Friday, July 01, 2011

German bite

We have arrived safely in Cuxhaven after probably the bumpiest long passage we have ever undertaken.

In the end it was the wave heights which decided us. There have been steady north-westerlies since Wednesday, due to increase gradually over the weekend. In this part of the world a NW wind means that waves have the entire North Sea to build in size and crash on to the shore, which is probably why they have such great sandy beaches in the East Frisian islands. The waves were forecast to be around 1.5m on Thursday but almost 3m by Sunday, and although the winds are due to die away early next week, waves take much longer to diminish. Light winds and big seas make a truly loathsome combination for a yacht, so we gritted our teeth and left Delfzijl at high water on Thursday, around 11.30am.

The Dutch forecast was for NW3-4, the German forecast for NW5-6. We went with the in-between forecast from the ever-helpful Simon Keeling, whose new SWIS forecast gives a seven-day forecast for the area of your choice (he also provided the wave heights). Unfortunately any NW wind more than a 3 means that you can't safely get into most of the German Frisian islands, so we had to miss out on Nordeney and do the whole 125-mile trip in one go. It's hard to believe it can be so far, but that includes the long trip up the Ems and down the Elbe.

The Ems was by far the worst part of the trip, despite the negative reputation of the Elbe. We were heading almost into wind, with the tide under us, and the waves just got bigger and steeper as we approached the island of Borkum. Off the Borkum Riff - which is a sandbank as well as a brand of tobacco - we were running out of tide and making almost no progress into horrible grey mountains of North Sea.

Eventually we turned to cross the Riff, then turned again on to our route, and suddenly everything was lovely, the sun was shining (it had been before, but we hadn't noticed) and we were sailing fast on a lovely broad reach. Only two problems: the waves were still there, although a bit more manageable; and we had to keep our speed down to reach the Elbe buoy around high water at 7.30am. Still, we were able to cook and eat some lasagne, although two cups of tea which might have been very welcome jumped right out of their mugs on a big bump and sprayed themselves liberally across all Camilla's clothes, the chart table (thank goodness for waterproof Imray charts), the floor and the galley.

It's only dark between 11pm and 3am at the moment, so although we had to cross the Jade and Weser entrances in the dark, most other challenges were in the light. Despite reefing twice, we still reached the Elbe buoy too early and crept cautiously down the edge of the river, waiting for the tide to turn, watching out for the promised horrendous wind-over-tide conditions and admiring the huge ships - one Felixstowe-sized monster every 10 minutes or so.

We finally reached Cuxhaven just before 11, to be greeted by a couple from Maldon who took our lines (and later welcomed us for drinks and chat). We'll be here for a while as Ben flies out to Bremen on Tuesday. Time to wash our salt-stained, tea-stained clothes, relax and regroup, and plan the next stage.

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