Every once in a while, the sea gods smile on us and from Langeoog to Borkum we had that rare thing, a perfect day’s sailing – lovely breeze, calm flat sea and plenty of sunshine. In short; a delight. We ripped along at 4-5 knots, made the Wester Ems fairway buoy in idea time, just as the tide was turning to sweep us up the estuary towards Borkum, and even the entrance to Borkum harbour was relatively calm (the harbour channel runs perpendicular to the main estuary and the cross tides usually cause havoc with each other).
The normal marina in Burkana haven was full when we arrived at 11pm, but we moored very happily at the alternative establishment on the large jettys in the north of the basin, by the wind turbine transfer boats.
Not wanting to push our luck (and mindful of the forecast for westerlies coming) we grabbed a few hours sleep and then set off again, this time for Delfzijl, further up the estuary on the Dutch side. There we could lock into the canal system and take the standing mast route through to Harlingen in 3 days or so.
From Cuxhaven most larger yachts head straight to either Nordeney or Borkum, missing out the smaller Frisian islands, but it wasn’t a particularly windy day and with Lizzie struggling to maintain more than 3 knots the closer island of of Spiekeroog was a more achievable target for us before the tide turned. It was also our favourite of all the islands that we visited last year – very much less developed that it’s western neighbours, no cars and the best ice cream shop. Enough said.
It was with the promise of such delights that at 9pm we approached the fairway of the seagat, only to find, well… nothing! The channels through the sandbanks of the seagats are known to shift, but usually only the section over the bar itself, and we had a chart update from March so we hadn’t expected the fairway buoy itself to have moved. Time was of the essence as we didn’t want to be sniffing around close inshore to the banks without lit buoys when it got dark – in about 45 minutes time. Staying further off rather than risking the shallows we sailed an experimental course to the west, on the hypothesis that the channel might have moved back to an old postion shown on last year’s charts. The gamble paid off – though it was almost 10pm by the time we arrived at the fairway (several miles from it’s charted position) and the remaining buoys were unlit, so Tom took some hasty bearings to all of the red/green gates we could sea and we turned and raced in with the tide leaving us just off the harbour approch channel by the time proper darkness fell. This is a narrow mile long dredged channel, marked only with withies, but these have very effective reflective red and green tape on, so a quick flash of a torch is all that’s needed to keep on course.
The harbour itself was a lot less busy in June than it had been in late July last year, and we easily found a berth where Lizzie would sink happily into the soft mud at low water. We spent a couple of days enjoying Spiekeroog before heading west again, this time inside the island of Langeoog across the drying sands.
After a relatively smooth transition from Baltic to Canal at the eastern end of the Kiel Ship Canal, the drama quota was provided in full at the western end where we locked down from Brunsbuttel into the infamous river Elbe in a fresh southerly wind. Wind over tide whipped up a nasty sea in the lock approaches and it was touch and go (and very wet) for a moment or two before crossing to the more sheltered side of the channel, where the waves were a bit smaller and more manageable.
On the plus side with over 3 knots of tide swooshing us down river it was a quick trip to Cuxhaven. And when we got there we could bail out the errant north sea that had made it’s way onboard. It had even pentrated one of the cabin top vents over the galley with the result that my stock cubes were now extra salty… oh well – worse things happen at sea?
We’re currently moored up on the pontoons next to the big container ship locks at Holtenau, waiting for morning to lock into the Kiel Canal and travel through from the Baltic back to the north sea.
Bit of a mixed trip here, we left Ærø in force 6 winds and had a hard time getting out of the harbour with the waves, yet by the time we got to Kiel tonight it was flat calm and sunny with hardly a breath of wind. In between we had some fast sailing (good) some bumpy waves (expected) and a lot of fog (less good!) Tom’s electronics wizardry paid off as our new AIS was brilliant showing us where all the massive ships we couldn’t see were. Usual number of British warships on firing exercises around Kiel. The sea here must be better to shoot at…
On Sunday we had a cracking first sail of the year from the boatyard in Augustenbørg to Søby on the island of Ærø. It was sunny and lots of wind for the first half of the day so Lizzie barrelled along:
In Søby the harbour was very nice with great facilities as usual but to cap it all the island has a brand new 4MW fully electric ferry!!
Check out the charger:
Tom and I have a month off work (yep we are very jammy) and so we have come back out to our boat Lizzie in Denmark with the aim of sailing her back towards the UK. We left her snug in a shed in Augustenborg over the winter, and the trip back out here – entirely by public transport – was quite an adventure in itself.
Glossop – London – Amsterdam – Flensburg – Sønderborg – boat took 3 days, and thanks to the incredible Deutsche Bahn rail app which gives you live updates on all the connections you are definitely going to miss, we only arrived a few hours late, despite lightning strikes, points failures and a major incident which closed all the railway lines into Denmark. Still the journey wasn’t without high points and it was particularly reassuring to know that sailors aren’t the only ones to suffer from navigational errors; on the approaches to Hamburg station our train went the wrong way out of a set of points and we appeared set to bypass the station all together until the driver presumably noticed the error and reversed!
The second, more genuine positive was a very pleasant stopover in Amsterdam, where we stayed in the brilliant volkshotel again, who upgraded us to one of their themed rooms – this one had a projector and massive screen so that you could watch films in bed – or even from the bath? (It was a great bath) I suspect some of the benefit was lost on us, we watched a documentary on the Barkley marathons and then fell asleep.
Now we’re here we’ve been doing a few jobs – rigging our brand new headsail, installing a new AIS unit and filling up with food, fuel and water before we can set off.
Because we had Skip with us, we couldn’t just fly home to the UK like normal people. Instead we had a three-day, twelve-stage epic public-transport journey through four countries. I guess going overland and by ferry might have been greener than flying?
The Night Before
Lizzie was out of the water, in a cradle in the yard, ready to go into the shed for the winter. The mast was off and all the sails had been dried and packed away. We had a long evening of cleaning, sorting and packing and were pretty knackered when we eventually made it to bed.
Day One (two buses, three trains and a metro)
We got up early, walked the dog and left the boat at 0730, ready to catch a bus at 0800. We had to transport a load of power tools home as well as all our clothes, so we had a heavy holdall each, some other smaller bags, and the dog.
The first bus took us to Sonderborg. While waiting for the next bus, Skip and I went and bought some brownies from a bakery that Catherine had spotted on an earlier visit. The next bus journey was longer, a couple hours to Flensburg which is just over the border into Germany.
Here we had to lug our stuff a mile and a bit from the bus station to the train station. Luckily we had plenty of time so stopped for a rest in a park. Skip was full of energy, so we disobeyed the “dogs on leads” sign and found a quiet corner where I could throw the ball for him.
We got a train to Hamburg, then another to Osnabruck (wherever that is) and finally another one to Amsterdam. The first train was fine, but the second sat in the station for 45 minutes before leaving due to a “technical problem”. This meant we missed the third train, and we thought we might be stuck in Osnabruck for the night, but another train to Amsterdam eventually appeared on the departure board.
At this point we were very glad that we had decided to break the journey in Amsterdam rather than trying to get the ferry that night, which should in theory have been possible.
On this train we got charged €40 for the dog! We had pre-booked our tickets, and knew that technically we needed a child’s ticket for Skip, but when we tried to book his ticket it asked us how old the child was. Should we enter his age in dog years or something? We researched online and found that most people don’t bother with tickets for their dogs, and that you have to be unlucky to get questioned about it. We got away with it on the first two trains, but the German ticket inspector on the third train was a fierce woman who demanded payment, so we paid up immediately. Once the same train passed into the Netherlands the Dutch inspector was a lot more cheerful, and didn’t ask to see Skip’s ticket.
Arriving in Amsterdam at about 9pm, we dumped our heavy bags at the left-luggage lockers and took the metro out to Wibautstraat. For once I was able to obey the “dogs must be carried on escalators” sign. As usual Skip was amazingly unfazed by everything and really enthusiastic about boarding any form of public transport for some reason!
The Volkshotel was really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in our sailing trip, and Skip managed to charm everyone as usual. We each had a long shower (very luxurious after the standard four minutes you get in a marina) and then had a relaxing evening in the hotel bar. Another time we might have tried the rooftop hot-tubs, which did look good!
Day Two (a walk, a bus and half a ferry)
Free of our heavy bags, we had a really nice morning ambling back in to the centre of Amsterdam via various parks and gardens. By 2pm we had retrieved our burdens and were waiting for the DFDS bus out to the ferry port at IJmuiden. Having seen the weather forecast, Catherine nipped to the nearby chemist and invested in some sea-sickness tablets.
Gradually other passengers accumulated around us, for some reason pushing right up against us despite the acres of space. I still don’t quite know how they did it, but somehow we were gradually displaced from our bench and despite being the first people at the bus stop we found ourselves in a heap on the floor, pressed in on all sides by people and luggage.
Eventually a bus showed up. My expectations of a nice orderly English queue were also shattered as a crowd of elderly Brits elbowed us and each other out of the way in their rush to be first on the bus. A young mother, standing with her pushchair as the grannies jostled past, sighed and pointed out that this was just the first bus of many, and that the ferry didn’t leave for hours yet…
We had sailed through Ijmuiden to Amsterdam several months before, so it was interesting to see the same sights from the road. At the ferry port, having the dog allowed us to bypass the check-in queues (take that, rude grannies) and we excitedly boarded the ferry and deposited Skip in his kennel.
Catherine had promised that our ferry cabin TV would have a special channel allowing us to watch Skip and the other kennel inmates, but disappointingly our cabin didn’t even have a TV. There was, however, a great view of the port of IJmuiden from the deck of the ferry and we spent ages looking at the various interesting ships and gas platforms that were scattered around the harbour. Eventually the ferry set off, and as the motion didn’t seem too bad we headed to the canteen for our pre-booked “all you can eat buffet”.
The food wasn’t too bad, but annoyingly they tried to pull what is known in the trade as “a Ryanair”: although the price we’d paid included “all you can eat” it didn’t include any drinks at all, not even tap water. A sealed bottle of still water sat on the table to tempt us, but it was labelled “€6.50” so we refused to give in and tried to eat our money’s worth of salty food without any drink.
As the evening progressed the waves got quite large, and the captain announced that we would be heading West across to the UK and then up the UK coast, rather than heading in a straight line to Newcastle. The waves splashed over the boat in an impressive way, and they closed the outside decks at the front of the boat, but the motion was pretty benign compared to anything we’d had on Lizzie and we had no problem sleeping!
Day Three (more ferry, a bus and three trains)
We arrived in Newcastle and retrieved the dog from the kennels. He seemed pleased to see us, and relieved to have a pee ashore, but not unduly stressed by the ferry ride.
We got the bus to Newcastle train station, worrying because we knew we were too late for our pre-booked train. Catherine had booked the train using the official app, but a bug in the app had showed her the trains in Danish time for some reason! She had told the app to book an 11:15 train, but the ticket arrived saying 10:15. Luckily it turned out that the 10:15 train was cancelled anyway, so we were able to catch other trains, with an extra change to cope with the usual UK rail disruption, and eventually arrived back in Glossop.
We had decided to leave Lizzie in Denmark over the winter, to give us the option of more baltic sailing another year. After reading lots of good things about Augustenborg Yacht Harbour from the Cruising Association (who have a brilliant Baltic Layup Directory), we contacted Anders to reserve a spot in one of his sheds.
Now we were finally here we had a busy time getting everything dry and ready to go into winter storage. The mast had to come off, and so the boom and all sails had to be stored below decks. The sun finally came out for the last day so Lizzie went into her shed lovely and dry. Anders and the rest of the boatyard staff were all very jolly and amazingly efficient – we had to head off early the next morning after she was lifted out, but they kindly sent us a picture of “Lizzie in the house” as they termed it(!):
At least it was sunny, eh? The wind was pretty fresh – we’d got our smaller (#3) genoa hoisted, and were beating southwards, but we were only an hour out of Assens harbour when I head the grating rip of sail cloth and saw the clew of the genoa ripping away. Tom rushed to furl it up before any further damage occured, but it looked like it was a simple case of old age, the sail cloth itself was worn through. Without any foresail Lizzie can’t sail to windward, so we had the choice between hoisting the big #1 genoa – much too large for these conditions – or our storm sail. We’d only ever used practised using the storm sail once before when we first bought Lizzie 4 years ago, and it hanks on with large loops over a furled genoa, and an annoying shackle at the base that we’ve now vowed to change to a snap!
We carried on tacking, impressed at how well balanced the boat was with such a tiny foresail and full main, but our speed was significantly slower than before. It was going to be a long day… The main struggle was with the waves: short and steep, they stopped lizzie dead every minute or so. It was impossible to know whether to risk the big genoa to give us more power. In the end, infuriated by the slow progress and uncomfortable motion we lowered the storm jib, and then in a complicated manoeuvre which involved unfurling and lowering the damaged sail we swapped the #3 for the #1 on the roller furler. All pretty wet work for Tom on the foredeck whilst we plunged and rolled around on the sea 🙁
We were aiming for Als Fjord – about 25 miles to the southwest, specifically Augustenborg at the far end where we were planning to leave Lizzie for the winter, so this was our last big trip. We had already decided to stop at the northern end of the fjord at a sheltered anchorage called Dyvig. It was only a day sail from Assens, but we’s begun to wonder if we’d get there in the daylight. The entrance to Dyvig is unlit and very narrow, so we made sure there was a back up option if we arrived after dark, but with more sail hoisted we made much better progress, and managed to work the wind shifts and currents well to make headway into the wind. A few squalls as evening came had us reefing both the main and the genoa, but we made it through them intact (just very wet) and turned into the blissful calm of Als Fjord. What a contrast from outside!
We were able to bear away and reach down the fjord as far as Dyvig – the entrance to which proved to be the highlight of the day – a tiny channel (maybe 10m wide) through into a peaceful lagoon beyond where we gratefully dropped anchor – all under sail with no need for the motor. We were very grateful for the shelter as the wind gusted strongly all the next day. Lizzie was very snug so we inflated the kayak and went for a paddle around the lagoon and a nice walk to the nearest town to stock up.
The following day was calmer and we sailed our last leg of the summer down the fjord. About half way down the fjord divides into the famous Als Sound to Sonderborg, and Augustenborg Fiord, where we were bound. It was a beautifully sunny day and a nice relaxing sail until a last minute panic by Tom marred the final approach into Augustenborg harbour!
We tied up safely in our last box-berth of the summer and could finally relax… except we had just a couple of days to clean and dry everything ready for winter storage, dismantle the boat ready to go into a shed, and pack all our belongings ready for an epic three-day public transport journey back to the UK.