The final ‘Bight’. Romancing the Elbe.

I am writing from Brunsbüttel at the beginning of the Kiel Canal.

To those who are following me, you will presume that I finally crossed the German Bight from Helgoland and sailed up the mighty Elbe. This is true and that is the good news…

Leaving Helgoland in a big uncomfortable swell.

Leaving Helgoland in a big uncomfortable swell.

Nature is full of dichotomy and for me it has been no different, for yet another disaster has occurred, related to the awful grounding in Helgoland harbour.

Firstly I shall recount the former, positive part of the epic, and I don’t use that word lightly!

I sat for hours, meticulously planning my passage so that the tides would aid me all the way up the River Elbe. To reach the estuary from the sea when the Elbe is ebbing (water going out to sea) and the wind behind me, would present very nasty large waves as the wind and tide oppose each other; however, with the tide behind me (the flood) and the wind sympathetic, I should be able to sail the whole river as far as Brunsbüttel without the engine.

A single-hander in action on a big sea.

A single-hander in action on a big sea.

I knew there could be no mistakes, due to the uncertain reliability of my gearbox; the less I used it, the more chance I would have of making the Kiel Canal. This was going to be the most skilful and brave sailing I had ever done and the timing had to be perfect. The facts were simple…

Screw this up and your sailing life is over.

Passing a Cuxhaven trawler in the Elbe Estuary.

Passing a Cuxhaven trawler in the Elbe Estuary.

This time everything went perfectly. Once the tides had changed I was able to shut down the engine and sail. Never has ‘Free’ sailed so well in big seas and I reached speeds of over seven knots in the river due to the big flood tide. What a marvellous feeling to get one’s planning perfect!

Soon Cuxhaven was behind me and the Elbe became more recognisable as a river and less like a vast open expanse of water and sky.

Finally into the Elbe and sailing at seven knots.

Finally into the Elbe and sailing at seven knots.

Eventually I reached the sluis at Brunsbüttel and then my problems began in earnest…

When a boat arrives at the sluis it must use VHF radio for contact and then await instructions. This I did and started the engine in the waiting area until my turn to squeeze in amongst the huge ships also passing through to the Baltic. After a few minutes of easing backwards and forwards to stay still, I could smell that something was amiss. The engine sounded throaty and unusually rough. My heart hammered and the sickening knot of fear began to clutch at my stomach. Not now… please.

A quick examination of the engine room confirmed my fears. Clouds of steam were rising from the stern gland area where the prop shaft goes through the hull. There was oil everywhere around the gearbox and it was obvious that failure was immanent.

It felt like an eternity before I was instructed to make my way into the sluis ahead of a huge Leviathan. The poor old gearbox somehow managed to oblige in a tired, throaty fashion. Finally the locking was over and ‘Free’ chugged out into the canal. I was relieved to be out of the tidal river at last.

“One final attempt, my beloved, please. Just get me into the little harbour two hundred meters away.”

 As in so many times before, my steadfast little ship strained all her heart to finally come alongside and bring me to safety.

Forgive me for sounding a little emotional at this point; it had been a really trying day. The harbour master was lovely and somehow we managed to communicate in a weird fusion of German, Dutch and English! He offered to contact an engineer to visit me the following morning and true to form, Simon arrived at nine on the dot! He confirmed what I already knew, that my gearbox was kaput. Two hours later he returned with a colleague and they had it out of the engine-room and on its way to their workshop. I dread to think how much this is going to cost but if I had been in England there’s no telling how long I would have had to wait for help. The only consolation is that I have probably picked the best country in Europe to have a major technical catastrophe.

Simon and his colleague taking out the poor old gearbox.

Simon and his colleague taking out the poor old gearbox.

Since I arrived here I have been amazed by the immensity of the vessels passing through the sluis. Their size makes one feel so tiny and insignificant.

And right now, that’s exactly how I feel. My limits never seem to surprise me, but I feel truly humbled by the sheer power of the sea and the vulnerability of being out there alone, using every ounce of courage and skill to outwit the brutal elements.

How small am I? Another leviathan passing through the sluis, dwarfing 'Free'.

How small am I? Another leviathan passing through the sluis, dwarfing ‘Free’.

How will I ever be able to live on land again after this?


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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12 Responses to The final ‘Bight’. Romancing the Elbe.

  1. Michael Murphy says:

    Well done, Poppy!

    Another 100 km to the Baltic.

    Yours, Mike

  2. Lynda and tony smith says:

    Oh Poppy, you made it………thank God! You have just sooooooo much nerve and skill darling. Once again I will say ” I am completely in awe of you!” This is woman who was airlifted off a boat in some god-forsaken ocean, very sick. Spent a few months ashore and then she’s back again braving the elements in her lovely, chunky, homely little boat “Free.” Well done you heroic goddess Poppy. Much love Lynda and

  3. Poppy,you’re fantastic,so much courage,imaginative planning,resourcefulness and,boy,don’t you hang on! A terrific saga but now may you find calmer waters and tempo.I know nobody else with your guts! Keep it up.I’m thinking and praying for you. Love as ever, Ruth

  4. Simona says:

    You are such an inspiration, Poppy! You’ll be in my thoughts and prayers tonight.


    Simona x

  5. Viking Queen says:

    Thank you all so much for your support… It is so valuable to know that I am in your thoughts. Bless you all.

  6. Christian says:

    Poor free, she looks so small next to that big ship, but again she got you both there, glad help was at hand and that the gear box will be fixed at not too cost.
    if free was a dog, she would lay down her life for you and would never leave your side but what breed would she be ?

  7. lulu says:

    Ditto all the above comments, you go girl! you and Free, bless her little boaty heart. @ Christian, she’s be a mongrel, the best of all breeds, selected by nature, tough and smart as mama nature is. All the best to you Poppy and sending you positive thoughts xxxxxxxxx Lucy

  8. Michael Murphy says:

    And of course this would be (is) a great story (to publish), Poppy.

    Perhaps with your poems at the end of every “chapter”.

    And photos.

    And maybe this is the Camino, (too).

    Yours, Mike

    Medieval Lund Cathedral is Sweden’s Oldest Church

    I am not what you would call a religious type. At all. In fact, some deem me anti-religious, and there is some truth to that. This fact does not mean that I cannot admire and love gorgeous architecture, or historical significance of ancient churches. The coolest of all of the ancient churches I have visited around the world is, by far, Lunds Domkyrka (or Lund Cathedral) in southern Sweden. Lund is the site of many firsts in Sweden. The oldest and coolest University is here, and still sought after by students world-wide. The Lund Cathedral is another first. It is the first church to have an Archbishop (Ascer) in Sweden. Lund Cathedral was begun to be built in 1080, then in 1123 Archbishop Ascer consecrated the high alter in the lower crypt. Later came Archbishop Eskil who then consecrated the entire church in 1145. It amazes me that this magnificent building is still standing and, indeed, still actively used.

    Lund is in the region we call Skane, which is the southern most region of Sweden. Back in the day, it switched hands between Sweden and Denmark on a regular bloody basis. The Skane Wars are probably the most violent period in the history of Sweden (and Denmark.) Although the two countries get along now, it wasn’t always so, and during this prolonged war numerous churches and castles were destroyed. So yes, it is a bit of a ‘miracle’ that Lund Cathedral survived that era intact. Yes, parts have had to be restored, and parts have been added onto, but there it is, still standing in all it’s glory.

    The architecture of Lund Cathedral is beyond Gothic. It is black stone and kind of hovers there looking like it is awaiting a horde of vampires to descend and lay claim to it. It is the coolest of the cool Medieval buildings. That cool factor does not end outside the structure. Oh no. When you enter the breathtaking cathedral, walk straight back and open that door. Go ahead. Go down those stairs. Yes, it is allowed…

    Down the stairs behind the door you will find the crypts. Oooooh! Ahhhhh! I have found some extremely awe inspiring things on my adventures through Sweden, but these crypts top the lot. We are talking crypts from the Medieval time period. Crypts of knights from days of old; crypts of the bishops, archbishops, and their wives from back in the day; and enormous statues guarding them all (not the least of which is Giant Finn.) They had no taboos about walking on graves back then, so many are set into the floor of this crypt. You would have a hard time not stepping on any of them. The most important people have raised caskets on their pedestals. You can wander and snap photos to your heart’s content down here. Some of the engravings on the tomb stones are well worn, but you can just make out dates and names on quite a few of them.

    Back Up Into The Main Part Of Lund Cathedral Is Where You Can Find The Horologium Mirabel Lundense. This Is An Ancient Time And Date Masterpiece From 1424. It Is Still Accurate Today. It Is Just Breathtaking To Behold. I Sat For Quite Awhile Just Staring At It The First Time I Saw It. The Detail Is Amazing. All The Little Intricate Parts Still Move Around, Keeping Visitors Like Me Mesmerized.

    The current altar itself dates back to 1398, and the carved wood choir stalls from a few years before that. The whole cathedral is just a work of art. Everywhere you look is a piece of history and you are submerged in it the minute you mount the steps to go in.

    As I said, Lund Cathedral is still a very active and important church today. This means that you do not want to visit on a Sunday unless you want to attend services. During the week they offer guided tours at both 11:15 and 14:50 (that’s 2:50pm to you yanks) but you can pretty much visit and guide yourself any time. Do check their website though to make sure there is no prior special event going on, like a wedding or some such.

    Lund Cathedral has a small museum with artifacts dating back to the 12th century with costumes and gadgets and such, as well as a small gift shop where you can pick up brochures, pens, miniatures, etc for very reasonable prices. You can also, of course, leave a donation at many spots within the Lund Cathedral.

    The bottom line is that if you are traveling to Sweden and are like me, the type who loves to get a feel for the history of a place, then you cannot pass up seeing Lund Cathedral. It is as grand as any castle I have ever seen. Entry is free.

    Published by Lori Leidig US citizen living in Sweden; Retired shrink cum criminologist who is now trying to string two coherent words together for various publications. View profile

    • Viking Queen says:

      Thanks Mike… so interesting. Your idea is a great one, of course, but as always one needs a bit of luck from an agent/publisher who believes in you and that, unfortunately means being a celebrity, these days. Folk like me lack connections. However it is praise indeed coming from you, my friend. Take care, and love to Miko.

  9. rollinwithcarro says:

    Dan here. Glad that you find peoplel that kan help,hope you get an excellent result from your struggles.

    • Viking Queen says:

      Hey Danne boy! Thanks for the encouraging words. You know what it’s like… the sea is ruthless and you never stop learning. Hope you are well my fellow Viking!

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