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.
After successfully crossing behind Borkum, Juist and Nordernay we were just feeling like we’d got the hang of these channels. We’d touched the bottom once: crossing behind Nordernay, but it was only momentary and we were well before high water, so no cause for concern.
We pressed on to the Baltrum channel – the shallowest of all, but according to our survey information still doable with at least 1.6m in the channel at MHW (mean high water). A lot of boats motored these passages, as the channels were quite twisty but we enjoyed sailing them. We approched almost an hour before high water to give ourselves plenty of time to get across and watched the depth carefully as we picked our way along it. As usual, in any tense situation the crew of Lizzie thought a little gentle debate on the optimum distance from the withies would lighten the mood. Not a roaring success.
The most tricky bit was passing other boats. Sticking to “our side of the road” meant veering away from the witihies (but how far?!) and allowing the other boat to pass inside us.
At one juncture, (when it should be noted, the crew was obediently following the withies closely), the ominous scrape was heard, with a new addition: a gentle juddering to a halt and complete lack of progress through the water. “I think we may be aground?” was ventured from the cockpit… The depth sounder helpfully reported that it thought there was 3.4m of water under us. There most certainly wasn’t.
We furled the headsail and attempted to get the boat off using the mainsail first (we were on the upwind side of the channel) eventually resorting to the engine, as several boats passed us and comfirmed it was deeper further away from the withies. We got free!! but the elation was momentary, as Lizzie’s bow had spun round and we were now facing the wrong way down the narrow channel. Tom bravely attempted what we now know to be impossible – a U-turn in what is basically a single carriageway and thirty seconds later we were firmly aground on the other bank (but facing the right direction at least?). This time it was a bit more serious, we were on the lee bank with the wind pushing us on – cue lots of helpful suggestions from the crew of course.
After trying to motor backwards (did i mention Lizzie doesn’t really do reverse?), healing the boat over, and trying to sail off, it was Tom’s herculean efforts punting us off with whisker pole that finally got us moving. Perhaps he spent less time in the engineering library at cambridge than i thought…? In any case I am immensely grateful that we didn’t spend the night humiliatingly (and dangerously) horizontal on a sandbank
Sorry some retrospective blogging now we’ve got internet again!
Tom is not one to pass up a chance to buy charts, so when the wind direction didn’t look set to improve we considered going inside the rest of the german frisian islands – meaning intricate navigation of drying channels over the sands, but calmer seas and more protection from northerly and easterly winds. And more charts of course 🙂
There are 7 main islands – each with a channel behind it with a “watershed” towards the eastern end where at low tide the channel dries to mud – often drying by about 1-1.5m.
The channels are mostly used by shallow draft yachts and flat bottomed barges that can take the ground – Lizzie is shallow enough to get through most of the channels at high tide, but the consequences for us if we were to go aground are quite a bit more serious with a deep keel!
We took local advice from a german yacht in Borkum who reassured us as to depths, and got some up to date survey information from two really useful websites (wattsegler.com and http://wattenschipper.de) which both showed a reasonable amount more water in a couple of channels. Armed with this new information, it looked like lizzie could get behind all 7 islands with her 1.21m draught.
We set off from Borkum on sunday evening, following the first channel to memmert:
As each channel is only passable at high water you can only do one watershed per tide – apart from Baltrum which is a very short island. our first evening’s sail got us over the first watershed and we anchored in peace off Memmert, just out of the Memmertbalje.
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.
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).
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.
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:
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.
We once went sailing with a very experienced skipper, who had raced ocean catermarans around the world. In his last race he told me he’d chosen to take the position as chef, as he thought one of the biggest challenges in mid ocean was inspiring the crew with good food. Rob’s speciality was flying fish pizza – we don’t quite have the raw materials for that. Mine is welsh cakes!
Lizzie’s “galley” is pretty basic, a two burner stove with a feeble grill (can manage cheese on toast okay, but for sausages you’d be there for hours), and we make use of the chart table as the only flat preparation surface on the boat. If we ever get a bigger boat, the top thing on my wishlist is an oven. We really miss freshly baked things, expecially in places where it’s hard to buy bread regularly.
I asked around and did a bit of searching through recipe books at home to try and find cakes that didn’t need baking. Or refridgerating. Or freezing. The answer: welsh cakes. Such an improvement on the humble drop scone, much less fiddly than crumpets, and more treat-like than a pancake. They also keep well in a tupperware (or I think they would, we haven’t really tested that out- they seem to evaporate fairly quickly as soon as they’re cool…)
It’s a really simple recipe – 250g self raising flour, 100g of sugar, butter and currants, and an egg, mixed all together. Pressed out into rounds about 7mm thick they take about 3 minutes each side in an ungreased frying pan on medium heat (which is good – our cooker does ‘off’ and ‘medium’ very well).