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Sunday, June 7, 2009, in Neustadt i Holstein, Germany

Hi all. We are in our first port on Germany’s coast. Last week, we were in Æro, Denmark.

By Sunday, the harbor was very full. Our friends Søren and Lotte left us on Sunday morning, and someone else tied up to us by mid-afternoon. A beautifully-cared-for wooden sailboat tied up to them, so we were three boats deep.

The children on this boat varied in age from about six to something in the teens. They apparently liked going ashore and coming back onboard a great deal. For hours, it seemed that there was a constant patter of feet on our decks. The boys diminished in size like a set of Russian dolls, as if you could put each smaller one inside the outer dimensions of the next older. The littlest one was never without a plastic sword in a belted plastic sheath and wore a bandana around his head. He even wore a tiny striped seaman’s tee.

It was ���Something Religious Day��������������� or possibly “Something Religious Long Weekend”, and everyone in the harbor was apparently determined to be in the sunlight for as long as possible. I spent some anxious moments watching rather unbalanced children walking along the rocky seawall with their mothers smiling and looking on. While one mother was dreaming of an Olympic balance beam career for the child, I could only imagine the drop from the wall into the sea on the other side. While this parent was watching her child show off his balance beam skills, the stroller that contained her infant started to roll down the docks in the other direction. Another mother, apparently with an eye toward caution, had clad her pint-sized offspring in a life jacket. That would be useful padding as she tumbled down the rocks on her way into the sea.

By nine in the morning on Monday, the day that workers and school kids needed to get home, few of the holiday partiers in the harbor had stirred into their cockpits. This made it impossible for us to leave. We’d already decided to cut our eighty-mile trip to Germany into two pieces, which helped our mood. The third boat out was filled with two men and the five Russian dolls, and none of them was moving very fast. The boat sandwiched in the middle was waiting for the outside boat to leave as well.

By the time they left the harbor after ten in the morning, there was no way we’d have made it to Germany if wed wanted to.

The good news was that the weather would be great on this day and on the next day as well, turning cold and windy later in the week. So as long as we could get ourselves to Neustadt in two days, we’d be fine. And we did.

We left Ærøskøbing in light breezes under sunny skies and were able to turn off the engine and sail only some of the way to Rødbyhavn. We’d finally taken down Karen’s cover and the air was warm, almost too warm. We rounded the island of Ærø, carefully navigating the well-marked but maze-like channels around Marstall. It took all day and then some to reach Rødbyhavn, and I was quite satisfied that we’d abandoned our original plan of a long voyage to Germany even before it was abandoned for us by sleepy vacationers.

There isn’t much to Rødbyhavn. It’s the harbor for the town of Rødby, which ceased to exist in 2007, merging into neighboring municipalities. It’s probably the shortest distance between Denmark and Germany, and from the air, the ferries back and forth probably look like the workers in an ant colony.

Other than a tiny marina, the docks were high, and commercial, and festooned with tires as fenders. Everywhere around us was industrial. The most attractive element to the area was the constant flow of clean white ferries loping back and forth. There weren’t enough cleats around for us to tie a proper spring line, and there was no electric power or water or shower facility. On the other hand, there weren’t any fees. For our overnight stop, it was just what we needed. On our brief evening stroll around the harbor, we could see that a wooden boat restoration industry was emerging quayside. There was a waterfront eatery where several locals were enjoying the late day warmth, and a pier where an enterprising couple took fishing gear and mesh lawn chairs for their evening’s entertainment. On the plus side, nobody was likely to raft to us there. We could leave as early as we liked.

We knew that the winds would be light in the morning, grow during the day, and become unpleasant in late afternoon and then for the next few days. Our destination was Neustadt, where the local Hallberg-Rassy dealer would be participating in an outdoor boat show with some other manufacturers and suppliers.

The day began with sun, but it wasn’t as warm as the previous sailing day had been. Part of the reason was our early start, nearly four hours sooner than our departure from Ærø the day before. Part of the reason was the availability of wind. We were able to sail sooner than we expected, and the wind left us later in the day, also unexpected. At one point mid-day, the wind was so strong that Art reefed the jib to reduce the uncomfortable heeling over. For the most part, we were able to sail at an acceptable pace, with the temperature just right, a beer commercial of a day.

We’d contacted the Hallberg-Rassy dealer in Neustadt in the hope that they’d be able to arrange marina space for us. We called when we were in the area. They instructed us to go to the end berth on dock A, and that it was numbered 20. The berth was available, but it was number 19. We asked some official-looking men who’d followed us into the marina in an orange inflatable if we could dock there; they made an official-looking phone call and told us that it was fine. We were relieved; the winds would come up very soon and they wouldn’t come down again for days. Moving the boat wouldn’t be fun.

Re-docking in this marina wouldn’t be simple, either. Normally, we dock side-to at a town dock, or a guest dock alongside a seawall, or at the end of a dock called a T-head. Every country has its own way of docking in marinas, too. Germany’s docking procedure is a lot like docking in the US. There are pilings set back from the dock. Somehow you need to get a line on the windward aft piling and secure the line, and then you can tie the bow (front) to cleats on the dock. We’d accomplish this by tying a knot at one end of the line to form a large loop to fit over the piling. Getting the loop over the piling is a little like lassoing a bull, except that the bull isn’t moving at all, but you’re bobbing up and down and moving forward into the berth. It’s a short window of opportunity.

We always solved the docking problem in our own US marina by stowing lines permanently on the pilings, so that we could just grab the already-secure line with a boathook and tie it onto the boat. We even put little red tape markers to indicate the exact amount we needed to pull the lines in. When we visited some other marina, the person whose space we were subletting often had left their own lines for themselves on their return, and we’d be able to borrow them. Not this time. We lassoed the piling with the help of a boat hook, and then I went forward, leapt off the boat using the stowed anchor as a diving board, and Art maneuvered the boat between the aft pilings and into the berth with nary a tap on the dock before us. Once we got enough lines on so that we weren’t in danger of drifting away, we spent some time adjusting each of them so that we weren’t too far away from the dock (too hard for me to get off and on), too close to the dock (bang), on an angle (which looks weird) or at risk of hitting the boat in the next berth. At this point, we really didn’t want to have to change berths.

The marina was much bigger than we’d expected, flanked by new buildings, offices and several restaurants. Besides the docking procedure, there was an eerie cultural familiarity about it. A worker on our dock was wearing a Kid Rock tee shirt. An ostentatious boat was called “Look At Me”, as if we needed that advice. And men enjoying the sun from their cockpits had stomachs spilling over their too-small swim trunks.

We took a walk across the large marina property to the offices overlooking the docks. It took us about ten or fifteen minutes just to walk from our berth to the office, past the near-thousand vessels that stood between us and the marina entrance. It was an eight-minute walk to the head, so planning would be essential. Much of the marina was new and all of it was well-tended. The heads were accessible only with an electronically-controlled tag. There were three places to eat on the property: a bar that seemed to serve food in the summer but didn’t yet, a newsstand that served sandwiches and coffee, and a restaurant delightfully perched over the harbor.

We stopped at the Hallberg-Rassy offices and learned that the package we were expecting hadn’t been delivered yet. Then we went to the harbormaster’s office to pay. The first thing they told us was that they thought we’d have to move to a different berth, but that they’d know more in the morning. We had the morning forecast, windy and very cold. Wind means that the whole docking process is exactly the same as what we did, except you have to do it very, very fast or the wind could make you miss the berth opening, or turn you near sideways inside the berth, or ram you into the dock. We’d have to wait until morning to find out if we had to do that. Cold meant cold. I never like cold, even without wind.

They provided us with maps and some brochures, all in German. We bought Internet service for the duration of our visit. Then the young man who was assisting us told us that we’d all walk back to the boat together. This wasn’t a casual decision for him; he knew where we were tied up. He escorted us all the way back and then told us to visit the office in the morning. We hadn’t paid yet. He didn’t give us the card key that allowed us to use the onshore head. He didn’t come aboard.

In the morning, we visited the office again and learned to our relief that we wouldn’t need to move. We paid for the days we knew we’d be staying, and got more information about the town. Then we set off to see it.

I could sense that we’d left more of the comforts of Scandinavia as soon as we entered the marine store on the marina property. I already knew that our ubiquitous Scandinavian wireless Internet service would be missed once we left its footprint. Now we had only one wireless connection, instead of three laptops roaring around the Internet as if we were home. And then there was the language.

We never had to think twice in Scandinavia whether someone would speak English. If we went into a coffee shop, or a department store, or talked to a high school kid in the tiniest town, they all spoke English fluently. Here, in the marine store inside a large marina, we were already using hand gestures to communicate. It was contorted but not impossible to conduct a transaction. It occurred to me that we were finally…traveling. I’d been using a PC-based German course and a little language book I’d bought when I was in college. I knew that the book was probably a bit long in the tooth when they wanted me to learn how to say “typewriter”, and “mail a letter” and “write a check”, and know how to differentiate a pen from a fountain pen.

There were no references to Neustadt in my travel guidebook, no apparent historical significance, no particular sights to see. I looked on the Internet to see if the town itself had a tourism page; it didn’t. Google showed a few dozen references to Neustadt, and by cobbling them together, I thought there might be a castle somewhere, a palace nearby, and a day trip to somewhere I knew wasn’t anywhere near the coast. Then I began to realize that there were many, many Neustadts in Germany. It means “new city”. Every city is new, oh, around the time that you want to name it. It’s the Springfield of Germany. And, like in all the Springfields in America, there isn’t any tourism in any of them.

The marina was a twenty-five-minute walk to town, or a twenty-minute walk to the supermarket, in a different direction from town, always beginning and ending with our ten-minute trek to or from the boat. Our first walk into town was made more pleasant by a convenient walking path off of the main road, and made less pleasant by intermittent cold rainstorms, mitigated by our ability to duck under a leafy tree or an awning closer to town whenever the skies opened. Our balmy weather was gone. I was wearing a turtleneck shirt, a sweater, and a ski jacket, zipped, and I experimented with my little fleece mittens against the wind and the chill. When we arrived in town, we immediately found cover in a café, where we ordered zwei kaffee from someone whose English was actually pretty good.

I’ve decided that pastry is an important cultural window. Apparently nobody wants to take the blame for their delicious unhealthiness. We Americans refer to a sweet bread that’s dripping with icing as a Danish (and we call it “breakfast” as well, for unfathomable reasons.) The Danes call it Vienna bread. The Germans call it a Copenhagen. At any rate, we managed to resist them and wait for lunch.

We first strolled along the pedestrian shopping street to get the measure of the town. Our first surprise was that we found a replacement for a dish I’d broken – to my chagrin – a week ago. We’d brought these bowls from the US, even though they’re manufactured in Europe, because the particular color we wanted wasn’t available in Europe. So the first shop we went into sold the brand of dish, and sitting on the shelf were several reincarnations of my dear departed bowl, saving us the inconvenience and worry of bringing one back in our much-abused luggage.

We managed to delay lunch until we’d traversed the entire shopping street and exited the old town through a gate that was apparently first built in 1244 at the founding of the town. Then we got more serious in our search for a lunch menu. It didn’t take long for us to realize that we’d be eating well in Germany. Restaurants all over the shopping streets were advertising their lunches of the day, for prices that were about two-thirds what we’d been paying in Denmark and Sweden (and a fraction of what we’d have to pay in Norway.) These daily specials were comfort food, complete with sides and often including dessert. We chose a bistro on the shopping street, ordering the day’s roast pork served with red cabbage with apples and knudle. Knudle is a potato-based dumpling whose resemblance to a matzo ball (or kneidel) is probably not just a coincidence. The portions were America-sized (no doubt providing some explanation for those German America-like bellies), and the meal included dessert, a rhubarb compote layered with custard. We both asserted that we’d be able to skip dinner. We didn’t.

An American couple had appeared at just the right moment when we were docking in Grenå, Denmark, and helped us tie up the boat. They told us at the time that their powerboat was in Germany and that they’d be going back there soon. They probably told us that the boat was in Neustadt, and we probably said that we’d see them when we got here, but we were still a little bit surprised when Tim came to our dock to welcome us to town. They had a rental car, and when they suggested that we all go to the main town for dinner one night, we were very happy to agree.

Our plan for the following day was to return to town using our dinghy. Whether this plan was plausible would depend on a reasonable temperature, minimal chance of rain, and low wind. None of these requirements were fulfilled. Instead, we visited the ship��s store and the HR office at the marina, ate a fine lunch in the marina restaurant, and amused ourselves onboard.

Hallberg-Rassy in Germany was among the sponsors of a boat show within the marina for the weekend. We were surprised by the large number of tents surrounding the harbor and the large number of boats being shown, including almost all of HR’s line. We visited the boat show for much of its first day and some of its second, and spent some time with our friend Roland, who represented the home office of HR, visiting from Sweden. The show’s program included a concert in a large tent not far from our berth, bands with the names Still Collins (as opposed to Phil Collins) and Queen Kings (rather than Queen). European local cover bands often take names that are similar to the bands they’re copying. So Still Collins was apparently a guy who’d launched a successful solo career after he left the rock band Deuteronomy.

My clothes for each day have included a turtleneck shirt, a fleece, a down vest, and once I had to hide long underwear under my sweater just to stay ahead of the chill. One day, it was finally warm enough for us to take the dinghy into the town. But I’d look at the locals jogging along the seaside path and realize that I might just dislike the act of jogging less than taking off the layers to prepare for a run. And I didn’t think there was anything I liked less than jogging.

Roland was in town through the weekend, so we invited him to dinner onboard. He had a responsibility to adjust something on a newly-delivered HR62 that just happened to be on our dock out in Siberia, so he joined us when he was finished, and we invited that boat’s owner to dinner as well, as he was on his own. We had a lively discussion, alternating between sailing topics and, surprisingly, telecommunications topics, as Andre (I’m sure the Dutch spelling is different than this…) was and is deeply involved in international networks.

Today would have been a good day to leave. Sundays are good sailing days. The boat show ends today, We’ve been visiting Neustadt for some time. I’m starting to get cranky without my own Internet access, which can’t be shared on Art’s PC. But it was hailing and raining when we woke up, and we have about two weeks to get to the place we need to be to meet our visiting crew, a trip that might take only three sailing days if we were in a hurry. So we need to keep our traveling very slow. Not sailing on rainy, cold days? Fine with me.

It sounds like you guys haven’t had much summer weather yet either. Let’s hope it arrives soon.

Love, Karen (and Art)