Tuesday, August 5th, 2008
After passing through the Kiel Canal, our stay in Kiel was perfectly pleasant with lovely weather. We took this chance to re-provision the Picton Castle with fresh fruits and vegetables in this famous naval seaport. As a major shipping artery and transit port they are well set up here to look after ships on the go. A very efficient ship chandler got us all we needed quickly and cheaper than if we shopped for ourselves. We had up to then remarkably good sailing the whole way from Ireland, from Nova Scotia too it must be said.
Kiel has always been an important German Naval base and was pretty much levelled during the Second World War by Allied bombers, thus modern buildings everywhere. It is hard looking around today to think that only two generations ago this part of the world was devastated and little more than smoking rubble. In Kiel we dried sails, painted the topsides and tarred rigging as well wandered around this very old but new in appearance city. Some crew found a very friendly and traditional beer hall with lots of singing and all sitting at long oak tables, good German fun.
These things done we sailed from Kiel. It is a large natural harbour open to the north and the Baltic Sea. Modern freighters, container ships and large ferries to Scandinavia steamed by us coming and going as we sailed under sunny skies out of the harbour past the German Naval base and the grand German Naval Sail Training Ship, the Gorch Foch at her moorings.
We were bound for Svendborg, Denmark in southern Fyn, a large island of Denmark, a nation of islands. “Fyn” is sort of pronounced ‘‘foon’ but as if you had cat hairs up your nose for the correct effect. Svendborg was only a day sail away. Svendborg is a fine, salty seafaring town and I was keen get the crew there to take it in. Soon we were sailing among small low Danish islands covered with fields, patches of forests with charming farm cottages with either red tiled roofs or thatched. I don’t know when last a square-rigged ship of our size had passed through here under sail.
We sailed along up the pretty narrow channel right into the small harbour of Svendborg only to find our carefully arranged and reserved berth at the town wharf occupied by a big gleaming Dutch schooner who was not overly impressed with the large bold sign stating “Reserved for Picton Castle -1800″ in large letters. As there was nowhere else to go we anchored right there in the middle of the channel. The harbour master came down blistering mad at the schooner and they left soon enough only to have another pretty black ketch slip in to the same spot as we were getting our anchor up. This ship (the exquisitely restored West Country Ketch Bessie Ellen) was owned by an old friend and all was sorted out quickly and we went in stern first for our stay.
Coastal Denmark and certainly around Svendborg is a very ‘‘old time’ shippy sort of area and thus perfect for the crew of the Picton Castle. We must start with the J. Ring Anderson Shipyard. This small but bustling shipyard has been in business for a century or two but unlike other wooden shipyards around the western world, this one is still going strong. Rebuilds, refits, overhauls of wooden, steel and iron schooners, ketches and three-masted schooners, annual dry-dockings of dozens of wooden vessels all going on all the time. There are about 40 operational large wooden historic sailing vessels built, restored and based in Denmark that come to this yard from time to time. Around the yard, while listening to the ring of caulking irons or the buzz of band-saws, one wanders around piles of old hawsers and rigging, past old discarded teak deck-houses removed as vessels got converted back to sail and old clinker-built boats. Old spars, anchors and windlasses lie about everywhere while vessels are rafted up waiting their turn for renewal. On the two railways and the floating drydock are vessels hauled out getting new planks or just getting caulked and painted. Norwegian, Swedish, German, English as well as Danish flags fly from these various craft at Ring Anderson. It is quite a sight to see so many sailing ship masts in one place silhouetted against the sky . The Brigantine Romance in which I sailed for four years in the 1970’s was built here in 1936. In the charming wood paneled office of the yard is a photo, painting or model of almost every ship built here. It is a museum on its own.
The town of Svendborg itself is on hills surrounding the landlocked harbour with winding cobblestone streets and any number of places to sit a spell for a nice lunch or dinner ashore; proper seaman’s pubs too, with live jazz or blues many nights. And it is all very, very clean.
Some crew took the ferry over to Aero, an off-lying island, for the day. Aero is perhaps an analog to Nantucket but I think Nantucket would end up being jealous if set next to this island. Aero is truly beautiful. The island of Aero, being somewhat offshore has a legacy of being both very dependent on their own ships and quite independent minded of their association with mainland Denmark, particularly so when it comes to cooperation with federally regulated customs fees and charges and the like. Basically it seems that the Aero Islanders were generally of one mind against the whole idea of paying customs duties to Copenhagen. It seems that when the customs inspector was coming to Aero on his random but weekly visits to the island the ferry-boat bringing him gave a specific, loud and very cheery set of toots on his whistle as the boat was puling into harbour thus saving the local citizenry undue embarrassment with said customs officer (and expense).
The trip to Aero starts with literally a 40 second walk to the ferry from our ship for the hour and 15 minute passage out to the island. All in smooth seas the ferry steams past little islets, some with sheep grazing. Aeroskobing, the town into which the ferry pulls, is a gorgeous old seaport with tiny brightly painted houses some of which date back before the 1500’s. Cobblestone streets, cafes and little shops everywhere. The next thing to do is rent a bicycle to ride around and maybe visit Marstal which is the more working seaport of Aero with more coasters and a shipyard. We had dry-docked here in the Picton Castle in 1993. Down hard packed country dirt roads through fields of ripe grain and corn over rolling hills the scene becomes quite idyllic.
Marstal has a superb maritime museum cram packed with fascinating and very local historical stuff. Dioramas, paintings, a full foc’sle set up even with dirty laundry, sea-chests, tools, models, imports from all over the world and souvenirs brought back by sailors and on and on. And they bring the museum exhibits up to date with exhibits on motor coasters. There even is a full bridge and salon of a 500 ton coaster and delightfully un-restored, looking a bit worn as they would have done when at work. In a gravel yard between the ochre buildings two very old painted up wooden rowboats are set in the ground for kids to row and even a short mock-up of a mast and yard for kids to “climb aloft” and clamber about on, finest kind of jungle-gym it is. On the 8 mile bike ride back to the ferry there are plenty a beautiful spots with lovely views of these inland seas for a small picnic of rye bread, cheese, pickled herring and maybe some Danish salami, frighteningly pink.
Back in Svendborg former Danish shipmates of mine were trying to convince me to join up with the Fyn-Rundt (means ‘‘around Fyn’) sailing ship race in commencing in a town called Korsor. The second ‘‘O’ in Korsor is that funny O with a line through it from 2:00 to 8:00 and is pronounced close to the vowels in the French word for sister “soeur”, good luck pronouncing it. This keyboard does not have that letter. There would be thirty or so 100′ plus wooden and iron sailing ships starting their annual cavalcade around Fyn with a ship/harbour festival there for a couple days. The Picton Castle would fit right in with these veteran ships while being larger than all of them. Many of these mariners had heard a lot about this barque and were keen to see her. Or so I was told.