Thursday, August 10
Hard to believe but just a week ago we were waking up off the Danish island of Ærø and getting ready to leave for Germany’s Kiel Canal and passage back to the Netherlands.
Our voyage from there to here entailed the usual passage-making prepping with several stops at marinas along the way and a wonderful surprise in Cuxhaven, our last stop before stepping foot in the Netherlands. So, let me retrace our cruising through Germany with an overnight sail to Makkum.
What prompted this desire to quickly head south to the canal then west to the Netherlands was a forecasted weather window, i.e., the winds and seas offered a decent, 24-hour time for crossing the notorious German Bight where prevailing westerly winds whip up the strong tides of the Elbe River into a frenzy. After sailing outside you then have the challenge of entering one of the shifting, shallow passes into the Wadden Sea (waters surrounding the Frisian Islands off the coast of the Netherlands).
A note about traversing the German Bight: In addition to winds we also needed to consider the tide when leaving from Cuxhaven. The Elbe generates at least two to three knots of current. With 22 miles to reach the outer sea buoy marking the Elbe the strategy is to leave soon after local high tide to ride it as far as possible before it turns against you. Inevitably, you will be faced with some current against you as further out the tide turns an hour+ sooner. What you don’t want is tide against strong winds. It’s choppy enough due to being shallow water. Toss in a lot of wind and a recipe for unpleasant and potentially dangerous boating is created.
As usual we changed plans along the way. The first alteration coming when sailing down to the opening of the Kiel Canal on the Baltic Sea. Instead of stopping for the night at Laboe, a marina close to the canal entrance, we decided to make a bit more headway by staying at one of the few anchorages/moorings available once inside.
We had to mill around only a short while before the light at the lock turned White, the signal to enter (with no regular opening times we often have to tie up somewhere and wait).
Unlike other summer-time locks we’ve experienced in the past two years, only four boats, including JUANONA, locked in and out. We were accompanied by one large ship in its own sluice, so we pleasure boaters had plenty of room.
We arrived at a small cove off the canal and joined several other boats by mooring to black pilings. It wasn’t difficult tieing up due to (a) no wind and (b) a friendly fellow cruiser who poked his head out and gave us advice. Thanks to him we could decipher a posted sign whose illustration of how to moor was a bit confusing.
The next morning we motored (you’re allowed to motor or to motor-sail but not just sail in the canal) another 11 miles to Rendsburg, one of the few towns with a marina along the way.
It’s not as if the canal isn’t large enough for traffic both ways, including large ships,
but this is the closest I ever want to get to one of them:
After a couple hours we arrived in Rendsburg. With many cruisers eyeing the upcoming weather window, JUANONA was in good company to discuss weather updates, Cuxhaven’s marinas, and routes west.
In Rendsburg we met up again with Sylvia and Pascal who arrived a day after us and with whom we shared an enjoyable coffee break. Always a pleasure meeting up with fellow boaters. You feel a kinship just by being part of a larger group who are having similar experiences, and with WATERAAP our JUANONA is in good company.
We also met Erik, a fellow Ocean Cruising Club member, and his brother Dolf who joined him as crew. They were sailing DUTCH ROSE back to her home port in the Netherlands as well. We invited them aboard and spoke of weather, sailing, and life.
I missed the opportunities to take photos of our friends above but hope we rendez-vous again since all of us will be in ‘home’ waters once we reach the Netherlands.
In other conversations up and down the pontoons we spoke of reaching Cuxhaven and weather updates. I even saw a man I had met in Oslo who also was heading home.
Taking advantage of a waiting day, we walked into Rendsburg, originally serving as a fortress between the Upper and Lower Eider River. Stopping at the local bakery we headed for the Tourist Office only to pause when we noticed a fascinating sculpture. Getting closer we saw the animals had movable joints and appeared designed for youngsters to ride on. If they’d been a bit bigger, I definitely would have been on one.
Armed with a self-guided map we found ourselves in the oldest building–St. Mary’s, a lovely church dating from 1246. A friendly greeter welcomed us; and, although we didn’t speak German we acknowledged her explanations of certain elements with smiles while having no idea what she was saying.
Once outside we passed the Town Hall dated 1566,
walked to the grocery store for some minor provisioning, then wandered back to JUANONA.
Taking advantage of fairly light winds we left the next morning. Originally planning on stopping at another anchorage 10 miles before exiting the canal,
we opted to continue another 17 miles past the lock to Cuxhaven, our jumping off point to the Netherlands.
Once again, the lock wasn’t full and our timing was perfect. And, if you’re wondering why my exiting pose at the bow is similar to the one entering the lock it’s due to being thankful that all fenders are out, lines are ready for tieing to the pontoon or walls, and no lock guy telling us to hurry up (we tend to take these operations slowly and carefully). Or, even better, the task is completed without a problem and the captain is happy :)
The sail to Cuxhaven gave us a taste of how winds can whip up the water around here. Fast approaching the entrance to the marina we had to quickly drop the main sail while avoiding other sailboats doing the same. Once inside we tried to find a berth only to be told the one we were entering was taken, so, we reversed out and searched for a place to raft.
We found one and became the pontoon for another sailboat entering the marina soon after us. Fortunately, rafting is a given in this part of the world. By the time we left for the Netherlands two days later there were five of us tied together.
The next day when checking to make sure the one moored to the actual dock would be leaving when we were, we heard someone say our names. We must have looked stunned as our friends we met in 2002 in Rota, Spain were there! Dick and Gerda and one of their sons, Leo, had just purchased ADIOS, an extremely fast sailboat, in Helsinki, and now were in Cuxhaven after Dick and Leo had sailed her the 600 miles from Finland.
We had heard from Dick that they might be in this area the same time as we were, but, to actually have it happen?! Well, you can tell from our smiles how wonderful it was!
And, an extra treat meeting Leo.
We caught up on the past 14 years (the last time we’d seen them) then Gerda had to leave while later the four of us went to dinner.
When saying good-bye to Dick and Leo we heard a shout from above, and there’s Erik whom we met in Rendsburg saying hello. I tell you, it’s like old home week by the time you get to Cuxhaven. I even exchanged greetings again with the sailor I met in Oslo and Rendsburg.
These transient interactions create a natural camaraderie knowing you’re voyaging the same waters. By now we knew of a large number of boats all leaving at 4:00 a.m. the next morning to ride the current out the German Bight.
And, sure enough, starting at 3:15 a.m. we heard engines starting up as some got a jump on the tide. Our five sailboats one by one untied and headed out. Our passage, albeit a mini-one, had begun.
Exiting from the marina it was still dark, not as dark as the picture below (due to using a flash) but, still, dark!
We all had to stay outside of the shipping channel, which meant we hugged the narrow waterway marked by buoys. Our friends Sylvia and Pascal, who hadn’t stopped at Cuxhaven but continued on to the Netherlands once they exited the canal, had given us a heads up regarding this waterway.
Looking both forwards and aft we saw masthead lights marking the flotilla of boats. It’s rare to be in the company of so many sailboats heading in the same direction for an overnight. Plus, we knew Dick and Leo on ADIOS and DUTCH ROSE, Erik’s boat, were part of the group. We could have arranged scheduled communicating on the VHF but no one needed any distraction sailing these waters or any loss of sleep during this short passage caused by unnecessary radio chatter.
We paralleled this shipping channel down to the Frisian Islands, ensuring we left as much space as possible between the edge of the “TSS” or Traffic Separation Scheme and JUANONA’s track. We wouldn’t need to cross it, but, if we did, we knew it needed to be at a 90º angle. Failing to do so could mean a 1,000 euro fine on the spot by a German patrol.
As the sky lightened we continued to see fellow sailors plying the waters west.
Once outside the mouth of the Elbe we entered a flock of anchored ships waiting for a pilot to guide them in. They looked like sleeping giants, and sailing through them I sure as heck didn’t want to ‘wake’ them.
Sharing the water with so many vessels meant keeping an eye out for any potential crossing of paths. Max monitored one whose heading seemed a bit erratic (note his eye mask from sleeping during his off-watch :) ) but all was fine. With so many boats around our AIS alarm kept going off as a warning of possible collision.
Later I went down for a nap only to wake up and have Max smilingly beckon me up top. Poking my head out I saw why: ADIOS was right off our starboard bow!
Max said they had sailed over to say hello, and he had begun capturing ADIOS swiftly gliding through the sea.
After fifteen minutes they waved good-bye with ADIOS living up to its name as they flew off with the wind.
During his night watch Max figured out we could save some time by approaching the mainland via the channel between Vlieland and Terschelling versus sailing another 20 miles to Den Helder. We could ride the tide (here, too, you need to account for a strong current) through the sandbanks and reach the lock into the IJsselmeer by early afternoon. Hey, I’m all for making any passage shorter!
The sun rose and we continued motor-sailing, or, I should say, motoring with a main sail up as by now the winds had pretty much died down.
We crossed into Dutch waters and changed out our Germany courtesy flag for our Netherlands one.
By 11:00 a.m. we were on the final stretch to the Lorentz (also known as Kornwerderzand) Locks which give passage through the massive Afsluitdijk dike. Passing a local fishing boat with its seagull fans we knew our landing was in sight.
The lock can be packed, as we found out last year, so no surprise seeing it so again. Making it a bit more stressful were two people waving us over while we were jockeying for position to go through the opening bridge that precedes the lock (by now there were at least 25 boats waiting to go through). We headed over only to discover they were customs agents curious about our length of time in the Netherlands.
FYI: All EU countries (except Britain) including Norway had signed an agreement (the Shengen Agreement) restricting all non-Schengen residents to a three-month visit. After that visit, you have to leave for a full three months before re-entering. Thankfully, our temporary Dutch residency allows us to avoid this requirement unlike last summer when we had to get out of Europe early August to ensure we were in compliance.
I ran below and grabbed our temporary residency cards which they photographed. They then queried us about JUANONA’s time in the EU. [We have 18 months in the EU before we’d have to pay the 20% V.A.T. (value added tax) assessed on all large assets.]
Luckily, thanks to our friends Gus and Helen, ex-pats living aboard their boat in London, Max had filed paperwork allowing temporary importation of JUANONA. The customs folk were fine with our copy of the stamped receipt. And, yes, that is how I look coming off of a passage with bad sleep and not so great hygiene…
It took us three times before we could get into the crowded lock, and when we finally did, we knew we were ‘home’.
Our friends Sylvia and Pascal had anchored at 11:00 p.m. after doing a similar passage the day before. If we hadn’t been so tired we would have motored over. Instead, the four of us exchanged hearty waves from afar as we headed for Makkum and its marinas.
A wonderful hot shower and one load of laundry completed, we now are catching up on getting JUANONA ready for her winter berthing back in Hoorn.
Always bittersweet to think of our summer cruising pretty much over. But, what a summer! And, how we’ll miss the friends we’ve met!
Two spoiled sailors we are! :)