“There looks like a long stretch of bad weather coming in a couple of days’ time”, I say over breakfast. “Much as I would like to stay on Ærø longer, I wonder if we should make a move tomorrow to get back to Kappeln for the winter, or else we might be stuck here for a week or more with high winds.”
We have decided to overwinter Ruby Tuesday in Kappeln. We want to leave her in Germany, as with potential travel restrictions due to COVID, it is easier to get into that country due to the First Mate’s nationality. Kappeln is also reasonably easy to get to with public transport – a regular bus to the small town of Süderbrarup 5 km away, then mainline trains from there to Kiel and beyond. It had also been very difficult to find storage places anywhere else in Germany with any space left, even outside or in the water, and a marina at Kappeln was one of the few that did have room. Apparently the shortage was because many German sailors had brought their boats back to Germany for the same reason of access during times of restricted travel. This year, many who had kept their boats in Denmark had not been able to get to their boats until late in the season. We didn’t really want to be stuck in the same situation next year.
“I think that sounds a good idea”, answers the First Mate. “I am not too keen on rough crossings. And we have quite a bit to do to prepare Ruby Tuesday for the winter. The sooner we get started, the better.”
We cast off the next morning at 0730, motor out of the marina, and turn southwards to clear the south-eastern tip of Ærø. Once we are out of the shelter of the island, the wind picks up to 22 knots. Unfortunately it is from the south-west, meaning that we will probably be beating most of the way.
The wind is even more on the nose than was forecast. We sail as close-hauled as we can, 30° off the wind, but is soon becomes apparent that we have no chance of reaching Kappeln on that angle and are more likely to end up in Kiel instead. I decide that there is nothing to do but take a long series of five-mile tacks. At least we have all day.
The sun comes out, warming us up. We look back as the coast of Ærø fades into the haze.
“It’s kind of sad to think this is our last sail, isn’t it?”, says the First Mate. “I’ve got used to boat life in the last four months.”
“Yes, it’s been great”, I say. “We were pretty lucky to have been able to get over here and stay healthy all that time, what with Brexit and COVID. I have to say that I have really enjoyed Denmark. I didn’t know much about the history of the place before we came, but it has been fascinating how this area here has flip-flopped between Denmark and Germany.”
“I was surprised how beautiful it all was”, the First Mate replies. “All the little villages and houses are so quaint and colourful, and those doors! They have somehow managed to maintain a lot of their old buildings rather than ripping them down and replacing them with modern monstrosities.”
“Where do you think we should go next year?”, I ask.
“I would quite like to work our way along the south coast of the Baltic”, she replies. Germany, Poland, then perhaps up to the Baltic States – Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. I saw a documentary on them, and it looked beautiful there. But I heard that they haven’t been doing too well with COVID.”
“I wondered about heading up to Sweden and doing the east coast there”, I say. “The Swedish archipelago is supposed to be very nice. We need to think about it over the winter.”
We sit in silence for a time, lost in our own thoughts.
“I wonder what sort of country we will be getting back to?”, I say. “Shortages of drivers, food shortages in the shops with empty shelves, disputes with the EU over Northern Ireland, arguments with the French over fishing rights, and so on. It just never seems to stop.”
“I heard from one of our neighbours that it isn’t too bad for shortages around where we are”, says the First Mate. “Maybe the odd thing isn’t available, but it’s nothing like empty shelves or anything like that. At least not yet. But it does seem that prices of things have gone up.”
“Wah-hay!”, I interrupt, looking up from the chart. “I’ve just noticed that we have crossed the border from Denmark into Germany.”
“It doesn’t feel any different”, says the First Mate. “But I’ll put the kroner away and get the euros out, if you like.”
“Fine”, I say. “I’ll change the courtesy flags.”
We approach the entrance to the Schlei Fjord. On our port side, I notice a small wooden yacht with two people on board. It is heeled right over, looking like they are racing us to the narrow entrance. Lacking the inclination and the ability to do anything about it, we watch them with bemusement. They reach the entrance well before us, still heeled significantly, and continue up the fjord. There is a buoyed channel, perhaps 20 m wide, for yachts to follow – outside the buoys where it is shallow, one ventures at one’s own risk. I forget about them momentarily as we enter the entrance ourselves, then see them again in front of us tacking furiously from side to side as they go.
“That little yacht is going well outside the buoys”, says the First Mate. “Should they be there?”
I shrug. “They are probably local and know the water here like the back of their hands. You wouldn’t get me doing it with our draft, but I am sure they are alright.”
They’re not. As I speak, the little yacht comes to a shuddering halt and starts to lean alarmingly to one side.
“I think they have gone aground”, says the First Mate. I check the depth on the chart where it is. 30 cm!
“Sure looks like it”, I say, “That’ll teach them to show off.”
I try not to let the schadenfreude in my voice show. We are in Germany after all.
“Should we go and help them?”, says the First Mate.
“There’s no way we are going over there”, I say. “They are not in any immediate danger. Anyway, here comes someone to pull them off, look!”
Sure enough, a small motorboat is making its way slowly towards them.
We round a bend in the fjord and lose sight of them. Later we hear on the VHF that a yacht went aground, but has now been rescued.
“I am glad they are all right, at least”, says the First Mate. “It’s a pity we didn’t get a picture of them.”
We spend the next few days preparing Ruby Tuesday for the winter on land. We take down the sails, the cockpit canopy, and spray hood, and stow them. I change the engine oil and replace the oil and fuel filters.
We take the boom off and store it on the foredeck tied to the railings. We wash, dry and stow all the running rigging. This year we are taking the mast off for the first time to check that everything is OK on it. Better to find out now if there are any issues rather than somewhere in high winds on a lee shore with the tides against us. I disconnect all the electrics running up the mast and prepare the standing rigging for removal. The First Mate stores all the clothes and textile things in the vacuum packs and sucks the air out of them with the vacuum cleaner. And cleaning, cleaning cleaning.
“I am always amazed how much cleaning needs to be done”, says the First Mate. “Even though it is quite a small area and we clean it regularly en route. Here, can you empty the rubbish bin again?”
“Humans are just messy creatures”, I say, sweeping out the cockpit and trying to sound profound at the same time. It doesn’t work.
It’s the day of the lift out. We arise bright and early. At least it is not raining. We eat our breakfasts in silence, planning in our minds the last little jobs that we have to do. We cast off and reverse out of the berth into the fjord, and motor up to the lifting crane.
“Watch out!”, shouts the First Mate. “There’s a fishing boat coming up on the inside. It looks like it will cut us off. Don’t hit it.”
There is a strong current in the fjord taking us out to sea and I am not keen to try and remain stationary to wait for the boat to pass. I wave to him to indicate that we are going into shore to the crane, but he continues on his course. We are already getting swept down, so I decide to head for the lifting area and hope he will pass around us. He keeps coming. At the last moment, he veers to port and misses us.
We tie up, and the marina staff swarm over Ruby Tuesday, attaching the crane to her mast, removing the shrouds and furler. A whine of winches and the mast is lifted off and laid on trestles.
Two large straps are pulled underneath the hull and attached to the crane. We hold our breaths. Another whine of winches and before we know it Ruby Tuesday is sitting happily in the cradle that will support her for the winter. We needn’t have worried – the staff know their jobs.
There is surprisingly little growth on the hull – just a cluster of barnacles around the driveshaft and propeller where we didn’t antifoul her last time, and a few along the waterline. Not bad for not having been lifted out for three years!
The staff clean the hull with a high pressure hose to remove the small amount of slime here and there. The First Mate and I then get to work scraping the barnacles off. It is strangely satisfying work, and soon the drive shaft and propeller are shiny again.
“Soll ich den Rumpf reinigen?”, says a voice next to us. “Es ist einfacher es jetzt zu machen als nächste Jahr. Ich verwende ein spezielles Waschmittel.”
One of the staff is standing next to us with a high pressure hose attached to a brush and a container of detergent. He’s asking if we want the top part of the hull to be washed.
“Ja bitte”, says the First Mate. “Glauben Sie, Sie können diese Rostflecken auch entfernen??”
“Wahrscheinlich. Ich werde es probieren”, he says.
Whatever he uses works a treat. Soon Ruby Tuesday is gleaming all over.
“She looks like she is smiling”, says the First Mate. “I’m glad that we got that done.”
She is towed over to her winter storage location in the back paddock. Ruby Tuesday, that is, not the First Mate. The latter needs to be towed back to Britain for her winter storage.
We put anti-freeze in the sea-water cooling circuit to minimise damaging from freezing, disconnect the batteries, and drain the freshwater from the tanks and the hot water cylinder. One last clean and we lock the door, climb down, and wave goodbye to her. We are staying in a hotel in the town centre not far the bus-station for the night.
“I hope she will be alright”, says the First Mate.
“I am sure she will be”, I answer. “She has the cows to talk to.”
“What about Spencer?”, she says. “Where’s he?”
“I put him in the anchor locker”, I answer. “It will be warm and dry in there. He’ll be fine there for the winter.”
The next morning, we catch the bus that takes us to Süderbrarup train station, 12 km away. Five minutes after we get there the train to Kiel arrives.
“Quick, get on”, I say. “This is our one.”
“No, it isn’t”, says the First Mate. “I booked the later one to make sure that we didn’t miss it if the bus was late. We have to wait another hour.”
It eventually comes. We climb aboard and settle into our seats. We are finally on our way home.
The effort of the last few days catches up with me and I doze off. I start dreaming of snow, mountains, long walks, and lockdowns. Someone shakes my arm.
“Quick, quick!”, I hear the First Mate saying. “Wake up! There has just been an announcement that we can transfer here to go directly to Schiphol.”
“I thought that we had to go to Amsterdam Centraal first, then change”, I say grumpily.
“Yes, I know, but they just said that we can get out here, and there’ll be a train for Schiphol along in a few minutes”, she says. “It’ll save us about 20 minutes.”
Still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I grab the rucksacks and struggle to the door. It opens and we step out on to the platform. The First Mate tumbles out after me clutching her luggage.
“Brrrrr, it’s a bit chilly”, I say. “I am going to put on my fleece ….. My fleece! My fleece and gloves! They’re still on the train!”
I rush back to the train door. It closes in front of me. The train starts moving.
“Oh no!”, I shout. “They’re gone. My favourite fleece and gloves have gone!”
Other people standing on the platform stare at me pityingly. I wave at the accelerating train, pretending that I am upset that my favourite aunt is leaving us. They don’t look convinced.
“You need a new one anyway”, says the First Mate, unsympathetically. ”You have had that one for thirty years. It doesn’t owe you anything.”