Danish Waters


Thursday-Thursday, May 3-10, 2018

Once again the wind spirits changed our plans for the 90-mile sail from Stralsund, Germany to Bornholm. Light winds and a motoring speed of five or so knots meant we needed 18 hours to reach this Danish island sitting between Germany and Sweden. So, we opted for an overnight sail on a night that promised the best chance to catch a strong breeze. Leaving at 11am we waited for a bridge opening out of Stralsund


then continued on for one of the easiest night sails we’ve had: gentle but steady winds; a few hours of motoring; and, hardly any shipping traffic.

A chilly night and early morning, but nothing that a strong cup of joe and sight of land won’t cure.


We ended up in the small town of Svaneke due to the serendipity of a brief chat with a couple in a Siem Reap (Cambodia) optometrist’s store two years ago. During the conversation we discovered they lived on this Danish Island. Max, always one to jot down information on places to see, wrote down Michael’s email and, when leaving Straslund, sent a message.

Michael’s response came just as we were getting out of cell coverage and about to adjust our heading for Hasle. His message stated “… if you can change it go to Svaneke instead of Hasle, Svaneke is a much more beautiful place, you will love it” and provided his wife Pattama’s telephone number since he was out of the country.

An extremely friendly harbor master greeted us as we tied up to the town quay (JUANONA is in the top right-hand corner), informing us not only does the docking fee include showers and electricity but also FREE LAUNDRY. And, yes, I managed to do at least six loads while we were there :)


Bornholm draws a huge amount of Danish and non-Danish visitors. The reason is the landscape:  no place else in Denmark will you find cliffs and rocky hills as on Bornholm. Add in silky sand beaches, historical sites, plenty of green spaces, quaint towns, and friendly people and it’s no surprise this island is a popular summer destination.


And, we partook of one of their fund-raising events:  guess where the chickens will poop (!).

For a week we played on this island, thoroughly enjoying all it had to offer, beginning with its prehistoric monuments. Armed with a map identifying these sites,

we set off each day and saw…

Passage Graves

Traipsing through private fields marked by the four-leaf icon of a historical site


we saw quite a few of these from the Stone Age (4000-1800 B.C.E.)  (note the clever construction of packing stones between the large wall stones, and the large stone that could block off the entrance).

Madsebakke’s Petroglyphs

These rock engravings appeared during the Bronze Age (1800-500 B.C.E.) and comprise Denmark’s largest rock carving site. It reminded us of Tanum’s site on the west coast of Sweden. There you couldn’t walk on or touch the images, while here you could.


Fortunately, Denmark was able to save these from destruction. We read that two other rock carving sites were lost in the late 1800s because negotiations failed between the National Museum of Denmark and the property owner. As the signage shockingly described it “…So, in 1894, this site was also blasted off the planet.” Doesn’t leave much doubt about how the historians felt about that property owner!


Along with the petroglyphs, the inhabitants of the Bronze and Iron (500 B.C.E.-800 C.E.) Ages†, erected these large stones, possibly as grave markers.


And, it was always a pleasure finding them as it usually involved walking through a fairytale wood carpeted with spring flowers.


† I looked up the timing of these different prehistoric ages. Okay, the Stone one is pretty easy to understand, it’s the earliest; but, I thought it odd the Bronze age came before the Iron one. The latter is a single metal while the former is an alloy requiring a mix of copper (90%) and tin (10%). It’s because copper and tin were easier to find, extract and melt. What really helped with the use of iron was the eventual discovery of adding some carbon (most likely accidentally from the charcoal build-up in the furnace) to the mix. This gave them the stronger alloy–steel. There’s a Copper age, too, overlapping with the early Bronze age, which makes sense because that was the easiest metal to find and use for those early humans.

Runic Stones

During the transition from paganism to Christianity (1050-1150 C.E.) standing stones memorialized loved ones. The largest one on the island stood just off a main road


with a sign identiying the stick-figure language letter by letter, which when translated says:  ” Svenger had this stone made after his father Toste and after his brother Alvlak and after his mother and after his sister.” (Odd the guys got named but not the women…).


Round Churches

Unique to Bornholm, these stark white structures could be seen for miles. Constructed in the 11th century, they served both as defense (fights between the crown and the church as well as the threat of piracy) and for religious purposes.


King Harold Bluetooth proclaimed Danes as Christians in the mid 10th century (this was inscribed on a Runic stone in Jelling, and, yes, Bluetooth technology is named after this dude). However, Adam of Bremen, the German medieval chronicler, wrote that Bornholm didn’t adopt Christianity until a century later.

Surprisingly small once inside, we were stunned by our first view of one of these pillars.


Then walked to the altar…


and looked back.


The churches offered a glimpse into what it may have felt like attending a medieval service. The women entered the church through a door on the north side, the men from the south. For those who couldn’t read, the church used paintings, such as the one below depicting Adam and Eve to tell their stories.


We toured all four round churches, with the most popular one at Østerlars charging an entrance fee, which was well-worth it considering the English explanations available and the chance to climb up the circular tower.


The main difference we saw between this and the other three was the openspace within the round pillar, while the other churches’ were solid.



This contemporary art museum’s architecture stuns the visitor almost as much as the art it holds. Expanded in 2003, the design creates a sense of walking along a cottage lane with galleries opening onto the upper hallway.

Brilliant white walls reflect light streaming in. Adding to the magic is what once was considered a sacred stream,which now cuts a thin path from the top floor and flowing to the lowest level.


As a favorite gathering spot for artists during the turn of the century, the musem features primarily local talent created by the ‘Bornholm’s School’  of painters. Cruising through the rooms lit by the blue and green spring weather, I discovered Oluf Høst (1884-1966), an artist actually born on the island. His style, to me, blends well with his colors, the latter being what initially drew me in.


The excellent audio guide described Høst’s ‘ Fire’ (1954.


To portray the sensation associated with smoking herring, the artist used a blow torch to burn parts of his canvas.


The museum featured a special exhibit of Artis Nimanis’ work. Never ones to pass up an opportunity for goofball photos, we indulged in some portraiture…

Hammershus Fortress

This imposing fortress, Denmark’s largest castle ruins, reflects the island’s turbulent medieval history.


Construction dates from the early 1300s. Since the church owned the island at that time, Archbishop of Lund, Jens Grand, most likely built this fortress to fend off attacks from the Danish crown. The church succeeded until King Christian II took the castle in 1522 with the help of the Hanseatic City of Lübeck. Three years later those German merchants ended up with the island for 50 years, growing the lucrative herring trade. Then more yo-yoing between Danish and Swedish rule until the late 1600s.

Hammershus was unable to defend itself against cannon fire. A new fortress was built on Christiansø, the island ten miles NE of Bornholm in the late 1600s. Hammershus continued to be used as a prison until its abandonment in 1743. As early as 1822 the fortress became a national heritage site.

In 1873 granite quarrying on the fortress’ grounds began (some being used for the Kiel Canal)and continuing up to 1970.

The most fascinating bit of history lies in the story of one of Denmark’s famous princesses, Lenora Christina (1621-1698), illegitimate daughter of King Christian IV. Imprisoned here in 1660 with her husband for his revolt against King Frederik III, they attempted to escape through a window by tying bedsheets together. They didn’t succeed, but, it makes for a great tale, most likely one she wrote about in her autobiography Memory of Woe.

A lovely visitor’s center, which just opened this spring, welcomed us and other tourists to explore the ruins.


A bit more history here:  Jørn Utson, the architect who designed the Sydney Opera House and Svaneke’s water tower,


sketched some initial drawings but no funds were available. Years later a contest was held and the architects who won referred back to Utson’s initial sketches and incorporated them into the winning design. Between this and the Kunstmuseum it’s worth visiting Bornholm if only to experience these two buildings.



Plenty of trails crisscrossed the island, and we chose to hike the one at the northern tip.


A path led us along the shoreline, passing the Chapel of Solomon (early 14th century)


and its holy well located at one of early herring market sites


If I were to do this over I’d consider following an archaeologist who would enhance our viewings with rich details of how all these people lived.

But, once again, the most enjoyable of all our time was meeting folk. Pattama, Michael’s wife, joined us aboard one of our first evenings, bringing a friend Per. And, what a blast we had!


During our week on Bornholm Pattama invited us to her garden, part of a communal plot similar to those in the States. Her friends Mie and Ole came, too, and another wonderful time spent laughing and talking in the late afternoon sun. This photo says it all :)


We met more delightful Danes:

Peter and Joel from Copenhagen whom we invited aboard as they strolled down the town quay…


and, Mette and Jens who tied up behind us; he’s a forester and she’s a vet who runs a mobile equine dental clinic.


Depending on schedules we hope to see them during our stay in Copenhagen later in the summer.

As I said, it’s the best part of cruising!



Thursday-Friday, May 10-11

As mentioned above Hammershus lost its strategic importance when a more ‘modern’ fortress was built on this small island, ten miles NE from Bornholm.



The town quay provided easy docking because we could go alongside as opposed to a Med-mooring (docked perpendicular to the wall via the bow with the stern tied to a mooring behind us).


We set off to explore this and the even smaller rocky outcrop connected by a pedestrian bridge, one I crossed after counting the number on it…


When walking around the island we noted small man-made ponds.


We later discovered these had been Christiansø’s water source. The island’s inhabitants relied on these and ferried-in water until a desalination system provided their own ‘fresh’ water.

During our short visit we were treated to two musical events while on this small island:

the cacophony of (happily) mating green frogs who will eat anything from insects to small birds…

and a wondrous gift of hearing the Copenhagen Children’s Orchestra.

This latter was a total surprise considering this was a dot of an island and the venue extremely small and an improvised setting. But, boy, what a powerful and moving concert. From the first draw of the bows, this group of kids ranging in age from seven to 25 kept us riveted. Below is a sample of the glorious sounds they created.

I had seen this young man just hitting one of those elementary school triangles earlier in the concert. And, then THIS. W O W

Another treat were the folk off of MELODRAMA from Ireland. Karen, William and their friend Gary (the latter being a surfer until his knees told him otherwise) were taking this new boat for a shake-down cruise.


I felt bad about their rafting their pristine hull next to JUANONA’s travel-worn one, but was so glad they chose to do so. Hopefully we’ll meet up with them in July when we’re both in the Stockholm area. By then JUANONA’s hull may be a bit cleaner.

The next day we left for an even smaller island in another country…

Leave a Reply