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; 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).


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!


About blueheelerhr39

Sailing the world aboard Blue Heeler
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