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Wednesday 13th September 2017

At last after waiting what seemed an age since we ordered Spirit the day for picking her up from Haderslev was approaching. The Nicholls family, Jonathan, Carol Ann, Hannah our soon to be 12 year old daughter, and Charlie who had turned 10 a month ago, left Prinsted for Gatwick on Saturday, August 12th to catch a flight to Copenhagen.

Sunday was spent at the Tivoli Gardens which is a fantastic day out for young and old, with rides to thrill and amaze.

Soon though it was time to leave Copenhagen and drive to Haderslev in our very small hire car which only just had enough room for our gear. Monday was spent at Legoland, in Bilund. A fun day for the children and adults with some good rides but also long queues when compared to Tivoli or Disney. A lovely day though, and it was with mounting excitement that we went to bed that night knowing that at last we would see Spirit tomorrow.

We woke on Tuesday August 15th and made our way to the X Yachts yard to find Julien waiting for us.

Spirit was on the pontoon looking absolutely superb and on we climbed to find a bottle of champagne and a beautiful bunch of flowers in the saloon. The children quickly found their cabins complete with pilot berths and explored the rest of the inside. She looks really lovely and we were very pleased with our choice of wood and fabric for the furnishings.

Down to work and Julien fetched our two pallets from the warehouse and the loading began whilst Julien finished off putting the names on her bow and another two X yacht employees fitted the Echomax to the mast.

After two hours we were nearly done and time for lunch which was a delicious roll from the local bakery.

The rest of the afternoon was spent going through all of the technical details of Spirit, from bow to stern, inside and out. Julien was really excellent and very knowledgeable and no question was too much trouble. By the time we had finished it was time to relax before going out to dinner with Julien at an excellent Italian restaurant in Haderslev.

Wednesday dawned sunny with a light breeze and time for our first sail. Getting out of the box was very tight but soon we were motoring out to the Baltic. The channel is reasonably well marked, but it shoals very quickly at the edges.

Once out into the Baltic it was time to put up the sails. The furling boom worked well and soon we were sailing in a very light breeze and when clear of the ferry time to put up the gennaker as well.

A successful sail and once back at the yard, Julien said goodbye with a small list of snagging jobs which were attended to with the efficient yard team on Thursday.

The journey home begins

We slipped our box berth on a grey Friday morning and motored out of the fjord.

As we turned south east we found the wind, what little there was,  was bang on the nose – typical, and as the day was grey and uninspiring decided to motor until we got nearer to the mouth of Als Ford, when we raised the sails in 12-15 knots of wind and had a brilliant beat all the way up to the lifting bridge in Sonderborg. Spirit’s speed was intoxicating and short tacking was made easier with our electric winches enabling all the family to be involved. Huge smiles as we appreciated Spirit’s performance! We waited 15 minutes for the bridge to open and once through entered the marina to try to find a berth.

Needless to say the box berths were very narrow and a cross wind was not helping either! At the second attempt we squeezed into a berth and so ended our first passage on Spirit. Note to skipper- do not set fenders outside but have them ready to deploy if necessary and use roving fenders as the box berths are very narrow and the fenders get in the way.


Sonderborg to Kiel

After two nights in Sonderborg it was time to leave and head for Kiel. Saturday had been windy and Sunday was windier as we started to warp Spirit out of her box berth using the windward yacht with a 15 knot crosswind. A kind Danish skipper came to help and we exited the box without too much drama but with a hope that German marinas would have pontoons!

Once out of the marina we set a reefed main and full jib and close reached down to a marked shallows called Middle-Grund, leaving most of it to port but still having 4.7m under us as we passed over the corner. The sky was very threatening and inevitably we got wet as the rain arrived.

We close reached past Schleimunde at 8.5 knots. As the wind dropped to 12-13 knots and the sky had become less black, after 30 minutes we took out most of the reef in the main.  As soon as I got back to the helm, up the wind went to 17+ knots! We stormed along at around 9 knots until I accepted the inevitable and reefed again.

I had the radar on a split screen to get used to the images prior to our night sailing at the end of the week, which was useful as there was plenty of traffic to focus on.

Soon the Laboe tower was visible on the horizon and the wind was now consistently above 20 knots as we fetched the last leg into       Strander Bucht.Torrential rain greeted us as we approached Laboe but it stopped as we went to furl sails and motor into Laboe marina. A berth, with pontoons, was found and we paid in the office where we were greeted by two very helpful gents who answered all our questions about the canal and the U boat museum.

A lovely marina with luxury showers and a smart Italian restaurant. Highly recommended!

Total distance so far : 77nm

The Kiel Canal

We left Laboe marina at 7.45am Tuesday morning after a couple of nights and our stay included a visit to the U Boat museum and Naval memorial at Laboe – well worth a detour.

We approached the canal entrance to find one other yacht waiting for our flashing light entry signal – which eventually happened at 9.30 and we entered and tied up to starboard.

The transit through the lock is free at present. Once a few other yachts were in, the lock gates shut and before we knew it the forward gates opened and we were in the canal. 96km to go to the exit.

The canal is very scenic and every hour or so, three large ships would appear from the opposite direction and pass to port.

We had an issue with the inverter/battery charger through the canal and we were requested by X Yachts to stop at the marina in Brunsbuttel to await support from Haderslev the next morning. This was a bit frustrating as we had hoped to reach Cuxhaven that evening. As it transpired I was able to fix the issue with telephone support from Haderslev but not until after we had lost the opportunity to get to Cuxhaven.

The marina at the the end of the canal is very small and noisy and the water is  filthy so not the best place to stay for a night. The ships pass right next to the pontoons and throb and rattle all night long.

The next morning, Wednesday, we set off at 6.45am for the smaller set of locks to exit the Canal which we did without drama.

We caught the ebb down the River Elbe heading for Cuxhaven, following the channel markers, but outside the channel as the river is continuously under radar control by the German authorities. The ebb flows with real speed so do not attempt to go against it!

We entered Cuxhaven marina at 9.30, found a berth but had to move as we had not spotted that berths were ranked according to boat size.  After sorting that though, we had a relaxing day in fine weather.

Cuxhaven to Brighton

Thursday was time for Carol Ann, Hannah and Charlie to fly back from Hamburg, having got the train from Cuxhaven, and I was joined by Ed and Arthur who had flown out to join me for the sail to Brighton.

They arrived at 8pm and by 8.25pm we were motoring out of the marina to catch the last two hours of the ebb as dusk descended and the wind blew at 15-20 knots on the nose. A tough start with wind against tide and the yacht lurching and crashing through the short chop. Eventually we were able to turn the corner at the exit to the Elbe and start the long beat across the top of Germany. The tide was against us and it was hard graft making real progress despite the strong winds and Spirit’s impressive boat speed upwind but progress came. Shipping is frequent and it was key to stay at least a mile south of the TSS to avoid a significant fine from the authorities. Not an issue as were tacking to stay out of the worst of the tide. A busy night with all three of us on deck for most of the time tacking along the north German coast, avoiding shipping, wind farms and shallows.

Dawn broke and we were still beating but the wind was dropping, eventually forcing us to use the motor from 2pm off Borkum.I decided to have a rest in the saloon but soon realised that the bilge pump was working often. After lifting some of the floor we eventually found the source of the leak was the anti syphon valve. Arthur worked out a way to stop the water leaking and after an hour we were on our way again. We motor sailed for the rest of the day but at 7.30pm a 10-12 knot SE breeze filled in. My watch was at 1am and I had a magical two hour sail down the Dutch coast from Texel and averaging over 7 knots with effortless ease. Spirit was just flying under a starlit sky!

Dawn on Saturday and we were opposite Ijmuiden, the entrance for ships aiming to get to Amsterdam. No rules for contacting anyone to cross the shipping lane but plenty of ships to avoid.

The wind dropped again and we had to motor until the afternoon, passing Rotterdam after receiving clearance from Mass Control to cross the shipping lanes. Again a continuous stream of ships in both directions. In the afternoon a little wind filled in but it was fitful.

In the time we had the wind, Spirit refused to slow down and often was sailing faster than the true wind with jib and main up. She is a stunning performer. The North sails are beautifully cut and Spirit’s hull is super slippery.

Sadly the engine was on again at 7.30pm on Saturday evening as we passed wind farms and ships at anchor off Antwerp.

The night was glassy calm but ships were everywhere. Anchored and then not – moving in seemingly random directions but always they knew we were there due to our AIS which was some comfort. There was one ship that moved off anchor and seemed to be tracking us but in fact he was waiting until he could pass behind us and cross other anchored ships and turn back on up the northbound TSS. Scary in the dark as he loomed up behind us! Sunday, still dark, we were close to Calais and trying to spot a suitable gap to cross the first TSS northbound. This we did but ships crossed both in front and behind seemingly close by on the AIS but in fact far enough away to be safe.

The Channel is so busy that even though I am used to sailing in the Solent,that seems a breeze by comparison!

The tide had pushed us north of Dover whilst crossing the TSS so as soon as we were out of the zone we turned to port and headed for Dungeness, at one stage sandwiched between two oncoming cross channel ferries.

The sea was totally flat with zero wind and still the case as we passed Dungeness

Eventually at 12.30 after 17 hours of motoring there was enough breeze at last to sail with the gennaker up off Bexhill. For an hour we made good sailing progress on a beautiful day – almost perfect but for a few extra knots of breeze.

The wind shifted more SW and we were unable to clear Beachy Head so down came the gennaker at which point the wind died again – engine on and head for Brighton. At this stage something that had been nagging me since the early hours of the morning came into focus as I realised that Spirit had lost some of her blistering speed both under sail and motor. There was a new vibration so we thought we had something round the prop. Despite stopping and putting the engine into reverse it was clear that whatever it was would be with us to Brighton. Finally after two hours short of three days, 6.25pm Sunday evening, we tied up at the pontoon in Brighton Marina, 461nm from Cuxhaven.

Arthur and Ed left to catch a train back to Emsworth leaving me to catch up on some sleep and tidy the boat in anticipation of Carol Ann, Hannah and Charlie rejoining Spirit in the morning.

Monday dawned hot and sunny so I took a Spirit out of the marina, anchored off the beach and swam with a mask to see if anything was on the prop. Sure enough, a reasonably large amount of blue fishing net was wrapped around the sail drive. The rope cutter had done enough to keep the prop working but a lift would be needed once back at Gosport to clear the problem.

The day before, we had struggled to put the furled gennaker away in its bag. In the afternoon, with Hannah and Charlie’s help, we unfurled and refurled the gennaker as it seems you need to have very little tension on the sheets during furling to enable the gennaker to be folded into the bag. For top down furlers you need enough slack to enable the balls on the furling line to flex. North are looking at how to get the furled gennaker more flexible with the furling system manufacturers.  Early days but this method of furling seems a vast improvement on other furlers that I have used, and in my view,  easier than a sock. We are yet to try it in stronger winds but am optimistic that it will be easier to put away.

Tuesday was devoid of wind so we decided to spend an extra day in Brighton. We motored out of the marina and anchored and spent an hour removing the fishing net using a boat hook with me swimming in a wetsuit and a mask. Good to get it done and have Spirit’s performance restored.Wednesday was grey, wet and windy. We left the marina at 9am with 17 knots of NNW wind so it was a close reach to Selsey and then a beat up the Solent to Portsmouth.

Tide was against us, pushing between 0.5. and 2 knots through the passage.  Once in the Solent the wind speed dropped slowly. Soon though, Portsmouth’s Spinnaker Tower was visible and familiar landmarks were passed.

At 15.40 we were moored up in Gosport marina. 50nm from Brighton in 6 hrs 40 mins – not bad against the tide.

Total distance from Haderslev was 667nm.