Mahina Expeditions offers offshore sail-training expeditions, offshore sailing seminars and boat purchase consultation.
It poured buckets that evening, and the following morning it was still blowing a near-gale out of the south. We decided Grenaa, about 32 miles to the WSW, would be a closer and better option than Ballen which lay 30 miles further south. Grenaa’s small marina was totally chocka with boats waiting out the strong winds, but thanks to our new bow thruster, we could maneuver MT in a very small area and raft up next to a friendly Danish boat. We enjoyed sunshine and long walks to the town, plus visiting with the friendly Danes filling the harbor.
Monday, July 21st we left Grenaa at 0530 hoping to make the long 95 mile passage to Nyborg before dark. It turned out to be our most difficult day of sailing this year. The winds were only in the 20-30 knot range until late afternoon, but with 1.5 – 2 knots of current opposing the winds, plus relatively shallow depths, the seas were less than half a boat length apart. We kept reefing down until we were triple reefed and had only 50% of the genoa out, but MT still charged along at 8.2 knots on a close then beam reach. We stayed just out of the very busy main shipping lanes and finally sailed under the huge bridge connecting Denmark around 1700, when the wind died.
In contrast to the previous day Tuesday brought our best day of sailing in years, or most unusual, anyway! We sailed on a beam reach in absolutely flat waters at 6-8 knots for 18 miles between Fyn and Landgeland islands, passing literally hundreds of sailboats, most heading north. Everyone looked to be having a wonderful time – many of the boats had children playing in the rigging, and everyone waved as they sailed by.
We passed only one German yacht aground before finding our way into Aeroskobing Harbor, located in the middle of the island. We’d been warned that in mid-summer the small harbor fills up by noon so were pleased to find a good anchorage outside the harbor within easy dinghy distance. I was certainly a great treat to explore the historic harbor and village that recently held its 750 year jubilee! It was obvious that the home and shop owners took tremendous pride in restoring and maintaining their properties.
We got another early start Thursday morning, hoping to sail south to Kiel, Germany, and at least part way through the Kiel Canal. First we had to thread our way south along Aero through an even narrower, shallower channel which the charts showed as having a depth of 2 meters. As MT draws 1.87 meters, we knew it would be close.
Just as we approached the skinniest shallowest section I popped down to the engine room for one of my every-few-hours engine room checks. When I looked closely at the Racor water separator/fuel filter clear plastic bowl I was horrified to see it nearly full of water!
We immediately anchored just off the channel and I set to work. First I drained the Racor, then removed and drained the secondary engine fuel filter, which also was nearly full of water. Why the engine hadn’t stopped is a mystery.
Hallberg-Rassy installs a fuel sump pump in all of their boats, something few if any other builders do. This makes it was easy to place an empty six gallon jerry jug in the engine room next to the sump pump and pump out the bottom of the tank.
I next checked the deck fill fuel cap and found that I must not have tightened it properly when we fueled, in a hurry, before hauling out in Sweden. That was sure dumb! - I was soon to find that this small mistake would cost me a lot of hours over then next two weeks as I repeatedly (morning and night) pumped the fuel tank sump plus emptied and cleaned filters.
Our incredibly reliable Volvo TMD 31L started first time, never missed a beat, and we raised anchor and threaded our way through the passage, passing the ship building town of Marstal at the far eastern tip of Aero before setting sail for Germany.
The day was clear and sunny day, and the beaches lining the entrance of Kiel were crowed with colourful beach goers while dozens of boats sailed by, interspersed with large ships barreling down the channel.
On our previous Keil Canal transits we’ve spent the night moored to waiting floats at the entrance. This time we arrived at 1500 so we waited at the entrance with a dozen other pleasure boats and one small cruise ship. Large ships have a separate lock to the south.
After a few minutes, the lock gates opened letting out a flotilla of vessels. We then queued up with the waiting boats and moved into the lock chamber, mooring up to a low floating walkway at the chambers wall. In an hour or less everyone had visited the lockmaster to pay the very modest fee ($30 Euro for MT) the gates had closed, the lock filled, and we were on our way along the very busy canal.
Commercial ships of all sizes passed us in both directions, a few yachts were headed towards Kiel, but the most interesting was classic paddle wheel steamer, loaded with people having a great time.
About halfway through the canal when there wasn’t much traffic crew unrolled and dropped the genoa. We partly shoved it through the saloon hatch so that Amanda, Abbie and Laurie could repair a small tear that had appeared on the foot of the sail a couple of days earlier. In no time we had the sail rehoisted and furled.
Pleasure boats are only allowed to be underway within the canal during daylight hours and the published stopping time was for July is 2230 so we did not expect we’d make it all the way through to Brunsbuttel before dark. There are only a few places where yachts are allowed to anchor or tie up for the night so when we saw a group of yachts anchored and moored to pilings in a small cove, we quickly ducked in and dropped anchor in the last minutes of twilight at 2105.
What a peaceful place we found, and how much it reminded us of the week we spent moored beside the Pedro Miguel lock in the middle of the Panama Canal a few years ago. Brightly lit ships glided (rumbled according to Amanda who did not sleep well that night) past every few minutes, and birds sang in the surrounding forest.
Early the following morning I went through the routine of pumping the fuel tank sump and draining both filters before we got underway at 0600. By 0700 we reached the Brunsbuttel lock and before long we had locked through to the seemingly always windy North Sea.
We motored around the docks at Cuxhaven for and hour to try and top our fuel tanks and were nearly trapped by a giant pile-driving barge before learning that the only way for yachts to get fuel in Cuxhaven was by hiring a taxi and taking jerry jugs to the nearest service station. So, we hoisted sails and set a course for Helgoland, www.helgoland.de, a German duty-free port and island 25 miles NW that we had previously enjoyed visiting.
We arrived at Helgoland’s one and only small fuel dock with 30 minutes to spare, got our tank topped up, and rafted in the very crowded harbor to a nice Dutch couple who filled us in with anchorage possibilities in their home country while our crew enjoyed a tasty seafood dinner ashore. We had read somewhere that Texel, one of the NW islands of Holland coast was supposed to be beautiful, but our neighbors said they much preferred Vlieland which was closer and easier to enter, so that became our destination.
Helgoland has great hiking, and what a surprise to find dozens of recently-hatched fluffy gannet chicks in the cliff side nests, easily viewed from the trail.
We got underway after a leisurely lunch and class of provisioning plus storms. Not long after clearing Helgoland’s breakwater, Kent remarked that the steering seemed stiff. I noticed our speed 3 knots when it should be 6, remembering our incident of Fastnet Rock. Richard looked astern and discovered a trail of fishing net buoys which he and Amanda hooked with the boat hook. It was very slimy and felt like it must have had an anchor attached and as they could not pull it aboard they had to cut it away. We came up into the wind, dropped sail and anchored in 60’ of water. The water felt surprisingly warm (well at least it wasn’t freezing) when I jumped in with mask and fins to clear the line. It had caught on the rudder this time, not the prop.
Finally, we were off on a nice reach, headed toward Holland, 135 miles away. We had good winds until 0900 when they dropped off, leaving us to motor the last few hours in hot flat calm haze.
Vlieland was hopping! Sandy beaches with lots of people and several traditional sail-training ships glided past as we threaded our way into the channel. We had been hoping to anchor out, vs. rafting up in the packed harbor and were delighted to see 20 or so boats anchored in and along the narrow channel. We chose an anchorage that was just outside the channel, realizing that MT would swing 180 degrees on the 2 knot tidal current. As long as the wind didn’t come up strong out of the east, we’d be fine. Before long we all hit the beach and went off exploring. Cars are not allowed on the island and we certainly weren’t prepared for the hundreds of bicycles of every size, color and shape (and bicyclist)– zooming about to catch the ferry as we walked through the historic village toward the hilltop lighthouse.
When we returned to MT several hours later, the tide had dropped 1.5 meters and dozens of boats, either classic Dutch leeboard classic steel or wooden yachts, or centerboard boats were aground, surrounded by mud and sand. MT was fine, but shortly after when we were preparing dinner a humdinger of a thunderstorm/squall bore down on us from the east, and in an instant, a 30 kt. gust heeled MT over sharply, swinging us around until our stern was facing the edge of the mudflats. In seconds we had the engine on and Kent was raising the anchor, but it wasn’t fast enough. I felt a thud through the wheel as the rudder struck the mud, as we got pinned against the bank. All the time the wind was screaming, the sky was black, lightning and thunder surrounded us, and the skies had opened with a deluge.
The bow thruster! What if I gave a shot to port with the bowthruster and put the engine in forward as Kent continued to pull in the chain? It worked! The thruster spun the bow into deeper water, and the pull of the windlass along with the push of the prop quickly got us back into the channel without any further trouble.
We raised anchor the following morning at 0600 before threading our way out the channel into a sunny and flat and nearly calm North Sea. The Raymarine AIS receiver really paid for itself on the passage to Ramsgate, England. The unit frequently was tracking its maximum of 100 ships at a time, and there were so many AIS icons on the screen that on 12 mile or higher range, they blended together. We stayed just outside the edge of the shipping lanes, but twice we came to junctions where multiple shipping lanes converged, and it was like a four lane roundabout. Several times we slowed and waited to pass astern of ships.
We used the calm weather to cover our storm sailing seminar and catch up on testing.
By 0900 we arrived at Ramsgate, www.portoframsgate.co.uk, and slowly motored around the guest docks looking for a space that would be easy to leave from early the next morning. As we turned to head into an inner harbor area, the engine started performing very oddly. There was minimal power in forward or reverse, and lots of smoke. We carefully limped into an open spot, tied up and Sir Richard the Ready volunteered to check the prop. He found a ball of fishing net which we must have picked up inside the marina only minutes before. It was so caught on the prop that he asked for help, and together he pulled and I cut free the abandoned net.
Ramsgate is an interesting town. It was from here that many of the “little ships” (yachts) went to rescue over 300,000 Allied troops from the beaches at Dunkerque. The harbor is ancient and ringed by small marine businesses and some nice little restaurants. We enjoyed an excellent Italian dinner ashore together at an Indian restaurant, (just kidding, we had curry) that had an amazing view of the harbor.
Our plan was to sail about 70 miles to Sovereign Harbour near Eastbourne, www.sovereignharbour.co.uk, which would have been a new stop for us. It wasn’t to be! We got an early start but ran into 20-30kt headwinds and very rough, closely-spaced seas. Although we were making headway, it was not pretty. We decided to pull into Dover; www.doverport.co.uk/marina, the busiest port (by far!) in England. The harbor, marina and ferry ports are all inside a massive breakwater with two openings. Vessel traffic maneuver in and out of Dover only with permission of Dover Port Control and we were told to wait a few minutes at the east entrance while one of the high speed ferries to France departed. We were then asked to hurry across the harbor to the lock waiting area for the yacht harbor situated on the west side. As it was nearly high tide the marina tide gates were open and we only had to wait for the bridge to swing open to allow us to enter.
In the meantime, Amanda taught winch servicing, going aloft and splicing double-braid line and I completed communication options and clearing customs worldwide, then, it was time for exploring!
The large and impressive Dover castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk) strategically overlooks the harbor and city, and was just waiting to be explored. What a view it has, you can clearly see the coast of France. Henry II had greatly enlarged the fortification adding a massive keep that was highly decorated in the latest Tudor fashion and used only when he and his court visited a few days per year. Under the white chalk cliff faces there are miles of command post and hospital tunnels, dating back to the WWII, but we ran out of time to explore them.
I think we set the record for an early departure Wednesday morning with the dock lines off by 0300. We had 68 miles to go to Brighton, www.premiermarinas.com, where Leg 4 would end, and I knew, from earlier emailing the harbormaster, that if we wanted to get a slip we needed to arrive not long after noon on this, there busiest week of the year.
What a difference a day made to weather. When the sun started lighting up the eastern sky around 0410, it looked like it would be a gorgeous day. We weren’t disappointed. The winds filled in, we shut off the engine and had a great sail with the perfect opportunity for celestial nav practice.
Before we knew it we were at the marina – tied to the reception dock with an allocated slip for us for our week between expeditions. Everyone in the marina said this was the first really sunny and hot day of the year Dockside restaurants were mobbed but Jeremy managed to get us reservations at a first class Italian seafood restaurant. Wow – where had two weeks gone!
Here’s our Leg 4 crew:
Kent Riedling, 52 hails from near Raleigh, North Carolina and looks forward to retiring in less than one year. He is looking forward to moving at his own speed and is excited about watching his dream become a reality. Kent is fascinated with metal pilothouse boats and eyed the many Ovni aluminum boats we passed.
Laurie Michel, 41 is from Northern California and is a homemaker and real estate investor. She has owned various boats and sailed Southern California to Catalina Island and on SF Bay over the past 12 years. She recently became serious about advancing her sailing knowledge and skill for her upcoming empty-nester status. She and her husband Michael hope to be able to go cruising one day. (Michael was a consultation client, they recently purchased a Bristol 41.1).
Elisabeta Buttu, 60 is a recent retiree from the IT business in Geneva, Switzerland. She and her husband were refugees from Bulgaria when they arrived in Switzerland 29 years ago. Andre discovered sailing 15 years ago and since then they have had the dream to sail the world on their own boat. They have sailed their current boat on Lake Geneva for several years plus charted worldwide but are looking forward to May 2009 when they will pick up their new Hallberg-Rassy 40 in Sweden and set sail to explore the world!
Richard Baker, 56, of South Africa joins us for the fourth time with the goal of trying to decide whether or not to order a HR 48. Go for it Richard!
Jeremy Westerman, 40 is originally from the UK but now lives near San Jose, California where he works in the tech industry. He has been sailing on San Francisco Bay for five years and this is his second expedition aboard MT. Currently between jobs, this is the first of many sailing adventures planned for the rest of 2008, including a transatlantic passage with the ARC.
Elisabeta leaves us with this poem which Andre found on the internet:
A small boy heard the ocean roar,
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