“When I said that we had a whole new set of adventures in front of us, this wasn’t exactly what I meant”, says the First Mate.
We are sailing between Kiel and the entrance to the Schlei fjord. When we left Kiel, there had hardly been a breath of wind, and we had had to motor almost to the mouth of the Kiel Förde. There the wind had picked up considerably, and, coupled with a long swell from the east on our beam, had made the sailing somewhat uncomfortable, to say the least.
“It’s OK, we don’t have that far to go”, I try and reassure her. “Once we are in the Schlei, it should be calmer.”
I am wrong, at least for the first part. It is quite a long way, and if anything, the wind intensifies and the swell grows. Soon we are heeling at an alarming angle. I take a reef in, and we stabilise a little, but it is still rough. It dawns on me that we are the only boat in sight. Do they all know something we don’t?
We have no option but to push on. We eventually see one other boat, which reassures us that we are not the only crazy ones in the world. After what seems ages, we see the lighthouse marking the entrance to the Schlei fjord in the distance.
“I’ll be glad when we get there”, says the First Mate. “This has been the roughest we have sailed since, since… Well, since the last rough time.”
We surf in on one of the swells, past the lighthouse, and into the calmer water inside the breakwater.
“See”, I say. “At least I was right about that. It is calmer here.”
We reach Kappeln, a small town on the north shore of the Schlei. Ominous dark clouds are gathering over the orange roof tops catching the sun momentarily. It feels like they are warning us away.
“The forecast said there were going to be thunderstorms this evening”, I say. “Those clouds must be them.”
The town has three marinas along the waterfront, all more-or-less next to each other. We do a quick looksee around the first one, but there are no vacant berths. We motor down to the next marina, a few hundred metres further on. The same there. And the third. What shall we do? The First Mate calls one of them on the phone and asks if there is somewhere we can berth.
“If you don’t mind tying up on the edge of one of the entrance ways, you can have there”, he says. “It’s kind of like half a box-berth – only one stern pole.”
It’s not ideal, but beggars can’t be choosers.
We edge in, but the First Mate misses the pole with her lasso. The wind is catching the bow and blowing the stern around, close to another boat. I reverse out and try again. This time she manages to get the line around the pole and hands it back to me. We motor forward gingerly, and manage to get the bow lines attached. I tighten the stern line to position the boat as parallel with the other boats as possible. At least it will do for the meantime.
Twenty minutes later, the thunderstorm starts. We sit cowering in the cockpit enclosure watching it raging around us. Sometimes the lightning cracks directly overhead and we pray that we are not the tallest mast in the marina. The rain is torrential and reminds me of the monsoon in India.
Bedraggled birds cling to the mooring ropes waiting for it to pass. At least they are sheltered in between the boats.
The storm abates during the night, and the next day dawns bright and sunny. We decide to cycle into Kappeln town about a kilometre from the marina and explore. A key feature of the town is its bridge, which lifts in the middle to allow boats to pass through.
The Schlei Princess leaves the dock, taking day trippers out to the lighthouse at the mouth of the Schei that we passed as we came in.
A musician sings Let it Be. The old ones are the best ones. The songs, that is.
On the hill, where it can catch the wind, is the town windmill.
A mural highlights the importance that fishing plays in the prosperity of the town.
The next day we take the bus from Kappeln to the town of Schleswig at the top of the Schlei fjord. We had considered sailing there, but there is another lifting bridge about halfway along, and we had heard stories that it is notoriously unreliable, sometimes remaining down for days.
For a while, we are the only ones on the bus, and the bus driver chats to us about the things to see in Schleswig. She drops us off near the magnificent baroque Gottorf Castle which now contains the Landesmuseen Schleswig-Holstein.
“Well worth a visit if you are interested in the archaeology of the region”, she says.
The cold north wind blows over the moor, chilling the small group of people waiting on the hillock. Mist rises from the pools of fetid water lying between the mounds of higher ground, as the spirits of the dead writhe in their eternal punishment. The clouds part momentarily, allowing the full moon to illuminate the two men holding the young girl. The women in the group begin to wail, their voices rising against the noise of the wind, and bringing tears to the eyes of the watchers. There is fear in the girl’s eyes, as she suddenly realises the nature of her punishment for betraying Nerthus, Mother Earth.
I shiver, and draw the hastily borrowed cloak around me. We had been born on the same day and had grown up together. We had played in the fields surrounding the village, and had watched and then taken part in the same annual rituals of sowing, reaping and harvest. She had been selected to be one of Nerthus’ servants, but we had remained friends. Then this year following the cleansing rites of Nerthus’ cart, robes and body, she had given birth to a male child. The rumour was that the father was from a neighbouring tribe, the Sachsens. The priests had decreed that she must be punished for this transgression of impurity against Mother Earth, but that her son would be spared. It had been foretold that he would become the progenitor of a mighty tribe of people who would eventually conquer many nations and spread their language to every corner of the world.
She struggles, but her captors are too strong. They hold her under the water until she is still, and the priests place the large stone over her body to keep it from rising to the surface again. Nerthus has been appeased.
I start running, running back to the village, anywhere to escape that terrible place and the bodies of the damned. My task now is to nurture and raise Angel, her son, to fulfil his destiny.
“Why are you walking so fast?”, says a familiar voice. You have that faraway look in your eyes again. Is it another one of your daydreams?”
It is the First Mate. In an instant, I am back in the present.
“I just had an idea that the café was about to close”, I say, thinking quickly. “I thought we had better get there soon if we want to have lunch.”
I had been looking at the prime exhibits of the museum – five bodies that had been found in the peat bogs of Schleswig-Holstein, known as the Moorleichen, and had been trying to imagine the circumstances of the death of one of the bodies, that of a young girl in her mid-teens.
Except that it turns out from recent DNA analysis that ‘she’ was probably a young boy who may have died after a protracted illness. So much for daydreams.
We have lunch and explore Schleswig. The old part of town, Holm, is quite charming, originally the quarter where fishermen and their families lived, now highly desirable and expensive.
We leave Kappeln the next morning for Flensburg. The winds are fair, and once out of the mouth of the Schlei we sail northwards on a pleasant beam reach. Soon however, we must turn west and directly into the wind, and we need to motor.
“You know, it’s quite interesting”, says a familiar voice. “I was reading on the web this morning that this area used to be inhabited by a tribe called the Angles.”
It is Spencer.
“Yes, I know”, I say. “In fact, on the bus yesterday to Schleswig, we passed a sign pointing the way to a place called Angeln.”
“That would be named after them”, he says. “But did you know that this particular tribe migrated to Britain after the Romans left in A.D. 410? The part of Britain where they lived became known as Angle-Land, or England as we know it today.”
“Well, yes, I was vaguely aware of that”, I say, casting back to my history lessons at school. Spencer could be a bit of a know-all at times. “But I thought that the Saxons were also involved?”
“That’s true”, he says. “They lived a bit further south from here – where you went to visit the First Mate’s sister, in fact. Together they became known as the Anglo-Saxons.”
“Of course”, I gasp. “The descendants of the girl in the peat bog we saw in the museum. It all makes sense now.”
“The Jutes and the Frisians were also lumped in with them”, Spencer continues. “There’s still a bit of a debate about how they all came to Britain. You see, it used to be thought that they invaded and chased the existing people, the Romano-Britons, over to the western side of the British Isles, to where Wales and Cornwall are today. But genetic research has shown that that didn’t really happen, and the Romano-Britons pretty much stayed put. So the latest thinking is that it may have been a kind of Anglo-Saxon warrior elite that settled here and dominated the local population, but didn’t chase them off. Because they were the rulers, their language, known today as Old English, was prestigious and spread through Britain.”
“It’s amazing that a couple of small tribes originally from the swamps and forests in northern Germany eventually spread themselves and their language throughout the whole world”, I say. “I wonder what the girl in the peat bog would think if she knew that would happen?”
“I have no idea”, says Spencer. “But what I do find puzzling is the anti-German feeling that still exists in many parts of England today, which Brexit exposed. Why should they still feel hard done by by the Germans, when they are German themselves?”
“It’s a difficult one to explain rationally”, I say. “But I am sure that everyone has their own theory.”
“You could say the same thing about immigration in general”, he continues. “You are all immigrants if you go back far enough. I wonder what the Romano-British people thought about those hordes of Anglo-Saxons descending on them from the Continent?”
“Well, there’s no record of them having a referendum about it, at least”, I say. “Perhaps they liked the idea of having some fresh blood?”
We arrive in Flensburg and tie up to end of a pontoon in the City Marina, ten minutes’ walk from the town centre. There is something very appealing about being able to sail to a city centre with your own home and use it as a base to explore.
We spend the rest of the afternoon doing just that. Flensburg is an old city, founded around AD 1200, and is a pleasant mix of German and Danish culture. Although now in Germany, there is a Danish library and several Danish restaurants.
Although it wasn’t part of the Hanseactic League, many of the old buildings reflect its past importance as a major trading centre. One such is the West Indian Warehouse, now converted into prestigious apartments.
We are particularly intrigued by the lines of shoes hanging above some of the streets. No one seems to know what they signify, although there are various theories.
“It used to signify that drug dealers were active here”, says one person we asked.
“No, that’s not right”, says another. “There have never been drugs here. Someone dropped their shoes there from a top floor apartment by accident one day, and other people just thought it a good idea, and started throwing their old shoes there too.”
Take your pick.
Flensburg beer is well-known throughout Germany.
We find the Captains’ Quarter quaint and peaceful. Previously it was where the sea trading captains lived.
“Have you noticed that there seem to be sirens going all the time?”, I say to the First Mate. “Every time I hear one in future, I’ll think of Flensburg.”
“It’s because the hospital and police station are right in the city centre”, she says.
When we get back, there is a big catamaran tied up behind us. The name on it is Anakiwa.
“That’s a very Polynesian name that you have for your boat”, I say to the skipper.
“It’s named after a place in New Zealand where there is an Outward Bound school”, he explains. “I worked there for a while to gain experience, then I came back to Germany and now I run my own Outward Bound courses, mainly on sailing. It’s all about pushing yourself to the limit so that you know what you are capable of. One cohort has just left, and I am expecting another one tomorrow. They love it, and many come back again. My name’s Ben, by the way.”
Memory stirs. I had been to Anakiwa once before, when our parents had taken us on a family holiday near there in the Marlborough Sounds when I was about 10. Ben is astonished that I have heard of it, let alone been there.
“I guess you are getting used to there being little tide here in the Baltic?”, he says, noticing our flag. “But actually, we have what are called ‘wind-tides’ where strong winds from a particular direction for a period of time can push the water to the other side of the Baltic, raising the water level there and lowering it on the other.
“It has been blowing from the west for several days now”, he says. “You can see here on the pier how much the water level has dropped – probably nearly a metre. The wind has pushed all the water over to the eastern side of the Baltic – they’ll be getting higher water in Lithuania, Latvia and the like.”
“I think that we should do a Big Shop before we go”, says the First Mate over breakfast the next morning. “It’s so expensive in Denmark that we should buy as much here as we can to last us.”
We dig out our big rucksacks from the recesses of the boat where they have been stored, and cycle to the nearest Lidl store. ‘Nearest’ is relative in this case – it turns out to be 4 km from the marina. Not only that, it is uphill almost all the way.
We reach the Lidl store. Soon we have a nearly full trolley.
“I think we have overdone it”, I say. “We’ll never get all this back on our small bicycles. I’ll go and put some back.”
“Don’t worry”, says the First Mate. “We’ll manage somehow.”
I groan. I have learnt over the years that the ‘we’ in this case is a peculiar variant of the ‘Royal We’. Diametrically opposite, in fact. What she means is that ‘you’ll manage somehow’.
We load up the rucksacks. Mine is 60 litres in volume, I remember from the blurb when I bought it. Plus the pockets on the side. Fifteen litres each.
“You can carry all the wine and soft drinks”, says the First Mate. “They’ll never fit in mine.”
We somehow manage to get all the liquids into my rucksack. And the potatoes. And the leeks. And the meat.
“What have you got in yours?”, I say.
“Bread”, says the First Mate. “Cakes. And a few other bits and pieces. By the way, it doesn’t look like you have put anything in your side pockets. Here, you can put the onions in there.”
As I put on the rucksack, I notice other shoppers coming out staring at me disbelievingly. I smile at them as though I do this two or three times a day for a living. No-one is fooled. I climb on to the bicycle. The front wheel lifts off the ground.
“You’ll have to lean forward to keep the wheel down”, says the First Mate.
Luckily it is more-or-less downhill all the way back to the boat. My concern is that the brakes won’t stop me once I gather speed down the hill. But somehow they do, and we make it back. My shoulders feel as if they have a permanent bend in them. The wrong way.
“I’ll never do that again”, I say. “I almost had a heart attack.”
“I was thinking we could have got another carton of wine in”, says the First Mate. “We didn’t have anything on the bike carriers.”
I start unpacking my rucksack.
“Hey, I thought you said you had the bread in yours”, I say.
“Did I?”, says the First Mate absent-mindedly, already answering her texts.