Category Archives: 2017 Passage

BACK TO THE NETHERLANDS: Kiel Canal to Cuxhaven to Makkum

Makkum, Netherlands

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! :)


NS Passage #5

Passage Prepping

Thursday – Sunday, May 11-14

Soon we would be changing our view from trees to sea water as we began preparations for our passage to Norway.

We moved JUANONA from one Friesan island to another:  Terschelling to Vlieland, six miles to the west. Last year we used Vlieland as our departure/ arrival port to/from Norway so we were familiar with the marina and town.

Unlike Terschlling’s marina where showers, drinking water, and laundry machines were included in the docking fee, Vlieland charges for everything. But, it’s worth the extra nickel-and-diming because it’s a lovely island. And, it’ll shorten our winding path through the sand banks to reach the North Sea than if we left from Terschelling. Although, those free laundry machines are calling my name…

We ended up finalizing our provisioning in bits and bobs as we waited for the winds to start blowing from the south/southwest for our beeline to Norway. While in the lively, one-street town we took advantage of just sitting with a libation and people-watching.

While in town on Saturday we discovered folk were signing up for several foot races occurring on Sunday. Hearing that they’d run along the marina’s walkways, we managed to plant ourselves on the course with our greasy lunch. Our scarfing down food while athletic people ran by felt a bit weird but, trust me, it didn’t feel so weird that we stopped eating our hamburgers…

Part of the prepping meant relieving JUANONA of the numerous spider webs that grace her facade. Thankfully, we (royal ‘we’) now have a new night-time sport:  spider hunting. Max has become quite proficient as I saw when accompanying him on one of his safaris. He offered me the opportunity to join in and crunch some but I said no thank you; so, he merrily continued on as the solo hunter.

I’m just glad he does it because we’ve seen some huge ones ready to pounce on our faces in the V-berth. Anyone who’s woken up with a swollen eyelid knows what it’s like to be bitten by one of those dangling, eight-legged anthropods. Knowing your puffy eyelid was due to a spider crawling on your face is just one Big, nasty UGH feeling.


Monday – Wednesday, May 15 – 17

Since this will be our fifth time crossing to Norway, I could say this specific passage-making is becoming routine, but that’s not the truth. In effect we don’t treat any passage as routine, with the exception of knowing (1) we’ll be on a boat in open sea with no land in sight for awhile and (2) what clothes we have on when we left will most likely be the same clothes we peel off when we land. And, yes, laundry machines are what I hunt for when in port.

To catch a good tide running out, we left before 6am and motored then sailed into the North Sea.

With a perfect wind forecast of 10 knots S/SW, later building to 20 knots, the morning ride out from Vlieland was lovely and not too cold.

Over the next three days we settled into our usual routine of cross-wording,

cooking a one-pot meal (C+C+B, recognize big blue? :)  of chili (one of Max’s specialties),

reading, listening to music, and contemplating belly buttons while staring towards the stern as JUANONA rolls with the waves.

Underlying these activities is reviewing notes on harbors, sites, etc., for our summer cruising. Thankfully, those who have explored these waters over the years have generously provided excellent information either in emails, articles published by sailing associations or cruising guides researched and written by sailors. We use all of those sources to get an idea of where we’d like to go and what to expect when we arrive.

We maintained our usual watch schedule when it’s just the two of us:  roughly three-hours on, three-hours off. But, we’re flexible, so if someone’s more awake than the other, he/she will stay up for a longer watch to let the other sleep. (I snapped a photo of the captain gently sleeping but it’s a bit blurry as didn’t want to wake him with a flash.)

I had anticipated a chilly crossing just because the temps have been in the 50s; but, we were perfectly warm with our diesel Reflex heater located in the main cabin.

Of course, if you’ve left a dock, something is bound to cause a hiccup, which is why Max had to tighten the stuffing box to reduce water leaking in.

Beginning our passage just after a full moon we were hoping for moon-lit nights, but both evenings sported cloud coverage and no–and, I mean zip/nada/zilch/NO–visibility.

Which is why the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a boon to navigation. For me, the AIS has become the holy grail of our passage-making.

This nautical instrument allows us to see any boat traffic within a specified distance (we generally set the plotting range at a radius of 12 nautical miles when offshore). Any boats entering into our range will appear on our AIS screen noting the vessel’s speed, rotation degrees per minute, size, course, location, and what is truly wonderful:  the closest point of approach (CPA) to a specific boat and the timing of that point of approach (TCPA):

Additionally, we can contact the other ship’s pilot house by calling their Maritime Mobile Service Identity number (MMSI), a direct line listed on the AIS. On this trip we did so twice, with one of our calls resulting in our changing course for 15 minutes to provide more distance between JUANONA and a fishing boat dragging nets.

During our passage we navigated through several shipping lanes, which brings me to another electronic gizmo to which I also give thanks:  our GPS Chart Plotter. This plotter includes area charts (easily changed with a SIM card for various destinations)  with our GPS location overlaid on those charts.

For instance, we’re supposed to cross shipping lanes at a 90º angle. Our Chart Plotter shows our track across those lanes allowing us to quickly adjust our course as needed (black arrow is where we are with the red line showing our direct bearing or course to Norway).

By early Wednesday morning the wind petered out as forecasted. With 38 miles to go on this 293-mile passage, we added the engine to our energy equation and approached Norway’s SW coast, six hours later… but not without experiencing heavy fog for most of those six hours:

Luckily our GPS Chart Plotter provides an overlay of radar (indicated by those red splotches below that we later found out were due to a thunder and lightening storm). We, therefore, can pick up boats (such as small recreational vessels who don’t use AIS) as well as showing buoys and the outline of the shoreline.

But, what would happen if our chart plotter and AIS equipment failed? Good question.

As a back-up to our plotter, we’ve downloaded an app on Max’s iPad that provides almost the same information. Frankly, around here there are so many rocks, being able to scroll in to highlight an area makes digital charting really valuable (as the photo below shows in our foggy entrance to Norway).

And, if that fails, we have paper charts. I actually enjoy using printed charts for long passages because there’s nothing like marking your progress with little x’es along the way anticipating the last “x” when you arrive. With this being only a three-day passage and with all the equipment behaving, I just checked our miles to destination on the plotter and divided it by our speed to get an idea of when we might arrive.

By 12:30 we were tying up to the local quay and planning a foray into Farsund for fresh provisions and good wifi access…

…only to discover a lot of folk running around in some traditional costumes called “bunad”. Look at how gorgeous these clothes are:

Come to find out May 17 is the national holiday celebrating the signing of their constitution in 1814.

Instead of a military parade the procession through the streets is comprised of all ages. Children in particular are festive revelers on this day, no doubt looking forward to the traditional  meal of hot dogs and ice cream.

Arriving back to JUANONA we noticed another boat had come in, s/v EQUINOX with two Norwegians and one Swede aboard. Within an hour all five of us were on JUANONA discussing their upcoming plans. Their next stop is Scotland, as they continue to work their way down to the Canaries to reach St. Lucia in the Caribbean by the end of this year. They reminded us of our nephew Iain and his wife Sarah who, too, have planned some cruising time this summer after making arrangements with their companies. Great energy and spirits in all of them.

Having Camilia, Thomas, and Michael aboard was a wonderful welcome to Norway, similar to other times when we met Gunnar and Elisabeth in Os last year and Kjetil in Alesund in 2015. There’s something magical about meeting folks like them, a reminder of how sharing time with others is one of the main reasons we’re doing what we’re doing.

And, just to give a shout-out:  Michael owns a great cafe on an island called Styrso (near Gothenburg on the west coast of Sweden), called Öbergska, which we’re definitely planning to visit during our summer cruising.

As I finish this passage-posting rain falls gently on JUANONA’s deck while we savor freshly brewed java in our v-berth and wifi-graze the news sites.

A perfect start to our summer cruising with one more ‘chore’ left to confirm completion of our NS #5 passage :)