No good deed goes unpunished: a mea culpa

Approaching Hafen von Wyk on the German Frisian island of Föhr, I had studied the tide tables, chart and cruising guides describing the narrow, shallow, dredged channel with shoals on both sides. The channel is unmarked except for a single buoy south of the entrance (to port upon entering). The cruising guide warns of strong crosscurrents, many ferries and an expectation of strict adherence to Navigational Rules. I know the Rules well and observe them carefully but was appreciative of being reminded.

As we passed the lone buoy well to port and entered the channel, I could see a large ferry at the terminal. I was not at the helm and could not see our position on the chartplotter relative to the edge of the channel but was comfortable that we were well to the proper right (north) side.

As we proceeded in the channel, the ferry got underway towards us. Initially, with little way on, she headed 60º into the cross current and crabbed into the channel, appearing to approach us sideways and using quite a bit of the narrow channel. Not being able to quickly glance at the chartplotter and with no lateral marks to guide us, I was unsure whether we were close to the center of the channel, and obstructing the ferry, or about to run aground on the shoal outside the channel. I made a quick decision and directed the helmsman to reverse course back into the deep water and let the ferry have the whole channel.

Once the ferry gathered way, she was able to head more directly out of the channel. I had no idea what course the ferry wished to follow once outside the channel and again decided to stay out of her way by moving as fast as possible to the south side of the single buoy, completely out of the channel.

By this time, the ferry had gained considerable speed and we were unable to get beyond the buoy before the ferry altered course to port and we passed starboard-to-starboard.

The ferry captain and I made eye contact as we passed and it was clear that he was not happy. Thinking about it from his perspective: he likely saw us entering the channel on the proper side before he got underway and expected a routine port-to-port passing; he was somewhat perplexed when we reversed course; and was alarmed when we crossed his bow and passed starboard-to-starboard. In retrospect, I should have allowed the helmsman to hold our original course in the channel and stay right until it was clear from the depthfinder that we were at the edge of the channel.

Both of my well-intentioned decisions had been wrong.


Navigational error in Rügen

GOLDEN EYE departed early from Skanør, Sweden bound for Stralsund, adjacent to the German Baltic island of Rügen, and immediately entered the nerve-wracking “Confusion Roundabout” in which ships southbound in The Sound hang a sharp left counterclockwise around the Falsterborev lighthouse and slingshot eastward into the Baltic while ships leaving the Baltic take a hard right north into The Sound.

A few hours later, we crossed the busy, deep-draft shipping lanes south of the island of Sjælland, which connect all Baltic ports with the rest of the world via the Stora Bælt. We left the “White cliffs of Denmark” on the starboard quarter, put up the German courtesy flag, and soon had the “White cliffs of Rügen” on the starboard bow.

The “obvious” (actually, not so obvious) entrance to the channel to Stralsund from the north is Gellen Strom, a channel so narrow that a sailboat entering with the main up will not be able to round up to take it down. We opted for the even less obvious and even narrower entrance into Schaproder Bodden between the remote islands of Hiddensee and Bug into the shallow “Rügen Lakes.” It looks impossible on all but large-scale charts and perhaps is for vessels drawing over 1.8 m.

The chart, which we scrutinized, shows yellow barrel buoys with an “X” on top on either side of the channel and this notation: “Caution area – rocks – in the whole of the sea there are many large rocks, which – especially in shallow water regions – can be dangerous for coastal ships and small craft. The representation in the chart is incomplete.” i.e. don’t go there.

An Expensive Navigational Error

While not described in any of our cruising guides, we found on the large-scale electronic charts a tiny nook at the south end of Bug called Neubessin – a possible anchorage - and decided to try it. After a nerve-wracking “cross country” trip out of the channel during which the depth sounder registered less than our draft, we anchored in our private nook in five meters. Loud coo-coos. Swans. No insects. No neighbors. I recall saying, “I wonder why no one else is here.”

We had dinner, the sun set, mosquitoes appeared, we put up the mosquito screens and retired for the night.

“Police! Come out with your hands up!”

Well, they didn’t use quite those words but when you are settled for the night at 2230 hours in a dark, isolated, unfamiliar area and the German police announce their presence, it is pretty alarming.

We pulled back the mosquito screen on the main companionway, admitting a hoard of mosquitoes, and came face-to-face with two uniformed officers.

“You are in a prohibited area! We wish to see your passports, certificate of competency, ship’s papers and charts that you used to arrive here!”

After taking a cursory look at our passports, they quickly opened our iPad navigation app, pointed to the faint red dashed line surrounding our location (one of several), then clicked on the screen, generating a “?” in a box, then clicked on the “?”, which yielded a list, one of which was “Zone 1”, then clicked on “Zone 1” which produced a message: “NAVIGATION PROHIBITED FOR WATER-CRAFT, PLEASURE CRAFT, AND WATER SPORTS EQUIPMENT IN ZONES 1 AND 2 OUTSIDE THE FAIRWAYS.”

I had never seen a prohibition like that other than in a military zone, which this did not appear to be. (A German friend later suggested that perhaps the ‘unihabited’ island, which is located at the northeastern-most point of Germany and overlooks all ship traffic between Baltic Russia and the rest of the world, is a military installation. I also now notice on the chart a submarine cable leading to it.)

After a few minutes of polite but business-like discussion, they seemed to have some sympathy to my protestations that it had not occurred to me to do those various clicks, there was no warning on the electronic chart itself (or on the paper chart) other than a few faint dashed lines (which I frankly had not noticed while navigating the tight and shallow channels), there was no signage on buoys or on shore that indicated the restriction and there was no mention in our several cruising guides, which we had read thoroughly, of prohibited areas. However, they had been sent out by superiors and must collect €228.20 for my transgression - in cash because I am not an EU citizen. I threw up my hands and said I did not have that much in euros, having not yet set foot on shore, not to mention getting to an ATM, in a euro country.

I offered to move to a different location although I was not happy about doing so as it was dark, it was some considerable distance to get out of the restricted area and the channels are narrow, shallow and marked by small, unlit buoys. That idea failed when the officer asked if I had had wine with dinner and, when I said yes, he deemed me to be impaired.

They were looking for a solution but clearly had their orders.

“You’re my first American,” one of the officers volunteered, apparently chagrined at the unfortunate circumstances. “You’re my first German,” I replied politely.

We happened to have on board a Danish friend - an EU citizen. The officer came up with a solution: he would consider the Dane as “captain” for purposes of this situation, in which case a bill could be sent to him. And, he volunteered that perhaps his superiors could offer a compromise on the fee. After receiving our Danish friend’s address and a commitment to leave the area promptly in the morning, they left us with the infestation of mosquitoes that had come below.

At this writing, our Danish friend is still waiting for the bill.

Stralsund is an interesting stop in the former East Germany although I had never been in a marina that charged for hot water to shave.

Headed west a few days later, we were boarded at sea by the Bundespolizei Küstenwache, who were quite meticulous about checking each person’s entry and exit stamps (and again in Helgoland).