Saturday 28 October
Between Wednesday 25 and Friday 27 October, we have crossed the southern North Sea, leaving England away beyond our stern, and arriving, albeit tired and a little bedraggled – well, my crew were, anyway – at Hoek van Holland, some while later.
New records set:
Longest non-stop passage so far: 294 nautical miles sailed (and we did sail all the way, maintaining an average passage speed of 6 knots)
Longest time at sea: 52 hours, including a couple up-river from the Hook of Holland to Maasluis, our first resting place in the Netherlands
Longest period sailing without any sleep: approximately 20 hours each
Highest wind speed in sustained gusts: 31+ knots (Force 7 – Near Gale)
Biggest waves: 2-3 metres (6-10 feet), enough to obliterate the horizon as they rolled under us
NO SEA-SICKNESS SUFFERED
We left Whitby on the beginning of the ebb tide at 0900, passing safely through the one span of the bridge the watchkeeper opened for us, and out into the calm, grey sea. The crew soon settled me into a comfortable beam reach as the miles began to tick away, enjoying their last views of the English East coast as it gradually faded into the haze. As the day drew towards dusk, and a pretty sunset, Skipper produced his gourmet version of two ready meals: he put the hot dishes into bowls, and supper was enjoyed in the cockpit in the dark.
The sky was mostly overcast, masking a quarter moon, so it was unusually dark, the water reflecting not at all. The first night was eventful, with a selection of vessels to be avoided on both watches. Skipper came up with the ingenious idea of calling the ships over the VHF radio to check they were aware of little me ahead of them, showing only my masthead lights. Thanks again to our very clever chart plotter, displaying AIS details of all these big boys, my crew were able to call them by name, and they were always courteous and confirmed we were showing on their radar and their course would pass us safely.
On Thursday morning daybreak was merely a gradual lightening of the sky, but the huge golden orb lifted itself out of the sea, only to disappear into a blanket of cloud for the whole day. However, a pleasant breeze, more than had been forecast, kept me sailing along at a good pace, with Trevver only needing to run for the odd hour to keep the batteries charged for the chart plotter and Jeanny, my autopilot friend. Skipper produced perfect softly scrambled eggs, with fresh coffee and toast, and all was well with the world. However, he was required to make regular sail changes to optimise the wind and keep me moving in the right direction.
In spite of the sun not having shown himself all day, the most stunning red and orange sunset washed the western evening sky; but beware – the old adage “red sky at night, sailor’s delight” is rubbish – in future, Mate will remember that a display such as that is a sure portent of difficult conditions ahead. Meanwhile, Skipper was busy in the galley again, soon delivering baked salmon in herb butter, courgettes and crispy seasoned potato wedges into the crew’s eager hands. Little did they realise it was the last square meal they’d enjoy for many hours.
After supper, with the mainsail reefed in anticipation of the wind increasing overnight, as suggested in the forecast, to a moderate Force 4-5, Mate attempted an off-watch sleep below, but was disturbed by a rolly motion. Unwilling to worry Skipper, she was concerned that it was coming down from further North, for where a surprise gale warning had recently been issued. After only an hour, she dressed in all her warm layers and returned to the cockpit, where Skipper was heard to heave a sigh of “it’s going to be a long night”.
By now we were well on our way out across the North Sea, having seen remarkably few oil and gas rigs, and only a couple of wind farms in the distance, nearer the coast. The crew had to keep checking our position in the hourly ‘log and plot’ they still use to back up the chart plotter routing, to be sure of avoiding three tricky big ship routes off the Netherlands coast. Mate decided it was just as well it was another very dark night, so that she couldn’t see the surface of the sea, now large rolling waves, first lifting me high on the crests, then plunging me deep into the troughs. Steering only by the compass rose, feet planted firmly wide in a classic sailor’s pose, she hung on gamely to the wheel, concentrating on trying to anticipate my slewing as the waves washed under me. Occasionally the cloud cover broke enough to glimpse the canopy of stars overhead.
As the wind continued to build, Skipper decided (to Mate’s relief) it was time to take in a second reef in the mainsail. This was quite a challenge and not pretty, but the sail was soon reduced, although it did nothing to diminish my rollercoaster speed. He furled the foresail as well, which didn’t improve the steering, but did slow my breakneck passage a little. As we approached the Dutch coast, Skipper called Maas Approach to inform them of our presence, and obtain clearance to traverse the traffic lanes onto an inshore course for Rotterdam.
Another beautiful sunrise backlit the city skyline and heralded our second day at sea, revealing the true ferocity of wind and waves in the near storm conditions on this notoriously shallow, lumpy stretch of the North East Atlantic. Mate thought privately that this was her Southern Ocean, and she’d be quite content never to experience it again. An exhausted Skipper went below for an hour’s rest and warm-up, and was soon back on deck as moral support and sometime helm relief for Mate, who’d long since decided she was better off staying up. It proved to be a long last few hours’ slog as we crept South along the coast, gradually making our way to the entrance to the Maas, that will eventually take us to Rotterdam and thence the inland canals to Amsterdam.
We made a final controlled gybe and left the sail hauled in, the better to maintain steering over the last of the breakers and in behind the sea wall, where the water finally began to calm down. Dodging large vessels as we carefully followed the channel, and the instructions of the sector traffic centres, we cruised upriver, Mate clearing the decks in preparation for tying on lines and fenders for mooring.
We were passed by a number of commercial Dutch barges, longer and wider than British narrowboats, with the central section designed for carrying cargo, and cabins fore and aft providing liveaboard accommodation for their Masters, evidenced by windows decorated with curtains and houseplants. A vehicle was parked on the rear deck for transport ashore.
It was with huge relief all round that we finally crossed the river to enter the Buitenhaven (outer harbour) of Maasluis, and made our way under three swing bridges and round the corner into a small marina, tucked behind Church Island.