The tide has turned and the waves begin their race up the beach, reaching further and further each time. Bearing the remains of the Wise One, the small procession wends it way along the sandy path from the village, smoke rising lazily from the huts nestled in the trees behind. Keening wails rise from the women at the rear of the procession, calling the spirits of the land and sea to receive the Wise One into their world. I stand, my arms upraised, while the body is laid gently into the cradle formed by the roots of the upturned oak tree in the centre of the sacred ring of trunks, newly cut for the purpose. Their bark has been left on specifically to symbolise the connection with the land. Once the flesh has been picked from the body by the birds of the air, the remains will be transferred to the second ring of tree trunks further along the beach, their bark removed to signify the brightness of the sea and sky. Our Wise One is on her way to join her ancestors through these portals to the OtherWorld.
The waves begin to lap at my feet as the procession of mourners deposit their gifts of grain, newly born lambs and calves at the base of the trunks. They will provide the Wise One with the food she needs on her journey to the next world. The chanting begins and I renew my calls to the spirits. A breeze springs up, signifying their arrival. A seagull, the messenger of the spirits, alights on one of the trunks, eying the body.
“Excuse me”, says a woman gently touching my arm. “Are you feeling OK? It’s quite stuffy in here.”
It takes me a few seconds to remember that I am not the holy man of the tribe in Bronze Age Norfolk, but in the British Museum at the World of Stonehenge exhibition. I am standing in front of Seahenge, the remarkable ancient monument found on the beach near Holme in Norfolk in 1999, and loaned to the Museum specifically for the exhibition. These are the real tree trunks cut down in the spring of 2049 BCE that I am gazing at, not some modern reconstruction. They are 4071 years old, almost to the day!
The woman has the intense look of a retired history teacher at an expensive school. I put my arms down and move on. Her eyes follow me, wondering whether to call the museum staff or a doctor.
We had driven down the day before from Scotland, staying with friends in Bedford, and I had taken the train from there down to London to attend an interview at the Swedish Embassy for a long-term Visitor’s Permit which enables me to stay up to a year there and also visit other Schengen countries. Since the UK had left the EU in January 2021, life has become more difficult for cruising sailors, as the maximum time permitted in whole Schengen area is now 90 days total in any 180-day period. However, a few countries offer longer-term visas, Sweden being one. For that, though, I have to attend an interview in person at the Swedish embassy in London. It had gone well, so in the afternoon, I had decided to treat myself to the Stonehenge exhibition.
The next day, we continue our journey down to Dover. The news on the radio the day before hadn’t sounded good. Apparently, there is chaos at the port and huge queues tailing back up the M20, not only because of Brexit but also because of the laying up of the P&O ferries as a result of their sacking their staff and replacing them with new cheaper people. Luckily we are booked to travel on DFDS, but it is apparently still chaotic due to P&O passengers trying to find alternative ways to get to France for their holidays.
“It doesn’t look too bad”, says the First Mate, as the satnav indicates only five miles to Dover. “We haven’t seen any queues yet. I fully expect to see the start of one around this corner.”
But there isn’t. We arrive in Dover, and everything seems normal. We find our lodgings for the night and I drive down to the local filling station to top up with fuel before we cross the next morning. There have been rumours of fuel shortages throughout Europe due to the Russian-Ukrainian war.
Every pump has a ‘Not in Use’ sign on it.
“You won’t be able to buy fuel in the whole of the south-east”, says the filling station attendant, with an air of weary resignation. “We have been expecting a load for a week now, but nobody knows when it will come. Another week, perhaps. Maybe two. The war, and Brexit, you know.”
It’s the same at the next garage. And the next. Luckily our tank is about three-quarters full, so we don’t have an immediate problem. Perhaps France will be different.
“I hope you are right”, says the First Mate when I get back. “I don’t fancy running out of fuel in Belgium somewhere.”
Our crossing the next morning is at 0800, but we need to check in an hour beforehand. We decide to get up early to avoid the reported queues. Bleary-eyed, we drive down to the ferry terminal through the slowly waking town. Temporarily, a rubbish truck blocks our way and we fret and fume helplessly while it swallows its breakfast, but we are soon on our way again.
And still there are no queues. We pass through passport control and customs and before we know it we are waiting to board the ferry, third in the line.
“Perhaps the queues were just the trucks”, says the First Mate. “Although we didn’t see them either.”
“And I am puzzled as to where all the P&O passengers have got to”, I say. “I had expected it to be heaving. But it is all very relaxed.”
As we drive off the ferry into France, we notice that the car deck is only half full. If the P&O passengers are here, there are not many of them. Plenty of space for more.
“Did you get your passport stamped?”, asks the First Mate as we leave the port area in Dunkirk.
Panic! She’s right. Now with Brexit, we are considered a third country by the EU, and we have to have our passports stamped to prove when we entered the Schengen Area.
“I didn’t see anywhere to have it done”, I say. “I can’t understand how we missed it. We have to go back and find it. Otherwise I will have no proof of entry and could get fined.”
We drive back to the port area. I am still adjusting to driving on the right, and nearly go around a roundabout the wrong way.
“Look out!”, shouts the First Mate. “That truck nearly hit us. I know we have medical insurance, but I don’t want to end up in hospital so soon into the trip.”
We find the passport control booths for car passengers leaving France. One is empty and I knock at the window. The official slides it open. A car pulls up behind me. Then another. And another.
“Vous auriez dû le faire tamponner au Royaume-Uni avant de monter à bord du ferry”, says the official.
I manage to work out he is saying I should have had it stamped in the UK before we left.
I tell him in Franglais that they must have forgotten to stamp it in Dover and that I need to get it stamped here. I am not sure he understands me, but with a Gallic shrug he takes my passport and stamps it. With his pen, he changes the sign in the bottom corner from an arrow pointing out to one pointing in. Pragmatism at its best. At least I am officially in Europe now, I think. Or should that be ‘I hope’?
“Merci, merci”, I say profusely.
He waves me away impatiently. The cars behind me move forward.
We find a filling station and top up. No shortages here. We fill the jerry cans just to be sure. If we don’t use them for the car, we will be able to on the boat. That’s what they are for anyway.
In the evening, we approach Kappeln. It’s been a long day.
“I hope we can get across the bridge”, says the First Mate. “I’ve heard that it was closed due to repairs.”
“I think that was just the lifting part for boats”, I say. “I am hoping that it will be OK for cars driving across. Mr Google hasn’t said otherwise. At least we overwintered Ruby Tuesday on the right side of it.”
The lifting mechanism of the bridge across the Schlei fjord in Kappeln had broken over the winter and was being repaired. Another bridge further up the fjord at Lindaunis also wasn’t working. Boats that had overwintered in marinas between the two bridges were trapped between the two, not able to put to sea or even explore the upper reaches of the fjord. A rush of schadenfreude comes over me. Normally that would be us, but by pure luck we had made the right decision for once.
We spend the next week preparing Ruby Tuesday for launching. With her out of the water, it makes sense to take the opportunity to antifoul her. The last application had been done at Ardrossan on the west coast of Scotland three years previously, and it had lasted well given that it is supposed to be done every year or so. The next couple of days we spent underneath the hull scaping off any loose material and painting on the new dark blue layer with a roller brush. The latter is messy work and I need to cover up.
“You’ve got blue blotches everywhere on your trainers”, says the First Mate, “And little blue speckles all over your glasses.”
“I was wondering why you were looking bluer than normal”, I respond. “I thought you were feeling the effects of the cold evenings again.”
We work our way through the to-do list as the scheduled date of launching looms. Many of the jobs can be done once she is in the water, so we focus on making sure everything is completed below the water line and on the mast. We fit a new anchor light on the latter.
The day of launching arrives. The trailer arrives exactly on the dot of the scheduled time. German efficiency at its best. Vorschprung durch Technik, or words to that effect. The giant crane lifts her off the trailer, and I take the opportunity to paint antifoul on the small squares on her hull that were missed where the cradle supports had been. I manage to spill some on the ground.
“Vorsicht, vorsicht!”, shouts the crane operator angrily. “Jemand könnte da reintreten.”
I feel like I am back in kindergarten the day I made a mess with my paints.
The crane swings Ruby Tuesday around, and lowers her gently into the water. A smaller crane lifts the mast back on, and it is secured with the shrouds. She starts to look like a yacht again.
Back in our berth, we re-attach the boom and the kicker and hoist up the mainsail. Everything seems to be running smoothly. Then a glitch. I try to turn the furling drum of the foresail, but it sticks tight. After some twisting and turning, I manage to get it to move, but it is so stiff as to be unusable. Liberal doses of WD40 don’t seem to make much difference. We speak to the rigging expert.
“It’s probably corroded inside”, he says. “It’s a known problem with the early versions of this type of drum. The circlips that hold the bearings in place are made from mild steel and not stainless steel, and sea water gets in and rusts them. Why anyone thought of using mild steel in a marine environment is beyond me. You can try dismantling the drum and seeing if the circlips can be replaced with new ones, otherwise you will have to replace the whole thing, I am afraid.”
We try and undo the bolts that hold it together. It’s as if they are welded and won’t budge.
“The only thing I can suggest now is that we take the drum off and try and dismantle it in the workshop”, the rigger says. “We can probably get the bolts undone by applying heat. But we will have to use the crane to take the whole furler off. We can then let you know if you can repair it yourself or whether you need to replace it.”
It is starting to sound expensive. But we don’t have a lot of options, as we have planned to drive down to stay with the First Mate’s folks in Nord-Rhine-Westfalen for a few days, so we leave it in the rigger’s capable hands while we are away.
The journey down is supposed to take five hours but takes nine due to stau, or traffic jams, around Hamburg. We arrive tired and grumpy. Over the next few days, we do a few cycle rides in the surrounding countryside to restore our spirits.
“You know”, says the First Mate, propping her bike on its stand. “In all the years that I was growing up here, I never came to this bit. I can’t understand why we never did. It’s a great view.”
We are standing on top of a huge mound of tailings, the remains of the Radbod coal mines that were an important part of the local economy of Hamm in the first part of the 20th century. It has been rewilded and there is a lookout tower on the mound giving a good view out over the city. Behind us, we can see the two giant headframes that were used to lift the coal up the shafts. Immediately in front of us is the Lippe River and the canal that was constructed both to control its flow and provide a harbour to load the coal on for transport. To the east is the Radbodsee area that is now a large lake for watersports.
“We were always told as kids that Radbod was a 12th century king of the Frisians”, she continues. “But I was reading the other day that when they built the mine here, they initially named it after St Radbod, a local archbishop. When they tried to recruit Protestant miners, however, they found that they weren’t too keen on working in a mine named after a Catholic priest, so they changed the story to it being named after Radbod, the King of the Frisians, to give it more universal appeal even though he didn’t really have much to do with the area. It seemed to work, as lots of Protestant miners were recruited.”
“There’s advertising for you”, I say.
Below us, we see a police car driving furiously along the road beside the canal, its siren blaring raucously.
“Dooo-daaah, dooo-daaah”, it goes.
“Flens-burg, Flens-burg”, I sing in harmony.
“Why are you saying that?”, asks the First Mate. “We are in Hamm.”
“Every time I hear a police siren in Germany, I am reminded of the time we were in Flensburg when there seemed to be a siren every ten minutes”, I answer. “Even throughout the night.”
“That was because we were tied up just next to the police station”, says the First Mate.
In the evening, we get an email from the marina to say that they have taken the furler drum off and that it is completely corroded inside and beyond repair by normal on-board tools. They recommend that the drum is replaced with a new one, and can do it before we get back. Not wanting to waste time, we give the go-ahead.
Two days later, we take the train back to Schleswig and catch the bus to Kappeln. I take special care to remember my fleece after my mini-adventure in Holland last year. When we arrive it is pouring with rain. A taxi takes us to the marina.
The new furler drum has been installed and turns easily with one hand. At least we can finally get going now. I try not to think of the bill.