Thursday, June 16
Within 36 hours of Max arriving back in Enkhuizen (having extended his trip home to attend a funeral) we began staging for a passage to southern Norway. All winter we’d been planning to head into the Baltic (East Sweden and Denmark) and had studied those areas extensively. But in the past few weeks, largely due to customs and immigration considerations, we changed our plans entirely and decided to head to southwest Norway instead. The change of plans forced us to do a crash course to figure out the tides, routes, harbors, and “harbors of refuge” (places to duck into in severe weather) for our new itinerary.
Our original plan of exiting to the North Sea via Den Helder changed after some excellent advice from Henk and Kiki, cruisers we had met in Hoorne. They suggested crossing the inland lake, the Ijseelmeer, for Harlingen, a port on the North Sea, then heading for Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands. Not only did it make better sailing sense, it also provided the opportunity to explore another fun cruising destination in the Netherlands. Harlingen it was.
It felt great to be moving again even if it was via motor and even though there were tons of itsy bits gnats. Within an hour they covered JUANONA. Fortunately, they weren’t biters, just minor annoyances as we swatted them away from faces and necks and, in one instance, swallowed a few.
We went through a lock at the eastern end of the enormous dike, called the Afsluitdijk, which ran across Northwest Holland and keeps the North Sea out. The 20-mile-long dike was built over five years from 1927 to 1932 and is an engineering marvel.
We sailed on to Harlingen where a pair of bridges opened and led us into a narrow harbor full of cruisers, mainly from the Netherlands. And, was it packed! We wondered how on earth boats maneuver during the busy months of July and August if this was how the harbor looked in June; yet, the Dutch ability to navigate such crowded harbors never ceased to amaze me and, once again, I was in awe of their docking skills.
Spotting a good-size boat tied to the wall we asked if we could raft with them (a common event in this populous country). No problem as they took our lines then helped us spin JUANONA so our bow was facing the exit (we always try to position ourselves for the easiest exit as wind and current can play havoc when endeavoring to steer a 39’-long vessel with one propeller pushing from the last few feet).
Thanking them with a bottle of wine they asked where we were going, etc., and in discussing possible winter harbors they suggested their small club marina in Amsterdam (just east of the one we had used when moored in that city). Always wonderful to have fellow cruisers provide good advice, and we’ve found the Dutch to be extremely helpful in this regard.
With JUANONA tied off we went to the harbor office to pay our one-night fee. Here, we found another friendly helper in the form of the harbor master, and she smilingly filled us in on the details we always request: shower block codes? garbage disposal? grocery store?
Hearing we had at least an hour before the store closed we strolled through Harlingen’s cobble-stone streets threaded by canals and bordered by stunningly well-kept, 16th- to 18th-century homes.
This Frisian port gained fame and prosperity during the 1700s due to the whaling industry. Today the town maintains its connection to the sea as a transportation hub for ferries darting to and from the islands as well as a convenient harbor for cruise ships and recreational boats.
Friday, June 17
Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to explore the rich heritage of this lovely, mainland town because we wanted to reach Vlieland, one of the less-inhabited Frisian islands, on a favorable current. So, freshly showered and with a few more provisions we left with a flotilla of other boaters to head across the Wadden Sea (the south-eastern part of the North Sea).
During our brief, 15-mile crossing we watched as boats, small and large, criss-crossed our wake or motored parallel to and from our heading. Gazing around us we could truly see how these waters must have looked when covered with trading and military ships of yore. I finally understood that the centuries-old paintings depicting a bustling array of sailing vessels didn’t lie but were true representation of those times.
One magnificent boat, s/v ADELE, passed us with friendly waves. Max later discovered this yacht has sailed all over the world including South Georgia, Antarctica and Cape Horn. As a friend of his wrote even I might enjoy cruising the Southern Ocean on a boat like this :)
Reaching the carefully buoyed entrance to Vlieland’s one harbor we exited from the main channel and entered into a marina chock full of sail and motor boats alike.
We were fairly confident we’d find a place to dock because we had heard from other boaters, including a friendly cruising couple, Ineke and Willem, whom I had met in Enkhuizen, that most weekenders were headed to the larger, more populated island, Terschelling, for its Oerol Festival. “Oerol” translates to “everywhere” due to farmers letting their cows go free one day each year (why, I don’t know). This annual, ten-day event sounded wonderful with live performances in dance, theater and art but not something we could manage this year. Which meant, hopefully, more space on Vlieland, Terschelling’s quieter neighbor.
Sure enough we located a convenient hammerhead where we quickly docked then did our usual pivoting of JUANONA for a future exit.
This marina was alive with weekenders enjoying the summery sun with kids crabbing, adults relaxing, and lots of people bike riding (the island doesn’t allow automobiles unless you’re one of the few 1,200 residents). And, if there was ever any doubt about where we were cruising one glance down a pontoon solved that as the Netherlands’ flag streamed off of majority of the sterns.
Our friends Henk and Kiki, whom we had met in Hoorne and who have provided us with invaluable information along our most recent sails, mentioned their son Michiel, daughter-in-law Barbara and children were aboard their boat s/v POPCORN in Harlingen and also were headed to Vlieland. We managed to locate them and enjoyed meeting this sailing family who gave us tips on what to see and do. Renting bikes seemed to be a no-brainer, one echoed by POPCORN, which became our plan for the next day.
Saturday, June 18
In Vlieland we’d be waiting for a weather window to cross to southern Norway, and it appeared Sunday, June 19, would offer decent winds for the short 340-mile passage. Knowing we had a free day to enjoy this beautiful, wind-swept island we rented bikes and began our tour. Passing through the pretty, one-street town of Oost-Vlieland.
Heading west I got a jolt of nostalgia, all brought on by seeing a dream house sitting atop a small hill and tucked into a verdant landscape. It reminded me so much of my Douglas Bruce cousins’ home in Corning, I had to take a photo. Boy, did that bring back wonderful and powerful memories.
Continuing on our way we cycled along a beautiful (flat :) ) road with the wide-open sea on one side
and forested dunes on the other.
Stopping to take in the sights such as the local horses
and clever counterweights on fence gates,
we understood why this coastal area is part of the UNESCO Wadden Sea World Heritage Site, the world’s largest, unbroken system of intertidal sand and mud flats.
On the north side of the island we climbed the dunes and spotted sailing dune buggies. I saw Max keenly eyeing these sand vessels and knew we’d be on them if we had had more time.
But, prepping for Norway beckoned, and we returned back to JUANONA to finalize our passage planning.
Our Netherlands cruising was coming to an end. We knew we’d be back. How could we not return?
But, first, a return to another land whose people and natural beauty seduced us the first time we saw it…