Saturday 15th July - Nordeney to Heligoland - 47nm

Forecast is for 10kts of wind from the NW, going W then SW: perfect (if it happens, big if) for sailing eastwards along the coast and then turning north across the shipping lanes.

I am expecting the washing machine effect again leaving the Wadden but in fact the tide's high and it's not too rough as we head out between Nordeney and Juist into the part of the North Sea called the German Bight. This used to be called the Heligoland Bight after the little island 40 miles off shore which is our destination today.

The self steering passes its first sea trial with flying colours after a couple of false starts and steers us for over 6 hours. We use the engine only to leave Nordeney, briefly when avoiding a ship coming off the anchorage at the mouth of the River Jade, and then again for the last few miles when the wind has failed to back as forecast. I am still restricted to phone pics only on this blog: the wind vane is just about visible against the sky in my photo, above the tiller, and the string is a temporary lash-up.

By 17.30 we are safely tied up in the inner south harbour of Heligoland and I for one am glad to be out of the rolling swell. We haven't been crashing about but at times the swell was 2 to 3m and although I wasn't actually sick I'm afraid I have to add the German Bight after strong north-westerlies to my list of places where the motion doesn't agree with me.

Heligoland has a native Friesian population and its own version of the Fries language but has variously been a "possession" (to use an appropriately colonial term) of Denmark, Britain and, now, Germany. Our name Heligoland is nearer to the original but the Germans renamed it Helgoland so that's what it officially is.

We swapped it for Zanzibar. 
Really! It's the sort of thing we did back then, part of the so-called Scramble for Africa. We ceded Heligoland to Germany in 1890 in exchange for a much bigger island and various other previously German held territories in Africa. There was great debate prior to this about the benefits of expanding our trading empire versus maintaining a strategic location near the German coast which "covers" the entrance to the River Elbe and to the Kiel Canal (which was under construction at the time). These arguments may have helped inspire Erskine Childers who cruised these waters (after the handover) and based his novel "Riddle of the Sands" around (spoiler alert!) a supposed plan by Germany for an invasion of England by sea.

Sunday 16th and Monday 17th July.

We stay for a couple of days to make the most of the benefits of holidaying here.

Before and since its military role Heligoland has been a holiday resort. It has some lovely beaches and boasts a better quality of air that the Swiss Alps due to lack of pollution and lack of pollen, not to mention lack of altitude. Its red sandstone cliffs may rise high above the sea but still only 300 feet high so there's plenty of oxygen.
The only vehicles on the island are a fuel tanker, an ambulance, a fire engine, a police car (introduced only in 2006), a couple of electric taxis and a few electric goods carts. So almost no traffic. Bikes are not allowed (why not?) except the Harbour Master and the policeman, though presumably the latter now uses his car.

More significantly for the tourist trade there's no tax. So duty free shops abound and every day of the week 3 or 4 ship loads of visitors spill onto the quays and load up with booze, tobacco and perfume. Some of them stay longer but most are day-trippers and as soon as the ships have departed again in the afternoon the place pretty much closed down. We missed the museum that way (closed for the day at 14.30) but at least the gannet colony up on the cliffs has no fixed opening times.

I was completely wowed by this and had to go up again for a second visit on Monday (which is how we missed the museum). You can get so close, even to a nest with a tiny chick and the birds just carry on with their busy lives. They really are stunning close up.

I'm no wildlife photographer as you will see from images below of hordes of tourists all walking the same way (inbound as can be discerned by the total lack so far of duty free carrier bags) and of the gannets. In fact I did capture some lovely images (of gannets) with our camera but will have to add them in later.

Howard did a stint here on work boats once so he knows just the bar for our pre-dinner drinks and one evening we have a rare meal out in the brasserie that the crew used to frequent. My favourite pub decoration of this trip so far is the "chart" of the Wadden with red and green buoys twinkling. A classic!


  1. Love the twinkly picture and am looking forward to seeing the gannet chicks.


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