A navy patrol boat, the Middle Way, and we get lost

I stare abstractedly at the bubbles streaming in our wake, marking momentarily our passage before disappearing. For a while longer a path of smoother water remains, before merging once again with the rest. Like our own existence, in a way. I think of the thousands of other seafarers that have travelled the same way before us. How many Stone Age people thought the same as they paddled these routes in their hollowed-out tree-trunks, how many Vikings in their long-ships, how many medieval traders in their skutes, how many modern day sailors like ourselves? Each must have left similar trails, each has now gone.

Fleeting trails.

The mists of time swirl. My mind takes me back to when the Baltic Sea is starting to form. A large depression in the rock of the ancient continent of Baltica starts to fill with sediment from erosion of the surrounding land. Much later, a river, the Eridanos, flows through the basin, deepening it and carrying much of the sediment out to the North Sea. Millions of years later, the ancient continent of Laurentia collides with Baltica and compresses the Baltic Sea into the elongated shape it is today. In the last two million years or so, glaciers cover the depression, leaving behind a vast freshwater lake called Ancylus when they eventually begin to melt. Eventually the North Sea breaks through the shallow Danish Straits where we are now and the Baltic Sea becomes the brackish water body that it is today. The islands of the Danish archipelago and the surrounding shallow straits are all that remains now of the barrier that once separated the lake from the sea.

“You look as if you are daydreaming again”, says the First Mate. “Look, why don’t you go and make us a cup of tea? That’ll wake you up.”

We are on our way from Bogense to Middlefart. The wind is gusting from the north-west, and we are sailing close-hauled. The First Mate is helming to get some practice handling sudden gusts. I dutifully do as I am told, and bring out two steaming mugs.

“You know”, she says. “I could get used to this.”

“Used to what?”, I ask. “Helming, or me doing as I am told?”

She doesn’t hear me.

We are approaching Middelfart. In the distance, we see the New Lillebælt Bridge spanning the narrow Snævringen channel between Jutland and Fyn. From this distance, the cars and trucks crossing it look like tiny Matchbox toys. We need to go underneath it.

The New Lillebælt Bridge, Middelfart.

“I have been thinking”, says the First Mate. “You can’t write Middelfart in the blog. It’s too rude. The automated censors will pick it up and delete it. Can’t you think of some other name?”

“Yes, you are quite right”, I say. “I think I will call it Bottomfart. That sounds much better.”

“Well, at least the blog will have something for everyone”, says the First Mate. “Even six-year-olds. Look there’s a navy ship following us. They’ll keep you in line.”

Sure enough, there is a patrol vessel not far behind us. The AIS shows that it is doing eight knots, so it will soon catch us.

Followed by a navy patrol vessel.

“They probably think we are smugglers”, I say to the First Mate. “I hope you hid those bottles of whisky.”

“They are more likely to think you are an illegal immigrant from the UK now that it’s a third country”, says the First Mate.

“Whatever”, I say. “Let’s see if we can outrun them.”

I push the throttle forward. Our speed increases from 6 knots to 6.2 knots.

“Well, that didn’t make a lot of difference”, says the First Mate. “We’d better hope they run out of fuel or something.”

The patrol vessel continues to gain on us. As we pass under the New Lillebælt Bridge, it slows and loops around and heads back in the direction it came from. Either they have decided that we are not carrying anything worth making a fuss about, or we weren’t the target in the first place. Probably both.

We follow the Snævringen channel around to the right and then to the left. Two porpoises surface close by, as though to welcome us. In the distance we spy the forest of masts of Middelfart Marina and head for there. Before long, we are tied up on the end of one of the finger pontoons.

“Let’s get the bikes off and go for a ride into town”, says the First Mate. ”I read that it is about a kilometre or so. We can have a look around and then have a coffee.”

Apparently the name of Middelfart derives from the Old Danish for ‘Middle Way’. It was originally used for the Snævringen channel between Jutland and Fyn that we had just come through, but later was applied to the town that grew up around it. In the Middle Ages, the town had specialised in catching harbour porpoises.

“The guidebook says that only selected families were allowed to hunt the porpoises, a privilege given to them by the king”, says the First Mate. “They used to line their boats up across the narrowest part of the channel and beat the water with their oars to frighten the poor things into the shallow areas where they were killed. Their blubber was used to extract oil for lamps. When electricity came along, there was no need for much oil any more, and hunting for porpoises stopped. Now it is illegal.”

“Perhaps that was what the patrol vessel was doing”, I say. “Making sure that foreign boats don’t do anything to the porpoises. As if we would.”

We sit and have an ice cream opposite the church.

St Nicholas’ Church, Middelfart.

“The Danish certainly have managed to preserve a lot of their medieval buildings”, says the First Mate. “Look, there’s one over there that was built in 1584. I might have a look around for some more interesting doors.”

Holm’s restaurant, dating from 1584.
Medieval house in Middelfart.
Door in Middelfart.

We end up at the small harbour on the north side of the town. Several traditional boats are tied up there.

Middelfart harbour.

The next day it is bright and sunny.

“I take your point about our tyre marks from Kolby Kås”, I say at breakfast. “They just don’t seem have started a trend. I think I am going to clean them off this morning.”

I fetch the hose from the pontoon and start scrubbing. It’s tough work but eventually the black marks are gone.

“Here, let me get a photo of you”, says the First Mate. “It’s not often I see you working so hard. I need a record for posterity.”

The shutter clicks.

“Oh no”, she says, looking at the small screen. “It’s made you look like the Mannikin Pis statue we saw in Bogense. We can’t put that in the blog.”

“Well, at least the six-year-olds will find it funny”, I say.

Cleaning the tyre marks off Ruby Tuesday. Yes, really!

We decide to have lunch at the small restaurant near the marina office.

“I was talking to one of the people along the pontoon this morning”, says the First Mate. “Apparently there is a very nice path from here out around the promontory and back into Middelfart. Why don’t we go for a cycle along it after lunch? I have a map, so we won’t get lost.”

“That sounds like a good idea”, I say. “It’s a nice sunny day for it.”

After lunch, we set off. The path leads along the shoreline, past a small yacht harbour, then into some woodland. There are beautiful views out over Fænø Sund towards Lænkevig, and we sit for a short time on a bench taking it in.

Looking out over Fænø Sund towards Lænkevig.

“That looks like a nice place over on the other side”, I say. Perhaps we can anchor over there tonight. It’ll be nice and peaceful and we will also save on marina fees.”

“That’s a good idea”, says the First Mate. “Let’s do that.”

We push on. The track becomes narrower and rougher.

“Are you sure this is a cycleway?”, I ask.

“I am sure it will get better just up around this corner”, says the First Mate.

We reach the corner. The track gives way to a small sandy beach. Two woman are there, enjoying the sun. They look surprised to see bikes on the beach. I smile at them, pretending that we are beach inspectors come to check the quality of the sand. I scuff the sand with my foot. They don’t look convinced.

Checking the sand quality.

“Over there”, says the First Mate, pointing. “I can see the track leading up the hill at the other end.”

It does. But it isn’t a cycle track any more. Even calling it a walking track is being generous. We lug the bikes to the top of the bluff overlooking the beach. Another path leads in the general direction we want to go. The gnarled tree roots criss-crossing it make it unrideable, on our small bikes at least.

The path gets rougher and rougher.

After ten minutes, we reach a huge gully blocking the way. The path leads down then up again on the other side.

“Let’s have a look at that map”, I say.

We are on a brown line snaking its way around the promontory. The key says that it is a walking track with a classification of three ‘boots’. Another key explains that three ‘boots’ mean that it is a strenuous hiking route and strong footwear is advised.

“I don’t think that this is a cycle route”, I say. “Did the chap you talked to really say it was? He must be into mountain biking.”

“No, he just said it was a nice route”, says the First Mate. “I just assumed that we could cycle along it.”

I stop myself from gnashing my teeth. I am not sure if our travel insurance covers self-inflicted dental damage, especially in Denmark.

We backtrack along the bluff and come across a camping site. At least there is a road leading out of it. We follow that and come to a small café.

“Let’s stop here and have something to drink”, says the First Mate. “I am getting tired and thirsty.”

Just as we are locking our bikes, the local Hell’s Angels chapter arrives.

“I’ll find us a table outside”, I say, remembering my encounter with Nebraska Man in the laundry on Terschelling. “You go and order. I’ll have a cup of tea. Earl Grey, please.”

“How did you get on with the bikers?”, I ask the First Mate when she returns. “Did they push in in front of you or beat anyone up?”

“Not at all”, she says. “They were very courteous. One even picked up my money for me when I dropped it.”

Courteous bikers.

In the evening, we sail across to the other side of Fænø Sund to Lænkevig and drop anchor. A few other boats are already there, but there’s enough space. We sit in the cockpit drinking wine and watching the sun go down behind the trees. There is an ethereal quality to the light.

Anchored in Lænkevig in Fænø Sund.

I pick up the book I am reading at the moment, Life after Growth, by Tim Morgan. In it, he talks about the era of growth that we have become accustomed to being over. It’s all due to the availability of energy – there is no shortage of energy as such, but what is important is the amount of energy that is extracted per unit of energy expended, or Energy Return on Energy Input, EROEI for short. At the beginning of the Age of Oil, the average EROEI was around 100:1, meaning that each unit of energy input would yield 100 units of energy output, so that there were 99 units of net energy available. Since then the EROEI has declined drastically, so that now the global average value is around 15:1. North Sea oil is even as low as 5:1. Obviously, when the EROEI gets to 1:1 the energy extracted is the same as the energy input, so there is no net gain. Apparently when the average EROEI gets to between 8:1 and 4:1, economies cease to be viable, as so much energy needs to be expended obtaining energy that there is not enough surplus energy for all the other things in the economy. Agriculture, for example, needs a lot of energy and natural gas to produce fertilisers and pesticides. Without those, we can’t grow crops, and won’t be able to feed the global population.

What to do? Renewable sources of energy will help but may not be enough. Wind-farms have EROEIs around 17:1 and solar panels between 7:1 and 9:1. Biofuels are around 2:1, and also need more land than world’s current cropland. Nuclear power may be an option, but the problems are public opposition and scaling up – 15 times the current number of stations would be needed. In the short term, we need to become much less wasteful of energy – more use of public transport, living closer together to improve energy efficiency, less consumption. But in the long run, we will need to develop a new economic model not based on growth. It will be a profoundly different era to what we are used to.

“What’s the book about?”, asks the First Mate, topping up the wine glasses.

I tell her.

“Can’t you find something more cheerful to read?”, she says. “Especially in such a beautiful place as this?”

“It is what it is”, I say. “Maybe we should just stay on the boat and live the simple life.”

Fellow mariners, a picturesque trade town, and a reflection

The forecast in the morning is for light winds from the north-east. We leave Kerteminde at 1000, needing to motor out of the fjord directly into the wind. Once we reach Alervet point, however, we turn northwest and catch the wind on our beam. We have arranged to meet Axel and Claudia at either Korshavn, a tiny harbour at the very north-east tip of Fyn island, or else Kolby Kås on the western side of Samsø island, further north. We’ll decide en route which to choose, depending on how things go. Starting from Korsor on the other side of the Store Bælt, I estimate they are probably around a couple of hours behind us.

Leaving Kerteminde.

We have about an hour of light wind and make reasonable progress past the island of Romsø on our starboard. Then the wind dies to almost nothing, and we sit with the sails flapping.

“We are not going very fast”, says the First Mate.

“No, we aren’t”, I say. “It would be nice to have a bit more wind than this. But there’s not a lot we can do about it.”

We brew the kettle and have a cup of tea drifting along in the current. On the AIS, we see that Axel and Claudia are still making seven knots. They still seem to have some wind, while we languish in the doldrums. They’ll be catching up with us soon.

Suddenly, the wind picks up.

“Ah, that’s better”, I say. “Someone must have heard me.”

“It’s a bit too strong now”, says the First Mate. “Couldn’t you have asked for something in between?”

Within the space of ten minutes or so, the windspeed has gone from around four knots to 16 knots. We are heeling significantly, so I take the sails in a reef. It helps, but we are still at quite an angle. We get a text from Claudia.

“Has the wind also stopped where you are?”, she asks. “There’s nothing here.”

“We were like that”, we text back. “But now it has picked up again.”

We whizz along at a good speed. Before long, there is another text from Claudia.

“We have it too now”, it says. “Shall we meet at Kolby Kås on Samsø? We have heard that it is not easy to anchor at Korshavn because of all the seagrass there.”

“See you at Kolby Kås”, we text back.

We are now entering the Samsø Bælt, the stretch of water between Fyn and Samsø islands. It becomes quite choppy, and the windspeed slowly increases even further. Before long it is around 22 knots. I take in another reef. We are still sailing at around eight knots. Ruby Tuesday alternately plunges through the troughs and rears her head again for the next wave like a thoroughbred. From time to time, particularly big waves wash over the foredeck and back down again on the leeward side. Exhilarating!

Sailing between Kerteminde and Samsø island.

We continue on like this for a couple of hours. Eventually we reach the lee of Samsø island and the wind eases off and the sea becomes quieter.

“Phew”, says the First Mate. “That was a bit rough. I hope we don’t get too many of those. Particularly as winds that strong weren’t predicted.”

We enter the tiny harbour of Kolby Kås and tie up against the pier. Some old tyres cushion us.

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to tie up against tyres?”, says the First Mate. “I know they will act like fenders, but they might make black marks on our hull.”

I jump ashore and peer down at the side of our hull. A perfect imprint of one of the tyres is near the bow. There’s another midships, not quite so perfect. And another near the stern, a smudgy mess.

“We can pretend that it’s the latest in abstract art for sailing boats”, I say. “It might start a trend.”

Moored up against the tyres.

Axel and Claudia arrive later in the afternoon in their boat Astarte.

“Why did you moor up against those tyres?”, Axel calls out. “I think we will go over here.”

“See”, says the First Mate. “It’s not much of a trend so far.”

“Give it time”, I say.

We invite Axel and Claudia over for coffee.

“I have to say it was a bit of a surprise to hear from you”, I say. “We thought you were still over in Griefenwald.”

“Well, we were”, says Claudia. “But we have to be back at the end of the month for a family birthday, so we need to get Astarte down to Rendsburg and all tucked away for the winter before then. We have to go back into the Kiel Canal to get there, and have quite a lot of work to do on her to prepare her.”

Axel & Claudia join us for coffee.

“We’ve had a frustrating summer”, says Axel. “We had a serious problem with Astarte just as we were leaving Gustow. We started taking on water, and couldn’t work out where it was coming from. We managed to limp in to Griefswald with the bilge pump working overtime, and got her lifted out by one of the yards there. It turned out that it was coming in through the stern tube.”

“A sailor’s worst nightmare”, I say. “You were lucky you were so close to land.”

“Then trying to get it fixed was a real hassle too”, says Claudia. “The company that said they would be able to do it, then changed their mind and said they couldn’t. But at least they felt guilty about it and said that we could use their yard and one of their staff if we were going to fix it ourselves.”

“Getting the old shaft out was also a problem”, says Axel. “It was jammed, so we had to heat it to loosen it and had to be ready with buckets of water inside in case it caught fire. We also had to cut the skeg off to get it out. And it also took a while to source a new one. At first the company sent us the wrong one.”

“It all sounds horrible”, says the First Mate.

“Yes, it was”, says Claudia. “But in the end we managed to find the right shaft, and thanks to everyone working night and day, we manged to get it fitted. Finally we got her back in the water.”

“Well, I hope that you have trouble-free sailing from now on”, I say.

In the evening, we all go for a walk along a farm track, following the coast of the island and watch the sunset. We walk back along the track in the darkness. It is surreal.

Sunset from Samsø island.

Back in the harbour, a few more boats have arrived. None have tied up against the tyres. Some trends are slow to start.

We both leave at 1000 the next morning heading for Bogense on the north coast of Fyn island. The wind is from the southeast and the sea is calmer than the day before, giving us a comfortable beam reach. Axel and Claudia’s boat is a half a knot or so faster than ours, as being a ketch it has more sail area, and they pull slowly away. When we arrive in Bogense, they are already tied up.

Ruby Tuesday leaving Kolby Kås .

“You got here just in time”, they say. “There are only a couple of berths left. Look, here’s one here.”

It’s a tight turn, and there is a fresh cross-wind blowing. We make a bit of a hash of it getting in, narrowly missing the boat on our right and coming to rest against the boat on our left. Luckily there are plenty of fenders on both boats. Sensing disaster, people appear from the blue to help with the bow-lines. I fling the stern ropes over the poles. Amazingly they go over first time. That doesn’t happen often. We pull them tight and we are secure.

Tied up nicely in Bogense marina.

In the evening, we have drinks on Astarte. The conversation turns to Brexit.

“It’s sad that the UK didn’t want to stay in the EU”, says Axel. “We really can’t understand the logic behind it. What benefits has it brought?”

“We are probably not the right people to talk to”, I say. “We don’t really see any benefits either. The one example most often given is the speed with which Britain could roll out the vaccine last year compared to the delay due to all the red tape in the EU.”

“It’s true that the UK had a head start”, says Claudia. “But most EU countries have caught up now, and many even have greater vaccination rates than the UK. So you can’t really say that is a benefit.”

“And what about the Northern Ireland Protocol?”, says Axel. “What sort of person makes an international agreement, telling everyone that it is ‘oven-ready’ and the best deal ever, and then a few months later wants to unilaterally break it because it isn’t suitable?”

We stare at the floor and shuffle our feet. There’s not a lot we can say.

“And now there’s talk of empty shelves and Christmas being cancelled because of a shortage of lorry drivers with all the East Europeans going back to their countries”, says Claudia.

“I think the Brexiteers were just lucky that COVID came along when it did”, says the First Mate. “They are able to blame all the Brexit problems on the pandemic and lockdowns. There may have been some effect, but there is no doubt in my mind that the real reason is Brexit and all the disruption it has caused to supply chains.”

“It’s amazing that a modern country would do that to itself”, says Axel. “Especially Britain, who we in Germany always saw as being so sensible and pragmatic. You were always very influential in Europe, but now you have lost all that.”

“The interesting thing will be what role we find for ourselves now that we have left the EU”, I say. “All this talk of ‘Global Britain’ by the government, but no one really knows what it means. The debacle in Afghanistan last month is hardly a good omen. The USA hardly even consulted on the troop withdrawal there. My worry is that we will become a ‘vassal state’ of America, hanging on to their coat-tails.”

“Yes, and all that sending of an aircraft carrier to the Pacific Ocean a few months ago to frighten the Chinese”, says Claudia. “Surely they are not serious abut trying to influence anything there?”

“Who knows?”, I say. “The present people in charge are capable of anything, no matter how crazy it seems. The world is becoming a dangerous place.”

Axel and Claudia leave the next morning. It’s been good to see them, but they have to get home now.

Farewells.

We decide to walk into Bogense to explore. The town began its existence as a trading post in the 12th century and eventually became a market town, but was destroyed by fire in the 16th century. It was rebuilt, but never really recovered. These days it is still involved in trade, but tourism is becoming more important, especially from sailing. The marina is supposed to be the largest on the island of Fyn.

Medieval houses, Bogense.

“Let’s start at the church”, says the First Mate. “It’s pretty much in the centre. It’s called the Sankt Nikolaj Kirke.The guidebook says that it was built in the 15th century on the remains of an earlier 12th century church. The baptismal font is from the 13th century, the altar was built in the 16th century, and the pulpit from the 17th century. Its spire is even used as a navigational landmark for boats.”

Sankt Nikolaj Kirke, Bogense.

“It has certainly had some history”, I say.

Not far from the church is the Town Hall, an impressive building in white.

Bogense Radhus.

“The old houses are all so cute”, says the First Mate. “But there are only so many pictures you can take of them. I think I am going to specialise in doors. There are so many different types.”

Door in Bogense.
No. 19, Bogense.

“Come and have a look at this statue”, I say. “It’s a bit rude, but with your strong constitution you should be able to cope.”

I am standing in front of a statue of a small boy having a pee.

The Manneken Pis, Bogense.

“Ah yes”, she says. “The guidebook says that it is called the Manneken Pis. Apparently it is modelled after a similar statue in Brussels. The story behind this one is that back in the 1800s sometime, they found a baby boy on one of the ferries coming to the town. No-one claimed him, so the city butcher and his wife adopted him. The baby eventually grew up to become a consul in the Foreign Office, responsible for passports and visas and the like. To show his appreciation to his adopted city, he commissioned this statue.”

“He must have had a sense of humour, at least”, I say. “I am not sure that I would like to be remembered for peeing in the main street of a town.”

“Speaking of which, I wouldn’t mind a coffee”, says the First Mate. “But have you noticed that many of the places seem to be closed?”

“I read somewhere that many smaller shops are only open for the summer tourists”, I say. “As soon as they disappear at the end of August, the shops close until the next summer. It happens in Britain too, but I am surprised how early it happens here, particularly when the weather is nice like today, and the older set without children are now on holiday. Like us.”

“This place looks like it should be open”, says the First Mate, sitting down outside a restaurant.

Any service today?

I peer through the window. A man is tidying up behind the counter at the back of the shop.

“There’s someone in here at least”, I say. “Perhaps he’ll give us a cup of coffee and a cake.”

I wave to him to come over. He waves back. We wait a few minutes, but he doesn’t come.

“Pretty poor service”, I say. “It’s not as though they are busy or anything.”

I peer through the windows again and mouth the word ‘coffee’. The man says something, but I can’t understand it. I scratch my head in puzzlement. The man scratches his head too. I stick out my left arm. The man sticks out his right arm.

It slowly dawns on me that he is me. There’s a mirror behind the counter.

“Is he coming?”, says the First Mate.

“No”, I say. “He said that they have just closed for the day. We’ll just have to make our own coffee on the boat.”

Running aground, meeting friends, and a Viking ship burial

We leave Svendborg at 1000h in the morning. It is sunny, but there is a strong north-east wind of 18 knots blowing. Unfortunately, this also happens to be the direction that we need to follow along the Siø Sund towards Skælskør, where we are heading to meet our friends, Hans and Gisela. Once we are out of the protection of the Svendborg Sund and Thurø Island, we face the full force of the wind on the nose. Nothing for it but a long series of tacks to get where we want to go.

It is slow going, but at least we make progress. At each cycle of the tack, we gain about three miles from where we were before. At one hour and twenty minutes per tack that works out at just over two knots Velocity Made Good.

Tacking up Siø Sund towards Lundeborg.

Eventually we reach Lundeborg, and decide to stay there the night. It is a small harbour with a circular marina and some alongside berths on a curving pier. We take the latter. We are helped with our lines by three cheery lads from Germany who are sailing around the Danish Archipelago in their small boat. How they fit into it is a puzzle to us.

Lundeborg harbour.

The next day, the winds are of similar strength and direction and we continue tacking up Siø Sund. Eventually, we are past the end of the sandbanks at the end of it, and far enough north to turn directly east to have a pleasant close reach all the way to the entrance to Skælskør fjord.

Our track from Svendborg to Skælskør.

The fjord is extremely shallow, only 30 cm deep in places, but there is narrow dredged channel marked by green and red buoys all the way to the town harbour. We line ourselves up with the two triangular markers at the entrance and motor in gingerly, following the buoys.

Trying to keep within the buoyed channel.

Shortly after the entrance we come to a sudden stop.

“I think you have grounded us”, says the First Mate. “You must have missed the channel somehow.”

It is one of life’s mysteries why, whenever there is a mistake, it is ‘me’ who made it, but whenever something is achieved, it is ‘us’ that did it.

I reverse the propeller and give it some throttle. We don’t move. Forward again, and more throttle. We remain stationary. We are well and truly stuck in the mud. What to do?

“There is a fisherman in a boat over there”, calls the First Mate from the bow. “Maybe he can pull us off.”

I peer through the binoculars at him. He has oars and no engine. His arm muscles don’t look anything special either.

I decide to give it another go. Lots of throttle in reverse, and I try to angle the rudder back into the direction of the channel. A widening cloud of muddy water streams from under the stern, churned up by the propeller. At first there is no movement, then slowly we start to move. Suddenly we lurch free, and Ruby Tuesday accelerates into the middle of the channel.

Stirring up the mud to free ourselves.

“We’ve done it, we’ve done it”, shouts the First Mate from the bow. “We are back in deeper water.”

See what I mean?

My immediate concern now though is not to embed ourselves in the mud on the opposite side of the channel. I cut the throttle, swing the wheel around, and manage to straighten her up. We motor forward. As we pass the fisherman, I give him a wave. He doesn’t wave back. “Another clueless idiot muddying my water”, his look seems to say.

We arrive in Skælskør harbour.

We tie up at the visitors’ berth in the town harbour. In the evening, Hans and Gisela come to the boat. They have been in Hamburg and have driven that afternoon back to their home in Skælskør. They are from Germany but live in Denmark, and are old friends from the days when we worked in the Philippines. Their boys are similar ages to our son. Gisela is a keen sailor; Hans is more into motorbikes and archery. It’s been a while since we have seen them, and there’s a lot to catch up on.

We tell them about our mini-adventure at the entrance to the fjord.

“Yes, a lot of people get stuck there”, says Gisela. “It’s really difficult to stay in line between the buoys, particularly if there is a cross wind blowing. Luckily it is only mud, so there shouldn’t be any harm done.”

We arrange to meet the next evening at their place for coffee and cake. They live about ten minutes cycle ride from the harbour. As they have to work during the day, we amuse ourselves by exploring Skælskør.

Old steam mill in Skælskør.
Swimming pier at Skælskør.

“We’ve been trying to work out why things are so expensive in Denmark”, I say when we see them. “They are in the EU single market, so why don’t things even out to the same prices as in other EU countries? ”

“They have their own currency, the krone“, says Gisela, cutting the cake. “There was a referendum in 2000 and they decided to opt out of the Euro. So, even though the krone is linked to the Euro, they have some control over their currency.”

“Taxes are also very high here to help pay for social care”, says Hans. “When we brought our car here from Germany, we had to pay three times its value in import duty. Also, anything with labour input into it is very expensive because of the taxes. Eating out for example. If you do all your own cooking, it’s not too bad. Speaking of which, it’s time to get the barbecue started.”

He stacks up the barbecue with charcoal briquettes and lights it. Soon the aroma of cooking meat fills the air. The next door’s dog starts yapping.

“That dog yaps all the time”, he says. “One day I am going to use it for archery practice.”

“Barbecued dog can also be quite nice”, I say. “Especially with chilli sauce.”

The next day we all have dinner at the Skælskør Sailing Club, where we finally meet Freddie. I had emailed the sailing club about a month earlier to ask them if it might be possible to tie up at their marina.

“Of course you can”, the return email from Freddie had said. “You are most welcome to come and stay at our little marina. Especially towards the end of the season, as it won’t be so busy then. We’ll look forward to seeing you and welcoming you to our beautiful town of Skælskør.”

Thinking he was the Club Secretary and encouraged by his effusive response, I had asked him a few technical details, including whether we would have any problems with our draught entering the fjord up to Skælskør.

“I am sorry, I am not able to answer that”, he had said. “I have to confess that I am just the cook at the sailing club, and I know absolutely nothing about sailing at all. But I know that quite big sailing boats do come in, so I am sure that you will be all right.”

Freddie was just as I imagined him. Cheery, large smile, slightly rotund, and looking completely at home behind the serving hatch in the sailing club, surrounded by photos of boats of all descriptions. Who would have believed that by his own admission he knew nothing about the things?

“Come and have a look at our boat”, says Gisela. “It’s just over here. Her name is Mille.”

The First Mate tries to clamber on for a closer look. Mille rocks alarmingly from side to side.

“Help me!”, shouts the First Mate. “I’m not used to this. It’s a bit too unstable for me.”

“At the moment, the centreboard is up while she is in the harbour”, explains Gisela. “When it is down when we are sailing, that steadies her a bit. But she is very light and responsive. That makes her more rolly than a big boat like Ruby Tuesday. We just use her for sailing in the fjord and a little bit along the coast. We have a lot of fun with her.”

Mille.

Freddie’s dinner is a buffet.

“You have to try some of this flæskesteg and brunkartofler”, says Gisela. “Roast pork and caramelised potatoes. It’s the traditional Xmas dinner in Denmark. We had some very strange looks once when we said that we wouldn’t be having pork for Xmas. It took us a while to live it down.”

Dinner at the Skælskør Sailing Club.

We leave Skælskør in the morning. Hans and Gisela come down to the small pier near the mouth of the fjord to wave us goodbye. I take special care to stay in the middle of the channel this time to avoid any groundings. Once can be passed off as careless, twice would be incompetent. We both breathe sighs of relief as we re-enter the Store Bælt and deeper water.

Keeping to the channel as we leave Skælskør.

Unfortunately, the wind has shifted and is now coming from the north-west. Just the direction that we need to go, of course. And there is not much of it. But at least the sun is shining. All caused by the presence of an anti-cyclone centred just to the west of where we are, according to the pressure charts that morning. We take a long tack westwards for a couple of miles then head directly north aiming for the middle of the Store Bælt bridge. We just manage to catch enough wind, but progress is slow. From time to time, the sails flap uselessly as the wind dies completely.

“It’s quite an impressive structure, isn’t it?”, says the First Mate, as we finally sail under the bridge. “I am glad that we don’t have to pay to go under it. Hans said that the toll is €60 each way to cross it by car.”

“As long as they don’t lower a clog down on the end of a fishing line for the fee, like they did on the canals in Holland”, I say.

Approaching the Store Bælt bridge.

We eventually reach Kerteminde on the other side of the Store Bælt and tie up in the town harbour. The town centre is about five minutes’ cycle ride away. It is a pretty little harbour town, strongly dependent on the sea for its livelihood.

Kerteminde harbour.

The woman brushes away the tears from her eyes. She must remain strong for the children by her side. Her son’s face is set like a mask – what is he really thinking, she asks herself. Will he be as strong and achieve as much as his father lying in the ship? He had subdued the unruly tribes on this side of the Great Belt, had become king, and had brought peace and prosperity to Fyn, Langeland and the numerous small islands to the south. But it had been a small uprising on one of those islands that had brought about his end. He had taken his ship – Rubin Tirsdag – named after the great god Tir – and 30 men to quell the unrest, but had been met by a much larger force and had been killed by a single spear thrown by the rebels as he stood on the prow of the ship to lead the attack.

Sorrowing, they had brought the his body back to Kerteminde in Rubin Tirsdag and prepared it for the burial. His favourite horses and dogs had been already been killed and lay in the boat next to his games-board and his other personal possessions. They would accompany him as he departed Midgard, the home of the mortals, to be carried by the Valkyries to Valhalla, where he would join the Æsir to fight and gain further glory alongside Odin, Thor and Tir against the Vanir, until that last great battle, Ragnorak.

She feels alone and afraid, facing an unknown future. Will they be able to withstand the strength of her husband’s enemies – already there was talk of the men of the southern islands coming to do battle and capture the body of the king. They must do all they can to prevent it. But will their men remain loyal now that he has gone?

“It’s very realistic, isn’t it?”, says a woman’s voice next to me.

“Um, well, yes”, I stammer, caught unawares. “I suppose it is.”

I am standing in front of a reconstruction of the ship burial in the Viking museum at Ladby, a small village just outside Kerteminde. The First Mate had decided to have a morning browsing around the shops, so I had cycled out by myself.

Reconstruction of the ship burial as it might have appeared in Viking times.

I walk from the museum through a newly mown field of grass to the knoll overlooking the Kerteminde Fjord. On the knoll is the mound containing the burial chamber. Not a bad view for one’s last resting place. Presumably overlooking the lands that he ruled when alive.

A small path leads down to the door of the tomb. I push the button at the side. The door opens and shuts behind me with a soft hiss. The outside world is shut out and I am in a dimly lit room within the mound. All by myself. Momentarily, panic grips me. What if there is a power cut when I am in there and the door won’t open again? Who would even know I was here? Would they think I am the Viking king when they discover my skeleton?

My eyes adjust slowly to the near-darkness and gradually the shape of the Viking long-ship appears, protected by a giant perspex box over its entirety. The last resting place of a minor Danish king from the early AD 900s.

The Ladby Viking ship burial.

The wooden ship itself has long gone, of course; what remains is its shape left in the earth and many of the items that were put into it at the time of burial – the skeletons of eleven horses and two dogs, various weapons, tools, utensils, riding gear, and even board games. The ship’s anchor is also well preserved. Strangely, there is no sign of the body of the king – one theory is that this was removed shortly after death by his rivals in an attempt to undermine the status of his family.

“How did you get on?”, says the First Mate when I return.

“Good”, I say. “I got some great ideas I want you to do when I fall off my perch.”

“Oh no, you don’t”, she retorts. “Don’t even think about it.”

In the evening, we receive an email from Axel and Claudia, fellow-sailors we met three years ago in Dover and Eastbourne at the start of our circumnavigation of the UK, and with whom we have kept in touch since then.

“What a surprise”, it says. “We saw on MarineTraffic that you are in Kerteminde. We are over at Korsor on the other side of the Store Bælt. What about meeting up in the next couple of days?”