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2004 Log
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Frisian Island, the Keil Canal and hence arrival at the Baltic Sea.

Frisian Islands

Borkum (9th – 11th May, 94 miles from Den Helder)

Our tale of Borkum can best be split into 3 parts; the journey to the island, the island itself and finally the journey from Borkam out of the Emms.

Part 1: Journeying to Borkum.

From Den Helder our next stop, Borkum, was 80 miles away and we had two tidal gates to pass. So, leaving at 0530 again, we followed the buoyed channel between Noorderhaaks and Texel so as to have a 2.5 knot following tide out into open sea. All of the next six islands have shallow seagatts between them and these are not for the faint hearted or anyone with more than a 1.3 metre draft; they were not for us. The only one we felt comfortable visiting was Borkum which has a deep water entrance channel, the Westerems, in which the tide flows at 3.5 knots on springs throughout the 12 miles we would use.

We made good speed during the day, always with a following tide but with little wind so all day we motored arriving in the Westerems an hour before slack water, only just in time. Then down came the mist, a real pea-souper, but as the channel was dead straight and the water was slack we simply travelled a compass course and picked off the buoys at 15 min intervals as they appeared out of the gloom, then the engine stopped dead.

There was by now virtually no wind and the tide had turned. I dived below to try and start the engine but, unknown to us, the battery surge from cranking caused the auto-pilot to cease functioning so we started to drift into shallow water. I checked for fuel, water in the separator, sludge in the filter and finally air in the fuel. This last check meant bleeding the fuel system but as the fuel pump felt spongy I was sure I had found the problem, so with spanners in hand I pumped and pumped until the air was out of the system. I had smelly diesel everywhere but when Janet cranked the engine it started immediately, phew.

During my activities Janet had spoken to Borkum radar because we were concerned we might be a hazard to shipping. He could clearly see us on his radar, thanks to the SeaMe maybe, so he decided to guide us from buoy to buoy even though the mist was beginning to clear. He also called us when any ships were near us and checked we could see them. By now though the tide was thundering out at 3 knots and with my caution over not using full revs on an engine with fuel problems we only managed 2 knots towards Borkum. This coupled with the clear statements in all of the pilots “do not arrive on a falling tide” did not fill us with optimism. Luckily, (that's a joke folks) 4 hours later and at dead low water, we arrived at Borkum to be once again talked in by Borkum radar through into the marina. At no time had we seen less than 5m depth until the marina which was still about 4m.

We arrived on Borkum at 2030, very cold and tired, to be greeted by the harbour master, who we had spoken to earlier in the day and at that time he told us to look out for two power boats and moor near them. Our experience of power boats are the Sunseeker and the Brooms etc, so we were a little confused when these power boats turned out to be the size of trawlers, immaculate, built in steel and looking like miniature ships. As we passed them on the pontoon I swear one of them had a 20” television and what looked like a three piece suite.

click for larger view, and all for us.

The harbour master was everything we needed, he hailed to us as we entered, allocated us a 100m long plastic faced pontoon and took our lines as we arrived; just as well really as the pontoon was for a warship and was over 1m above our decks. He gave us 2 shower tokens, took our bread order and said he would see us tomorrow.

When we got up the following morning we were surprised to see 3 huge wind turbines only 100m from us and we had never even glimpsed them in the fog.

Part 2: The Island.

Borkum is half way along the string of coastal islands and when travelling East is the first German island. It is best arrived at via the Westerems Channel. The Yacht Hafen is run by Luke and Gemma who are ex-live-aboards and they provide everything (Luke looked just like Griff Reese Jones). They have a shop, a café, a laundrette, an internet facility, a fuel bowser and jerry cans so we wanted for nothing. The marina is on the site of a navel dockyard so each pontoon can handle a sizable warship. Water and electricity are available via a 3” water main and the power cables were about 6” dia, everything a warship could ask for but a bit over the top for Mithril. Workshops exist beneath the pontoons although all were now empty. The showers block can cope with 25 simultaneous bathers and, along with all of the buildings, was to a construction standard only the military could afford.

The town is 5 km away and was a wonderful 20 minute cycle on our Bromptons along a paved cycle way for the whole 5 km passing marshlands and reed beds where we spotted a huge grey hawk, maybe a peregrine. The town was immaculate, clean and geared to holiday makers. We also passed the radar operators facility and we gave him a cheery wave, even tho’ he didn’t know us from Adam.

Borkum Part 3: Goodbye Borkum.

The tide was ebbing as we left, ideal as it would carry us up the Westerems and out to sea. Unfortunately the forecasted NE 3 to 4 had become a NW 5 with stronger gusts and formed a wonderful wind over tide sea, wonderful to watch from the beach that is, for us it was hell. We had a very short and steep sea with most waves 1.5m to 2m, perhaps mainly due to the strong ebb tide. Anyway with full cruising revs we were managing to average 2 knots through the water, the tide lifting us to 5 knots so only 2 and a half hours of this hell, at least we had time to see the coastline we had totally missed as we arrived.

We had 2 reefs in the main and motor tacked the whole way, bouncing from wave top to wave top. Eventually the tide eased as we came to deeper water and I risked a shallow trench out to sea. Then, just as the blood pressure had fallen to normal and Janet and I had stopped communicating by way of screams, coming towards us was a fishing boat. No problem turn 20 deg. to starboard, he then turned 20 degrees to port; OK then another 20 degrees to starboard, he turned towards us again, and on this went until we were 80 degrees off course. Eventually I became worried about the depth and, as we had just passed the 5m contour, I had no choice but to then turn towards him. Seeing that he had had his fun he turned 90 to starboard and left us alone.

So ended our wonderful trip to Borkum, we enjoyed the island but we’re not sure it was worth all the hassle.

Helgoland (11th – 12th May, 76 miles from Borkum)

Once outside the shoals beyond Borkum we encountered a 2m following sea and a following NW 5/6 wind. We were pooped a few times, much to my amusement as the waves got Janet each time but as we screeched along at up to 9 knots, according to the GPS, we didn’t have a care. We were following a Contessa who left Borkum 30 mins in front of us and who also sneakily took a shallow short cut gaining a further hour on us. I estimated it would take us 6 hours to catch them and they were in sight in 5 hours but we never quite passed them. The 6 hours of following the deep water shipping lane were a bore but eventually we could cross them just NW of the R. Elbe estuary and then turn NE up to Helgoland. At this point we still had 20 miles to go but racing neck-and-neck with the Contessa made the time speed by. However, Janet was down below preparing a curry and she was little pleased to have the cooker at the limits of its swing and at the point where the pan was about to leap into space. My stomach, the curry and Janet won the day, we came second to the Contessa but had a brilliant curry complete with German breads as the prize for coming second.

click for larger view

We had a chat with the guys on Grihanic from Jersey, that’s the Contessa, and said we were wanting a chart of the Elbe. John promptly produced one and said borrow this, you can post it back to me when you have finished. Splendid fellow I thought.

The island, I think, is Devonian sandstone and was once British but we swapped it for Zanzibar and so it became German from 1890. During the second WW we bombed it to bits mainly for target practice and so it was evacuated until much later when it sprang to prominence as a duty-free resort, it now has a massive 7000 visitors per day in the summer, mainly from cruise liners. We bought a pair of 7x50 binoculars here.

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Brunsbuttel (12th – 13th May, 46 miles from Helgoland)

We left Helgoland with some tide against us to give us more sailing time and to allow us to still get the flood tide up the R Elbe, which again is a river with a massive 3 kt current so not one to fight, I think we’ve learnt our lesson now. The weather was warmer than of late but still not summery, the sun was welcome though as we had 4 hours of motoring up the river and so little activity to keep us warm. During this section I designed a heat exchanger to allow our onboard central heating system to use the free heat from the engine, another winter project I think and maybe an article for PBO.

The locks at Brunsbuttal are the point of entry for the Nord-Ostsee Kanal (Kiel Canal to you and me). The canal is a formidable feat of engineering, completed in 1895 and built to allow the German fleet to move easily between the Baltic and the North Sea and avoid the Kattegat, a narrow piece of easily defended water between Sweden and Denmark. It is 53 miles long with a minimum bridge height of about 40m although one such bridge has a car transporter hanging at about 5m above the water. The locks, and hence the canal, can cope with ships up to 240m in length and 10m draught. The smaller locks are about 100m long and so there is a reluctance to use them for yachts alone. We therefore had to wait for an hour for a large freighter to need the lock and one which would allow us to sneak alongside it, so pass through together.

click for larger view, and all for us.

In the lock we met Kubala a German yacht with four onboard, they said to follow them to a small mooring ½ mile along the canal and one much quieter than the one adjacent to the locks. This we did and had a splendidly peaceful night in a very rural setting.

The following day we motored up the canal for 36 miles to Rendsburg. Sharing a strip of water 100m wide with 600 ft ships passing in each direction can be intimidating at times and we had course to head for the banks on a couple of occasions as these “floating blocks of flats” seemed ever so close.

Its also quite strange that there are hundreds of ducks and swans bobbing around and quite unconcerned.

Rendsburg (13th – 14th May, 37 miles from Brunsbuttel)

click for larger view

Rendsburg was the pleasant relief we needed after 6 hours of motoring in the cool slightly cloudy day so far. It is an old town surrounded by a modern metropolis but the old town and the old square make a wonderful evening walk and the evening sun shows the old rustic brickwork at its best. The clock tower in the centre has about 20 bells but sadly, though I waited for the hour, they did not chime.

Rendsburg harbour is gained after travelling 1.5 mile along a 50m wide canal but one whose depth is often less than 1m except inside a dredged groove in the canal bottom. Fortunately, four sets of leading marks took us safely into the large and deep inner harbour, and the sanctuary it offered. Then we had our first go at mooring in a 20 kt cross-wind between piles. We had 2 goes and didn’t look complete amateurs, not completely. Here we met a Portsmouth couple who had just bought a brand new HR 31 and were on the way home. Using my newly gained weather forecasting skills I downloaded a weather fax and 5 day forecast for them via my ham radio kit. I hope it worked out OK!

Holteneau (14th – 16th May, 17 miles from Rendsburg)

The next part of the canal, is often narrower than the previous section and heavily wooded on both sides, and when there were no ships it was idyllic. We watched greylag geese with their chicks, huge herons and again some large hawks. This part of the journey is approx 17 miles to the locks at Holteneau.

click for larger view
Next stop the Baltic

If we pay 18 Euros we can pass through this lock, and the fee covers the complete transit of the canal as well.

We had quite a long wait for the lock to open, once again like the lock at Brunsbuttel you tie up to floating platforms that you can stand on. The fees for the right to pass through the canal are collected here 18 euros, and are paid to the lock keeper before he lets you through. As the gates opened we both said “done it, we are now in the Baltic”

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