We raised the sails as soon as we were out of the Helgoland harbour. Our destination, the island of Borkum, happened to be exactly where the wind was blowing from. The opposing current was right there to greet us. The current would naturally change direction every six hours or so, but even when flowing with us, it didn’t seem to affect our speed very much.
Tacking back and forth in these waters is challenging also because there is very little space for it. As the darkness fell, we didn’t dare to venture close to the shore, as we wanted to stay in deeper waters and were afraid of running into fishing nets. Outside the shipping lanes there are endless wind farms, and beyond these, numerous oil and gas platforms. Because of all this, we had to keep crossing the shipping lane from time to time in order to make any progress at all – naturally after checking with the AIS that no ships were around at the time.
Late autumn nights are long even in Central Europe. The darkness lasted for more than 12 hours, and time seemed to stand still. The wind was fresh, waves were high and choppy. It was quite uncomfortable indoors and neither of us wanted to brave cooking a hot meal in those conditions. But in retrospect, everything went actually really well! Our boat handled the weather smoothly, and despite the simple menu and lack of sleep we were doing alright! To us that’s more important than a fast passage, although both of us swore several times we would never ever deliberately sail in such unfavourable conditions. After all, it took us 36 hours to make this 80 nautical mile trip, and the distance travelled was actually 120 miles!
We had chosen the island of Borkum as our next destination, because its harbour is always accessible regardless of the tides. After the cloudy, pitch black night we were greeted by a happy sun and a blue sky. It’s incredible, how the gloomy, grey sea can suddenly turn so blue! The wind was lighter, and the last few miles of the journey we had a speedy current with us. We made our speed record of 9,1 knots approaching Borkum!
Borkum is the westernmost of Germany’s East Friesian islands. The Friesian islands dot the coastline from the Netherlands to Denmark, and separate the Wattenmeer Sea from the North Sea. They are low-lying sand and mud dunes, and the sea behind them gets very shallow during low tide, with only a few boat routes across it. Borkum, once the home of whalers and pirates, has been a popular tourist spot for a couple of hundred years, with wind beaten grasslands, marshes and pastures, and above all, endless sandy beaches. Late autumn seemed to be a very busy season for holidaying, for people and animals alike – there was a large group of seals enjoying a sunny day on the beach!
There’s a small, nice looking visitor marina, which was unfortunately too shallow for our draft – just 1,8 metres. But there are visitor berths in the larger marina basin, which is a noisy working harbour, full of wind farm vessels, supply ships and passenger ferries. But for us it was a convenient spot because we had an appointment in Kiel, and ferries to the mainland ports leave just around the corner. Now, in October, there were still a few guest boats coming and going every day. There’s a cute little train that runs to the town of Borkum, some 5 km from the harbour. Cycling is very popular on the island, and so is mud walking! We saw busloads of people every day, equipped with gumboots for the adventure, but also many who had obviously roamed barefoot through the wetlands.
Our mainland trip lasted a few days, because we wanted to spend some time in Hamburg along the way. Then it was time to continue our sailing trip to the Netherlands. Our next passage to Den Helder was 120 nautical miles, and it took us exactly 24 hours. This time we had the wind on our beam, and there was no need for zigzagging. Sailing can be pure joy, too! Sometimes it can be a long wait though – we had to come this far from our home port to have our first sail in truly favourable winds!
From Den Helder we would start our inland adventure through lakes and canals of Holland!