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Home / Sailing / Cruising / Baltic cruising report

Baltic cruising report

Caprice's 2018 cruise to the Baltic

We planned this cruise to sail along the English coast and cross the channel nearer Dover, so we left Torpoint for Salcombe on Saturday 12th May, with an overnight passage on to Swanage in Dorset (84 miles). We've anchored here in the past, but this time picked up a sailing club mooring for just £10. We had a following wind so poled out the sails and had our first group of dolphins for the trip swimming alongside.

That was our last favourable wind before reaching the Kiel canal. After that the wind was consistently "on the nose", which, with us going on the tides, meant "wind against tide" conditions – so short choppy seas and "hard" on the wind.

We sailed from Swanage to Langstone Harbour, just before Chichester, picking up a buoy allocated to us in advance. As the next day was a strong, NE wind we had to stay over. It was too choppy to even get ashore in the dinghy.

17th May we set off for Newhaven. Another rough and uncomfortable passage. Our first time here. A basic marina, but OK. Ashore to nearby pub for steak meals.

Its always uplifting to see the cliffs of Beachy Head and then passing places such as Hastings which I (Denise) remember well on day trips to the seaside as a child. We anchored for the night in the lee of Dungerness, off Camber Sands. On Saturday 19th we planned to move along the coast and anchor off Sandgates beach (between Hythe and Folkestone) but when we arrived it was untenable, with an unforecast F6 wind. As our choices were either go on to Dover or cross the channel, we decided at 3pm to cross to France.

We arrived in Calais in 5 hours and as the entrance into the marina was closed, we had a free night on the waiting buoys in the basin. I noticed lots of groups of young men hanging around the walls and actually locked our boat doors that night (a rare occurrence) and probably over the top, as anyone would have had to swim out to us to get on the boat!

We sailed on to Dunkirk and booked into the Yacht club marina for 2 nights. For some reason they gave us a 28% discount – we weren't going to question why!

Zeebrugge, Belgium was the next stop, again in the local YC marina (fantastic facilities and pontoons). It was another hard sail. The Belgian coast is very uninspiring – flat, with mile after mile of blocks of flats and refineries.

However, an absolute gem is nearby. We took the train to Bruges (only 15 mins and cheap). Such a beautiful city – full of canals and gorgeous squares and buildings. Ian says he'll think differently about Belgium now, as he was unaware such lovely places existed here.

From Zeebrugge we sailed on to The Netherlands – Roompotsluis into the Oosterschelde, for an overnight anchorage.

Mileage to date: 353 miles

Whilst anchored in the Oosterschelde we decided to visit the Delta Experience – a big audio-visual and exhibition about the building of the flood defences, following the great storm in 1953, when about 1200 Dutch lost their lives after the previous defences burst their banks. There was a fantastic immersive CGI film that made you feel as if we were in the middle of the storm. Unfortunately, Ian then had a wobble about where we'd left the dinghy, so went back to check on it. 15 mins later he was back telling me we had to go, or otherwise we wouldn't be able to get back to the boat – so that film and another 20 minute documentary we watched cost us £30! Oh well!

After an overnight stop in Ijmuiden, we continued on to Den Helder. This was a very welcoming marina. Not expensive and included free use of the washing and drying machines – I made 4 visits, washing everything in sight! We ended up staying 3 nights here due to fog – our next passages were to be along the Frisian Islands which we didn't fancy doing in poor visibilty. This stretch up to the Elbe river in Germany was the bit we had least looked forward to, as there are very few options to pull in to for our boat due to very shallow waters.

We anchored off the island of Vlieland – just like a glorified long sand dune. However, it has a very attractive main street, full of shops selling knick-knacks and clothes and cafes.

The seas around these islands were awful, covered in a yellowish thick foam – god knows what's in it, but neither Ian or I took a dip! He also had to continuously clear out the engine filter which was clogged with foul smelling muck.

Into Germany: Our next stop was the island of Borkum, once a centre for piracy and whaling. This is a pleasant seaside holiday resort now, with an impressive promenade. Miles of sandy beaches, with colourful wicker beach huts. We took the bus into the only town and had a wander and lunch.

On to Norderney, another German holiday resort island. We had a rough time getting out into the correct channel, and the channel buoys coming into Norderney bore no relation to those on our plotter, so it was a question of "eyeing" them as we went along – not easy in the winding channel in. A big swell and the sea full of a white "foam" made for an unpleasant entry. We only stayed the night and didn't explore, so on a very hot day motored out to make for Helgoland. The channel out was a bit scary – sandbanks and shallows with a VERY large swell and we think we got off track, so worrying for a while, but eventually made it into deeper water. We'd decided to go out to Helgoland because of the forecast wind direction, supposedly in our favour – NO! However, we battled on, as it made catching the tides right to go on up the river Elbe the next day an easier option, rather than a middle of the night start.

Helgoland is a tax/duty free island report, popular with day trippers. We rafted up next to a Swedish boat in the main harbour. (At this point we had only seen one other British boat since leaving the Solent). A walk ashore around the only town. Lots of shops, but all shut for the day. Then on to Cuxhaven on the German mainland, at the mouth of the river Elbe, avoiding all the massive ships in the TSS. The marina here is run by the local yacht club. We had a meal in their club restaurant – great! The next day we devoted to domestics – cleaning, laundry and stocking up in the Lidl supermarket. Diesel was very expensive (by our "red" standards at 1.59 euros a litre).

Sunday 10 June we took the afternoon flood tide to travel up the Elbe to the Kiel canal entrance at Brunsbuttel (very strong tides make it essential to "go with the flow"). We only had to wait 20 mins for entry into the small ships lock – along with 3 other yachts. Very little rise and fall, so out of the lock in no time. We moored up overnight at a staging just past the marina. Getting to the canal was the benchmark we set ourselves and it had not been easy, so we were pleased to have reached this milestone. Our bad luck with winds had dogged us all the way here – every passage the winds were N/NE/E depending on where we wanted to go! So lots of motor-sailing. There were several days of dense fog, keeping us in ports longer than we intended (hence why it took 4 weeks to get this far). The actual weather was superb – warm sunny days (too hot at times for my taste). A few violent thunderstorms, but these have all been during the night, so not affected us.

We motored along to Rendsburg, about 40 miles along the canal and stopped for 3 nights, sharing the canal en route with the massive container ships passing within feet of us. Rendsburg was our first instance of having to moor bow on between 2 wooden piles – it wasn't easy as the cross-wind made securing Caprice difficult. We stopped twice more at anchoring stops before exiting the canal and into the Baltic.

Mileage to date: 800 miles

Once in the Baltic we made our way to the German island of Fehmarn. This was meant to be a 2/3 day stop only, but due to strong winds in June, we ended up staying 6 nights. Our main reason for stopping here was to make arrangements for Caprice's winter storage, as a friend had recommended the yard to us and it's used by a lot of Cruising Association members (which we belong to). It is also very handy in it's location, bordering Germany, Denmark and Sweden. We contracted to lift her out around mid-September, have both masts taken down, have her stored in an unheated shed until mid-May 2019 and then lifted back in and masts put back on – costs about £2000.

After leaving Fehmarn we started our tour of the German Hanseatic port towns. These are lovely – in particular Lubeck, Stralsund, Wismar and Rostock. For info – the Hanseatic League was a confederation of merchant guilds and market towns set up around the Baltic around 1100. It's purpose was for trading and to protect their interests against pirates. Lubeck was the centre of the League and is a lovely town. Following WW2 it became part of East Germany. I can recommend taking the tourist bus ride at 10e – most informative. Lubeck is situated on the river Trave and we were able to spend a few nights anchored on the river in some very pretty settings (like Salcombe/Dart but without having to pay!). We spent longer here than planned as I was layed up for 2 days with back problems.

There are some spectacular Gothic red brick cathedrals – in particular the ones at Wismar and Bad Doberan (we took a steam train ride to get to this one – the train goes down the centre of the main high street, inches from the shops and open-air cafes).

I (Denise) then returned home to Plymouth in mid-July for family issues and ended up staying away 19 days. Ian was getting pretty lonely, the highlight of his day being our Facetime chats! I left from Rostock in Germany and he took the boat further up the coast and met me in Greifswald, also in Germany. Whilst I was away Ian spent most of the time anchored around the southern coast of the German holiday isle of Rugen. Shallow waters and not crowded. It was scorching during this period and Ian actually had to go swimming, not something he's keen on, but it was the only way to keep cool – although the green "gunge" was off-putting!


The polish coastline is low-lying, wooded and mile after mile of sandy beaches, inter-spaced with "Blackpool" type seaside holiday resorts. They were all packed in August. Of course, the weather helped – we had week after week of temperatures in the high 20's to 34 max and only a little rain. Most of the ports are only safe to enter in winds of F5 or less from the SW to E, which luckily were OK for us, except for one day of 45 knot NW winds and rain.

Most of the towns here were German occupied and heavily bombed, so they don't have much in the way of historic centres, except for Daelowo.

The biggest bonus was the cost of living here. We had to use marinas/fishing harbours each night as there are no anchoring opportunities. However when you are only paying £8.50 to £11 per night for a pontoon mooring, with electricity, showers, water and WIFI it's not a hardship. We ate out for about £11 for two, including a drink each!

In Kolobrzeg, we had Caprice lifted by the travel hoist and 90 minutes in "the slings," as she was covered in barnacles! We spent an hour+ in the heat scraping her off – the prop was covered – I'm surprised it turned at all. Total charge - £55 (would have been £200+ in the UK). Obviously Ian is going to have to rethink the anti-foul he uses as it obviously isn't strong enough for the seas here.

Talking of the sea – the coastline and bays around the German/Polish border are covered in algae. It was like sailing through a thick pea soup. There was a lot of web coverage about the problem throughout the Baltic region this year.

A standout visit was to Leba (pronounced Weebah). As with the other towns along the coast the resort is trashy, packed and noisy, with cheap tourist shops and restaurants. However what made this worthwhile is that it borders the Slowinski National Park. This is an area of the sea on one side and lakes and forests on the other, but it's the sand dunes that make it outstanding. They "move and ripple" as the largely westerly winds blow. They are also massive. We climbed the largest at 40 metres high. We had a lovely walk through the forest to get there and then an electric buggy taxi back.

After a stop in Wladyslawowo (a fishing port) we then went to Hel. Yes, really that's the resort name. This was interesting due to the WWII coastal defences which have been preserved. This was once an important trading centre, competing with Gdansk, but is now a more upmarket holiday resort. Like most of the places we visited in Poland it was previously German. During the Polish invasion in 1939 it was the longest defended pocket of Polish army resistance and was the last part of Polish soil to be liberated.

We sailed to our furthest point, the city of Gdansk. It was magic sailing up the river right into the dead centre of the old town to the marina. In line with tradition, we dipped our ensign as we passed the Westerplatte war memorial (the first battles of WW2 were fought in Gdansk bay). Then we passed the famous shipyards, still very busy today.

If you've never been, it's a great place to visit for a short break. The old town was heavily bombed but has been beautifully restored with lovely architecture and museums. We climbed the 409 steps to the top of St Mary's church for a great view over the city. We spent 4 hours in the Solidarity museum using the audio tour guide. In the late 1970's/early 80's Solidarity was the labour union that was founded in the Gdansk shipyards and led by Lech Walesa. It was the first union not controlled by the Communist party and eventually led to Poland becoming a democratic society and Walesa the Prime Minister.

We also spent 4 hours in the brand new WW11 museum, which if you have any interest in that period of history was brilliant. Again an audio tour. It was a sobering visit – Poland suffered greatly in the war and also many concentration camps were in Poland. I found it very moving listening to some of the stories.

We then went on an away-day by train to 13th century Malbork Castle. Brilliant – the largest castle in the world (by land area) and a UNESCO heritage site. Another wonderful and informative audio guide.

It was now time to start our return to our winter base on Fehmarn, so after quick overnight revisits to Wladislawowo & Leba (what a difference 10 days made – now no holidaymakers and dead as a dodo) we sailed overnight (90 miles) to the Danish island of Bornholm.

A big difference in price here - £29 a night as opposed to £11! But worth it – the island is beautiful and a delight. We more or less circumnavigated it, stopping in Nexo on the East coast and Hammerhaven on the West coast.

Ian had his 69th birthday here and we spent it taking the local buses around the island, getting off to see some of the very pretty harbour villages and at Osterlars to see the unique round church. At Hammerhaven the harbour is in the shadow of the "claimed" largest castle ruin in Europe (a bit of a dubious claim in my opinion). They have built a very tasteful visitors centre and that and the castle is all free to enter!

As it was now 5 September, we decided it was time to be getting on and we sailed back over to the German coast, to the top edge of the island of Rugen and a harbour called Glowe. This was also empty, but compensated with some lovely walks along the bay and inland to the lakes. If you like beaches, the sands here are wonderful – miles of them.

Due to a more favourable wind direction, we then crossed over to the Danish harbour of Gedser. It's at the southernmost tip of Denmark and is a major ferry terminal. The marina though is separate, in a quiet inlet around the corner. It was almost deserted, being the end of the sailing season here. We then left for our final passage of the cruise – 32 miles to the German island of Fehmarn.

Caprice was lifted out on Monday 17th September, with both masts taken down and she was stored away in one of the giant winter sheds until our return in May 2019. We left by train for an overnight stop in Hamburg then trains to London.

Total miles cruised: 1770

Denise and Ian

SV Caprice

Last updated 10:57 on 14 March 2019

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