Hamburg at last

Having dropped the Admiral at the Edinburgh airport, it was back to sailing.  A crossing of the North Sea to Helgoland was next and I had just the right crew to accompany me for the 450 miles.  Wolfgang and Rainer are both decade long boat owners with lots of offshore experience, including a heavy weather race across the North Sea from Helgoland.  And then there was Jan, an enthusiastic sailor and Mercedes electrical engineer who is a remote relative of mine.   


Our initial problem was the KLM had lost both Wolfgang‘s and Rainer‘s luggage.  But that was soon sorted with the many pieces of excess clothing I have on board.  Only one of us could go to the foredeck in the rain though, as we had only one pair of sea boots.  That never was an issue though as we never went to the foredeck in the rain. 


Although heavy weather was forecast for the crossing, there was little wind initially so we decided to anchor for the night off a beach half way down the Firth of Forth to Peterhead, in a place called Cullen Bay.  A minkie whale entertained us for a while as it was circling the boat in the anchorage. 

Poling out the genoa; Code Zero was set to leeward next


Minkie whale in Cullen Bay


The German ICON weather model had it right, again:  we would have a quiet night and sporty conditions from late morning.  No sooner was the anchor up were we going 8-9 knots in a fresh Westerly.  The crew soon appreciated the benefits of the bubble in the driving rain of a 30 knot squall.  ICON had also forecast that it was going to be preferable to wait a day or two for the North Sea crossing so we put into Peterhead in the afternoon.  


The Peterhead marina is a bit tricky as only one dock has enough depth for Kincsem.  Initially, the harbor master did not want to let us dock as  there was only 15 meters or so of room between the dock and the rocks and the strong wind would be pushing us toward the rocks.   But with a bow thruster such as Kincsem’s, there was really no problem and all went well. 

Arrived at Peterhead


Peterhead has not much to recommend itself.  It is a busy industrial harbor devoted to supplying the many oil rigs in the North Sea.   We had our last fish and chips in one of the few restaurants open on a Sunday.  The thick crust of batter on the fish was somehow not as tasty as in Edinburgh.  Russian was heard on a neighboring table occupied by a few roughnecks – we heard the word „Ukraine“ several times.  We decided to wait yet another day as the UK Met Office still forecast force 8-9 (34-45 knots) and 5 meter waves but we cooked on board. 


Last fish and chips with soggy peas and ketchup for a while - hopefully! 


When we finally left the next day, our routing said we should hurry – we would run out of wind for the last 50 miles.  Well, hurry we did as the breeze was strong and favorable in direction.  So it was a great surprise that the ICON gribs I downloaded 24 hours after departure showed an intense low crossing our path from the Netherlands, with winds over 45 knots and gusts to 72 knots – hurricane force!!   The Expedition routing software showed us reaching Helgoland just an hour or two before things got too windy but it also had us go upwind for the last 50 miles with several tacks on windshifts.    The European model, ECMWF, showed somewhat less wind but I can not download the gust data for that model so we did not really know how much wind it was forecasting in the gusts.    The alternative to making a run for Helgoland was waiting for the low to pass in front of us, avoiding its strong winds.  After some waffling by the skipper, we decided to do just that.

Storm Poly from the satellite

Kincsem „heaves to“ beautifully:  the staysail backed to windward and the reefed mizzen pulled to windward had us drifting sideways at a very slow speed with no forward motion through the water.  Heaving to creates a trail of turbulent water to windward which causes waves that are inclined to break to break before they reach the boat.  The result is that the boat lies quite calmly, bobbing up and down the waves.  We were surrounded by several wind parks and oil production platforms so we had to choose our spot carefully – but all went well. 


Initially, there was no wind but in the morning, things picked up to 20 and then 30-35 knots.  When the sun came out mid-day, we needed to decide when to get going again.  The grib files we downloaded that morning, however, had more surprises in store for us.  Rather than passing between us and Helgoland as originally forecast, the low – unbeknownst to us, by now named „Poly“ – had decided to go straight over us, with two strong wind fields surrounding us.  One, to the Southeast of us would miss us, but the second, to the Northwest of us, would hit us whatever we did – we could wait for it heaved to or we could sail to Helgoland.  Either way, we would have a few hours of 35 to 45 knots under both the ICON and the ECWMF model.  We decided to sail to Helgoland as the winds were forecast to be from behind.   It was hard to believe we would see those strong winds when we hoisted full sails in the brilliant sunshine after a short motor.  But an impressive bank of clouds soon appeared on the Western horizon and soon we were down to the staysail only with 35-40 knots of wind and heavy rains.   But the autopilot was steering in wind mode and tasty food was served from the galley.  The bubble was shaking a bit but kept the driving rain out.  And the gribs forecast that the wind would drop to more manageable levels after a few hours and it soon did.   So bottom line:  all was good.   Our worst problem that we would arrive in Helgoland in the dark - so we did not hoist more sails as the winds decreased rapidly to the high teens overnight.  Kincsem was still moving at 4-5 knots and life on board was comfortable.   

Jan has made a fabulous little video of our sail across the North Sea including some gnarly stuff, which unfortunately can’t upload to this blog.  Maybe later …

I‘ve never before stopped at Helgoland, a strange island in the Germany Bight.  It has an „upper land“ and a „lower land“ and in the Second World War, it was a base for German U boats.  The British tried after the war to blow up the entire island to prevent military use in the future but were unsuccessful.  Helgoland‘s reason for existence now seems to be that you can buy booze free of VAT.  So there are booze cruises from the mainland every day and there are liquor stores galore.  Wolfgang and Rainer instead bought undergarments, as supplies of my gear were beginning to run short!   We stayed just long enough to fill up on diesel, also free of VAT!

Approaching Helgoland


Arrival drinks at 8 am!

One of many service boats for the many windmills just North of Helgoland; they are made from aluminum and make a deafening noise with their bow thrusters while docking

Stairs to the Upper Land; beach island in the background

Lange Anna rock in the North of the island

When we left the next day for Cuxhaven, a light breeze pushed us along nicely and the currents were with us.  One highlight was my friend Klaus who appeared literally out of the sky flying over Kincsem a few times in his two seater airplane.

Kincsem approaching Cuxhaven

Steps on the new dike in Cuxhaven, showing the height of the various storm floods in recent memory

After a night in Cuxhaven‘s nice marina and a morning of sightseeing, we headed up the river Elbe with the flood the next afternoon.   It being Saturday, there were few commercial ships but we still were met by two massive cruise ships and few medium size freighters.   It is some 60 miles from Cuxhaven to Hamburg and it is understandable that not too many foreign sailors make this journey.  Initially, the Elbe is wide with the shores occupied by massive wind parks and industrial facilities.  But the last 15 miles or so were definitely worth the effort for us.  From the massive facilities of Airbus to the gigantic container docks and many beautiful buildings and little villages to see, this was a bucket list item for me and the rest of the crew.    We docked at the City Sporthafen right underneath the Hamburg Opera House, the Elfie, and right next to a decommissioned lightship that is now a restaurant.

The Elfie from the deck of Kincsem


City Sporthafen Hamburg


  1. What a marvellous report of a remarkable North-Sea crossing. As crew-member of Kincsem on the sail, there are a couple of things I am going to take home from this trip: a) The extensive detail of preparation that went into the organisation, thanks to Joerg b) The skipper's prudent consideration of all possible weather developments and the following fine-tuning of course and timing c) The high standard of seamanship on Kincsem d) Kincsem's stability in heavy seas, her speed and the layout of the boat. Just exceptional. e) Not to forget the outstanding cuisine…. And last but not least, the crew's team spirit. During the sail there was no shouting, no hard words, no disagreement or any sort of displeasure. Chores were taken up without someone having to hint at what needed doing and manoeuvres were planned and discussed beforehand. Within minutes after getting on board, the crew-members became a competent crew – a closely knit team. Happens not always.. A great boat and a true blue water sailor as skipper. Can't best it… Rainer P.S. …and a last word to Joerg, Jan and Wolfgang: Many thanks for an unforgettable experience. Made a real change from weathering a force 10 gale in the North-Sea on a regatta boat…

  2. Your family here together in Jackson Hole, Wyoming: Nicki, Erika, Daniel, Marla, Sophie, Lucas, Corinna, Lawrence, Martin, Gabriela and Connor, enjoy the mountains and Jackson Lake on our pontoon boat. I read your wonderful, fascinating, exciting story about your eventful crossing of the North Sea to Hamburg. I follow your cruise blog as soon as it appears. Thank you for making us a part of your adventure. Erika

  3. Fantastic read. Some exciting weather glad to hear the journey is going well Thanks for sharing.

  4. Vielen Dank für den wie immer spannenden Bericht, lieber Jörg. Gottlob war ich bei Eurer Nordsee-Überquerung nicht dabei - abgesehen davon, dass Du mich Greenhorn auf diesem Tripp gar nicht erst mitgenommen hättest 🤣. Liebe Grüße, auch an die GroßFamilie in Jackson Hole, Alexander

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