John Apps recommends cruising to this holiday island
It is claimed that the island of Bornholm has more sunny days than anywhere else in Denmark. In summer the sun does certainly seem to shine constantly, and a high seems to settle over that part of the Baltic and produce idyllic summer days.
For the Danes, Bornholm is considered to be a holiday island, and there is a constant flow of ferries and aircraft bringing holidaymakers to its shores.
Because it is closer to Sweden, Germany and Poland than it is to Denmark itself, it also attracts tourists from those other European countries as well.
Then there are the pleasure boats that visit Bornholm. In its 22 harbours you can see flags from most European countries, but the overwhelming majority are Danish, Swedish, German and Polish. And, of course, as with everywhere in Europe, there is a large representation of boats from the Netherlands.
The British ensign must be a rarity as I was asked a number of times what country my red ensign represented, displaying the Union Jack in the top corner and the rest a big expanse of red. One German woman asked if it was perhaps the NZ flag.
I had a NZ ensign down below, so I showed her the extra four stars that the NZ flag had. Most seem satisfied with the argument that the red ensign, like most things British, was an oddity.
I did say to one enquirer that it represented the Communist Party of Great Britain, but fortunately they didn’t accept that answer.
Strategically, Bornholm has been important as an island in the middle of the Baltic. Hammershus, the largest castle ruin in Northern Europe, is on the northern tip of the island. Gudhjem, on the north-east coast, is one of the richest areas of Viking settlements in all of Denmark.
Geologically, Bornholm is split between Scandinavian bedrock and European lowland bedrock.
At the NaturBornholm site just outside the village of Aakirkeby, it is possible to stand on rock that is 1.2 billion years younger under one foot than it is under the other foot.
Most yachts arriving from Britain will probably stop off beforehand in Denmark or Sweden, although Germany is another alternative, and then make a passage to Rønne, which is the capital of Bornholm. Rønne has two ports: the very busy ferry and commercial port, and a completely separate marina to the north of the main port.
On a summer’s day, the Rønne ferry port can resemble Dover with the number of ferries (including high-speed ferries) going to and from Sweden, Germany and Denmark.
Even though the marina is separated from the main port it is well located, close to all facilities in the main town. The harbour master will direct you into a convenient berth and take your lines if he or she is available. It is the normal Baltic arrangement – two posts astern and bows to the dock.
Like most Danish marinas, Rønne has a machine to pay for berthing by credit card. The unmanned diesel dispenser also accepts credit cards but may not accept British credit cards, as I found. However, 500m away from the marina there was a perfectly good service station where I could fill up cans at a very reasonable price.
When paying for my berthing at Rønne, the machine offered me six nights for the price of five at most of the marinas on Bornholm.
I knew I would only stay two nights at Rønne and was then going on to Svaneke on the east coast to meet family. Svaneke was included in the deal, so I paid for five nights.
The only day on Bornholm that there was a decent wind blowing was the day I made the voyage from Rønne to Svaneke round the southern tip of the island. I had a 20-knot westerly, which was ideal to broad-reach down the west coast and then a beam reach back up the east coast.
Expecting Svaneke to be busy I had considered going into Aarsdale (pronounced ‘Osdel’, fortunately), but while I had seen Svaneke harbour previously from the shore and noted a significant number of rocks I had not seen Aarsdale before, and with 20 knots of wind I decided to try Svaneke first and go back one mile to Aarsdale if it was full.
Arriving late in the day after a 40-mile voyage, the harbour looked very full, with the outer harbour packed solid with beamy French- and German-designed boats. However, the harbour master was on the groyne to greet me.
He assessed my boat’s 2.95m (9ft 6in) beam and directed me between two fishing boats in the inner harbour, with an inch either side to spare.
Svaneke is one of those lovely medieval towns that can still be seen around the Baltic. One of the fortunate things about Bornholm’s declining permanent population (around 39,000 at last count) is that there is a limited demand for modern housing.
Svaneke has a very good selection of restaurants and takeaways in addition to a well-stocked mini supermarket and a microbrewery. The fish and chip takeaway just up from the boat harbour offers great fish and chips, although the fish being presented as a number of small pieces rather than one big piece is not as we in the UK would expect.
If Bornholm is the sunniest place in Denmark, then Svaneke has to be the sunniest place on Bornholm. It is the most easterly point, and its few very narrow sandy beaches are packed out with holidaymakers.
A delightful day-trip destination (or overnight stop) from most of the ports on the east coast of Bornholm is Christiansø, which in fact comprises three islands: Christiansø, Frederiksø and Græsholm, plus a number of minor rocks and skerries.
Only Christiansø and Frederiksø are populated, while Græsholm is a bird sanctuary.
Christiansø and Frederiksø are separated by a sound which forms a wonderful natural harbour. At one stage it was a major defensive position for the Danish Navy, but now the old military accommodations are mostly occupied by artists and writers.
Christiansø also has a vibrant fishing industry, and its sild (herring) are considered a delicacy throughout Denmark.Most of the meals I had in various people’s houses on Bornholm included at least one serving of sild cooked in a variety of sauces.
Christiansø has a good variety of restaurants and ice cream shops, and sitting overlooking the harbour is a wonderful way to spend a lazy lunchtime. For the more active it seems to be a very popular place to have a swim, particularly on the western side of Frederiksø.
Many yacht owners see it as a good opportunity to put their kayaks in the water and go for a paddle.
I took a boatload of family up to Christiansø from Svaneke, about two-and-a-half hours motoring due to lack of wind: that high was still hanging around.
When we arrived at the southern entrance to the harbour we were informed by the owner of a waiting motorboat that there was no room in the harbour. Fortunately my daughter-in-law, who was born and bred in Svaneke, suggested we try the north entrance.
We managed to navigate our way around through the numerous skerries and kayakers to the northern entrance using Navionics on the Android pad. There were very few boats inside the northern entrance, and we soon found a good mooring.
A rarely-opened swing footbridge separates the northern side of the sound from the southern. While the ferry wharf bringing trippers to the islands is located on the north side, we found it produced little wash to disturb our boat.
We were there on a relatively windless day, but it is advised that if there are strong winds you decide whether to enter the north or south entrances.
A black ball or three red lights are shown if it is not advisable to enter the harbour.
I had my two-year-old granddaughter on board for the trip, along with her parents, and we decided that it might be best to go back to Svaneke for the night.
However, if you can stay, they say that Christiansø only shows its unique atmosphere after 1700 hours, when all the three-hour tourists have left. There is quite a celebration at the inn, to which yacht people staying overnight are very welcome.
One place that is on my list for the next time I visit Bornholm by boat is Hammerhavn on the northern tip of the island. It is described as a beautifully scenic harbour with no village activities or service facilities.
It is also the closest marina to the Hammershus ruin, the large fortification mentioned previously.
On leaving Bornholm I made up for missing out on Hammerhavn by making my next port of call the marina at Lohme on the German island of Rügen, another idyllic spot with no village activities (unless you are a mountain goat) and very few facilities, but plenty of sylvan beauty.
About the author
John Apps has been sailing since he was seven years old, but only took up ocean sailing in 2005 when asked to help deliver a friend’s boat from Florida to the East Coast of England. Since then he has completed two single-handed Jester Challenges to the USA and two Jester Azores Challenges in his UFO27 Glayva.
This Cruising Notes article was published in the April 2017 issue of PBO.
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