a life size bronze of a fisherman skinning eels standing on the quay side at Hafen Maasholm with the left shoulder slightly polished from being touched for good luck. We set sail on a glorious summers day for Flensburg taking with us a bit of luck from the eel man.
For first three hours we sailed down the coast and next four hours sailed inland following the twist and turns of Flensburg fjord which also marks the border between between Denmark and Germany and we finally arrived at the Gastehafen. It is at the head of the fjord, in the middle of town and surrounded by open air cafes, beach bars and bistros. It is a university town full of students and somewhere a beach bar was punching out a steady stream of music and the whole atmosphere was busy and buzzy with hundreds of people drinking beer and coffee or just lounging in the warm evening sun.
All slots were taken so we raft-up to a restored pre-war motor sailor which saved us from the box mooring circus.The owner, a resident, might not be too pleased, but the harbour master was OK with it
Wednesday 20th July
Another warm sunny summers day. For centuries this town was the centre of border disputes between Denmark and Germany over Schleswig-Holstein. Erskine Childers starts his novel ‘Riddle of the Sands’ in Flensburg with hints in the opening chapters about “…the thousands killed by German aggression lying in the cemeteries on the northern banks…”
The shopping areas are large and modern with all the normal shops from C&A to TKmax. The town seems to have a love affair with historic boats. There are many in the marina and a whole boat restoration area on the north side, including a massive mast handling construction using whole tree trunks. The two churches we visited at first seemed interesting, but were nondescript inside with the best, St Nicholas, having very good modern stain glass by a local artist Kate Lassen (1880-1956)
Thursday 21th July
Minutes before we left, the owner of the restored motor sailor we had been rafted up to for two days turned up. He did not look too happy, but cheered up when we asked about his boat. “She was built in 1938, the year I was born and has been my 40 year project” he grinned. He helped us cast off and we went down the fjord in search of diesel.
This proved to be a card payment pump which needed a Mistro card. What is a Mistro card? By the time that was sorted out, our intended destination, Marstal on Aero island was too far to go that day so we broke our journey at Sonderborg, Denmark, Our first taste of Denmark came in the form of two beers in the marina cafe and not surprisingly these were the most expensive beers of the trip so far. Refreshed, but poorer, we walked the half mile along the fjord to the town. At one end was a gaggle of rafted up yachts at the other was an immaculate white period steam yacht with a crew in equally immaculate white uniforms. This was ‘Dannebrog’ the Danish Royal Yacht. 257 ft long, built in 1931 and re-engined fairly recently. We watched with a small crowd the ceremony of the Danish swallow tailed ensign, also called the Dannebrog, being lowered at sunset.
Friday 22nd July
We left Sonderborg to try again for Marstal on Aero island. It was a nice summers’ day, warm and sunny, the only down side was a 10 knot headwind which increased during the day to 18 knots, eventually dropping to nothing as we approached Marstal. The higher the wind the higher the waves and the lower the s.o.g., often down to 2 knots.
Oh! Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit of tide to help us on our way! One night a gull emptied our rubbish bag over the pontoon which I dutifully cleared up, but some paper tissues eluded me floating like jelly fish around the boat. They were still there when we left two days later. There really is no tide here and very little water movement.
Aero is an island of low traditional Scandinavian houses tightly packed together with uniform red tiled roof. Some are old, some new but there is no way of telling because the rough render is painted in either pink, grey or cream with boat yard work huts painted cardinal red. On our first evening in Marstal we came across what appeared to be private house with a few bistro table and chairs on the lawn and a black board outside offering a set meal. Seeing us struggling to read the blackboard a diner called over “It is very good pork, tradition Danish home cooking. You will like it” On that recommendation we had an excellent meal of boiled ham, cream sauce, potatoes, salad and local beer followed by coffee. The owner, who spoke faultless English said he had 54 guests that night and we realised this was not a small private house at all, but several houses linked to together to make up a sizeable hotel. He ran the place with his wife and son, who waited table rushing back and forth with trays. Then I realised they were two of them, identical twins.
The marina itself is rambling and basic. No codes or key cards here because there are no fences or gates. Everything is open. One price per boat per night including all facilities except the showers, expensive at just under a GBP. No harbour master’s office.
Dues are collected every evening by a man with a leather bag like an old style milkman. The whole marina is surrounded by grass with weathered picnic tables and benches. On the evening of our arrival it was barbecue city. They are ‘verboten’ on board so everybody decamps to the picnic tables on warm evenings. The whole place is relaxed Scandinavian and certainly not German.
It has now taken us 42 days to get this far in our ‘Leisurely Gentleman’s Frisian/Baltic Cruise’ and we will now have to start working our way back, while still taking in new places. Present thoughts are we spend a day or so at Marstal then sail to Bagenkop on Langeland, also a Danish island, then start the return journey. This area is considered to be the best cruising grounds in the Baltic and it is pity we cannot spend more time here, but weather had been so bad in the Frisian islands that it ate into our Baltic cruising time.
Sunday 24th and Monday 25th July
Bagenkop on Langeland island is only ten nautical miles from Marstal. When we sailed it was sunny with a warm breeze in our faces. We hauled up the sails at the safe water mark, killed the engine and tacked down Marstal Bugt to Bagencop at three and a half stress free knots. We arrived very early in the afternoon, had our choice of box moorings and for the next four hours relaxed and did some people watching, as the experts moored expertly and the less expert mucked up.
This is an architect designed marina with three story apartments surrounding the harbour built in the Danish timber style, painted in dark red and white and has a much slicker look than Marstal. Come the evening it became barbecue city again, but unlike Marstal no barbecues needed, the marina supplies what is best described as fixed concrete fire-pits covered by a grid. Stake a claim to a table and bench, bring your own bar-bee supermarket meat pack plus wine box and its instant party.
The island itself is geared for outdoor pursuits. Packed with wildlife even a herd of wild horses. It is an ideal holiday island and even connected to the mainland by a succession of bridges Marinas here are family fun, very casual and cheap compared to the UK. We have paid as little as €8 and as much as €24 a night, but in all other respects Denmark is very expensive. It really is a fantastic sailing area and I would advise anybody coming to the Baltic to stock up on any foods that will keep, particularly long life milk, corned beef, cereals, salad cream, pickles, sauces and of course beers,and spirits. A difficult balance this, to enjoy the Baltic food experience against having a fat wallet. A proper built in fridge would be a good idea too. (Brian adds “a 40 ft boat, a six cylinder engine and a full crew”)
Tuesday 26th July
At 9.00 we set off across the Kieler Bucht in high winds with reefed sails on a barely steerable course towards Laboe on the German mainland 30 miles away. We managed to get 5 knots s.o.g. until noon then the wind dropped and speed dropped to less than 3 knots. Even so by 3.30 in the afternoon we reached Baltic Bay Marina and tied up on a conventional alongside pontoon. I missed the box mooring. I am now a convert.
This is a exceptionally smart German marina full of very expensive boats with an excellent restaurant. About eight spaces along the pontoon was a 12 metre yacht raced by Krupps in the 1936 Olympics. Called Germany, it is in concours condition, but I am sure all the shiny fittings which were plain bronze in 1936 have now been chromium plated. Several Lewmar self tailers have been added probably to make it easier to sail. With its low free board and seven foot beam it must be incredibly wet and the lack of guard wires will not give the crew much of a sense of security. For all that she looked a million dollars.
Wednesday 27th July
At 9 am we left Baltic Bay in good time for the Kiel lock, it was to be a simple journey of three miles followed by early entry into the Canal. Our plans did not go well. We had to wait four boring hours to lock-in so we did not get through until 2.15. We made reasonable time to the Riverside Marina at Rensburg, but got caught in a massive rainstorm in the last two miles. Visibility was down to feet.
Thank God for chart plotters.
Thursday 28th July
We left the box mooring at Riverside Marina and continued our Kiel canal experience. Large ocean going containerships and tankers overtake within 20 feet which can be very disconcerting. They surge past at the canal speed limit of 8 knots robbing you of half your boat speed and leave you swaying and floundering in their surging wash. The strange thing is that the 40 foot motor cruiser, so loved by the Dutch, seem to be able create a choppy wash as disruptive as the big ships. The ships often have to stop at wider passing places in the canal, so you overtake them and they overtake you again.
The canal in many ways is beautiful. It was built at a time of high military buildup during the late eighteen hundreds. It has been modified and widened over the years and now looks more like a wide river lined with mature woodland. A pleasant place to cruise. The canal is about 99 kilometres long, with distance markers every kilometre rather like mile stones. One kilometres at 5 knots took 6.5 minutes which gave e.t.a. of 4.15 pm at Yachthafen Brunsbuttel which proved more or less correct. It also gave us time to get settled before the rush and crush began.
The Yachthafen is a basic pontoon layout alongside the main lock gates and every time a ship exits the lock a surge of water comes through the marina. As most boats are rafted to four or six deep, the squeak of fender on hull can get very loud. At €8 a night and no other marina for 35 kilometres options are limited. The one saving grace it does give you a good start through the lock into the Elbe the next morning.
Friday 29th July
We queued for the lock and finally locked out at 11.00am. The strong tide began to pull us down the Elbe towards Cuxhaven at almost 8 knots and in under two and a half hours the chart plotter buzzed to tell us we had reached the way point to go into Segler-Vereninigung Cuxhaven. The day had started cloudy, but warm. Now it just rained, so we retired below to eat schnitzel, drink beer and plan our next day.
Saturday 30th July
The plan was to leave Cuxhaven on the ebb that ran at 2 to 3 Knots and strike out from the Elbe estuary for Spiekeroog on a route north of the islands, calculated to give us enough tide to help us around the western end into the marina. Well, the plan should have worked, the one flaw was the 13 knots headwind which slowed us down to a point where we ran out of tidal help. A days sailing that should have taken no more than 6 hours took 12, which meant we arrived at Spiekeroog at midnight and in pitch darkness. My large torch, I had converted to LED as an improvement, failed completely leaving us with a mini hand torch to spot the withies on the half mile final approach. It gave so little light we succeeded in running two of them down, but eventually got up to the marina, which was also in pitch darkness. Luckily a fellow yachtsman, who had been watching our efforts for some time appeared from one of the moored boat, took our lines and helped us moor up.
High stress! Not a day we wish to repeat. Relieved to be safely in port.
Brian made one of his chicken curries.
Sunday 31st July
When sailing you are so often governed by the tide to get up or down estuaries or over shallows and destinations tend to governed by this this. I thought we might be able to visit new places on our return journey, but despite careful planning we are starting our journey home in more or less the reverse order we came out in. New places will have to wait until we get into the canals.
In the next few days we need to reach Delfzijl to get into the Dutch canal system. Delfzijl is on the Ems river with a ferocious tide, so rather than battle the tide we need to get to Balkom, from where we can take a tide of our choosing to carry us up the estuary.
With a good nights sleep after our midnight capers we left Spiekeroog for Balkom, which is too far to go in one day, so we planned a stop-over in Northerney. We motorsailed most of the way around the outside of the islands and took the inner gat around the end of Northerney into the marina. It was completely packed and we found ourselves rafted up with one of the few British boats we have met on our trip. A pleasant couple sailing a Westerly Fulmar from the Marconi Sailing Club on the River Blackwater, who were also fellow member of The Cruising Association.
Monday 1st August
After our stop-over we continued our journey to Balkom using the inner routes with withie marked channels. We had only one island to hop, Juist, and all went well until a mile from our destination we ran out of water. The withie channel seemed badly marked. We ran aground on the soft sand several times and had to anchor and wait for over three hours for the tide, all of which made us late getting into Balkom. We chose the sailing club moorings in Balkom harbour we had stayed at before, but our Frank Zapper look-a-like Haven Master was not at his bar, it was shut, so we took the only vacant pontoon we could find.
Tuesday 2nd August
Herr Zapper said the empty slot we had taken was OK, so we decided to stay a second day to fill up on diesel, water and buy groceries. Unlike the last time we were here we could now buy fisherman’s diesel for cash. Reviewing stores, all we really needed was bread and with the supermarket being a bike ride away Mrs Zapper kindly gave us a pack of par cooked bread muffins to keep us going. As we have not eaten out that often we treated ourselves to a posh meal at the Henry Harbour Restaurant and took pencil and paper with us to sort out tides and times to leave for Delfzijl. It would have to be 7.00 pm to get the best of the tide. When we got back two yachts had arrived and rafted on the outside of us, which would cause a time delay in the morning.
Grrrrrrrr……hate being the inshore boat on a raft!
Wednesday 3rd August
We were up and ready to go at 6.45pm and I knocked up the rafted boat owners to untangle the mooning lines and their cats cradle of adapters and shore power cables. We slipped out of the harbour on time into quite a blow. With 23 knots of wind and with the tide in our favour we beat up the Ems estuary at a steady 6.5 knots on self tacking jib alone.
With the three tacks across the river to correct course, we were rounding the green entry buoy into Delfzijl harbour within three hours. Compared to the Delfsail Festival days when we had last been there, the place was deserted and we were the only boat in the lock to enter the canal. By 12.15 we were on our way to Groningenl. We now realise when we had first came this way, we were tangled up in the festival traffic and like the harbour the canal was deserted. Now old hands at canals we bowled along the Eemskanaal with very little problem until we reached Groningen.
Here the canal circles the town and has over 10 bridges to be opened to allow us through with mast up. We had to wait until 5.30 until the man on his bike went before us opening them individually by hand. Finally we turned into Reitdiep Marina we had used earlier on in our trip. A mooring was unoccupied near the Harbourmaster”s office bringing us within range of the marina modem, which means the WiFi actually worked. At the harbour masters shop I bought a book of the mast-up routes through the Netherland’s canals we needed to plan our route to Amsterdam.
Thurday 4th August
We had a late start which became even later when we found the canal bridge control shuts down between 12.00 and 1.00. We ultimately got a far as Haven Hunzegat near Zootkamp, but it was not a good days run and it was not that interesting as it was over ground we had already covered. The marina was cheap and scruffy, but not a bad stop-over. We dined on a kilo pack of Bami Goreng, noodles with bits of ham, mushrooms and pepper. Its very popular here and the two portion pack could have fed four. No wonder the Dutch are so tall if they are eating double portions of everything.
Friday 5th August
Bidding farewell to Haven Hunzegat we struck out early crossing the bottom Vaarwater into Dokkumer canal, all new territory. The first town we reached was Dokkum where you had to pay €5 to get through the towns bridges. This was collected by a clog on the end of a make-shift fishing rod. You put in €5 and continued on through the opened bridge. The next major town was Leeuwarden and it was €7 in the clog. This town had a well organised night-stop passing through a park of mature trees with mooring bollards and power points on the bank. You have to choose a spot where your mast does not tangle in the overhanging trees.
We got it wrong on the first attempt and only noticed the mast was in the trees when a shower of leaves rained down on the spray hood. We also thought the €7 covered mooring fee, but were soon told otherwise by the Mr Shirty Mooring Inspector. I had to pay by credit card at an incomprehensible machine which even with the help of the ferryman who spoke good English, did on the sixth attempt, printed me off a ticket. I hope I have not payed six times.
Saturday 6th August
The next destination was to be Lemmer. It was 49 kilometres, but you have to be philosophical about traveling on Dutch inland water, their are so many hold-ups at locks and bridges ranging from 10 minutes to three hours. We set off in good spirits counting off the towns. Hempens, Wergea, Grou, and then into the Sneekersmeer. This was a sizeable area of water and being a holiday month and a Saturday it was like Cowes week. Such is the Dutch passion for any thing boat, thousands were out racing or just sailing, dingy to keel boat plus hire picnic boats. The meer has a buoyed channel as a continuation of the canal. Through this sailing mayhem came the normal commercial traffic of container barges, small oil tankers, cabin cruisers and others like us, mast-up routers. One container barge that passed us, with the crew’s three cars parked on the back, proudly declared itself to be 100 metres long.
We continued on in the Prinses Margriet Kanaal and reached Lemmer by late afternoon. It was our best days canal run so far, and we pulled into Jachthaven Iselmar for the night.
Sunday 7th August
Our next step would be to set off into a large artificial brackish tideless sea called the IJsselmeer and similar lower area called the Markermeer. Crossing both of these would get us to Amsterdam in one jump, but if not, the lock between the two is at Leystad, a place neither of us had been to before and would make a good stop-over. This open water is notorious for creating an unpleasant short chop in high winds, which is exactly what we woke up to. Winds gusting to 20 knots that would have given us a head wind and probably s.o.g. of less than 3 knots. No go today.
We took a walk into Lemmer old town and we were pleasantly surprised. It is very quaint, highly restored and some what gentrified. The canal is very narrow curving down towards the old granite lock, either side are street cafes, bistros and smart shops. On each bank of the canal were very large expensive motor yachts rafted two deep, amongst them the odd highly restored classic. A lot of conspicuous wealth here and it seemed to be the place to be seen.
Brian and I sat in a street cafe, ate fish and chips, drank beer and boat watched for a couple of hours. Further entertainment was supplied by a three piece traditional jazz band that sauntered up and down each side of the canal. The drummer played a snare drum and towed a trolley speaker that bashed out a bass line mix tape, while his two companions played banjo and trumpet, between times singing through a P.A.horn. Amazingly it worked very well. Live music Lives
Monday 8th August
Still high winds in the wrong direction. You now begin to realise why the Dutch boats are so large. A big engine and a longer waterline length would have no problem with this
stuff. We will wait another day….
Tuesday 9th August
At last winds we could sail to Leystad with. We left Jachthaven Iselmar, paid €5 into the clog at the first bridge and milled about for half an hour at the lock before we finally escaped into the IJsselmeer. The sail to Leystad started gently giving us about 3 knots, but after an hour the wind had built up to 15 knots gusting 21 knots, but it was all in the right direction. We barrelled along at 7 knots for most of the way down to the lock between the IJsselmeer and the Markermeer. The two meers are divided by the 13 mile long Houtribdijk, topped by a motorway. It seems barely wide enough to take it .
I radioed for the lock situation and got back the reply “Soon! Port side”. Time passed and “Soon” appeared to mean “eventually’, so we moored to a siding with a Dutch Scow. The crew told us it could be any thing up to three hour wait, but almost immediately we both got the green light to enter the lock. Pilgrim and the Scow sat port side at the far end, looking very small in the massive lock when a huge barge at least 200ft long began to slowly enter, filling the space that was left. It came nearer and nearer we were all thinking how will this thing stop. Suddenly boiling water showed a bow reversing thruster had started, then side thrusters came into play and the goliath moored to the quay.
Leaving the lock we motored the half mile to Bataviahaven, Leystad. We were back into slick marina territory. Smart offices with an even smarter glossy English welcome brochure and pay for everything, even hose water on the pontoon.There were three Dutch tall ships permanently moored there. Very decorative.
Wednesday 10th August
It was 22 miles over Markermeer to Amsterdam. Wind not such a good direction as yesterday so we motor sailed on jib. 14 knots of wind gave us a steady 5 knots over a short choppy sea. We did it in 4 hours to the harbour approaches, after which we had the normal bridge and lock holdups.
We chose Sixhaven marina in the middle of Amsterdam because it is so central, but its main drawback it gets crowded. On this occasion it was overcrowded to a point of lunacy. When every mooring was taken boats still poured in, with the mooring master directing boats to fill every available corner, until you could have walked across the marina on rafted boats. Organised chaos!
Thursday 11th August
The consequences of so many boats rafted up, was it took until 10.00am to clear those who wanted to leave and to reshuffle those who were to stay into new positions. We finally left to see Amsterdam very late at 11.00 am.
First we went to see EYE. This is an extraordinary iconic building which is the Netherlands Film Museum. Everything is free except watching complete films in one of three screens. Excellent! Well worth a visit and also worth a look on the web.
Something I have ways wanted to see was the Van Gogh Museum, but the queue was three hours to buy tickets. Next was the National (Rijks) Museum which offered a shorter queue, but closed at 5.00pm leaving little viewing time. We had started late and had not realised the difficulty of buying tickets, so not a very successful day.
Tuesday 16th August
Today is the day we should reach the Medway, but the tides are not at convenient times. We need a tide to take us down the East Coast and a tide to take us up the Medway and home. This would mean leaving early morning in darkness or leaving later and arriving in darkness. Neither option fitted our style of gentlemen’s cruising, so we left late afternoon to see how things went. Maybe we could reach Queenborough?
It was warm and sunny. We had a cracking sail down the coast with a constant 5 plus knots out of the reefed main, but time was getting on. As the sun began to dip to the horizon, we turned into the Blackwater for a stop-over at Bradwell. Brian sang the praises of the Green Man pub, so we walked down to the village to re-acquaint ourselves with English real ale. The ale was good, but the food was basic and over priced.
Wednesday 17th August
Today is the day we must really really reach the Medway. It was warm and sunny. We left Bradwell at three in the afternoon to get the best tidal advantage and even so had to motor sail virtually the whole way. As we crossed the Thames estuary the light was slipping away and as as we reached the Medway at Folly Point, the sun finally set. This left us to motor the final 8 miles up to the sailing club. Despite all our efforts we had broken rule #1 of ‘Gentlemen’s Cruising” and arrived in darkness a little after midnight.
The end of a great trip. The adventure was finally over.