Episode #3: Sailing in Germany. Trying strong river current for the first time.

In this episode 3 we arrive in Kiel, Germany and enter our very first lock in the Kiel Canal. It was also our first experience with strong river currents that makes for some very tense moments when trying to enter Cuxhaven.
In Cuxhaven they have a very interesting wind semaphore that was used to warn passing sailors of bad weather in the North Sea.
We get the mast down and start the trip on German canals towards Holland.

Episode 3 on Youtube.

Blog #3: Sailing in Germany. Trying strong river current for the first time.

Hello world and welcome to Blog #3 where I will tell you about the trip through the rivers and canals of Germany. On the river Elbe we get a taste of how powerful the current can be and it gets very tense onboard. 

In Cuxhaven we get the mast of and we enter the Elbe Weser canal and get our first taste of some stress free canal sailing.

Kiel canal

In Blog #2 I wrote about how we left my small island in the cold north on a very unusually nice sunny day. Later that day we arrived in the city Kiel in Germany after a 7 hour long trip running only by engine. This was the longest we had ever been running on engine alone as we usually have a lot of wind in the north.

In Germany we had to enter our very first lock at the Kiel canal and we were very excited. We had studied so much for the CEVNI certificate and we knew all the theory but had absolutely no practical experience.

By Ralf Roletschek – Own work, GFDL 1.2, Link

In this canal the merchant vessels enter first and we had to wait for the special light signal for pleasure boats. 

We came in and everything was very easy, no problem to tie up at all. Only slight problem was the slippery wooden bridge, one step outside the rubber mats and it was like soap. 

La Sardina in the lock.

The level difference was less than a meter and it changed so slowly that we could hardly feel it. 

So we entered the Kiel canal after the lock.

This canal is 98 kilometers long but we took it nice and easy and spent a few days on the trip with several stops and then some days in the final port of Brunsbuttel.

By Maximilian Dörrbecker (Chumwa) – own work, usingOpenStreetMap data for the backgroundtopographical background from Lencerthis map by NNW for the orientation map, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

In Brunsbuttel I could stand on top of the locks and see how the current changed during the day on the river Elbe. For every 6 hours it would switch direction and it looked like the current was very very strong.

Von user:UlrichAAB – Eigenes Werk, CC BY 3.0, Link

In the inner parts of Denmark where I had been sailing, there is almost never any current or tide to speak of. It is only towards the West sea that we have current and tide, but I have never sailed there. So I was completely unprepared for what was coming. I studied tide tables and researched on the internet to be as prepared as possible. I figured that we should not try to fight the current but sail with it, but I never realized how difficult it would be to leave the river and enter a marina at our destination. This would almost be fatal and nearly ended our trip before it started for real!

River current

So one day we finally headed out into the river Elbe through the lock at the time where the current was changing to the direction of the city Cuxhaven, which is where we wanted to get our mast down.

During the trip down the river towards Cuxhaven the current picked up and became stronger and stronger. Almost to the point where our rudder was not working anymore. This happens when the following current is so strong that not enough water is streaming over the rudder. It can be very dangerous as you can lose control of the boat and just go downriver with no steering at all.

At one point we were being moved directly towards a large metal buoy and the rudder didn’t react fast enough, but I could luckily turn the engine. I sped up the engine and was able to avoid the buoy by a few meters. Okay, this incident got my attention and it was clear that we had a problem with this current.

But we reached Cuxhafen and now came the real shock of the day. When it was time to steer towards land it fast became clear that there was no way that this boat would be able to fight the current sideways towards the entrance. We were being pushed downriver towards the North sea with a current which was at least 5 knots, resistance was futile. Called off the entrance attempt and turned the boat towards the ocean. After a short streck down the river I turned the boat into the current with the engine and turned it all the way up, at much higher revs than I have ever done before.

We were now able to get closer to the entrance at the low speed of half a knot, sometimes even less than that. That were some really nerve wracking minutes while staring at the coast, the entrance and the gps showing the speed. If the speed had fallen to zero, I would have to call it off again and we would have had no other choice than to let the river push us out to the sea and come back when the tide had changed many hours later.

However, suddenly we were at the harbour entrance and safe inside in the calm water. 

La Sardina in SVC marina Cuxhaven.

But I sure did learn an important lesson about currents and I never forgot about that on the rest of our trip. 

The big mistake I made was to arrive at my end point while the current was still strong. The right way would have been when the current ends and just before it starts to reverse. I entered into the Elbe at Brunsbuttel when the current was changing but I should have planned it for the ending point at Cuxhaven instead. So I should have entered when the current was already running towards the ocean and landed in Cuxhaven around the time it ended.

We spent a few days in SVC Marina in Cuxhaven and then moved La Sardina to City Marina just around the corner. We still had to sail out to the river, but with my newly painfully acquired knowledge about tide, we moved exactly in the sweet spot when the current stopped to change direction and there were no problems. 

Weather semaphore

Close to the marina is there a historic weather semaphore from 1903, which was used to show the weather conditions in the ocean for the ships passing by on the Elbe river up until radio messages took over. It has some very interesting mechanical gears and details.

It was separated into two parts, one part marked with a B showed the weather at Borkum and the H part showed weather at Helgoland.

The arms at top show the wind force using the Beaufort scale, each arm indicates two forces. The circles show the wind direction.

Even today the semaphore is showing the actual weather situation at Borkum and Helgoland. A local group is maintaining this very peculiar historic landmark.

Getting ready and then up the river

In City Marina I assembled the crutches again and a nearby shipyard removed the mast and put it on deck.

Then we were ready for the next part of our trip. We had to go back up river to Otterndorf and enter the small Elbe Weser canal and sail towards Bremerhaven.

This time I had prepared the timing of our trip better, no way I wanted to be caught in that river in the middle of a strong current at the wrong time again.

I wanted to arrive at Otterndorf around the time the current changes when the tide is at its highest. That way we would have the most water under our keel when attempting to enter Otterndorf. 

There is a small canal marked with green buoys that must be followed exactly as this area close to the coast is very flat. In our boat with our engine it would be impossible to follow this marked canal in the strong current, we would simply be swept away like a small branch in the river. So, no current this time was crucial.

Finally time to move on, got the engine started and called the lock master on the radio and gave him a taste of, in my opinion, my best german. Slowly we sailed up to the lock in between all the houses in the neighborhood by the marina. It was a strange feeling to have the mast on deck, and I was constantly bumping into it with my head.

The lock opened up and we were finally ready to enter the river Elbe again. This time with a hopefully better plan.

In Cuxhaven the fishermen have a special signaling system where they will blow their horns when entering and leaving the harbour. The current is so strong outside that they can simply not sail in and out at the same time. Those sailing in have the right of way and those inside, who are protected from the current, yield.

As we head for the entrance a fishing ship catching up blows his horn and I chime in with my newly bought compressor horn. But my horn suddenly doesn’t sound that impressive at all.

We went out into the Elbe and the current was giving us a good push upriver and when we arrived at the small canal at Otterndorf there was no current left at all. We sailed into the tiny canal and entered Otterndorf marina with no incidents.

It seemed that I had finally learned how to plan and use the current to my advantage.

We continued down the Elbe Weser canal the next day, finally we got a taste of the real quiet idyllic canal sailing life.

By User:Raboe001 – based on map data from http://www.demis.nl, Copyrighted free use, Link

Goodbye

Thank you for reading and don’t miss Blog #4 where we visit the Dutch people in the lower country of Holland. We also visit the dutch Venice and see a lot of windmills but absolutely no tulips in the fields.

And don’t forget: Boating is hours of pleasure interrupted by moments of sheer panic 🙂

Blog #2: Living on a small island and preparing the boat for the waterways.

Hello world

This is Blog 2 where I will tell you a little more about living on a small island and preparing the boat for the waterways.

Captain JJ Christensen.

Moving to a small island in the cold north

In the years 2013 and 2014 I was sailing around Denmark in the summer on La Sardina while working as an IT consultant onboard. I managed to visit most of Denmark this way step by step.

Born and raised in a small village inland with no oceans anywhere I was fascinated with this new world with boats and the sea. Especially I liked being on the smaller islands of Denmark and I was growing tired of the big city, Copenhagen. It seemed like a good idea to live on one of these small islands.

In 2014 we bought a small house on one of the islands I had visited on my voyages, Ærø. It was a small island only 25 kilometers long and no more than 9 kilometers wide. The island has around 6000 inhabitants in 3 main villages. The house was in the larger village of Marstal that has a big marina with marine shops and shipyards.

This city is very famous for its impressive shipping history where it had up to 400 large schooners in its heydays. Even today it is a must to visit for the many historic wooden ships we still have sailing around in Denmark.

I always dreamed of having one of those wooden boats but it takes a lot of work to maintain them and because I’m such a big procrastinator it will never ever work.

Schooner Fylla arrives in Marstal.

It is also a good island for a photographer to be on. It is well known for its many spectacular  sunrises and sunsets with almost magic colors. Also it has very beautiful landscapes.

The island was also very popular among many eloping wedding couples and there were around 1000 weddings a year when I arrived there. In the end the island had more than 5000 weddings a year, before bureaucracy and legislation axed the wedding business. 

Well, I started working as a full time wedding photographer on the island and during the next 4 years I photographed more than 600 weddings ranging from civil ceremonies only 30 minutes long to all inclusive 15 hour church weddings with hundreds of guests. 

In 2018 it was time to move on from this small island in the cold north in search of nice sunny days, which are so rare for us. My body does not handle the cold and humid climate so well anymore. 

I wanted to sail to the mediterranian sea because as everybody knows they have nice sunny days all the time, even in winter it’s nice.

The obvious route would be to sail into the north sea through the northeast channel and head south through the english channel, across the bay of Biscay and finally pass Gibraltar. 

But another more interesting route would be through the inland european waterways with their charm and history. This ended up being the route we chose.

Preparing for the waterways.

Before making this trip from the cold north to the mediterranian on the inland waterways there are a few things that must be in order.

  • You need a CEVNI certificate that proves you have learned the rules and regulations of the rivers and canals.
  • You need to use your VHF radio on the rivers and you must have a radio certificate to use it legally, and more importantly to not disturb the traffic.
  • Your boat needs to be registered. Normally in Denmark we don’t register pleasure boats but all other european countries expect such a registration paper. 
  • You need some kind of VAT paid certificate or documentation or else you run the risk of having your boat impounded by customs officials in other countries. My boat is from before the VAT was even invented but just in case I got the certificate made.
  • Liability insurance is needed, you should already have this, many marinas will check it and will refuse you if you don’t have it. You also need the insurance to be extended to cover your trip in other countries and the coverage needs to be more than a million Euros.

In February 2018 I finally had all papers and requirements in place and everything was ready except the boat. I wanted to start the trip around March/April 2018. 

Making the boat ready

I had been procrastinating regarding work on the boat and off course all this work still had to be done.

Bottom had to be cleaned and painted, and crutches to keep the mast on deck had to be created. 

Weather was really acting up this winter and it was not possible to start any work on the boat until April 2018. But then finally the weather relaxed just enough to do some outside work.

La Sardina still covered in snow and ice.

First project was to get the boat on land, clean the bottom and paint it again. 

It had been 2 years in the water and it was covered with growth. I’m such a procrastinator that it simply never happens that I get the boat on land every winter as I’m supposed to and this is always the result. 

Many many kilos of barnacles and oysters had to be removed. 

On the other hand, I’m good at always giving the bottom extra layers of antifouling when I finally get it on land. The work I did here lasted for 2 whole years sailing across Europe.

Also I polished the sides so it would look nice and shiny for the trip. Fitted extra boatnames in front which is a requirement on the rivers that makes it easier for lock masters to identify our boat.

La Sardina with new boat name added on the front.

And the boat came back into the water and what a difference this new clean bottom made in speed and so much easier to steer.

La Sardina ready for the water again.
La Sardina ready for the water again.

Next project was to build those crutches so the mast could be stored on deck. It took a lot of watching videos and reading on the internet before I had a clear idea of a design.

But the work went well and after a few days playing around I finally had a working solution that was easy to store and safe, even in case of waves which can happen on larger rivers and lakes.

Finally underway

Finally underway

And finally one unusually sunny day in the cold north everything was ready. Boat was prepared, provisions loaded and I was removing the dock lines for the final time.

A course for Kiel in Germany had been plotted and off into the ocean we went on this sunny and absolutely windless day.

Around Denmark

In the following years I would spend as much time on the boat as possible. All vacations and weekends I went out sailing. Even on work days in the season I would go for a quick sail after being in the cubicle all day. We were living very close to the coast of Copenhagen and it was only a few short minutes to walk to the boat.

I gained a lot of import routine in preparing the boat, leaving and arriving, hoisting sail and tacking in that period of the first season.

It was not always smooth sailing and often I was close to hitting the many buoys in Copenhagen port.

Also had to learn to take care of the boom and you can see here. Near miss or a near hit.ufff

So here I was sailing around the port in Copenhagen among cruise ships, merchant vessels and off course a lot of pleasure boats.

It was a good place to get more sailing experience because it was very protected from waves and wind. When it was very windy with high waves I would sail inside the walls of Copenhagen port and on more pleasant days I would sail outside in the strait towards Sweden.

As I gained more and more experience I wanted to explore all of Denmark on the 7 danish seas.

Started out on small weekend trips with the admiral and soon we sailed further and further and deeper into the ocean.

Around Denmark.
© OpenStreetMap contributors. Tiles courtesy of Andy Allan. Website and API terms

I also took up fishing in those years. Normally I wouldn’t even touch a fish with a pole and much less eat it. But now on a boat I thought it could be fun to catch some. The admiral insisted that if I was to catch fish then I also had to eat them and not just eat a steak.

Well challenge accepted, bought some equipment and found a work colleague that was an expert in fishing.

Good catch 🙂

Soon we were catching hornfisk, codfish and many other species. At first it was difficult for me to eat them but fresh fish is something completely different. They taste so fresh and there is no foul smell and now I enjoy fresh fish as often as possible.

Starting to actually sail

Well now I was the proud owner of a small boat located in a marina 26 nautical miles(30 miles, 48 kilometers) from Copenhagen that needed to be moved to her new home marina in the city.
I could hardly wait to get it home, everyday I was studying the weather forecasts almost every hour. But to no avail the weather in the cold north is rough and we had high winds for weeks.

But finally one day the weather was reasonable and finally I could bring it to Copenhagen.
It turned out to be quite a trip for a beginner like me. First we hit the ground inside the other marina, lesson learned: don’t sail too close to the bridge with small boats!
But it came off the ground with some wiggling and out into the ocean. Up came the sails and everything was working.
But even though I knew all the theory of navigation and had even bought all the paper maps(this was before GPS devices became really big) I didn’t pay enough attention to our actual location. One thing the boat also missed was a depth charger, so I had no idea how much water I had under the keel.
So south of the island Amager we got way too close to the coast and bumped into a rock. Turned the boat around immediately and nothing more happened.

The trip from Vallensbæk to Copenhagen with the rock about halfway.
© OpenStreetMap contributors. Tiles courtesy of Andy Allan. Website and API terms


Well that was quite a shock but a very important lesson was learned. Don’t forget where you are in a boat!

But I did arrive home to Copenhagen after my very first sailing trip in my own boat.

La Sardina arrived in Copenhagen.

Buying a boat

Well here I was with my freshly printed certificate of competency and nowhere to sail with no boat and no actual experience at all.
The sailing season in the cold north is short only a few months and here we were eager to sail. I knew people with boats and pestered them all about taking me with them on their next trip. But soon I learned a dark truth about the boat world: people actually rarely sail their boats. Most only a handful of times during the short season. Some even never leave the pier during the entire season.
Growing quite desperate with the situation and the vaning sailing season I decided to buy a small sailing boat. I was still not 100% sure of my own commitment and time available but I wanted some experience now and I would not just let the sailing season end without some more sailing.

My requirements for a sailing boat was first and most important of all that it must be sailing ready right now. I’m such a big procrastinator and a year long project was not in my plans. Most likely I would never have finished. I wanted to sail right now before the season ended.
Second requirement was that It must not be bigger than I can sail it alone. Larger boats can be very difficult or even impossible to sail alone. Especially leaving and arriving at the dock can be problematic alone.

Started searching papers and the internet for boats and soon this old Albin Viggen turned up.

The sales ad for La Sardina.

It was owned by a family that just arrived home from their summer sailing trip and it was 100% ready to go here and now. It had a good size for solo sailing and it was even reasonably priced as the market was at that time. The price was so low that it was no problem if I later wanted to get rid of it. It was located in a marina Vallensbæk just south of Copenhagen so it would be no problem to bring it home. At that time I was convinced that if continuing to sail I would get something in the 40 foot range.

Contacted the owner and we met up for a test trip. This boat turned out to be exactly what I was looking for and I bought it on the spot.

Learning to sail

Doing my research I found a private sailing teacher with his own boat that was offering the official curriculum in 7 days total and the last day would be exam day with a certified censor. 

http://www.nordsjaellands-sejlerskole.dk webpage

This was a much better solution for me and I even talked my wife (the later Admiral) into participating.

The course started and it came with quite a few surprises for us. The schedule for the course was quite straightforward. Breakfast on board and then studying navigation, rules and safety on boats. Then lunch and then sailing on the boat all afternoon.

Surprise number one was how tiresome for the body it is to be on a boat. As the boat is moving all the time the body can never rest. Constantly it needs to compensate for movements. Also a boat, even a big boat is a cramped place. All the time I had to duck, move up and down the ladder and even getting onboard was something giving sore muscles for a lifelong landlubber. So no long evenings in the cockpit enjoying the long light evenings of the cold north. I was fast asleep at 9 every evening.

Surprice number 2 was how nice it was to sail in a sailboat. The sound of the boat moving through the water and the wind in the sails quickly convinced me that I was not a motorboater but a sailboater.

We finished the course and both got the certificate and we were now officially real sailors. Or sort of 🙂

Landlubber

In 2009 I was happily working as an IT consultant in Copenhagen in the cold northern part of Europe. Days were long and intense but still I had some free time to spare on something new and exciting.

Being born and raised in a small village in the inland part of Denmark meant I had only a very few times been on a pleasure boat. My knowledge of sailing, navigation and caring for a boat was literally zero. I even had a strong tendency to become seasick on ferries so everything was against me from the beginning. 

But none of that sussed me away from dreaming about sailing around the Copenhagen port with the old channels, docks and the old defense islands in the strait of Øresund. Maybe even whizzing to Sweden across the strait could be a fun activity on the weekends.

My idea was to get a slick, fast small motorboat of the type with a big V8 engine. Here in the cold north a certificate is needed for fast motorboats, but it’s no big problem and it can be had after participating in a short weekend course. Some even offer the certificate in one single day. 

But I was a little worried about the low amount of general knowledge I would obtain on such a short course. Coming from a background of no boats and suddenly being on an ocean kind of worried me a little. How about boyes, rules, regulations and safety, I had no knowledge about anything relating to boats and the ocean.

Next level would be to obtain a certificate of competency for yachtsmen in a sailing club. Then I would learn everything about navigation and safety and this card would also be valid for a fast motorboat. But I quickly realised the long timeframe for this certificate, people were often spending 1-2 years to get this certificate in sailing clubs. This did certainly not fit my impatient nature !! 

Hello World

Welcome

Goddag, goddag to everybody out there whether sailing or not. I’m doing a new sailing channel(just a hobby, won’t be big and professionnel like many other channels) it will be for the internet and social media.