Eastern Frieslands. Departing Telfzijl, last port of call in Holland, and then north to the German Bight & Eastern Frieslands. Although the weather was “calm,” 2-3m waves and 20 knot winds moved against us, enough to ring the cabin bell.
Nearing Nordernay from the north – Germany’s oldest spa – the waves crash over shallow sandbars. All of the Ostfriesland (Oostfreesland) is shallow and shifting, depths of only 1 meter for 10km off the shore, then trenched 20 meter deepwater channels just beyond the beach.
“What do East Frieslanders do when the tide goes out?”
“They sell land to the Austrians.”
Coming south by a yellow buoy, the boat froze. I watched sonar maps gradually declining. 5 meters under the keel. 4. 3. 2. At one meter, everything sludged. Now we were surfing on the incoming waves, and while I was sure we had grounded, Andre said no.
A rooted boat is no place to be when the wind shifts and the waves are rolling on you. We took 4 or 5 hits direct in the stern. The dinghy launched into the air and crashed down on its metal support arms. One of them bent, and all the ropes snapped. A single line held it in place. Water coated the wheelhouse. The stern cracked and spiderwebbed when the support broke and the dinghy slammed against it.
Thrown into reverse, spun about, two waves into the side and we lolled far enough I thought we’d roll. Andre spun the wheel, expertly managed the throttle, and now we tipped and bowed and ride straight into the rush, churning a rickety path out, out to sea.
So we took the long way round a dredged channel, confidence shaken. Half a click from the northern beach, 17m of swift blue beneath us screamed.
My hands were still shaking when standing in the checkout line, just behind two German women dressed as Amish, inspecting their cherry tomatoes and smiling.
Laboe. 15 km north of Kiel. Soft, windy and rainy passage over the isles and past Cuxhaven, where merchant sailors can wait for weeks for the wind. Glassy and misty horizons for us, a ten hour tidal current sweeping us into the Elbe. A swift wake from a container ship to Boston proved the greatest challenge along the route.
Early to bed and rising with the foghorn on a Jamaican tanker, still thinking about the cute police officer who inspected our passports. She had elvish eyes and Irish hair, and her doughy partner wanted to know everything about Trump.
Kaiser Wilhelm read Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660 – 1783 and dug a pristine canal. Lined with simple spruce, a long pathway, immensely tall bridges flying far overhead, some cows, many ferries.
Curled into Laboe by 5pm. Luckly with locks, that day, even the floating pontoons and uncrowded by vacationers. A catamaran from Las Vegas nearly rammed us when their thrusters broke, so only Americans threatened our journey.
“Laboe” is from an earlier language (probably Indo-European), meaning “swan.”
The marina, the entire fjord, is dominated by sailboats. On the brink of the Baltic.
Murders of crows (by family unit?) caw at one another on a narrow strip of muscle-shelled sandy beach, past shallows that stretch for miles, clear and briny water, sharp, distinct, smooth. Seaweed shreds and busy insects are the battleground. Some swans, the ducks, sparrows, bats, screaming gulls and the noisy crows. None are louder.
By the haven the food trucks assemble, and Saturday shore strollers, cyclists, naked babies & half-naked everythings. They walk until you can barely seem them, still standing in the sea, shouting distance of the cruise liners to Oslo and Stockholm. Tourists wave at them from 6 storeys in the air. A Maersk might crush their heads, the way the gulls drop their mussels onto the pier.
A wedding party passes the smokers, the fat and burned burghers, the nervous boys holding hands with the girls in bikinis, the shifting youth packs, the watchful parents and plastic buckets, the U-boat visitors, the ice cream eaters, the wicker bound, the paddleballers, incongruous loafers shuffle soft swooshes and barely lapping water over miniature stones. A corset, a sash, a headdress, a cigarette, a camera.