We left Dömitz and headed north up the Elbe river. This wide meandering shallow river was the old border between the DDR and the West Germany. The old border turrets were very evident as we made our way through the channel towards Hamburg. We had a interesting navigation range to negotiate down the river, on the west bank there were large yellow ‘X’ signs which drew us towards to that side of the river. On the east bank there were large yellow “+” signs which drew us to the east bank.
The new maps we were using highlighted that we needed to stay on the west or east bank if the range did not direct us across the river. Our navigation guides were Navionics on Martin’s Ipad and our book “Vom Rhein zur Nord und Ostsee” by Manfred Fenzl (in German of course). The book is about the waterways from the Rhine to the North Sea and the Baltic Sea and charted much of our zig zag course from Domitz back to the Netherlands.
We stopped in a marina on the west bank for a night and filled up with diesal (€350 later) and continued our journey to a large lock that changed the river from being a constant height to being a tidal (therefore variable height) river. It took a couple of days for us to get from Dömitz to Hamburg. The river flows through flatish land – quite agricultural and quiet compared to the Rhine. Well it was quiet until we reached Hamburg and after a long day we hit the big busy city. Hamburg is Germany’s most affluent and most exciting city.
Hamburg is Europe’s second largest port (after Rotterdam) and looking at the massive ocean going ships (from the water level) is a little intimidating. In addition to their size these ships create an incredible wake – so life on the water got a bit wobbly. Hamburg is one of the founding cities of the Hanseatic League – an arrangement of trading ports started in 1241. The Hanseatic League was developed to protect the guilds and commercial associations in Northern Europe and Britain from marauders and secure trade in grains like rye, wax, amber resin, furs, ship building and cloth making between the Baltic and the North Sea (Protected free trade has a long history!). The league of city states lasted for four hundred years and finally dissolved itself in the face of new rising national empires.
Hamburg is at the confluence of three rivers – including the Elbe, it is midway between the North Sea and the Baltic, hence in premier location to trade both east and west.
Around the turn of the 19th century Hamburg was also a major exit port for Eastern European immigrants to the United States and Canada. Hamburg’s location facing West to the Americas allowed the development of major steamship and cargo shipping companies. Much of the wealth in Hamburg stems from the shipping industry. Indeed this tradition continues today as the major cruise ship lines use Hamburg as a major stop. Local people celebrate the Cunard line and one of the highlights of our visit was watching the Queen Mary 2 leave port with a flotilla of small boats, ferries, tourist boats, and official boats (police and coast guard) as well as huge crowds of waving well wishers lining the cruise ship’s route out of the harbour into the Elbe Estuary (more about the estuary later).
Hamburg is a party town – the energy of the city is both exciting and fascinating. My friend’s son Christian has recently moved to Hamburg. At 29 he is thrilled to be working for a progressive internet games company that focuses on fun. He lives in the famous Reeperbahn area. One afternoon Martin and I took a walk around the Reeperbahn, home to the music scene (remember the Beatles were in Hamburg 1960-62), strip joints, bars serving copious quantities of beer. I felt the Reeperbahn retained its world renowned seediness and I must say I was suprised at the broken glass, litter, terrible graffiti and general dirtiness of the place. But I guess that’s what heritage grunge looks like! Christian said it was a lively place Thursday to Saturday night with music and drinking everywhere .
Beatles at the Reeperbahn
I was suprized to hear partytime did not end at 5:00 am on Sunday morning but continued at the Hamburg Fischmarkt on the harbour.
Martin heard it was a party that continued until 10:00 am then stopped promptly. So we cycled to the Fischmarkt around 8:00 am (it was about 3 kms from our boat). The Fischmarkt was a real market selling fresh fish and much more: baked goods, fruit and vegetables, plants, all kinds of dry good, electrical stuff, clothing bags, etc etc (everything a good market should contain). Of course there were lots of food outlets and music. We entered the Fischmarkt building (it is an incredible 120 year old classical industrial Beaux Art market hall), and it was rockin’ at 8:15 am. The beer was flowing – two stages of entertainment including an Elvis impersonator and really talented local bands. Food stalls serving fish brötchen (rolls) and plates of eggs and chips!.The music was great and the atmosphere full of fun, Martin and I had to remind ourselves several times that it was 8:15 am on Sunday! Yes we had a plate of egg and chips between us, and a beer each– a small one! As the rock bands rocked on.
Later that day our visitors arrived. John and Nancy are sailing buddies from our home town. John (and Nancy sometimes) and Martin have raced sail boats for many years so they are accomplished seafarers. I was very glad they were there when we made our way out towards to sea. We met them near the Rathaus (town hall – but great name for a place that politicians work) and shopping district of Hamburg. This part was very upmarket, very clean and very chic (a contrast to the Reeperbahn). Later in the evening we took a local ferry ride (€1.60) to see the harbour and get a sense of the river. I was impressed with their resilience and enthusiasm as they had just got off a plane from Vancouver, via Amsterdam to Hamburg (20hours of travelling).
The next morning, which was warm and sunny, Skookum with the added crew set off up the Elbe towards the North Sea. Hamburg was about 100kms south of the coast and about 85kms south of our turn off. We left on the ebb tide, although we had a bit of a bumpy ride for about 10 kms (due the heavy river traffic) in the Hamburg harbour, we made good progress, and stayed one night in Glückstadt. This river port has an interesting harbour, with an inner and outer marina. The inside marina was only accessible for an hour at high tide and protected by a large gate. Glückstadt was a pretty little town, we looked around (at the historical harbour) and did some grocery shopping.
The Elbe estuary was wide and shallow, with a channel marked by red and green bouys. In Europe there is a system of “green right returning” so it is the opposite to North American waters. On the way to the Elbe estuary we were stopped by water police again. They are genuninely concerned about our boat and our ability to deal with the kind of conditions (like tides and wakes) we would encounter on the river. Again we were wearing life jackets – so were they. The police seemed satisfied that our Canadian Power Squadron certifications constituted a boat driver’s licence in Germany, and the VAT had been paid on our boat, wished us a good journey and were gone. It is not a bad idea for the police to know that you are on the river as the waters are quite fickle and the ocean going freighters are really really big. We got a bit wobbly after a large freighter went by leaving a huge wake. One of chairs was thrown around on deck and bent a leg – so that meant another trip to IKEA for another new white outdoor chair. That wobble left me feeling very good about having another couple of experienced sailors on-board.
Arriving at the almost hidden entrance of the Elbe-Weser canal we had to negotiate entry into this new canal/river system. This was a tricky moment because the entrance to this canal dries out at low tide, and we had taken the ebb tide out from Glückstadt to the tiny community of Otterndorf, and the entrance to the canal. We had to wait in the middle of the estuary for about one and half hours for the water to rise high enough for us to enter the harbour. Skookum has a draft of a little less than a metre (3ft), so we were confident about going into the inlet when we saw a sailboat leaving. The really tricky part was that as soon as we entered the inlet on the rising tide, we need to go under a very low bridge (that got even lower with the rising tide) to enter the canal. There was a green light on the lock so we took everything down (mast, bimini, umbrella, even our flags at the bow and stern), ducked down so we could only just see over the wheel on the upper deck and motored very nervously under the wooden bridge and into the first lock. We went through the lock and moored on the other side. We had a long way to go to the next mooring and it was late so we parked at the side of canal and left the next day.
The canal was about 60kms long and rather uneventful. The weather was hot and sunny and the bridges very low, so we had to take the bimini up and down as we passed under about 12 bridges (one as low as 2.7m) until we arrived in Bremerhaven.
This, again was a tidal port with huge locks into the container port. Bremerhaven was a new town (for Germany) founded in 1827, and a major centre for emigration to the Americas. It houses a couple of interesting museums – the German Shipping Museum and the Museum of Emigration, as 7 million people transited through Bremerhaven on their way to North America over that last 180 years or so.
We tied up at the marina that was not inside a lock, took off to look at the town and returned to find that Skookum like the other boats was sitting in the mud! So we had to wait for the tide to take us off again.
The tides in this area are quite big – running about 4-5 meters (12 -16ft). We were now on the Weser river system – another wide muddy estuary opening to the North Sea. We left in the early afternoon taking a rising tide downstream to entrance of the another river-canal system at Elsfelt. Another over night on the canal we took the morning tide down the Hunte river to the ancient port of Oldenburg.
On the way into Oldenburg Martin noticed an IKEA about 4 kms away. So while Nancy John and I went exploring Oldenburg and in search of an O2 store to fix my Dongle. Martin is his usual pragmatic way took the chair back to IKEA unfortunately it was the end of the summer season and we were told that this style was not on the order list for next year. So Martin fixed the chair – works perfectly now.
That evening we all joined in the local music festival, which rocked until dawn (Germans really know how to party!), but being old folks we were in bed much earlier. There were 6 stages, a major DJ stage and lots of outlets selling food and alcohol. The population at this very free street party were all ages but predominately under 40. Martin met stragglers in the morning when he went for Brotchen.
John and Nancy left us the next day, taking our advice and heading for Potsdam and Berlin, before going back for a few days in Amsterdam. They were very impressed with Germany and suprised at the variety of history and culture. Martin and I had to scoot to get to the beginning of the Elisabethfehn canal.
We travelled from Oldenburg through a lock down the Küstenkanal for about 25 kms then turned off into this very narrow canal that would take us to Leer. We discovered to our dismay that the only way through this canal (where we felt like the Queen Mary 2) was by convoy. The convoy left once per day at 8:00 am and we had missed it, so need to wait at the small marina until the next day. The Elisabethfehn canal is only 11kms long, but it has 8 lift bridges and 4 manual locks, all worked by the lock-keeper who took the convoy (in this case 2 boats) through to the Leda River. This small canal is under threat of closure so there was a very visible campaign to save it .
Once we joined the Leda river we were back into tidal waters and had to wait for bridges to open before we could proceed. At this point the weather was deteriorating, becoming, greyer, rainier and very windy. We were surfing the ebb tide up the Leda River to the Ems – ripples turned into small white caps on this small river. The Ems estuary was our third major open waterway that enters the North Sea and also forms the Dutch/German border. The landscape looked as bleak as the sky . By the time we hit the big lock at Leer it was howling (Force 6+) and the river was turbulent. The lock-keepers told us to wait around the corner from the lock gate while they went home for a coffee break of about 30 mins. We were somewhat dismayed about being stuck outside the lock gate so recalculated our position and decided to head for a marina about 2kms down the Ems river.
The river was calmer than expected, but we put into the marina amid the grey skies and brown river mud. The Bingum marina was located beside a big dyke and a small village. We had decided to stay after the harbour master told us they were expecting a Beaufort Force 8 gale in the Ems estuary.
Most sport-boats (like Skookum) were staying in port for the day and leaving the next day. So the weather made the decision for us despite the fact I was very antsie because I had to be in the Netherlands on September 3 because I had to be in Amsterdam on September 4 to meet my 86 year old mum and her friend – young Joan (age 82), who were joining us on the boat for a few days.
The next day we were headed for the Dutch port of Delfzijl at the mouth of the Ems estuary. We started out on the flood tide and waited for the ebb to take us out from Bingum to Delfzijl. We followed the river Ems to the estuary – through the flood barrage, towards the sea port of Emden in Germany. The water was about a 1-2ft chop with white caps in places where the water mixed with wind against tide. We had a couple of encounters with some really big ships (like the City of Rotterdam) as we cruised down the estuary and crossed over to the Dutch side. Martin got very excited when he saw a windmill farm, especiall when he saw an Enercon E112 windmill – the largest in the world (in the production of electricity) and the windmill farm. I was just happy to see the Dutch side so I could meet my mum on time.
We moored in the Jachthaven in Delfzijl and got ready for our new visitors and went to my favourite supermarket – Albert Heijn. We have lots of wonderful memories of Germany and will reflect on our incredible experiences during long winter evenings at home in Victoria.