Josephine’s Cruise to Denmark 1984

Unfortunately the written log of Josephine’s cruise to Denmark in 1984 is lost. If it re-surfaces I will post it here.

The ‘race’ to Skagen

The cruise piggy-backed a race organised by Royal Northumberland YC from Blyth to Skagen in Northern Denmark. Josephine could not enter the race because the rules required a ‘self-draining cockpit’ which Josephine doesn’t have. So, at the appointed hour, Josephine, crewed by David Pearson and Ed Chester, crossed on the wrong side of the start line in Blyth Bay, and for the first six hours of the ‘race’ motored in light airs on the rhumb line for The Skaw. The racing fleet disappeared from our view as they struggled to find a breath of wind. By evening of the first day Josephine’s wind returned, and by morning the next day we were reefed.

As evening fell a sail appeared on the western horizon. It was Tony van Hee’s boat Silver Apple. She slowly overhauled us and it was several hours before she disappeared ahead of us. As the evening progressed the wind increased until, by midnight, we were in a madcap race as the breaking waves rushed up from astern. In the dark we couldn’t see them, but we heard their hissing menace. Steering was difficult. The crew below couldn’t sleep because of the violent motion. As the dawn broke we could see breaking crests all round us. The stern would be lifted by the waves until the bow very nearly slid under water. Then the crest would explode underneath us and as the wave passed the bows would point heaven-ward again. Seconds later the whole procedure would repeat itself.  Scary stuff!

I must confess we came off lightly. We took scarcely half a bucket’s worth over the stern all night. In the morning, as the wind dropped to a mere Force 3, we drank a toast in orange juice and gin to Josephine’s designer, Knud Reimers. He knew what he was up to. As we passed The Skaw reef, I risked going just inshore of the buoy. It was an unwise move because we touched bottom, but no harm done and by mid-afternoon we were tied up in the harbour at Skagen.  From there we headed south through the Kattegat, spending nights successively at the islands of Læsø, Anholt, and Samsø.

The plan was to rendevous with the family at the home of our Danish friends, the Fundings, who lived in Vindeby on the island of Fyn, across the Sound from Svendborg. As we were sailing through the Little Belt another yacht came over towards us. It was the Parnaby family from RNYC. We rafted up together and offered them a cup of coffee. Ed suggested we lace the coffee with a tot of whisky, and in no time the two crews were in the best of humour and there was an empty whisky bottle to take ashore.

We entered the port of Fåborg to buy gifts and also to top up with diesel. We were able to fill the main tank from a hose and then fill our reserve can. From the fueling berth to the pontoon for visiting yachts was a short distance so I didn’t bother stowing the full diesel can until we had tied up. I made a complete muck of stowing the can, and succeeded in tearing out the fuel return pipe to the main tank so that a stream of diesel flowed from it into the bilge. Plainly what I needed was somewhere to put the contents of the reserve can so that I could use it to syphon off the excess contents of the main tank and stop the leak.  I tried offering 5 gallons of red diesel to the British Kiel YC yacht alongside us on the pontoon. The corporal in charge told me he didn’t have the authority to accept gifts of diesel from civilians. So I went down the pontoon to find someone who could. Having donated my excess diesel to another British Kiel YC yacht I was able to sort things out, and we set sail for our destination on a jetty at the end of our friends the Fundings’ garden. 

The Fundings were their usual welcoming selves. Thorkild was able to arrange for me to get Josephine’s main tank mended. I had to drain it, extract it and put in in the back of the car. Later the same day I restored the fuel system and topped up the tank, making sure there was no air in the tube between the tank and the fuel pump on the engine.  My wife, Olivia and the boys, Mark and Graham, with my parents all arrived having crossed from the Tyne to Denmark on the ferry. We had a lovely holiday and even took Josephine sailing on a few days, when the weather was particularly inviting. 

The return voyage

Eventually the day came when we had to leave for England. I was joined by Quentin Mitchell and Donald MacFaul for the return trip. Our first night was spent at the British Kiel Yacht Club , where I was ordered to hand my commissioning pennant, on the ground it was ‘after dark’. We had handed the ensign smartly at the proper time, but a commissioning pennant is personal to the owner, and denotes his presence on board. Still, no point in arguing, so the commissioning pennant came down for the first time on this cruise. BKYC exists to provide adventurous training for service personnel. We found their NAAFI to be well stocked and exceptionally generous. As we were leaving with all our stores stacked on a supermarket trolley, it keeled over, breaking several bottles of beer. The NAAFI replaced them with best wishes for our forthcoming North Sea passage.

In the evening we had a visit from the skipper of the yacht that had received our emergency donation of red diesel. He was keen to give us 5 gallons of Army diesel in return. But I had to refuse because our tank and reserve can were both full. In the morning we found we had been the unwitting recipients of a gift of 5 gallons of diesel in an Army jerrycan. We moved our berth to the entrance of the Kiel canal but it was closed because of fog. When they let us in it was touch and go whether we would make it to the other end in daylight. The canal is 98 kilometres long. We made it to Brunsbüttel just after sunset, but too late to eat ashore.

Next morning we passed through the sea lock and entered the estuary of the mighty river Elbe. Visibility was poor, and everywhere there were ship’s sirens. They were so fast, they were upon us before we could see them. So I ducked out of the main channel and followed the buoys on the ‘wrong’ side. Our aim was the island of Helgoland which we reached in mid-afternoon. We explored the place, which had been devastated by allied bombing during the second World War. In April 1945 969 allied aircraft bombed the island. The population was evacuated to the German mainland the following day.After the war the island, now uninhabited, was used for bombing practice. In 1947 the Royal Navy detonated 6,700 tonnes of explosives, one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. The populace were not able to return until 1952.

The following day we put to sea again, heading for Blyth. The early part of the passage was not easy. We could manage the fog; our problem was the German Navy which had chosen this day for a spot of naval gunnery practice. We knew we were in an area of sea designated for naval gunnery but when the firing started in the fog we didn’t know if we had been selected as a target. Still, all was well. and we left the firing behind. The sea was a peculiar salmon pink colour apparently caused by the blooming of a bacterium.

The following day the fog cleared and the wind fell astern of us. I dug out the sextant and got a quite decent set of sun sights – “sun, run, sun” is the technical term. I rather lost confidence in the final sight. It seemed to place us too far north and not far enough west. However it did place us quite close to a a buoy called ‘NAM19′, so I wasn’t altogether surprised when Quentin announced, “Buoy on the starboard bow”. We had to wait a few minutes to identify it, because its nameplate was on its other side, but sure enough it was ‘NAM19′. That was a huge vote of confidence in my navigation.

On the other hand it wasn’t such good news for the crew. We were too far east and north and we had to make a course alteration. During the night the wind picked up and we had to reef and change down headsails. Don volunteered for this one, but having bagged the headsail he remained rooted to the foredeck in excruciating pain from his back. It didn’t really matter whether it was a slipped disc or a trapped nerve. We had to move him off the foredeck and get him into the warm down below, and we we had to break open the first aid box where there were some powerful painkillers. Don remained hors de combat for the rest of the passage.

The day was overcast with poor visibility and a lot of rain. We held our course, expecting to pick up the coast sometime in the afternoon. We got a brief glimpse of the north York moors, but then nothing. As the afternoon wore the situation became evermore frustrating. There was land to the west, but we couldn’t see it. We debated a course alteration to go and find it, but just as we were making up our minds the blocks of flats at Sunderland emerged briefly from the mist about 3 miles off.

Our course was OK after all and we made our landfall on St Mary’s Island, from where it was a brief crossing of Blyth Bay. On entering the Port of Blyth, I hoisted a Q flag to announce our arrival from a foreign port. We lay alongside HY Tyne while we disembarked Don. He had been confined below in great pain for 18 hours. Quent and I went down to the bar for a pint. We were just relaxing when the Customs turned up demanding to know who was flying a Q flag and why. We owned up. They were very sniffy that Don had been picked up by his wife and gone home. They subjected the boat to a heavy-handed rummage being thoroughly impertinent about the lack of lockers on board.  Eventually Customs left us in peace having found nothing out of the ordinary and our cruise came to an end.