Day 1 – Wednesday 30th July 2014
We should have learnt a lesson from our last biggish trip to Oostende and tried not to pack too much in to the days immediately before our departure. I worked Monday and Tuesday, Claire was in school Monday finishing off the last bits and pieces she needed to do to allow her to go with a clear conscience. This left her Tuesday to do the food shopping for the trip and the packing, to add to the problem we had arranged to go out with our friends Bridget and Connor on the Monday night and Sonia on Tuesday evening!!!! Don’t get me wrong, we had a good time but it was just madness.
We finished packing the last few bits about midnight on Tuesday; we had planned to be at the boat by 9am Wednesday morning so things were a bit hectic to say the least.
When we reached Stone the weather was perfect, warm and sunny with a gentle breeze. We were ready to start the strenuous process of ferrying our gear out to Red Rooster in our small tender but Claire’s mum and dad had a nice surprise for us, they had arranged a large RIB (Rigid inflatable Boat) from Stone SC to get us to the boat which was on our swinging mooring outside their house in St. Lawrence. This made transferring three weeks’ worth of food, clothes, additional fuel, more of Claire’s clothes and supplies a whole lot easier as we could do it in one trip. Simon Wakefield helped out with the tractor needed to get the RIB to the water’s edge.
As the wind was light and we would be running / reaching out of the Blackwater we decided to get going as soon as possible instead of stowing all the gear and then once we were under way Claire would start finding homes for everything most of which I will never see again let alone find again without her help.
Our passage plan was to get to Lowestoft by Wednesday evening. However, by the time we were passing Bradwell Power Station we were already talking about having to update that plan as the winds were very light and variable. We managed to sail with the kite up until we were opposite Clacton Pier and then due to severe frustration on my part we put the motor on and continued on our way. Neither of us could face the thought of motoring another 14 hours to Lowestoft so we decided to spend the night on a vacant mooring opposite Shotley Marina in Harwich. After a lovely meal of bangers and mash we went to bed early completely knackered.
Day 2 – Thursday 31st July 2014
I wanted to make the most of the tides for the next leg to Lowestoft so I got up at 4am leaving Claire snuggled up in bed. Turned on all the Navigation lights, started the engine, let go of the mooring and motored out of Harwich past all of the massive cranes at the Felixstowe container terminal, turning left at the cardinal on our way up to Lowestoft.
For Claire and I this was new territory. We had never turned left before… we had always turned right to go home after a weekend spent in the Walton Backwaters or a trip up the Stour. It was quite exciting; this really was the first milestone on our attempt to reach the Baltic Sea.
Unfortunately, as the sun came up to cast its light on the new day it was obvious that the wind was going to be light and variable at least for the morning. Claire finally surfaced with a very welcome cup of coffee. I tried the sails for a while but it was pointless. So we motored for another 6 hours, finally getting all the sails up as the wind started to fill from the South West. We were passing Sizewell Power Station in brilliant sunshine.
Claire always goes on about seeing ‘creatures of the sea’ and I have promised her that on this trip and certainly when we leave for the main event next year she will see plenty. Therefore, I was very pleased to be able to point out two porpoises swimming parallel to the boat some 20 yards off our starboard side. She was quite excited to see them and along with a few seals that we had already seen it added up to quite a good start on her ‘creatures of the sea’ count.
We had a nice lunch in the cockpit and discussed launching the spinnaker as the wind seemed steady from the West. We decided to wait to see if the wind continued to build and that was a good decision and not a bad lesson to learn as by the time we were passing Dunwich we were sailing well under white sails alone as we had a nice 10 - 15 knots with gusts of 20.
Hydi the Hydrovane was working well. We are still getting used to her but she is definitely worth having on board as part of the crew. By the time we were opposite Lowestoft and ready to enter the Harbour the wind has increased to 20 gusting 25 knots and the sea was beginning to build. It was interesting reading the East Coast Pilot as the chapter on entering Lowestoft said “…. with wind against tide heavy seas can build off the entrance, which is quite narrow with two lighthouses on the pier ends…the whole of the Lowestoft approaches area is under almost continuous survey because of the formation of sand waves which can give rise to rough waters in certain conditions and continually moving sandbanks……..” We put the boat head to wind and took the sails down. The sea was getting quite rough now and I needed to be careful as I locked the Hydrovane off over the stern of Red Rooster (RR).
Claire was on the helm as we were preparing to enter the harbour, there were two small yachts in front of us and we couldn’t figure out why they were holding position just outside the entrance, in the worse possible place with wind over tide this was nowhere to stop and sightsee. We then saw a small group of canoeists trying to get back into the entrance as is seemed that they too were caught out by the change in the weather.
Finally the other Yachts started to move. It was really difficult to get RR into the small Harbour entrance as the wind and adverse currents were making it extremely choppy and pushing us onto the starboard Harbour wall. The inside of the Harbour looked so tempting as the water was like a mill pond where just 30 yards outside the sea was extremely rough. If the engine stopped now we would have been in serious trouble. Claire had to motor hard straight towards the port harbour wall then slowed down and turn in sharply as the tide lost its grip and we shot through the gap.
Once inside a new drama unfolded as I started to prepare the boat for the marina. The padlock on the locker where all the fenders were stowed was rusted solid and the only way to get to them was to empty the main locker, climb inside and pull the fenders out! Bugger!!
We weren’t sure what side we would be mooring so fenders went out both sides and mooring lines were prepared fore and aft. I took over the helm at this point and Claire went forward with a spare fender and the mooring lines ready to jump in any direction. As we entered the unfamiliar marina, to our joy there was a spare gap on the visitor’s pontoon just inside the entrance. The wind by now was a good 25 knots and was doing all it could to blow RR away from the pontoon. I managed to get the nose in close enough to allow Claire to jump off where she quickly secured the bow line and ran aft where I threw her a stern line. By this time, and we are only talking a few seconds, the back of RR had been blown 15 – 20 yards away from the pontoon with Claire just managing to hold onto the line without getting pulled in. I ran to the bow, jumped off and gave Claire a hand and we both had to pull hard to get the back of RR in and tie her off. We gave each other and big hug as this part of sailing, manoeuvring in marina’s, still remains the scariest part for us.
Day 3 – Friday 1st August 2014
If I had to organise a wake for someone that I didn’t like then I would choose Lowestoft as the venue. It had to be the most depressing town we have ever visited by boat or by any other means of transportation for that matter, it was truly dreadful and the thought of being stuck there for longer than a day was playing on my mind. The wind was still strong as we walked past the rows of charity shops and boarded up commercial premises. Luckily for us the weather forecast was for the wind to moderate overnight and when we awoke it looked fine so we started our preparations to leave as soon as we were ready.
The Royal, Norfolk and Suffolk Yacht Club wasn’t the best club we had been to but it was friendly and the showers worked.
Although it was still breezy I decided to spin the boat by hand to make the leaving that much easier as the distance between the pontoon and the marina wall was very tight and I did not fancy doing a 16 point turn with everyone watching. We got some more
gas for the cooker, filled the tanks with diesel and water, called up the harbour master on channel 14 to ask permission to leave the RN&SYC at 10am as the opening from the marina led directly onto the main channel through the town.
The view couldn’t have been more different as Claire motored through the entrance to the harbour out into the North Sea. It was flat with a nice steady breeze. We pulled the sails up and motor sailed for a couple of hours past the shallows clearly buoyed and out into the open sea. The wind increased and we changed direction slightly to allow us to put up our frighteningly big kite. This sail always makes us a bit nervous but it is fantastic at getting RR going in light winds.
We spent a very enjoyable few hours sailing in nice sunshine making good progress Eastwards. I was having trouble with Hydi as it seemed to have a problem holding a course with the kite up and I couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
I think everyone knows that Claire needs her sleep more than I so we agreed that she would get some rest first and she went below around 16.30. Unfortunately the wind got up a bit and I decided to take the spinnaker down so I needed Claire back up on deck. When we were all squared away Claire said we should change course to allow us to cross the traffic separation zones (Motorways for the very big ships) at right angles and due to her superior navigational skills this also meant we were heading directly for Den Helder.
The boat was set up for the night now with a nice wind angle allowing us a comfortable broad reach across the North Sea. Strangely, and for no apparent reason the speedometer started working, we have got used to it not working, it gets covered in weed and doesn’t spin. I take all these little things as good omens.
We had a large scale map of the southern North Sea (Imray Chart C 70) on our Yeoman chart plotter which we updated manually every hour or so but the majority of the course work was carried out on our ipad with a Bad Elf GPS plugged into it. This along with downloaded Navionics charts turns the ipad into a very good chart plotter with lots of additional features to make plotting a course very easy. As this leg would take approximately 24 hours the tide was of little concern as it would push us towards the Thames estuary for the first 12 hours then back into the North Sea for the next 12. Our main worries were other ships and to try and cross the shipping lanes at right angles. This is an important part of sailings highway code.
Claire came up after an hour or so having cat napped. It was my turn to go below and I knew as I was heading down the saloon steps that there would be very little chance of me sleeping. At home I need it to be quiet, no clocks ticking etc so I had no chance. Added to this was the fact that I knew Claire was very nervous about being in charge of the boat alone as night fell.
As suspected I couldn’t get to sleep and I got up after an hour or so and joined Claire back up on deck feeling quite queasy which, although not unheard of, is unusual for me and I wondered what was wrong. Claire suggested that it must be hunger as we hadn’t eaten much all day and went below to put on two pizzas. A vegetarian pizza for her, and pepperoni for me.
Now a pepperoni pizza was probably the last thing I wanted to eat at 20.00 hours, bobbing around in our boat in the middle of the North Sea feeling sick. However, as I bit into the first slice I knew at once that Claire was right. I was starving and I ate the whole lot in about a minute flat!!
I was ready now for my night watch and Claire went below to try and sleep. The boat was sailing well; everything was in its place. As it was getting dark there was not a single boat to be seen but as soon as the light drained from the sky there were navigation lights popping up all over the place. Where do they all come from??
Now if you have never experienced sailing on a small boat at night in a large sea where virtually everything else on that sea is bigger than you - it is a very difficult thing to explain how incredibly hard it is to determine how big, how close, how far, how fast, and in what direction everything is going. The ships do have lights and most if not all of them have them in all the right places but picking them out when one ship is very close to another or in front of another is a very difficult thing. There is an electronic device called an AIS (Automatic Identification System) that you can buy that can help you with this dilemma…. but we haven’t got one! But I can confirm we are definitely going to get one!
During my watch I had one close call where I was 100% sure that the lights that I was looking at where a pair of small fishing boats sitting just under the horizon, I was watching them along with all the other lights moving around when one of these supposedly small fishing boats seemed to be getting closer. I looked through the monocular at it but the bright working lights smothered any navigation lighting that may or may not have been illuminated.
For some reason I was getting nervous about this boat as it seemed to be getting closer still and changing shape. I shone a powerful touch at the sail to help make Red Rooster more visible and I was relieved when the vessel bearing down on me flashed a search light on me to let me know that he had seen me.
I was really surprised and a little bit shaken when the small fishing boat in fact it turned out to be a massive factory ship of some sort heading straight towards me at a rate of knots.
It’s quite unnerving when that sort of thing happens. You spend your whole life trusting what your eyes see and your mind analyses for you and you trust that information. Then when that information is proved to be completely wrong it’s very scary and quite unsettling.
Claire came up around 1am. We stayed up together as I re-told my story of the close encounter and pointed out all of the different lights that were visible and what I thought they were. But after listening to my story I think she was going to make up her own mind though……..I was feeling very tired by now and went below to see if I could sleep.
This was Claire’s second time being alone on watch at night in the middle of the North Sea and it’s understandable that she felt nervous about what would or could happen. I asked her to call me at any time should she need my help or advice. Later on as the wind virtually dropped away to nothing she called me up to have a chat and we decided to put the engine on and motor sailed.
Claire too was suffering from the optical illusion that ships lights can provide during a night crossing. Your imagination develops these into all kinds of different vessels doing all sorts of different things. A huge ship that she had been watching for ages and that was moving, she said from right to left was actually an oil rig that was completely stationary!! When I came up from below there was enough light to see as the sun was beginning to rise and there was enough wind to allow us to turn the engine off and we enjoyed the quiet pleasure of RR sailing effortlessly along.
Claire never ceases to amaze me with the many different meals she can produce from a three burner gas stove and a small gas oven. She surprised me with a scrambled egg roll at 7.00 in the morning as we were nearing the coast. With a small ceremony we hoisted our curtesy flag for the Netherlands as we entered the approaches to Den Helder.
We were getting quite excited until we realised we still had three or more hours of sailing to go before we actually entered the marina. The sky became quite dark and the wind started to get blustery, for some reason it made me nervous so I put a reef in the main and wound the jib in a bit. The wind did get up but all was OK.
Claire contacted the harbour master before our arrival asking for a birth for a couple of days and to explain that we were new to the delights of box moorings (for those uninitiated few a box mooring has two telegraph poles at the open end of the mooring and a pontoon at the closed end and you are meant to drive your shiny, precious yacht in-between these two telegraph poles whilst lassoing a mooring line over each without hitting either one and of course stopping before you hit the pontoon at the end), and would appreciate a bit of help to get in.
Our practise is for Claire to helm on the way in as I take in the jib, drop the main sail and prepare the mooring lines and the fenders ready for our arrival. Then as we approach the marina entrance we swap over because Claire is very slightly more scared of this part than I am. The gap between the two huge posts as you enter the marina at Den Helder looks unnervingly small at approximately 6 meters. As we went through Claire was adjusting the fenders to the height of the pontoon and one of them slipped out of her grasp and into the harbour. Ignoring it as all of our concentration was required to get the boat safely in. Luckily for us there was a space on the end of a pontoon and we stopped alongside, port side to, with Claire jumping off and securing the lines. The harbour master tried to get us to move into one of the box moorings but when she saw the look on both our faces she gave up and let us stop there for the remainder or our stay.
By the time we had stepped down onto the pontoon, the Dutch family in the boat alongside side us were already trying to retrieve our fender. Claire and I being very tired really weren’t that bothered about it and made a few poor attempts a getting a line over it to bring it back in. Before we could do anymore the daughter had jumped in and swam it back to the ladder on the pontoon. This was a surprise to me as she already had a nice pair of fenders of her own and a third one was completely unnecessary!!
We rewarded this resourceful family with a bottle of our very best white wine only to find a few hours later that we needed to do it again as our boarding ladder slipped off of the guard rail and sank to the bottom of the marina directly underneath our boat. A group gathered around trying to hook it up with boat hooks taped to one another, grappling hooks on long lines dragged along the bottom all to no avail when along came the father of the afore mentioned family with snorkel and goggles suggesting that he should dive in and get the ladders from the bottom. Before I could stop him he was in. It was if he knew exactly where they would be even though the water was pitch black and about 3 meters deep because the next time we saw him he had the ladders in his hands and was spitting out water from his mouth. It was truly amazing and certainly worth another bottle of wine.
I just want to say that I feel all of these little mistakes that Claire and I were making, and they were only little, were due
to the fact that we hadn’t slept much in the last 24 hours and the stress of taking a small boat across the North Sea had taken its toll. We both felt as if we were drunk and all our movements were awkward. We recognised the problem and have promised ourselves that we will try harder in the future to get more quality rest during a long crossing.
Sleep, very deep sleep overtook us almost the minute we climbed back aboard with our wet fender. I think it was about 10 hours before we re-surfaced and grabbed our wash gear and had a well-earned shower. Den Helder is a fantastic port to enter after the grim night we spent in Lowestoft and the nervousness of an overnight North Sea crossing. It was relaxed, clean and comfortable with the town centre only a short walk away. As luck would have it, there was a sailing festival going on that weekend and Claire and I enjoyed a pleasant afternoon walking around the docks looking at all manner of Dutch sailing vessels. We tried local fish cooked in hot oil, had an open cheese sandwich type thing and generally soaked up the beer and the atmosphere. Later we had a nice meal in the yacht club and watched the sun go down on another fantastic day.
Day 6 – Monday 4th August 2014
Claire and I had talked about how surprising it was that there were so few English boats in the marina. We had not seen another Red Ensign since arriving in the Netherlands when through the gap and into the spot next to us arrived ‘Barbican Lady’. The two men that emerged were not a very good advert for the English sailing community. Battered and bruised was the way I would describe them and I asked if they had had a bad trip? “This isn’t from the sailing” they replied “this is from getting into a drinking competition with some Germans in Cruxharven and falling in the marina whilst being completely pissed”. One of the men, so drunk that even when he ended up in the water he didn’t come round and woke up alongside his friend and one of the German drinking partners in the local hospital. That said they were happy and chatty, telling us that they had sailed all the way to St. Petersburg and that they were on their way home again.
We really enjoyed our stay at Den Helder and would be happy to stop here again.
We left for Norderney at 10am on Monday morning expecting it to take approximately 24 hours. This would be another overnight passage but we felt we needed to do this as it would save us a day as we realised that getting to the Baltic Sea was going to take longer than we had first thought. This in itself wasn’t a problem as this trip was more to do with us experiencing life together over a period of weeks on Red Rooster not specifically getting to the Baltic Sea.
We both agreed that we didn’t want to sail, stop in a marina for the night and then sail off the next day, unless it was Lowestoft!! We wanted to see the places that we were visiting. We both wanted the time to relax and enjoy ourselves.
The sailing from Den Helder to Norderney was fantastic. The forecast predicted 3-6 knots southerly when in fact we had a South Westerly that blew at 10 – 20 knots virtually all the way and spent the first part of the trip under spinnaker which Red Rooster seemed to enjoy. We had a few tricky moments, mainly due to depth, where we had to drop the kite and head up to avoid the shallows that we found mainly between the gaps in the Frisian Islands. We then put the kite back up and carried on.
Once again the issues arose for me as the night fell and the lights became mysterious objects floating just above the sea. This time it was a sailing yacht which just had its mast head lights on. This, at first sounds pretty simple but I had convinced myself that it was part of another group of lights that were in the distance when in fact the yacht was only 50 or so meters away and sailing silently towards me. I did my usual shining of the torch at my sail and received no recognition. I quickly headed up and the yacht sailed quietly past and I’m still not sure whether they had seen me or not.
Claire came up from below after her rest and took over for the last stretch to Norderney as the sun began to fill the sky.
The entrance into Norderney, like all of these islands, was quiet tricky with numerous shallows and sand bars at the entrance.
The buoys on the water bore no resemblance to the buoys shown on our up to date chart so we chose to follow the chart keeping a close eye on the depth. We had to back up a few times before we found a way into the channel.
Again we were both getting nervous about the marina, it looked extremely busy as we rounded the bend and it opened up before us. Quite a few boats had passed us on the way out and I was hoping to find a good spot. Luck was once again with us as there was a space for a 12 meter yacht alongside the first pontoon we saw.
Red Rooster glided gracefully to a halt and after we had her all secure we both heaved a sigh of relief. Not at ending a significant coastal hop around the Frisian Islands of over 24 hours navigating our way through shallow channels and a very busy stretch of water off of Borkum but at getting into the marina in one piece without causing any damage or embarrassment to ourselves.
Surprisingly we didn’t feel too tired this time. Although the trip was approximately the same length of time as the crossing from Lowestoft we were well rested in Den Helder and didn’t feel the need to go to sleep immediately the boat came to a stop. So we tidied RR up, paid our dues to the harbour master, showered and headed into town for a nice meal and to look around at the sights of Norderney – one of the most popular German holiday resorts.
We found a very nice restaurant overlooking a grassy area. There was a band playing classical music in the band stand and everywhere looked clean and tidy. As we were entering the harbour at Norderney we spied some strange looking enclosed double deck chair type things on the beach through the monocular and Claire was pleased to find that they were a feature at this restaurant and we sat down in one of these with sigh and called a waitress over to order our food.
The food was wonderful and if we weren’t careful we would have nodded off in this large double deck chair.
I’m not sure if it was the lack of sleep or the drink or both but I started to think about a scene from ‘The Prisoner’ - a strange TV series starring Patrick Magoohan, as everything looked too ordered. No one was walking on the grass, everyone was using the paths, there was not a single piece of litter anywhere, all the dogs were on a lead and behaving beautifully, people were talking quietly to each other and there were no kids screaming. I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see a great big squashy ball come bouncing across the village green to get me.
Claire gave me a nudge and brought me back to my senses. We wandered back to the boat, walking across the grass, happy and content both agreeing that we would enjoy spending the next part of our life doing just this.
Tiredness finally overtook us and we went to bed about 8pm and slept through until late the following morning. When we surfaced there were two other boats rafted up to us but they were all very polite and stepped quietly across our boat to get to the pontoon.
That day Claire and I went back into town as we walked we started to discuss the time left to us and the distances we still needed to travel to get into the Baltic Sea. It was fairly obvious that if we were to make the Baltic Sea then the return journey would need to be almost non-stop to allow us to get back home in time for our Shearwater National Championships that were due to start on the 24th August. We also needed a few additional days for preparation, packing and the drive to Pagham.
When we got back I fell into conversation with the Dutch skipper of the boat alongside and mentioned the concerns we had regarding our trip. He said he would get his charts and over a beer or two we discussed the options. He agreed, having made the trip himself more than once that getting to the Baltic and back home in the time we had left would be difficult. There would be no slack in our schedule to allow for bad weather and the return leg would be against the prevailing winds.
He was from a small village on the Ijsselmeer and after discussing our plans with him he put forward an alternative. He suggested a route back to Vlieland, an Island we had passed on the way to Norderney where we could anchor for the night then a nice easy sail across the Waddenzee to Harlingen, then through the lock at Kornwerder onto the Ijsselmeer a large, shallow body of water stopping at Enkhuizen then through another lock onto the Markenmeer and out via Amsterdam to Ijmuiden where we could hop down the coast to Oostende and then home. This seemed like the perfect solution to our problem. We would in effect be sailing in a large circle rather than covering the same ground as we would be if we carried on to the Baltic. Also, and more importantly, it meant we would have a few days to stay and explore the places we visited. Claire and I agreed that we would use this route and we made plans to leave the following morning and started preparing for another night sail back to Vlieland.
Day 9 – Thursday 7th August 2014
As usual I woke feeling nervous about getting out of the marina without damaging my pride, the boat, other boats, etc. etc. I often consider leaving in darkness so no one can see the possible mistakes I would make. This time the stiff breeze was pushing RR onto the pontoon and we had two other boats outside of us rafted up. Oh what joy!!
When we saw the other crews that morning we informed them that we would be leaving around 10 and at that hour I started the engine to remind them that we were ready to leave. My solution to leaving was to reverse as we were at the end of the pontoon, turn sharply to port when we had cleared the telegraph pole on the outside of our berth and then motor forward. But when talking to the nice Dutch man alongside us he said I should consider ‘springing off’ from the front. This involved placing fenders close to the bow of the boat and using a strong mooring line from the bow onto a cleat roughly mid-way down the boat on the pontoon. The process is to then motor forward so the mooring line (the spring) is pulled tight and the curve of the boat makes the bow pull in close to the pontoon which in turn forces the stern out. Once the wind gets around the other side of the stern it would push us away from the pontoon and we could leave in reverse.
After careful consideration I decided to adopt his plan, although having never done anything like it before I was very nervous. I spent time positioning the buoys, adjusting the mooring lines so the spring would work and with everyone watching I said we were ready to go. Both the outside boats motored off in a big circle leaving us to perform our manoeuvre and I must say it worked perfectly. The helm and crew of the boat next to us even cheered as we reversed gracefully away leaving them to slip into our old position on the pontoon.
As we left Norderney we were confident that we knew where we were going as we remembered how difficult it was to get in but after 15mintues we were heading back the way we had come as the depth went down dramatically. Once again we ignored the buoyed channels and followed our chart which took us in a big circle with only a short shallow gap to cross before we were out into the open sea and heading in the right direction. For anyone who has not sailed in the Frisian Islands it is completely disorientating when you have a large body of water to the left of you, an island in the middle and a large body of water to the right of you. It sounds simple but it is quite confusing and it took more than one look at the chart to figure out which way we should go.
Both Claire and I were feeling nervous as we left the channel as the forecast was giving 15-20 knots with heavy squalls mixed in for good measure. We had one reef in the main and one reef in the jib. We set Hydi up and the boat was sailing beautifully. We settled down to another night passage putting in long tacks between the shores of the islands and the channel markers at the edge of the traffic separation zone the wind was on the nose but all was OK in our little world.
We had a little rain but saw on more than one occasion the beginnings of funnel clouds as the squalls pushed through us moving fast.
We were warm and dry in the cockpit cosy in our wet weather gear. Claire prepared a nice lunch on deck from the fresh rolls we bought before we left and as if to cheer us both up we saw a large porpoise break the surface of the water just off our stern. These sightings always lift the spirits and I always look forward to seeing ‘creatures of the sea’.
Although we were sailing back the way we had come it felt entirely different. Mainly because this part of the return journey was completed in daylight whereas before it was undertaken in darkness and all of the strange mysterious shapes that we had worried about were now clear to us. This made the bulk of the journey enjoyable and as the light began to fade we only had small fishing boats to worry about as most of the larger traffic around Borkum was safely behind us.
We did have one unusual experience and the fact that it happened during daylight made it slightly more humorous than it would have been at night. Between the Islands of Borkum and Rottumeroog is a channel for large ships entering or leaving the Ems estuary. We weaved our way around a couple of them and all was going well. We had noticed a tanker which looked like it was at anchor and after very careful consideration we both agreed that it was safe to pass in front of it. We would be quite close but we would clear it OK. Both Claire and I jumped out of our collective skins when a very loud horn split the air around us and we realised that the tanker had started to make way and was heading straight for us. Talk about a quick tack. We had RR turned around on a new heading before the sound of the horn had died away. I could imagine the crew on the bridge laughing their heads off at the looks on our faces and I wouldn’t mind betting that they had waited until the last possible moment to blow their horn to get the maximum effect.
The sunset was spectacular!
It took hours for the stars to appear as the air was very clear and there was not a cloud in the sky, as the moon rose it shed its light over the water preventing the night from becoming completely dark.
It was quite enjoyable watching the islands slip by and it helped relieve the boredom of the night watch. Unfortunately the wind died away to nothing around midnight and we had no other option than to motor the rest of the way.
Our timing was perfect because the sun was on its way up, the tide was flooding in between the islands of Terschelling and Vlieland and we were only an hour away from dropping the anchor in a nice little bay which would allow us to get some well-earned rest.
Both Claire and I were feeling happy with ourselves and as a little reminder about relaxing before you’re actually safe for the day we disregarded the chart which clearly showed a buoyed channel and headed straight across the open waters to where we wanted to anchor. We were completely surprised when Red Rooster ground to a halt having hit the bottom. Claire put it straight into reverse and we managed to get off quickly and back into the channel. Again this was a good reminder for us not to relax until we were safely at anchor.
There is nothing better than turning the engine off when you have been motoring solidly for hours. We were very tired, again still struggling with sleep on a night passage and longed for our bed. We checked our phones for any messages as we had both picked up a signal from the island and found one form Alan (Claire’s dad) warning us that the tail end of hurricane Bertha was sweeping its way across northern Europe and may send bad weather our way. We didn’t think too much of it and fell immediately to sleep.
I awoke about 2 hours later to the noise of our halyards slapping the mast and the boat was very restless continuously tugging on the anchor. When I went up on deck the idyllic scene of a few hours ago had changed. The wind was whipping up white water in the bay and the clouds were moving fast across the sky. I reread Alan’s email and asked Claire to check windguru using 3G on her phone. She discovered that very strong winds 25 – 35 knots were on their way and would hit our area before night fall. We didn’t fancy the risk of trusting our anchor in those kinds of winds and decided we needed to get into a marina.
There was a marina in sight on Vlieland but we could see that it was quite full already and boats of all shapes and sizes were already queuing at the entrance. Also we realised that this weather might last more than a few days and we wanted to get to a larger town / marina rather than the one that we could see as apart from a couple of shops etc there was nothing else to do here. So without more ado I pulled up the anchor and Claire took us around the channel this time and out across the shallow waters of the Waddenzee towards Harlingen which was approximately 5 hours sail away.
Looking at the chart – Harlingen seemed quite a busy city typically Dutch in that it had canals, locks and bridges everywhere. This of course struck fear into the pair of us as we had only ever been in a lock once and never been under a raised bridge or navigated canals around a small city.
We had a great sail mixing it up with every type of boat you could think of. All were heading in due to the poor forecast and we followed a boat into the outer harbour of Harlingen centre with Claire at the helm. There were about 4 or 5 different canals leading off of the small pool we were in. Looking at the ipad we chose to go left and head for a large marina around the back of the town.
We had to wait first for a bridge to go up and it was difficult for Claire to keep the boat away from the banks as the wind was pushing RR around. After the boats that were already in the lock came out we went under the raised bridge and into the lock, we managed to hold our position against the wall using boat hooks and mooring lines around vertical pipes in the wall which allowed you to slide up and or down with the water.
We had a rough idea of where we wanted to go after we got out of the lock but just to be sure I struck up a conversation with a guy in a motor boat in front of us and he said the best marina was a sharp right immediately as you come out of the lock. This we did, only to realise that we were about to enter the smallest marina in the world with an entrance of only 4.5m. Red Rooster is 3.86m wide and both Claire and I breathed in as we squeezed in through the gap. The marina was tiny; it looked like an Olympic swimming pool with loads of boats squashed into it. I had to somehow get Red Rooster into the spot being indicated by the Harbourmaster. By going forwards a bit and back a bit we managed to get into the spot without too much embarrassment and again the feeling of relief as we tired the lines and turned the motor off was immense
At first we were cursing ourselves for following the advice of a local instead of sticking to our plan to continue to the marina on the chart because it looked a lot bigger and therefore easier to get into. But upon reflection we had done the right thing because this marina was perfect. It was close to the city, it was cheap, the people were friendly and we felt relaxed and comfortable and we will be sorry to leave Jachthaven HWSV.
As the wind started to get even stronger with the tail end of Bertha making her presence felt I thought about how lucky we were to have decided not to push on to the Baltic. We were in a very nice spot and if we needed to stay here for a while we now had plenty of time and there was a lot to see and do.
Once again Claire and I have been very impressed with the towns we find ourselves in. Harlingen is clean and beautiful with a very pleasant buzz about it. There are lots and I mean lots of two, three and even four mast barges crammed into every canal in the city with lots of children / teenagers getting on and off after what we can only assume is a few days or maybe a week’s sailing experience. The main streets are full of cafes with plenty of alfresco dinning, musicians playing and every third person has a little furry dog. It is far more relaxed here and I had no worries about the large soft ball coming to get me this time.
As luck would have it, Claire and I were celebrating our 1st wedding anniversary and we both agreed that there would be no better place to celebrate such a happy occasion than in the beautiful city of Harlingen. We had a lovely day and booked ourselves into a posh restaurant – “Havenmantsje” for a sumptuous evening meal.
Claire and I had never been to a restaurant like this before. Although we could choose our dishes, the maître d selected the wines for each dish which were different for both Claire and myself. We started with an appetiser of Japanese seaweed and a nice bottle of Moet champagne which were on the house because it was our anniversary. Then we delved into a very strange menu – at the maître d’s suggestion we both had a dish that had beetroot, horseradish, squid and a small salad with Dutch potatoes and a green bean mouse, which sounds absolutely disgusting but was in fact delicious. Claire’s starter was langoustine, tomato salad with a nice sauce and I had eel and pork with horseradish and a small salad. Again both dishes were served with different wines and I must admit they did complement the food. Claire was desperate to ask for a glass of lemonade to mix with her wine but was too scared to ask as the wines had been specially selected by the maître d and he even explained how each one was made and the region it came from. For the main course Claire had smoked salmon fillet with vegetables and a creamy sauce and I had a steak from a hand reared Dutch cow with all the trimmings. Pudding was one of soufflé, the softest ever, one of raspberry and chocolate tower with cream balls and third dish was a raspberry sorbet. I would never have believed I would have enjoyed such an odd combination of food but it worked wonderfully and made our first anniversary a very special night.
When we finally awoke on the morning of the 11th the wind was still howling which happily for us meant we were staying put in Harlingen. We walked into town again to do a bit more exploring. We discussed that we should leave on the morning of the 12th and when we got back we got the boat ready.
The wind was still whistling through the trees and the masts in the marina but we thought it would be fine to go. Two or three boats left the marina ahead of us, one was going to Vlieland and the other two were going to Stevoran. We were just about to turn the engine on and cast off when two of the three boats appeared back in the marina saying it was still too rough so Claire and I decided to stay just one more day. So we put the covers back on Red Rooster, got out our dinghy, pumped it up, dropped the motor on the back and saw Harlingen from the canals as we motored around going under the bridges not really knowing where we were going. We saw camels in a field??
And we stopped at a floating café for a drink then motored back to Red Rooster agreeing we had had another very enjoyable day.
Day 15 – Wednesday 13th August 2014
The 13th dawned sunny but still breezy – we were going this time. We said our goodbyes, started the motor and nervously executed a three point turn to exit what we thought was the smallest marina in the world.
We heaved a big sigh of relief as we got onto the main canal that lead out to the open sea but forgot we had to go through the large lock and bridge complex and again we were confused as to what we should do and where we should go. Thankfully there was no one else around as the lights went green, the gates swung open and we motored in. Once we were through the lock we took our time in getting all the fenders and mooring lines in because the wind was still blowing between 15-25 knots and the wind was right on the nose. We had a very narrow shallow channel to navigate for the first three hours of the trip to the locks. Once through these we would be on the Ijsselmeer
As we neared the huge locks that were the gateway into this next inland sea we were not sure what to do and as luck would have it there were a couple of other yachts in front of us and so we followed their lead. This included us nosing Red Rooster forward gently up to the large waiting wall and hooking a bow line around the handle of an iron ladder to keep us stationary whilst we waited for the lock to open. Alongside us there was a motor boat with a very inexperienced crew and she couldn’t, no matter how hard she tried, flick a line over the bollards so they too could wait for the gates to open. I jumped up onto the wall, ran along and grabbed their line for them and hooked it around the bollard. Just as I did this the lights went green and the gates started to open so I had to run back and get on board Red Rooster. There is always a bit of a scramble to get in just in case there is not enough room for everyone.
There was no need to put Red Rooster into reverse as the wind was pushing us backwards so I told Claire to just let go. However, the line got snagged on the metal stairs and we lost our place in the queue. I motored forward again and Claire managed to wiggle the line free and we joined the back of the queue but made it in as the last boat with barely enough room to spare.
The Ijsselmeer is a very large body of water that is approximately 3 meters deep everywhere with no tide so the navigation was extremely easy – we just pointed our bows in the direction of Enkhuizen and set the sails accordingly. Hydi was up and running and as the wind was still blowing between 18-24 knots we had the 3rd reef in the main and jib. Hydi handled this weather very well and the boat was set up and sailing nicely doing between 4.5 and 5.5 knots on a beat.
As the day wore on the wind eased slightly, we shook out a reef in the main and two in the jib. We could bear off slightly which freed Red Rooster up a little and we achieved our best speed of the whole trip touching 8.2 knots more than once.
Enkhuizen came into view after about 7 hours of sailing and we started to prepare Red Rooster for the marina. Again the nerves started to kick in as we could see that it was a very large marina but was clearly very full. As we entered the marina there was a finger pontoon that we could moor up to starboard side to which we did perfectly. The only downside to this spot and probably the reason it was vacant was that it was quite a stroll to the marina office, showers and shop but we didn’t care, we were in and we were happy.
After sorting ourselves out we bumped into a boats crew that we met in Harlingen. They said we must take a stroll into the town centre as it was beautiful. We were going to just sit on the boat and watch the sun go down but instead took their advice and strolled into Enkhuizen which was a very pretty town. Lots of canals with lots of different and varied sailing boats crammed into every possible nook and cranny. We wanted to keep moving so unfortunately this was going to be our only chance to look at this lovely place.
We found out afterwards that Enkhuizen was famous for being the town where the first nautical atlas was put together by a local navigating officer in 1580. It contained 23 charts!
The adventure continues on Frisian Islands - Part 2........