Helgoland and a German ‘Bite’!

I find myself now on the tiny island of Helgoland in the notorious German Bight (remember your shipping forecast?)

Helgoland's harbour of refuge

Helgoland’s harbour of refuge

It wasn’t really my intention to sail here, but if I hadn’t, I would have missed meeting some lovely folk and visiting an island with only a few electric cars and no bicycles! Very unusual and strangely exotic for Northern Europe. Not one British flag or boat here, no one ever comes as it is quite an epic to reach in tricky tidal and weather conditions. Officially it is a refuge for sailing boats and a popular weekend visit from the German mainland cities of Bremen and Hamburg. Everything is duty free here, too… including diesel, which I intend to replenish tomorrow at only one euro per litre!

So why am I here?


I left Amsterdam with Carro and Danne, saying farewell to them in Enkhuizen, before sailing across the Ijsselmeer to Lemmer and then onwards through Friesland, including the town of Leeuwarden where Jorg and I finally lost our respect for each other. After a painful evening there with the ghosts and a dull heartache, remembering the man who I thought was my soulmate changing before my eyes; I continued north to the beautiful Lauwermeer. This is the final lake before the Wadden Zee (the remaining part of the old Zuider Zee that use to serve Amsterdam before the creation of the Ijssel and Markermeers.) This was my final night in the Netherlands…

The following day I nervously entered the Wadden Zee, known for its treacherous sand banks, strong currents and inaccurate charts!

And so began the longest day of my sailing life so far…

It all started so well with a wonderful crossing of the Wadden Zee and up north past the Frisian island of Simonzand. All of this I managed under sail, and only once kissed the bottom; my only heart-stopping moment. I still had the flood as I sailed out to the north of the island of Borkum and into the North Sea. My aim was to sail east along the ten metre contour and make the island of Langeoog for an anchorage in the early evening.

Approaching the coast of Langeoog and the entrance where disaster was to strike!

I nervously consulted my charts and was approaching on the flood tide, which I estimated would carry me safely over the sand bar in the approach to the anchorage on the south side of the island…


I suddenly grounded heavily with a jarring crash, and ‘Free’ healed over to thirty degrees as she took the ground. I honestly thought she would tip right over and capsize, to be stuck for two weeks until the next Spring tide floated what was left of her wreckage. Suddenly a wave lifted her upright and over the next ten minutes I slowly ground her out of the shallows while continuously pounding on the bottom, enough to make my teeth rattle.

Why was there so little water, where the chart said it would be okay?

When I finally retrieved open water and checked for water ingress (none, thank God), I found the only water that had passed was from me… I haven’t done that since I was a child.

My only chance to reach the anchorage before nightfall would be to wait for high water but by then it would  be too dark and perilous in these waters. So what should I do? My options were twofold…

Either head out to sea and wait near the Elbe estuary for the tide in the morning (perilous due to the many huge ships passing to and from Hamburg and Bremerhaven), or set a new course for the island of Helgoland, which would mean arriving at one in the morning. I knew it was a safe harbour and the only option.

There is nothing more stressful than crossing one of the main shipping lanes in Europe, especially with the threat of a huge leviathan heading down on you in the dark, only a few navigational lights in evidence. After calling up the German Coastguard on my VHF and notifying them of my intentions, I began the mad dash across the lanes, scanning my radar furiously; so as to plot all possible collisions.

Well… after all that you would think that the approach to the Sudhafen marina on the island would be small fry…


After a painstaking approach just after 0100 hours in a maze of flashing lateral buoys, I was greeted with a harbour jam-packed with German yachts of all shapes and sizes, taking advantage of some kind of religious holiday… So there was ‘no room at the inn’. I would have to raft up next to someone in the dark. I pottered around the harbour in an attempt to find the likely suspect, when suddenly there was a loud clunk, and my engine stopped, leaving me dead in the water. At first I thought the propeller had fallen off as a result of the earlier grounding off Langeoog, then suddenly it started up again. I had hit a rock in the bloody harbour!!! There were no hazard warnings and no mention of it on the chart or pilot guides… crazy. Mariners beware!

Eventually some kind people realized I was struggling and came to my aid, helping me alongside some other boats. I was utterly exhausted and totally stressed out, having covered ninety-four single-handed miles, in one of the busiest traffic areas in the world. A kind German man helped me tie up and then offered to complete the job so that I could go and sleep.

Here they are... The wonderful Marco and the German guys who helped me clear the rope of my propeller shaft. Angels everyone!

Here they are… The wonderful Marco and the German guys who helped me clear the rope of my propeller shaft. Angels everyone!

It wasn’t until daylight, that I realised to my horror, that I had a horrid rope wrapped around the prop shaft like a snakes’ wedding. How on earth was I going to get that off without diving under the boat? I tested the water and it was too cold to touch.

That was when Marco turned up (top right). His friend (I never did found out their names but thanks guys… truly) had helped me the previous evening. Marco suggested using a boathook and knife to try and cut the rope from above…

Making a spear after Marco's suggestion to cut the rope from above the waterline.

Making a spear after Marco’s suggestion to cut the rope from above the waterline.

Try as I might, I had to yield to failure; however suddenly Marco came back with a wonderful bunch of guys and they started trying to get the rope off, which included diving under the boat into the freezing water…

The kindness of strangers never ceases to amaze me. All over the world, wherever I have roamed, angels of all genders, shapes and sizes have turned up to help me when I am on the verge of losing everything.

I am truly blessed…

And so, they managed to cut most of it on and that will have to do. That night Marco and two of his friends invited me to their boat for drinks and a snack, refusing to allow me to be on my own. We chatted about seafaring and all manner of things. They had to leave early the following morning back to Bremen and we parted on fine terms. To them, I say: “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Tomorrow I will catch the early ebb tide from Helgoland and sail south until the Elbe buoy where the flood tide should begin, with enough ‘oomph’ to carry me all the way past Cuxhaven to Brunsbuttel, and the beginning of the Kiel Canal.

I don’t really know just how much ‘Free’ was hurt from this ordeal, but there are times when life has to be a challenge and one has to confront real fear. I hope I have the skill and courage to complete my task.

Pray for me.


About Viking Queen

I am a sailor and I live on my boat 'Free'. I have no home but originate from Tyneside. I have no allegiance, just a desire to do no harm and live with courage and an open heart.
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14 Responses to Helgoland and a German ‘Bite’!

  1. Michael Murphy says:

    Dear Poppy,

    you had mentioned Helgoland…as a place you would like to get too, but not easy, perhaps too much, and you ended up there!

    Well done!

    Perhaps you should take advantage of all the other possible duty-free things : Quinoa comes to mind!

    Yours, Mike

    • Viking Queen says:

      Thanks Mike. A little unorthodox perhaps, but the winds of fate do surprise you sometimes! Stay well and happy.

  2. Christine says:

    You can count on my prayers Oh Brave One, with love, Christine x

  3. Marco says:

    On the pic u see my best friend and captain Markus on the top right corner, Dennis ( my mate and the second diver with the suit) left of Markus and on the lower right corner. The 17 years old diver (first try without a suit in 8°C cold water) will be named here by Markus soon. He knows his name because he warmed him up about an hour to stop him from shaking 😉
    PS: It was nice to have u on board. Anytime again and enjoy ur onionrings :-)))

  4. Viking Queen says:

    Thanks Marco! Best wishes to Markus and Dennis. Please ask Dennis to pass on the website address to the other brave diver! I think he will like the photograph. Glad you got back to Bremen okay. Oh… the onion rings are next in line to be eaten!!!

  5. Lynda and tony smith says:

    Hi Poppy, Lovely to hear from you again. Wow, what an adventure that was! You, young lady, never cease to amaze me. You overcome so many obstacles and I have soooooo much admiration for you Poppy. Fear not, you are in my prayers sweetheart. God bless and fair sailing. All our love Lynda and Tony xxx

  6. lulu says:

    One more challenge surmounted by the redoubtable Viking Queen! well done Poppy 🙂 Yous in my prayers, pray for me too, Scamp will be on her way to the heavenly fields later today 😦 I’m a bit of a mess. xxxxx

  7. What a saga,Poppy but again you’ve come through.If you’ve missed my comments it’s due to my laptop incompetence again! Keep the news coming and all calm descend on your journeying now
    as far as possible. You deserve it!
    Still no summer here but hope springs eternal.
    A cousin read your book with much enjoyment when she was here over Easter and asked me to pass on her thanks for her pleasure. It’s on my “next” list as I’ve had so much to catch up on with reading.
    Here’s to you and all blessings,



  8. Viking Queen says:

    So sorry, Lucy… Thinking of you all the time… Bad news… Reached Kiel canal but gearbox is ruined. Stuck waiting for repairs.

  9. Markus says:

    Hi Poppy,
    “Leon” is the first diver and had his 17th birthday on the day Marco and I will see him again in three weeks.
    I’m glad we could help you. Especially after the first impression at night.The truth lay somewhere else again. 🙂
    Good travel further and getting a hand’s breadth of water under the keel.

  10. Viking Queen says:

    Thanks for that Markus and please send my good wishes to Leon. Brave young man! Once again, thanks for everything!

  11. Penelope says:

    Poppy, you never cease to amaze us! You have been in our thoughts constantly since we last saw you. Another adventure with hair raising moments. Try for a quieter life for a week or two.
    Lots of love and thinking of you…….Penny and David xxxx

  12. Pingback: Merseyside’s Viking Heritage! | A Viking Saga: Choose love and live your truth.

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