When I dreamt of setting off sailing the world, I imagined the sun shining high in the sky and lounging in the cockpit with a book while listening to the gentle slosh of the waves up against the hull. I never imagined being dressed as the neon version of the Pillsbury dough-boy, dodging the increasingly cold rain with the engine pounding along for 150 hours. Although grateful to be together on Athena, the trip from Denmark to the UK would not be about lazily sailing from one destination to another. It would be about moving, making time, and getting out of Schengen before my visa was up.
We left Skive on September 13th, 2021. There was so much going on in our heads at the time. We were exhausted from the non-stop, last-minute push to get Athena ready for the previous two months, my Schengen clock was quickly and loudly ticking in the back of our heads, and we were still getting to know Athena. When we left Skive, we were still unsure about how we were getting to the U.K. There were two options to choose from. The first was to do the three-day passage across the North Sea to Scotland, but that meant risking something happening to Athena in the middle of the ocean on her first significant passage. The second choice was to take it easy down the coast to get to know Athena, but that meant a possibility of overstaying my Schengen visa. We did see that we had to and wanted to keep moving forward. With that in mind, we planned to leave Skive and sail west toward the coast to Struer. Once in Struer, then we would decide where to go.
It was 45 nautical miles from Skive to Struer. We left around 10:00 am, and we took our time. We enjoyed the movement of Athena's hull slowly pushing through the water, but we were also on high alert to every creak and whistle she made. By day's end, we became very familiar with the vibration of the motor and the whirl of the autopilot. While doing checks on Athena, we noticed some tension when pulling out the mainsail. It was hard to figure out what was going on, so we decided to look into it when we went to Struer.
We got into Struer and decided to grab a mooring ball just outside the marina for the night. We needed to practice our mooring skills, and neither of us was ready to head back into a marina after finally leaving Skive. We moored and shut the engine off. We took a deep breath and watched the sunset fall behind the shore of the Danish countryside. We would put off deciding which way to go for the next day.
We woke up early the following day and made our way into the marina. Luckily, a few friends, Karina and Sabastian, from Skive, who were coming back from a year of sailing around the Mediterranean, were there. Sebastian helped Mads look over the mainsail deciding that we needed some new shackles. After walking to the nearest chandlery for new shackles, we ordered some pizzas later that night and shared a bottle of wine aboard their boat. While we ate and drank, we listened to stories from their sailing over the past year. It was exciting, and they just did what we were about to do. I couldn't wait to be the salty sailor's a year from then, advising the new bright-eyed sailors about to start their adventure.
In Struer, we also met Jens and Katarina, a couple sailing their 40 ft steel boat from Denmark back to The Netherlands. As Mads was giddy to get a tour inside, they graciously welcomed us aboard for a look. It was a 1956 Pilot boat converted into a sailboat by previous owners. It was massive on the outside and cavernous and well built inside. If this gives you any indication of the size of their boat, their Grate Dane did not lack space to roam around or stretch out across his oversized dog bed. However, I and I think Mads would agree that the boat's most impressive feature was the engine room. The engine room alone was half the size of Athena. Pipes weaved in and out of everywhere, three massive engines, and a fully equipped workshop topped with a mini-lathe. A workshop fit to make any DIYer envious.
The following day we woke up and made the decision. We were still getting to know Athena and didn't want to risk anything happening while crossing the North Sea to Scotland. Not that we couldn't handle whatever happened, we didn't want that to be our first experience with Athena. We felt some comfort in knowing if anything went wrong going down the coast, we could easily pull into the nearest port. We made our plan, and we were ready to go.
Mads parents came the following day to bring us a few lingering delivers from Skive. We walked around Struer city center, had lunch near the marina, and said our goodbyes. We would wake up early the following day and head off to Hvide Sande. Our decision to take the coast down meant we were against my Schengen clock. That also meant we would not be enjoying a lazy sail south but a mad dash motoring.
Hvide Sande and Romo
Thyboron was an hour motor from Struer and the entrance to the North Sea. It's notorious for being a rough and choppy welcome to the open ocean, and it didn't let its reputation down. When we turned south out of Thyboron, we could immediately feel the force of the sea. Athena's bow raised into the air in slow-moving bursts and crashed into the water. Our unsecured lockers flew open, and our taped head door repeatedly slammed into itself. It took us a few minutes to get used to the movement, but Athena felt solid and sturdy, bashing her bow through the waves. We quickly learned that the direction of the North Sea was confused and sporadic. We steadied ourselves and put our trust in Athena. We pointed our heading South and started the 50 nautical mile trip away from Denmark.
Our next two stops were Hvide Sande and Romo, both very industrial, and not much to talk about there. I liken them to truck stops. Stopover ports to rest, wake up and go again. However, we did run into our steel boat friends in Hvide Sande and decided to buddy boat with them until we got to Borkum. On the passages to Hvide and Romo, we pegged down our nearly 60 nautical miles-a-day trips. We would wake up around 5 am, set off, and get into the next port around 6 or 7 pm. There is just enough time to tie up, get some food, pass out, wake up, and do it again the following day.
We were so excited to sail to Heligoland. We were finally out of Denmark, and Heligoland felt like our first destination at sea. We followed suit, left Romo at 5 am, and got into Heligoland around 7 pm. We tried to book it there as fast as possible to get in before sunset because we were anxious about the docking situation. On Heligoland, there are no slips or moorings, and you raft up onto other boats. You pull up alongside another boat and tie up to that boat, making a raft from the dock to the last ship. There could be as many as 20 boats tied up, bobbing and swaying from one end to another during high season. Luckily, we were there at the end of the season, and the number of boats tied up together was about five.
You hop and climb from one boat to the next until you reach the dock to get to shore. You get used to gently tiptoeing across strangers' boats, and for the most part, people are very courteous. However, the most inconvenient part about rafting up is that all boats must move when one boat leaves. We deemed this game "The Great Boat Shuffle." The shuffle is the trickiest and most annoying part of rafting up because it could happen any time, day or night. We didn't get much sleep while in Heligoland. A constant jerking kept us up all night between people jumping on deck late into the night to raft up and workboats coming in and out of the harbor.
We didn't let that keep us from exploring Heligoland, though. We woke up early the following day and walked around the island. It's littered with stacked houses painted in bright red, orange, and blue. You can walk the whole island in a few hours, seeing the cliff's edge to the center of town. Heligoland is a duty-free wonderland making it a tourists paradise. Every day around 11 am, the ferries unload hundreds of tourists from mainland Germany. The streets and shops get flooded with shoppers filling backpacks, suitcases, and bags full of duty-free booty. We even went on a hunt around the island with our steel boat friend Hans for a particular type of cigarette so he could bring a few boxes home for his friend. Mads and I stocked up on Peanut M&M's and Haribo Gummies. Around 3 pm, the ferries horn bellow, and within an hour, every tourist is gone.
Almost forgetting to take advantage of the duty-free bounty ourselves, we ran back to the boat, grabbed our jerry cans, and darted back to the gas station just in time before it closed. We were fueled up and ready to go. We woke up at 5 am the following day, only slightly annoying our raft neighbors, and did our last boat shuffle on Heligoland.
My feelings toward Borkum are complicated because we were not expecting to stay so long. We stayed on Borkum for five days because of bad timing and an unfortunate storm. On top of that, Borkum is not precisely a cruisers paradise. The marina is industrial, with pilot boats coming in and out all night long, and it provides very little protection. It was about a 7-mile walk into town, and the marina had no toilets or showers. When I found out there were no showers, I burst into tears. All the stress and exhaustion from the previous three months boiled up. Between the storm blowing us around all day and the constant traffic from the pilot boats keeping us up all night, I was sleep-deprived and just wanted a warm shower. We didn't prioritize plumbing the shower before leaving Skive because we had bigger things on our plate. However, as I sat pathetically on the settee, Mads got to work hooking up the shower.
Once showered and in clean clothes, I had a better outlook on things and could see what Borkum had to offer. The island is another sought-after tourist spot. It's a popular vacation destination where visitors from mainland Germany come to spend time on the beach and ride bikes around the island's many trails. Wild rabbits roam free and hop past your feet daily, and the bakeries have their signature fresh raisin bread every morning. We spent a day walking around window shopping in the center of town, checking out the nearest beach, and sampling Borkum's famous seabuckthorn tea.
Borkum was where we also said goodbye to our Dutch steel boat friends. The night before they left, they treated us to a traditional schnitzel at a restaurant close to the marina. We had spent most of our trip with them, and we were getting used to buddy boating and having friends to help navigate the new ports. Thus, it is the cruising way. The following day we woke up early; our steel boat friends set off for The Netherlands and their final destination, and we were off to Vieland.
We pulled into Vieland around 8 pm and left around 6 am the following day. On our way south, everyone kept saying, "Go to Vieland" "Vieland is beautiful." We wanted so badly to stay longer. While we were coming in, we could see twinkly lights onshore and the smell of bonfires. It seemed like such a quaint respite from the non-stop motoring we had been doing. Yet again, time and weather were not on our side. A storm was coming in, and if we stayed even for a day longer, we were not sure how long we'd be stuck on Vieland. A Sail Life viewer, Theis, greeted us when we pulled into our slip. He helped us carry our jerry cans and showed us to the self-service fuel pump not far from the maria. We chatted a bit, ate dinner, and then went to bed for another day of making our way south.
Ijmuiden and Amsterdam
Ijmuiden was an odd period that felt like being caught in an episode of The Twilight Zone. Granted, we were in Ijmuiden off-season. The expansive marina was half-deserted, all the facilities looked as if they came straight out of a 90's beach movie, and you had to dodge seagulls who had hijacked the pontoons from the vacant guests. Waiting out another storm, we got stuck in Ijmuiden for a week. We cleaned the boat, did long overdue laundry, and finally used the galley by cooking some soup. Since it was only an hour bus ride, we spent a few days roaming around Amsterdam, hitting up the local coffee shops. Just kidding, we ate Vietnamese, walked along the canals, and went to the Anne Frank house.
We had an appointment in Den Haag with the embassy for the following week to deal with my Schengen visa. Den Haag was about a two-hour bus ride from Ijmuiden or a 3-hour sail. We decided to sail to Scheveningen to be closer to Den Haag if we had to make more than one trip to the embassy. Luckily, the storm passed, and we were free to make the jump South.
Scheveningen and Den Hague
Scheveningen was the complete opposite of Ijmuiden. The marina was located right in the middle of the city, the facilities were clean, and the staff was accommodating. There were tons of restaurants, a hardware store, and a grocery store nearby. I took advantage and ran each morning at a nearby beach with a path that mirrored the shoreline and lined with seagrass. We had four days to kill while waiting for my appointment, so we explored the city with Den Hague, only a 20-minute bus ride away. Den Hague is a small, clean, cosmopolitan city. We walked along the promenade outside the Binnehof building, gawked at the formidable Peace Palace, and dined at Five Guys. Yes, you read that correctly. The amount of joy and excitement finding a Five Guys brought us was probably too much, but we couldn't pass up the opportunity to eat at Five Guys in The Netherlands.
On the morning of the 9th, we woke up at our usual 5 am and started making our way to Cadzand. Everything went smoothly with my visa appointment, and we were free to go. We only had one thing on our mind: getting to the U.K.
Cadzand was a pit stop for us. It's a small marina but recently built, and all the facilities were immaculate. There are little boutiques, bakeries, and restaurants with lots of fresh seafood down the main street. However, it seems like it's a hot spot for vacationers and a nice place to get away to the beach.
We were itching to get to the U.K. at this point. We stayed in Cadzand for one night and were ready to go. The plan was to sail past Brussels and make our way to Calais to cross the English Channel at the narrowest point. We would stay in Calais for the night and then jump across the channel early the following day. That's not exactly what happened, though. As soon as we passed the traffic separation near Calais, we said, "Eff it, let's just do the jump to Dover." That's what we did. We changed our heading and started making our way to Dover. It was a little cold, with hardly any wind, but traffic was light. We got into Dover around 8 pm, tired, groggy, but relieved. We covered nearly 500 nautical miles in just under a month. We were not breaking any speed records, but we saw beautiful towns and met incredible people. Most importantly, we learned how to live on and trust Athena. We were ready to settle down for the winter and tackle the last few big projects with our first trip behind us.