Buying in Germany
Journey from the Baltic
The decision to buy a Hallberg Rassy started by pure accident after we rafted up to a 34 and thought
what a lovely boat it was. We wanted something bigger (as you do!) than our Mirage 28, with good sea keeping and two cabins to take occasional guests in a bit more comfort. Some research revealed that a HR 34 or 352 had rather too deep a draught for our (then) conservancy Nutbourne Channel mooring in Chichester Harbour but the older model long keel Rasmus 35 was a mere 1.3 m and a few were for sale locally. We liked the boat with its deep centre cockpit but the ones we saw were suffering from some combination of osmosis, horrible engine, worn teak deck or scruffy interior. However, an internet search brought up two for sale near Lubeck in the Baltic that looked in excellent
condition so off we went for a weekend of boat tourism. Lubeck makes for an interesting City visit and the Rasmus 35 ketch ‘Questus’ was the best one we had seen with no osmosis, nice teak deck and a nearly new engine. Then it all got serious with an offer made and accepted, a satisfactory survey and deposit paid.
This all happened back in October 2007 when the Pound was steady against the Euro and the boat was
a good buy. We transferred the money to the German Broker in the nick of time as the first hints of the Pound’s problems occurred. Writing now in 2011 the Pound/Euro exchange rate makes buying abroad a less attractive option. Indeed, many UK boats are no doubt heading in the opposite direction, as good buys for anyone with a wad of Euros in their back pocket.
What we should have done next was drop the masts, hire a low-loader and wait for the boat’s arrival at Thorney Island. But we didn’t of course and we were committed to our great adventure in the summer of 2008.
May 2008 was glorious weather in the Baltic. We drove to the Ancora Marina, Neustadt in Holstein, with our well-travelled Collie Micky, to meet up with the boat’s former owner for a proper handover.
This in itself took some organizing, given that he and his wife spend the winters in Spain. Jochen proudly showed us the sprung slats under the 6 inch cushions in the forecabin and the Volvo Penta D2
55 he had bought to replace the original MD21. Unfortunately he hadn’t looked after the fuel tank so well, but more of that later. Jochen gave us all his Baltic and North Sea charts and advised that we take the ‘inside’ route to Holland, masts down using the canals. We politely listened, ignored his advice
and now know it wasn’t such a bad idea! We wanted to set off as soon as possible but we made use of
the incredibly efficient German boatyard services and splashed out on some new mast winches and halyards to replace the original wire ones. Then there was a beautifully made new sprayhood. I antifouled the boat, we applied our new SSR number and renamed it ‘Windsong’ with due ceremony. It was launched and we motored around to our temporary berth with Jochen on hand to help park the
16 June, Neustadt to Orth on the Fehmarn Island
We got back to Neustadt in June to finally set off, minus dog but plus a friend Mike from work. We
had brought the car again – so much gear to bring - and left it at the marina, not sure how far we would get. For its retrieval we would have to do battle with the German public transport, but that should be the easy bit.
We had a final delay when the engine started but was failing to pump cooling water. The mechanic fitted another impeller and turned the cover plate back to front to get a better seal. The weather on our maiden voyage was mixed, everything from sun to hail but the wind was fair – we got main, mizzen and jib raised, engine switched off and enjoyed the Baltic. The navigation was straightforward – around the coast and under the impressive Fehmarnsund bridge to Fehmarn island. On arrival the harbour at Orth presented another challenge – our first encounter with a ‘Baltic mooring’ – in between (and hook) two posts and ease up to the jetty for the brave crew to leap ashore. We arrived with the light fading at a quarter to ten and the only place open to eat was a the Taverne Syrtaki – a Greek restaurant – weird!
17 June, Orth to Laboe
In the morning we met and paid the friendly harbourmaster (they were all friendly, wherever we went –
it must be a great job!). The weather was less favourable and we motored into the wind. We chose a course close to the shore for interest but this turned out to be a mistake. Its funny how sometimes all the clues can be there but you fail to come to the obvious conclusion until its too late! I mean, firstly we were alone - all the other yachts were sailing along a few miles off the coast. Secondly there was the smoke rising up on the shoreline and finally there was the German warship that seemed to be pointing directly at us. And then the VHF Channel 16 came to life in German: ‘Yacht sailing under engine at position 54° 23′.6 N, 10° 47′.2 E respond’. My O level German was up to a translation and
yes, there were the same set of numbers on our GPS. In fact the German Navy was very polite and told
us to head north to 54° 30′ to exit the Todendorf Firing Danger Area before continuing with our journey. How had we missed the flashing yellow buoys that guard the Danger Area I am not sure but their meaning is only too clear from a close inspection the chart Notes. After that excitement the trip to the Marina at Laboe was fairly uneventful. In Laboe itself, we had excellent fish and chips at one of
the harbourside restaurants.
18 June, Laboe to Brunsbuttel
We departed from Laboe at 0800 for the sail to Kiel-Holtenau where we locked into the Kiel Canal
(Nord Ostsee Kanal), paid the dues and set off in glorious June sunshine and about 7 knots. Max speed in the canal is 8 knots so we had the occasional ship creeping past us at 1 knot. The canal is now over
100 years old and the forested banks are very scenic. It was a long day though, given its length of about 55 miles and at about 6 p.m. we entered the small marina at the North Sea end in Brunsbuttel. After a useful chat at the marina office we realized that we needed another early start to catch the ebb tide out of the Elbe estuary to Cuxhaven.
19 June, Brunsbuttel to Cuxhaven
With the ebb tide (and our first taste of tidal waters now that we had left the Baltic) we departed at
06:15 at 9 knots for a very rapid trip to Cuxhaven (again into the wind and under engine). We berthed at 0825, just in time before the wind got up so we had a blustery walk ashore. That evening we ate at a bar where the main concern was the European cup match between Germany and Portugal. We found ourselves supporting the Germans as each time they scored (and that was three times), all the customers got a free beer.
Cheering on the Germans with free beer
20 June, Cuxhaven to off Spiekeroog
The wind was still blowing quite strongly the next morning but we set off anyway. More seriously as it transpired, there was no diesel in the marina and we hadn’t been able to top up the diesel tank which
was now reading half full. We were now heading into Erskine Childers ‘Riddle of the Sands’ country but not planning on any risky shortcuts. We had prepared a route with options to take us into some of the German Frisian islands, depending upon how far we got. We took the deep water channel around Scharhorn and turned west, which was almost straight into the wind and slowly crept past Wangerooge. The engine, which had run thus far without missing a beat, was now distinctly coughing and
spluttering. I took a look at the fuel pre-filter and the glass bowl was filled with a distinctly unhealthy
brown crud. Switching over to the second filter was to no avail; the engine died and left us sailing close to the wind along Spiekeroog.
With the light failing we arrived at the Spiekeroog channel fairway buoy. Mike was up for trying to sail in, Tineke was seasick and was desperate for it all to stop but I decided that the only safe option was to stay out at sea and that is what we did. The ketch rig came into its own now. With the mizzen sail plus about half the jib, the boat was nicely balanced and we (that is to say Mike and I, Tineke was
down below miserably clutching a bucket) sailed up to the shipping lane, tacked around and back to the
10 m contour, repeat, many times. Our chart for the night of 20 June looks like a demented spider has been drawing all over it as we tracked up and down, the tidal stream taking us back towards Wangerooge and then returning us at dawn to exactly where we had started, off the Spiekeroog channel.
21 June, Towed into Spiekeroog
I am not sure what flavour of gale we survived that night, the boat not having a wind speed gauge but the carnage down below was impressive. Nothing remained on any shelf and the saloon looked like a
war zone. But I was sold on the boat; it had taken it all with aplomb. The weak link was us, a pretty inexperienced crew. Tineke had had enough by this stage and gave a PAN PAN on the VHF. The SAR boat arrived about half an hour later and towed us into Spiekeroog. It was a small consolation to be told that we done exactly the right thing; we would almost certainly have lost the boat if we had tried to enter the harbour in those conditions.
After a few hours much-needed sleep the contrast was astonishing; the sun was shining, the wind had dropped completely and we were moored in a beautiful harbour. Tineke, now much recovered, went off into the town in search of a mechanic. Mike, his holiday over, got the ferry to the mainland and made his way to Amsterdam for a flight home.
Frisian Island Route taken
Tineke came back highly amused for we had been towed into an island with no cars, no mechanics and no diesel. Lots of nice restaurants, tea rooms and holiday homes, bicycles for hire and a few horse drawn carts, but no diesel!
I borrowed a very impressive tool kit from our friendly motorboat neighbours but quickly realized that this was beyond me. Everything was clogged with the treacle-like glue of diesel bug. I had read about it and now I knew what it looked like. Luckily we had noticed an internet café and we set off for lunch with the laptop. An internet search brought up just what we needed – Horst Janßen at Yacht Motoren Technik, a mobile marine mechanic who spoke English – perfect!
Meanwhile our ‘replacement crew’ Dan and Becky arrived after a very interesting trip from Amsterdam. They were dinghy sailors but keen to try some cruiser sailing. All we could offer them for the time-being was sight-seeing on Spiekeroog, but they accepted this rather different holiday experience and we enjoyed some coastal walks plus some of the excellent restaurants on this very unspoilt island.
Becky at Spiekeroog
Horst Janßen arrived the next day loaded with jerry cans of diesel on his small motorboat. He set to work in the engine bay and cleaned out both the pre-filters but there was a further problem. The pipe from the diesel tank was undone and found to be clogged with yet more of the treacle-like crud. He filled up the tank, bled the engine and it started instantly. He then presented an eye-watering but not unreasonable bill, given his trip from Dornum to get to us and I raided the island’s one and only cashpoint machine for the necessary wad of Euros. With a final warning that we must get the tank properly cleaned as soon as possible, he departed in his motorboat.
The 25th of June was a beautiful sunny day and we should have got up really early to depart on a rising tide but we didn’t. Perhaps we had slipped into holiday mode and forgotten that this was actually some kind of endurance test. Anyway, the tide was starting to fall as we motored down the channel. The ferry from the mainland came around the corner, I got out of the way and we went aground on a very poorly marked bit of channel (my excuse). The only good news was that the boat leaned over onto the edge of the ill-marked sandbank and some people we met later thought we had done it deliberately! Well, we did have a nice picnic on the sandbank in the sun, admiring the boat’s bottom that I hadn’t really wanted to see. The tide duly came back in, the boat re-floated and we went back into the harbour for an unscheduled extra night.
Unscheduled picnic at Spiekeroog
The harbourmaster didn’t charge us for that extra night, maybe he felt a bit embarrassed about the poorly marked channel. The visit was very useful though, as we got some excellent advice from another sailor that our 1.3 m draught was easily capable of taking the inside channel between the islands and the mainland, provided of course, that we got the tides right.
26th June Spiekeroog to Langeoog
No messing this time, we all got up at the crack of dawn and crept away on the rising tide. We then
stuck close to the withies, proper riddle of the sands sailing, fearing that we would go aground again. In fact, if only we could have felt a bit less stressed, it was a lovely and straightforward trip to Langeoog. It just didn’t seem it at the time.
The harbourmaster was a bit alarmed when we asked to leave the boat for a fortnight (work getting in the way) but we promised to bring back some books for his English speaking girlfriend (who was so grateful she did all our washing for free). We then had to get a ferry to the mainland, a bus and two trains and a taxi back to the car and the long drive home, after which a fortnight at work actually seemed quite restful!
15th July, Langeoog
Following the withies
We just were not getting any luck with the weather. The fortnight in England had been quite pleasant
but as we drove back to Bensersiel the wind was blowing hard and not doing much for my nerves. We left the car by the ferry terminal and caught the ferry back to Langeoog, together with our friends Nik and Heather who had come out for a week. It was so windy we lost a whole day, with some blustery walks on Langeoog but the next day we took the inner channel along past Baltrum to Norderney. It was still wet and quite rough but they raised the Union Jack as we came in and we were made very welcome.
Nice day for sealing! Off Baltrum
Anthony and Tineke Navigating the Frisian isles
18 July Norderney to Delfzeil
The harbourmistress at Norderney warned us that even worse weather was coming and we had better
leave the next morning. We had decided to escape the horrors of the North Sea for the wholly new challenge of the Dutch canal system. Technically, this was our most challenging day as we had to cross two drying channels on a single tide. We departed at dawn, well before the 12:00 high tide. We had a taste of how rough it was ‘outside’ in the North Sea as we crossed the inlet between Norderney
and Juist. It was all eye-ball pilotage, no GPS required, trying to spot the channel markers in the rough sea as we found our way into the ‘Memmert Wattfahrwasser’, the narrow drying channel marked by withies that took us along the coast of Juist. There was enough water to get us over the first drying section at 10:00 and the channel then widened and deepened all the way to Memmert where we turned south into the Eems estuary towards Delfzeil. We arrived at the second drying section at exactly the
top of the tide and could then start to relax as we reached the main shipping lane to Delfzeil. The weather was truly awful but Tineke did have the joyful moment of hauling down the German courtesy flag and replacing it with the Dutch one!
19 July Delfzeil to Zoutcamp
We met a lovely Dutch family in Delfzeil who were heading the same way as us and said that we could
follow them to Zoutkamp (where there was a favourite marina of theirs). It felt wonderful to have no navigation worries for a change and simply follow the boat in front, chatting away on the VHF. Even so it was pretty hard work getting through the locks and the many lifting bridges of Groningen.
En route to Groningen
Groningen – one of many bridges
The Jachthaven Hunzegat at Zoutkamp was indeed a good suggestion. It was family-run, with the wife doing the marina bookings and the husband plus son-in-law carrying out maintenance work. We left the boat there and they more or less adopted the boat, agreeing to empty and clean out the diesel tank and more horribly, sort out a blocked holding tank. Then yet another trip back with the car but at least the distances were getting smaller.
Fixing the VHF antenna at Jachthaven Hunzegat, Zoutkamp
1st August Zoutkamp to Leeuwarden
We were seriously running out of leave by this stage but came back for a ‘long weekend’ to see what
progress we could make. We had a pleasant canal trip to Leeuwarden – a lovely town but the canal banks were very crowded at the height of the holiday season and we had a job finding anywhere to moor up. The next day we continued on to Harlingen (a delightful harbour town) and found a marina where we could leave the boat for 10 days.
Another long weekend and travelling by public transport from now on, flying to Amsterdam and using
the train. We went through the sea lock and followed the channel to Den Helder, where we moored up along with the Dutch Navy. We phoned ahead to IJmuiden but were told that we couldn’t leave the boat there as they had very limited space. So we had to leave the boat at Den Helder and lost the opportunity to get any further.
5th September Den Helder to Vlissingen
Our Day Skipper instructor Trevor Clifton agreed to give us a hand for the final leg. Trevor has sailed
his Twister 28 single-handed across the Atlantic and around Cape Horn so our trip was pretty straightforward to him. His arrival was a boost to our confidence but the weather remained as awful as ever. We departed from Den Helder at dawn for the long trip down the Dutch coast. There was a gale warning that didn’t help but we pressed on, getting up a good speed with reefed main. Trevor suggested that we should have a third reef when we replaced it (surely not, plenty of life left in that) and not so long later ‘bang’, the sail ripped in a gust but was still usable on the second reef. We got across the incredibly busy Rotterdam shipping lane and the final leg into Vlissingen seemed to take forever, with me helming in the dark and Trevor navigating but finally at dawn we got to the lock gate and into the harbour marina.
7th September Vlissingen to Dover
Departing Den Helder
We spent the day recovering and it wasn’t until 0400 that the weather relented and we departed
Vlissingen. It was a point to note about professional skippers; they go when the weather permits, day or night. The weather slowly improved as we went down the Belgian coast and then on towards Calais and across the channel. The sea was now flat as a mill pond, so much so that the channel swimmers club were in action. We saw their very slow-moving motorboat guarding its little flock of swimmers doing the crawl. We crossed in the dark and into Dover harbour, registered the boat and awaited the taxi we had booked to get us home.
13th /14th September Dover to Chichester Harbour
At last the logistics were getting easier. We hired a car and took Mike plus girlfriend Sue to Dover for
the trip to Chichester. We filled up with diesel at Dover with what I guess was the first red diesel ever to go in the tank. The sun shone, the wind was light and the sea sparkled – better late than never and we had a delightful trip along to Brighton marina.
Nice weather at last en route to Brighton
The next morning we left just before dawn, having done the sums to arrive in Chichester harbour on the top of the tide. It was tricky looking out for the lobster pots that seemed to be sprinkled with gay abandon off Brighton Marina but after that we had another nice day’s sail and celebrated with a bottle
of champagne when we finally tied up to our swinging mooring in Nutbourne channel.
Tineke and Mike celebrating arrival at mooring in Chichester Harbour
Anthony Fitch, Windsong February 2011