This year’s journey features Noel McGuigan, Skipper, owner of ‘Roaring Meg’ and voyage director; Sharon Rees-Thomas, second officer, head chef and general deckhand when negotiating locks; and Graham Reiher, Chief Engineer, First Mate and Quartermaster.
We begin in Germany and will make our way through the inland waterways to France. Our basic route is Peenemunde – Lubeck – Laurenburg – Hamburg -Hannover – Duisburg – Koln (Cologne) – Bonn- Koblenz (Moselle River) – Trier – Nancy via the Canal des Vosges and Saone River – Dijon – Lyon – Avignon -Marseille.
Graham left New Zealand for Germany on 14 May 2015 to check out the area around Schwerin/Mecklenburg where his family originally came from. Around 1790 the family moved to Denmark and so the trail was somewhat cold however Graham was able to get a feel for the area. Graham was first to sight Meg after a cold winter on the hard only 20 km from the Polish border. I was advised by Kroslin Marina not to shrink wrap Meg in plastic because they had had a problem in the past with boats ‘sweating’ under the plastic wrap causing mould to form. Well the marina staff covered her with a large tarpaulin which would have helped to keep off the snow and ice but she still sweated. There was no permanent damage but everything had to be washed or wiped down with a bleach solution. He also discovered several 9 month old eggs which he claimed were past their best! I said that the Chinese really valued ancient eggs and that perhaps we should keep them longer. Graham started on the maintenance programme. Everything was entered on ‘the list’. He had brought a small 30 amp alternator from New Zealand to fit to the motor as a dedicated engine battery charger. This alternator would be in addition to the 120amp alternator that feeds the house batteries via a smart charger. We were aware that the smart charger would sense that the engine battery(90amps) was full and then only trickle charge the house batteries (4x 120 amps)that were screaming for power! All systems need to be function tested and because of the harsh winter we had drained everything that had either salt or fresh water in it. I had allowed 5 days to prepare the yacht for the voyage. Three of the major tasks were to:
- Build a cradle for the mast as we were intending to carry the mast on board at a height that would pass under the bridges – minimum height 3.5 metres.
- Build a strong crate to store all sails and excess equipment that could be handled with a forklift.
- Sand and anti-foul the hull and propeller plus polish the topsides.
I landed in Frankfurt on 28 May and immediately went to baggage claim. One bag of bolts was missing. A friend, Dean Lamb, had welded up a number of steel fittings to enable us to build the cradle for the mast. Of course this could have been done in Germany but by the time one finds a general engineering shop that has the right gauge of steel in stock and time available to fabricate the fittings one week would have passed and time was of the essence. Small problem, the fittings weighed more than 25kgs and baggage allowance was 30 Kgs!! Emirates no longer have a sporting allowance for baggage and excess luggage can be bought at NZD 90 per kilo – ouch! I put two bags of bolts and turnbuckles into my hand luggage and was challenged at the first security check in New Zealand. Where does it say you cannot fly with a bag of bolts? Perhaps they regarded me as a hijack risk! Can you imagine threatening the pilot with a bag of bolts. Anyway Sydney was next and after a heated discussion with security at Kingsford Smith airport they allowed me to take one bag aboard but took the other saying that I could uplift it from ground staff at final destination. I never saw the bolts again! I took the train from Frankfurt to Berlin and because it was too late to make a connection to Wolgast, the nearest town to Kroslin Marina, I overnighted in Berlin. Fifty hours after leaving home I had reached my yacht ‘Roaring Meg’.
There was Graham quietly working away on the propellor. He greeted me with the old Kiwi favourite, “Gidday Mate!” I had not seen Graham since we left Meg almost a year ago. It was great to be embarking on another adventure together. This year’s itinerary takes us from the very north of Germany to the south of France via the waterways. I pulled the steel fittings out of the bag and the timber I had ordered was already on site next to the yacht. Graham went to work on the cradle with a hammer, saw and chisel and I changed into paper coveralls, gloves and mask and began sanding the hull as preparation for anti fouling. Graham had already secured the anti fouling from the yacht yard. By 2100hrs the hull was anti-fouled and the cradle was half constructed and we were two tired puppies.
We slept aboard Meg who was sitting in a steel cradle on the hard next to the harbourmaster’s office. The marina staff were very friendly and helpful. Harbourmaster Andy Herzog and his second-in-charge Enrico are both experts with the crane and travel lift. The chandlery was 20 metres from the yacht and they had everything we needed including enough all thread to cut as a substitute for the “stolen” bolts.
On the Sunday Graham finished the cradle and we wrapped the mast with plastic film after removing the radar unit. The mast measured 16 metres and the yacht 12.5 metres so there would be overhang most of which we intended to place at the stern. We secured the film with duct tape otherwise known in NZ as ‘hundred mile an hour tape’ as you can fix things ‘on the run’. Julia at the yacht chandlery said Germans refer to the same tape as ‘Panzer tape’! We also placed reflective tape on the mast ends as a night marker.
On Monday 1 June at 0800hrs Andy slung the mast aboard Meg and with millimetres to spare we slid the mast into the cradle and we were well pleased with our work. We knew that our voyage would begin in the open Baltic Sea as we would need to round Rugen Island before setting a course for Lubeck. The mast had to be very secure and the cradle strong.
The next task was to build a crate to store the excess gear such as the sails and ropes etc that would not be needed on the waterways. We spotted a crate full of firewood outside the restaurant where we had eaten the night before. If we could talk the owner into releasing it it would make an excellent frame for our crate. It was already mounted on a pallet and on the side it said ‘Product of Latvia’. The next day Andy agreed to give us the crate. We took a taxi to Wolgast (8km) and bought 3 sheets of plywood and 150 wood screws. The timber merchant cut the sheets to size and we were in business.
We carefully considered what to place in the crate hoping that we would not regret our choices. Remember the definition of junk – the thing you threw out one day before you needed it!! The crate was tagged with my name, the name of the yacht and all contact details as one day it will be shipped probably to France or Spain when we next step the mast. Without the mast we had no masthead light, no radar and no VHF aerial. These items were stripped off the mast and temporarily mounted on the stern arch and the cradle amidships.
On Thursday 4 June at 1500hrs after fuelling up and fare welling the marina staff we finally cast off the lines and turned ‘Meg’ once again for the open sea. It was blowing a gale(Force 7) and the sea was very lumpy. The Chanel out to the open sea was quite narrow with shoal water either side which was strewn with rocks. Our initial course took us north more than 20Nm before we could set a course for Travemunde almost in the opposite direction.
We arrived in Travemunde 29 hours later and moored along the river front after finding a berth long enough to take the mast. In the mouth of the river lies an old square rigger called the ‘Passat’. She was built by Blohm & Voss in Hamburg in 1911 and was one of the last really fast square rigged freighters to sail around the Horn.
She was a sister ship to the ‘Pamir’ who was awarded to New Zealand as a war prize after WW2. Unfortunately the Pamir was hit by a hurricane in the North Atlantic in 1957 and foundered. I had made contact with Dr. Eberhard Lassen who had visited us in Akaroa. Eberhard is a sailor who lives in Lubeck and had recommended the marina at Kroslin as an ideal place for winter storage for Roaring Meg. We made arrangements to meet in Lubeck, a famous Hanseatic city 15 Km up river from Travemunde. He and his friend Michael are both senior members of the Lubeck Sailing Club. We enjoyed a very nice lunch on a perfect summers day on the river at Lubeck. We would have liked to stay longer and explore the city but Hamburg and the folding bikes was calling. We set off down the Elbe – Lubeck Kanal and managed 5 locks before nightfall. There are mooring places on each side of the locks and we were removed from tidal influence and slept easy. Our locking skills were improving! We still had the two planks of wood (200cm x 20cm x 5cm) from Scotland which we hang over the side to protect the hull and fenders from scrubbing on the walls of the locks as they rise and fall with the yacht. Along the banks were lots of ducks and geese and we even saw a doe and two fawns emerging from the forest plus lots of people fishing. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that there are no fees for using the German waterways or the locks! The only requirement is that you must have a ‘Sportsbootfuhrerschein’ – a licence to operate a pleasure craft. Graham and I both hold Ocean Yacht Master Certificates for New Zealand and the United Kingdom (RYA) but that does not give us the right to operate in the European Waterways. A separate set of regulations apply inland and so we each completed the French CEVNI exam and obtained an International Certificate of Competence which is accepted in most European countries. We had an easy run to Laurenburg the next morning with only two locks to negotiate. Our fuel was low but we spotted a diesel pump in the marina and edged our way in paying careful attention to the depth sounder. The marina was set up like a holiday camp with deck chairs and sand that had obviously been trucked in and the weather was hot. The fresh coffee was a treat while we waited for service at the pump. We were asked at least 3 times exactly how much diesel was required to make sure that the tank would not overflow. Germany is very strict on any oil spills and the fines are heavy.