Distant Shores in the Baltic

Southerly 49 - "Distant Shores"

Distant Shores in the Baltic

Paul and I had always wanted to sail to the countries of Scandinavia so following a successful shake-down cruise to the Channel Islands last spring aboard our new Southerly 49, Distant Shores II, we returned to England to the Northshore Shipyard to complete a few additional projects on the boat and to say goodbye to everyone there before we set off on our summer voyage to countries of the Baltic. Thanks again to the entire Northshore Yachts team for building us another great boat!

Our 3,200 nm voyage to the Baltic took us from Chichester Harbour in England to Holland, Germany, Denmark, and Sweden and back to England.  We travelled throughout the months of June to late October and it was a fabulous trip full of new and interesting experiences. I will do my best to summarise and share some of the highlights...

The first leg of our voyage to the Baltic took us along the south coast of England from Chichester Harbour to Brighton Beach and then Ramsgate where we made our jump across the English Channel sailing overnight to Den Helder, our first port in the Netherlands. Our good friend, Wanita Gray, flew in from Canada just before we left Itchenor and joined us for the leg to the Dutch Frisian Islands. Wanita is a very experienced offshore cruising sailor and friend of 20 years so we’re all happy aboard a boat together. We each stood 3-hour watches throughout the voyage.

One of the new pieces of navigational equipment we installed on Distant Shores II that made watchkeeping a pleasure was an AIS (Automated Information System) transmitter. On our first Southerly, a 42RST, we enjoyed having on AIS receiver which provided lots of information overlaid on our Raymarine chartplotter about the name, size, speed, position and closest point of approach of the ships surrounding us.

On Distant Shores II we added the AIS transmitter so that ships and other vessels with receivers can see this information about our boat as well. This proved invaluable in many instances, especially in the heavy ship traffic encountered during the Channel Crossing since we could literally see ships changing course around us long before we had to call them about collision avoidance maneouvers.

Later in the Göta & Trollhätte Canals in Sweden and on our return trip through the canals of Holland, the lockkeepers would often have the locks ready and open for us before we called them with our ETA since they saw us approaching on AIS. (Note: There is a privacy feature so you can shut off the transmission if you don’t want your information to be seen, for example, in remote areas where piracy could be a threat.) Paul has written many blogs on Distant Shores website about how we fitted out the new boat if you’d like to read more about this.

In Den Helder we exchanged our British pound notes for euros and enjoyed a day browsing the town, relaxing in cafes, and getting a feel for the country and culture. The town was spotlessly clean and orderly and everyone was riding bicycles. Everywhere we were to go in Holland there were excellent bike paths. 

From Den Helder we made an afternoon sail to the island of Texel where we entered the Wadden Sea and began our cruise of the Frisian Islands which are a string of shallow sandy barrier islands along the north coast of Holland and Germany. Although Distant Shores II is 49 feet long she only draws 2’ 10” with the keel up (10’ 3” with the keel down) so depth wasn’t an issue in the very shallow seas. People were surprised to see a boat of this size exploring the harbours here!

If you have ever read the book “Riddle of the Sands” by Erskine Childers the story takes place on a small sailboat in the Frisian islands. We listened to the story again as an audio book on our iPods while standing our watches.

When we arrived in Texel at the harbour at Ouderschild it was filled with beautiful traditional sailing boats giving school children heritage weeks aboard. We counted almost 50 of these boats with about 20 young people aboard. What a great experience for them!

We had pretty strong winds the next few days but in the protection of the islands the seas are pretty flat so we had great fun short-tacking up the narrow channels. The boat has a small self-tacking jib which made this really easy and fun.

The next island we visited was Vlieland, a very natural place with lovely long golden beaches and sand dunes. There are excellent walking and cycling trails here, even out in the wild spaces so we rented bikes.

From Vlieland, Wanita, took the ferry to the mainland where she caught a train to the airport in Amsterdam, flew back to London and made her transatlantic flight back to Toronto the following day. It is very easy to do crew changes in these islands due to the excellent and affordable transportation systems. Later in the summer on our way back to England, Robert Hughes, now retired and formerly of the Northshore sales team, joined us in Holland for a trip through the Dutch Canals. There is a stand-mast route from the Wadden Sea all the way to Amsterdam which takes you through picturesque and historic little Dutch villages.

After Wanita left from Vlieland, we had some bad weather for a few days so we anchored in the protection of Richel Island on the sand bar off the south side of the island where we could dry out at low tide. It was like a moonscape when the water went out and we cocooned here writing, researching and editing until the winds calmed and the sun shone once again. Our 33 kg Rocna anchor was totally buried after the experience! Good to know we have a good anchor that really grabs in when the weather gets foul.

The lovely island of Ameland with it’s picturesque villages was our last stop in the Dutch Frisian Islands where we celebrated mid-summer night. We saw lots of seals around this island which was a thrill for us.

Next day we sailed to Borkum in the German Frisian Islands and from there sailed offshore, timing our arrival with a positive tide up the Elbe River to the Cuxhaven Sailing Club, a friendly stopover plus crossroads for international cruising sailors. Cuxhaven was a good place to provision, especially for stocking up on good wines for the rest of the cruise. Alcohol is very expensive in Denmark and Sweden as is dining out in restaurants so we always carry a good selection of wine during a cruise to share with new friends over home-cooked meals on board.

Just up-river from Cuxhaven we entered the Kiel Canal of Germany. In German it called the Nord-Ostee-Kanal and according to the official website it is the world’s busiest artificial waterway and is the basis for trade between the countries of the Baltic area and the rest of the world. About 43,000 ships pass through the canal annually, not including small craft, so it is a busy place and makes an interesting 2-day trip in a sailboat.

The Kiel Canal runs for almost 100 km (about 61 miles) across the Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost of the 16 states of Germany which borders Denmark to the north, the North Sea to the west, and the Baltic Sea to the east. It goes from Brunsbüttel to Kiel-Holtenau and links the North Sea with the Baltic. An average of 250 nautical miles will be saved by using the Kiel Canal instead of going around the top of Denmark to the north.

There were lots of sailboats travelling with us flying mostly the German and Dutch flags and we all locked through together in Brunsbüttel, the first lock at the start of the canal, and then 2-days later went through the second lock at the end of the canal in Kiel. There are many marinas and sailing clubs to stop at along the way but we stopped at the sailing club in Rensborg, a pretty town with well-preserved medieval buildings where we enjoyed the great Saturday market held in the town square.

When we popped out of the canal in Kiel there was a tall ship festival going on. Turns out it was the final day of Kiel Week one of the biggest sailing regattas in the world. Bands were playing, parachutists were dropping out of the sky, and there were hundreds (or so it seemed) of classic boats sailing in the harbour. It was quite an entrance to the Baltic Sea!

From Kiel we had a lovely afternoon sail up to a fjord called the Schlei, our last port in Germany. The anchorage was huge but there were only 2 other boats there. Meanwhile the marinas in the fjord were packed solid with boats rafted 2-3 deep! This was a situation we saw repeatedly throughout Scandinavia during the summer. Sailors here do not like to swing at anchor the way we do so we rarely encountered a crowded anchorage even in the high season. Everyone is happy to raft-up in marinas so no matter how crowded they are everyone is welcome and a space is found for you.

From Schlei we explored Denmark’s south Funen archipelago first visiting the small rural island of Lyø where we had a delightful visit to the Maritime Museum in Lyø which is run by Susi Hansen, a ship’s captain’swife who started this interesting collection in her kitchen and tells wonder seafaring stories to all visitors.

Next stop was Faaborg where we stayed at the marina there and learned much about the history of the harbour from enthusiastic marina attendant, Kim Ingerslev, who speaks seven languages and makes every visitor feel so welcome. There is a great 100-year-old smokehouse at the harbour, Faaborg Fiskehuset, where salmon and herring are smoked in the traditional way.

A real highlight in this region of Denmark is a visit to the island of AEro to the harbours at AEroskobing and Marstel. We stayed at the commercial harbour in AEroskobing and rented a little electric car from the tourist office there and drove down to Marstel at the other end of the island to see the excellent maritime museum there. AEroskobing is an historic and picturesque “fairytale” village and we learned much about it from the wonderful nightwatchman tour given every night at 9pm during the summer months.

We returned here a week later after picking up our parents at the airport in Copenhagen for a week’s visit. Our parents have been neighbours for years and are good friends so often visit us together. We hadn’t seen our families since the end of February and it was now July so we had a lot of catching up to do. From AEroskobing we sailed with them along the south and east coasts of Denmark stopping at many small harbours along the way to Copenhagen where we moored in the heart of the city in the Nyhavn canal.

From the Nyhavn Canal we could walk to all the city’s major attractions and had a couple of culture-filled days visiting museums and palaces before they flew home to Canada. We finished our week in Copenhagen with a visit by long-time friend Charlotte Pedersen and her daughter, Kamma. We met Charlotte in Gibraltar where she had been working in 1990 and have stayed in touch meeting up in various countries over the years. Cruising on a sailboat is a wonderful way to make long-term friends around the world!

Next on to Sweden where we sailed along the south and east coasts which are full of delightful islands in extensive archipelagoes. There is a well-established network of guest harbours and natural harbours throughout these archipelagoes and we had a wonderful month of island-hopping. A highlight was sailing to the island of Gotland located in the middle of the Baltic Sea where we attended the annual Medieval Week festivities which are held in the beautifully preserved medieval port of Visby. Everyone, including members of the press, were required to dress in period costume so we had great fun at the medieval market buying costumes and accessories which really do make you feel the part. It was quite funny to see people getting off the ferry as well as fellow yachties climbing off their boats dressed medieval style! Our costumes evolved over the days we were there attending tournaments, banquets, concerts, fire shows, juggling and jester acts, and on and on. It was an event-filled week and just so much fun!

Things were much quieter in the nature harbours further north in the forested islands of the Stockholm archipelago. In fact many of the anchorages have wood-burning saunas on shore that you can use! This is wonderful after a bracing day sail. The Archipelago Foundation maintains them and wood, an axe, fire starter, etc. are all supplied. You make a small donation in a box on the honour system. They are kept immaculately clean by the conscientious sailors enjoying these waters. For more information on cruising in this area we found the Stockholm Archipelago Foundation website very helpful.

When we arrived in Stockholm we met up with Swedish friends, Siv and Christer Johanssen, who we had sailed with in the Caribbean 19 years ago! It was as if no time had passed and they joined us aboard Distant Shores II for a long-weekend, taking us to their favourite harbours. We also attended the annual rendezvous of the Swedish Ocean Sailing Club of which they are founding members. Wherever there are sailors, there are good times and good food to be enjoyed together!

Stockholm was the farthest north that we sailed in Sweden but our adventures in Sweden weren’t over. Our next cruising experience there was to travel all the way from the Stockholm area on the east coast through the Göta & Trollhätte Canals to Gothenburg on the west coast, a distance of 558 km (347 miles) by the canal route as compared to 950 km (590 miles) if you sail from one to the other on the Baltic. The inland waterway route for the most part connects natural rivers and lakes including Lake Vänern, the 3rd largest lake in Europe, 64 nm to cross. Only 97 km (60 miles) of the whole trans-Sweden route is artificial waterway. There are a total of 65 locks to negotiate which we managed with just the 2 of us on board although it was challenging at times.

Having one more person on board would have made it much more manageable but we had a great time and the scenery was lovely! There are many pretty little towns along the route of the Göta Canal with good facilities for yachts. Our favourite guest harbour was on Lake Vattern in the town of Vadstena where you moor your boat in the moat of a castle!

We did the canals in mid-September which was just a couple of weeks before the Gota Canal closed for the season taking 7 days to reach Gothenburg. Winter comes early in Sweden! Most of the local boats were hauling out already at that time. Winds increased and the weather turned chilly. However, the waterway is very protected so we felt it was a good trip to do in the autumn to extend the boating season in Sweden.

In Gothenburg, Roger and Kerstin Börjesson, who own a Southerly 110 called Blue Magic, saw our boat in the harbour and invited us to their home for dinner for a traditional Swedish meal and gave us lots of good tips on cruising the west coast of Sweden which we hope to do in the future. Roger also showed us the modifications he had done to his Southerly so that he could drop a stern anchor and go bow-to the rocky shorelines of his cruising area, a popular form of anchoring in Sweden.

This spontaneous Southerly Owners get-together was a nice way to finish our Baltic cruise and as the winds of late September started to blow cold we hopped aboard to sail south back to Germany, the Kiel Canal to the North Sea, and through the Dutch Canals out to the English Channel and back to Itchenor for the winter.

You can see Paul & Sherly Shards’ 13-part travel documentary TV series about this voyage which is currently airing worldwide on Travel Channel on Sky 251 and 252.

For the schedule in your country and time zone see www.travelchannel.co.uk.