Limfjord at Last
If the southern Baltic is the shallow end of Western Europe, then Limfjord is the paddling pool.
In Viking times the Lim Vikings could sail their longboats the 330 miles to the Norfolk coast in about 48 hours if the wind had some North in it. Leaving just at dawn on a Friday, they would come upon the British coast with the sun rising behind their backs early Sunday morning, hungry for raiding. They had a fighting machine more mobile and more deadly that anything they were likely to meet; and a vessel and crew tuned for rapid movement amongst the Norfolk Broads using techniques perfected in the ‘Broad-ningen’ (modern Danish ‘Bredningen’) back home. After the raids, with any luck, the prevailing southwesterlies would come in and waft them away from their victim’s coast before any resistance could be organised. Sailing back and aiming to miss the fjord entrance to the south they could turn up the coast until they saw the home fires marking the hidden entrance to their fjord.
Limfjord remained a major commercial artery until a gale closed the western entrance in the 12th century. The whole of North Jutland went into an economic decline and suffered depopulation. But in 1815 another gale opened a new way through the sands and Limfjord became once more a commercial thoroughfare.
Our first day in Limfjorfd took us into Aalborg where we found a bridge operator who must have trained on the old London Routemaster buses. The bridge opens ‘on demand’, and on calling him up we were informed that he was opening for a group of yachts ‘in 3 minutes’. We were about half a mile away at the time so we crammed on all speed – sails and motor – and stormed towards the bridge at attack speed. The bridge duly opened and the first boat motored through (we were a quarter of a mile off); then the next (400 yds) and the next (350 yds) and then three more (200 yds) and the last one bar us (150 yds to go – we’ve made it, we thought!).
Then he closed the bridge!
Engine off; sails down and we drift to a halt just 50 yds short. “I will open again for pleasure craft in two hours or maybe sooner if commercial traffic request an opening; watch for my sign”, he said. Well, at least it gave us a chance for a relaxed lunch of smoked eel and young lobster – purchased at the Hals fishmonger that very morning.
When at last we were let through we entered a race with an X boat and held him remarkably well. We are a motor-sailor and that was what we did, especially on the tight close-hauled reaches; he is a serious racing machine designed to point and sail fast, and that was what he was trying to do. He kept looking back at us puzzled that we were still there – about a hundred yards behind. He sent crew scurrying to adjust sails – and we gained a bit and pointed better on a tight upwind beat. More stares; more scurrying crew. In the end the tension got to him and he bottled out about 2 hours west of Aalborg. We sailed innocently on; engine off; sails perfectly trimmed by Jane.
Just before the Aggersund opening bridge, there is the small but ‘difficult’ port of Attrup. We made the approach OK, sliding over the mud but never touching only to run into the putty just off the entrance when going for a deeper pool. We rowed out the kedge and hauled her off; then retraced our tracks to a deep lead about half a mile out. This lead led to another deep pool even nearer the bridge and we were rumbling along towards this when someone shouted ‘depth’ and the gauge dropped like a stone. The motor was quickly cut but the depth kept on falling until we touched again – in an area that was charted as over 4 meters for at least a hundred yards in any direction. The by now well-drilled crew had Voltair off again before you could read a chapter of ‘Limfjord through the ages’ and we anchored for the night in the middle of the lead we had been following before it so unsportingly petered out – more that half a mile from either shore.
Next morning we woke to a slight mist with no land in sight in any direction and the feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. Limfjord Lesson number one; actual depths can be a lot less that charted depths - or indeed a lot more as we were to find out later.
By lunchtime we had anchored behind a spit on the Northeast corner of Fur. Jane discovered there was a Jazz festival on the aptly named Liveo so we beat back up and anchored off having noted that the harbour measured 25m by 40m and was therefore not for yachts. Wrong! When we got ashore we found 40 yachts stuffed within it, the bows of row two wedged between the sterns of row one. You could walk from one side of the harbour to the other without ever seeing water. Clearly no-one was going to leave in a hurry. Anyone stepping on a boat at the edge of the harbour set up sympathetic waves of movement across all forty.
The Goodfellas were the main band when we got there – playing excellent trad jazz until the early hours. Robin made a distinct fashion statement by attempting to jive in his yellow sea-boots. We drunk the local beer filtered through volcanic ash and stomped the night away. It was a merry crew that paddled back to Voltair in the early hours of the morning – pinned down by the searchlight of the ferry that for this weekend was still working at 1:30 am.
Hangovers were (eventually) cleared by a breezy sail to Thisted the next day, passing the famous cliffs of Mors where the volcanic ash used to filter the beer is mixed with a white clay to create colourful patterns and a great repository of fossils. At places the land was as low as the sea was shallow. One yacht moored in a remote lagoon seemed at first sight to be floating on the shore.
At Thisted we had to say goodbye to Dick, Jane and Maggie after an indescribably good meal in a traditional hostelry that Jane had found in the Rough Guide. David D and Frank arrived by return, but whilst waiting for this, Robin drove out to Blokhus on the Coast just 20 miles to the North and right onto the strand that stretched for miles in both directions. Holiday makers had come in their hundreds to watch the sun go down over the North Sea – and there were even some hardy souls still swimming. Gradually as darkness fell, the car lights came on lighting up the wavelets lapping the shore and the occasionally fond embrace of a holiday romance.
We tacked down the west coast of the island of Mors, arriving in the evening in the tiny harbour of Jerind on its eponymous island. The entrance looked very narrow, and as we went through it Robin said “Oh s**t” as he hung a hard left, missing a line of piles; then Oh b****r” as we swung right through a minute gap into a basin with every mooring place filled, then finally a prayer, “Oh my God” as we sneaked between piles into a second basin filled with rowing boats. An attempt was made to spin Voltair on her rudder pintle. Frank put his hand in front of his eyes shouting “Watch out for the dinghies” as Voltair’s bow swung above them turning fast; then we were facing the only free box mooring and, with no options left, we pulled up into it churning up mud as we went.
“Well, we’ll never get out of here” said Robin as he downed the first Gin and Tonic after tying up.
But the harbour offered the free use of bikes as part of the mooring fee. And very good bikes they were too; brakes, pumped up tyres, gears, even a bell. Thus after dinner (marinated herring on black bread with chilled aquavit; pork chops in a mustard sauce; leeks, cabbage and potatoes; cheese board with Australian Shiraz) we set off to ride to the village by the lights of the stars. It was around 11:00 pm and it seemed that normally nobody moved after dark - for the locals did not seem to bother to draw their curtains but prepared for bed with the lights full on, offering more delightful prospects than they perhaps intended.
An unexpected NW gale came in during the night causing us to fit extra ropes with rubber shock absorbers; but Frank and David slept through it all – sleeping the sleep of the just and knackered. In the morning it was time for a full English breakfast and then a longer bike ride led by David who regularly cycles from Croydon to Brighton over the Devils Dyke for fun. We did a trip round the island; crossed to the mainland; cycled to the nearest town; had a beer; and cycled back. On the way back we visited Jerind church and its interesting churchyard where each grave had become a miniature exotic garden.
By now we had hoped that the wind would have abated, but not a bit of it; it was now blowing at 30 knots from the SW – straight onto our beam. In the afternoon we visited the fishing museum then returned to the boat and tried to think of ways out. Schemes were created; diagrams drawn; proposals debated – all to no avail. At around 20:30 hrs there was a torrential downpour, and then, as sometimes happens, the wind stilled for a while. We sprinted around the boat unwrapping the ropes, eased her out backwards and motored through the chicane and out of the harbour. We were wet but free!
The wind returned with a vengeance before we had cleared the shallows, and so did the rain – so now it was pitch-black and we were sailing on instruments. The Garmin showed us a course through the shallows, or at least the charted shallows, and with the radar tuned to de-clutter the rain we hoped to avoid any other shipping as we set course for a bay known as Over Hjerk ten miles to the North East with the wind up our tail. A couple of hours later we were feeling our way to an anchorage, with Frank out on the bows as spotter on the lookout for unlit buoys, fish-farms or anchored boats and the rest of us in the dry. After a while he came back to report “Land ahead”, which sounded good to us, and then later “There really is land, really close ahead”. So we let him drop the anchor and retired for whisky or two –and to start the evenings cooking.
Next morning we awoke in a perfectly circular bay with well-manicured banks. It was just a matter of raising the anchor and enjoying the 50 nm run to Aalborg with the wind behind us. Voltair did us proud, storming along under Genoa and Mizzen at a steady 6 knots once the wind had got up. By around 8 in the evening we had navigated all the traps laid for us by sailing schools, canoe flotillas, local tankers, and other yachts and were being helped to a super mooring by the harbour master and his pretty daughter who, David and Frank noticed, was sporting a dishy black lacy bra beneath her sailing jacket.
We dined out that night at a fine Italian restaurant – Giovanni’s, a member of the ‘slow food’ movement. We ate the free bread soaked in the free olive oil in vast quantities and filled up with a bundle of rather nice pasta dishes and the house white, all for under £20 a head. The evening ended with a visit to the English pub where we drank Bombardier Bitter and listened to live Blues played by JD Lange.
Now its over to John for the dash back North.
Best wishes to you all
Dick, Jane, Maggie, Frank, David and Robin