Report by Pete McIntyre.
When I last left the Baltic, I knew I would be back, the interesting places to visit are endless, varied and navigationally challenging and so I set about investigating the ‘possibilities’.
Firstly how long could I go for, or in reality, how many ‘brownie’ points did I have in the bank! After intense negotiations six or seven weeks was the limit. How far could I get in that time? I would have loved to get as far as Russia, taking in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on the way but allowing one week for the North Sea crossings, that leaves three weeks outward and three weeks for the return, or maybe put in all the hard work first by doing two weeks outward and four weeks for the return but the logistics come out the same, still not enough time. Well maybe not this time then but never say never.
On looking at the charts and reading up in the pilot books, the North German coast looked a very interesting place to go, steeped in war time history and the routes through and around the islands filled me with excitement with the thoughts of all the navigational challenges that they presented, in addition, with a little luck, as Poland would be a EU state by then, we may even be able to add that to our itinerary.
It isn’t everyone that can get away for prolonged periods and so there would have to be crew changes, and it would have to be carefully worked out, so that they would occur near major airports. Alan Campion would do the first three weeks, Gary Wilshaw a couple of weeks, Colin Russell would meet us in Sweden and stay a couple of weeks and Mike and Cath Greenwood would join me for the last three weeks, including the North Sea return.
The plans had all been made and liking the odd drop of gin at the end of the day, the duty free island of Helgoland would naturally be our first port of call, not only for the duty free but also it is essential to time our arrival at the entrance to the River Elbe at the correct time and Helgoland is the perfect place to depart from to achieve this. At 1700 on the 3rd June we waved goodbye to family and friends and set off to cross the North Sea, after three days of sailing, with some magnificent dolphin displays, we finally caught sight of the red rock, standing out in the morning sunshine, which is Helgoland.
After tidying up we set off to explore the island, in search of the best deal we could get on the duty free. Bit of a bugger really, Bombay Sapphire has gone up to 9 euros a litre, about six pounds in real money! Our order was delivered to the boat later that day and after working out our departure time, a quick sampling session, just to check on the quality of our purchase, a few drinks at the local bars, we managed to stagger back to the boat for a good night’s sleep, before our departure the following day to the river Elbe (which we must have worked out right as our speed over the ground was 9.5 knts) and onto Brunsbuttel and the entrance to the Kiel canal, where, after a long wait to enter the lock we eventually tied up in the Marina for the overnight stay before pushing on the following day for a night in Rensburg, eventually exiting the canal and once again experiencing the hospitality of the British Kiel Yacht Club.
For some reason, Gary decided to return home and so Alan and I decided to reward ourselves a day off as we were ahead of our schedule and spent our time exploring Stickenhorn, an industrial area with ship building and repair yards and interesting little boat yards, on the banks of the Kiel estuary, whilst the adjoining town offered good shops and another chance to sample the German beers!
With a passage of forty miles the following day, we departed early, exited the Kiel estuary, skirted our way around a firing range, marked by a series of special marks and onto the Fehmarnsund bridge, where, after a broken fan belt, for which the replacement seemed a little tight we decided to alter our next destination and divert to a huge marina at Heilingenhafen, where we would possibly be able to get a replacement. No chance! After a long, unfruitful search we caught a taxi to the nearest supplier, the eventual cost of the fan belt was just ten euros and the cost of the taxi, forty! It did seem very expensive but I found the old fan belt invaluable. Not being a lover of box moorings and preferring to lay alongside if possible, a simple wave of the old fan belt, proclaiming the engine is overheating, usually brings a sympathetic response!
Heilingenhafen is situated in a mainly, low-lying area and has many dykes to facilitate the farming in the region but whilst the reeds and the marshes provide an interesting landscape, be where of the mosquitoes’! The following day, scratching the odd bite, once again we had an early start, carefully navigating through the shoaling areas around Fehmarnsund, before witnessing the sun rise as we travelled, under the Fehmarn Bridge and headed for the Danish port of Gedser, thirty five miles away at the southern tip of Falster. We had the kite up all the way and I had a fabulous downwind sail whilst Alan replaced an ‘o’ ring which had gone on the water pump, causing a slight oil leak.
With fingers crossed (that the oil leak was fixed) we set off for Klintholm the following morning in beautiful sunshine but very little wind and decided a little fishing was in order, digging the rod out and a couple of perks, I tossed the line over the side and reeled in a long eel like fish but with a mouth like an alligator, much to Alan’s disbelief, at the first attempt! It turned out it was a garfish, which, with mouth snapping, was introduced to my heaviest winch handle, before being taken off the hook and returned to the sea! We later learned that they are not that good to eat and when cooked the bones go green, not one of my favourite colours. We took it in turns and when Alan, in truly dogged fashion, eventually caught one, we decided enough was enough and called it a day.
We arrived in Klintholm and found shelter in the building wind, in the marina which is connected to a holiday condominium, and decided as it seemed such a nice place to have the following day off to do a bit of exploration. We found the marina office, which was also the holiday centre office and told we could use all the facilities on offer, swimming pool, sauna, pool and table tennis and as it was the time around the football World cup, could use one of the apartments to watch the matches.
Day off or not there are always jobs to be done and so we bagged up all our dirty washing and made a trip to the camp laundrette, where we looked perplexed and bewildered at the difficulty of operating such complicated machines, until a kind lady took the washing off us, treated us like small children and told us to come back in a couple of hours when it would all be done. Nice one again! We later returned to find our washing neatly folded waiting out collection. What a kind lady.
Later that evening we took our place in the apartment to watch the England game on TV, we had taken the precaution to take our own drinks, gin, tonic and a fresh lemon, just in case refreshments weren’t being served. When we were joined by a German couple we extended them our hospitality and provided them with a large glass apiece. They may even have been offered a replenishment had they not cheered every time the opposition had the ball!
For the next three days we were storm bound with strong winds preventing us from leaving through the narrow entrance and after fixing everything that needed fixing on the boat, spent our time wandering around the fish market and harbour, playing pool and table tennis and getting warm in the sauna.
A German boat, crewed by a bunch of tired, wet, ladies managed to brave the conditions and put into the marina, the wind was still very strong and they were struggling to find a berth, we offered to take their lines and rafted them up alongside another German boat, only to be told by the owner that he wouldn’t allow them to raft up, as he cast off their lines! I wonder if the swastika we drew on his bow in permanent marker, just before we left, ever washed off?
When we finally manage to escape, the wind had completely died leaving a horrible left over sea but at least we were on our way, we passed dramatic white towering cliffs, before we left Denmark on our way to pick up Colin (who had been waiting for us for a couple of days) in a small but clean and pleasant marina at Gislov Largs, to the west of Trelleborg on the southern coast of Sweden. Colin was waiting our arrival like a worried parent wait for one of the children to come home after their first night out! “Where have you been, I’ve been worried sick!” He soon chilled out after a couple of gins and the following day we left for Ystad but as we made such good time, pushed on to Kaseborg, a small fishing harbour, where we moored alongside of the harbour wall for the night. Whilst we were there we visited a fish drying and smoking house, which seemed to be the only reason for the places existence. On a nearby hillside we could see huge standing stones, placed in the shape of a ship.
We set off early the next morning in bright sunshine, only to receive warnings of gales for our area but as it was only thirty miles we pressed on with a passage that took us to Ronne on the Danish island Bonholm. It did blow up a bit more but nothing we couldn’t handle, until with thirty knots on the nose after a course change, the situation, changed, so on went the engine, only to cut out an hour later. We had run out of fuel, so had to switch to the reserve tank and go through the lengthy process of bleeding the engine, which was completed just in time for our arrival in the marina, where after a shower and a few drinks we went out for a meal.
This is as far west as we will be going on this trip, we are on the same meridian of longitude as Italy. Our next passage would be the only overnighter we would have to make and take us into the newest EU country, namely Poland, for us a bit of an unknown quantity and it was with excitement mixed with a little trepidation that after eighteen hours, we closed on our destination of Swinoujscie. After dropping our sails we entered the estuary and found where the customs house was, tied up to the roughest jetty imaginable protected only with worn out tyres and after collecting passports I proceeded into the cigar smoke filled customs office, it was reminiscent of an old American movie, the grossly overweight officer only glanced up at me before wiping his sweaty brow and with a wave of his hand, beckoned me forward to the desk, he pointed at the desk, I guessed correctly, and placed the passports on the spot, he glanced at my photo and then at me a couple of times, I felt very uncomfortable, he gave them back and once again gave a hand signal, that I think meant I could leave, taking a deep breath, I left the office and went back to the boat. Welcome to Poland!
We went in search of a marina, we came to one but passed it bye, hoping we could find one a little closer to the centre, taking a channel to starboard we came across what we thought were de-commissioned war ships, I was about to take a photo, until that is that a couple of ratings appeared on deck, still feeling uneasy, I slid the camera out of view. We returned to the marina we had already passed, obviously it had once been a dock, the buildings surrounding it were derelict but it was surrounded by a high security fence, which at least gave a little re-assurance as to its safety. Like Holland, the moorings are bows too but instead of wooden poles to fasten the stern to, there use two metal buoys, as it was quite empty and everyone else had moored alongside, so did we.
We went for a walk around the town, which without doubt was not the wealthiest place in the World, graffiti adorned most of the walls, people sat on the ground in the square, looking dejected, cigarette butts littered the ground, we all felt we had seen enough and set off back to the boat and set off, first through a river and then by canal into a huge inland sea/lake and headed east towards Wolin.
The charts mentioned that there were fishing stakes in the area but didn’t mention the magnitude of them, they were huge, anglers type keep nets but twenty foot in diameter, one hundred foot long held in place by telegraph poles, once we had ventured into them it was easier to keep going, than turn around, we were caught in a maze, they were everywhere and we carefully threaded our way through them until we eventually escaped and went onto Wolin. After all the trouble it had taken, when we finally arrived, there was only a small harbour, suitable for fishing cobles, so we changed our destination and travelling through the buoyed channel and tied up in a very pleasant marina at Tzenbiez. Set in wooded surroundings, it had a different feel about it, a fisherman fished from the end of the jetty; investigation showed he had half a bucket full of small fish, the size you wouldn’t normally entertain but he was more than happy with his catch, it would probably sustain him for another day. The marina office was housed in a large dilapidated ex hotel, the carpet in the entrance was worn out, and the whole place gave off the aura of grandeur in days gone by. After paying our dues, we were directed to the showers, which confirmed our believes, they were lined in white marble, of the highest quality, wash hand basins set into the marble tops, the whole place echoed of past opulence.
We wandered through the wooded pathway into the village where we found a bar, we each had a litre of larger and lasagne and chips and the total bill came to the equivalent of eleven pounds! The owner sat inside, along with some friends and after finding out we were British, used us to practice their English on, in turn we learned to say thank you and hello. As a nation we have a long way to go.
One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Poland was because the border between Poland and Germany went right across the middle of the inland sea/lake and I thought it was an exciting proposition to cross from one country to another in this way. The marina notice board told us that as they (Poland) were now in the EU there was no need to check out at customs, but the crossing had to be at buoy number fifteen, where we must call up the patrol boat would be anchored. As we set off, we passed the fisherman on the end of the jetty with his bucket of fish, needs must. Our course took us on a fast reach in twenty five knots of wind, we duly contacted the patrol boat and asked permission to cross their boarder, ‘Yes’ came the answer, ‘But you must come close to the patrol boat, so we can see you’. No problem, we thought but as we got nearer they launched a high speed rigid inflatable, with a couple of armed border guards onboard, they came straight for us, yelling we hadn’t called up. I pointed my little finger to my mouth and my thumb to my ear and nodding my head, signalled with my other hand five minutes ago. You must follow us they shouted and not wanting to pick an argument, we did, dropping the sails, as we were now head to wind in about thirty knots of wind, coupled with the fact a depth, on average of three metres, producing a horrible chop. They got quite aggressive when I slowed the boat down to two to three knots, telling us we must go faster as their rib was being chucked all over the place! Fat chance, I shrugged my shoulders to say I was flat out, which they seemed to accept. They went on ahead and we followed until a ferry came out of nowhere, across our bows, on its way into the German ferry terminal we were passing at that time, I swung the helm over to go round in a circle astern of it, only to see the border guards come shooting out in front of the ferry at full speed, thinking we were trying to make a run for it into the German port! I kept the helm over and I think they realized what we were doing; we followed them still doing a couple of knots, laughing to ourselves as they were being bounced about. Eventually we came to Newarp and were told to tie up alongside, once done Alan lit a cigarette which, with a swift swipe from the border guard was knocked out of his mouth. They pointed their guns in the direction I should go and with one on each side, I was escorted into the border control office which also doubled as the ferry terminal ticket office. The officer shouted something at me, but I didn’t understand, he shouted again, again I shrugged my shoulders, fortunately a young lad sat in the ticket side of the office, who spoke a little English, told me he wanted to know where we had come from and where we were going, he interoperated for us and once he was satisfied, I was marched back to the boat and after a thorough inspection, we were allowed to leave. We made our way back to buoy fifteen and again called them up, this time, much to our relief, we were allowed to cross into Germany.
The wind was now gusting forty to fifty knots and once again we came across a maze of fishing stakes, with great care we followed the buoyage system into the mouth of the river and onto our destination of Ueckermunde.
With great relief, we tied up at the town quay and celebrated our safe arrival with a couple of bottles of gin! It may seem strange but it was an experience I don’t regret, with the borders opening up, it is one which will probably never happen again. A point which crossed my mind whilst being ‘interviewed’ but a point I thought best to keep to myself!
The word ‘munde’ means mouth of the river, the river in question was the Uecker, hence, Ueckermunde. We were in what would have been the old East Germany, a quick glance around showed how ‘new’ money was been pumped into the town, with work going on everywhere on improvements. A passing lady stopped to enquire about our ensign and where we were from, not recognizing it as British; she thought that with the union flag in the top left hand corner, we must be from a principality or something. We commented about the ongoing work and asked how things had improved since unification. Her reply came as a bit of a shock really. ‘Not at all, yes we have more freedom but the West Germans hate us for taking their wealth, they despise us and all the younger people have left the region to earn better money in the West, it is not good, the Russian mafia have moved in, the place is corrupt’. We spotted a fair at the other side of the river, a big Ferris wheel, beer tents and a stage for the bands that would be playing there; we wandered over and found a huge rally for the East German car, the infamous Trabant, literally, hundreds of them with their owners proudly stood by them. We wandered into the town centre, the sky line dominated by enormous churches with massively built doorways, the square in the centre of town had pubs and cafes all around and everything was so cheap.
As we were ahead of schedule we spent a couple of days here but it was time for Alan and Colin to return home, they left for Berlin and Mike and Cath joined the crew. We left Ueckermunde through the tree lined canal and back into the net strewn lake, carefully following the buoyage to Karmin and entered the channel through the Peenestrom, an area which, during the war, came in for heavy bombing raids by the allied forces, as it was the area of war time rocket development in Germany. The pilot books recommend not to fly the ensign in this area as feelings still run deep. We pass bridges which were just a tangled wreckage after being bombed and not repaired, we knew we had time to kill awaiting the opening of Zecherin lifting bridge so we anchored in the shallow lakes where we were entertain by huge fish eagles catching fish and saw an otter swimming in the reeds.
Another opening bridge at Wolgast allowed passage to Kroslin where we stayed the night. The following day as we left, we passed old Russian submarines moored in Peenemunde Haffen and continued in this navigationally challenging area, to Wiek a small village, which because there were no shops there, we had to travel a little further up a river to Greifswald and had to tie up on the roughest of walls on the town quay. Greifswald is a university town, improvements were going on all over the place, improvements which would eventually bring the area back into the twenty first century, but for the time being, it was a grotty, dirty town, once again with massive orthodox churches and old buildings. The saying ‘riches to rags’ springs to mind.
The next day we went back down the river, to await the opening bridge, before once again entering a tightly buoyed channel that took us through to another opening bridge, before reaching our destination of Strelasund, once a major port in the area but alas now slightly run down but never the less an attractive holiday resort, with a busy market in the town square and more churches.
We had thunder storms all day today, it never stopped raining all day, we were soaked to the skin and decided to have a rest day which gave us time to have a look around the famous German tall ship, the Gorch Fock which was moored nearby. Gorch Fock was used as a training ship for all the cadets that entered the German navy, teaching sailors the necessity to pull together.
With forty five miles to go we were up and off early in the morning, again in strong winds with thunder and lightning thrown in for good measure! It was late when we arrived in Warnemunde but managed to buy bread and milk from the people on the next boat. The following day Mike and Cath went to Rostock to shop, whilst I stayed on the boat to repair the number three sail which had blown out the previous day.
Another fifty miles to Wismar, in strong wind, rain and hail, (yes hail in July!) saw yet another early start and after a right old bashing, twelve hours later we were settling down to enjoy our first gin and tonic, when I knocked my glass (well plastic really) off the table. I went down to the galley to get a cloth and noticed the cabin sole was awash, lifting the engine compartment cover I was greeted with a shower coming from the direction of the prop shaft seal! We must have hit a log, which with this type of seal, tends to push the rubber seal up the shaft, leaving a sizable gap for the water to pour in. Frantic bailing exposed the seal and still with water gushing in, I managed to slacken the screws and slide it back to re- seal it. Knocking the glass off was a blessing in disguise really, we may have sunk!
Wismar is a well protected, busy, historic town of major importance, once owned by Sweden; the remarkable architecture of the whole town is under a preservation order. It is principally engaged in the ship building industry where there are at least three replica ships under construction, which you are encouraged to look around.
A later start than normal, the following day, took us six miles to the island of Poel and the small, rustic looking village of Kirchorf; once again in pouring rain, we did a little exploration before we ended up in the local yacht club. ‘Does it always rain here, I enquired?’ ‘No only between the showers came the answer!’ We enjoyed their hospitality until the place closed at ten o’clock that evening.
It was in better weather, the following day that we travelled the thirty odd miles, to the holiday resort of Travenmunde, a busy ferry terminal and commercial port and the outer port of Lubeck, further up the river. The entrance is dominated by a thirty seven floor tower block and the sea front, with shops, restaurants and pavement cafes, is often referred to as the Cannes of the Baltic and has quite a few tall ships moored along side, for good measure. It was here I saw my first British ensign since leaving Kiel.
We left the next day for Neustadt, one of the main yachting centres of the North German coast, we managed to get a berth near to the local yacht club, once again their hospitality and facilities were second to none. We wandered around and came across an amazing feature which still baffles me to this day. A ball made from marble, perhaps four foot in diameter, which appears to be floating on a fountain of bubbling water underneath it. You could turn it by hand as easy as pie, amazing and to me absolutely mind blowing.
The following day we left for Grossenbrode, a marina twenty five miles up the coast, which for some reason, although set in what appeared to be wealthy surroundings, had the most basic shower and toilet facilities, with only look warm water in the shower and no shops. We elected not to stay in Grossenbrode for longer than necessary and left the following morning to Burg, passing an amazing circular marina, bows too and posts at the stern but decided as it seemed a bit remote, pushed onto a marina which we were told was near to the shops. After a two mile hike, we returned with our supplies! Make a mental note: we must research our destinations more!
Our last leg in the Baltic would take us forty three miles, back under the Fehmansund Bridge, passed Heiligenhafen and onto the now familiar, British Kiel Yacht Club, where we moored alongside the fleet of Najads, owned by the club, and where I had arranged to meet my son, Terry who would be skippering an entry in the Royal Signals regatta. We spent a pleasant couple of days relaxing, making repairs and re stocking, before we departed for the return trip through the Kiel Canal to Brunsbuttel, onto Helgoland and eventually a North Sea passage back to Scarborough.
In total we had sailed just over fifteen hundred miles and had been privileged to experience extended cruising in such a variety of countries, we had sailed in Danish, Swedish, Polish and German waters and had gained an insight as to their culture and setting aside our run in with the Polish border guards, had always been made welcome wherever we went. Poland was ridiculously inexpensive; it was very noticeable that the price of berthing, drinks and food, became progressively more expensive the further west we travelled. We feel enriched by the experiences and who knows, next time, maybe Russia!