The Final Push to the Baltic
18 August 2019
Our sail from Delfzijl to Cuxhaven through the North Sea was uneventful. We had a quick passage downstream the Emse, out past Borkum, and turned east towards the Elbe. The wind had been decreasing over the past week, so the sea was fairly calm as we motored along the Frisian Islands. With our draft of 2 meters, we had to stay outside the islands, so didn’t get to visit these remote places. We arrived at Elbe 1 (sea buoy) around midnight, so had just made slack before ebb on the river, which meant that we could make it upstream before the current against us got too strong. Even with that timing, we were down to 4 knots by the time we reached the entrance to Cuxhaven marina. About an hour before we arrived, we could see all of the boats departing the marina to ride the current downriver. Good for us, as there were lots of vacant berths at the marina. We tied up for the morning, and finally got to bed after a long night of transit.
The next few days were spent visiting friends in Germany, cleaning the boat, and getting it restocked. Arriving at the grocery store, I was amazed to find a store dedicated entirely to beer. Good German beer! It was difficult to choose between beers, and even more difficult to not buy too much. Fortunately we had rented a car to go see our friends in southern Germany, so it was easy to haul our fresh supplies back to the boat. And yes, we got more than just beer.
Joining us for this leg of the trip was my friend Doug, who had been on the Atlantic crossing with me. This sailing would be quite a contrast to the wind and waves we had for that passage. With everyone back onboard, we caught the afternoon tide up the Elbe for the Kiel Canal. A nice easy sail to the locks, and then a quick lock through with a half dozen boats going our way. There is no sailing on the Kiel, and recreational boats are not permitted to be underway after dark. We made our way east, and found a nice waiting float on a side channel to spend the night. Perfect place to try out grilling some of the tasty German sausages we got in Cuxhaven. And to test out some of those beers.
A lazy start the next morning saw us in Rendsburg before noon, when cousin Lars and his daughter Anna Kirstina, would meet us. The yacht club was nice to let us tie up for a couple of hours while we went to the train station to fetch them. Then a few more provisions, and we were back on the canal headed east to Kiel. We have a final lock to transit to get into the Baltic, and the only one on this trip that we had to pay. The last canal where we paid was the Corinth canal at about €240 (about €80/mile), so paying €12 (€1/mile) wasn’t bad at all. We locked through with a few other sailboats and a freighter, and were soon tied up in the marina Laboe.
We enjoyed a nice visit here, as this is the center of German submarine history. A visit to the navy memorial (1918) filled in many details missing from my knowledge of German naval history. There is a U boat from WW2 that we walked through, and having seen Das Boot, were reminded of just how cramped and dangerous life was on a submarine. We took a bus into visit Kiel. Though to be honest, it was too hot during he heat wave to do much walking around. We settled for cold beers, and took the ferry back to Laboe.
The last few days had been windless, and a turn in the weather was forecast. The next morning, after filling water tanks and getting a few more stores, we bid Tracy goodbye, as she headed back to the States. We have another week to get the boat put up for the season, so took advantage of the wind and sailed for Flensberger Fiorde. And I do mean sailed! We had perfect wind conditions as we had a long, single tack sail all the way to the anchorage on the Danish side of the fiorde. Very nice. We anchored up in the lee of the Danish headland, our first visit this far north. I hadn’t actually planned to get to Denmark on this trip, so hadn’t purchased a Danish courtesy flag. Fortunately, one of the code pennants from the flag bag looks almost exactly like a Danish flag. Improvisation worked well.
The next day, we again had beautiful weather and winds, and we got underway and were quickly back under sail headed up the fiorde. Flensberg is at the head of the fiorde, and we had lots of sailing company as we hoisted Big Red for the first time since the Med. Great that Doug was onboard, since the spinnaker is named by him for his alma mater, Nebraska. We managed to sail almost the entire way to town, and were soon tied up in the city famous for Flensberger beer. Probably famous for other things as well, but not sure what that might be.
I really enjoyed Flensberg, as it is a traditional German town with an active waterfront and walking center. We spent a couple days here waiting on the wind to shift, doing some exploring, and having just a few Flensbergers on the pier. Lars and Anna Kirstina felt the tug of home, as Denmark was only a mile north of us, so they caught a train back to Copenhagen the next day. We waited another day for the weather to improve, and then we also got underway for our final destination of Kappeln in the Schlie.
Tacking our way out of the fiorde (5 tacks to get to the mouth of the fiorde) we had a quiet and fun day. The wind eventually died down, and we motored the last ten miles to the mouth of the Schlie, where we anchored in just over 2 meters of water. I think we might have had 6 inches under the keel when we dropped the hook. A boat nearby failed to swing to the wind, as they discovered that they had no water under their keel. Seems to be a new normal here for us, so we adapt and drift off to sleep. The next day it is a few miles into Kappeln, where we motored at the town quay to start preparing for our haul out. We will leave the boat at Ancker Marina, which is where our friends Horst and Janet kept their boat for years. They arrived in town the next day, and were really helpful making sure we were set up for our haul out and storage. Particularly helpful, since Tracy is the German speaker, and she is already back at home.
We had a great visit from our friends from Bavaria, who drove up to see the boat and have dinner with us. And drop off some good Bavarian Weiss beer! The remaining few days were spent getting the boat in order, stowing sails and running rigging, doing laundry, and of course, cleaning the boat from stem to stern. Haulout day was fortunately uneventful. A bit scary to watch, as this is the first haul out by crane, instead of a travel hoist. Ancker has a really professional crew, and they conducted a gentle ballet of picking the boat and placing it on the cradle.
And then we were done for the year. The boat is up on the hard. Work is on order for next year. We have the boat prepped for the winter, and we have our bus, train, and plane tickets in hand. It has been a really enjoyable journey these past months, and we have enjoyed the sights, the people, the food, and of course, the great German beer. Here’s to next year exploring Denmark, Sweden, and Norway!
Through the Canals to the North Sea
06 August 2019 | Delfzijl, Netherlands
Amsterdam was a good stopping point to do some local exploring, and get off the boat for a bit. From the Amsterdam Marina,it was an easy ferry ride over to the Central Station and the heart of the city. We had an excellent walking tour, exploring the history and culture of Amsterdam. Too much to see in the short time we had available. We took a day to go to Den Hague and the miniature city of Madurodam. Unfortunately, we experienced that in a downpour, so were a bit wetter for the visit. A visit to the Escher museum, and then the Peace Palace, were worth the trip.
We headed north through the Isselsjmeer to continue our canal transit. The wind has been blowing from the north, so we didn’t get an opportunity to sail on our way to Stavoren, via Enkhuizen. Lots of folks headed the other direction were enjoying the downwind sail, while we had to push through it. Stavoren is one of the canal entry points, as well as a major yachting center for sailors sailing in the Isselsjmeer. We had lots of company as we continued east in the canals towards Leeuwarden. Mixed wind on this leg allowed us to sail a bit with the Genoa, and we got to see lots of traditional Dutch sailing barges plying the waterways. The Dutch watermen are very confident in their close quarters sailing, which reinforces the saying that the Dutch are born in boats. Helps a bit that they draw only one meter, compared to our deep draft of two.
The days are long, so we chose to continue on late into the afternoon with the goal to get to the other side of Leeuwarden before the bridges close for the night. When we entered the canal approaching the town, we discovered just how shallow it can get. As we approached the first bridge, the depth was get shallower by the second. In not time at all, we had zero under the keel. We weren’t stuck, but we definitely were in the mud. We had been warned about this by others with similar boat drafts, so weren’t very concerned. We found that we could easily push through the mud, and it held us nicely in place while we waited for a bridge to open. The depth increased to a nicer margin after that bridge, and we were on our way into Leeuwarden. There are nine bridges to get through the town, so we would rather be on the other side of most of them so we can get a good start in the morning.
We passed easily through the town before the bridges closed for the night and were keeping an eye open for a marina or waiting platform to stop for the evening. There was a marina listed on the far side of town, and we soon discovered that the marina was actually just spots lining the canal. As we were arriving later than most, there were few spots left to moor for the night. In addition to the usual issue of channel depth, we also now had to watch for overhanging trees. The first attempt to moor was too shallow, and we couldn’t get within five feet of the shore. We continued around another bend, and found a spot just before the last bridge that was deep and open enough in the tree canopy for us to slip into for the night. Nice spot, and close to the old part of town. The harbor master came round to collect the fee for mooring, and we were set.
Leeuwarden was a quiet town, with an interesting leaning church. We had seen it on our way through town, and was amazed at the angle it was tilted. It looked to be leaning as much as Pisa, and this was built from brick so it looked like it should have fallen over long ago. From the sign in front, we discovered that it was started as the original cathedral tower. There were several attempts to complete the building, but eventually the town decided that a different site for the cathedral was needed. On a site that a solid foundation could be built. Probably a good idea.
We continued our trip towards Groningen when the last bridge opened in morning. Unfortunately, we forgot about the tree canopy, and brought a few small branches and leaves with us as we departed our mooring. No damage, no worries. The canals wander through farmland and small towns, and then into a an estuary adjoining the North Sea. I had read that boats need to convoy through Groningen, so we hoped to get close enough to town in order to make the nine o’clock convoy the next morning. The bridges close at 7 for the night, and we were hoping to get through one last bridge before finding a place for the night. Hope faded as we were in sight of the bridge at 6:58, and as we got closer, the lights changed to double red, indicating they were now closed for the night. We tied up at the waiting platform on the north side, opposite town, and started on dinner. I had been texting friends on Tutinui earlier in the day, and discovered that they weren’t far in front of us. I let them know that we had stopped for the night, and that we might see them the next day. Not long after, we heard someone calling from the shore. Turned out to be Horst off Tutinui, and they were just on the other side of the bridge. Amazing timing! Horst had already spoken to a tug tied up on the town side, and they let us tie up outboard so that we could get off the boat (most of the waiting platforms have no connection to the shore). Great to see Horst and Janet again, and we celebrated with a few beers in the local restaurant.
Still planning to make the morning convoy through Groningen, we got underway early when the bridge opened, and headed for the first bridge through town. We got there as a few boats were gathered, and did a lot of backing and filling while waiting for the bridge to open at 9. We waited and waited, and then one of the Dutch boats called the bridge and discovered that it was broken and they were working on fixing it. With no ETA for the repair, we tied up at a platform and waited for it to open. A short time later, the bridge light changed to green, and the boats were moving back to the bridge. We got underway again, and quickly chased the other boats through the bridge. The timing of bridges through town was not as smooth as the convoy through Amsterdam, though this was partly because the bridge tender had to ride ahead on his bike to the next bridge to open it. Not sure if he was the only tender, but he probably got his exercise. We continued on our way out of town on our way to Delfzjil, which will be our exit from the Standing Mast Route and from the Netherlands.
In Delfzjil we lost Connor, who is headed home through Amsterdam. Kieran went with him to see friends and will rejoin the boat when we get to Cuxhaven in Germany. We have a good weather window to transit the North Sea to the Elbe River, and have figured out the tides to enable us to get down the Eems and up the Elbe rivers. Leaving an hour before slack should give us good speed both ways, and if we time it right, will have minimal current to fight on our way up the river to Cuxhaven. The skies are finally clearing a bit, and we are looking forward to the next stage of our journey to Germany.
Return to Tidal Waters
27 July 2019 | Vlissingen, Netherlands
Launching the boat in Dunkerque provided a dramatic reminder that we were back in the tidal Atlantic. Looking down from the pier and the travel-lift, it was a drop of almost 6 meters (20 ft ) to the water. It was pretty obvious that we would need to launch towards the top of the tide.
The boys and I got the boat prepped, while the riggers were hard at work getting the mast and rigging together for the launch. It was very impressive to watch the team at Bleu Marine re-step the mast as the boat was hanging in the straps of the travel-lift. I’m glad that these guys knew what they were doing, as they juggled the 18 tons of our boat.
The boat went in the water quickly, and we had to scoot out of the lift as the tide was rapidly falling. We planned to lock through to the Dunkerque basin, but had missed the 1630 lock opening. We moored at a waiting platform upriver, the first of many waiting spots on this trip. Later that evening, we went through our first lock and were lifted about 5 meters up to the basin where we would moor behind the Bleu Marine shop. Nice spot to moor and continue to prep the boat for the voyage north. I also had time to work out the navigation plan, and tides for the following day. Final purchases included paper charts for the North Sea, some required sailing guides, and courtesy flags for Netherlands and Germany.
We had plans for an early start to make the first lock opening of the morning, but I had misread the schedule, so we were a bit delayed past our plan. We also needed to fuel, and I had made arrangements to fuel at the yacht club on the tidal side of the lock. My abrupt reminder of the consequences of being in tidal waters was being aground 3 meters from the fuel pier for an hour. Not to worry, it was all mud, and apparently a daily event at the fuel pier.
Soon enough, we were off and heading north up La Manche (what the French call the English Channel). The channel was well marked, though I was glad that I had purchased the additional paper charts to see the buoy layout. The channel zig zags through the Zuide Coot passage, and it is not wise to wander out of the channel as we saw a similar size boat aground as we transited through. We had light winds so we motor sailed the distance to Vlissingen. With the current we were making 9 knots, so we made up for the delay at the fuel dock. Beautiful day, with lots of boats out on the inshore channel. I was hoping to make the flood tide, as the ebb current can get quite strong in this river. We were fortunate to catch it just before slack, so made good time up to the locks. We made it to the locks at Vlissingen about 7 PM, and were soon tied up at the local marina in the Netherlands.
Tracy and nephew Connor had flown in that date, and their train arrived about 15 minutes after we tied up. Great timing! Soon they were aboard and we had our full complement for the trip through the canals. We spent the next day looking around and restocking the boat with provisions for the next few days. Vlissingen was an interesting town to start our travels in, and was topped off by a festival in the town square.
The next day, we headed through the first of many bridges and locks on our way through the rivers and canals of the Standing Mast Route. We spent a night in the town of Zierikzee, which was particularly fun as the Women’s World Cup match between Netherlands and USA were playing that night. The boys were the only ones cheering in the bar that evening, and we were glad that the Dutch patrons didn’t set us adrift in the night.
We traveled next to Dordrecht, where we had a cozy berth inside a side canal for the night. Beautiful town which we explored a bit the next day. The leg north from Rotterdam requires timing due to the many bridges, and we managed to get stuck behind a slow barge and ended up mooring for the night at a waiting float. We continued north the next day to arrive at the south end of Amsterdam in the early afternoon. This gave us some time to look around the city before the night convoy through the thirteen bridges to the marinas on the north side of the city. We made time to enjoy the Rijk Museum and the Heineken tour, before heading back to the boat.
The convoy was called just before midnight, and there were seven boats lined up for the transit through town. Kieran chose to make the trip up on the mast spreaders. It should have been a Birdseye view, but as the canal is lined with apartments, he was mostly seeing into second story apartments. The bridge tenders did a nice job of timing the bridges for us, though we all ended up milling about smartly in the small pool before the last bridge, waiting for it to open. Then we were into the main channel of Amsterdam, and we motored over to the Amsterdam Marina and tied up for the night. Great spot, and the ferry is nearby so we can go visit the city.
It has been fun going through the canals, seeing the extensive farmlands, natural areas, and the little towns lining the sides. We have all gotten quite a bit of practice handling lines and maneuvering the boat in and out of the locks. We are looking forward to exploring Amsterdam before we continue our voyage north to Germany.
Back on the Atlantic Side
27 July 2019 | Dunkerque
We are now in The Netherlands. So obviously, I’m a little behind on my writing. I’ve been here two weeks and it has been a very busy and fun time.
After landing in Montpellier, France, I took the jet lag adjustment time to look around the city. It is an easy city to navigate on foot, and I enjoyed walking the narrow streets of the old town. Lots of bikes, walkers, and public transit. The next day, I rented a car and headed to Port Napoleon to check on the boat, and to pay the bills for repairs and prepping boat to go north. The truck is supposed to arrive and load the following day in the morning, which I’d like to watch. I was planning to sleep on the boat, but was already overheated with a heat wave that is settling over Europe. I found a small hotel nearby that had air conditioning. The hotel is in the old salt mining town of Camargue, which is reachable by a short ferry across the Rhône River. The salt company built their town around the salt drying/processing operation, and it definitely is laid out like a company town.
The hotel was above the only restaurant in town. I might have been the only guest, which was fine as I laid down for a short nap in the heat of the day. I got a text shortly after falling asleep that the truck had arrived. Thinking that they had arrived early to drop off their boat delivery, I asked if they were still planning to load in the morning. The texted reply was that the boat was already loaded. What! I missed the loading? By the time I got back to the marina, the truck driver was just finishing up on strapping the boat in place. Oh well, not much to see and the boat is ready to depart early in the morning. Maybe I will get to see it offloaded?
Since the boat will not arrive in Dunkerque until Tuesday morning (so they say), I was headed to Germany to see some friends. Dropped off the car in Montpellier, grabbed a train to Lyon, and spent the rest of the day there looking around the city. Since it was baking outside, I grabbed a bit of extra time visiting the cathedral and enjoying the cool (temperature and aesthetic) interior. The next day was a long train day through the beautiful countryside of eastern France and Germany.
Our friends Soenke and Christina live in Augsburg, and I had a great visit. We spent a day exploring the hills below the Alps, had a good healthy hike, and enjoyed lots of good German beer. I also got to join Christina for her birthday, with lots of family and excellent German food. I had an awesome weekend, and hope to get them both out on the boat next summer.
Monday I headed to Dunkerque, which was an all day train ride. Fun for me, as I really enjoy just looking out the window at the passing countryside. Due to a canceled train, I got in late into Dunkerque, so didn’t have time to walk out to the boatyard that evening. The next morning, I got to the marina expecting to see the truck waiting to be offloaded. But of course, it was already sitting on blocks in the yard waiting to be launched. Missed the offloading too!
I spent the day getting the boat ready to go back in the water. We had originally thought to work the boat through the French Canal system. Unfortunately, the water levels in the canal that we could navigate with our almost 2 meter draft was already projected to have very low water levels. The trip around the Iberian Peninsula would have taken more time and fuel, due to prevailing winds and current being from the north. That left shipping the boat by truck, which helped with my work schedule.
So we are in Dunkerque with plans to navigate to the Baltic through the Dutch Standing Mast Route, then Kiel Canal. Plan is to get the boat to the Germany so that we are set for cruising in Denmark, Sweden, and Norway next season.
My boys, Kieran and Colin will arrive in the evening, and the boat gets launched the next day. Lots of work to get her prepped for the voyage north. One of those is getting set for safe navigation in Northern Europe. I’ve taken the test for navigating inland Europe (CEVNI), and have the electronic charts for the chart plotter. Unfortunately, the new charts begin at the France-Belgium border. Same for the paper charts that a friend in Toulon gave me. I ended up buying a French chart (which ends at the border with Belgium!), and will navigate by paper for the first 10 miles.
So we head north, with the next stop in Vlissingen, the entrance to the canals and Standing Mast Route of the Netherlands.
11 June 2019 | Port Napoleon
Good morning. My last post was leaving Toulon and headed for Port Napoleon. Since that was more than a month ago, folks may be wondering if we dropped off the edge of the planet. The real story is that the last 25 miles of transit was really uneventful, and I never got back online to provide an update. So here it is:
I left in the wee hours from the anchorage at La Ciotat, in light winds and flat seas. The sun coming up over the massive rock faces was spectacular. The area here is a natural park, and besides have some amazing sedimentary rock features, it serves as a major bird refuge and nesting area. Beautiful place to visit, and a sharp contrast to the Golf de Fos-sur-Mer, which is home to Port Napoleon and to some major oil refineries and transfer stations.
Port Napoleon is in the flats of the Rhone estuary, and the approach is in a well marked channel. Best to stay in the channel, as it shallows up to a foot or two outside the channel. A good reminder of this is the sunken ketch just off the approaches, with the main and mizzen still marking the wreck after many years.
Berthing in Port Napoleon was interesting, as I was directed to the end pier with no visible slips in sight. Some of the other boaters on the pier told me that there was a spot at the head of the pier, so I poked my nose in, and was soon tied up at the end of the voyage. not a bad spot, though it would be a tough spot to exit in any wind.
I spent the next couple of days getting the boat prepped to go ashore. Taking down sails by myself was tough, but not as difficult as getting them folded and stowed below. That new mainsail is pretty heavy! I have arranged to have mast and solar arch removed by a local rigger, as well as getting some voyage repairs completed. The rest was a matter of cleaning and stowing gear, which went fairly quickly.
I met some great folks while in Port Napoleon. In particular, Horst and Janet, who had me aboard for drinks and conversation. They are from the Baltic, so were a great source of information for the next phase of our journey. Janet has written a sailing guide for the Baltic, so I'll be using that in the coming months as we enter our new cruising area.
Horst and Janey helped me get the boat moved over to the travel lift on my haul out day, as getting out of that slip unassisted would have been really difficult on my own. I owe them a debt of gratitude for their help and friendship. I look forward to seeing them in the Baltic next season.
With the boat out of the water and stowed, there wasn't much to do except head for home. All preparations have been made for shipping the boat in June. I'll be back for the loading onto the truck, and then will meet the boat in Dunkerque at the beginning of July.
I'm looking forward to cruising through the canals of Holland, via the Standing Mast Route. The boys will join us for this leg of the trip, and it will be great to have someone to help handle lines as we go through the many locks along the way. The plan is to transit through the Kiel Canal to the Baltic by the end of July, and put the boat up in Germany on the other side.
That should catch us up for now. More in July.
The Final Slog
01 May 2019
Today finds me anchored up off the town of Ciotat, still 40 nm from delivering the boat to Port Napoleon. The last week and a half has been spent mostly in port, waiting out the weather.
We had crossed quickly from Italy to avoid the mistral (winds out of the west). Then once we got into Nice, saw the formation of the Marin (east winds). So we headed to the other side of Antibes, and waited out the Marin. Those high winds went on for days, and we finally left thinking that we would have a good transit day. But that only lasted part of a day before strong winds and waves from the south tookover.
We found safe anchorage in a cove called Canebiers (Can of beers?) for the night. Evidence of the recent Marin was in the form of a boat washed ashore. Nice spot next to the city of Cannes, but no time to explore. Knowing that the mistral would be blowing over the upcoming weekend meant that we had to move on. So we got underway at first light and were soon sailing in storm force winds and waves from the south. It was fifteen miles to shelter from the outlying Porquerolles islands, and it was nice to have a bit of calm for a bit. We chose to anchor for a few hours so we could all catch some rest. Well worth the stop, and there were lots of charter boats out and about in the area protected by the islands. But we still had about 70 nm to go to Port Napoleon, and that wasn’t going to happen with us sitting at anchor. So back underway, and we rode the south winds into the harbor of Toulon.
Toulon was a working town, quite different from the typical French Riviera cities that catered to high value tourism. The daily market was fun to walk through and see all of the fresh produce, roasted chickens, and street foods. The folks at the port were very helpful, as we explored the idea of leaving the boat in Toulon so that I could fly home on schedule. In the end, that idea didn’t pan out, so flights were changed, and here I am continuing the transit to Port Napoleon. Tracy and Lesley caught the train to the Marseilles airport for the flight home, and I got the boat ready for departure.
The mistral looks to have blown itself out last night, so I headed out this morning. Winds in the harbor were light, and the seas outside the harbor were calm. The only real excitement departing Toulon was the sound of gunfire. I saw a series of hits in the water about a mile away, and figured that I was on the edge of a navy firing range. Probably something worth marking on the chart for those that might have ventured further inshore.
Next, I had to round Cape Cicie and according to the forecast, I expected only a big swell around the cape. Of course, forecast was a bit inaccurate, with 25 kt gusts and heavy seas instead. So I ducked back in behind the cape, and found a nice clothing optional beach to anchor in front of for a couple of hours. Well sheltered, and good holding in the sand.
I figured I’d stay a bit until conditions matched the forecast. After about an hour, it didn’t look to be laying down much, and as I had no desire to round the cape in the dark, I got back underway. Motoring with my trusty staysail, we pushed around the cape, and then went looking for some shelter for the night. My bailout anchorages that I’d picked out beforehand weren’t really suitable, so I continued on to where I’m now anchored at Ciotat. There are a dozen or so other boats all waiting for the winds to drop, so I’m in good company. I’ve been watching the seas off the point, and they look to be dropping as the evening progresses. With luck, tomorrow’s weather will closely resemble the forecast.
Almost there! So close, yet so far.