Cuxhaven

Our last stop before heading out into the North Sea was to be Cuxhaven. Here we would take on more fuel before the three or four day crossing back to old Blighty.

By the time we arrived it was dark. Jamie radioed ahead to request permission to enter the port and told them that we would like to refuel. Our request was given the ok, so we headed in, although there was a pretty strong current running past the entrance which caused us some issues. We tied up alongside the fuel dock but we couldn’t work out how to operate the fuel so we called again. The harbour master informed us that there that we couldn’t get fuel today but there would be someone there tomorrow, so we agreed to stay on the fuel dock for the night.

There was nothing else to do but head to the pub! So we set off and ran into some boat buddies that we’d bumped into at Rensburg. The told us that there wasn’t much happening in town but to head over the levy and then turn left to find the nearest drinking hole.

It turns out that none of us really knew what a ‘levy’ was except that someone ‘drove their chevvy to the levy but the levy was dry’. As we found out it was a kind of bank with stairs over it. The directions were spot on, but when we arrived the pub looked closed, this was a Sunday night at around 11pm so we weren’t expecting much, however Jamie tried the door and to our surprise it opened, and it served beer! So we went in.

We could see what our buddies meant though. This was obviously a quiet town and this would be the first and last beer – or so we thought. Before long more and more people started to turn up, then the darts started, and then the dice started. In fact, you couldn’t get another beer unless the barman was between games.

And that’s when we met our new fried Claus. Claus was a retired pilot that used to pilot planes from Hamburg via Singapore to Sydney. He was also a little off his rocker. First he looked like he wanted to start a fight with us, but after the barman told him off we became BFFs. He liked to bestow gifts on me, like some of his beer, one cent pieces and trolley tokens, but I wasn’t so keen to accept them. He loved Pete, as that was his fathers name. But he wasn’t sure about Pete’s relationship with Jamie and thought he’d be much better off with a girl, so that’s when the girly mag came out. Nice.

Yes it was one of those crazy nights where you laugh and laugh until your belly hurts and it will definitely be one to remember!

We woke early this morning to set sail across the longest and most daunting part of the trip – the North sea! I was a bit apprehensive but also keen to get underway. First up, we needed diesel.

After waiting a hour or two for someone to arrive, it wasn’t looking promising, so Jamie called up on the radio. Apparently it’s a public holiday and so it wouldn’t be happening today – I couldn’t believe they didn’t tell us that last night!

Our options were to go back through the lock to Brunsbuttle to refuel there or try the garage, 2 kms away. After our scary experience in the lock yesterday we reluctantly decided on the later. Fortunately we were able to get the last two 10 litre fuel cans at the garage and fill them – a small victory. We dragged them back to the boat and poured them in.

Cuxhaven 1

Unfortunately the gauge on the fuel tank has not yet dropped from 100% and we estimate that it should be a lot lower, so we were not sure how much fuel was needed. The two cans didn’t fill it so it was back to the garage again and again. Then, as we were returning the fourth and final time, the fog started setting in.

Cuxhaven 2

The good news was that because we have AIS and radar, and our trusty fog horn we were able to set off. This wasn’t the case for some of the other boats that were hoping to head down the Kiel canal the opposite way – they would have to wait it out.

A sunny day on the Kiel canal

We had a great day cruising down the Kiel canal. The sun was out and everything was right with the world. Like the previous day, the canal was busy with tankers, ferries crossing and other boats but today there was other wildlife too.

First up was a dog vs swan standoff! I’m not sure who won that one.

After that the pedestrians and cyclists came out. Jamie made lots of friends and captured lots of smiles by waving to them. The best ones were the oldies and the children, their faces would simply light up like a beacon as we sailed past and it was fun to spread the love.

Pete and I however are fellow Yorkshire men, and I think we’ve watched one too many episodes of ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. Our game was to wave to the cyclists in the hope that they would take their hand off their bike to wave and either fall off or veer off into the canal. We didn’t succeed, however we did come close a few times. Oh well better luck next time!

I was quite sad to leave the Kiel canal, we’d had so much fun and for a short time the anxiety of crossing oceans had been forgotten. But as the day came to an end, so did the end of the canal.

This time our lock companion was a huge container ship by the name of Charlotta B. The plan was that she would go into the lock and we’d follow her in and tie up the other side. Then we’d exit the lock first.

It was all going well as we entered the lock and then all of a sudden pieces of timber decking started shooting out from the side of the lock towards us, like some kind of crazy Sonic the Hedgehog game. It was a bit of a squeeze anyway but this made the space available to us even narrower. It was pretty scary but we did manage to avoid them and we tied up where the decking was more fixed. I’m sure some lock controller we couldn’t see was very sad he didn’t put a massive dent in the hull.

We waited patiently for the water level to rise and the gates at the far end to reopen. Slowly a small gap appeared and the next thing Charlotta B’s linesmen started bellowing ‘Go go go!’  So we all jumped to it and headed through the gates and out into very eerily lit open water beyond.

Kiel Docking

Kiel Exiting Dock

 

 

Starting the Kiel canal

Today we made good time and before long we were approaching Schonberg and the start of the Kiel canal – ahead of schedule!

We drew up alongside the dock to wait for our slot in the lock and who should we find there? Henri, from Hanse. He was helping another couple take their newly purchased Hanse 445, (Interlude’s big brother) along the same route. They had set off hours after us but must have overtaken us during the night.

We got through the lock with typical German efficiency and in just two or three minutes the lock doors opened and we were on our way along the Kiel canal. It was very strange, and quite terrifying at times, to be making way along such a wide canal with tankers passing closely either side. Especially when two tankers passed and squeezed us to the edge of the bank.

Kiel Canal

We kept up our good pace and decided to reward ourselves by stopping off for the night in Ratzeburg. The marina is about a third of the way through the canal and had been recommended to Simon by another Hanse owner who had made the same trip. Quite rightly too as the restaurant had the biggest, tastiest burgers!

We arrived just before sundown and had the challenge of reversing and tying up at a jetty with mooring posts. Simon did a great job and we made it without a scrape, although he does have another grey hair!

Ratzeburg

We hadn’t had chance to add Interlude’s name to the boat. Although we had bought some graphics it had been too cold for the adhesive to work and honestly we just hadn’t found the time. Pete came to the rescue and temporarily added the name using black tape so at least we won’t get fined. He will be copyrighting the new font which we all thought looked pretty snazzy!

Interlude Transom

Meeting Interlude in Greifswald, Germany

Today we met our new sailing yacht, a Hanse 385, that we’ve named Interlude I.

We left the ultra modern Hauptbahnhof station in Berlin and arrived three hours later at the tiny station of Greifsvald. The trip was pretty uneventful and the landscape was similar to back home in Lincolnshire, flat with plenty of agriculture and scrubland. We simply couldn’t wait to get there so the hours dragged on and on.

From the station we dropped our bags at the nearby hotel and quickly walked down to the marina, past two fields pack full of Hanse yachts and the Hanse factory.

Hanse Factory

We we greeted by Richard and Andy, from Inspiration Marine, the UK dealership. After a brief introduction they took us down to the jetty.

There was Interlude, all shiny and new gleaming away in the sunshine!

It was a very surreal and strange experience and I don’t think it will sink in for a while that she’s really ours. In fact, it wasn’t until Richard said “You can go on board you know, she IS yours” that we even left the dock and hopped on.

Helen meets Interlude

Down below it became more real – she was exactly as we’d chosen. All in all it was very exciting, you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces.

On Tuesday we did the test sail as part of the handover. Once Andy had her out of the marina he handed the helm over to me. Yikes! We motored down the canal, which was very picturesque with geese and other birds taking flight on our approach. We got to the swing bridge that marked the end a couple of minutes early so had to hang around for a little while, but right on time two little men appeared and opened the bridge to let us through. Very windy miller!

The opening wasn’t that huge so I was very cautious, but we made it out of the canal in no time.

Once in open water, the guys ran through a few checks including the calibration of the autopilot. It was the first time I’d seen an autopilot in action and as part of the test it swung us to port and starboard in increasing increments. As we were doing this, we started to get closer and closer to some fishing buoys which was a bit alarming. We were just about to cancel the whole operation, but Andy held firm saying ‘It’s getting into the really big swings now so we should be nearly there!’. True to his word, and just in the nick of time, the calibration finished and we were able to steer away. Phew!

After that it was time to get the sails out. They looked great!

Interlude's sails

The engine was shut off and we tacked around the bay for a while. It was pretty cold though so we were all keen to get back. Simon took us back to the marina and had a chance to test Interlude out for himself. Judging from the huge goofy smile on his face he was very happy.

Simon meets Interlude

On Wednesday we spent our time at the marina going through some more paperwork and checks. There were a few things we’d spotted (which we were told we would), like a scratch in the one of the floor boards which Hanse promised to fix. Also the hatch on the cabin roof had a vent in it which was not on the original spec. All small things and the support from the guys was spot on.

The Volvo guy came to take us through the engine and do the sign off on that. It was all going well until he spotted a small drop of water. Then after a few uums and ahhs he said ‘Up, up’. There was a small leak which means poor Interlude had to come back out of the water and have the seal refitted.

At about the same time, the guys turned up to fit the spray hood. Work began swiftly and then before we knew the boat was heading off and away to the crane to be lifted out, with the guys still working away on the hood!

There was a tense half hour where Interlude was craned out. We hung around to watch but it was very nerve wrecking. She didn’t come all the way out of the water but just enough for the seal to be above water and refitted, then with great efficiency she was back in the water. With so many boats lined up on the manufacturing line, these guys don’t hang around.

Interlude is lifted

Interlude is lifted 2

Later on Richard and Andy were kind enough to drive us down the road to the local supermarket. Tomorrow we will be living on board so we needed to pick up some essentials – like a heater and a kettle. The afternoon and nights get very nippy as a cold wind picks up so I’m sure we’ll be needing those.

On Thursday we moved out of our comfy hotel and onto our brand new yacht. I never thought this moment would come! We dragged all our bags down to the marina and onto our boat. There are not too many home comforts here at the moment due to the measly baggage allowance but it was good to start making it our own.

Next stop was the chandlery to pick up some supplies. The guy tried to sell us all kinds of things while we tried to tick a few items off our list. One of the things was a fog horn. He tried to sell us the manual kind that you blow into but we thought the gas type would be more effective. To prove his point he took it out of the case a blew into it, letting out a huge BRRRRRRRRR! scaring his office staff and us alike. We became the proud owners of a trumper. :)

That afternoon we ran around town to Aldi and Netto (and Dog Netto??) to pick up a few more bits and pieces we would need for the trip. We also hunted through the local outdoors and camping shops. By the end of the day we were pretty worn out so we headed into town for some well earned beers and pizza.

Greifswald

On Friday we woke to a cold boat and realised that our departure date was getting close. It was very exciting but also extremely scary. The morning was taken up with more chores, the chandlery, the supermarket (again) as we tried to get Interlude ship shape. We wanted to make a good impression on the deliver crew from Halcyon who were due to arrive.

When Jamie, the skipper, stepped onboard we were still racing ahead to get our preparations complete. After a quick welcome, we ran through some safety checks and then headed back to the chandlery for some more supplies, including flags, a life ring, Jon buoy and the jack stays that we’d ordered the day before. The rest of the day was spent with yet more preparations and before we knew it that cold afternoon wind was blowing through which could only mean one thing – time to head to the pub.

We had dinner with Richard and Andy (Inspiration Marine) and Jamie and Peter (Halcyon). It was great to chat with an amazing bunch of guys, who all seem eager to help us on our way. Richard and Andy have helped us no end and now we will be in the capable hands of Jamie and Peter.

Any time you have drinks with sailors the talk usually ends up with sailing bloopers, and I could only hope that, as green as we are, we won’t be making too many of those! But time will tell. The next morning we’d be setting off for our journey back to old Blighty.

It began… in Berlin

At 2.30am on Saturday 22 March 2014 we set off on route to Greifswald on Germany’s northern coast to meet our new boat, Interlude I, and start an adventure. First we would spend three nights in Berlin and we were looking forward to a break from all the planning that we had been doing over the last few days, weeks, months and even years.

The flight went without a hitch (well apart from the toolkit we forgot in the hand luggage that has forever put us on the terrorist list!). We dumped our bags at the brutally modern but very swanky Catalonia hotel, Berlin and then headed straight out. We mooched past a few historical sights before stumbling on the Berlin TV tower.

Berlin Tower

It seemed like a good way to get to know Berlin before exploring it more, so we bought a ticket and opted for the cheaper ‘small wait’ option. The small wait ended up being a huuuuuuge wait. We spent the time wandering around the local streets, eating lunch, sunning ourselves in the local beer garden and still it was not our turn. We even tried to upgrade our tickets with no luck.

Berlin Beer Garden

Finally we made it to the top! The view was fantastic and we passed the time peeking through the crowds to spot the famous landmarks and learn a little more about Berlin. There was a crazy mixture of architecture from regal palaces to striking modernity. Sadly, it seemed there were large patches of beautiful houses that had been destroyed and replaced by huge estates of 1970s style high rises – I guess that’s just one of the unfortunate costs on war-torn Berlin.

That evening we headed out to take in some more sights and found a small local restaurant called Zum Nussbaum. The atmosphere was great, the staff were so friendly and we were seated with another couple with whom we shared a few steins. The pork schnitzel with mash was a winner and the Berliner sausage with sauerkraut was awesome too, especially with the mustard! Mind you anything would have tasted great with the amount of Steins we downed.

Day two in Berlin and we were determined to discover more of the city! The day started my way with some yummy treats.

Yummy Berlin Treats

Next up was the Berlin Cathedral. It’s has a special grandeur so we decided to nip inside. The stained glass window let in a divine golden light and the painted ceiling was something spectacular. Just as we noticed the huge organ it began to play and then a Priest started welcoming the locals and visitors to the church. Although his sermon was in German and we had no clue what he was saying, it was captivating.

Berlin Cathedral

We crossed the square, to the information centre which is a temporary, modern building on the site of the old palace and is currently being rebuilt in it’s former style. The information centre told the fascinating story in full. The Berlin palace was bombed twice during WW2 and a large part of was brought down to rubble. It’s difficult to think that our country and allies were responsible for such a thing. Before leaving we hopped up to the third floor only to find an exhibition on frogs! Very odd but it did help to lighten the mood.

After that we trekked in the rain to Benenburg gate and then onto the Holocaust Memorial – a sight that was also very sobering. Bizarrely from there, you can see the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his son from the balcony.

Holocaust Memorial

After another long walk in the rain, we were ready for a rest and refreshments. We found a packed bar on the riverfront and got talking to the man seated at the bar. He was a politician, and explained that after the reunification many government officials moved from Bonn to Berlin to work. This pub was the “Bonn embassy” where people came to drink the local Bonn beer.

Bonn embassy

Another long walk took us past Haus Schwarzenberg which contains the Central cinema and Anne Frank museum and then onto Hackescher Markt. Later we caught the train to Weinmeister for dinner.

Today we finally felt like we’d really got stuck into Berlin. On our last day in Berlin and we still had lots of things we wanted to see. We headed for the East Side Gallery, a 1.3km section of the Berlin wall.

Berlin Wall 1

Berlin Wall 2

Berlin Wall 3

It was not as high as we thought and quite thin too, but I imagine that heavily guarded and covered in barbed wire it would be much more menacing. Today it’s covered in graffiti, the artistic kind as well as a few tags.Even after seeing the wall it’s still hard to imagine this city being torn in two and how life must have been. We walked the length of the memorial before setting forth for Checkpoint Charlie.

On the way we happened on this amazing street food hut selling the best burgers in town. If you’re ever in town you should definitely try one of these.

Berlin Burgers 1

Berlin Burgers 2

Our wanderings also took us down a street that had been divided by the Wall – East Germany on one side and West Germany on the other –  and yet it wasn’t a wide street, 15m across at most. A sign there told of the escape tunnels that were dug from one side to another. Some attempts had been hindered by informants that didn’t end well for the escapees.

Checkpoint Charlie is the famous crossing point between East and West during the cold war. Nowadays it’s a bit of a tourist trap. The museum, however, provides an in-depth history of Berlin from WWII through to the cold war. There’s lots to learn. I left wishing I’d listened more in history class.

One of the most amazing things in the museum are the contraptions built for escape. From the VW beetle that had been converted to encase a person in a suitcase-sized box near the engine, to kayaks with sails, ladders, zip wire harnesses that were little more than a strip of fabric and inventions using the power of flight. Some were more successful than others. It really gives you a sense of the desperation but also the hope and bravery of the people trying to escape as well as those that helped them.

After all that walking and learning we were ready for a sweet treat and were lucky enough to find this irresistible chocolate shop with amazing cakes and charming staff.

Berlin Chocolate Cafe

We returned to our hotel for a lazy evening, to get packed ready for the trip to the coast and to try to get some sleep knowing tomorrow we’ll meet our new yacht.