Haynes World - ships, ferries, a laugh on the ocean wave, and other interesting things...


Summer 2011 Part 10

Cuxhaven and Heligoland

Friday 15th July

Forties, Dogger, Humber, Thames and Dover should sound familiar to anyone who ever listens to the British Shipping Forecast. I’ve just been travelling through North Utsire, South Utsire and Fisher, and today I’m in the German Bight shipping weather forecast area. I remember when there used to be a separate name on the list - of Heligoland - and this is the island where we are planning to go today.

VISTAMAR arrived two hours later than we expected, so our day’s plans had to be altered. Cuxhaven was shrouded in damp mist as we arrived in our berth, and were allowed off the ship. Although we rushed through the empty terminal to the Taxi rank, there were none to be seen, so we had to walk a long way to the Heligoland ferry terminal.

Heligoland Ferries

The vessels

We had tickets to catch the delightful looking ATLANTIS, the little ferry that sails from Cuxhaven to Heligoland island, out in the German Bight shipping area. Unfortunately as we approached the quay we could see the ship already on her way, on what looked like rather rough water.

Plan B swung into action, after we were advised to go to another terminal to try and get seats on the Company’s fast ferry (catamaran) on the same route. It was raining quite hard, the wind was blowing, the woman in the ticket office for the HALUNDER JET was obviously unused to smiling or being helpful to passengers, or even transferring tickets from one of their vessels to another. We had to pay for new tickets out to the island. We had also previously arranged to return from Heligoland on the HALUNDER JET anyway, this time for the complete journey back along the River Elbe to Hamburg. The office woman ignored our return tickets, the seats were summarily cancelled and new ones allocated so we no longer had the front row viewing seats we had booked and paid for many months ago. Ah well, we must make the best of it but what a shame.

So we boarded the vessel with almost 300 others and took our newly reserved seats on the lower Jet Deck of this catamaran. The seats were comfortable, screens around the lounge showed outside views, speed, and position on the route, and menus in the seat pockets showed food or drinks to order for delivery to one’s seat. All this was fine until we sailed and left the shelter of the coast. The journey was supposed to take one and a quarter hours, doing about 29 knots.

The journey to Heligoland was, well, the first syllable is about right – hell. It was very very rough, and the speed frequently dropped to 10 knots because of the sea conditions. Most people were sea-sick (I wasn’t) and staff walked around continuously collecting sick bags. I think it was the noise of people being ill, groaning, children crying, and some people screaming, and the discomfort that made it worse. I think we must have been on the limit of sailing conditions for that sort of vessel, and it was absolutely horrifying when we saw and felt us going underwater. Now we knew what a ‘green water’ experience was, as it happened several times during that dreadful journey.

One of my friends wanted some fresh air and managed to get on deck for a moment. Being the keen photographer that he is, he also managed to get pictures of the ATLANTIS ferry in the seas as we overtook her – we had caught her up on the journey, although she had left an hour ahead of us.

Atlantis up

Atlantis down

Nearly two hours later we arrived in Heligoland, to be met on the quayside by 3 ambulances. We disembarked with great relief and managed to walk away from the sight of the sea and an unforgettable experience.

The island seemed an interesting little place in the pale sunshine, with its painted shop fronts along the quayside. There were summer places to rent and lots of people around, obviously here on holiday. It looks very picturesque, with its nature reserves, sea life, beaches and summer social calendar. If this is July summer weather and sea conditions, we wondered what it might be like in the winter. I shall have to listen to the Shipping Forecast in December!



We sat with our backs to the sea for some time, and then realised that ATLANTIS had arrived. For some reason she does not come alongside, but anchors off. Those poor people on the ship then had the final indignity of having to descend into local craft to come ashore. After a voyage in those seas, I really didn’t envy them the final part of the journey, which must have seemed endless.

Coming ashore from Atlantis

Nearing the quayside

We recovered enough to have a snack in an upstairs restaurant which reminded me slightly of the de la Warr Pavilion at Bexhill in East Sussex.

Funny Girl

Lady von Busum

One friend had spoken to the First Officer on the HALUNDER JET about the weather and sea conditions for our return journey later, back to Hamburg via Cuxhaven. He was told that the weather front had almost cleared and the journey should be much better than this morning, which was such a relief. I think we three had mentally wondered about alternative means of getting back, rather than enduring another journey like the one coming here. In fact there is no other way of getting to this island, which has an interesting history.

The route

Halunder Jet

Ships seen: Dublin Express, MSC Joy, Atlantis, 2 DFS Freighters, Funny Girl, Lady von Busum (which was obviously translated as Lady of the Bosom), Amarinth, Nippon Maru (not really, just a model), Grandi Napoli, Halunder Jet

To be continued…