“You’re not leaving tonight are you? – In the dark?!” the German sailors on the neighbouring catamaran were politely incredulous of our intentions, but we checked the chart again -the critical buoy on the bar was lit, as was the fairway, although there were quite a few others that weren’t. As Tom pointed out we should have at least 2m of water even if we didn’t manage to find the deepest section of channel. We’d been on Spiekeroog island for 6 days already avoiding days with no wind or those with strong winds from the east and were itching to get going. The forecast was a gentle force 3-4 southerly and it was a full moon, so we set the alarm for 1.30am(!) and at 2am we were motoring out of the harbour using a torch to spot the withies along the channel. For once a cloudy sky masked the moonlight, and needless to say the critical bar buoy was with missing or unlit, we never saw a sign of it despite both of us peering out into the dark for an hour as we negotiated the seagat. Still what might have been a serious stumbling block for other sailors was only a minor irritation to Tom – navigator supremo. I steered whilst he shouted compass bearings, checked the depths and told me where in the darkness to expect the shadows of buoys. Afterwards, when I was celebrating what seemed like an amazing feat at passing the bar unscathed he grumbled that it was cheating really to have to use a GPS. Only Tom would have such scruples!
There had been little sign up to then of our forecast wind, but a gentle breeze from the south picked up and, eager to conserve fuel, we switched the engine off and sailed gently towards the dawn. Even at 3.30am the sky was lightening in the east and it felt like one of those rare occasions when the sea is happy for you to be there. We hadn’t been able to re-fuel in Spiekeroog as they have no cars on the island, hence no fuel. We had about just over half a tank (~ 7litres) but we knew that wouldn’t get us all the way to the Elbe, our` destination and we’d deliberated long and hard over the forecasts to try and make sure we could sail most of the trip, so it was maddening to watch our gentle breeze die to nothing by morning! With a tidal gate to meet and no alternative, we switched the engine on again, taking agonizing glances at the fuel tank guage every hour or so. How we wished we’d bought a bigger fuel tank in the UK!!
We made it to the entrance of the Elbe river as the tide turned in our favour, but we had another 25M to go to the first port, Cuxhaven. We were glad of the spring tide sweeping us in, but even so we needed to maintain steerage way. As it turned out we were saved by an easterly wind (exactly the forecast we’d been avoiding) which began to blow out of the mouth of the river, exactly on the nose, but we could at least now sail. We turned the motor off and tacked in for the next 4 hours enjoying the sail, and feeling very relieved. The wind began to die again but we were only a couple of miles from Cuxhaven and now had 3-4 knots of tide sweeping us in. We moored up in Cuxhaven marina -had a celebratory lemonade, and quickly went in search of a petrol station.