Holiday in Helsingør

It’s blowing a gale outside as I write this, and the mooring lines are creaking ominously – August bank holiday weather is cleary ubiquitous even in Denmark –  but we have been lucky in our harbour of refuge:  Helsingør is probably the most interesting Danish town we’ve visited.

The castle makes a spectacular backdrop to the harbour, which is a great mix of fishing boats, and assorted yachts, with friendly owners all keen to know how such a small boat from England ended up among them!   In the evening, the big town quay hosts an enthusiastic fishing contingent – some with more success than others – one guy catching something silvery and fishy about half a metre long that looked like it would feed a large family. Another painstakingly reeled in and landed a piece of seaweed, much to everyone’s amusement…  Tom had a go, though to be honest I was fairly relieved at not having to cook anything odd that he might have dragged from the depths!

Another bonus is the very impressive maritime museum, all built below ground, around an old dry dock.  The exhibitions were genuinely well done and all in english as well as Danish  – fully recommend to anyone:

Maritime heritage didn’t stop there, we were pleased and excited to see the well preserved S/S Bjørn ( in steam and offering charter trips on the sound.  She looked very well suited to day trips with a large outdoor aft deck seating area, so I had assumed she had previously had a life as some kind of ferry, but it seems she was a working tug and icebreaker(!) until the 1980s.

It’s only 3.5 miles across the sound to Sweden and it’s a popular crossing point, as we discovered sailing up the sound – over 70 ferry  crossings a day (and we’re talking big – get out of our way – ferries), so we spent a day on the swedish side as well – another pleasant historic town, confusingly named Helsingborg.


Elsinore Castle (or Kronburg in Danish) is where hamlet was set – this was our view the other night from the Harbour.



Up the Øresund with dolphins and ferries for company

Porpoises actually it turns out, but they came and played in our wake, breaching and turning under water just like we’ve seen dolphins do in west coast waters.  It was a lovely end to the trip up from Sundby (where we moored to visit Copenhagen) up to Helsingør.

It was sunny and the “heavy traffic” that was cautioned in the pilot guides didn’t really materialise until we got to the ferry crossing point at the northern end of the sound.  Our (German) harbour guide for the area expressed caution that the ferries “pay no attention to pleasure boats at all” – I think this might have said more about the expected readership of the guide than anything else, upon sight of the numerous and very large ferry vessels it was hard to imagine anyone except perhaps a container ship expecting them to give way to them!

Approaching Helsingør at the north end of the Øresund



Møn to Rødvig

This was a nice sail in three parts:

First we had a tricky leg to windward, which we just managed to sail without having to tack.  The wind was a solid force four and felt quite strong.  We were sailing across a very shallow area and had to follow the correct course between a series of cardinal buoys marking even shallower patches.

Unfortunately, the cardinals were small and hard to spot, and there were lots of floats with flags everywhere indicating static fishing nets.  There were so many flags that it was difficult to work out which ones might be connected.  We managed to avoid getting snagged on anything, but were relieved when we could bear away onto the next leg.

The second part of the trip was downwind, so the sailing felt a lot more relaxing, but the navigation still required a lot of concentration as we were in a narrow and very twisty channel out through the sandbanks.  The channel was well marked with buoys and posts, but even in the centre of the channel we only had about half a metre of water below the keel at times.

Finally we reached open water and were able to relax for the third section of the trip – twelve miles downwind across the bay to Rødvig, our next port on the way to Copenhagen.  By now the strong winds had built up some steep waves, so we rolled quite a lot a times, but otherwise the sailing was very pleasant.

As we approached Rødvig I made Catherine put on her waterproofs as a big black rain cloud was heading our way.  We read that the waters surrounding the harbour entrance are infested with lots of static fishing nets, so we took the recommended (slightly less direct) route in.  As it turned out we didn’t see many net flags anywhere around Rødvig compared to the forest of flags that we had sailed through that morning further south.

We found a vacant berth (indicated by a green plastic marker) in the small-boat harbour and executed a perfect box-berth mooring.  And the rain cloud missed us so we were soon back in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the nearby beach.

Stages 1 and 2 of the route, out through the sandbanks.

To Femø

A fairly short day sailing between two islands in the Smålands area, which is a patch of sea almost enclosed by the larger Danish islands.

We were close-hauled on the starboard tack for most of the passage, then we tacked into the Femø Sund and entered the harbour along the recommended track between the shallows. The short waves and fresh wind made it seem hard work at times, and we envied those sailing downwind.

Femø was a nice island with a friendly shop in the harbour.  Later we went for a walk and found an avenue of old pear trees, with lots of fruit on.

Best harbour in Denmark?

We’ve just arrived on the island of Omo in Denmark – our harbour guide with comedy english translations described it as a small, scenic and “fascinating” island…  Not sure about fascination but the marina is awesome.  Our berth is next to a white sandy beach, has bathing steps down into the sea, so that one can return to the boat sand-free 🙂   It also has giant hammocks and an ice cream shop that offers everything on top of ice cream – Tom went for more cream?!?

Lizzie snug in the shiny new Omo Marina
Al fresco dining facilities 🙂 Clearly designed for people in very small boats to whom a table is the essence of luxury

The sail here was pretty good too.  Lots of downwind sailing and a nice beam reach across the Great Belt channel.

Skipper “so easy I can do it with my eyes closed” Tom

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.

Into the Kiel Canal

Cuxhaven is only 16M downriver from the western entrance to the Kiel Canal – our way through to the Baltic.  The tides are strong in the river and we’re on springs at the moment so it only took us 3 hours to sail upriver to Brunsbuttel and the locks.

There are 4 sets of locks – two for big container ships etc, and two for smaller cargo vessels and yachts.  Commercial traffic obviously has priority and we were slightly worried about having to wait for the lock out in the river, stemming the tide for potentially hours.  We had chosen to sail up river, all the other yachts we saw were motoring and soon overtook us, but they didn’t gain much as when we approached Brunsbuttel we saw them all waiting outside in the river.  When we were still a mile away the lock signals changed to allow the yachts into the waiting area so we put the engine on and went for full speed ahead in the hope that they’d hold the lock for us – they kindly did, but only just, almost as soon as we’d cleared the lock gate it started to close behind us.

Lizzie just nips into the Alte Schleusen before the lock gates close.

We rafted against a beautiful german built modern wooden racing yacht, and 10 minutes later were motoring into the flat waters of the Kiel Canal.  We moored up in Brunsbuttel for the night and treated ourselves to takeaway pizza whilst we watched the big ships lock through.




Thankful for a breath of wind (and a spring tide)

“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.