Sailing through Denmark and through Germany

Irene did indeed sail right through Denmark and Germany. Both countries have inland routes allowing seagoing vessels to travel from the North Sea to the Baltic and vice versa. We are always interested in a bit of freshwater travel and appreciated the added bonus of getting into the Baltic without rounding the north end of Denmark. We chose to avoid the Skagerrak, notoriously rough and busy.

Irene’s path through Denmark (map from

On a dark windy May night Irene arrived at Thyborøn, the western terminus of the Limfjord, Denmark. We seem to make a habit of arriving at new ports in the night. Definitely not by choice, it just happens that way. Sometimes we stand off at sea until daylight for safety’s sake. But in this case, emboldened by good charts, a sandy flat bottom, good buoyage, and fishing boat traffic to follow, we roared right past the breakwaters into the entrance, rounded up and dropped sails, and motored slowly into the yacht basin (clearly marked on our chart) at the end of a large and well lighted commercial port. Easy, welcome to Denmark!

Well organized pile moorings – Thyborøn, Denmark

The next morning, after we had a short sleep, Ginger went up into the rig for a look around. Her first impression was that Denmark is a very flat country – the spreaders were higher than any land as far as the eye could see, just rolling green fields and wind turbine propellers in the distance.

Lemvig fields
Flat Denmark, Lemvig fields

Other impressions came fast that day:

Organized. The port was neat and well organized, and posted signs in multiple languages guided us through all the items needed for an arrival.

Convenient. We paid our moorage fee at an automatic pay point like a bank machine.

Clean. The yacht haven had spotlessly clean facilities, including restrooms, kitchen, dining tables, and coffee machine. No extra charge!

Friendly. We were visited by a well-mannered officer who handled all customs and immigration paperwork in minutes, and the harbor master stopped by to compliment Irene’s looks and our mooring job and warn us that the pier decking was slippery when wet!

And filled with wonderful public art. although Thyborøn is clearly a working town, there were several art installations – the tip of the iceburg when it comes to public art in Denmark.

After being made very welcome and comfortable in record time, we headed east in the Limfjord. Along the way our original impressions proved true throughout. We thought other countries (including our own) might learn a thing or two from the northern European way of doing things.

Lemvig waterfront art
Lemvig waterfront art
Lemvig Steeple
Lemvig Steeplethis town was a highlight for us in Denmark for the warm hospitality we received and the charming town. We came for a night and stayed for a week!
Aalborg public art
Aalborg mural
Gaasepigen Aalborg
Gåsepigen sculpture Aalborg
Ebeltoft apple
One of many apple sculptures at Ebeltoft – æble is apple in Danish and Ebeltoft is known as the Apple Town
Sønderborg dinner
Sønderborg dinner
Sønderborg stairs
Sønderborg stairs
Danish PIZZA
Food art!
Seawall seat Lemvig
Seawall viewing seats, protected from the wind by glass, Lemvig
Buoy brushes DK
Clever use of brushes to delineate the cardinal shapes on top of buoys.
Anchored sailboard Lemvig
Anchored sailboards in Lemvig, for seal pups to rest on while mama hunts
Golf with Pi
Golf with Danish cruising friends from yacht Pi

On the island of Fur, we had a surprise reunion with the Danish ketch Pi (westbound on her way to a cruise to Iceland) who we had last seen in Uruguay years ago. We enjoyed a round of putt putt golf for Peter’s birthday.

November aloft
Fly “November” to open the bridge.

Another good idea? In Denmark, to signal a request to open a bridge, merely fly the “November” flag. The bridge is often open as you arrive, without ever changing speed! Refreshingly simple! How many places have we been where we were supposed to sound a signal, or call on a certain VHF channel, or be closer, or be further away, or know of standard opening times?

Aalborg bridge
Friendly Danish  bridges
Fur church range
Landmark church
Fur Churchyard
Fur churchyard and cemetery. We learned that Danes rent a space for a specified period of time in a cemetery and the graves are beautifully maintained with topiary and extensive gardening.

The ever practical Danes in the middle ages built highly visible churches that also served as leading marks on sailing routes.

After a few more enjoyable days in the Limfjord we sailed out into the Kattegat, an area of the Baltic filled with sandy islands and shallows.

At Samsø Island we anchored in a bay that was Viking assembly point in the old days. A canal had been dug to provide an escape in case of attack, now just a depression in the land. A welded steel sculpture in the outline of a vessel of that time helped us imagine the scene as it was.

Viking canal Samso
Ancient Viking Canal – Samsø, DK
Rowing the knarr
Row, row, row your knarr
Faroe fleet
A visiting fleet of classic vessels from the Faroe Islands.
Faroese arrival
Faroese arrival at Ebeltoft
Kiel Canal through Germany (map from

The countryside changed from Danish to German without any perceptible change in scenery. Danes had warned us to observe all flag, light and signal rules in Germany waterways or risk a ticket, so we duly hoisted the black triangle day shape in our rig to denote motorsailing as we approached the Kiel Canal. Once in Germany we experienced some difficulty clearing into the country. Non EU vessels seem to be (per published instructions) required to check into each new EU country they visit. Yet we found it difficult to find an office to report to here at the canal. (Indeed, for us EU to EU clearing in was to be difficult, for lack of interest on the part of the officials, throughout Europe.) Eventually after a couple of failed attempts, a ferry ride, and multiple locked gates, we were interviewed and officially entered Germany at a police office located on canal grounds between locks.

Kiel wake
Irene’s wake reflecting in the canal
Kiel Canal spring
Calm beauty in the Kiel

Once through the locks on onto the canal, Irene entered a quiet and tranquil world. The sounds were of birds and wind in the trees. The water was flat or rippled by breeze, the sky was big and beautiful. Passing traffic was the only interruption.

Gieselau-Kanal dock
Gieselau Kanal dock – Countryside tranquility
Gieselau-Kanal lock
Irene at the turnoff to Gieselau Kanal lock “Schleuse Gieselau-Kanal”
Close attention on the Kiel
Skipper on alert when being passed by a big fast vessel in a narrow spot

As a large vessel passes, we steer Irene very close to the bank to give the vessel as much canal room as possible. We hand steer, because first the bow wave pushes Irene towards the bank. In a narrow spot, as much as 20 degrees rudder (steering towards the ship!) is required to keep straight and not run aground. Then, as the ship passes, abruptly the opposite correction (possibly 20 degrees away from the ship) is required to keep Irene from sheering wildly away from the bank and into the ship’s aft quarter. Tiller steering is very helpful in this situation – allowing very fast precise corrections.

Canal cottage
The cottage at Dükerswisch
Irene butterfly visitor
One of Irene’s many visitors in Denmark and Germany
Locking out to the Elbe
Locking through to the Elbe River
(Captain is studying the currents and making an escape plan. The tug opposite us in the lock used sideways propulsion instead of lines to hold their vessel to the lock wall, thus pinning themselves but also pressing Irene hard on her wall by their wash)

Finally, we reached the locks that lowered Irene to Elbe River, where we headed out to the North Sea. The weather was cooperative and our reentry to the salt water world was gentle. We set sail under sunny skies and pointed the boat towards the Netherlands.

Kiel watch
Kiel watch