Bucket Showers and Baltic Moorings

PROLOGUE: There is a lot to be said for warm water showers from a bucket in the cockpit (preferably in the tropics). Bucket showers, even in full view of an entire anchorage, are an infinitesimally better option than showers on a timer that you don’t know have a sodding timer, in a manky toilet block in northern Germany. The water turned itself off this morning as I had just conditioned my hair and soaped my body. The water simply stopped. There I stood, squinting out of one non-soapy eye, incredulous. Now what? I didn’t have another token with me…

I ended up rinsing myself and my hair in the sink next to the loos, in the middle of the ladies’ toilet block. It wasn’t the most glamorous moment of my life, I can tell you. Apparently, there’s a sign in the gents that tells you that the showers only run for 6 minutes. Not sure what has happened to the one in the ladies. Perhaps someone is making a mint from a hidden CCTV camera next to the sinks…

Emma’s Blog, 11th June 2019.

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog. It’s been a while since I had anything interesting to say that has anything to do with sailing and I’m sure, dear reader, you don’t want to hear about my work life. That is almost certainly not why you are here. You want to dream about adventures on the high seas from the comfort of your settee and your iPad, probably while your other half is watching something you think is mindless nonsense on the television. You really want to read about Dietmar, who cast off from land a while ago, not about how I am still firmly attached to the dock (metaphorically at least!).

So – you have probably already learned that we married back in March – a fabulous day with our nearest and dearest – glorious. And so afterwards, it’s customary for normal people to fly to somewhere like the Maldives for their honeymoon, no? Yeah, not us. Our first mini-honeymoon was 4 days in a silent retreat in an ancient abbey on an island on a lake…near the Austrian border in southern Germany at the end of March. I didn’t need to worry about packing a bikini. This is now our second honeymoon. Also not the Maldives. Also not a bikini in sight. Our life is really not that normal…

We set sail from an overcast Ramsgate last Sunday. To be honest, the trip didn’t start so well. I was knackered from having worked like a dog for the last couple of weeks to make it possible to get away at all and so on Sunday morning, with about 6 hours sleep and after 70 or so hours in the office that week, I wasn’t exactly feeling top dollar. Dietmar had been in charge of all preparations, so the passage planning was done, we had full tanks and bread and the fridge was full of cheese and chocolate. I managed a quick supermarket shop on my way back from work on Saturday night to ensure that we didn’t end up with scurvy – or diabetes – by the end of the trip 😉

By 10am on Sunday morning I had applied concealer to the bags under my eyes and fixed a rictus grin on my face – my parents had come to wave us off. My mother has a preternatural ability to sense anything even slightly wrong and I knew – had she realized how absolutely exhausted I was – she would have done her best to make sure that we delayed our departure. I wouldn’t have minded actually – a day of rest before we left would have been lovely – but we had a weather window and I didn’t have an unlimited amount of time off to play with, so I gave a good impression of someone really looking forward to setting out into a cold and grey Atlantic to head north. I’m sure she wasn’t entirely fooled. I had barely fooled myself.

As it was, we couldn’t leave exactly when we had planned because a cruise ship was coming in. Cruise ships *never* come into Ramsgate harbour. The last time a ship came in with that many people on board was probably some time around D-Day. Anyway, they shut the harbour to all traffic and we had to wait ages to get out. By the time they opened it again, there were a dozen other boats all ready and jostling to get out for their Sunday entertainment. It was like a rush to the checkout – with a metre of swell. I was swaddled in my oilies and lifejacket and did my best to look cheerful and like a pro as I stowed the lines and fenders on a bouncing foredeck and occasionally waved to my parents who were themselves probably getting seasick just from standing on the wildly undulating pontoon for so long. Everybody just keep smiling…

Elbows out, we squeezed out through the narrow harbour entrance and we set off north-east towards Cuxhaven, just before the entrance to the Kiel Canal- about 370 miles. We were about 50 metres into the journey when the plotter gave up the ghost. There was a brief moment of panic (and relief that we had paper charts on board) as we realised that the GPS was giving a completely false reading and we were heading at full speed towards the Goodwin Sands. At low tide, you can play cricket on the sands. At high tide, you won’t see them until you are stuck fast…

Anyway, Dietmar is now a RYA Yachtmaster, so he fetched the sextant and began plotting our position. Not really – although as my father would say, why spoil a good story with the truth? Seriously though, Dietmar has long been expert at fixing all boat-related things so he employed the time-honoured technique of turning it all off and then back on again (which fixed the plotter problem) and thus began 3 days and 2 nights of non-stop sailing towards our destination – the famous ‘Millionaire’s Basin’ in front of Kiel Yacht Club. When you’re used to long stretches at sea, you think that a little trip like this is pretty easy to prepare for. However, the English Channel is, frankly, a bit of a nightmare! There are a LOT of ships, and a LOT of traffic separation zones, and a LOT of wind farms, and a LOT of gas platforms, and – deeply unhelpfully – a LOT of fishing pots that – if you’re unlucky – you don’t see until you’ve tangled them in your propeller. (We didn’t, thank god, but the little buggers were everywhere.)

Cheese, anyone?
Red sky at night, sailor’s delight…

Like old hands, we settled quite quickly into the routines of watch keeping, eating, drinking, eating some more and sleeping, in no particular order. We don’t employ a set watch system – we both take turns to sleep more or less as much as we need at a time and only wake each other if we are falling asleep or something is happening that needs 2 people. We don’t really see each other much. Sailing in that respect may be the secret to a really happy and long marriage – who knows?! We tacked, gybed, hoisted and lowered and changed sails and turned the engine on and off a dozen times. The nights were short and the days seemed to get noticeably longer as we sailed towards the North Pole, wrapped in seven thermal layers and waterproofs. I began to imagine that this is how the Arctic summer would feel as we made 8kts of speed past…the Thames estuary. At least I wouldn’t have to worry about icebergs or polar bears, just massive tankers and the occasional stroppy pilot boat ticking us off for being in a restricted area that doesn’t show on any of our charts…

Anyway, aside from the odd near miss with ships the size of a small town, the trip to the mouth of the Kiel Canal went absolutely without any further hitches, thank you Poseidon and all the gods of the sea. In fact, we were way ahead of schedule thanks to some nifty passage planning by Dietmar and winds that were kinder than expected. A couple of beautiful sunsets and sunrises later and we decided to take advantage of the flood tide and skip Cuxhaven completely in favour of locking through into the famous Kiel Canal and tying up in a marina somewhere inside instead.

The entrance to the Kiel Canal would be pretty easy to miss if you weren’t paying attention. We bounced around in the Elbe River waiting for the lock to open, motored in and tied up to the horribly low ‘pontoons’ which were the height of floating logs in the water. They are floating logs in the water, plus a mesh platform. There are only rings, not cleats, so you have no choice but to get off the boat to tie up. I am barely 5’5” (160cm) tall and I can tell you, I was very happy (for once) that CESARINA’s deck is only 80cm above the waterline! Between us, Dietmar and I have negotiated some pretty enormous locks in our time. The Panama Canal, for example, was quite exciting. I’ve also been through quite a few locks on the Rhone and the French canals – Bollène for example, where the rise and fall is about 7 storeys (23m). I was expecting something slightly more – enervating – than a measly 45cm rise. Blink and you’d miss it completely! Having said that, the ‘pontoons’ are so low in the water that all of our fenders except the flat one had popped out completely so CESARINA was also probably very grateful that it was such a drama-free lock experience.

Eventually the massive lock gates groaned open and we glided serenely out into the calm of the Kiel Canal. After the grey and rush and bounce of the North Sea, suddenly everything looked so green! Massive trees and swans and swallows looping low over the water, people cycling along the towpath, men fishing and drinking beer, couples strolling hand in hand. It was like going through the fur coats at the back of the wardrobe into a completely different world.

Dietmar had already called ahead and booked a spot with the harbourmaster of a marina just off the main canal. We had heard that this was a good place to stop, had checked the chart, worried about the depth (as always) and made our way down a beautiful little backwater to find this marina. We motored quietly past overhanging trees, abandoned slip ways, old industrial buildings and a few ancient boats before the stream opened out into a small bay with what looked like a little town and a church spire at one end. Dietmar called again and the harbourmaster explained to him where we could tie up alongside for the night. When we eventually arrived, none of the things she had said made any sense at all. There was no houseboat that we could see, no high rise block of flats, no green fishing boat. We tried to call her again and got no answer. No one answered our calls on the radio either. We circled for a bit but all the unoccupied spots we could see had an overhanging pontoon that was higher than the sides of our boat and the only spot that we could actually safely tie up was right on the end of the fuel pontoon. After 2 nights and 3 days at sea, really tired by this point, we were very happy to sling a line around a cleat and let CESARINA sit with the wind against the pontoon. We had begun to breathe a sigh of relief and look forward to a long, hot shower and something to eat. I was just tying off the lines when I looked up and saw a tall, well-built woman with blonde hair – she looked very Teutonic – hurrying towards us up the pontoon, looking pretty agitated. Dietmar’s pocket began to ring. “You can’t tie up there,” she shouted at us in German, from about 50m away, still running towards us. Dietmar’s eyes widened as he answered the phone and I could then hear her in stereo, explaining in no uncertain terms that this was not somewhere we could leave the boat. What a welcome. She arrived, out of breath and looking deeply pissed off, no hello, just proceeded to explain to Dietmar again where he should have tied up – she pointed out the ‘high rise block of flats’ (maybe 3 storeys), the fishing boat (hidden behind several rows of other boats) and the house boat (a floating shed). All of these options had looked impossible from a distance because of the height of the pontoon or because of the depth of the water. She suggested that we go to have a closer look on foot. We saw some of the other people sitting outside the marina café who resolutely declined to smile back at me. A closer look at the possible mooring spots confirmed our suspicions that CESARINA basically sits too low in the water for any of the spots alongside these peculiar pontoons to work .

The charming lady then suggested, with zero warmth, that if that was the case, we could tie the boat up in one of the traditional Baltic Sea mooring spots. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this system, it looks really fun. It’s like reversing into a parking bay between two narrowly-placed and enormous pillars that seem specifically designed to scratch the sides of your boat: the person steering has to try to negotiate the boat backwards between these two pillars without hitting them and CESARINA does not – will not – go backwards in a straight line. She kicks hard to the left (which of course also causes her bow to turn right…) In an ideal world, you need 2 people at the bow of the boat who can run around like a cross between a chimpanzee and a cowboy, lassoing the pillars, tying the line back on to the cleats at the front of the boat and letting the line run out ahead just far enough that you take up the slack before you hit the dock behind. You then ideally need 2 people on the stern of the boat to try to lasso the cleats on the dock behind (or throw the lines to someone on the dock), and not drop the lines in the water to get tangled up in the propeller. You then have to adjust all four lines so that the boat sits straight in the box, all the time keeping her under control so that she doesn’t hit the boats left and right, or the pillars, or the pontoon behind. God forbid there should be any wind during this manoeuvre or all is lost. So – captain and ideally 4 line monkeys. Unfortunately, Dietmar just had one very tired little chimp – me – and I didn’t fancy that much excitement. I explained that we had just come from Ramsgate, that we were tired, that we had never done this before. She looked at me, with an expression of what appeared to be barely disguised contempt, and said, “Es ist mir völlig egal. Komisch, daß alle die andere Segler hier das irgendwie geschafft haben.“ Which roughly translates as  ‘‘I couldn’t care less. Funny how all the other sailors here have somehow managed to do it…”

Dietmar explained that all other spots were impossible for CESARINA and also pointed out that the wind had picked up and we were now rammed against the forbidden pontoon. 25 tonnes of ship were going to be hard to move against 20 knots of wind . At this point, she started to completely flip out. She explained that she had already turned away at least ten boats, asked what on earth she could say to the people she had made move to other spots, that the situation was completely untenable and that we absolutely had to move the boat and that how we did it was not her problem:,,Bootfahren müssen Sie schon alleine” (or – “boat driving is your job, not mine”) Dietmar explained that he was sorry, that he would not have tied up here but that he hadn’t understood where she meant and had tried to call her on the phone – that no one had answered the phone which was why we had come onto this pontoon as the only possible spot next to what could have been the fishing boat she meant. At this point, her response left both of us speechless: “You’d already called me five times (we hadn’t) and if you really want to know why I didn’t answer, it was because I was taking a shit” (,,Ich war beim Kacken”). That was literally what she said. Seriously? Welcome to Germany…

I was not a happy bunny by this point. Knackered and feeling completely unwelcome, I was close to tears. We eventually found a way to cast off from our pinned position on the dock and Dietmar made it crystal clear to me that he would rather chew his arm off than take up any of the other available mooring options in this particular marina. The white witch of our newly discovered Narnia had by now disappeared. The whole thing was just awful and we didn’t know where we were going to tie up for the night. We knew we had to stop the boat in the next half an hour or so as it is forbidden to be underway on the Kiel Canal between sunset and sunrise – but where? On the way out of this little backwater, away from this godforsaken place, we spotted a little tiny marina on the other bank. Dietmar had dismissed it on the chart beforehand because it wasn’t clear that there would be enough water depth for CESARINA’s draught. As we neared their pontoons however, a kindly-looking man hailed us and ran towards the end of the dock to invite us in. Instead of bile, we were greeted extraordinarily warmly and half a dozen people were waiting on the pontoon to take our lines and Dietmar slotted her in perfectly on the pontoon between a motor boat and a dirty great big catamaran. Thank you, Büdelsdorfer Yacht Club, for taking us in. We had an absolutely charming evening. The much -needed showers were also fabulous!

The next day, somewhat recovered (despite a very late night chatting in the cockpit with our newly-made friends), we set out to complete the journey to Kiel Yacht Club. Dietmar’s circumnavigation, back to his spiritual starting point, where he had shaken hands over the sale of his business, was nearly complete.

We locked out into the Baltic after a very pleasant 20 miles or so of canal, rounded the corner towards the harbour and were greeted by the noise of someone on a loud hailer – a Facebook acquaintance of Dietmar’s – Klaus on the BALTICMAYFLOWER, an unmissable little yellow yacht. What a surprise! We then realized that Dietmar’s parents, and – to our absolute delight – Nina and Dirk from AIN’T FANCY, a couple we had sailed alongside on the World ARC and with whom we had had some excellent adventures – were also waiting on the harbour wall to greet us! Our joy turned to angst the moment we realized that our berth space in this famous basin was also between two of these dreaded pillars, next to a perfectly varnished (and unfendered) classic yacht and we were going to have to perform this manoeuvre for an audience. Oh sh*t. Needless to say we made a complete dog’s breakfast of it! It was a disaster. We ended up having to get Dirk on board to give me a hand and eventually we got CESARINA under control and in the right place. Except she wasn’t in the right berth and we had to move her along one. Nightmare. Still, we managed it eventually, celebrated with Niederegger Marzipan and bubbles and breathed a sigh of relief. Yay! Finally! A proper welcome to Germany!

The view from Büdelsdorf Marina towards rendsburg.


Since our arrival here, things have been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. We have decided to move CESARINA from this basin to a marina in Flensburg, up near the Danish border, where the facilities are much better. We have not sailed to Denmark as planned mainly because we would at some point have to return to the Kiel Yacht Club basin and Dietmar never wants to have to berth again in this marina, but also because most marinas in the Baltic can’t accommodate CESARINA’s length and draught and the anchorage opportunities are also a bit limited. She’s a bit big for the Baltic, it seems.  The weather is also not so stable at the moment, and it all feels a bit too much like hard work. This is meant to be a holiday after all. We nearly went to Föhr over the weekend but it seems that half of the rest of the world had the same idea so we changed our minds when we realized that the cheapest overnight accommodation available would be over €1,000 and went to Fehmarn instead, which was beautiful. We had a barbecue that evening on the beach and soaked up some sunshine (and mojitos!) during the day. We visited Lübeck and spent a fabulous couple of days with some good friends. We’ve been all over the show. It’s been fun. We’ve also, in the last couple of days, met some people in this yacht basin who are lovely, although that was most definitely not our original impression. Dietmar is happy that CESARINA will soon be moored alongside in a better marina, that his old friend and fellow World ARC sailor Uwe will also be able to keep an eye on her there, and that it won’t cost a king’s ransom and be half a mile walk to some seriously substandard shower block facilities. I have to go back to work soon and hopefully my husband will at some point come back to England for a bit too! Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I know that both he and our precious boat will be in good hands. See you both soon!

2 thoughts on “Bucket Showers and Baltic Moorings

  • Dieter Henke

    Hallo Emma,
    Dein Bericht u. EPILOG hast Du gut geschrieben.
    Dazu passt auch die Slideshow und die Foto-CD, die ganze Ankunft in Kiel zu
    Vielleicht schafft es ja Dietmar in Lauenburg vorbei zukommen, diese CD`s abzuholen.
    Bis auf ein frohes Wiedersehen wo auch immer…
    Eure Lauenburger
    Jutta & Dieter

  • Emma, I have managed a less than 1 min shower – in a mountain hut in Austria on a ski touring trip, but at least we knew that was how long we had, and in that situation any shower at all is complete luxury. The towel I carried was pretty minute too! Anita xx


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