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Thursday, 9 June 2016

Norderney - Burgtiefe (8 June 2016)

On Monday 30 May we took the opportunity to explore Norderney, our first German port of call. I think that Norderney may be the largest of the East Frisian Islands but even then it is only around 8miles long and a couple of miles wide. The harbour and the ferry port are less than a mile from the smart town, Norderney being Germany's oldest spa and a nineteenth century royal holiday centre. It has some fine buildings facing the sea and a central park like square where café culture is clearly in evidence. The town was busy although a significant proportion of the visitors were noticeably older than us! In common with other East Frisian islands a significant proportion of the island (in Norderney's case about two-thirds) is a nature reserve. We spent the sunny afternoon cycling along the very quiet cycle ways and roads through the nature reserve and viewing the long sandy beaches.

Town centre street, Norderney
We had been thinking about which other islands to visit, there are four east of Norderney. The harbours are all very shallow and in some yachts sink into mud at low water. We were also conscious that the wattfahrwassern, the areas between the islands and the mainland, are all more shallow than south of Juist where we had quite a challenge en-route to Norderney. Having looked at the charts it was clear that we would have to go north of the islands, in the North Sea. The wind remained stubbornly NE so this was going to mean taking the tide but motoring into the wind. In the end, having evaluated the challenges of each of the entrances, I concluded that we should go to Wangerooge, the nearest island to our next call, Cuxhaven. In addition Wangerooge is a small island with a few novelty factors which attracted us, including no cars and lorries! The distance was about 30nm so a departure from Norderney about an hour before low water would enable us to take the tide from the harbour through the seegat (the channel between the islands) and then pick up the east going flood tide. This would also ensure that we arrived off Wangerooge before high water, an important point as there is a very shallow sand bar about three miles off the island and in addition the final approach to the harbour itself requires careful navigation as it too is shallow. We left Norderney just after midday and were soon having to motor directly into the NE wind of F4/5. However the waves were mainly slight after some initial buffeting so we made good time and were off Wangerooge approaching the bar about 2 hours before HW. Even so the depth over the bar was a minimum of 1.2m under the keel. This was the shallowest part of the entry, as we swept through the narrow seegat the depth touched 30m, before dropping sharply again so that in the final approach to the harbour we were down to 0.7m at one stage before increasing again to 2.4m in the very small harbour itself. Apart from about two dozen residents boats on finger pontoons there were just four visitors boats on a long pontoon. By the time we were nearing the pontoon there was a cheerful harbour master waiting for our lines and who introduced himself as “Tom” and welcomed us to Wangerooge! He pointed to his “office” which was in the sailing club bar, on the other side of the harbour and we said that we would come over in a short while. As we walked around the harbour to the Clubhouse (on stilts as were all the few other buildings we noticed), another interesting feature of the island began to appear round the coast – the train! The town is some 3miles from the only harbour but it is connected by a free train. The train brings people (mainly day visitors or longer holidaymakers) to and from the ferry which can only berth around an hour each side of high water. A second ferry brings freight and that too is loaded on to wagons to be taken back to town. As Andrea noted, the train had more coaches than are usually provided by South West Trains serving our local station at Tisbury!
Train heading to the harbour and ferry
Leaning on the Club House balcony we had an excellent view of the activity in this small harbour as the passenger ferry approached. Having paid Tom and got all the information that we needed we then requested a couple of beers which Tom duly served up. Sitting in the small bar we also had a chat with a couple of other visiting sailors and a guy (Fritz) who said that he was the local dentist and who had a motor boat. In conversation he talked about the hostility some people still feel towards Germans because of WW2. He said that he had experienced it sometimes (he mentioned in the Netherlands) but he just ignored it. He did recognise that for older generations who may have lost loved ones this might be an issue.
The next morning we were on our bikes along the shared footpath/cycleway to the town. The resident population of Wanerooge is around 1500 but in the peak holiday period this may be swollen by 5000 visitors. It is an interesting town with shops supplying essentials, a range of restaurants, houses dating back to the late nineteenth century and of course the main train station! Again there are very sandy beaches with interesting covered seats, a traditional promenade, an extensive nature conservation area and a very small airport. The commercial transport around the town and island consists of a variety of small electric vans or trucks, a reminder of milk floats! 
Transport arrangements in Wangerooge
 Near the centre of the town is the old lighthouse. We climbed to the top to see the views and also looked at their historical exhibition. This included a piece on the allied bombing of the island in 1945 when around 150 civilians and military personnel lost their lives. During WW2 the airfield was used by the Luftwaffe and this was obviously the target of the Lancaster bombers but it certainly appears that quite a few non-military buildings were destroyed. 

A view from the old lighthouse
  That evening I had a discussion with Tom in the Office/Bar about when I needed to leave the next morning to ensure that I safely crossed the sand bar. Tom's advice was to leave no later than HW-2.5hrs but perhaps no later than 2hours after HW to be on the safe side. My immediate doubts were that would be too late, given that I wouldn't be at the bar (the sea one!) until at least 30 minutes after leaving the harbour and the depth under the keel at 2 hours before HW on the inward passage was only 1.2m at minimum. Having reflected on it over night and woken to an overcast day with a F4 NE wind forecast I concluded that we wouldn't wait too long as after HW we would have to cross the bar with wind against tide which would create choppy conditions. On the other hand we only had c25nm to the beginning of the River Elbe and the advice on this was also clear that you shouldn't pass the fairway buoy until the tide is on the turn to give you the flood. On this day that suggested around 1720LT. So the earlier we crossed the bar the slower that we would have to go to wait for the tide to turn at the Elbe. Not a straightforward position! In the event by 1040 I had itchy feet so 40 minutes after HW we slipped our mooring. The first half hour or so was uneventful although the wind was stronger than forecast. However as we approached the bar all we could see were crashing waves and a sea of white water. We carefully stuck to the channel plunging up and down into 1+m waves with the depth indicator fluctuating wildly and for seemingly endless minutes reading “0” with the alarm going off. Eventually we crawled past the final port buoy and the depth beneath the keel slowly started reading positive numbers. Not a pleasant experience and one we don't want to repeat. I am very glad that we hadn't left our departure any later! We now turned into the wind and headed further out to sea. First we had to cross the busy shipping lanes of the R Jade (getting drenched in the first of two downpours in the process) then we began skirting the sands around the Elbe estuary. As it happened, 6 hours after our departure we were near the fairway buoy (around 1645), so we resigned ourselves to fighting the tide for a while. It lasted longer than expected and didn't tail off until around 1830 when it quickly began to help us. At 2045 we were tied up at the very small Fahrhafen Sailing Club harbour on the edge of Cuxhaven. We choose this in preference to the large commercial marina as it had been recommended by a Cruising Association member as very friendly and informal. When we arrived there was not a soul there but vacant berths had a green sign so we picked one. We eventually discovered some information about the arrangements plus an envelope to put our fee into near the gate at the end of the pontoon. Andrea happened to be there when a member arrived to put some items on his boat. He kindly showed her where the key to the Clubhouse was located and pointed at what looked like a house about 50m away and said that we could let ourselves in to use the shower and facilities! An amazing arrangement, so trusting, and the shower in the Clubhouse was like being in someone’s own home! Even the bar was unlocked but we respected the arrangements and, as requested, left the place clean and tidy.
We decided to leave exploring Cuxhaven for another time and at 0900 on a sunny Friday morning we took the tide to head 17nm to Brunsbuttel where the lock that gives access to the Kiel Canal is located. Having the tide with us and even after a brief wait, by noon we were in the lock and soon afterwards in very warm sunshine we began our motor down the canal. Soon some industrial wharves gave way to forested edges and reeded banks. The canal (officially the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal) was opened in 1895 and was primarily built to enable the German Naval Fleet to get from the Baltic to the North Sea without having to run the risk of passing around Jutland. It is reasonably wide with plenty of room (40m clearance) under the elegant bridges. So now it carries significant commercial traffic and is heavily regulated. 
Approaching traffic on the Kiel Canal
You cannot anchor, nor tie up except in designated moorings, so our objective was to get a little over halfway, to Rendsburg. Just after 1800 we turned into the Obereiderenge and to the far SW corner to RVR Rendsburg, an attractive yacht haven. This meant that in two days from Wangerooge we had completed 99nm so we were having Saturday at rest.
Of course not quite at rest as we decided to explore the town and do some shopping and washing too. It was just 10 minutes walk into a medieval city with fine 16th century and later buildings. Being Saturday there was a market in the town square from which we obtained fresh asparagus, strawberries, local cheeses (recommended by the chatty cheese monger but very strong tasting (he said medium!) and some local cake. The rest of our requirements were met by Aldi and another supermarket. When we were back in town for another walk round later in the afternoon we were amazed to discover that nearly all the shops had closed at 1400 so it was quite quiet!

Theatre at Rendsburg
On the previous day our friends Pieter and Griet in Watervogel had made the long passage from Norderney to Cuxhaven. Pieter had messaged me on Saturday morning to say that they would try to make Rendsburg and we received regular updates so soon after 1830 we were delighted to take their lines as they arrived. We had a very enjoyable sunny evening together.
On Sunday morning they left about 30 minutes before us heading for Holtenau (the lock that lets you into the Baltic Sea) and then on to Laboe for the night. Our destination was a little short of that at the British Kiel Yacht Club. The 20nm passage down to Holtenau was uneventful. At Holtenau there are two locks for leisure craft and two for commercial ships. Here you must also pay a fee of 20 Euro for use of the canal. But since 2014 the leisure craft locks have been out of action with major works being undertaken. So leisure craft have to fit in with the big ships in the commercial lock. It has also led to fees for leisure craft being suspended. It is thought that this is because to get to the kiosk to pay the fee requires climbing up and down a slippery vertical ladder on the wall of the lock and the authorities are fearful of the risk of accidents. Whilst this is a saving we did have to wait over half an hour to enter the lock as two ships were on their way to Holtenau and needed to be moored up inside the lock before we joined them.
It was then just a short distance to the British Kiel Yacht Club, originally established at the end of WW2 and ever since used as a base for UK military personnel to enjoy adventure training. With the wind down of the British presence in Germany it is due to close permanently later in 2016 so we had been encouraged to make what would be a once only visit. As it happened we did not cover ourselves in glory as a brisk wind on the beam coupled with Whileaway's reluctance to go astern in a straight line meant that we provided entertainment on how not to secure up in a box mooring. We did eventually get in and it turned out to be a very quiet afternoon and evening as the place was practically deserted. We did though walk back to near the locks as we had noticed on our transit that there were over a dozen tall ships at some sort of festival there so went along to view them. This entailed a walk through the old British base, long ago handed back, with married quarters now occupied by Syrian, Iraqi and other refugees given a safe haven by Germany.

Tall ships visiting Holtenau
 On Monday it was 0930 by the time that we were away, heading first northerly out of the Kieler Forde and then turning East. The weather forecast was for a NW F4 so that offered the prospect of some sailing. Indeed by midday we were sailing but close hauled and regularly tacking as the wind was NE, By mid afternoon the wind had come round a little to ENE and increased so now it was always at least F5 and increasingly F6 (22-27kn). Making ground was becoming more difficult so we restarted the engine and were soon ploughing in to strong winds and an increasingly steep sea, slowing us down somewhat. By the time that we were on the long approach to Heiligenhafen the wind was gusting to 30kn (F7). If coming from the W, to gain entry to the harbour you have to pass a 2km long sand spit then turn and return inside it along a narrow channel which we easily picked up. Once inside the large marina it was clear that getting into a box mooring would be tricky in this wind so we found an alongside pontoon used for temporary moorings and the next morning the harbour master said that we could stay there for the day. Heiligenhafen is a large yacht, fishing and commercial harbour so it has a busy and interesting town and harbour side. There is an interesting old church where as is the tradition in ports there were model ships hanging from the ceiling.
Model ship in the old church

A short distance away is a beach resort with large hotels. We looked round the pretty market square and after lunch cycled along the sand spit seeing the many birds on the protected area and accidentally disturbing a gull that had built its nest on the edge of a footpath to a viewing platform which was just open for a few hours each day. 
Part of the sandspit

 We also cycled to the beach resort but were unimpressed with that! A fish supper seemed appropriate given the fishing activity! We later discovered that Watervogel had arrived and so had a quick catch up; they are heading to the E coast of Sweden for a month or two so it will be our last meeting with them.
On the following morning we made the short journey to Burgetiefe on Fehmarn Island where we are leaving the boat for a couple of weeks to return to the UK. For the first time since we left Sneek over two weeks ago we had a wind that didnt have E in it! It was NW so we had a pleasant sail running before the wind under the rail and road bridge and into the harbour. It was though another day where the wind was strong gusting to F6 so getting into the box was a challenge but we eventually made it with the help of a guy on the pontoon who took our bow lines. 

Burgstaaken harbour
 On our last day we visited the yard in nearby Burgstaaken where we will be leaving Whileaway in the winter and which is about 2km away. This is another old fishing port with a busy town centre. Fishing is still an activity as is tourism, including a historic U boat.

Main street Burgstaaken
On Friday it is a couple of trains to Hamburg then a flight to Heathrow,and coach, trains and taxi home. On this leg from Sneek we had travelled 360 Nm in the 15 days and have got ourselves into the Baltic which will be our base for the rest of this year and perhaps next.