Day 16 – Thursday 14th August 2014
The next morning we left just after 10am and joined the convoy motoring towards the next lock that took us onto the Markenmeer, another large enclosed body of inland water. We are defiantly getting better at the locks and we now always tie a line mid ship first and then try and control the bow and the stern from swinging out too far into the lock.
Once we were through we sorted Hydi out and again we had a wonderful sail in quite strong winds, we passed a lovely lighthouse and in no time at all we were preparing to enter the canal system that would lead us to Amsterdam.
At the entrance to the canal there is a lock and a bridge. It was busy and we had to squeeze in between two other yachts. We held on tight to their guard rails as the water poured in. As the gates swung open I said to Claire that we would let everyone else go and be the last to leave the lock. As I put her into reverse she didn’t answer to the helm as she normally does and Claire had to use all of her strength to stop us from hitting the yacht we were tied up to and after that the concrete wall of the lock. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong but luckily when I put her into forwards she responded normally and we motored safely out of the lock. It was only when we started to take the fenders and mooring lines in that I realised I had left the rudder of Hydi on and so in reverse her rudder had control and not the boats rudder. Another lesson learnt!!!!!
We had decided to head for the marina called ‘Sixhaven’ that was in the centre of Amsterdam. This was recommended to us by more than one person as it was located in the centre of Amsterdam across the canal from the central station. We motored through Amsterdam getting more and more excited as we realised what we had achieved by making it here in our own boat.
This all disappeared when we motored through the entrance to the marina and had to stop immediately as it was about half the size of the marina we thought was the smallest marina in the world. We managed to tie up to a pontoon in the entrance but there was no room for another yacht to pass us as the entrance was so tight. I didn’t like it at all!!!
Upon investigation every berth was full – I couldn’t get out of there quick enough and there was just enough room for me to back up and head back out. As luck would have it there was another yacht passing in front of us and we slowed down to let them through and I asked them if they knew of another marina. They said they did and were going there themselves and so we followed them to what can only be described as the biggest marina in the world – this was called ‘The Amsterdam Marina’. It had only opened the year before. There was so much room that even we had no issues as we brought Red Rooster around the pontoons and into a free berth near the gate.
That night, although we should have gone into Amsterdam, we were feeling too tired and after availing ourselves of the wonderful showers and toilets in this almost new marina we headed for the very popular restaurant that was built next to the marina offices. The only place available was a stool at the bar and Claire and I got pleasantly pissed enjoying speaking to the friendly bar staff and various locals who came and went as they hung around for up to 1 ½ hours waiting for their tables to become available.
The next morning – Friday – we were up and out looking forward to spending our first day in Amsterdam. The weather wasn’t perfect and as we boarded the free ferry that took us from our marina to central station we decided that our first experience of Amsterdam should be seen from the canals so we joined one of the many water tours. This proved very lucky in that it gave us a good feel for the city and its many attractions and it also kept us dry during a heavy and prolonged rain storm.
Amsterdam seemed a very young city to me with lots of people out and about, mainly on push bikes, but with all the inter-connecting canals it was a pleasure to walk around and just take in the sights and sounds. As day turned into night and the smell or marijuana became more evident, Claire and I got our first glimpse of the red light district and the ladies of the night in their box windows. We didn’t stay too long but it was part of the make-up of this fantastic city and we felt that we should at least see it.
We had only allowed ourselves to stay one day in Amsterdam but the forecast for the weather in the North Sea was so bad that we decided to spend another day here rather than going down to Ijmuiden. So we had a morning of jobs and went back into Amsterdam to visit the Maritime Museum and a replica of ‘The Amsterdam’ which was a 15th century merchant ship that foundered on rocks just outside of Hastings and can still be seen there apparently at low tide. After that we took a leisurely walk back through the town and made our way back to Red Rooster ready for departure the next day towards Ijmuiden.
Day 19 – Sunday 17th August 2014
After saying our goodbyes at the marina Claire took us out onto the main canal heading towards Ijmuiden in torrential rain. The wind was howling and the visibility was very poor. I had to put the navigation lights on as it was so bad. We couldn’t believe the size of the boats coming down the canal heading towards Amsterdam and we thought we had seen it all when we saw a very large cruise liner come around the corner and it glided silently past us we were both sure that the last time we had seen this liner was from the balcony of our hotel room in Palma earlier in the year.
It rained on and off the whole day and after our usual uncertainty in entering the locks we were through into the outside harbour at Ijmuiden which in 30 knots of wind was very rough and both of us were pleased that we were going into the marina and not heading out onto the north sea which was doing its best to knock down the harbour wall to our left.
The marina at Ijmuiden is huge with large avenues between the box moorings that are either side. For some reason this gave me the confidence to try to get into a box mooring for the very first time even though the wind was howling and the rain threatened to fall any minute. After a few minutes of frantic manoeuvring I realised what a mistake I made and took the boat out backwards at high speed and brought her alongside a pontoon that Claire had pointed out on the way in. As is our custom once tied up, we heaved a sigh of relief, gave each other a hug and settled down to a nice cup of tea. Looking at the forecast it was obvious that we would be here for a few days as the weather was truly dreadful!
We got ourselves sorted out and started the long walk to the marina office and the showers. We knew that because of wimping out of the box mooring that the walk to and from the showers would be considerable, but we both agreed that we would rather walk a bit further than have trouble getting in and out of a birth. As it happens we only got wet once as the rain caught us out mid walk and it wasn’t that bad. The fee for staying was the dearest of the whole trip with Lowestoft coming a close second.
After we had paid and got a copy of the weather forecast we took a look over the top of the sand dunes at the sea and what we saw looked truly horrible. It was grey and overcast. The sand was being whipped up into our faces and the sea was crashing repeatedly onto the harbour walls sending huge plumes of spray high into the air. Once again we were glad we were tucked up safe in the marina.
One our way back to RR we talked to a couple in the boat behind and I invited ourselves around for a drink much to Claire’s embarrassment. Apparently I’m not meant to invite myself.
Simon and Margaret were interesting and had travelled extensively on their yacht. They too were waiting for the weather to break but unlike us they were going back through the canals to their village on the Markenmeer. They suggested that we may have to wait for Wednesday for the weather to clear but we wanted to get going and there was little to look at in the marina and the town centre was quite distance away.
One of the things we had come to rely on was the wi-fi which was normally free but in this case they were trialling a new system and the coverage was very patchy. We found ourselves wandering around the pontoon with our ipad trying to pick up a decent signal. When we managed to download windguru it agreed with the forecast that the marina office was giving out that the wind was going to carry on blowing 4–5 occasionally 6 for most of Monday and Tuesday morning but by mid-day it should decrease to a 3-4. Unfortunately the wind direction remained the same which meant that we would be beating all the way home.
After a tip from Simon we took a stroll down to a restaurant on the beach. As we walked over the crest we both remarked on how the sea looked. It was a lot calmer. There were waves still trying to knock the harbour wall down but no were near as big and as vicious as the day before. This cheered both Claire and I up immensely and confirmed we would head off for home tomorrow. The restaurant was nice but the waitress made both Claire and I laugh, although her English was very good I don’t think her teeth fitted too well and when I asked her where we should sit she said “ we should shit anywhere we liked.. we could shit by the window if we wanted!!”
We both opted for fish and chips which was delicious. We got back to the boat, tided everything away and had an early night ready for the trip home tomorrow.
Day 21 – Tuesday 19th August 2014
When I got up and looked outside there were patches of blue sky which we hadn’t seen for days. This cheered us up as the wind was still blowing at 15-20 knots inside the marina but the forecast was for it to drop by lunchtime. As we were preparing for a night passage Claire made a nice spaghetti bolognaise for us to warm on the hob mid trip and flasks of tea and coffee that go in the holders by the helm.
I have had a number of firsts on this trip and getting fuel from a fuel barge was another thing I wanted to tick off. At Ijmuiden it was very easy with plenty of room to swing round and position RR starboard side to so that the hose didn’t have to run across the boat.
While I was filling her up a very nasty squall came through with enough force to heel RR over quite significantly. I looked at the sky and it was black then the rain hit us and I started to wonder if we were doing the right thing in leaving before the wind had abated. As if to boost my confidence three other boats left as we were preparing to leave the fuel barge. It was just after 11.30, Claire helmed as we left the marina and I quickly stowed all of the buoys, mooring lines and boarding ladder. This proved quite difficult as there was quite a sea running INSIDE the harbour walls. 2 of the other yachts turned right to go into the lock and one turned left to head out and over took us. The wife waved and we waved back.
When we stuck RR’s nose outside the harbour I was immediately struck by the size of the sea. The waves were around 2 meters high and the sea very disturbed, coming at us from all sides. As is the norm every now and then a larger wave came along and I was trying hard to keep bow onto those. We were still under motor alone and I was worried about the slamming RR was suffering and new that if I pulled some jib out it would help RR’s motion. I considered rigging the storm sail on the inner forestay but that would mean working at the bow for a while and Claire didn’t want me to take the risk. I decided to see how she went under a bit of jib and carefully unwound the roller furling putting a couple of turns of the control line around a winch to ensure it didn’t slip as the last thing we needed now was for the whole thing to unwind.
Once Claire had sheeted it in, which didn’t take long as it was only a scrap of sail RR heeled with the wind and her motion became easier. She still slammed off of the bigger waves but this was manageable.
I looked for the other yacht a 40ft Bavaria and he had put his main up too, it looked like he had 3 reefs in and about the same amount of jib that we had. I started to discuss putting the main up with Claire as I wanted to get away from the shore as quickly as possible. As we were talking a gust hit the boat that was a lot stronger. I looked to windward to see a black column of rain 3 or 4 hundred meters wide underneath some very ugly clouds. I forgot all about the mainsail as the rain tore into us, the boat heeled over sharply and I looked at the wind speed indicator and was not surprised to see 41 knots. All talking stopped as Claire pulled her waterproofs around her and I hung onto the wheel. The good thing about squalls if there is a good thing is that they don’t usually last long and this one was no different. 10 minutes max I told myself then the wind dropped back to 25 knots.
I looked for the other boat and saw it head to wind with all sails flapping. As I started to wonder if they needed help I saw the boat turn away and start sailing again although they seemed far too close to the shore for my liking.
We were still motor sailing and we discussed turning back as we could see at least 3 more squalls dotted around the horizon with more sure to fill the gaps that these would leave as they marched across the sea. Claire surprised me when she said we should carry on, it was still blowing and the sea was very disturbed as only the North Sea can be. Her reasoning was that we had been through a squall and survived, going back wouldn’t be much fun and the forecast was for it to drop so on we went.
I put the mainsail up with 3 reefs, sorted Hydi out and she took over the helming duties. I tweaked her (if you’d pardon the expression) as tight to the wind as possible and turned the engine off. We were sailing at last heading out to deeper water where I felt safe. There was a squall on collision course with us and I decided to tack to avoid going through the centre. This worked and I used this manoeuvre twice more but soon realised that we couldn’t keep doing this as we were making little or no progress towards our destination. Also as night fell we wouldn’t be able to see the squalls if they lasted that long.
So when the next one came we bashed right on through, I was really pleased with the way RR was sailing, she felt comfortable and safe, Hydi was coping very well and the only thing I was worried about was Claire. She had gone very quiet and was huddled in a corner staring into space. She said that she was OK but feeling sick.
Remembering when I was not feeling well and the Peperoni pizza saved the day I suggested we heat up the spaghetti bolognaise. Well I think this was possibly the worst thing I could have said as she leapt for the rail and was sick all down the side of the boat!! Later when she had had some water and cleaned her teeth I remarked on the fact that there was a lot and I mean a lot of spaghetti bolognaise down the side of the boat, she replied “well I had to taste it when I was cooking it…..to make sure it was nice!!”
Very soon the light began to fade and the wind was still blowing hard, the squalls were still around too. We had a lot of shipping to navigate our way around as our course was taking us past Rotterdam and Scheveningen, two large ports on the Dutch coast. Thankfully most of the ships were at anchor but we had to tack out of the way for two monsters with one of them giving us a honk as a thank you. We managed to clear the shipping lanes as the night fell. Claire couldn’t face going below and I didn’t want to leave her alone so we both took turns and cat napped.
That wind did not stop blowing until the sun started to rise the next morning. We were both happy to see the sun, and I at last shook the reefs out of the main and pulled the entire foresail out. The wind direction was still wrong for us blowing West South West but we didn’t care we had got through a terrible night and we were all the stronger for it. I asked Claire if it had put her off the idea of sailing long term and to her credit she said no, she said that she was still looking forward to going. With that she went below to get some sleep and I got the bucket and mop out and removed the large portion of spaghetti bolognaise off the side of the boat.
The wind died away to nothing and we motor sailed through the wind farms with the cranes of Felixstowe coming into view away to the right. We had planned to stop at Harwich for the night but from our position it looked like we would be going backwards so I decided to head straight for the Blackwater. It would take an additional 3-4 hours now but it would avoid us having to wake up and put in another 6 hours in the morning before we were home.
We called our parents to let them know we were safe.
Our course took us past the Black Deep Buoys, such a sweet name, Gunfleet spit and the Wallet spitway. Soon we could see the power station at Bradwell and I knew we were getting close.
We had a very nice beat up the Blackwater, passing the famous ship housing radio Caroline which had appeared whilst we were away and picked up our mooring at 18.30. We had been going for 32 hours but we were back. We made sure all was well with Red Rooster and we went to bed.
We had a great trip, it stretched us as sailors and we have gained a lot in confidence, not in the marinas mind you but in our skill at handling Red Rooster in the conditions experienced on this adventure.
Through all of the different phases of this trip Claire and I never had any doubts about each other or our abilities. We trust one another and we both agree that we want to carry on with our preparations to leave for the Mediterranean next April.
Watch this space!