A major goal reached

Maundy Thursday 29 March

Today we planned a shorter day, just into Dokkum which looked like an interesting small city, where we really needed to take on water and replenish fresh food supplies. Having reached an early bridge just in time to be waved through before he went off for lunch, we mistimed our arrival at the next and tied up alongside an unattractive plot of industrial wasteland, for our midday meal. Skipper had a useful chat with the keeper on his return, paid another ‘bruggeld’ and again watched a keeper cycle alongside us from one bridge to the next.

Having assured us water would be available after the last bridge in town, he then apologised that it was not turned on until 1 April. Mate made an executive decision that we would press on to our final destination for this leg, the marina of the Allures dealership for the Netherlands in Lauwersmeer, where we could surely fill up with water. She knew it was remote in terms of shopping, but it would be a case of ‘sort it out when we get there’. After all, that’s what the bikes are for…
We had a slightly tricky last lock and lifting bridge out into Lauwersmeer, and then a long slog in strengthening cold wind through this national nature reserve, along yet another buoyed channel. A herd of small, pretty ponies was spotted near the water’s edge, and eventually we made our way into our berth. The harbourmaster came to greet us, with the immortal words “we have a problem with our water supply”. He must have been disturbed by the looks on the faces of my crew, and soon jury-rigged a solution so we could take on enough for our immediate needs.
Mate decided shopping could wait until tomorrow, and dinner in the very good restaurant on site was the order of the day (evening). The restaurant is called ‘Het Raadsel van de Wadden’ – The Riddle of the Sands – as this is where Erskine Childers set his pre-WWI spy novel. Copies (in Dutch) are available on the bar!

Almost open sea again

Wednesday 28 March

We made an early start and were soon passing through the huge sea lock at Stavoren, without difficulty, and out into the IJsselmeer once again. We turned right and made our way North along the coast, in the usual grey and murky conditions, but with just enough wind to give the genoa an airing. It was good to feel like a sailing boat again.

A couple of hours later, we arrived at the next lock, that would take us through the Afsluitsdijk and out into the North Sea proper. In fact, this area, between the Frisian Islands and the North Dutch mainland, is the Waddenzee – ‘wadden’ are sandbanks, of which we could see several, well-populated by a variety of waders and gulls.

Once again we were obliged to follow clearly marked channels all the way to Harlingen. This is a large port, accommodating the KNRM: the Dutch RNLI, ferries to the offlying islands, fishing trawlers and a variety of cargo vessels. The electronic chart plotter made easy work of finding the correct channel to the lock that would allow us to enter the Harinxma canal to reach Leeuwarden from the other side. Frustratingly for Mate, this is the route she’d originally suggested, before it was decided to explore inland from Lemmer.

We had to pause at the waiting posts of one bridge on the outskirts of the town, while the bridgekeeper took his afternoon break and let the rush hour traffic flow. It was a good opportunity to enjoy a hot drink to alleviate the discomfort of wet and cold. This former had been mitigated by Mate’s brainwave to open out the bimini, usually a sunshade, which does a great job of sheltering the cockpit from the worst of the rain.

Eventually we were able to make our way through the city, the capital of this region of Friesland, waiting for the attendant to cycle from one bridge to the next. He held out a clog on a fishing line at one bridge, for us to make a contribution to his holiday fund. [look very closely!]

We decided to carry on beyond the outskirts of Leeuwarden to find a peaceful spot on the Dokkummer Ee. We made a tidy landfall at the end of a long day, covering 45 miles in eleven hours.

It all starts to unravel

Tuesday 27 March

Because we’re only allowed to move on canals in daylight hours, and all the bridges have strict operating times anyway, we called it a day a little early yesterday, and so set off bright and early to get through Leeuwarden and on to Dokkum today, where we hoped to be able to fill up my water tanks, and the crew to fill up the fridge.

Unfortunately, as we arrived near the next bridge the ‘brugwachter’ declared it shut, as the one after is a damaged railway bridge, closed for repairs until 10 April. If only my crew had checked the website for announcements… They took an extended coffee break while they worked out what to do instead, and we set off again, back past where we’d moored last night; a round trip of three hours to achieve nothing.

We had to retrace our path two-thirds of the way back to Lemmer before we could turn right and make our way to Stavoren, another entry point into the canal system on this side of the IJsselmeer, and therefore a way out for us. It was windy and grey across several shallow open lakes, reminiscent of the Norfolk Broads, with a few dinghies out for a daysail.  We opted to stay in the buoyed channels, and not to bother hoisting sail – it just seems like too much effort for the short distances over which we could use them.  The skies are full of huge flocks of starlings, and long skeins of various species of geese, on the move as the weather allegedly warms. Actually, Mate considers it’s more likely the lengthening daylight triggers their activity.

At the end of another tiring day, we didn’t quite make it to Stavoren, but tied up alongside a swimming pool! Sadly, the machine rejected our payment card, so we had neither power nor water, and Skipper was unable to locate either refuse disposal or shoreside facilities.

The beginning of the end

Tuesday 25 – Thursday 27 September

We eased gently out of the marina and into the Holtenau Lock, in the company of ten other yachts and a couple of commercial barges.  Having waited our turn to get on the holding pontoon to pay our canal fees we motored to Rendsburg, where we were denied an anchorage and directed to spend a night in the marina, for €19.

On Wednesday we completed our second transit of the Kiel Canal, filled up with diesel at Brunsbüttel and spent the night in the small marina just inside the sea lock.  After a less than peaceful night, we had the outbound lock to ourselves once again, and realised we were out of practice with tidal calculations, so slogged under motor up the estuary of the River Elbe and back into Cuxhaven.

Leading in to Leeuwarden

Monday 26 March

We made it most of the way to Leeuwarden, the next main town on our way North, but at 1600 the crew decided they really needed to stop for lunch. We pulled in to a convenient mooring site among fields and under wide Dutch skies, where we spent a peaceful night clearing a couple more DVDs out of the collection.

Sneek-ing in

Sunday 25 March

The crew decided not to explore this town, believing the best is probably along the canal and the ubiquitous campanile, which plays its happy tunes with monotonous regularity. We slipped fairly early to follow a motor boat through the remaining two bridges and out into a small lake, following a buoyed channel. In a repeat of yesterday, it was flat grey, misty and windless, but still cold.
Skipper was pleased to discover that this is the first weekend of the Dutch inland sailing (boating) season, so bridges are manned and opened for us as we approached, even though the Pilot book suggests nothing operates on Sundays before 1 April. Perhaps it’s because Easter falls early this year – next weekend in fact.

Anyway, it meant we were able to reach our next destination in one day, the town of Sneek which is famous for its Waterpoort, a pretty bridge. To be honest, the crew was unable to find much else to recommend it during a short afternoon stroll, but the Harbourmaster was happy to take our berthing fee, and there are clean and pleasant facilities, including laundry and wifi.

Spring is … springing?

Saturday 24 March

The day dawned grey and overcast with no wind. Skipper backed me neatly out of my box mooring and we set off up the channel out into the IJsselmeer proper, for a passage of around 15 Miles Northeast to Lemmer. Out on the open water it was even more overcast, with mist lying low and visibility poor. That is to say, it was almost impossible to distinguish the horizon between sea and sky, and the only movement on the water’s surface was the occasional seabird. Later in the afternoon, some yachts started to appear, some even with sails hoisted, probably to make them easier to pick out in the gloom. I had my steaming lights on all day.

Eventually we drew closer into land, and a field of wind turbines started to appear out of the haze, as the sun finally began to burn off the sea mist. By the time we were approaching the sea lock into Lemmer, the crew were stripping off layers, and the atmosphere began to feel almost Mediterranean, not least because of the numbers of yachts suddenly out and about, the first we’ve seen in months. It looked like a fleet of club boats whose crews were polishing up some pre-season manoeuvres along the walls of the town quay.

We tied up tidily and the crew were soon basking in warm sunshine in the cockpit with mugs of tea and birthday cake – bliss. All went well, until 0430 (0530 really, thanks to European Summer Time clocks change) when the nightclub, in front of which we had unwittingly docked, turned out but showed no inclination to go home…quietly.

Dental disaster

Friday 23 March

The pre-payment on shore power ran out overnight, so the crew awoke to a cold cabin, but briefly bright sunshine outside. Skipper prepared me for departure while Mate attended to domestic duties below, and then they disappeared off to yet another museum. They were back after another kibbeling lunch, and I was a little mollified by their gifts of an Enkhuizen ‘courtesy’ flag and a smart new large ball fender, to replace the one they part-melted recently by hanging it over the heating exhaust outlet…again.

However, it turned out that we’re not going anywhere today after all, as Skipper has to go to a dentist instead: he’s lost a crown and needs some urgent – expensive – remedial work until he can arrange for a new one to be made and fitted, which means another place we’ll probably spend longer than we’d wish.

Didn’t quite go to plan

Thursday 22 March

The weather forecast for today indicated rain this morning after snow showers overnight, so Mate planned to have a domestic day, baking (a belated birthday cake), doing some advance meal prep for upcoming passage days, and attending to some overdue cleaning below decks. However, the weather gods had different ideas, and the morning turned out dry and sometimes sunny, so Skipper decided today was the day to get me properly dressed with my foresails re-rigged and ready for action.

After much discussion, the crew has decided that antifouling and sail overhaul should wait for a warm, dry week in an accommodating boatyard on the Southern coast of the Baltic, by which time local boats should be in the water and the necessary specialist services should have time to take on the work we require doing – right now they’re all inundated with pre-season preparations.

Anyway, galley duties were well underway when Mate’s assistance was required on deck, demanding a degree of multi-tasking that was far beyond her powers of concentration. Consequently the chopped stem ginger for the (gluten free) cake mix ended up in the bowl of (regular) bread flour, resulting in a selection of choice phrases and a lot of panning and washing of tiny pieces of preserved root – think gold rush without the chance of prosperity.

It all came good in the end, with the planned museum visit postponed until tomorrow, ahead of another departure for another town in the afternoon.

A pre-birthday day out

Tuesday 20 March

Today we walked through town to the bus station, and took a bus South to Monnickendam, a pretty town on the Gouwzee. we wandered through to the harbour, which holds several large barges, but we could probably have squeezed in if we’d tried. We found a lovely lunch in Beauqz, then walked a different route back to the bus stop via some interesting plaques, clockmakers and mini canals with swing bridges.

We took another bus to Volendam, but it was full of schoolchildren mimicking an aviary full of overexcited budgies, so we got off as soon as possible, near the swanky marina, whose facilities look brand new, but the chandler said it was 11 years old.  It was a good walk along the high dyke from the very tourist-tacky town, but quieter for that and probably comfortable.
We wandered along the town quay where the ferries leave for Marken, and escaped the clutches of the tourist traps through to the other side where we found the right bus stop for Edam and home.

We were both tired by now, and decided to save Edam for the return trip in the Autumn.  From the bus we spotted lots of geese, in fields and sky, oystercatchers and (possibly) greenshanks, feeding in flooded meadows. Livestock included horses and sheep, five or six tiny black ponies, two huge amber pigs and two chocolate donkeys, and several pairs of huge bunnies. They couldn’t have been hares, as the ears weren’t long enough or black-tipped, but they were easily twice the size of British wild rabbits.

On arriving back at Hoorn bus station, we took a brief detour to Albert Heijn for emergency provisions, and then made our way to the tempting Greek restaurant I’d earmarked for Skipper’s birthday supper (as we plan to be en route tomorrow). Having found it open on Monday, it was unexpectedly closed today, so we headed instead for tapas at ‘La Cubanita’.

This turned out to be a far better choice, great food and a fun way of eating out: you order two dishes per person in each round, writing their numbers on a beer mat, and you keep ordering and eating until you are full – all for €17.50 a head. Sparkling water is expensive but tap water is available, the wine list is short and rather uninspiring, desserts are extra and the crème catalana is very good.