Tracing my roots

Some of my (Tom’s) ancestors come from Marstal, a shipbuilding town on the small Danish island of Ærø.  This happened to be our first port of call in Denmark too, so it was very exciting to visit.

After the sea finally arrived back in the Kieler fiord (see previous posts) we refloated and were able to leave and sail up to Denmark.  To begin with we were very wary of shipping traffic because of the Kiel canal entrance and the nearby Traffic Separation Scheme, but in fact we saw very few ships.  After negotiating the TSS we passed three ships at anchor near Kiel lighthouse and then we set off away from the shipping lanes directly to the Danish islands.

We had a great sail in nice conditions, though gradually the wind strengthened and some rain showers came through.  We made it safely into the large harbour at Marstal, very sheltered behind a long boulder breakwater built mostly by local volunteers in the 1800s.

Once moored up, Catherine and Skip sheltered below from the rain while Tom explored the town.  Initial findings:

  • Public barbeques next to the marina pontoons, so that you can grill the fish you have just caught.  These are a common feature of Danish harbours.
  • Large shelters next to the marina pontoons, with barbeques under them.  So that you can grill the fish you have just caught without getting rained on.
  • A sea-kayak club and a rowing club.  Also both common features in Danish harbours.
  • A large maritime museum.
  • A small but nice town with narrow streets, pretty buildings and lots of hollyhocks.
  • Several shops selling stylish Scandinavian homewares.

Aground Again

We are currently in a small harbour near Kiel and are firmly aground.

We moored in this harbour two days ago to sit out a low pressure system with associated strong winds.  We had a relaxing day yesterday visiting a WW2 U-boat nearby, and when the strong winds arrived last night as forecast we were snug and smug inside the harbour.

While there are no significant tides in the Baltic, the water level does change as a result of the wind.  When we moored there was more than a foot of water below us, but when we awoke this morning the sea had dropped more than 2 feet.  The gale has blown all the water over to another part of the Baltic.

We have deployed some extra lines to try and stop Lizzie falling over, and hopefully the sea will reappear soon.  We are definitely stuck here until it does.

Through the Kiel Canal

The Kiel Canal saves a very long trip around the top of Denmark.  It is used by lots of commercial shipping, but yachts are allowed to use it too, for a bargain price of €12.

It is 97km long, and took us about 12 hours over two days.

While it did save us a lot of sailing, the relentless heat and monotonous motoring made it a bit of a gruelling two days.  Luckily Catherine was less grumpy about it than me and did a lot of the steering.

Passing ships provided interest, and our dwindling fuel supply provided some tension to the first day, though as it turned out we had plenty to reach our overnight stop at Rendsburg.

Finally we reached the locks at the far end, and after waiting a couple of hours for some ships to go through we  were allowed to lock through into the Baltic.  The lock was massive (the small ones normally used for yachts are being mended) and we shared it with a small container ship and about ten other yachts.

We locked out into the Kieler Fiord and sailed the two miles up to the city of Kiel.  It was so nice to be sailing again, with the motor off, and for once the wind was not against us!  To complete a great sail, Catherine made a very neat job of mooring us up into a box berth.

A holiday on Spiekeroog

Lizzie in the mud in Spiekeroog harbour.

Apart from running aground briefly, our trip along the inside of the German Friesian islands was very successful.

We left Borkum on Sunday evening and crossed a watershed on each of the next four high tides.  After each one we anchored out of the channel, sheltered by all the sandbanks that the falling tide left dry.  Luckily all the high tides were in daylight so no night navigation was required (the withies are not lit, though they do have reflective tape on).

We even managed to cross two watersheds in one tide, making a total of five, behind the islands of Borkum, Juist, Norderney, Baltrum and Langeoog, and we reached Spiekeroog harbour on Tuesday morning.

We were now only 25 miles from the entrance to the Elbe river, and were nearing the end of the islands. The entrance to the Elbe is notoriously rough so we decided to stay in Spiekeroog and await benign weather conditions.

The next few days were all strong Easterly winds (as usual for this summer), so we just chilled out on the boat in the harbour and explored the island.

The harbour dries out at low tide, but the bottom is very soft mud so the boats just stand up in it.



On Wednesday we were weather-bound in Lauwersoog.  Catherine took the bus into Groningen for the day, leaving Skip and I to work on the boat.

One of the jobs which I didn’t have time for before we left Ipswich was to replace the fuseboard and add some more switches.

The old wiring had accumulated over 40 years and we had added to it, meaning that it had some annoying quirks. For example, we had to switch on the compass light in order to use the depth-sounder, and there was no way to turn off the AIS receiver other than switching off everything at the main isolator.

Spaghetti behind the old fuse panel. It still looks quite like this.

It took all day to unwire the old panel and wire up the replacement.  It was a fun day’s work except towards the end when I got annoyed at only having the type of soldering iron that you heat up in a fire (in our case on the gas hob).

Lizzie’s low tech soldering iron.

By the time we left for Borkum at 5am the next day, almost everything worked again.  Except the autohelm and the chart plotter, but I had Catherine to steer and we use the Android tablet instead of the chart plotter at the moment.

Since arriving in Borkum I have got those two things working and fixed a couple of other niggles.

New switch panel and volt/ammeter. Awaiting better labels, and I had better fill in the hole soon or Catherine will tell me off.


We have met two interesting singlehanded sailors so far in this trip, both of them Dutchmen.

The first was in Lowestoft, and was on his way north to Norway by a much more direct route than us.  He had a relatively modern (1990s?) boat and had made lots of interesting modifications himself, including installing a Torqueedo electric outboard, a movable solar panel, Dyneema rigging and a self-designed carbon fibre wind-vane steering gear.  Everything had to be lightweight.  We have occasionally checked his progress via AIS since, and he has successfully reached Norway now.

The second was in IJmuiden and was sailing a Contessa 26, the same model as our boat.  In fact, his boat was the most similar one to Lizzie which we have ever seen, with almost identical  layout and joinery in the cabin.  He had done a lot of refurbishment himself and it looked beautiful.

He was sailing in company with his parents who were sailing a Contessa 32.  His dad was a massive Contessa fan and this had obviously rubbed off on the son.  He claimed the boat was really easy to singlehand, even with a spinnaker, but he got his first boat aged 4 and was now in his mid 20s so has probably had more practice than us.

He had a wind vane steering system which was very similar to the one I’m halfway through building, and I got some good ideas for simplifying the design.

He was flying a large pennant on the backstay with a single large spot on it. Apparently this is the standard signal denoting a solo sailor, and sometimes means the lock-keepers are sympathetic.

Here is a rubbish photo of a similar pennant on another boat which I saw more recently:

Wind Power

We are currently moored in Borkum harbour beneath two onshore wind turbines, each rated at 1.8MW.  They are probably generating that now and are  audible, but not too annoying.

To Germany!

We motored all the way from Lauwersoog to Borkum in light winds.

We had been waiting for a weather window for a couple of days, but the wind was stuck in the northeast, exactly the direction we wanted to go. This meant that not only would we have to tack, but that the wind would be against any tidal streams that we used to help our progress. Wind against the tide kicks up waves, which are uncomfortable and slow us down as we had discovered in our last attempt.

There was a short period when the wind went westerly, but it was very strong and gusty so we decided to stay in port.

The best we could find was a brief window when the wind was really light, so wouldn’t affect us much. We don’t normally plan to rely on the motor but were fed up with waiting around so decided to go.

We left at 4:45am to catch the tide, and saw a lovely calm sunrise as we were heading out along the fairway behind the islands.

We were able to motor faster than expected so were early for the tidal stream along the coast, but after pushing against the last of the ebb for a couple of hours we gradually speeded up as the flood started.  By the time we were in the Huibertsgat channel near the entrance to the river Ems we had over 2 knots of tide with us.

The sea was fairly flat, with just some swells to make us roll sometimes. Sadly I’d not reconnected the autopilot yet after rewriting the fuse board so we (mostly Catherine) had to hand steer the whole way.

We arrived at Borkum harbour several hours ahead of our tidal deadline of 1730, which was good because after we arrived the wind picked up – from the northeast of course.

North Sea video

A bit late, but here is a short video clip that Catherine recorded a few hours into our North Sea crossing a few weeks ago.