Sailors ashore: Europe in 28 days

Living on a boat is a great way to see the world, no doubt, but it’s not always possible to visit places other than ports. When the opportunity to leave the boat in a safe place and travel farther afield is presented, it’s an opportunity not to be missed.

While living aboard a boat is generally inexpensive, the boat alone absorbs much of the cruising kitty, leaving little to travel overland. But now and again a trip away from the boat is justified, particularly after crossing so many oceans. After a quiet few months eating porridge and drinking rum in Flensburg, we rewarded ourselves with a month travel overland.

In 1991 after backpacking and working through Canada, then travelling through the US, we eventually made our way to the UK with empty pockets. Any dream of continuing through Europe was out of reach for us at that time.

Around that same era, many positive changes were taking place in Europe.

A partial remaining section of the Berlin Wall – ‘Madness’ scrawled upon the wall

The moral monstrosity of the Berlin Wall fell in November 1989, soon followed by the reunification of Germany in October 1990. In December 1991, while we were working and skiing at Sunshine Village in Banff, Canada, the Soviet Union crumbled and the Cold War warmed up. After the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the Czech Republic and Slovakia gained independence in 1993. In 1992 I never dreamed the UK would leave the EU. Now, as a confused UK wobbles at the precipice of BREXIT who knows what the future holds for this former empire. Chlorinated chicken?

Nowadays, Europe is alive with a variety and mix of ethnicities, as a result of the Schengen Agreement of 1985 which eliminated border controls – freedom of movement between the member countries makes travelling and living in Europe just that bit easier. Most of the EU countries are also in the Eurozone so having one currency is great. But still, for some countries such as Hungary and Czech Republic, you’ll still need to convert to local currency to buy a trdlenik or goulash.

Boy chasing bubbles in Munich

We’ve spent over a year in Europe and this one month trip gave us a taste of Europe from the window of a train. Our time in each city was spent walking around, absorbing much of the atmosphere, eating local food and drinking local beer. Besides all the typical attractions available to tourists (zoos, etc), what can’t be ignored are the many attractions related to the past brutal history; in particular how each city has moved ahead from that terrible chapter.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin

The cities we visited – Berlin, Hamburg, Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Munich, Bern, Paris – each have scars from the ghastly wars of the 20th Century. Some more visible than others. But the determination and resilience to overcome the horrors of the past and rebuild wonderful cities from piles of rubble is truly amazing.

Memorial to the Jews shot and dumped in the Danube, Budapest

Ubiquitous to Europe are memorials expressing remorse, empathy, and grief, but also recognising the brutal crimes of the past. These memorials are important to educate and remind today’s youth of the awfulness of the past so that it may never happen again – ‘to try and understand horrors that can never be understood’. 

While each city has attended to their wounds in their own unique way – some have done this better than others – it is interesting to see the transformations.

Some exquisite architectural restorations can be found in Budapest and Prague, while more modern buildings are popping up over Berlin; all cities attract millions of tourists each year and join the blend of races and ethnicity that have adopted those cities as their home.

Humanity appears to be restored, at least for now, or so we thought.

“this is not who we are”

In Munich on a cold drizzly morning when we planned to visit the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, reports of the Christchurch mosque massacre was all over the news. I cannot understand why so much hatred; why so much pointless death; why so much ignorance; Why?

 

For a couple of sailors who’ve taken eight years to see half of the world, one month is a short time but we packed in as must as possible in 28 days. Visiting ten cities and seven countries we observed and learned more about each city and their interesting populations and how they fit into the modern era of the European Union. Our Interrail pass allowed us ten days travel to use within two months and we did as much travelling as we could.

So now that our European jaunt is over we are back aboard our little Blue Heeler and we prepare for the 2019 sailing season.

And I have to say “it’s good to be home!”

Below are links to each city we visited plus some notes about train travel through Europe. I hope you enjoy my musings.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Emergence from hibernation

Happy 80th Elaine.

 

Now that the coldest and darkest months of January and February are over, I can (almost) safely say the worst is over. Mind you, there was no ‘worst’. At winter’s peak, the temperature in Flensburg settled between -2 to 5 degrees with a couple of days where the mercury dipped to minus ten. At the same time last year while in the UK, we experienced the Beast from the East, which dumped tonnes of snow upon the little isle. I’m told also that here in Flensburg last year a blanket of snow covered the town for a couple of weeks. As winter morphs into spring, I’m fully aware that this transition may still bring changeable weather so it ain’t over yet, but the warm weather so far is ‘most unusual’.

A few weeks ago ice developed around the edges of the harbour providing a skating rink for seagulls. With February typically the coldest month the water temperature chills to around 2degC. Luckily the water that flows around Blue Heeler is slightly warmer due to an outflow of tepid water from a nearby manufacturing plant, so I’m told. The temp sensor on the chart plotter revealed that today’s water temperature is 6degC. Last weekend a delightfully sunny 13degC attracted folks to patron the nearby Beach Café where they sat and sipped their beers or wines while they looked at the boats. We sat in our sun-warmed cockpit to have a brew and watch the people too!

Our view of the foreshore looking at the Beach Cafe on a sunny winter afternoon.

But the best news is that we now have more daylight hours, which will only increase the further north we go as the 2019 summer season advances. Hooray!

So, how did we endure winter aboard?

Poor man’s Vegemite…

Each day I would walk an hour or so despite the weather mostly to walk through the volkspark or along the hilltop with views overlooking the fjord. The Gross Strauss is a mile long shopping street closed to traffic and often filled with loads of pedestrians. I’ve found some good shops, but alas, haven’t found any Vegemite (all I found was Marmite; a poor second).

Strolling around Flensburg is quite enjoyable. Riding around is easy too, with plenty of bike paths around the town and beyond. A sprinkling of sand by city workers keeps paths safe during the snowy days. Denmark isn’t far away – half an hour cycle along the western shore of the fjord to cross at the start of the Gendarm Path. This route was in use between 1920 until 1958 by walking gendarms defending the Danish border, but nowadays this route can be hiked or walked 74kms along the South Jutland coast. Nearby Glücksberg and its famous castle is about 12kms away and worth the ride. The rest of the day is filled up with the usual tasks of lugging water to the boat, laundry and grocery shopping, plus watching YouTube shows and news in the evening.

Over winter Wayne knocked off a few jobs, as did I, and despite a couple of cupboards needing a good wipe out and spray of vinegar to wipe away the water and keep away the mould, life aboard has been warm and comfortable. 

Our time in the northern winter also gave us the chance to meet blue water sailors who have sailed many years around the world, plus local sailors, so it’s been great to share stories. Together we’ve enjoyed outings to Rømø and Tønder in Denmark, walked the beaches of the North Sea and forest doggy walks. Thanks to everyone here who’ve made our stay special 🙂

Dog walking along the North Sea, west coast of Romo

Time to go traveling!

So now, after four months in our tiny home keeping warm and saving our pennies, our reward is a train-trip (something we’ve been meaning to do for many years). March should be a good time to travel and a Eurail pass makes the trip affordable and less stressful than driving. Our plan is to travel through Germany and its border countries leaving visits to countries farther south for when Blue Heeler is in the area. By the end of March, the UK will jump ship from the European Union – time will tell whether it will sink or swim. BREXIT has implications for us so we are watching, closely.

Until then…

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Flensburg: Fireworks and flood

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a lovely festive season with family and friends.

31st December 2018. A heavy mist over the town of Flensburg.

Once again we spent the festive season in a new country as spectators to local end of year traditions. In Flensburg, we had the opportunity to learn a little about a German New Year’s Eve. Known as ‘Silvester’ in Germany, New Year’s Eve was definitely the wildest end of year spectacle I’ve ever witnessed.

In Germany, folks can purchase fireworks* from the 28th December for three days only (*There are various categories of fireworks and only those “that pose little danger” are for sale to those over 18 years of age. By comparison, fireworks in Victoria Australia were banned in 1974). It’s been many years since I’ve seen rockets and sparklers in unqualified hands.

Although we were invited to join other boaters we decided to stay aboard Blue Heeler as we’d been cautioned to expect fireworks above the boats. To avoid any chance of spot fires, we’d made sure anything flammable was stowed away from the deck and hoped that boats around us had also taken similar precautions. As the daylight waned, and after a yummy smoked salmon meal from the Cobb BBQ, from the confines of our cosy cockpit and with a bottle or two of bubbles, we settled in for an entertaining night of fireworks.

Fireworks frenzy in Flensburg

During the day, fireworks exploded around the town with puffs of white smoke and loud bangs. As the evening progressed, more and more fireworks ignited around Flensburg filling the already misty air with particulate. Crowds dressed in warm jackets, hats and scarves braved the cold evening as they congregated around the harbour – each with their own cache of fireworks – rockets, chrysanthemum, peony, Roman candles, and so on.

With a strong breeze from the west, rockets were often fired horizontally catching the wind to land near the Gosch Sylt restaurant on the eastern bank. Opposing rockets fired from the east bank against the wind quickly blew backwards to land in the crowd or fly up into the spreaders of nearby boats or the branches of trees.

Rockets shot above the mast

The smell of cordite filled the air but the breeze kept the pollution to a satisfactory level blowing it somewhere over the Baltic Sea. Nearby, fireworks exploded above our mast dropping debris over the deck. Red marine flares blasted from boats across the water and hovered high above, while some chose to hold burning flares in their hands. A parachute flare landed on a boat two rows up from us; luckily it didn’t start a fire. (Apparently two boats burned out a couple of years ago under similar conditions though). As the clock approached midnight, the chaotic fireworks display reached its climax. The town erupted into a fireworks frenzy until it resembled what could only be described as a war zone.

Here’s a link to my ten minute video of the event. 

Transfixed by the spectacle, we stayed up for a couple more hours until the bulk of the crowd dispersed and the likelihood of Blue Heeler igniting diminished. In the news the next morning: The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) reckoned around 4,500 tonnes of particulate matter would’ve exploded into the sky nationwide that night – 4,500 tonnes! One guy alone was charged with having over 850kg of fireworks at his Hamburg house!

So that was the first of January!

On the 2nd January we had an unusual interruption to our sleep in the wee hours.

The westerly breeze veered into a stronger north-westerly resulting in a rise to the water level. Predicated to rise from a low of 3.9m to a high of 6.5m in twelve hours, the waters began to flow through the belts of Denmark and Germany to fill up the fjords. Water runs over the quay walls at 6.23m so this was likely to flood the town.

Shows the predicated water level compared to mean level. Source: www2.bsh.de

But that wasn’t the immediate dilemma.

At 5.30am a loud pounding on our rigging had me jumping into my trackies, boots and fleece to see what the hell was going on. In the cold 2degC darkness, our starboard neighbour woke us up to tell us that our port neighbour’s bow had wedged under the dock, pushed under by the strong wind and rising water. No-one was on the boat. The bow of the 10m steel hulled boat was trapped under the dock, while the boat’s propeller and rudder were out of the water pointed skywards. The water level was 5.5m at that time, and another metre would fill the harbour within a few hours. Remember, there are no floating docks here.

The fire brigade turned up, stared and pointed for a while, then decided Blue Heeler should exit its berth so they could get another boat in to drag the wedged boat free. There was a slight chance our rigging would collide and possibly cause damage, so reluctantly we agreed.

It was too early, too dark, too cold, too windy and we hadn’t had a coffee! It took a little while to prepare Blue Heeler as the boat was prepared for winter – tarp on deck, stuff in the cockpit, etc. – but within 20 minutes Wayne had the engine on and backed out, managing to clear the piles while I removed the stern lines and tried not to fall in the water. Blue Heeler waited near the floating Christmas tree for around 15 minutes until we were waved back in. Fortunately we were helped with our lines and had the kettle on in no time. We still had a couple of hours before sunrise at 8.45am.

Throughout the morning we watched as water flooded into the harbour – by 2pm the water peaked at 6.68m flooding over the docks and roads. Electricity to the wharf was turned off as the flood water inched higher and higher. Here’s a recent clip from the local news team SHZ.de. The last time the water peaked to over 6.7m was in 2017 and 2006. 

Electricity turned off!

The flood subsided the following day to its average height of 5m, but the temperature also dropped to minus 4degC leaving the deck and the dock icy and slippery.

Inside the boat is warm but living in such a confined space during a Northern European winter can be tedious. My attempt to varnish our companionway steps is proving difficult as the weather isn’t on my side. Wayne is still waiting on parts from the USA to arrive so he can repair our alternator, but the festive season has put the brakes on speedy delivery.

6.7m in Flensburg

With only twelve more weeks until Blue Heeler is moving again – and with the coldest weeks still ahead of us – we are doing our best to keep the boat running and keep ourselves busy so we don’t go batty. With so much happening in the news (Brexit, Trump, etc) at least we’re keeping ourselves informed and entertained!

Until next time…

 

 

Aside | Posted on by | 2 Comments

Flensburg: highs, lows and ho-ho-hos!

As we make our way slowly around the globe, each harbour, city, and country gives us new and varied experiences – on the land and on the water. Flensburg is no different; from the highs and lows of the Flensburg Fjörd to the festivities of the Weihnachmarkt, in Flensburg we have five months to experience life in northern Germany.

After Lübeck and Kiel, Flensburg is the third largest town in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein and to the north. The Flensburg Fjörd, or Firth, is the westernmost inlet to the Baltic Sea and defines the border between Germany and Denmark. The Danish Straits to the north, which we sailed through a few weeks ago, lead through the Kattegat and Skagerrak to the North Sea.

The water level in the Flensburg Fjörd fluctuates from a mean low water (MLW) of 3.8m to a mean high water (MHW) of 6.3m, with a mean height of around 5m. The docks at Flensburg are fixed, not floating, with pylons at the stern. As the water level increases or decreases, the docks stay fixed, and Blue Heeler rides up or down accordingly.

With little if any tidal activity in the region, this fluctuation is caused by wind and barometric pressure alone. When a strong easterly wind blows, the Baltic Sea is pushed into the narrow and finite fjörds and ‘belts’ of the Danish straits, consequently raising water levels. Conversely, a strong southerly or westerly, the water level drops. We can monitor the water levels through Pegel Online. We were told of this natural occurrence before we arrived, but the penny didn’t drop on the frequency of this phenomenon.

It’s a big step from boat to slippery dock!

With a fixed dock, the bow and stern lines must be slack enough to cater for boat movement (up or down) but not too slack that the boat is not secure. There’s plenty of depth under our keel, but forward of the keel the rocky bottom rises steeply. For that reason we couldn’t back into the berth as the rudder would’ve hit the bottom at low water. Blue Heeler is bow-to, so we have to climb over the bow to jump on the dock.

Over the past few weeks we’ve seen the water level range between 4.2m to 5.9m. At the highest level it was a bit tricky climbing over the bow onto the slippery dock with jerries of water. Back in January 2017 Storm Axel caused the water level to rise so high that it flooded the docks, roads and shops. Hopefully we won’t experience that!

So with the outside temperature around 0-5degC, Blue Heeler floats high or low in water slightly warmer than ambient, as a nearby manufacturing plant spews warm water into the fjord which prevents this side of the fjord from freezing over winter. Or so we’re told. Behind us a single Christmas tree floats nearby.

For heating we run a Webasto Airtop 32 diesel heater, ducted throughout the bilge with outlets into each cabin. With the dehumidifier and heater running throughout the day and night, plus a few other appliances, we use less than 7kW per day. The heater and dehumidifier don’t run all the time – now that the boat is warm and dry, they come on as needed. The temperature is no more than 20degC during the day and no less than 15degC at night, which is quite comfortable. The cost of diesel is around 1.30 Euros per litre and the Webasto uses less than one litre for every five hours of operation (which is probably a day’s operation). As backup (in case the Webasto fails) we have a small 800W oil heater plus a small electric 2000W heater.

Wayne in his happy place – fixing stuff!

It would be great if we can get away from the boat to explore Germany for a few days, although the days are getting colder and daylight hours are reduced as the sun is low in the sky. But as usual, we have jobs to do – I’ve been busy varnishing, sewing, writing and monitoring the condensation and comfort levels, while Wayne has taken apart the alternator and ordered replacement bearings and brushes plus a new regulator. I’ve ordered new sails from UK Sails just up the road, while my DSLR camera is in for repair and service in Hamburg. Each day I’ll go out for some exercise and pick up some groceries despite the cold and rain. Actually, the cold weather is a nice change from steamy humidity of the tropics (I say that now, but ask me again in five months!).

Shoefiti = Shoe graffiti

Meanwhile in Flensburg, looking up high along the Norderstraße are dozens of shoes strung high above the road (once voted one of the “World’s Strangest Streets”). In the town, the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market) has commenced and runs each day until Christmas Eve. The Große Strauss is lined with huts selling all sorts of Christmas treats, Quarkbällchen (German doughnuts), gingerbreads and spicy Glühwein or ‘glowing-wine’ (a mulled wine and mixed with sweet Amaretto or Rum).

Last week we ducked out into the rain to enjoy a Bratwurst in a baguette, a Flensburg beer followed by a lakrits (licorice) liquor, after which we walked through the drizzle and returned to Blue Heeler. As the days get colder and daylight diminishes we’re thankful that we are warm and safe here in Germany for winter.

Merry Christmas everyone!

At this time of year my family and friends in Australia are on my mind more often than usual. This year had its challenges for members of my family; especially for my brave nephews Matthew and Tim and their relentless struggle against Niemann-Pick Type C.

This Christmas please consider donating to the Australian NPCD Foundation here.

Some of our good friends have also dealt with sadness and heartache this year and we send our positive thoughts to them and their loved ones.

And for everyone we wish good health, happiness and kindness.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Finally Flensburg

Our Northern Europe visit in 2018 can be described as somewhat extraordinary. Back in March, our expectation was for a short summer sailing season of a couple of months, a quick whiz around the Baltic then up to Norway before crossing to Scotland and down to England for the winter. Seemed straightforward enough – perhaps a little ambitious?

As it turned out, this year we sailed to nine countries visiting many notable historical cities plus had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with friends in their home countries.

In short, we left the UK to arrive at the shallow beaches of France; paid our respects to the fallen at Flanders Fields in Belgium; motored along the Standing Mast Route of the Netherlands, passing tulip fields as we made our way to Haarlem and Amsterdam, through the Markermeer and IJsselmeer; steered along Germany’s Kiel Canal entering the fresh water of the Baltic Sea; short sailing days to the islands of Fehman, Bornholm, Häno; sailing with Karl and Elisabet to Götland; crossing to historic Latvia and Estonia; up to Finland to see Salme, Tom and Thomas; through the archipelago to Åland; Swimming and barbequeing along the Stockholms skärgård before passing along the Göta Canal through to Sweden’s largest lake, Lake Vänern then along the Trollhatte Canal to Göteborg; navigating through the intricate islets of Sweden’s west through the Skagerrak to Oslo, Norway then south again only to be hit by a cable ferry (ugh!!); six weeks laid up to repair then continuing our trip south as the first snow fell; dropping into the homeport of S.Y. Comedie then down to Varberg; a long, dark, cold overnighter crossing the Kattegat from Sweden to Denmark and finally to Flensburg, Germany  – our home for the next few months.

Flensburg – home for winter 2018

At 54.5 degrees north, winter this year will be our coldest live-aboard experience. Over the past week we’ve been busy preparing the boat for a harsh winter – plastic film across the windows to keep condensation at bay; foam cushions positioned in the hatches and sealed with bubble wrap to insulate; dehumidifier running to keep humidity at a comfortable level (Our Webasto diesel heater is a winner as the ducted heat keeps the bilge warm as well as the inside of the boat quite comfortable); the dinghy was scrubbed clean and cover washed, restitched and stowed; the outboards prepared for winter by removing all fuel; sails removed and restitched where necessary before stowing away; applied a coat of Boracol to the teak deck to keep the algae and mildew away.

Important to keep up the exercise over winter

The facilities here at Flensburg IM Jaich are good – the harbour master(s) are friendly and helpful; 50m from us the ablutions are warm and commodious and the nearby Gosch Sylt sells yummy fish and chips as well as famous Flensburg brews. Electricity at the dock is .50 Euro cents per kWh (not cheap compared to Haslar in Gosport at .19c); and we have to lug water by jerry can as the water is turned off the docks over winter, but we don’t use much aboard anyway. Along the Große Straße (Great Street) in the centre of town I can get pretty much anything I need from a good variety of shops and supermarkets; the Flensburg Yacht Service chandlery is a 15 minute walk away for any boaty things; and there’s a lovely forest walk to get some exercise in the chilly mornings.

There are still a few jobs we need to do – learning German is high on that list, as is organising new sails – but next week we celebrate our 36th wedding anniversary aboard Blue Heeler and will probably go out for a local brew.

So if you are in northern Germany or southern Denmark over winter, do drop in and say hello!

Until then…

Photo by Laila – Comedie

 

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , | Leave a comment