Sunshine sailing in Sweden

Sweden is experiencing “an unusual season”. Last month reported the hottest May in Sweden for many years. The past few weeks (in fact the past two months) have been particularly warm and mostly pleasant for us as we’ve travelled along the Northern European coast. We don’t know any different though.

Blue Heeler sailed from Sassnitz on Germany’s Ruegen Island and headed to Rønne on the east coast of the Danish island of Bornholm. The distance is 56nm and sailing along with a fresh breeze we arrived mid-afternoon at the small hafen. Here we went to the self-service bowser and topped up with 200 litres of diesel – DK11.50 per litre (that’s around A$2.50 per litre – you can understand why we must sail as much as possible!). No box-berths here, just normal floating pontoons.

Small harbour of Hanö

A couple of days at Bornholm, taking a day to enjoy a cycle around, the wind turned favourable for a sail to the small Swedish island of Hanö, another 56nm further north. There’s not much to do on Hanö except walk up a hill to the lighthouse in the centre, which is only ten minutes from the harbour. It’s charming though and dotted with wooden cottages and sheds painted in Falu red (a pigment from copper mines), ubiquitous to Sweden.

The following day the wind wasn’t as strong as previous days, and it was a headwind, so we managed a slow 28nm in eight hours of tacking and motor sailing to arrive at the tiny harbour of Utklippan. Utklippan consists of two small islands or skerries – the north skerry is where the harbour is located, while the south skerry has the lighthouse and cabins. The lighthouse is disused and the few cabins cater for a maximum of twenty guests. The harbour has enough dock for passing yachts (five boats during our stay but apparently over the busy summer season up to fifty boats cram in!).

Utklippan is a haven for reptiles (particularly frogs), birdlife and seals. The latter were easily spooked when we snuck out from behind a rock to witness them darting into the sea.The friendly harbourmaster suggested we walk up the lighthouse for a good view, so we did. The 122 steps to the top is worth it for excellent views of the harbour. The harbour has a couple of dinghies available to quietly row from one island to the other without disturbing the local bird life with noisy outboards.

A few days before arriving at Utklippan, the Swedish government issued an important pamphlet to citizens warning them of a “heightened state of alert” and what to do when an attack is imminent; obviously not directed at our arrival, but more so to the provocative neighbours to the east. The harbour master at Utklippan reckoned there was a good possibly of lurking Russian submarines not far away. That night we were inspired to rewatch The Hunt for Red October.

 

Entry at Kalmar, just in case you weren’t sure!

Leaving early from Utklippan we tacked our way north until we reached the medieval town of Kalmar. The first noticeable building is the Kalmar Slott (castle), with origins from the 13th century and looking pretty much now as it did in the 1600s.

Kalmar Castle

The old Hanseatic city has stunning historic buildings surrounded by ramparts and segments of old wall. The Kalmar Cathedral is stunning, and taking a late afternoon walk around the historic town is a rewarding experience.

We stayed at the Kalmar Gästhamn (guest harbour) a couple of nights to provision and ride around. There is a good chandlery opposite the harbour office so we bought a couple of Swedish sailing guide books – Hamnguides. The text is Swedish but the sample charts and diagrams are good, and we use Google Translate to translate the text.

Our cruising kitty is certainly getting a little bruised in this region. Sweden is second on the list of EU countries with the highest VAT of 25%, equal with Denmark. Alcohol is very expensive and can only be bought from Government run liquor outlets known as Systembolaget. Despite this, they have a great selection of wines, liquors, beers, etc. but for a few dollars more. Beer up to 3.5% can be bought from supermarkets. Even though some things are expensive, marinas are comparable to Australian marinas, with the off season rates anywhere from SEK150 to SEK300 (around A$22 to A$50 per night). And of course anchoring is free and abundant which helps keep things under control.

It’s around this area where the famous Swedish archipelago begins. Over the following ten days, and blessed with extraordinarily warm weather, we anchored in various bays taking in walks through pine forests, reading or knocking off a few onboard jobs while our cruising kitty licked its wounds.

Although the air is warm, the water hasn’t caught up and is still very cold (around 17degC). On a lazy afternoon I decided to clean above the waterline so to keep warm I donned my wetsuit and booties and sat astride the dinghy to scrub, while Wayne worked on removing dirty fuel in our outboard. There’s always plenty to do.

Between 10pm and 3.00am the sky is never really dark. Normally my rise and fall are synchronised with the sun, so it is in Sweden. This means I’m falling asleep around midnight only to awake at 4am sunrise. Heavy duty foil placed over the small porthole to blank out the sunshine and a heavy towel hanging in the ‘hallway’ to remove any trace of seeping sunshine helps darken the cabin and give us a few more hours of sleep.

Empty berths at Vastervik

The island of Götland was recommended as a must-see place to visit, but with ideal winds still a few days away, we decided to head into Västervik Gästhamn. (Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA comes from Västervik so we kept our eyes open in case we ran into him!). This was a good stop and a great place to provision with a huge ICA Maxi and Biltema department store 4kms away (a 15 minute ride). I was surprised there wasn’t more boats. We didn’t even have to tie up to the stern moorings as there was plenty of dock space.

Västervik was also a good place to meet up with friends. We first met Karl and Elisabet from “Spray” at Hemingway Marina in Cuba, then sailed on and off with them along the Antilles over the following months. While their Hallberg Rassy is on the other side of the world in New Zealand, they are in Sweden for summer and generously invited us to their summer home a couple of hours away from Västervik.

Two hours from the coast for spectacular views

The wind forecast for later that week was ideal for a sail to Visby, the UNESCO World Heritage Hanseatic Town at Götland around 54nm to the east. Back on board but this time with two extra crew as our friends joined us for what turned out to be a fantastic day’s sail, averaging 7kn!

The wind increased to 25kn as we approached Visby Harbour, but with three crew helping the skipper, we bounced into the harbour, dodging a departing ‘Destination Götland’ ferry, furled the sails, docked, and had the cold beers out in no time! That night we watched the sun go down… unlike the lower latitudes, this took about ten minutes for the sun to finally plop out of view.

Visby was the main centre of the Hanseatic League in the Baltic from the 12th to the 14th century and is the best-preserved fortified commercial city in northern Europe, with more than 200 warehouses and fancy dwellings housed within the 13th-century ramparts. We stayed on in Visby one more day as our friends caught the ferry back to the mainland the following day. It was great to have such nice people aboard and sail with us!

Kids enjoying Studenten

But it’s not all ramparts and buildings – that day and night held the Swedish traditional ‘Studenten’ –  the graduation from upper-secondary school when a teenager goes from being an upper-secondary school student to becoming eligible to enter University (much like Schoolies in Australia, but more family orientated and not as disorderly). The tradition begins with a Champagne breakfast at school, then the kids run out of the school building to waiting parents, family and friends bearing gifts. Tractors tow truckloads of celebrating students, while massive speakers blare out ‘doof-doof’ sound as they circle the town. They finished up near us on the beachfront for the revelry, drinking and dancing to continue into the night.

The next day we motor sailed on light winds around to the north to Farö and the small fishing harbour of Lauterhorn. Along the way I hand-stitched up a couple of easy courtesy flags for Latvia and Estonia.

Faro harbour, Gotland

The summer season hasn’t officially started yet and many of the marinas have reduced staff and reduced rates, with no need to struggle to find a berth. The approaching summer solstice on June 21 will begin the decline of sunlight hours, but an increase in holiday-makers.

Leaving Farö at 3.30am as the sun rose, we had a ripper sail across to Ventspils in Latvia. Here is where we’ll commence our anti-clockwise trip around the Baltic.

I know little about Latvia so I wonder what surprises are in store for us…

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Big ships, Box-Berths, Brathering auf Brötchen: A taste of Germany

With so much to see and with our goal of reaching Stockholm and Finland’s archipelago in the few months of summer, we made the decision to move through Germany swiftly to reach the northern Baltic. With so much on offer for tourists, we really wanted to spend more time in Germany, but now wasn’t the time, so we will return one day and give it our full attention. But even our short time on Germany’s northern shores we’ve managed to see a few historic ports and towns, taking in a beer or two at each stop. Here’s where we’ve been…

On the 2nd of May, once a couple of thunderstorms had passed over, we left Delfzijl in the Netherlands with our aim of the port at Cuxhaven, Germany – about 120nm east. All throughout the Netherlands, and particularly offshore, large wind-farms are generating power or in a state of construction. They have big plans to triple their renewable energy from wind-farms over the next few years which is really impressive.

The coastline is shallow and strong winds can whip up stiff short seas. A blow came over that night, but it was from behind and actually helped us along. We didn’t want to reach the River Elbe too early as the outgoing current can run at 4 knots. As it turned out the currents, weather and tides were all in our favour so we bypassed Cuxhaven and sailed a further 20nm directly to Brunsbüttel and the entrance to the Nord-Ostsee Kanal, also known as the Kiel Canal. Unfortunately this meant we missed out in seeing some friends in Bremen, but we promise we will return!

The Kiel Canal is 98 kilometres long and allows ships and pleasure boats to cross to the Baltic from the North Sea saving around 250nm. The alternative is the head north around the top of Denmark.

To the south of the Brunsbüttel lock is a waiting area for pleasure craft, although there’s nowhere to tie up to. So we drifted in gear against a 3kn current. After waiting an hour or so, a white flashing light invited us to enter the lock. Once inside (of the two small locks we entered the west lock) floating platforms are available to tie to. This is unusual and something we’ve never seen (and we’ve been through many locks!), but it worked well. Keeping our fenders low at the water, I jumped off with a bow line and quickly looped it through a large ring on the dock then jumped back aboard to secure while Wayne did the same on the stern line. The water level dropped about two metres taking around 15 minutes. Once the gates opened to release the few pleasure vessels, we motored out and to port heading to the Brunsbüttel hafen where we would spend the night.

Brunsbuttel Hafen

The hafen is simple and not intended for boats to stay for days, but it has good showers, toilets, cheap and cheerful cafes along the port, electricity and water dockside. The hafenmeister comes along in the evening to take your berth fee (10 Euros) and Kiel Canal permit which was only 18 Euros and valid for three days passage.

As the huge commercial locks operate throughout the night, you will hear the hum and feel the vibration of massive propellers thrashing through the water as they build up speed to exit the locks. After sailing overnight from with only two hours sleep we were too tired to notice.

A couple of documents will help you through the Kiel Canal – “Guidance for Operation of Pleasure Craft – Kiel Canal” produced by http://www.wsv.de; a copy of “SeeschifffahrtsstraBen-Ordnung – German Traffic Regulations” (it’s mandatory to have a copy in German) but the English version has the details of the Kiel canal and all waterways in Germany and is worth a read to understand the signals, signs and regulations.

The following day we were up early – our destination: the town of Rendsburg, 65kms away.

Rendsburg marina box berth

Rendsburg marina has box berths – having only done this once before we were happy once we’d tied to the dock. (box berths are tricky as the boat has to fit between two timber piles, stern lines then placed over each pile – port and starboard – then the boat inches forward where I then have to lasso the bowlines while Wayne tensions the stern lines. Easier said than done!).

Rendsburg town is pleasant to stroll through – follow the blue tourist line to reach Sculpture Park and the Stadttheatre – a fine building built in the 1800s – or just sit and have a brew. Not far and to the north of town is a shopping complex with a large supermarket where you can stock up from a good selection of beer and groceries.

The following day was a short 30km trip to the Holtenau locks and the exit into the Baltic Sea. The smaller locks to the north were non-operational so we had to wait for the larger locks to become available once commercial traffic had vacated. Here is a link which shows the availability of the locks. With us were about eight other yachts, all rafted up and having a bite to eat as they waited. The Baltic Sea has around 20% of the salinity of ocean water and there are literally no tides to worry about.

The process was the same as before – white flashing light, then boats untie and head swiftly inside the lock to tie up. Once through, the boats darted off in various locations. We headed south to the Düsternbrook Marina at Kiel as we were expecting a visit from friends the next day.

Dusternbrook Marina, Kiel

Unfortunately the box berth we chose at the marina was very long and disproportionately narrow. I thought our 16m lines at the stern would be suitable, but it turned out not to be so. I’d looped the stern lines around successfully and made my way to the bow, but we ran out of length to go forward enough to tie up the bow! With a 15kn breeze blowing on our beam and Wayne hanging on to the stern lines, the bow was still a good five metres from the dock. From the bow I threw a 10m line to a guy standing on the dock (assuming he was there to help and not just stare at me!), and he secured it to a cleat. Blue Heeler was now strung up between piles to our stern and the dock with no way for us to get off! Wayne rejigged the ropes and managed to increase the length allowing us to get the bow to the dock. During the manoeuvre, our Yamaha outboard caught the brunt – one of the piles bending the gear lever permanently in reverse. Afterwards over a beer we sat and pondered a better way to box berth! (I found this good article which explains how to berth).

Skål!

Anyway, the next day we had a lovely surprise. Our Swedish friends Claes and Laila from the Hallberg Rassy ‘Comedie‘ came all the way by ferry from Gothenburg to see us! We hadn’t seen them since January 2014 in Thailand so it was a real treat to spend the day with them enjoying a stroll through the Kiel outdoor market and a couple of beers over lunch.

Kiel is a sailing city and the famous Kiel Regatta takes place every June. This is the largest sailing event in the world and attracts over 2000 boats – this would be a fantastic event to see! During our stay the weather was perfect for sunbaking and getting outdoors. The locals seemed to really enjoy the fine weather as we did.

Locals at Kiel enjoying the warmth

Our next stop was the island of Fehmarn 42nm, and the port of Burgstaaken. We tied to the fishing wharf along with a few other yachts, rather than stay at the Burgtiefe marina, which is further away from the town. The wharf is a good place to stay with all the facilities we needed, except there’s a bit of dust which blows over the boat from the dock. Each day the fishing boats bring in their catch and offer the fish to the public; nearby is a small U-boat which is open to the public.

The town centre is 2kms north of the port so on our bikes we took a bone-rattling ride along the cobble roads and rode around the area stopping for lunch at the village. Afterwards I rode around to the Burgtiefe marina, and the sandy beach to the south. I had no idea the beaches in Germany were so good – plenty of deck chairs and woven cane humpies available for beachgoers to rent for the day. The temperature was hot enough for a swim, but the sea temperature is still a cool 10degC.

After a great sailing day from Fehmarn, our next stop was the tourist port of Travemünde located 25kms from the historic city of Lübeck. As we sailed along, a German naval vessel and three planes were performing military exercises – the planes would swoop down on the ship and a ‘rata-tat-tat’ of gunfire would burst from the ship! We hadn’t heard any announcements on the radio that we may be in any exclusion zone, plus there were other yachts around. The ship made no effort to contact us as it veered close behind us, so we figured this was just a normal, but odd, situation.

Box berth at Travemunde

Arriving at Travemünde the wind eased to around 7kn. Our guide book recommended stopping at a marina at Travemünde rather than journey down the river into Lübeck so we had no reason to disregard this. The fishermen’s wharfs are usually a little less expensive than marinas, and it was another box berth but this time we had planned our approach.

At one end on each of the 16m lines I’d placed a 1m bowline. The free end was then fed through the stern cleat and looped once around the large winch – both port and starboard. As we approached the berth, I stood with the sternline amidship and placed the loop on the pile as Wayne slowly moved the boat forward. He kept tension on the windward line so we didn’t drift into the pile, while I placed the opposite line on the leeward pile. This wasn’t easy as the rough timber piles were quite a distance from me and continually snagged the lines. But then success! Up at the bow I’d prepared bowlines at one end of the 10m lines, but they were difficult to throw over a cleat from a distance so I quickly undid the bow line and lassoed the cleat with a free line, tying back to the cleat on the bow. We then adjusted the lines and had the anchors within reach of the dock so we could jump off. Yeehaw!

Off to Lubeck!

A public holiday – Ascension Day – and a wonderfully warm day for a ride to Lübeck. Wayne was happy enough aboard, so with my bike assembled onshore, some water, bike repair kit, and sunscreen, I was off. The ride took me along bike paths and through industrial areas for around 25kms until I reached the historic UNESCO town of Lübeck. It was a hot ride with the temperature around 25-30degC.

Once in town I walked through the central market where festivities were taking place. I bought a fish burger and sat for a while in the shade before cycling around to see the leaning Holstentor Gate, Lübeck Cathedral and other historic landmarks.

 

Kids playing on a warm day at Travemunde

I returned to Travemünde after my 45km ride stopping at a supermarket to fill my panniers with groceries before returning to Blue Heeler. Loads of people filled the cafes and enjoyed festivities along the Travemünde beach front. That night as a thunderstorm passed over to break the heat, we treated ourselves to a feed of really fresh fish and chips from a café on the fishermans wharf as the rain poured down outside.

Sailing overnight our next destination was the small hafen at Vitte, Hiddensee located to the west of Rügen Island and some 90nm from Travemünde.

Warm sun but cool breeze – I kept my boots on!

We reached the fishermens wharf at Vitte at 6.30am and there was no dock space for us to tie up to. There were three yachts we could have rafted to, but it was a little to impolite to raft up at that time of the day! So we decided to continue on to Hanseatic city of Stralsund. (I didn’t know what Hanseatic meant either so I Googled it!).

We hadn’t had much sleep overnight so once we berthed at the Stralsund City Marina we had a little nap. Later on I took a walk through this beautiful town admiring the pastel coloured facades and the wonderful buildings. In the Alter Markt, the main square, is the ‘Rathaus’ – the city hall – a red-bricked gothic building built in the 13th century. Stralsund is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The following day we cycled around Stralsund, making the most of the fine spring weather.

To the east of Stralsund is the Rügenbrucke (bridge to Rügen) with a 40m clearance, plus a bascule bridge which opens five times a day. We passed through on the 12.20pm opening and headed only a short distance to a narrow anchorage. Although the entrance was very shallow, there was a deep pool inside where we anchored. This was a most pleasant stop – sunny, calm, and no-one to disturb us. For the first time in a while I donned the bathers, grabbed a book my mum sent me for Christmas and sat in the sun and read!

Quiet anchorage

From our tranquil anchorage, the next day surprised us as we managed to sail most of the way to the small port of Peenemunde. I say surprised as we weren’t expecting much wind at all. But as there is no swell, little waves and no problem with running out of daylight, we could take it easy and enjoy sailing in light breeze.

Peenemunde port caters for ships, ferries and fishing boats. The docks are high and rough, and not ideal for berthing a fibreglass boat. But there are small floating pontoons further inside near the Hafen Bar and campground.

We tied up to the pontoon hammerhead and went to the bar to pay for our berth. Not much at Peenemunde except an dilapidated U-boot and a museum for V1 and V2 rocket missiles. Both were closed by the time we arrived, so we had a beer at the Hafen Bar, got the WiFi code then settled in for the night.

U-boot museum, Peenemunde

Still wanting to make good progress, we took advantage of light wind and headed to Sassnitz on the east coast of Insel Rügen. Sassnitz marina didn’t have many good reviews when I Googled it, but I believe things are improving. There are plenty of berths and only five yachts during our stay. The ablutions are first class and located at the Hafenmeister office plus it looks like washing machines will be fitted soon. We took a 4.5m x 14m berth and this time with smooth timber piles I had the stern lines attached in no time, and lassoed the starboard bowline first go. The port side I just couldn’t snag, and ended up wasting too much time, finally jumping to the dock and tie-up. But I think we are getting better at this!

Sassnitz marina – expecting more boats?

So that is our brief German sailing adventure. In two weeks we’ve (almost) mastered the art of box-berths; I’ve learnt how to count to ten in German plus a handful of other useful and mostly nautical words; tasted the oddly popular dish of Currywurst and Pommes and ate Brathering auf Brötchen (fried herring in a bun); sampled some fine pilseners; visited  beautiful historic towns; but most of all discovered some fantastic sailing grounds and sandy beaches. The marinas are fairly inexpensive (half the price of south of England) and the amenities are good.

So now we continue our trip as we head across the Baltic to Ystad in Sweden.

Until then…Prost!

 

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The Netherlands: Staande Mastroute

Proposed Route – Summer 2018

Our goal this northern summer is to head to the Baltic Sea visiting Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and also try for Finland if we have time.

Already one month since we left Portsmouth, we’ve been to France, Belgium and The Netherlands, with Germany next on the list. Only a few months left…

Originally we’d planned on two weeks motoring through the famous Dutch canals, but with so much to see and do, and with so many bridges to pass through, we took a little longer than expected. It was worth it!

Check the height of your mast!

Unlike sailing the seas, sailing inland is unusual for the simple reason that we have a very large stick in the middle of our boat over 18 metres high above the waterline. We also have a keel draft of 2 metres, which can be problematic in shallow waters.

The Staande Mastroute, or Mast-Up Route is a recommended route for those who wish to see The Netherlands without having to un-step the mast. Further research of the route came up with little information written in English (blogs, etc), but we managed to find enough information through books, websites and apps to get us through. I have also produced some of my own information on the Mast-Up Route which you can find here.

Our journey took us from the small coastal town of Breskens near the Belgium border, to Delfzijl in the north east near the border with Germany. The trip took three weeks and we traveled around 500km.

From Vlissingen where we entered the canal system, through to Delfzijl are dozens of bridges and numerous locks to pass through. I didn’t count them all, but there are many! Bascule bridges, drawbridges, swing bridges and lift bridges – all styles and sizes.

Those who’ve followed us for some time will remember our journey through the inland waterways of the USA back in 2015. Those locks were very high – the highest was 20 metres (84 feet) in the lower Tenn-Tom Waterway. In the Netherlands though, the locks only go up or down 0.10m-0.20m. Some locks stay open if the water levels are okay.

Management of the inland waterways in The Netherlands is impressive. Over the past few hundred years, almost 20% of land has been reclaimed from lakes or the sea, much of the water is controlled by a system of locks or sluizen. Water flows into The Netherlands from all directions – from the Rhine River of Switzerland and Germany, while the North Sea is always ready to surge in at any opportunity.

Most of our trip was spent motoring high along dykes, looking at the fields or villages which were much lower. Aqueducts had us motoring high above major highways! The bridge keepers or brugwachters mostly spoke at least some English and we were always dealt with quickly. Rarely did we have to wait long for a bridge or lock to open. Mostly the bridges are remote controlled so no request to open was necessary. In the northern part of the Mast-Up Route is where we had to pay a bridge toll by placing money in a clog flung out on a long line!

There are so many boats in the Netherlands and the appearance of a Hallberg Rassy didn’t raise any eyebrows. But there were a few double-takes when it was discovered our flag isn’t British but is in fact the Aussie red ensign. Not many from Down Under this far north!

April is early in the season, which is good as there’s plenty of places at marinas and towns are generally fairly quiet. In fact only a few weeks ago while we had a blast of snow in Gosport, the Dutch were ice skating on the canals! But our first two weeks here were glorious days in the mid 20s. It’s a little colder now as the temperature has returned to normal. Daffodils can be seen everywhere.

Making our way north we stopped at delightful historic towns such as Middelburg, Willemstad, and 800 year old Dordrecht. Further north a couple of days at Haarlem to enjoy a day’s ride to the tulip fields and the famous Keukenhof Gardens, plus a ferris wheel ride at the local fair to get some aerial shots of Haarlem.

From there, a day’s motoring along the Noordzeekanaal and we arrived at Amsterdam.

The last time we were in Amsterdam was in 1998. Back then things appeared a little seedy than it does nowadays. Back in ’98 we had an altercation with a tall intimidating guy who alleged we had recorded on video the girls in the red light district and demanded we hand over our video camera. Problem was we didn’t have a video camera! Wayne had to open his backpack to prove the point. “Oh, my mistake” I remember him saying. Twenty years later, everybody has a camera, although I believe filming the girls in the windows is still not recommended. The familiar smell of wacky-backy fills the air, more so than I remember… I wanted to visit the Anne Frank Museum but it turns out there is a two month waiting list! Never mind – I was happy enough cycling around and taking photos of buildings, canals and people.

Now, I have to say that my favourite thing about The Netherlands is the bicycle network. I just love the fact that people of any age get around by bike! But the Dutch ride boldly and with confidence, apparently owning the road, so you’ll need to be a pretty good rider to join in. Fortunately we are both used to busy city cycle riding, but even I was bedazzled by the rhythmic flow of bike traffic. The Dutch aren’t forced to wear bicycle helmets, unlike Australia, which has a rule for just about everything. Even small children sit at the handlebars, some with protective windscreens.

Cycling around Amsterdam is a great way to get around and they have the best bicycle parking lots! Ferries crossing the river are free so getting across from our marina was easy – West Amsterdam one day; east Amsterdam the next, passing through the large open gardens where people sunbaked in the unseasonably warm weather. Great fun!

Hoorn harbour

From Amsterdam we entered the Markermeer and headed north to Hoorn. The towns around the Markermeer and Ijsslemeer had their heyday during the Dutch Golden Age in the 1600-1700s when the Dutch East India Company brought spices and cotton from Asia.

Enkhuizen was the next stop for Blue Heeler. Another beautiful historic town with many of the buildings over 500 years old attracting many tourists from the long canal boats. Easy to cycle around too.

Historic gate at Enkhuizen

Dutch exploration is well known to Aussies. Until the early 1800s Australia was once known as New Holland, named by Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman in 1644. Tasman was also famous for naming Anthony Van Diemans Land, later shortened to Van Diemans Land by the British. In 1856 it was changed to Tasmania in honour the first European discoverer – Abel Tasman.

The Dutch were also responsible for much of the exploration of the west and northern coasts of Australia, but it seems they didn’t much like what they found (or rather what they didn’t find – ie: suitable land or water) so didn’t pursue colonisation.
Just imagine how things would be different if the Dutch did colonise Australia…

From Enkhuizen to Stavoren we sailed across the Ijsslemeer – the best sailing day we’ve had for quite some time. Old classic Dutch sailing boats and local yachties were out in force.

The distance was only 12nm to Stavoren but still a couple of hours without using the engine is bliss. A breeze up to 20kn and full sails, Blue Heeler heeled slightly before we furled the sails to enter the canals in the province of Friesland.

The Mast-Up Route has a number of different entry and exit points, and after talking to a local, we decided to enter at Stavoren. From here we made our way through canals to Warten, staying a couple of nights because of poor weather, before moving through narrow and shallow canals on to Leeuwarden.

The trip from Warten to the town docks of Leeuwarden, to the beautiful Dokkum, through the National Park Lauwersmeer reservoir, to Groningen is very shallow. Our keel drifting through the soft silt in most places but nothing to cause loss of speed.

Paying bridge toll via clog!

Along the Friesland canals is where we were asked to pay bridge tolls. At the bridges (usually bascule or draw bridges) the brugwachter will drop a clog attached to a pole with string where you have to put the desired amount, usually three or five euros, inside the clog.

Now that’s an unusual bit of fun!

Our timing to reach Groningen was a little off. We made it as far as Zoutkamp on Thursday 26th and decided to top up the diesel and stayed the night at the friendly family run Haven Hunzegat. On Friday 27th was the King’s birthday and as luck would have it, King Willem Alexander and Queen Maxima were to visit Groningen. But all the town bridges were closed due to the public holiday so we tied up to a watchplaat just outside the city and I rode my bike into town. The monarchs had left by the time I arrived, but the remainder of crowds that had turned up for the special event were enjoying the outdoor bars and celebrations.

Waterways at Groningen

From Groningen we motored the final leg of our journey to Delfzijl passing through 24 bridges along the way in 4 hours.

So now we wait at Delfzijl. A huge thunderstorm blew over last and another is expected this week.  The next leg of our trip will take us to our next country, Germany.

Until then…

Want to know more? Find out about travelling the Staande Mastroute here.

Follow the signs

 

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Dunkerque, Ypres, Fromelles

After six months of cold winter in the South of England, Blue Heeler departed the UK for Continental Europe. Making good use of the favourable tides and weather we traveled 100nm in 15 hours to arrive at Dover Marina’s tidal basin before dark.

Although we are into our eighth year living aboard as ‘world travelers’, I must confess we have only been to Europe on two prior visits – France for two weeks in 1994 and Amsterdam for an even briefer stay in 1998. Both times, of course, without the boat.

But unlike remote places like Chagos, St Helena or Madagascar, Europe is no real mystery. Let’s face it – most people have a general knowledge of the variety of cultures and could probably recognise key landmarks of any major city in Europe.  The great thing about travelling by boat is that we often travel away from the masses and see places from a different perspective.

Dover’s Tidal Basin Marina

Crossing the 20nm Strait of Dover on Sunday 1st April was a good day to travel. As we left we had a good view of the famous white cliffs.

I was surprised by the lack of ships. Yes, we saw a few but none were close enough to cause angst. I thought the narrow Singapore strait was far busier.

The day was calm and the sky hazy as we motored directly across the shipping lanes before heading east until we reached Dunkerque, France. Here we took a berth at the Port du Grand Large on the eastern bank of the Port of Dunkerque. Our last trip to France was in 1994. Now, that is a whole other story (ask me about it one day) but that two weeks we spent with friends Cecilia and Charlie was incredible and we saw much of Paris and south to Bourges.

Leaving behind the White Cliffs of Dover

Dunkerque is a great place to stop by boat – the marina has all the mod-cons, plus we could walk into the town (15 minutes), or catch the pink town bus from the marina and take a journey farther afield.

“In front of the beach west of Dunkirk, the French military health group wait for their evacuation to England”.

Dunkerque is known for the biggest evacuation in military history. In 1940 allied soldiers retreated to Dunkerque from the German advance. Over 338,000 allied soldiers were evacuated to England by land, air and sea during 26th May to 4th June 1940 during World War II.

This amazing event was known as Operation Dynamo – all types of vessels from the UK – military, fishing, pleasure – whether by order or volunteered, came to the shallow waters of the beaches of Dunkerque to transport soldiers to the relative safety of the UK.

All around Dunkerque are informative signs with photos of the destruction around the harbour during World War II. Along the shoreline nowadays are restaurants, cafes and shops, and workers busy constructing paved roads in preparation for the influx of summer crowds to the beachfront.

“To the glorious memory of the mariners, airmen and soldiers of the French and allied armies sacrificed in the battle of Dunkirk in May June 1940”

Wayne was particularly interested in visiting the Australian memorial at Fromelles and Ypres in Belgium so we hired a car for a few days and drove around the north of France.

From Dunkerque, Ypres is 55kms to the east in Belgium, while Fromelles is 75kms to the south. Heading east it’s not long until you cross the border into Belgium. The highways are good and the terrain is very flat. Today the ploughed fields are sodden from recent rains.

The two photos below show the horror and destruction of this region during the Great War.

The “In Flanders Fields” museum in Ypres is located on the first floor of the old Cloth Hall, originally built in the early 1300s. During the Great War this building (and everything around it) was decimated. During the period between 1933 and 1967 the hall, astoundingly, was rebuilt to it’s pre-war condition. Compare the photos below – one I took of Cloth Hall today with that of an old photo taken after the war. Driving out of Ypres, the huge Menin Gate Memorial honours over 55,000 missing.

The Cloth Hall of Ypres at the end of the Great War; today the renovated hall houses the “In Flanders Museum”.

In Flanders Fields
By John McCrae – a Canadian doctor

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die

We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

In Flanders fields.

In the fields between Ypres and Fromelles there are many, many cemeteries dedicated to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice in that terrible war. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission manages and cares for the memorials and cemeteries in this region and around the world.

Each museum we visited displayed the horror of trench warfare and chemical warfare through ghastly images and photographs of broken bodies, mud and destruction.

At the nearby town of Zonnebeke is the Passchendaele Memorial Museum dedicated to those who fell at the Battle of Passchendaele. This museum also has many artefacts of both wars and a walk-through replica of the types of trenches constructed by both sides. Grisly gas masks and deadly weapons engineered to shoot from the trenches are on display.

At the exit of the Passchaendale memorial museum a haunting sculpture of outstretched arms “Falls the Shadow” interprets the ghastly horror of Flanders Fields.

Close to Zonnebeke is the remarkable Tyne Cot Cemetery. Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery on mainland Europe – home for 11,956 soldiers and a memorial to a further 35,000 missing soldiers. Inscribed at the base of the simple headstones of unidentified soldiers are the words “Known Only Unto God”.

The Australian Memorial Park Fromelles is located about 35kms south of Ypres. A dedication at the park recognises all British nations, not just Aussies, who were called to arms to die for ‘King and Country’.The Battle of Fromelles on 19/20 July 1916 is described below:

“The Battle of Fromelles was the first action on the Western Front and proved disastrous. It is regarded as the worst 24 hours in Australian military history. Of these over 5,500 Australian casualties, there were 500 prisoners of war and almost 2,000 dead. In one night at Fromelles the Australian casualties were equivalent to those in the Boer, Korean and Vietnam Wars, combined”.
source: http://monumentaustralia.org.au)

Perched in an ordinary field is an ordinary sign which indicates the German front line of July 1916. Nearby is the V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial where over 400 bodies are buried – bodies found in the battle fields after the armistice – two years after they died. The ‘Cobbers’ statue at this place is by Peter Corlett of Melbourne and dedicated to the men who fought and fell at the Battle of Fromelles. I believe there is now a duplicate statue located at The Shrine in Melbourne, Australia.

“In the days following the battle rescuers recovered some 300 wounded from no-man’s land.  As one soldier carried a wounded companion from the field he heard a call for help.

Don’t forget me, cobber”

“Don’t forget me Cobber”

Looking out across the ploughed fields as we drive back, we can only imagine the hell that took place in a war that ended 100 years ago.

They are not forgotten.

For the Fallen

This moving tribute was written in 1914 English poet Laurence Binyon, overwhelmed by the carnage and loss of life by British and Allied forces in World War 1.

The highlighted verse is recited at ANZAC Day dawn services and known as the Ode of Remembrance.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal,
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation,
And a glory that shines upon her tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young.
Straight of limb, true of eyes, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labour of the daytime;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known,
As the stars are known to the night.

As the stars will be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

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Spring has sprung!

“You can’t always be strong,
but you can always be brave”.

Donations to – NPCD.org.au

 

Living on a boat with another person for months at a time in warm weather is one thing. But to be cooped up in a tiny living space during a UK winter has the potential to drive one round the bend! At least that’s what I thought.

So what does one do during a UK winter while living on a boat?

The last time Blue Heeler was laid up alongside for more than a few weeks was in 2010 in Melbourne. Over the past six months in Gosport, Blue Heeler has bobbed about, fenders rubbing against the finger with mooring lines stretching and tugging from cleat to cleat. Here on the south coast of England it generally doesn’t get cold enough to worry about winterising the boat to any degree, but we still had a few tasks to do to maintain a level of comfort.

Historic Portsmouth just across from Gosport, Portsmouth Harbour

Naturally the first thing is to stay warm. Wayne refurbished our little-used Webasto heater, and it’s worked a treat over the past few months, keeping our tootsies warm on cold winter nights.

The next thing to combat is dampness. There’s nothing worse than black mildew in cupboards and the musty smell of wet clothes. It’s also unhealthy to live in a damp environment. But we averted this disaster early in the season by investing in an EcoAir dessicant dehumidifier which performed much better than I expected. Inside Blue Heeler the humidity was kept at less than 45% removing the likelihood of mildew growing in cupboards, throughout clothes or in the saloon cushions. The alternative would have been disastrous. After six months I’m impressed with how dry the inside of the boat is.

Another thing to consider while shacked up in a boat is lack of physical activity. It’s not like the tropics where we can just jump off and go for a swim or hike up the nearest hill. I joined the local gym and went there most days when I wasn’t visiting somewhere else. Having a bike is a great way to get around, although it’s not much fun when it’s 5 degrees and the roads are icy. This coast is flat so walking is a great way to see the place too.

Scottish Highlands

Surprisingly over the past few months we didn’t strangle each other and managed to keep ourselves suitably amused – Christmas was a delightful affair as we joined good friends Chris and Brian and their friends and family to devour a 16 pound turkey with all the trimmings; New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh we were welcomed by strangers and invited to eat loads of traditional fare before walking around after midnight with a piece of coal, shortbread and bottle (or two) of whisky for ‘First Footing’; spent an evening listening to the plucky tunes of the Scottish Fiddle Orchestra at Usher Hall; feasted on traditional Scottish fare such as Haggis and Neeps, Cullen Skink (soup), Tablet (fudge), Oatcakes, Potato Scones, Black Bun, Bannock, and the unidentified terrine known deceivingly as Head Cheese.  Coincidentally (for those that did the Sail Indonesia 2012) while in Edinburgh we met up with Mike and Nicki from the boat Zen Again – who would’ve thought!

Scottish Fiddle Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

RIP Bon Scott

Peter Pan

On the trip south we popped in to the small township of Kirriemuir, the birthplace of not only J.M. Barry of Peter Pan fame, but also Bon Scott of AC/DC fame.

Statues of Peter Pan and Bon Scott are proudly on display.

 

With the generous offer of a car from Brian and his family, we spent drove through the North West England visiting relatives, south through the gorgeous Cotswolds and to Poole, later returning to the outstanding snow-covered scenery between Perth in Scotland and the midlands. During the winter we’ve visited many castles and churches, and also some unusual places such as the site of the WWII code-breakers, and the Royal Observatory at Greenwich where we stood astride the Prime Meridian – one foot in the east; one in the west. Fascinating stuff.

Cuddle time!

For a change of pace and to appreciate some of the conveniences of a house, I took a side-trip and spent a few weeks house-sitting looking after an adorable old Wheaton Terrier in Teddington.

From this handy location I could easily venture into London, take a walk to Hampton Court Palace, or stroll through the shops at nearby Richmond. Most importantly I was rewarded with regular doggy cuddles!

Back at Gosport the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is an interesting place to visit once you’ve purchased an annual pass for unlimited entry. Included in the ticket is the waterbus from the HMS Alliance Submarine at Gosport to the dockyard in Portsmouth where the bones of the Mary-Rose which sank in 1545 are on display; the 250 year old HMS Victory famous for Vice Admiral Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar; the HMS Warrior armoured frigate built in 1860 with dozens of canons which were never used in war; plus a lot of interesting naval stuff for those interested in naval stuff. Portsmouth is the home of the new aircraft carrier the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

By living aboard we’ve managed to keep everything on the boat running so nothing has seized up through lack of use (that includes us!). As such there’s no major work to undertake, except for the usual maintenance and checks we do before any major trip. After six months of floating, our hull is a little furry but we expect that will sort itself out once we’re out sailing.

And just like that daffodils and snow-drops are blooming and winter is over. Really?

The weather has turned decidedly colder this past few weeks with winds from Siberia dumping snow throughout the UK, including Gosport, causing havoc with commuters and traffic.  The first cold snap dubbed the ‘Beast from the East’ caused much havoc. How sad to learn that the Holyhead Marina at Anglesey where we stayed only last year was recently destroyed by the first ‘beast’. A couple of weeks later ‘The Beast’ was followed by the less imaginative ‘Beast from the East 2’. The forecast for Easter weekend isn’t looking any better as (you guessed it) ‘Beast from the East 3’ is on its way.

Anyway, Blue Heeler and crew will soon sail from Gosport along the northern coast of Europe to the Baltic. By the way, Haslar Marina is a great place to berth the boat over winter and the guys here are friendly and helpful. The town of Gosport has everything you need and what you don’t find here can easily be delivered overnight.

So I hope you’ll join us over the next few months as we voyage to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

Until then here are a few pics you might enjoy. Thanks for reading!

View from Thames river cruise

London

View from Greenwich looking across to Canary Wharf

 

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