Crossing the North Sea… Again

But, this time it was only 24 hours from our winter berth in Ipswich to a transient one in Ijmuiden, Netherlands.

We said our good-byes the night before and rose early to catch free-flow out of Ipswich lock (meaning we didn’t have to stop, tie up, wait for water to rise/fall, then exit). Aboard we had a third crew member, Dolly Doughnut, given to us by our seven-year-old friend Gracie (she’s the daughter of Angie and James who, along with Anne and Peter, we were fortunate to have as wonderful neighbors and friends during our stay in Ipswich).

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Although it was gray and chilly it still felt wonderful to be starting our summer cruising mid-April.

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Along the route we passed friends Sandra and Barry from Vancouver Island. Their boat s/v PASSAT was moored off of Royal Harwich Yacht Club while awaiting weather to head down towards Portugal.

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Soon, we were passing Felixstowe’s huge container operation and heading out of the mouth of Orwell.

All of a sudden we saw an official-looking zodiac bombing our way. Our first hopeful thought was they couldn’t be interested in us; yet, the second thought soon followed that yes, they were interested in us.

Last spring on our way to Lowestoft we’d been stopped by the Border Force. We knew the drill:  grant permission to come aboard; be polite; answer questions succinctly; be thankful we had nothing to hide; be even more thankful to wave them off and continue on our way.

Their powerful zodiac carried four persons with two requesting permission to board JUANONA. Just a few questions were asked:  how many aboard… what was our destination… where and how long did we stay in England…. We showed them our passports and mentioned how many times we’d travelled out of the British Isles in the past six months.

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FYI:  Unlike Schengen countries (Scandinavia and the rest of Europe) only allowing foreigners three months out of six, currently we’re allowed six months in the British Isles. Then we need to reset our time, which can be done by simply exiting the British Isles for 24+ hours, getting our passports stamped elsewhere, and returning for another six months. Adding to this complication for cruising is ensuring we don’t have to pay a hefty Value-Added-Tax (VAT) on our non-EU registered boat. We accomplish that feat by simply taking JUANONA to a non-EU country (such as Norway) for a day or two once every 18 months.

The Border Force visit lasted a mere ten minutes at most before leaving us to continue our passage across the southern North Sea.

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We’d been waiting for the right wind direction for two weeks. Just recently we experienced a storm giving us lightening, thunder and hail, which pebbled the water ferociously

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and left the marina and JUANONA covered in ice balls.

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Now, though, we had our chance to sail across a notorious nasty sea with 10 to 20 knots of wind and fairly decent weather. In spite of not appearing too inviting, it was still a good day to finally have a weather window to cross.

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With the North Sea’s shallow seabed and high winds JUANONA became a washing machine with us being the washed clothes:  It was bouncy, something our crew, Dick Stevens and later Steve Palmer, had experienced during our 2014 passages when crossing to Azores then England. This time, though, I made sure to keep the hatch closed so no unwanted salt water would splash its way down to the main cabin; and, our nephew Rudy, who got spanked by a large wave last summer, would appreciate that both Max and I tried to stay under the dodger (a canvas cover over the hatchway) as much as possible.

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Mid-April was still early in the season for starting our summer cruising, and the temperatures reflected that as the day got a bit chillier and the night loomed ahead. Before too long Max was lighting our diesel heater. We had tested it just a week ago and it worked wonderfully, just like it had last summer when cruising in Norway.

But, this time it turned fickle, which meant after lighting and relighting it four times we realized we’d be without heat. A fallback position was a small heating system generated only when using the engine. We ran the engine for about 30 minutes then turned it off and said to each other it wouldn’t be too bad. I lied…. Night passage with tons of ships to watch out for along with oil rigs and no heat…  Oh joy.

Yet, we were so bundled up (long johns, shirts, sweaters, down jackets all covered by foul weather gear and black beanie hats) the below-deck temp of 51º wasn’t too bad. When off watch and lying in the main cabin, two down comforters provided us a cocoon of self-generating warmth.

And, then the wind kicked up even more (forecasted to possibly hit 25 knots). At one point with the wind and tide we were moving at 8+ knots, so by about 10 PM we had totally furled in the jib (reducing sail, which always slows the boat down) leaving only the mainsail up, which we generally have reefed (shortened). Even then we were sailing at a decent cruising speed of 5-6 knots.

And, boy, were there ships. This is when our Automatic identification System (AIS) really proves its worth as a crew member. We knew we wanted to cross the Deep Water Route (DWR as noted on the chart and used by ships) as close to right angles as possible thus shortening our exposure to the heavy commercial traffic running up and down this area; plus, we had to steer clear of the Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS, also noted on the chart) to avoid getting too close to the shipping lanes into Rotterdam.

Our watches were flexible, and I didn’t hesitate to rouse the captain to assist in fending off a multitude of ships. Their speed through the water is deceptive. Before you know it you’re looking at some bright lights less than .3M away. Not a good sight.

To provide as much buffer zone as possible we’d hail the ships when they were about 20 minutes away from our path. We’d ask if they could see us on their AIS, which was really our way of saying ‘we’re just a little bitty boat, big guy, and we don’t want to get squished’.

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(definitions in the screen above refer to the bracketed ship approaching us:  RNG = Range, CPA = Closest Point of Approach, SOG = Speed Over Ground, TCPA = Time to Closest Point of Approach. Each triangle represents a ship, and a black triangle represents a ship that may be coming dangerously close. The four black ships approaching from the upper left and the one immediately ahead of us pointing our way were especially worrisome.)

The ships all responded to our radio call, and in many instances adjusted their course to ensure our paths would not cross. One even seemed chatty leaving us with the kind message of have a nice watch.

Interestingly, we weren’t the only boat calling another to avoid a collision. One poor cable-laying ship was constantly asking other ships to stay out of his path. Most did, yet there was a bit of a discussion between the cable guy and another ship when the latter said the cable guy’s requested course adjustment was too extreme. They worked it out, but it did provide a welcome distraction from our navigating.

Rotating watches with two-three hours on, two-three hours off, we each managed to get some sleep. However, sleep for me means a nice cozy berth and no-wakee in the late night hours or wee hours of the morning. Add in my husband bringing me coffee in bed and I’m in heaven. This, not so much. BUT, it was only 24 hours and we were safe, fed by canned chili on carne for dinner (it warmed us up), and we knew some wonderful cruising lay ahead.

The wind died way down by 4am and we slowed down to 4 knots as we closed in on our destination of Ijmuiden. As the sun came up we had reached the outer edges of the largest fishing port in the Netherlands. We turned on the engine (heat again :), lowered the main sail, and entered the port and a convenient marina just inside the jetty.

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We smiled at one another and laughed out loud as the joy of finishing a passage and stepping into another adventure spread throughout our minds and limbs.

We had arrived in Dutch land. And, showers,

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sleep, and tulips were in our future :)   Hans Brinker, here we come.

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4 thoughts on “Crossing the North Sea… Again

  1. Gus Wilson

    Considering the route, and the normal conditions, it sounds like you had a nice crossing. That’s all relative.

    If you stay in Ijmuiden another day, there is a bike or walking path that goes toward the town. Along that path, you come to a street to the left (between a couple of the fishing harbors, with a line of fish restaurants. They are cheap, and we had an excellent sole (?) dinner twice in the second (I believe) one.

    Fair canals and blooming tulips,

    Gus

    Reply
    1. margaretlynnie Post author

      Thanks for the info! We’re now on our way to Spaardam, currently tied to a dock awaiting a bridge to open. Amazing how peaceful it is on these canals! I think I could get use to this :) Best to you and Helen!

      Reply
  2. Lib Fay

    Having seen many container ships and a few oil platforms, I appreciate the importance of avoiding collisions! Your descriptions make it all real. It sounds harrowing to me. Enjoy the tulips!

    Reply

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