Saturday, July 25, 2009


We left Amsterdam on Monday after several days of waiting for a forecast which didn't have a force 7 in it. Winds are generally a force or two less in the inland lakes than out in the North Sea, but both the Markermeer (the southern bit of the Ijsselmeer) and the Ijsselmeer itself are extremely shallow (3-5 metres) and a strong wind can whip up an unpleasant chop.

In the end we sailed all the way to Hoorn with just the foresail up, and three or four rolls in it. It was a great sail except that, as in the French canals, we had to get used to only having 1m of water under the keel and not panicking.

Almost all the towns around the Ijsselmeer have hundreds of years of interesting history and Hoorn is no exception. They also have a choice of mooring places – the old town quays, which are usually right in the middle of town and require rafting up, not much privacy, but very picturesque; sometimes an older marina based in a dock marginally further out of town; and a huge new marina built on to the outer side of the sea wall. In Hoorn we went for the outer marina, which was vast but still surrounded by trees. The awful thing is that having subsequently spent two days in Enkhuizen I find it really difficult to remember Hoorn at all.

Another nice thing is that all the towns are only 10-15 miles apart, so you can set off at a very civilised time, say 11am, drift gently or sail enthusiastically (depending on the wind) for two or three hours, and arrive at your destination in plenty of time for a late lunch. Unless the wind drops completely you can afford to sail all the way, and of course there are no tides to worry about. We drifted up to the lock (sorry, 'Naviduct', as it goes over the motorway) at Enkhuizen which lets you out of the Markermeer and into the Ijsselmeer, and decided to go for the older of the two marinas, which is almost out of town as Enkhuizen is so small. Unlike Hoorn which has acquired loads of suburbs, Enkhuizen stops at the edge of the old town.

Enkhuizen also features the Zuider Zee open air museum, which we think we last visited with Guy about 18 years ago. This is a village of original and reconstructed houses from the past 200 years, which allows you to nose about extensively and in a few cases actually see the crafts being re-enacted. Ben wasn't sure he approved, as the costumes and style really aren't up to Kentwell Hall standards, but even he was eventually won over by a combination of the steam laundry, the tiny canals and numerous privies in which we photographed him. He wasn't so sure about the smoked eel, smoked on site in the traditional way, but Sam and I thoroughly enjoyed it although it took about six hours to get the grease off our teeth.

From Enkhuizen we sailed to Medemblik which is something like the Netherlands' answer to Cowes – it's focused almost entirely on sailing. We sailed through a grey, rather wet morning and are in the inner marina, which is very pleasant and surrounded by gabled Dutch houses, albeit not very old ones. It's also pretty cheap - €14 a night. The town is modern and not enthralling, although it does feature possibly the most expensive chandlery I've ever seen. Behind the marina, however, is a delightful park and walks through to the new, outer marina and the picturesque castle. By the time we got there the clouds had gone and the Ijsselmeer had turned the most astonishing shade of blue.

Today is apparently the start of the Bic Open dinghy championship – these are tiny craft like modernised Optimists (special offer championship price, €1,999) and there were about 20 brand new ones on the quay. We sat for a while and watched various youngsters launch and try them, before returning to the boat for dinner. Restaurant prices in the Netherlands are similar to the UK and with the current euro exchange rate we are eating in most of the time – other than a fishy meal at the clubhouse in Ijmuiden and an excellent meal at Top Thai in Amsterdam.

Today the Thames sea area forecast is SW 5-6, and although that's probably quite manageable in the Ijsselmeer we thought we'd take the opportunity to stay here so Sam can have a good look at the sea toilet, which seems to be pumping unpleasant substances out but not bringing any fresh water in. From January this year you're not supposed to pump your loo into any Dutch water anyway, instead using a holding tank which can be emptied at a pump-out station (sadly our holding tank doesn't have this facility). There are pump-out stations here but so far we have seen no-one using them – hmmmm. Anyway the sky has gone black, the wind is howling and thunder is rumbling, so we're quite glad to be here. Also, despite their multivariate history, one charming Ijsselmeer town is not that different from the next one so there's a strong incentive not to bother to move on.

Every yacht has bilge gods who live on small items which get dropped into the bilges. They seem to be very hungry today, as they have eaten not only Sam's beloved Gill sunglasses but also the key tool-roll which he needs to mend the loo.... of course it's just possible that the tool-roll is still at home and the sunglasses were left somewhere in Enkhuizen.

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