An amber beach, a broken tooth, and prosperous traders

“Look, there they are!”, says the First Mate pointing over to the left as we leave the marina. “It’s the Heiks – Heiko and Heike, and their Flying Fish. They’re just getting ready to leave too.”

Sure enough, we get a cheery wave from the couple on one of the boats tied up at the marina next to ours. We had met them while our two boats were on the land, and had got to know each other as we prepared our respective boats for our voyages. They are planning to spend the summer sailing up the west coast of Norway, while we are heading for Sweden, but are spending the first few weeks exploring the German Baltic coast while we wait for my long-term Swedish Visitor’s Permit to come through. We had agreed to keep in touch.

Approaching Schleimünde and the Baltic Sea.

We motor out of the Schlei fjord and enter the Baltic Sea proper. The rays from the early morning sun dance on the surface, seemingly beaconing us to further adventures. There is a stiff westerly breeze blowing directly on to our stern, so we decide to use the genoa alone, and before long we are making six knots, heading south eastwards en route for Heiligenhafen, our destination for the day. The lighthouse at Schliemünde fades into the distance and eventually disappears.

The day becomes warm and sunny, so we lie on the foredeck sunning ourselves while Ruby Tuesday steers herself.

“It’s somehow nice being back on the water, isn’t it?”, says the First Mate. “So relaxing. I’m looking forward to our trip.”

On our way at last.

The peace is disturbed by the VHF suddenly coming to life.

“All ships, all ships. For an update on the maritime situation due to the construction of the Fehmarnbelt-Querung tunnel, please switch to channel 68.“

Out of curiosity we do so, even though it is not where we are heading. There follow details of where shipping must and must not go due to the construction of a road and rail tunnel under the sea from the German island of Fehmarn to the Danish island of Lolland, a distance of 18 km. I had read that the scheme to connect Scandinavia with the rest of Europe had long been talked about and was originally conceived of as a bridge, but in 2010, the Danish decided that a tunnel would be the best option. Even so, it still took another decade to plan it and obtain all the necessary approvals, but work eventually started in January 2021, and is scheduled to be completed in 2028.

“It’s quite an ambitious project”, I say after the transmission ends. “I wonder if we will even have the opportunity to drive along it?”

“I wouldn’t like to be driving along it if it suddenly sprang a leak”, says the First Mate. “What do you think they would do? Seal off the affected section with giant doors with the unlucky cars trapped in there?”

We reach the end of the spit protecting Heiligenhafen harbour and turn back on ourselves, taking in the genoa and motoring the last mile or so, and tie up in the Sailing Club marina to our left. The harbourmaster appears and helps us to make fast our bow lines.

“How long are you thinking of staying?”, he asks.

“A couple of days at least”, responds the First Mate. “But it depends on what there is to do in Heiligenhafen.”

“Ah, there’s lots to do”, says the harbourmaster. ”There’s Graswarder Reserve across there, for a start, the new holiday resort area, and the ‘zig-zag’ bridge. They have recently modernised the old town, but kept the same character. You can take the bus over to Fehmarn Island, or to the train station to get the train down to Travemünde and Lübeck.”

In the morning, we take his advice and walk out to Graswarder Nature Reserve, the spit of land protecting the harbour area. It consists of small curved lagoons of brackish water left behind as the spit extended eastwards, which now provide habitats for a wide range of birds. From the watchtower, we spot oystercatchers, tufted ducks, eider ducks, geese, and swans. There are even supposed to be white-tailed eagles, but despite keeping our eyes peeled, we don’t see any.

View out over the Graswarder Nature Reserve, Heiligenhafen.

“Apparently here is a good place to find amber washed up by the waves”, says the First Mate as we walk back along the beach.

We fervently scan the sand in front of us as we walk, but apart from finding lots of shells, some odd-shaped stones, and some interesting bits of driftwood, it seems that it is not an amber day for us.

The First Mate searching for amber.

“I am not really surprised”, I say. “I would have thought that what with the Vikings and the Hanseatic League trading the stuff, that most amber would have been found by now. The Amber Way was the route from the Baltic to Italy that it used to be transported to be worked. It’s now a long distance cycle-way.”

“Nevertheless, I read that if you are lucky you can still find bits of it washed up here”, responds the First Mate, as we re-enter the town. “But it seems that the only amber we will see today is that traffic light over there”.

“Or we could have a glass of amber nectar at this bar here”, I say.

Witticisms out of the way, we arrive at the so-called ‘zig-zag’ bridge, in reality a multi-angular pier that juts out into the sea and affords a good view back of the beach and town.

The ‘zig-zag’ bridge, Heiligenhafen.

“Look at all these locks”, says the First Mate. “They are called Love-locks. Couples put their names on them, and lock them to the fence. It’s supposed to symbolise their everlasting love.”

“I wonder if they come back and remove them if they split up or divorce?”, I ask.

It is nice to leave the brashness of the new resort and explore the picturesque old city centre. It is quiet as it is Sunday and none of the shops are open.

The Market Square, Heiligenhafen.
The Old Railway Station, Heiligenhafen.
Mural art, Heiligenhafen.

In the morning, we leave Heiligenhafen and sail for Travemünde. Once through the bridge to Fehmarn, the wind picks up and we have an exhilarating sail on a beam reach down into the Lübecker Bucht.

Approaching the Fehmarn Brdge.

But as we approach Travemünde the wind dies as quickly as it arose, and we are left with our sails flapping. We furl them, and for a while we drift in the slight current. A warship passes us.

“I wonder if it is something to do with the Russian war in Ukraine?”, says the First Mate.

Checking us out?

“Come on”, says the First Mate at last. ”I’m getting hungry. We need to get to Travemünde and find somewhere to tie up for the night. I suggest we head for Böb’s Werft marina. The reviews in the Harbour Guide all say that it is very popular.”

“Take the first left, then immediate right, then the second left”, the hafenmeisterin at Böb’s Werft tells the First Mate over the VHF. “Then berth number 73 is on your left.”

New marinas always make me apprehensive, this one particularly so. The fairways are narrow, there are a lot of expensive-looking boats on each side, and there is quite a strong cross-wind. We find berth number 73, a box berth. We are getting used to box berths now, and normally rig slip lines to each of the four corners to make it easier on the way out. We inch into the berth, and I slip the looped lines over the two rear posts when they are level. The First Mate waits at the bow with the bow lines. But this berth is longer than most, and our stern lines are not long enough for the double line needed for a slip. Before I realise, their free ends run out and drop into the water.

“Hurry up”, shouts the First Mate. “The wind is starting to blow the bow around. The anchor is getting pretty close to the boat on our left. We don’t want to take a gouge out of it.”

“I have to go back”, I call out frantically. “I’ve lost the stern lines. We have to start again, and use single lines, not double.“

Faces appear on neighbouring boats, drawn by our shouting. We reverse slowly until I am level with the stern posts, the poor First Mate trying to keep the bow straight. I lasso each stern post in turn, then pay out the single lines as we edge forward once again. We have more than enough for the stern lines now.

“That’s it”, calls the First Mate. “Stop!!”

I use the stern lines to stop the boat and tie them off. The First Mate does the same at the front.

“Phew, that was a bit of a palaver”, I say. “I think that is the longest box berth we’ve been in.”

We finally get those stern lines attached!

“It’s not over yet”, says the First Mate. “The next problem is getting off. The pontoon is lower than normal. It’s too far from the anchor to the ground for me.”

For me too.

“Perhaps we should try another marina”, I say. “Why is this one so popular?”

“We’ve got the little steps that we bought last year in Denmark”, says the First Mate, ignoring me. “We can use those.”

But they don’t help much.

A giant leap for womenkind?

One set of small steps, but still one giant step for womankind, I think. As Neil Armstrong might have said, but didn’t.

“I know”, I call. “We can climb over the neighbouring boat. Luckily it is reversed in, so we can get on it easily, then clamber across to ours. It looks like no-one is there at the moment, so we won’t be disturbing anyone.”

“Great idea”, says the First Mate.

It works. We use that method of getting on and off for the whole time we are there.

“Why don’t we try reversing into these box berths like they have done?”, asks the First Mate.

Why not indeed?

We finally make it on board.

We prepare dinner.

“I have put some croutons into the salad”, says the First Mate. “Hopefully they’ll be OK for your teeth. But take care.”

In the last couple of years, I have been having trouble with several teeth as they begin to wear out, and have been trying not to eat anything too hard that might tempt trouble.

“I’m sure they will be fine”, I say. “Anyway, I like croutons.”

Halfway through dinner I feel a crack.

“I think I might have broken a tooth”, I say, somewhat pathetically.

“I told you to be careful”, says the First Mate unsympathetically.

Sure enough, I retrieve a piece of tooth trying to hide in the rocket. My tongue finds the gap instantaneously, and, despite my best efforts, spends the rest of the evening exploring it.

“You’ll have to try and find a dentist in the morning”, says the First Mate.

The hafenmeisterin has the phone number of a dentist not far away.

“Can you come straightaway?”, says the receptionist when I call in the morning.

Naturlich”, I reply. “Sofort.”

I find the dental clinic nestled in between two supermarkets. The door looks from the outside like it might lead to a storeroom of some kind, but opens out like the Tardis into a spotlessly clean and bright dental clinic.

I tell the receptionist that we are travelling around Europe in a boat when she asks me my address.

Warten Sie hier für ein paar minuten, bitte”, she says, indicating the dental chair.

Waiting for the dentist to arrive.

The dentist arrives. He tells me to open wide and scratches my tooth with a pointy thing.

“What sort of boat do you have?”, he asks me in faultless English.

“Irrrrsssshy oooota”, I respond. Why do dentists ask you questions when they must know you can’t answer, I wonder. Don’t they realise?

“I am quite a keen sailor myself”, he continues. “But I don’t have my own boat. I usually go out with friends. I think they only have me along as the muscle to work the winches.”

“Thhhhassss iessss”, I say.

He stops poking my tooth.

“Well, the tooth is broken alright”, he says. “But it is very healthy – no cavities or signs of decay. It’ll be fine. I’ll just smooth off the rough edges to stop your tongue damaging itself. At some stage you could get a crown fitted, but there’s no immediate hurry for that. Just when you get home again.”

We chat about boats and cruising for a few minutes.

“He was really friendly”, I tell the First Mate when I get back to the boat. “And I think I got off pretty lightly with my tooth. It’s fine.”

“That’s good”, she says. “But all the same, no more croutons for you on this trip.”

The Russian trader narrows his eyes and strokes his beard. “Nein, das is nicht genug”, he says in halting German. “Furs are scarce this year. The winter has been hard, and the hunters have not been able to travel as far. Wheat yields have been lower. And the snow has made it more difficult to bring the timber to here. You have to give me better prices.”

I know that he is bluffing. I look past him to the gloomy forests behind the small trading kontor. My sources have told me that the winter has been more lenient than usual and there have been more wolves and bears trapped, and wheat is plentiful. But of course, we have to go through the motions of bargaining each other down. It all comes down to how much he wants my fine wines, clothes and other items manufactured in Europe for selling on to his wealthy buyers in the Russian hinterland. My guess is that it is a lot. Not that I don’t want his timber, wax, resins and wheat, but there is no point in paying more for these things than is necessary.

Nimm es oder lass es”, I say. “Take it or leave it.”

“Sie sind ein harter Mann”, he says. “OK, a man has to live. I accept.”

Easier than I thought. We shake hands.

Hanseatic Museum: Bust of a Russian trader.

“Have you got the jitters?”, says the First Mate, behind me. “I know you are probably in one of your daydreams again, but why are you shaking your hand up and down?”

“I was just imagining I was a Hanseatic trader doing a deal with a Russian”, I say. “It’s just amazing how much trade went on between Russia and Germany in those days. But then it is not much different nowadays judging from the amount of oil and gas that Germany imports from them.”

Hanseatic Museum: Reconstructon of a ship at a Russian trading post.

We are in the European Hansemuseum in Lübeck looking at a display of a boat full of goods at a remote Russian trading post. We had left Ruby Tuesday in Travemünde and taken the bus down to Lübeck for the day, the main city of the medieval Hanseatic League of Baltic trade. We had alighted at the Holstentor, the westernmost gate of the city, and had worked our way around the old city, exploring the grand churches, the picturesque houses, and the narrow alleys (gassen) between the houses leading to the inner courtyards.

Holstentor, Lübeck.
Inside one of the gassen, Lübeck
Town Hall and Market Square, Lübeck.

We had ended up in the museum, and are learning how the Hanseatic League formed in the late 1100s to become the most influential trading bloc of its time.

“Yes, it says here that the Hanseatic League was a kind of prototype of the European Union”, reads the First Mate. “It was a loose association of city states, with an agreed set of rules and procedures that included not just trade and tariffs, but also the way that houses should be built, legal procedures, weights and measures, and so on. Membership was optional, and believe it or not, the cities of London and Edinburgh were also part of it, as was Novistok in Russia.”

Part of a Hanseatic trading agreement.

“This one says that it declined in the 1500s due to changing economic circumstances”, I read on the next board. “The development of overland routes in Europe meant that sea trade was of less importance. Also, the Dutch and English were rising as sea trading powers, and although they were part of the Hanseatic League, their focus shifted globally.”

“Funny how history seems to repeat itself”, says the First Mate on the way home. “The EU, Brexit, Global Britain, and all that.”

“We’ll see”, I say. “But the world is a very different place today to what it was in the 16th century. I am not sure that the Brexiteers appreciate that.”

6 thoughts on “An amber beach, a broken tooth, and prosperous traders

  1. Hey Ruby Tuesday, in the meanwhile we also left Kappeln and reached Hals in the north of Denmark waiting for the right wind to turn our bow to Norway. Whilst waiting, I hope that Heike will start working on our blog. Best wishes from the Fishes


  2. Another interesting and beautifully written blog Robin.
    When I was a teenager we went to Denmark on holiday and we collected tons of ‘amber’ on the beaches. All of it glass I think – but very exciting at the time …


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