A 5am start by taxi from London in July saw us on our way to Stanstead airport to catch the low-cost German Wings flight to Hanover on our way to Kiel, the start of our adventure.
Stanstead is one of four London airports; the others are Luton, Gatwick and the huge five-terminal Heathrow. The really cheap flights do not use Heathrow! There is also a small airport right in the heart of London near the Canary Wharf financial centre — LondonCity airport.
We were on our way first to Hanover in Germany, taking the opportunity to visit a friend who lives there and whom we haven’t seen for many years. From there we were to catch a train to Kiel where our sailing ship, the Flying Dutchman awaits us.
After a dubious start, the low-cost German Wings flight was quite OK. The problem was, someone had ‘barfted’ in our allocated seats, but the attendant quickly found new seats for us. At a flight cost 47 Euros for a one hour flight we were not complaining!
These paths are duplicated on the other side!
It is hard not to be impressed with the Hanover area, especially from a cycling point of view. The road reserves are wide, and the major roads have wide pedestrian and cycle paths on both sides. These paths are continuous over the many bridges that span the canals that are common in the area. In fact, the combined width of the cycle and pedestrian paths often far exceed the width devoted to cars. What a civilised place! There are extensive woods and parks that are criss-crossed with cycle and walking paths. Of course bikes are everywhere and are used for getting to the tram stop, the shops, work or school. In fact our friend and host in Hanover has the choice of cycling the 8km to the city centre either along a wide tow-path on the side of a canal or through an extensive wood that encircles the city. Oh to have such choices!
Kiel is in Germany. The islands are Danish.
Then the two hour train trip north to Kiel where the massive Kiel Canal commences. This huge canal allows shipping in the Baltic to get to the North Sea and the Atlantic. This is a massive engineering work, over 100m wide 12m deep and 100km long. It is the busiest artificial waterway in the world, or so the sign says!
Our ship is the second one
A converted fishing boat from the 1930’s
Our sailing ship, the Flying Dutchman, was berthed just a short distance from the entrance, so we had a great view of the heavy shipping activity entering and leaving in the afternoon and the evening we were berthed there. Being quite northerly, the evenings are very long, still being able to see about at 11pm. Quite hard to get used to for us mid-latitude dwellers!. We sail the next morning, weather quite overcast and threatening.
The Flying Dutchman is a 40 metre long two-masted schooner-like vessel with two gaff rigged mainsails, four jib-like fore sails and two across-wise square sails set on top of the fore-mast. I asked the skipper if the square sails were very useful. He replied they are the most powerful sails on the boat, he said they seemed small from down on the deck but in fact they are huge and act like two massive spinnakers.
So we set sail for our first island, the island of Aerø in Denmark. Ø is the Danish word for ‘island’ and Aer means ‘palm’. So it is ‘PalmIsland’. Did not see any palms!
The official crew of the ship are the skipper Klaus and two young women Anica and Marielle, all from Holland. So to set the numerous sails of this rather cumbersome tall ship require the active help of the guests. Luckily there were plenty of volunteers, especially two young lads Marc and Max who were ‘conned’ into going way out on the bowsprit to help in the raising of the three foresails. No one expected me to help in that way at least, one of the few ‘senior’ advantages!
So we had a bracing six-hour morning of just sailing in this rather large vessel. Quite an experience especially as the weather turned rather nasty for a couple of hours and we had quite a bit of water sloshing across the deck at times. Some of the guests were sick.
We berthed at the town of Marstal on the island and set out for a ride without delay. Unfortunately there was a stiff headwind which took some of the shine off the ride; but returning was great! The island is very eco conscious or ‘green’ and there are numerous fields of solar panels and many wind turbines. The aim is to become self sustaining in the near future with regards to electricity consumption at least.
The parking areas always have one or two bays set aside for the charging of electric cars with power outlets provided free of charge. The whole attitude to alternative energy is quite an eye-opener.
Next day we rode to the quite incredible town of Aerøskøbing. Incredible because it is preserved almost exactly as it was 150 to 300 years ago. Incredible to be able to walk down the streets and sit in the town square seemingly untouched by modern buildings or other developments.
After a lunch on the ship we rode to the port of Søby right on the north tip of the island. Aerø is a beautiful island, clean, green and neat, and is a magnet for some of the thousands of cruising yachts that use the Baltic as their summer playground. So the scenic experience was well worthwhile. Having bikes means we can explore the island to the fullest, something that is denied the hundreds of visiting cruising craft in the marinas and those visitors who come by ferry.
And so for the next three days we continued sailing and biked on the islands of Aerø, Fünen and Langerland with the ship going from port to port for our evening meal and nightime stopovers. What a life!
The area with its many islands is very popular with small boat sailors and the islands have extensive marinas that are used like we use caravan parks, the boats just chose a spot and a fees collector comes around in the morning and afternoon to collect the harbour dues. There seems very little officialdom, nothing much is locked up or out-of-bounds, there are extensive playground areas for the kids and always a coffee shop or café close by.
These Danish islands are very rural and unspoiled and very environmentally conscious. This shows in that the streets and footpaths are clean and neat, lots of green grass, there is no rubbish or litter and definitely no graffiti!
The shipboard life on our tall ship the Flying Dutchman was very much one of self help and co-operation, down to the laying of tables and the distribution of food at mealtimes, to cleaning up afterwards, even extending to wiping and polishing the dinning room tables by one very enthusiastic German lady.
In fact the majority of the 20 guests were German, with four Swiss and seven Austrians from Vienna. Of course they all spoke German so we were the odd ones out, but were made to feel as much as part of the group as is possible in such a situation.
There were some very powerful bike riders in the group, large framed with broad shoulders and powerful legs, and that was only the women. Great for sneaking behind to get out of the wind!
The captain Klaus and the other two crew were Dutch, as are just about all the crews and tall ships in the area. In Kiel there were at least a dozen ‘windjammers’ tied up, several even doubled up due to lack of dockside space.
Anica flaking the main entering Rudkobing
Our two young women crew worked like ‘navvies’. I saw Anica one moment high up in the rigging folding and flaking the huge cumbersome sail and next in the galley peeling onions. Klaus was also to be seen bring out dishes and helping clearing away and tidying up, as did some of the guests. No unionism here!
Finally we left the island of Langerland (long island) and our final port of Rudkobing headed for our dock in Kiel. So after a bracing six-hour sail we are back were we started, except that we have had an experience in between that we will never forget.
So we come to the sad stage of the trip saying ‘goodbye’ to our shipboard and cycling friends, always a bit sorry when the realisation comes that it is all over and we need to go on our separate ways once more.
A sad ‘goodbye’ to Kiel, the ship and our Baltic holiday
PS: If you have got this far and want more punishment, there are more photos if you click here. View full-size for best effect!