Fahrting Rund Der Ost See

John Apps – ‘GLAYVA’

I read a book recently about an Atlantic sailor who had been up a few South American Rivers, including the Orinoco. He described sailing [my paraphrasing, I don’t have the book to hand] as: ‘A mixture of misery and boredom, occasional terror, interspersed with moments of splendour.’ Of course the point he made that I am also trying to make is that we all do it for the moments of splendour.

There was misery aplenty on the way over. Pounding into a NE veering Easterly at F5. When the tide was against you, hardly any ground was made. When the tide was with you the steepness of the waves with wind over tide meant constant pounding and little progress through the water. I thought ‘PHILOMELLE’ and ‘IMOTHES’ were probably handling the waves better than ‘GLAYVA’ as she is somewhat lighter and beamier. Particularly with wind over tide ‘GLAYVA’ was being tossed around like a cork, I had many bruises to prove it – all but one, a bad crack on the shin, have subsequently disappeared. Discussions later with Richard and Jon and the fact that in distance if not always direction we all kept up with each other indicated that I fared no worse than the other two.

3 days and 2 nights from Paglesham to West Terschelling. The fact that we all ended up at West Terschelling was interesting. My understanding had been that we were to RV at Helgoland. We had maintained contact quite well until dusk on the second day. I had heard a discussion between Richard and Jon [my microphone was only working intermittently – so it was next to useless me trying to transmit], indicating an intermediate waypoint of Buoy TX3, which marked part of the Dutch/German TSS being off the island of Texel. I had just found a point of sail where ‘GLAYVA’ was in a groove heading East on port tack. The other boats tacked North on starboard tack. I decided to stay in my groove and meet up at TX3.

Being single handed the second night meant I was going beyond 36 hours without sleep and I had begun to experience major problems with hallucinations. To me hallucinations are one of the things that are endemic to night sailing and help to make it interesting. A wave crest turns into a rowing boat and you dismiss it as a waste product of the mind. The problem I was having the second night was my body was reacting to the hallucinations before my mind could control it. Rounding up and slamming the engine into reverse [motorsailing] when Henley Regatta appeared in front of me. Attempting to drag a spinnaker winch on board when it turned into a little girl clinging onto the side of my boat. The fact that I could hear people constantly muttering on the boat and searching high and low for a radio secreted by a previous owner. Or a set of balloons floating in the water at dusk, from which I could see a man’s body hanging.

At approximately 0100, I decided that I would have to sleep, something to this time, as a control freak, had been impossible for me. I came around onto starboard tack, from which I believe I have right of way over everything when hard on the wind in deep water. I got a couple of cushions out of the cabin and lay on the leeward cockpit seat which fortunately is over six feet long and not interrupted by the autohelm. This was out of the wind and spray protected by the sprayhood. The next four hours passed very quickly, even though [I think] I was up every few minutes checking for other vessels. Woke up at one stage with the lights of an oil platform in my eyes. When I had seen it last I should have passed well clear of it, but the tide was very strong. (I further refined my sleeping on my return crossing from Den Helder to Paglesham.

It was blowing Easterly [good this time] F2-3 [too light]. I ran my engine and motorsailed so I could have my radar going. The display is located on the starboard side near the companionway. I could lie in the port saloon bunk with my head towards the companionway and sleep with one eye watching the display. If anything came within 2 miles I’d get up and have a look.)

Anyway when I got to TX3 the next morning there was no other boats anywhere in sight. I decided at this point that I had to stop somewhere for a decent sleep. The easiest Yacht Harbour at that stage to get in and out of, although not the closest was Vlieland. I arrived at Vlieland Yacht Harbour at 1830 that night only to be told that it had been closed since 1600 as it was full. West Terschelling was only about 4 miles across the water so the Harbour Master rang them and found they had room if I was in by 2100 hours.

I battled across the sandbars with wind over tide again. My hallucinations were such now that I even saw PHILOMELLE 2 miles in front of me. When I got to West Terschelling it appeared that once again there was no room at the inn. The boats were rafted up to ten deep. I approached another boat that was on the outside a raft. I asked how we went about finding a likely spot. He instead told me that there was another British boat on a raft just around the corner. I went round to look. It was PHILOMELLE and Richard said IMOTHES was only an hour or so away.

GLAYVA leaving Paglesham at the start of the cruise.

So I found a raft of only seven or so friendly Dutch boats and joined them as the eighth and spent a very enjoyable night asleep and in the knowledge that I had by pure chance met up with the other two boats. Of course at 0700 hours I was rudely awakened by a boat coming alongside while the raft in front of us broke up to let one of the inner boats out.

Let’s get back to why we go sailing, the moments of splendour:

1. Warnemunde the port for Rostock, such a pretty place, pity the food was so ordinary.

2. Darer Ort a yacht haven in the middle of a bird sanctuary run by the Worldwide Fund for Nature [WWF]. I would really have liked to spend a day here and explored a bit. I did get in early evening, but being short of vegetables I decided to trek to the nearest shop in the middle of a caravan park that had an optional dress code, unfortunately it seemed only men and older women with more robust figures took their clothes off. Worst of all by the time I got to the shop it was closed.

3. The Eastern German lakes particularly at sunset and sunrise were quite magical. The unlit buoys were a bit of a hazard at night, but I learnt to trust the lead lights even when you thought you were going to hit the shore. For once I didn’t.

4. While motor sailing from Helgoland to Den Helder in a F2 Easterly, tuning my exhaust and the angle of heel so that the mutterings turned into a vocal rendition of ‘Roll out the Barrel’ accompanied by French Horn and Double Bass. Even better I was able to change the vocal from male to female, depending on whether I sat on the port or starboard side. [Further to this was one of the great moments of boredom - I couldn’t turn it off and still keep up my distance covered. You can imagine after 98 renditions! I was so pleased when the wind picked up and I could turn the engine off].

5. The highlight of my whole trip was the Giselau Canal and Eider River. At any moment I expected to see Toad and Ratty from ‘Wind in the Willows’. A calming place that by itself made the North Sea crossing all worth it. While longer than the Elbe River / Kiel Canal, it only took me 2 easy days motoring and sailing from Rendsburg to Helgoland, including being stuck on the bar just short of the last lock at low tide for an hour or so with three Dutch boats.

Glayva sets anchor off the island of Rugen (East Germany)


Moments of terror! None that I can think of. However deep concern entering Den Helder from the Northeast at night. I had been in and out of Den Helder Naval Yacht Club last year in daylight. But entering from a different direction on what was a pitch-black night was somewhat disorientating.

Den Helder has a lovely lighthouse in daylight. But when entering from the Northeast it is in your eyes all the time and completely destroys your night vision. But the real problem was that while the inner harbour is clearly marked with constant red and green lights, I kept imagining I could see the harbour wall in front of me and tried to veer off to avoid it. When I got into the yacht harbour, I found it was chock a block and being well after midnight I sneaked around looking for a berth. Couldn’t see anything, but someone emerged from a boat and asked me if I would tie up against any boat and let him sleep. I said I was concerned I would block the channel between the berths. He said someone would wake me and ask me to move if I was in the way. So I did.

I’ll say one thing for the Dutch no one ever disturbs you before 0700, but sure enough the boat I had tied up to knocked very politely at 0700 and asked me if I would let him leave. I apologised for disturbing him in the night. He hadn’t heard a thing and was very surprised to see me tied up alongside him when he arose.

You may have heard that I was thrown out of Poland. Not quite true. As an Australian passport holder I required a visa to enter Poland. However I was interested in testing the story that a boat’s papers were more important than the skipper’s and in fact the only papers a skipper needs are the boat’s. I explained to the Border Guards, who couldn’t speak a word of English, nor could I speak a word of Polish for that matter, but it is amazing what you can do with tone of voice and face and body language., that I required fuel and water and was requesting temporary entrance to Poland as a registered British Ship [only SSR part III, but every other country seems to have a lot of respect for that].

Basically the Captain who took over from the Corporal, when they looked Australia up in the book and decided that it was not Austria and therefore not a member of the European Union indicated that would be OK, and delegated the corporal to tell me to wait on my boat for a whistle while he spoke to his ‘Chef’. Well I was really pleased that they were going to lay on a welcoming banquet for me as a visiting Australian yachtsman, or was I a visiting British yachtsman?

Any way just before the kettle boiled so I could make myself a cup of tea, the corporal whistled me up. The captain had disappeared at this stage and I never saw him again. Basically the corporal told me that the captain’s ‘Chef’ had refused me permission to enter and I had to leave immediately. I said fine I didn’t mind as I was due to turn back as I had to be back for 7th August when my Daughter’s baby was due, and I would just whip up to Bornholm, a Danish island 25 miles north [We were right at the entrance to the Baltic Sea from the Swinajouscie ship canal].

He said I couldn’t do that, but I had to return back down the ship’s canal and out through the East German lakes the way we had come. I asked: ‘do I still get my welcoming banquet?’ Fortunately he didn’t understand this, as it may have just been too frivolous for him. As I headed back down the ship canal, not touching land as instructed, I saw Richard waving me into a Yacht haven, so with the engine in idle and still not touching land, I explained the situation to him.

I had already sent a text message to Jon, as I was not expecting to see either of them again. So technically I was not thrown out of Poland, legally I was not allowed to land.

I have discussed this situation on a sailing newsgroup on the internet and a few Poles who inhabit the newsgroup have explained that a Polish yachtsman was thrown out of Sydney for staying too long [about six months] some months previously. So in retrospect it was just a little bit of tit for tat. I must admit when I got to the actual Polish border with Germany [a line of buoys in a lake] some 4 hours later, the border guard in his RIB bade me farewell and offered a brief apology as he came up to check on me. It’s a pity with his perfect English he wasn’t on duty at the check in station.