German Bight…….Grace bites back! Part 4

Wangerooge to Cuxhafen.
This is our final but toughest leg to get past the German Bight and into the Kiel Canal. This was going to be a real challenge for us, not only is it going to be the longest run, the latest leaving therefore with the potential for a night time arrival but also where we have to get our navigation absolutely spot on if we were not to stray into the Traffic Separation Scheme and risk a fine of 1000 € from the German Coastguard. They actually send out a patrol boat and if you can't pay up there and then they take your stuff to the value of it…….good luck with that! I think they will struggle to find that on Grace my old socks are not worth much!

The time of the tide is really difficult, to get across the sand bar we cannot not leave Wangerooge before 1300 which was about 2 hours before high tide at 1512. This would mean a potential 10 to 12 hour trip with a night sail down the Elbe, against the tide to Cuxhafen. Part of what makes the approach to the Elbe such a challenge is its strong tides which when combined with the wind makes it extremely choppy and uncomfortable. Something to look forward to then!

We are now ready to leave Wangerooge harbour, it is a beautiful sunny day and we are one of two or three other yachts taking the opportunity to exit. Just as we get to the withies that mark the passage out of the harbour, the large freighter that we followed in the day before came out stern first from the commercial port. He was going to need a lot of space to make his turn so we stood off and waited for him, following him yesterday had helped us find the new channel so perhaps he would bring us luck!


Our lucky freighter!

In light winds we are making very good progress, all are sails out, the engine is turning at just 1000 revs and we are charging along at over 6 knots with a favourable tide. We are soon across the Neue Weser shipping lane and then over the Roter Sands. At the Neue Weser channel there is a tall ship coming from Wilhelmshafen. We are making excellent progress and are now following the buoys marking the ScharnhornRiff right to the start to the start of the Elbe. We still have the current in our favour and we are making between 6.5 to 7.5 knots and are 60 minutes ahead of our estimates.


Tall ship out of Wilhelmshafen

It is now 1745, we are by buoy 5 and are starting to feel the effects of the 2.5 knots of tide against us coming out of the Elbe. Our heading is now more easterly, we have taken in the mainsail to prevent the need to fit a gybe preventer as it is starting to get a bit rolly and none of us are keen to leave the safely of the cockpit to go to the foredeck to fit the preventer line. The tide is now in full flow out of the Elbe, the wind is starting to rise to Force 4 and the waves are building up. Increasing the engine speed we are maintaining our boat speed of 6 to 7 knots but the actual speed over the ground is starting to fall quite rapidly, 5 knots, then 4 knots. It will continue this way until 2307.

From Buoy 5, we now have 16 miles to left to run following the green channel markers to Buoy 31A. Large ships heading down to Hamburg or the Kiel Canal pass close by as we skirt the inside of the marker buoys. By 2035 we reached buoy 15 and we have the last remnants of daylight with us. We are riding the swell with the engine now running hard to maintain our boat speed of 6 to 7 knots as our ground speed continues to fall as the tidal stream continues to build.

By 2130 the final rays of daylight are gone and we are rushing forward hard into the darkness towards the distant lights of Cuxhafen. All around there is the roaring of the waves, occasionally broken by the deep thrum as a large ship passes by us barely a 100 metres or so away. Our navigation and steaming lights are our only means of identification to these ships and they seem very small and faint. As we follow the channel buoys they are becoming progressively more difficult to see against the lights in the background. This is only my second night sail and the pitching of the sea, big ships and variety of lights is a world away from the sleepy Portuguese fishing village where Anne and I did our training.


Last remains of the day

For the next couple of hours, Grace is working really hard to push her way against the current. Our ground speed is just 1 to 1.5 knots, and we are fighting to reach every buoy. It is taking almost an hour to pass each one. But the exhilaration is intense – the darkness all around us with the engine racing beneath your feet and the boat surfing over the waves.


In the Elbe

It is now 2300 and we have reached our final mark 31A. We are trying to make sense of what we can see on the shore as the perception of depth goes. From the chart we know if we run on a bearing of 140 from buoy 31A we should be running parallel to the dock wall. The first opening is the ferry port. The second must be the opening for the the Marina, but there is too much confusion to interpret what we are seeing. Suddenly we glimpse what looks to be the opening into the Marina but there is only a red light showing and no green light to mark the other side. Shining our big torch we can see the unlit starboard side post and some masts behind.

A fast turn and Grace is heading in. The current is still running really hard. As we move towards the Marina entrance we are being pushed towards the unlit post. Grace's engine is now flat out. Throttle is fully open, with the screw racing as we push through the waves. Grace is being drawn closer and closer the to the big entrance piles – then suddenly we shoot through the gap and we are into the calm of the Marina basin. Everything is still as we idle while we prepare the fenders and mooring lines.
Someone has heard us come in and he takes our lines, securing us up to the empty 'emergency' pontoon.

2340. After 10 hours, 60 n miles sailed (although only 48 nm actually covered) we turn everything off and collapse exhausted. We have made it through the German Bight. It has taken us 4 days of sailing, covering 200 nm and it is now just 20 nm across the Elbe to Brunsbeutil.

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