‘the scene from the offing was desolate to the last degree’

Charting the Harle, as Carruthers & Davies claim to be doing on October 16, was probably a rather pointless exercise back in 1898. As already noted by Lloyd (not Davies) in a previous post, the sands in these parts are constantly shifting, and the channels would be changing pretty regularly as a result. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the waters between Wangerooge & Spiekeroog.

“Luftaufnahme Spiekeroog” by User:Huebi – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Luftaufnahme_Spiekeroog.jpg#/media/File:Luftaufnahme_Spiekeroog.jpg

Spiekeroog, in particular, is an island that has changed its shape and size rather dramatically over the centuries. Originally there were three islands in these waters, but the two others, Lütgeoog and Oldeoog, became fused into Spiekeroog around 1750. Since then, Spiekeroog itself has been on the move, despite tremendous efforts on the part of the locals to make it stay put.

inseldrifttransparent copy
The changing shape of Spiekeroog and Wangerooge – via http://www.nordwestreisemagazin.de/spiekeroog/inselentwicklung.htm

At the eastern end of Wangerooge, engineers have been at work for centuries trying to counter the effects of sea and wind. This isn’t, therefore, a ‘desolate’ place at all. Human beings have been exceedingly busy in these parts – mainly installing *groynes*.

Take a look at the map of Wangerooge on page 6 of Hans Kunz’s seminal work ‘Groynes on the East Frisian islands: History and experiences’ (thanks to Club member Kevin for finding this and many other notable academic works on this subject), and you’ll see the place is positively bristling like a porcupine. Admittedly the largest of the groynes wasn’t installed ’til 1903 so Carruthers and Davies wouldn’t have been troubled by it. But a lot of engineering work would have been in evidence as our heroes sailed past.

(Wikipedia btw says the largest groyne is so large that it “poses a not insignificant hazard for shipping because it cannot be crossed at high tide”, but Club member Tony disagrees with this. He writes: ‘between Wangerooge and Spiekeroog there is indeed a very long groyne (or “Training wall” as they are sometimes referred to if they are trying to modify water currents), but it doesn’t block the entire entrance. On the Navionics chart, there is a gap, marked by an East cardinal bouy on the groyne side and between that and the eastern end of Spiekeroog, there is a channel with a of depth of over 20 metres, plenty to get even large ships in and out. So it seems that the training wall is doing its job in keeping the current flowing through the gap.’)

What all this suggests to me is that Spiekeroog isn’t the desolate and lonely place that Carruthers would have you believe. If it was that bad, why would people spend so much time and energy trying to save the place?

In fact, even the most basic research about Spiekeroog (and that’s the kind of research I specialise in) shows that this is a really popular place to stay, and has been for more than a 150 years. It’s particularly well known as a health resort and still boasts a ‘wellness centre’ with more than 3,000 rooms. Many German dignitaries and celebs have over the years come to Spiekeroog for a bit of r & r. And even in the bleaker months, the place is by no means empty.

An alternative view of Spiekeroog: image from http://www.redspa.de/2014/09/spa/spa-test/duenenspa-inselbad-spiekeroog-nordsee/

Poor old Carruthers has missed his chance here. Instead of a damp, cold confinement on a tiny boat stuck in the mud, he could have been enjoying a spot of hydrotherapy, sauna and a warm bed. The groynes should have clued him in to the possibility of a bit of civilisation and comfort nearby. I won’t be making the same mistake when we make our trip. I’ve got my eye on the Inselbad & DünenSpa

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