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On Saturday afternoon last week we made our tide at the mouth of the River Ore, skipped over the sandbanks and swept up to our mooring. From Amsterdam we had made good time in what started as a fickle breeze, motorsailing with a perfect set of stars above us and gas platforms all around. The lights around you as you cross the North Sea are almost as bright as the stars above – dozens of ships, tankers, wind turbines and gas platforms. It isn’t a lonely bit of sea! A strong southerly had then set in and we surged towards Aldebugh on the tide to arrive just after lunch: a good crossing.
If the North Sea isn’t lonely then neither is Amsterdam! We were squeezed into a tiny space at the back of the city’s Sixhaven marina alongside a Belgian boat we’d sailed alongside (almost) since the Kiel Canal. The town gave us a good run around too – a quiet drink turned into 3am at a bar beside a canal. Great fun and, with flights for for very little from Southend, somewhere to go back to soon.
How did we get to Amsterdam? Once Biggs joined at Cuxhaven in Germany our goal was to get to Amsterdam by Thursday evening. The forecast gave us a strong north westerly at first, going dead westerly thereafter. With our required direction westerly it wasn’t a wind we wanted to sail straight into, so we elected to head for the Friesan island of Norderney and then cut inside the islands to Delfzijl where we could enter the Dutch waterways.
Amazingly it all went perfectly to plan. A cracking, if long, sail to Norderney in rough conditions was followed by an early start to make the tide over the shallow sands behind the islands. Delfzijl was uninspiring when we arrived on Sunday, but Groningen and Dokkum further along the canals were lovely. We were motoring blind in the canals – we had no pilot book – but fortunately we had met a helpful harbour master who let me take copies of his (2006) version. After that it was only a case of persuading the bridge-keepers to open. At some times on production of Bruggeld (bridge fees), often with a nod and a wave and occasionally for no apparent reason at all.
If you’re tempted to try the Riddle of the Sands watersheds behind the Friesan Islands they are great fun – challenging with the tide but more interesting than the wide open sea outside. Even with 2m of tide beneath us we nearly touched the bottom twice, which would have left us high and dry at low water. Fortunately quick reactions by Biggs on the helm kept us in the channel whenever the depth started falling! We were followed closely by a German boat, christened the Red Baron by us, and fortunately for him also blest with reactions fast enough to avoid our manoeuvres!
Once we were in the canals it became a case of nice little towns, charming countryside and quiet evening stops. Easy navigation, if not quite as fluid as the Swedish Gota Canal. A great experience and it got us to Amsterdam in time too!
Biggs and I were met by Jo and Justine in Amsterdam – veterans from earlier weeks around the archipelago. The four of us started early on Friday morning to head home, winding our way through the city and then down the North Sea Canal to Ijmuiden and the open sea. Having the girls back on board was great fun, and it was brave of them to choose an East-West North Sea crossing too. We were sailing against the prevailing winds in an area of sea renowned for short, steep waves. When the wind picked up as we approached Aldeburgh on Saturday morning both the girls kept smiling, cool as cucumbers (and perhaps as green). And then we were home!
We cracked a bottle of German sparkling wine open on the way up the Ore (surprisingly good too), and it really felt like a moment to celebrate. We had been away for five months, out of the UK for four, and had covered in excess of 4000nm. The organisation of this little venture consumed my spare time for six months before departure and has given me an absolute respite from the world of work back home. It was a relief to come home, and a natural end to the trip too. It doesn’t feel too long or too short, we have seen some amazing places and had some excellent sailing. We have also been incredibly lucky with the weather: the sort of luck you cannot make. In four months we had fewer than a dozen days of rain, and less than half a dozen days of headwinds. Remarkable. This weather, the people on board and off, and the sailing playground that is the Baltic gave this trip three quarters of it’s success. The other quarter…?
Not far off the end of this adventure (..!) and a couple of fast weeks of sailing to cover here. After Gothenburg, where Woody, Robin, Claire and Wiz departed and Tom, Sam and Olly joined, we set off south towards Copenhagen. Gothenburg itself is a major city. Think Bristol with a good dash of heavy industry, and as a result we weren’t too sad to sail out of it. That said; the atmosphere in the centre was fantastic, with a festival in full swing! On this trip we have been lucky to reach our metropoli during a cultural/music/other festival, and if it had been planned from the start could have given ourselves a pat on the back for it!
Gothenburg was also where we met another British yacht (only our seventh of the trip) sailed by a charming 80 year old lady and her super-spry husband who, at the age of 93, is a easily the oldest active sailor I’ve ever met! They had been sailing the West Coast of Sweden and were about to set off back across the North Sea in a bit of a rush – there was a book club meeting on the 1st of September that they were loath to miss. Let’s hope they made it!
So south from Gothenburg and our last taste of archipelago sailing took us to Kullavik where my friend Clas, a familiar face on Erivale for the RORC racing series, has a house and treated us to lunch. I had no idea that herring were such versatile ingredients: it was a magical meal with excellent hosts. Don’t ever be shy of Swedish herring, they aren’t anything like our roll-mops and are far the better for that!
Onwards and, for Olly, outwards as we reached towards Denmark in a decent force 5. It was good to see him eating so heartily at breakfast, and he managed a mouthful or two of lunch. Just a shame that most of it went over the side! Thankfully he did a good job of baiting the waters in our wake because as we approached Molle under the kite in a light nor’wester Tom began dancing around his fishing line. A minute or so later and a foot long Pollack was thrashing its last on deck, and that evening made an ordinary daal far more exciting.
We had our first salt water swim in ages in the Sound near Hamlet’s castle of Helsingor, jumping from the bow and catching a rope as Chelena slipped by at a knot or so. Beautiful! But too soon we reached Copenhagen and the week with Sam & Tom and Olly came to a close. Fortunately we managed a cracking meal out in the City before they had to fly home and Katie and I carried on South!
We had an excellent forecast to make for Kiel, strong easterlies, and we made the most of them. Katie and I sailed fast to Rodvig, our haunt of the way out, and then continued the next day into the Danish Islands. We sailed fast, covering the miles we had made in a full week back in May in a matter of days. It was sparkling sailing, downwind under kite or just the main when the channels were too narrow. Chelena’s shallow draft adds an extra bit of confidence in Danish waters where it is rare to see more than a couple of metres on the depth sounder! (NB: Despite that it is also rare for the depth to rise to less than 2m).
Copenhagen – Rodvig – Fejo – Bagenkop – Kiel, with a top speed of 8.3kn and an average approaching six… not bad at all for a Sadler 32! We were happy also to be sailing in company with a Faurby 999 between Rodvig and Bagenkop, a lovely looking boat a bit like a minie version of the Sadler 34 (we are a Sadler 32 of course). Owned and sailed by a Danish chap called Jan who was super friendly (as are all the Danes) and a little competitive too (which made beating him into Bagenkop a sweet moment!).
The British Kiel Yacht Club was as idiosyncratically friendly as ever, and the Kiel Canal as boring. After the chocolate box that is the Baltic, and after our first transit in May, a long ship canal is more of a chance to finish a good book than enjoy the sailing. Fortunately the weather was beautiful and Katie had a good chance to top up her tan during her last week of summer!
We rolled back into our first port, Cuxhaven, later in the week. Teaching beckoned Katie home and I began busying myself with getting the boat ready for some proper sailing in the North Sea. Luckily for me I have a superb and stalwart friend joining me for what could be a tough trip home against the prevailing winds, but Biggs and my adventures to Amsterdam, and then the sail to Aldeburgh, will have to wait till the next instalment!
Somehow there never seems to be time to write a blog post, and the past fortnight has been busier than any other in this adventure. My last notes, from Nykoping, were written at the end of two weeks very slow cruising through the Stockholm Archipelago. Mum and Dad joined us there and, after an idyllic two days in the Archipelago, we entered the Gota Kanal to cross Sweden from East to West.
Our arrival at the entrance to the Kanal was a touch dramatic. An easterly wind was funnelling up the fjord behind us and we had the small kite set, charging along at 7.5kns. It was a fantastic sail in flat water with a foaming wake spreading out behind us, but as we approached Stegeborg castle we almost came unstuck. All eyes were on the castle to the south when a little ferry shot out from the north side of the Fjord. We changed course to pass behind it, and then noticed the steel cable connecting this little ferry to either side of the Fjord. We were under a hundred metres from it, kite set, 20kn of breeze behind us, going at full speed. Cue action!
Mum and Katie dumped the kite sheets as I ran forward and pulled down on the snuffer (to collapse the sail), with that done Dad turned the boat in a full circle, allowing the ferry to get far enough ahead and the cable to sink. From realisation to solution was about 20 seconds, and luckily so, hitting the cable would have hurt!
In comparison to those shenanigans the Kanal was a doddle. We motored gently through rural Sweden, interrupted only to surge upwards through lock after lock. At our first stop, Soderkoping, we had a drink with a fellow RORC member, David Shepherd, on his X342 Ecstasy. It is quite amazing that, of the eight British boats we have met out here, four of them have been from Poole in Dorset (like us!).
After two days of Kanal, and some hammering rain, we entered Lake Vattern and moored in the moat of Vadstena Castle. I know nowhere else where you can tie up under the walls of a fortress, and if you find yourself sailing through the Kanal or on the Lake it is not an experience to miss!
At the highest point of the Kanal, just after the wilderness of Lake Viken, Mum and Dad left us to fly home and four friends joined for a bit of a party. Robin, Claire, Woody and Wiz arrived en Volvo in the rain, and we quickly began to descend the Gota Kanal to Lake Vanern, the largest Lake in Sweden. The rest of the week was a bit of a blur, and I’m still hungover three days after they flew home from Gothenburg!
Spiken, in the middle of the Lake, gave us a night surrounded by fishing nets and huts, and some excellent smoked fish. The rest of the week was a tad more industrial. The last stretch of Kanal to Gothenburg passes through the industrial heartland of Sweden and for us this meant big factories and big locks. At the bottom of the rise the top of the lock was nearly level with our masthead!
Finally we arrived in buzzing Gothenburg, where the city festival was in full swing. We are back in saltwater! Back in the real sea, and ready to head south for Denmark, and totally exhausted after a week of ducking, diving, drinking, fishing and foolishness with W, W, R and C!
I’ll try and avoid chronology in this entry, aware that the past few weeks have seen a time-governed writing style that doesn’t do much for the trip I’m trying to describe. I am sitting at the table below as my Father helms Chelena westwards towards Mem and the start of the Göta Kanal. Katie is navigating, Mum providing a running commentary. We are slipping between forested banks and rocky islets, dotted with summer houses in various fantastic configurations. It is pretty marvellous.
Over the past fortnight Chelena has seen Katie step on board for her summer holidays from teaching, my cousins (aged 14-15) James, Charlie and Claudia join for a week, and now latterly (and to be described at a later date) my parents are with us.
After a good dose of R&R (laundry, a restaurant meal, a long sauna) at Bullandö Marina Katie and I rock-hopped southwards through the Archipelago. Apart from attempting to assassinate my soft furnishings, dropping a cushion over the side (hand stitched by me from an old North Sails battle flag), we had a cracking few days sailing. The highlight was without doubt a barbecue on a little rock called Höga Kobben, with Shelly tied up beneath us and a setting sun ahead. I caught us both by surprise by making it a more memorable evening still, and perhaps I should have asked her Father first, fortunately she said yes, and the next evening, when I rang, he agreed too!
That week passed in a blur of sunshine, islands and anchorages and soon we found ourselves puttering along in flat calm with three teenagers hanging off the rigging. We left Nynäsham and threaded the Drågets Kanal for a second time before mooring in Öja Norrhamn, on the island more famous for the headland at its southern point, Landsort. With breeze forecast we stayed two nights, soaking ourselves into island life: broken bicycles, local beer, pilot boats, gun batteries and Kubb (a stick throwing game I have previously heard called Viking). For a teenager, for forty-eight hours, it was paradise, and a storm raged (well a near gale) outside our little harbour. It was certainly notable for its pub, a tiny wood panelled room with cable drums as tables and a fridge stocked with locally brewed beer. I could have stayed for days.
For those with a sailing interest in this blog, we were in the inner part of the Norrhamn in a strong North Westerly and were fine, but the outer part was hellish with heavy swell and howling breeze. The boats there suffered keenly for their Havngift and would have been better in an anchorage somewhere else.
A few days later and we stopped in Oxelösund for a second time, then into Norrköping, from where we sped up to Stockholm for the day. We are trending generally South and West now, making for the Canal that will whisk us westwards and into the Kattegat, from there to Kiel, and then onwards home. Strangely, with a month to go, it feels like we’ll be finishing tomorrow! We’re in no rush!
After over two months away and afloat, here is a quick description of life on board!
Chelena at Höga Kobben
Chelena is just over 30 years old, the refinement of a successful 70’s cruising design and therefore as perfect a space as any sailor could want, providing speed isn’t an issue!
She has accommodation for six and lockers, cubbies, hiding places and hidden spaces galore. All this, plus an ample beam, make for a sensible pace to life. Just faster than a jog to be honest… 6mph or so!
Coffee in a compact galley
There are few privations, but clearly all on board need to operate and accommodate in a compact environment. The Boat Dance is a regular occurrence morning, evening and before leaving the boat; everyone pirouettes around the cabin and each other finding essentials, dressing etcetera. That said there is space for six to live on board and we’ve seated ten down below (just).
Meg amid the normal chaos of a week
Sailing, particularly in weather, adds an element of complexity to life on board that is blissfully absent in normal cruising. Everything is bounced around. The beginning of any windy sail is characterised by crashes from below decks. Eventually though the world settles into rhythm and, at the end of our four days across the North Sea earlier this year, we were in a fantastic microcosm.
Robin asleep up forward
All in all it is a world away from living between brick walls, but not in a bad way. Not sure it’d do me forever (cue relief from Katie), but it is a fantastic way to spend a summer with friends. I’d recommend it in an instant!
From Solo, to Duo, to Trio… Three weeks exploring a thousand islands!
A fortnight ago I was sailing on my own to Turku from the Aland Islands. There my sister Maddi joined me for a week exploring the Archipelago. Too soon she was off home to graduate as a medic (the first Dr Neville-Jones!). Then, at Naantali, Jamie and Pete arrived for a rapid route through to Rödhamn and finally onto the vomit comet for the Swedish islands. Now, in Möja, Katie has joined the ship for the next six weeks. Hurricane Catharine has arrived and I’m not quite sure what life on board is going to become!
As I walked to meet Maddi off the Helsinki-Turku bus I passed a sign to RUISROCK FESTIVAL. Asking around it turns out that this is the longest running Finnish music festival going, and so Maddi and I decided to check it out. A hot, still day saw us walking into a dust bowl of stages. We kicked off with Little Boots’ debut performance in Finland, then Disco Ensemble, a crunchier number. After dodging the seagulls dive bombing the food stalls we caught the last of a pop double act called PMMP, quite fun, before the main acts of the evening: Dizzee Rascal and Le Roux, also both in Finland for the first time. It was a great atmosphere, better too for being pretty much the only English people off the stages, and a change from music-via-micro speaker on board (thanks Robin!).
The next few days were a world away from a rock festival. We sailed gently through a maze of islets, calling in at Houtskala and Peterzens before leaving Shelly and setting off in the Avon Redcrest for a night camping on our own little island! We were well set up for it and felt properly adventurous.
Maddi and I finished our week with a lazy sail to Naantali, the waterside party capital of Finland. Think Cowes in high summer. Lots of fun and the furthest North East of the trip, beating Turku! We took train to Helsinki a day later and after some shopping and a drink on the hill overlooking the city Maddi went off to her flight.
As she flew home I caught the subway north and met my Russian friend Piotr on his little (and very orange) Marieholm 20. Off we went to a tiny deserted island off Helsinki for a barbecue until the early hours. The Russians, or at least this one, have a rudimentary approach to cooking. I bought beer… Piotr bought four huge pork steaks and grilled them over birch logs he’d split himself with single blows from a hand axe. In Russia even the cheerful engineer from St Petersburg garners more man points than I could ever hope for!
Next day the airport beckoned. Jamie and Pete arrived on a late flight and we hopped on the bus north back to Naantali. Jamie and I have sailed together off and on for ages, he has recently had a few seasons campaigning (very successfully) the J97 Jika Jika, on which I was lucky to make the odd appearance. Pete is a friend from university, currently Lieutenant Peter Ling RN, and as charming as a Scot can be (meliorated by a regular dram). We were to have a wicked week.
We fairly flew through the islands, averaging nearly 30 miles a day in stiff north easterlies. It was excellent sailing and we made up for each long day with a commensurately well fed (and sauna’d) evening.
First: a barbecue and a lashing of Scotch at Skaten, then a meal at Bärö’s excellent rock-top restaurant, another barbecue at Rödhamn, and finally an on board culinary tour-de-force in Fejan. Each stage of this furiously fantastic journey was trumpeted along by Jamie’s on board brass band and apart from a few short moments in our thrash across the Alands Hav (when Pete lost his breakfast and couldn’t stomach lunch), we were smiling all week.
Now chapter three of this adventure begins. The school term has ended and Katie is here for the holidays. It’s sometimes tough being a teacher, but the long summer break is a boon. Life on board will change ever so slightly now, as it did when Fred headed home, and as it does when any new friends arrive on board. This time, from a personal perspective, it is a very happy chapter to start.