We had completed Scarborough Yacht Club’s North Sea Race many times and had followed it up with some magnificent cruising around the Dutch Inland waterways, but after revisiting the old haunts so many times, felt it was time to have a change.
The idea of going into the Baltic was one which filled me with enthusiasm, new places, new challenges an idea which was probably sparked by reading the account of another club member, Ken Dean, so in the winter of 1999, started to plan for a trip the following year. A quick call to Ken to ask if he had any charts proved fruitful as he provided a full folio of charts for the whole of the Western Baltic. Sailing directions made an excellent Christmas present and so armed with the information I needed I started my research, this was going to be a navigational challenge, a challenge I would relish.
My son Terry managed to get leave from the army for 3 weeks and along with old friend Wayne Suggit, had the basis for the crew, Steve Jaques who couldn’t get the time off for the full cruise, would join us for his first North Sea crossing.
Our plan came to fruition on the 2nd of June 2000 as we set off, across the North Sea towards Denmark. The passage was prolonged as we were blown off course by a gale, putting us quite close to the Dutch Friesland Islands where we encountered thick fog, which later made for a tense entry into a very busy Elbe River! Apart from a blown out sail the passage had gone without incident until we spotted a previously unseen vessel which emerged from the gloom, a bloody submarine, no less!
After a nerve wracking trip up the Elbe we arrived at Brunsbuttel lock, at the Western end of the Kiel Canal and as there is no night time navigation allowed, we spent our first night celebrating in the traditional manner!
Brunsbuttel is a quite place, not much to do, with a marina which suffers quite badly by the surge from passing ships, but OK for the night. We set off the following day, on passage through the picturesque, but busy, Kiel Canal, only stopping off for fuel at Rendsburg before pushing onto Holtenau lock at the Eastern end of the canal (54miles), before exiting and going on to the famous British Kiel Yacht Club at Stickenhorn.
After a night of hospitality at the club and a further night out in Hamburg, we said fair well to a slightly hung over Steve, before slipping and setting off for Denmark.
With islands every where there is no shortage of possible routes but we had decided our first port of call would be at Bagenkop, 28miles away on Langeland, could be seen as a slight mistake as it is a bit of a one horse town with no pub! Never the less, it provided a short break and good shelter, after an exhilarating reach and our first footing in Denmark.
An early start the following day for our next destination, 67miles away, sometimes in very shallow waters, guided only by withies, to Vordingborg, a modern town with all the facilities and obviously a favourite stop over for the Danish traditional sailing ships. The next day we set off in very shallow waters, between the Islands of Falster & Mon, once again guided by the withies some of which resembled bisooms upside down, stuck in the mud and it seemed so odd that instead of sea weed beneath us, we had a carpet of grassy read. On we went and under Kalvehave bridge, before we followed the white sandy beaches around the coast, which had a vivid contrast to the greenery, which lined the cliffs above them, on to Køge a distance of 46miles. At Køge we treated ourselves to a slap up dinner of steaks with extra large beers at the marina restaurant. The marina had good showers and facilities but was a fair walk to the town.
The next day Wayne was up at the crack of dawn and eager to cast off, in a bid to get to Copenhagen, where he would meet his girl friend, Vicky, who would stay with us until we got back to Kiel, just a short journey from the airport at Hamburg.
We soon arrived at the new bridge which had just been built and not yet opened, spanning from Denmark to Sweden, it was an impressive sight.
Copenhagen, been a capital city has many marinas but we decided to try our luck along the canal in the middle of the city and found a good place opposite the shower block, (which were the absolute pits!!) at Christianhavns. On the way in we could see hundreds of cameras flashing on the shore and only a closer investigation reveiled that tourists were taking photos of the ‘Little Mermaid’, so small, yet so iconic in connection with the city.
We spent our time there sightseeing, Tivoli World, very expensive but clean and unthreatening.
We passed the ‘Church of our Saviours’ with its world famous twisted tower with an external spiral stair case.
At night we went to the Hippy commune which was set up in the 1970’s when the army had moved out, an amazing place, the main street is called pusher street, aptly named as from the market type stalls you could buy almost any soft drug available to man! We went to Woodstock cafe in the centre, where a wall of huge speakers blasted out music from the live bands, different sub cultures had set up in different camps within the camp and the whole place was policed by hells angels, signs every said ‘say no to hard drugs’. Surprisingly, once again you didn’t feel threatened and there was no sign of trouble.
After a couple of days it was time to move on, we slipped our berth and sailed out of Copenagen and made a detour to Skanors, in Sweden, if for no other reason but to say we had been to Sweden! It was only a short hop, just 17miles, back under the bridge, which had been open to pedestrians the previous day and now was open to cyclists as well and into the pleasant little marina surrounded by white sandy beaches.
We slipped at Skanors the following morning and caught part of a weather forecast which mentioned the word 28 in it, undaunted we sailed on and after putting the small jib on and a couple of reefs in the main, thought the forecast was a tad under stated, wind wise, it was then that we realized the forecast was in meters per second and equivalent to 62mph! Well it wasn’t that much so we pressed on but decide to change our destination and instead of going to Mons, we would go to Kalveaven, a passage which would give us some shelter in the lee of the islands,
It poured down all day, I was soaked to the skin, with the others having no sympathy at all, stating there was no point in us all getting wet! It was a horrible run in, in the shallow waters surrounding the islands and with an appreciable amount of wind, didn’t improve matters.
Denmark isn’t the cheapest place in the world to stay, which prompted a late start the following day after a trip to the hole in the wall but with only 27miles to our next port of call, Karrebaeksminde, it wasn’t a problem. Karrebaeksminde has a huge counter balanced bridge, painted as an insect, which over looked our berth for the night. We had a massive, gigantic bbq that evening followed by ample measures of gin to wash it all down, before we took off to the local bars.
After 37miles the following day we ended up, travelling up a fjord like inlet to Naskov, a more industrial place than we had previously visited, where we found a company who made huge wind turbines. As stated an industrial place with lots of bars, cafe’s and eating places, albeit a bit rougher but it added to the charicature of the place!
When we learned how to understand the weather forecast it was amazing their accuracy, if they said, as they usually did it would blow at noon, it would blow at noon. Tomorrow the prediction was for 40knts, a prediction we chose to disregard, tucked up in the safety of the fjord, we cast off and ventured out, passing a 60 footer coming back in, frantically waving their arms, ten minutes later we realized why! 40knts of wind. Needless to say we returned to Naksov, where we spent our time effecting a few repairs, until later that day when the strong wind had blown through, we once again ventured out for the last leg of our Baltic adventure, back to Kiel, a distance of 57 miles.
We arrived in the Kieler Bucht to be greeted by vessels of every description, and from many nations, from tall ships to racing yachts to naval vessels, we had arrived at Kiel week, the biggest celebration of sailing you could imagine.
Our first port of call was the British Kiel Yacht Club, but no room, we called in at most of the other marinas in the area but the answer was the same, sorry, no room in the inn, we now know how Joseph and Mary must have felt! Eventually we found a berth for the night at Schwetine, a small marina with no facilities and not even a pub in the area, and so after a night there, when all the boats had set off for their days sailing, we returned to BKYC for a much needed shower and managed to secure a berth for a couple of nights. Wayne escorted Vicky to Hamburg for her return flight and the following day, Terry and I set off for the return passage through the Kiel Canal back to Brunsbuttel, where we had arranged to meet Wayne.
After a pleasant trip through the canal we arrived back in Brunsbutel, where Wayne joined us and as the currents are so strong in the Elbe (4-5knts), we worked out the best time to depart, which was at 0400hrs, unfortunately when we arose, we were greeted with thick fog, which eventually lifted and allowed us to exit at 0700hrs. Our destination was a duty free island, just off the German and Danish coast, called Helgoland, a distance of 48miles, instantly recognizable by the vivid red rock, from which it is formed. A litre of gin plus a couple of bottles of tonic cost just £6.50. The majority of the population of Helgoland either have a duty free shop or operate the liberty boats which carry the hordes of passengers from the cruise liners, which have to ‘anchor off’, as they are not allowed to enter the harbour! Nice one! Interestingly the island used to belong to the British and we used to use it for target practice, something which is evident if you look at the indentations in the harbour walls. We eventually swapped it with the Germans, for Zanzibar, it goes without saying that in some quarters there is still a bit of “feeling” there but generally there is not a problem, the shopkeepers are eager for your trade and as they do not allow petrol or diesel engines on the island, they will transport your purchases, via electrically propelled vans back to your boat and can be seen making several trips per day, stacked high with case upon case of spirits and beer.
Water is scarce on the island, with no taps in the marina and only one tap near the fuel berth and so after staying the night, we refuelled before setting off for the 340mile trip back to Scarborough.
Although in general prices are comparable with the UK, drink certainly isn’t, I think it is fair to say we all enjoyed the experience, there are so many variations to the routes that you can choose to sail in the Baltic and so many interesting places to see, that I know I will be back sometime in the future.
As the Baltic is land locked it is not tidal but the tidal heights do vary if the wind blows in certain directions for a prolonged amount of time and the tidal heights are given as mean sea level, meaning it can be more or less than the depths quoted and as it can be quite shallow in parts great care must be taken with your navigation, this, of course combined with strong winds can cause problems in a wind over tide situation, which produces a nasty little chop but don’t let this put you off as the experience is well worth the effort.