Wednesday, June 29, 2011

A few pictures

Wacky lifting bridge

Kalessin in Leeuwarden

Cows and horses on the Lauwersmeer  
Fish smoking sheds at Zoutkamp
Serious culture in Groningen - the modern art museum

End of the canals - for now

For the first time in what feels like weeks I'm posting from a computer, which makes it nice and fast to type. I have a deal with Vodafone where I pay an extra £10 a month on my contract and get 25MB of data a day in the Netherlands and Germany (unfortunately only 5MB a day in Denmark). I've also set up Blogger so that I can post by email. So I compose a blog post offfline on the iPhone using the email app, turn on data roaming and 3G, post the email, check the weather, Facebook and any other emails, check that the post has loaded, and turn data roaming off again. So far I am very well under my limit. Isn't technology marvellous?

Kalessin in Groningen

Groningen was great, except that the place where we planned a quick dinner took almost an hour and 20 minutes to serve the food. If you happen to be in Groningen, avoid De Brasserie on Poelestraat, especially if it looks busy. Enough said. The promised storm broke in the late evening with spectacular lightning and downpour. We were fortunate to be well away from the nearest storm drain - in fact we had avoided it because it smelled a bit. When the rain came down it did a good imitation of Niagara, pouring into the canal. If it had poured into our cockpit we'd probably have sunk.

Today has been mostly on the straight, dull and deep Eemskanaal to Delfzijl, which is the end of the Netherlands for us. Delfzijl is an industrial port but has a convenient marina out in the sea - well, it's salty and has tides but is tucked behind a massive sea wall well up the Ems estuary, so not really open sea yet.

And it's open sea that is the problem. The forecast for the next few days is north-westerlies, anything from a force 4 to 6. This makes all the Frisian islands a lee shore, and even the few entrances which we might be able to get into become unfeasible. From here to Borkum, the easiest island to access, is straight into the wind, so since we have to leave here on the ebb tide, we'd have wind against tide. Under most conditions a force 4-5 is a good sailing breeze. Here it gives us the prospect of a 125-mile passage in lumpy seas with no opportunity for a bolthole. We also have to cross the Ems, Jade and Weser and run into the Elbe - some of the busiest shipping channels in Europe.

Ben arrives by air to Bremen next Tuesday, the 5th, when we must be on the mainland - either here or (preferably) in Cuxhaven on the Elbe. We need 24 hours of SW3-4 and daylight all the time - could someone arrange that please? Failing that, we may see more of Delfzijl than we planned.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

In the middle of Groningen

Well, this is unexpected. It's been a long, hot day in which we covered 26 miles, a lock and dozens of bridges. We were halfway around Groningen when we hit the tea/rush-hour break: the bridges stop opening between 4 and 5.30 pm. We were lucky enough to stop in one of those spots you will know if you have ever been to Amsterdam: canal down the middle, semi-pedestrianised streets down each side with trees and bicycles on the canalside, and lined with traditional merchants' houses (probably reconstructed, as the Allies blew most of Groningen to bits when they liberated it). Now it seems we can stay the night here if we want, so we are. There are no facilities except mooring rings and a rather dodgy-looking tap, so I don't know if we'll be charged.
We were expecting rain today, but none has been forthcoming. The hazy cloud has made the heat feel less intense, although stuffier.
We crossed the Lauwersmeer, which was somewhat like running down the Waveney into Breydon Water, but on a larger scale, and without the tides; the entrance to Lauwersmeer was dammed off in the 1970s. It was full of wildife including some very masculine cows with big horns, pretty, half-wild horses and possibly marsh harriers.
Neither it nor the Reitdiep which is the canal which brought us here were quite as shallow as we feared, with usually around 1m under the keel. We shared the last few bridges with a traditional Dutch sailing boat, with leeboards, whose crew didn't really understand our problems when we touched bottom a couple of times. They draw 50cm.
Most of the bridges along the Reitdiep are push-button operated, another hark back to the French canals; you can call on VHF too, but then you might need to speak Dutch :-( It was all very pretty and rural, and we believe we may even have seen a hill.
Groningen is apparently a happening and culturally hip city, believe it or not. We will report back when we have explored further.
Miles covered today: 26. In a straight line from Lunegat: 15.4.

Monday, June 27, 2011


It seems churlish to complain, but currently the temperature in the cabin is 31 deg C. Two days ago it was 17. A middle ground would be nice.

We left Leeuwarden at 9am and spent the morning on pretty (and of course shallow) canals, heading towards Dokkum. We reached the edge of Dokkum just in time for the bridge lunch break and for me to rush into town to find a supermarket, and then rush out again as the nearest one was actually a couple of hundred metres further out of town than Kalessin. (fortunately the supermarket was air conditioned or I would have melted). I rushed back to the boat just in time for the first bridge lift, but we didn't make it as we were stuck on the mud. Reversing out of the berth finally got us off and into the centre of town.

On our brief encounter, the centre of Dokkum is charming, but the deeper berths set aside for yachts were not quite so charming, and after a brief lunch stop we decided to press on. Excitingly, we passed a boat fuelling stop where we were able to fill up with diesel and water - probably the first canalside filling station we've used since St-Jean-de-Losne in 2008.

Now we're in a pretty, tree-ringed marina at the entrance to the Lauwersmeer. It's so hot we have rigged the canopy, possibly also for the first time since 2008 (which must be why we argued about it), and we both went swimming in the peaty brown water.

Miles covered today: 21. In a straight line from Leeuwarden: 15 miles.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shallow brown

I am here to report that we have made it to Leeuwarden, via the shallowest water we have ever been in with our mast up. When we got to Grou a large green sign directed us to the Staande Mast Route. Possibly the size of the sign was impressive, but we decided to follow the signs, and the ANWB atlas, rather than follow Brian Navin. 

And what a good thing we did. We've just met another British boat who followed the Navin route, only to find that the key opening bridge is now permanently closed. They had to retrace their steps to Grou and follow us. 

Actually the route was delightful, a little canal winding through the Frisian landscape, slightly marred by the fact that we had as little as 0.3m under the keel at times. Mostly it was around 0.7m, just like the French canals. 

We got to the outskirts of Leeuwarden  in time for the Sunday lunch break for bridge openers. We hoped that meant a fast passage once they opened, but unfortunately the main rail bridge had a mechanical problem and they had to send a man in a reflective jacket to open it, which took around 45 minutes. In addition the route covers considerable extra distance (and more bridges), looping to the west and then the north, in order to avoid the fixed bridges in the city centre. 

The municipal moorings in Leeuwarden are wonderful. We are on the banks of the oldest public park in the Netherlands, the scent of lime trees is heavy on the air, and just behind us is the leaning, asymmetrical and unfinished tower once planned to be Leeuwarden's cathedral, before it started sinking and they had to stop building. When we arrived I went for a short walk, and the youth orchestra of Friesland was just finishing an afternoon prom with selections from Peer Gynt. How very civilised. 

Total covered today: about 23 miles. Distance in a straight line from Sneek: about 11.5 :-(

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Depth charges

Late addition to my earlier post. It seems that the ANWB standing mast route atlas, which we had thought of as the bible of cross-Friesland sailors, plans to take us up a canal north of Grou which is only 1.4 metres deep, ie a foot shallower than we are. This is baffling, as otherwise the only general thing they say about depth (in Dutch of course) seems to be that only yacht harbours offering a depth of 1.5m or more are mentioned.

Fortunately pilot book author Brian Navin, who up to now has always proved totally reliable if not exactly chatty, recommends an alternative route on bigger canals. We will report back tomorrow, but the thought of retracing our steps and heading out into the North Sea is very depressing.

Sneek peek

Despite what I said yesterday, tonight we are on municipal moorings in Sneek, although on the edge of town with an excellent view of a car park rather than in the middle.

We are taking the standing-mast route across Friesland. It's not very speedy because it goes under a lot of lifting bridges and it also goes round in some rather random loops to avoid fixed bridges as it gets further north. However today we covered 17 miles in the general direction of Denmark, mostly sailing with just the jib, on a day when the IJsselmeer would have been grim and the North Sea utterly horrible. It has rained most of the day, on and off, it's cold and it has been gusting up to 18 knots or so.

We last visited Sneek in our Winkle Brig, which was a gaff-rigged trailer-sailer, 18 years ago when Ben was just four months old. We launched it from the De Domp marina on the north side of town, and the owners were really helpful and brought us cups of tea with lovely Dutch teaspoons, while we struggled with rigging the Winkle Brig in the hot sunshine, and dealing with a three-year-old and a baby. The Winkle Brig was just nine inches deep with her centreboards up, but nowadays we draw 5ft 6in and sadly we can't get into De Domp to see if they remember us.

That was a memorable holiday. At one point it rained hard without stopping for 36 hours, which is tough for two adults and two very small children on a 17ft boat. On the other hand with our tiny draft and lowering mast we could visit a lot of Friesland which we won't see this time around. I'm not even sure if we will recognise anywhere. But it's nice to be here, and hot sunshine is promised for tomorrow....

Friday, June 24, 2011

Lemmer nice

There's a tradition in the Netherlands of mooring up in the middle of town. This can be a very pleasant option, or it can mean rafting up to seven boats deep, with a busy road along the harbour and lots of loud and friendly people a few feet away or trampling over your boat. Consequently we often look for a quieter option just out of the town centre. We do however feel slightly guilty that we are not entering into the spirit of Dutch sailing.

We are currently in Lemmer, which is basically a large village with a canal through the centre and at least 10 marinas. In France this would never be permitted, a single municipal or centralised authority would control the whole lot. But the Dutch believe deeply in free enterprise. I think we are in Jacht Haven Lemmer, but it was really a question of finding a free hammerhead where we could easily tie up and find some kind of harbourmaster.

The iJsselmeer likes to remind innocent sailors that it is not a sheltered lake but a proper sea, capable of being scary. We left Enkhuizen in sunshine and a light breeze but with a very dark cloud approaching. As the cloud approached it brought 20 knots of wind, from almost astern. We logged more than 9 knots on the log before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and lowering the mainsail. Under jib alone our speed dropped to around 6.5 knots and the squall gradually overtook us, bringing lots more nice rain to wash the decks again.

Two successes though. Sam has encapsulated the starboard cockpit speaker in three layers of expensive American anti-magnetic insulation (plus about 10 layers of gaffer tape) and the autopilot now works. Also our even more expensive boom brake did an excellent job of preventing jibes.

Lemmer is a curious place. We found a Lidl, next to it a Super de Boer, and next to that an Aldi. It's not often you find a town with a supermarket quarter.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

I can't stand the rain

So here we are in Enkhuizen and it's raining. In fact at the moment it's bucketing down, and also chilly and rather dark. The wind has dropped from the 5-6 overnight, but there's still enough breeze for wind chill. We are due to leave today but it's hard to feel any enthusiasm for a four-hour sail to Lemmer in this.

One noticeable change on our return to the Netherlands is that whereas two weeks ago the roads were edged with dry scrub, now they have lush green grass which has to be trimmed by men with strimmers. Clearly this rain has been going on for some time. The problem is obviously that we can't remember how to deal with it.

Unusually, today I am broadly in favour of setting off and Sam wants to stay. I feel that if we don't get going we may never go at all.

The coot is still sitting on her eggs under our pontoon. The grebe's nest, which was under construction right next to the coot's nest when we left, has vanished completely. Maybe the coot chased it off, or it got disrupted when the adjacent yacht left its mooring.

I like Enkhuizen, but I do hope we're not still here when the coot's eggs hatch.....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Posting by email

Just a quick test to post by email from the iPhone.

Not sure if I like all this wind. We plan to set off on the 23rd when the Dutch coast may be getting SW5 - hopefully a bit less in the IJsselmeer. Then by next weekend, when we could be heading out to the Frisian Islands, current indications are for up to a F6 from the north-west, i.e. a lee shore. Let's hope the GFS weather model is wrong, it's still a week away....

WindGuru's view of the GFS model for Defzijl. Image added from the MacBook (I'm not qualified to do PhotoShopping on the iPhone)

Friday, June 10, 2011

Back home

It's strange to be back in the UK when in our heads we are still away sailing. The strangest thing is when one of us says "Where's the xxxxxx? Oh, it's on the boat...." and then remember that the boat is 173.6 miles away. (According to Google Earth).

The journey went well, with the slight snag that the ticket machines at Enkhuizen wouldn't accept any of our cards or cash. On the recommendation of a helpful ticket inspector we leapt off the train at Hoorn, where there is a proper ticket office, rushed off and got some tickets, and managed to get back on the same train. The change at Amsterdam was confusing and we had to change again at Schiedam, but in the end we made the ferry with plenty of time to spare, and the crossing was calm and clear.

We spent this morning being slightly boaty though. The inflatable kayak is of course on the boat :-) but we went down to Bungay and hired a canoe from the nice people at Outney Meadow, then paddled up the Waveney for an hour or so. I managed to drag both Ben and Sam out of bed early enough to get a bit of sunshine, and it was very delightful and peaceful. We timed it perfectly too - as we dragged the canoe out of the water it started to rain, and two hours later it's still drizzling.

On the the recommendation of Libby Purves in Yachting Monthly we have acquired a Wichard Gyb'Easy. This small and expensively engineered piece of metal should allow us to sail safely downwind without having to run around all over the boat rigging preventers, and without the mainsail slamming around in light airs. I do hope it's worth it.

We just had to stop all work in order to admire a very pretty muntjac deer nibbling a vast climbing rose in the garden. We're very lucky with the wildlife we see here...

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Safely to Enkhuizen

So here we are in Kalessin's final destination for the time being, Enkhuizen. We could have rushed home today, or tomorrow. But it seems a shame to rush when this is such a pretty place and the weather is gorgeous. And the Sunday trains are quite slow. So we are chilling out and basking in the sunshine. The most recent Navtex forecast says force 5-6 for Thames, but in this sheltered marina it's relatively peaceful and warm.

Yesterday didn't look anything like as promising. The entrance to Edam is extremely narrow and shallow and at 9am, when we started to think about leaving, the north-easterly wind was blowing straight into it, and no yachts were moving. The sky was dark grey, it seemed to be about to rain, and the forecast was for the wind to strengthen. And our passage to Enkhuizen was a straight line dead into the wind.

Eventually a few boats started to move and we gritted our teeth and headed out into the grey Markermeer. The entrance itself was fine but the first few hundred yards of the outer channel were very choppy. After that we got the sails up and tacked out into “deeper” water, i.e. 2 metres under the keel instead of only 1 metre. Upon experimentation it seemed we could make the best course by tacking north, which also took us into more sheltered water in the lee of Hoorn. Then, as is often the way when you're slightly dreading a passage, the sun came out, the wind gradually eased instead of strengthening as promised, and we had a pretty good sail.

Unfortunately Sam was having a grumpy day. It transpired this was because I had mentioned that the solid, steel, expensive motorboats, of which there are many in the Netherlands, must have some advantages because they only draw about half a metre, aren't too high, and can consequently go to lots of places on the Dutch waterways where our mast and keel don't let us venture. In addition I had mentioned a few days before that if he dies and I am still fit enough to go sailing (which is possible given our 16-year age gap) I wouldn't try to sail Kalessin on my own, but instead would sign up for voyages with the Tall Ships trust on Stavros S Niarchos and the Challenger yachts. Sam decided this meant I hate sailing, would rather have a canal boat, and only go sailing to keep him happy. He didn't ask me what I meant though, nor observe that I have planned and arranged this sailing trip to the Baltic with some enthusiasm, nor notice that I had only mentioned sailing rather than motoring in my post mortem plans, he just sulked for the rest of the day. Men, I ask you.

Anyway we are now speaking to each other again and relaxing in the large, solid, well-equipped Buyshaven, which is not only a pleasant marina but also only 100 metres from the station. There's even a jazz festival in the just-audible distance. The only snag is that, in my humble opinion, winds should die down in the evening and allow you to have a quiet night. This one seems to strengthen from about 5pm onwards and shows no signs of disappearing. Tut tut.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Ever-decreasing circles

I spent the afternoon of my birthday (Tuesday) trying to work out the best option for where to leave the boat for three weeks while we return to the UK by ferry (we'll be giving moral support to Ben during the worst of his A-levels). We are thinking of heading inland through the Frisian canals, revisiting the scene of a couple of happy holidays almost 20 years ago. Leeuwarden looks nice, but on closer examination it appears the only mooring options are almost completely insecure. So instead we are heading for Enkhuizen, which we know well, and which has one large and one vast marina so we are very likely to be able to find a suitable berth. It's closer to Amsterdam so we should be there by Friday.

We nearly skipped Amsterdam, as we spent so much time there two years ago, but in the end felt it was a shame to miss out. We reached the Sixhaven Marina at almost exactly the same time we did on the last visit, about 11.30am, as we found it a good time to get a berth. The Sixhaven has changed, however. No longer are there box berths between wobbly posts - instead there are very solid, new finger pontoons. This must reduce the number of boats they can cram in on busy days, but the rate had increased only 40 cents from the €15 of two years ago.

We had no special destination in mind as we drifted around Amsterdam in glorious warmth and sunshine, but decided to climb the tower of the Westerkerk - the church whose bells Anne Frank used to hear from her attic. You have to go in groups of six with a guide, which wouldn't have been our first choice, but in fact it was a really excellent and informative half hour, with a potted social history of the Netherlands thrown in. The view was great too.

This is the Westerkerk...

...and here's the view.
Today we decided to try to get to Edam, an option we've always fancied but it only has a little marina and shallow town moorings. Heading out of the IJ into the Markermeer it was a wonderful, calm morning with clear blue skies and very little wind.

Backtrack a bit. We had to hand-steer all the way across the North Sea because both of our (identical) autopilots refused to work properly, which is an absolute pain as it means at least one person has to hold the tiller at all times. Today was the perfect day to try calibrating the autopilots and see if that solved the problem. To calibrate them you attach the autopilot to the tiller, then motor in very slow tight circles until it decides it knows where it is going. We have done this before and it normally takes about one-and-a-half circuits. After three circuits nothing had happened so it was clear something else was wrong. We removed one of our brand new cockpit speakers and tried again. Fantastic, it worked. So we know the problem, but fixing it leaves us with two further problems: (1) a big hole in the side of the cockpit and (2) no external speaker connected to the VHF. Fortunately we can do without the autopilot for the next few weeks so for now Sam has re-fixed the speaker. Perhaps we could wrap it in lead sheeting?

Anyway after that the wind freshened and we had an excellent beat up to Edam, and found a good (tight!) berth in the marina after being chased away from one which was too big for us. Edam is a really lovely little town about 20 minutes' walk inland, with not much cheese in evidence, but the usual mix of little canals, gabled houses, big churches and boats. We were entertained by the progress of an enormous two-masted vessel called Atalanta, complete with two bagpipe players, up the little canal - it barely fitted in the lock, and turning and parking it was quite a challenge.

Camilla in Edam
Atalanta jams into the Edam lock
Tomorrow, straight into the strengthening NE wind, heading for Enkhuizen.