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…



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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!

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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


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Tack så mycket Vindö !

Six weeks since an unwelcome puncture in Blue Heeler’s hull and the repair work is finished. Blue Heeler no longer has an open wound and the repaired interior woodwork is back in position, thanks to the professional team at Vindö Marin.

While it was never our intention to be in this predicament, our time at Orust has not been unpleasant; the help and support of everyone here helped take the sting out of a bad situation. We also managed to keep busy by doing some additional boat-work ourselves.

October is a busy time of year for boatyards and Vindö was no exception. In addition to repairing Blue Heeler, they also had to haul out many, many boats for winter storage.

To everyone, and in particular the workers who put in the hours repairing our floating home, we can’t thank you enough! 🙂

While dozens of boats were hauled out to spend the next six months safe inside for winter, this week our little Aussie Blue Heeler was launched back into the cold Skagerrak waters. Yesterday we left our cosy cabin at the nearby Vindö Camping & Marina to return to life aboard. Thanks to Michael and family for accommodating us in our time of need.

And finally, the prompt and efficient service from our insurers and surveyors made this experience as painless as possible. Thank you!

Since our arrival in September, the leaves have changed from green and glossy to gold and brown, before shivering from their branches. Tomorrow, as the clocks wind back in Sweden, we will continue our journey south making good use of a north-easterly breeze and lessening daylight hours.

Until next time…


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Holed up at Orust, Sweden

Hall full or half empty?

“If you’re wondering whether your glass is half full or half empty you are missing the point;

You have a glass and it is refillable”

*      *     *     *


Around four weeks ago Wayne almost lost a thumb while poking around the engine; resulting in a trip to casualty in Norway. A few days later our mainsail blew out with a long non-repairable rip. The following day Blue Heeler collided with a cable ferry at Marstrand causing substantial damage to our starboard side.

While every care is taken to avoid disaster, life certainly throws up good and bad situations. Shit happens as they say…

As far as the boat incident, this is how it went down:  Our brilliant summer season had ended with a successful trip up to Norway. Blue Heeler was motoring south along the channel through Marstrand hoping to reach Göteborg that afternoon, with only another 250nm or so to reach Flensburg in Germany, where we plan to stay over winter. A stationery ferry was to starboard so we continued heading south on the starboard side of the channel. But from behind the stationery ferry, another cable ferry had entered the waterway becoming visible to us all too late. Attempting to pull up, Blue Heeler snagged the underwater cable, the engine stopped and we collided against the pointy corner of the ferry’s ramp. It all happened so quickly. For the passengers aboard the ferry this was an exciting event; whipping out their iPhones quicker than the ‘Waco Kid’ (photos of the incident likely to be on Instagram by the time we’d even realised what had happened). Wayne managed to start the engine and the boat freed from the cable. Blue Heeler limped to the nearest dock where we assessed the damage. In my mind I pleaded “Please don’t sink, please don’t sink!!”.

Our initial assessment of the damage – a bloody big hole in the starboard hull; a starboard bulkhead split in half; the forward cabin cupboard and locker pushed out-of-place and some broken woodwork. There was no sign of water coming in, but to be certain the boat needed lifting to check for damage. As it was a Saturday, we had to wait until a work day to arrange a lift. The automatic bilge never switched on so that was a positive sign. Wayne taped the hole up with strong Gorilla tape to keep the following day’s rain out.

This was not the way we expected Blue Heeler’s pilgrimage to Sweden to happen! What a bizarre and disastrous coincidence it happened 30nm south of where Blue Heeler was built back in 1997. To get things moving, on the Sunday after the incident I dropped an email to Hallberg Rassy in the hope someone was having a Sunday morning coffee and reading work emails. Luckily it was CEO Magnus Rassy who replied with a few names of local boat-yards that could do the work. Fantastic!

With a break in the weather and the bloody big hole taped up with super-sticky Gorilla tape to keep the water out, we motored 30nm through the islets of the Skagerrak to the north of Orust.

Safely berthed at Vindö Marin that same day a surveyor came out to inspect the hull. We could see where the cable had scored the rudder. Blue Heeler returned to the water for a few days rest.

This time of year is extremely busy for boat-yards as boats this far north are lifted ashore to spend winter inside sheds. The yard-hands are busy removing masts and spend each day hauling boats ashore. Blue Heeler had to wait its turn so we stayed on board, gathered our belongings and prepared to leave our home. In the meantime, Storm Knud caused a raucous outside with winds gusting 50kn+ for about 24 hours, raising the water level more than a metre making it almost impossible to get off for a couple of days.

Blue Heeler was eventually lifted and placed in a large shed for the repair work to begin. With a clearer view of the propeller, we could see where the cable had scored one of the propeller blades.

And for the first time in almost eight years we are homeless! So, where do we go?

Our small cosy cabin and room for the bikes.

Like a couple of refugees, we packed our essentials – backpacks filled with warm clothes, toothbrushes, food, bedding, our bikes, and relocated to a simple one room cabin at a nearby camping ground.

Although the campground has officially closed for winter, the management has welcomed us to stay until the boat is repaired, or until the water pipes freeze up – whichever comes first! There are two bunk beds so we’ve each got a bottom bunk. The nearest town is 10kms away and there is nothing in the immediate vicinity, but the bus system is very good. The cabin has a small fridge, a two-burner stove, a tiny table with four chairs and a gorgeous view out the window. Most importantly is has a heater to keep the cabin cosy. The shower/toilet is not so convenient, about 100m walk away – a cold 5am totter to the dunny seems like reasonable penance for wrecking our boat…

So while we are very disappointed that we’ve injured our beloved Blue Heeler, it’s in capable hands, we have a warm place to stay, Wayne’s thumb is on the mend (sporting a Jolly Roger), and we have a spare mainsail to replace the tatty one.

Our glass is filling up again.

Fingers crossed we will be heading south soon aboard our dear little Blue Heeler.


Until then here’s a picture of happier times just days before in Fredrikstad, Norway.

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