Friesian Cruise 2002

Three RSA boats set off together this year, Imothes, Pudmuddle and Shear Stress; destination for some - the Baltic. As we had less time than the others, we planned to take Pudmuddle as far as possible in the Friesian islands, then return through the inland waterways of Holland.

We arranged to meet at Levington on Saturday 20th July. Pudmuddle got off to a great start, having overheated the engine, and had to return to Burnham for spare exhaust parts. We eventually arrived at 4am Sunday!

At 9 on 21st we all set off for Den Helder, a 140-mile crossing. Daughters Naomi and Jenny joined the other boats who would otherwise have been single-handed. Our route was direct from N. Shipwash buoy, with a brief deviation to cross the shipping Deep Water Route. There was a steady F3-4 W wind and we made good progress, though the sea became increasingly 'moderate' as we progressed. As soon as we set out it was clear that the centreboard case leaked in great spurts during choppy conditions, but after a bit of on-passage strengthening I decided it would be OK. This meant that we had more than the usual bilge water, and this inevitably makes its way into the side lockers and across the floor on the roll. Things got wet!

Imothes was getting ahead, and by the evening was out of sight. Jenny was very seasick and we agreed that Jon should press ahead to shorten the journey. For a time the wind slackened, and even John Apps was berated into starting the engine to keep schedule - however not for long as the wind soon got up, now stronger than before. Pudmuddle kept behind Shear Stress through the night, using the engine to keep pace. By morning several of us were feeling pretty sick from the uncomfortable motion. We were fortunate to encounter few ships on the trip, though it began to get busier off the Dutch coast, with many oil rigs as well.

It was a helter-skelter ride into Den Helder - I wouldn't want to try it in a southerly gale. We were all pretty tired, and glad to make contact with Imothes who had made the crossing in 27 hours (3 hours ahead of us). Den Helder is the principal Dutch naval port, and an interesting visit. The little yacht marina is tucked between great warships, and had all the friendliness and good clean facilities we have come to expect in the Netherlands (it was also very cheap at 6.5 per night). The town is 20 minutes walk; there is a large maritime museum and extensive docks. In the town we encountered a stall promoting the museum, and we were given a long lecture by a man who spent a career caulking minesweepers. As he spoke very little English it was an interesting exercise in communication (handy hint - hammer splinters of reindeer horn into your caulking mallet to make it more durable)!

Schooner in the Waddenzee

Jenny soon got over her ordeal after a dose of Shopping, and the next morning we set off for Texel - only 7 miles to our first Friesian island. This was an incredible surfing ride in the strong wind. At the harbour in Oudeschild we had our first taste of the wooden boats of this area - every place is packed with traditional boats from small yachts to 3-masted schooners. The marina is very new, with a machine where you pay with plastic for your berth, and a 'smart key' to get showers, electricity etc. It was a bit rainy, so we made use of the laundry facilities and then had an (expensive) meal at the quayside fish restaurant. Next day we hired bikes, including a tandem,  and set off across the island. The town 'Den Burg' was superb for shopping and street entertainment, including an excellent kite shop. Later we spent some time kite-flying on the NW beach.

Next morning we set off across the Wadenzee for Harlingen on the incoming tide - a route with plenty of water. We had a gentle sail, arriving mid afternoon and locking straight into the canal. We had no time to tarry in Harlingen, but I'm sure it would be worth a lingering visit as the largest port on the Waddenzee.  The canal system from here gives access to a large area of northern Holland, from the Ijsselmeer to the Eems. We were able to sail this first leg with a following wind, and the bridges opened ahead of us with few waits.  Imothes was well ahead and we eventually caught up in Leeuwarden, where we moored on the town quay and went aboard for takeaway Pizzas. Here we were first asked for 'brug-geld' - a toll levied by the bridgekeeper by lowering a clog on a fishing rod to passing boats (this caused some confusion as Imothes' crew waved happily and ignored the clog, so the keeper came pedalling after them, and Pudmuddle paid for 2 boats so John was upset when he missed out on the clog-waving ceremony! ).

An early start on Thursday took us north again on the Dokkumer Ee canal, passing through the Friesland countryside with it's typical farmhouses (large tiled barns with house on one end) and canal villages. At one of these villages we were neatly trapped for lunch, as the bridges closed for an hour.

After passing through industrial Dokkum, we crossed the Lauwersmeer to arrive in the harbour of Lauwersoog in the evening. Here again were literally acres of wooden masts in box moorings, and a very friendly yacht club (their most recent exploit was a memorial ?? race to Norway and back).


In the foggy morning we locked out into the Waddenzee once more, and followed the channel to sea between the islands. It was a quiet day, and it was only by motoring and cutting across the shallows that Pudmuddle arrived at Borkum ahead of the rest. The marina make use of what appeared to be WW2  'floating pontoon bridges' - great steel box constructions capable of carrying tanks, but horrible to moor against.

Borkum clearly has a past military significance as Germany's NW outpost, but is now primarily a beach resort and part nature reserve. There is a short railway from the ferry port to the town, but we used the bus which comes into the marina. The famous and beautiful "Borkum Riff" is a curved sandy spit,  overlooked by the town and heavily populated beach.

We stayed two nights in Borkum before the parting of the ways, with Pudmuddle on the homeward journey leaving Imothes and Shear Stress heading for the Keil Canal. Naomi and Jenny continued with Imothes to Keil.

Pudmuddle headed West for the sands of the Waddenzee first stop Nes on the island of Ameland. Daylight took us outside the islands as far as the Pinkegat, and at sunset we ran out of water near a similarly stranded schooner on the rising tide. We slept for a couple of hours, then followed the schooner through a channel towards the watershed. The schooner ran out of water again, but we continued by soundings and GPS through to deeper water. Another kip at anchor, then into Nes in the early light. Here we found a small harbour, full of traditional boats as we had come to expect, and many others dried out on the sands. We found a steep-sided creek where we could step ashore for a bit of shopping and a shower, then as the tide rose we set off again for another 'Wantij' (watershed) towards Terschelling.



Nes, Ameland

On every rising tide, great convoys of sail set out along the winding channels of the Waddenzee, to cross the shallow places at high water. Approaching the watershed, they meet other convoys coming the other way. Most boats follow the many post-buoys which mark the main channels, though some (with local knowledge or more confidence) cut across corners and thread between the small forests of withies. 

Pudmuddle arrived at West-Terschelling in the afternoon to find many vessels drying on the beach, and so joined them. It was hot and calm, and a fine opportunity for scrubbing the bottom. Justine & I then set out to explore the sand hills and the extensive harbour - then the weather turned. A ferocious SE blow set up, accompanied by torrential downpours, putting Pudmuddle and the others (all larger, steel boats) on a lee-shore. We quickly returned to the boat and made things fast, and laid out the anchor well into the surf. 

As we could do little then but wait, we headed back to town for an Italian meal, then to the beach cafe to watch the tide. Shortly after dark we waded back to the boat and were very soon afloat, the wind having abated a little. Rather than risk further discomfort, we motored into the harbour and (after groping about the marina for a while) tied up alongside a larger boat.

Next morning once again dawned still and sunny. We were soon off towards the Ijsselmeer. After an uneventful crossing through deep channels, we locked in at Kornwerderzand and headed South. After anchoring for a swim, there were hints of another storm and, as we headed to the nearest port, another boat reported local weather warnings. So we arrived at Hindeloopen where we checked into the marina (we later regretted this as the price was very high and the town harbour was cheaper and more friendly). The next day was pretty wet, so we stayed put, did the laundry, and wandered round the town - full of antique & craft shops and a junk emporium.

One of our objectives on this trip was to look at boats for sale, and our next stop was to some brokers at Enkhuizen - where the Ijsselmeer meets the Markermeer. We looked at several boats over the next week, and were impressed by the good value of steel boats in Holland - mostly in excellent condition. After a short overnight stay in the canal leading to Edam, we headed on towards Amsterdam where Jenny and Naomi were due to meet us (from Keil by train). We arrived in Amsterdam in a downpour, but this soon cleared and we checked into the Sixhaven marina, right opposite the Central Station. We knew from text messages that the girls were setting off from Keil, and their arrival time. Having met successfully we walked around the town, sent some mail from a net cafe (which also sold 32 varieties of nefarious plant matter), did some shopping, and had a fine dinner. 

In Amsterdam you can see many strange things, but the oddest for me was the heron pacing the canal bank opposite our cafe, scrounging chips from passers by. Indeed the tameness of the water birds was remarkable everywhere - in one place a Crested Grebe and her chicks swam complaisantly around the marina pontoons.

Our next leg was by canal to Rotterdam, but we soon discovered that the first railway bridge only opens at 2am! There was nothing for it but to drop the mast. This was accomplished after hunting the back streets of Amsterdam for abandoned timber( for props). We were then able to go under most bridges (don't worry we've got inches to spare - inches!). We motored on past Schipol, through various lakes and villages, stayed overnight alongside in the centre of Alphen aan de Rijn, then on past Gouda to rejoin tidal waters again - the Maas.

The waterway through Rotterdam is wide, with immense and spectacular bridges. Commercial traffic is busy, though no threat to a careful yacht. However the constant criss-crossing wakes of ships and barges make it very choppy and uncomfortable. We only stopped briefly at a yacht brokerage, then sought the peace and refuge of the canal system that heads South from the vast industrial area. The afternoon saw us travelling through quiet countryside once again, 'till we emerged in the Haringvliet in the evening and checked into the WVH (Watersportvereningen Hellevoetsluis) , a yacht club where we were made most welcome. For a very modest fee we could use all the excellent facilities, including a crane to put our mast back up, and free bicycles. The club has a section of the large marina West of the town. Next day we were invited to their barbecue after we had explored the town, with it's fortified canal walls and immense cannon.

And so onward, East then South, threading the branches of the Schelde delta. We visited Zierikzee next evening, then across the Oosterschelde to Zandkreek and the Veersemeer, and through the canal  to Flushing, finally crossing the Westerschelde to the marina at Breskens. The journey was sometimes dampened by heavy downpours, but there were fine intervals to see places familiar from last year.

The weather was too uncertain for a long crossing with Pudmuddle somewhat overcrowded, so early next morning we set off along the Belgian coast, making Niewpoort in the early afternoon. A last rest before the last leg. After another early start, we stopped briefly at Dunkerque for fuel (thus scoring four nations for the trip!). The initial SE breeze turned NW and then almost disappeared, but we motored on and having made the Ramsgate offing by early afternoon, decided to carry on home. We crossed the Thames estuary in a flat calm via Fishermans Gat and the Sunk Beacon, arriving at LW in the Swin, and the pontoon at Wallasea at midnight.