This was the day to face the infamous Bay of Biscay, a body of water that I’d only heard not great things about. Max would every now and then hum a Schooner Fare song and when feeling particularly jolly, sing out “andthe Bay of Biscay rollers will knock your head right off your shoulders!” Lovely.
Yet, we knew of several cruising teams who had perfectly fine crossings, one even in January (!) and another who zoomed down from the North with a wonderful wind. So, we knew if we picked our weather, which we usually can due to the luxury of no real time constraints, our crossing would, if not mimic those, at least be relatively peaceful.
That weather window opened up Sunday after a week’s long stay in Quiberon, our last port of call in Brittany. Since landing May 30 in Lezardrieu this part of France had served as an intriguing and captivating place to explore. Despite sometimes challenging decisions concerning extreme tides and powerful currents our time here gave us a completely different feel of France. Not surprising considering the strong connections to the Celts’ immigration pre-900 C.E.
Under a forecast of not too much wind and low wave, i.e., roller, height distrubing our 260-mile journey we left casting a last glance backwards.
Within two hours we were hoisting our asymetrical (cruising) spinnaker, first time of the summer.
For the next several hours we enjoyed a relaxing and even keeled ride.
Ahhh, only us, the wind and the seas, which felt blessedly gentle.
The first day our wind kept up, more so than had been predicted. No matter. Suited us just fine. And, how can anything be wrong with this picture… great legs AND harness attached (Max was fiddling with the SSB Radio antenna).
On our two-person passages our time tables for being on watch flex: during the day, we’ll trade off cat-napping as needed; at night we generally do three hours on/three hours off. Or, if required, we’re both up to deal with a lot of shipping traffic, sail changes, or major weather disturbances.
But, nothing like that faced us, so the captain got a restful sleep while offering the perfect opportunity for a quick shot :)
The night passed smoothly and another day of sailing coupled with motoring to ensure we maintained 4 knots minimum. We always want to keep ourselves covering miles at a decent pace. It lowers our exposure to changes in the weather as the forecast under which we leave a port is only good for a limited amount of time; so, the quicker we cross, the less likely to be caught out.
Surprisingly, very little traffic appeared during this passage. The one exception were the fleets of fishing boats, which we had heard about. Sure enough, the predicted flock appeared and we easily avoided any issues because they were clumped together.
After that, we rarely spotted another boat either on AIS (automatic identification system) or looking at the horizon. A few times a white sail would appear heading towards us or coming our way; but, other than those infrequent sightings the coast was clear as they say (sorry, I can’t seem to get away from spouting these trite expressions!).
On Monday the wind had dropped as forecasted, so on came the motor. By mid-day we crossed from France into Spain.
Max performed the ceremony of switching our courtesy flags (a nautical requirement to indicate a boat’s foreign status in another country’s waters).
Once or twice before we’ve come to realize after the fact out courtesy flag wasn’t the correct one. In Spain we later discovered flags without the crown on them. When we asked our Spanish marina host, he said, ‘no, you’d want the crown for it shows you support the king.’ Which began our understanding about this northern coast’s heritage: it was the first region of Spain where they reconquered their country from the Moors in the mid-700s. Don’t worry-that’s all the history. For now, at least :)
Monday flowed into the second and final night of our passage. We had hoped to be crossing under a full moon but the timing didn’t work out, so our nights were shrouded in darkness.
I’d check the sails with a strong flashlight but it can feel a bit eerie floating out there with only you, the sea, and a visibility the circumference of the boat.
When it’s quiet with no ships around and no unpredictable boat movements due to rough or no-wind weather, you become wrapped in a comfortable blanket of soft darkness. I’d like to play music but don’t since earphones would block out any unusual sounds coming out of the night. So, it’s my cup of tea, book, meandering thoughts, and dropping below to check AIS.
Then dawn breaks, the remoteness fades, and renewed energy infuses JUANONA. And, this morning involved prepping for our arrival in Gíjon, Spain.
With Marina Yates on the outskirts of the city promising no-stress docking we contacted the marina over VHF (if that fails, we resort to using our limited cell for a phone call).
The staff directed us to our berth, catching our lines and welcoming us to Spain. Within thirty minutes Customs was aboard, and after an easy exchange of legal papers (boat registration, our passports, and other necessary documents), we had officially been accepted into this country.
We had last sailed here in 2003, only it was in southern Spain when we had over-wintered while staging to enter and later leave the Mediterranean. This had a completely different feel, one we were looking forward to exploring.
And, one of the best parts of being here? Our crossing was the easiest one I’ve ever been on. So, the Bay of Biscay for us did not knock our heads off our shoulders, and for that I’m truly thankful.
With a favorable Nothwest wind we left the luxury of Denmark’s Vejrø Island for Germany’s Kiel Canal. The canal is 60 miles long and night-time travel is not allowed for pleasure craft, which usually necessitates a stop at one of the few designated mooring spots along the canal. We chose to moor atthe 85.4 km mark near the east end of the canal, a place we’d tied up twice before; last year heading back from Sweden, and this year heading into the Baltic.
Which is what we did just a week after arriving back aboard JUANONA in our winter port of Hoorn. But, before I have us untethering from WSV Hoorn Marina, we had some wonderful reunions. First, I received the three-cheek kiss and big hug from Kase, one of the harbormasters at the club. Then Max and I spent Saturday with Deborah, Thijs and Tika at Tika’s school bazaar culminating in a another delicious dinner in their garden and a lovely, handmade gift from Tika.
Hard to believe but just a week ago we were waking up off the Danish island of Ærø and getting ready to leave for Germany’s Kiel Canal and passage back to the Netherlands.
Our voyage from there to here entailed the usual passage-making prepping with several stops at marinas along the way and a wonderful surprise in Cuxhaven, our last stop before stepping foot in the Netherlands. So, let me retrace our cruising through Germany with an overnight sail to Makkum.
What prompted this desire to quickly head south to the canal then west to the Netherlands was a forecasted weather window, i.e., the winds and seas offered a decent, 24-hour time for crossing the notorious German Bight where prevailing westerly winds whip up the strong tides of the Elbe River into a frenzy. After sailing outside you then have the challenge of entering one of the shifting, shallow passes into the Wadden Sea (waters surrounding the Frisian Islands off the coast of the Netherlands).
A note about traversing the German Bight: In addition to winds we also needed to consider the tide when leaving from Cuxhaven. The Elbe generates at least two to three knots of current. With 22 miles to reach the outer sea buoy marking the Elbe the strategy is to leave soon after local high tide to ride it as far as possible before it turns against you. Inevitably, you will be faced with some current against you as further out the tide turns an hour+ sooner. What you don’t want is tide against strong winds. It’s choppy enough due to being shallow water. Toss in a lot of wind and a recipe for unpleasant and potentially dangerous boating is created.
As usual we changed plans along the way. The first alteration coming when sailing down to the opening of the Kiel Canal on the Baltic Sea. Instead of stopping for the night at Laboe, a marina close to the canal entrance, we decided to make a bit more headway by staying at one of the few anchorages/moorings available once inside.
We had to mill around only a short while before the light at the lock turned White, the signal to enter (with no regular opening times we often have to tie up somewhere and wait).
Unlike other summer-time locks we’ve experienced in the past two years, only four boats, including JUANONA, locked in and out. We were accompanied by one large ship in its own sluice, so we pleasure boaters had plenty of room.
We arrived at a small cove off the canal and joined several other boats by mooring to black pilings. It wasn’t difficult tieing up due to (a) no wind and (b) a friendly fellow cruiser who poked his head out and gave us advice. Thanks to him we could decipher a posted sign whose illustration of how to moor was a bit confusing.
The next morning we motored (you’re allowed to motor or to motor-sail but not just sail in the canal) another 11 miles to Rendsburg, one of the few towns with a marina along the way.
It’s not as if the canal isn’t large enough for traffic both ways, including large ships,
but this is the closest I ever want to get to one of them:
After a couple hours we arrived in Rendsburg. With many cruisers eyeing the upcoming weather window, JUANONA was in good company to discuss weather updates, Cuxhaven’s marinas, and routes west.
In Rendsburg we met up again with Sylvia and Pascal who arrived a day after us and with whom we shared an enjoyable coffee break. Always a pleasure meeting up with fellow boaters. You feel a kinship just by being part of a larger group who are having similar experiences, and with WATERAAP our JUANONA is in good company.
We also met Erik, a fellow Ocean Cruising Club member, and his brother Dolf who joined him as crew. They were sailing DUTCH ROSE back to her home port in the Netherlands as well. We invited them aboard and spoke of weather, sailing, and life.
I missed the opportunities to take photos of our friends above but hope we rendez-vous again since all of us will be in ‘home’ waters once we reach the Netherlands.
In other conversations up and down the pontoons we spoke of reaching Cuxhaven and weather updates. I even saw a man I had met in Oslo who also was heading home.
Taking advantage of a waiting day, we walked into Rendsburg, originally serving as a fortress between the Upper and Lower Eider River. Stopping at the local bakery we headed for the Tourist Office only to pause when we noticed a fascinating sculpture. Getting closer we saw the animals had movable joints and appeared designed for youngsters to ride on. If they’d been a bit bigger, I definitely would have been on one.
Armed with a self-guided map we found ourselves in the oldest building–St. Mary’s, a lovely church dating from 1246. A friendly greeter welcomed us; and, although we didn’t speak German we acknowledged her explanations of certain elements with smiles while having no idea what she was saying.
Once outside we passed the Town Hall dated 1566,
walked to the grocery store for some minor provisioning, then wandered back to JUANONA.
Taking advantage of fairly light winds we left the next morning. Originally planning on stopping at another anchorage 10 miles before exiting the canal,
we opted to continue another 17 miles past the lock to Cuxhaven, our jumping off point to the Netherlands.
Once again, the lock wasn’t full and our timing was perfect. And, if you’re wondering why my exiting pose at the bow is similar to the one entering the lock it’s due to being thankful that all fenders are out, lines are ready for tieing to the pontoon or walls, and no lock guy telling us to hurry up (we tend to take these operations slowly and carefully). Or, even better, the task is completed without a problem and the captain is happy :)
The sail to Cuxhaven gave us a taste of how winds can whip up the water around here. Fast approaching the entrance to the marina we had to quickly drop the main sail while avoiding other sailboats doing the same. Once inside we tried to find a berth only to be told the one we were entering was taken, so, we reversed out and searched for a place to raft.
We found one and became the pontoon for another sailboat entering the marina soon after us. Fortunately, rafting is a given in this part of the world. By the time we left for the Netherlands two days later there were five of us tied together.
The next day when checking to make sure the one moored to the actual dock would be leaving when we were, we heard someone say our names. We must have looked stunned as our friends we met in 2002 in Rota, Spain were there! Dick and Gerda and one of their sons, Leo, had just purchased ADIOS, an extremely fast sailboat, in Helsinki, and now were in Cuxhaven after Dick and Leo had sailed her the 600 miles from Finland.
We had heard from Dick that they might be in this area the same time as we were, but, to actually have it happen?! Well, you can tell from our smiles how wonderful it was!
And, an extra treat meeting Leo.
We caught up on the past 14 years (the last time we’d seen them) then Gerda had to leave while later the four of us went to dinner.
When saying good-bye to Dick and Leo we heard a shout from above, and there’s Erik whom we met in Rendsburg saying hello. I tell you, it’s like old home week by the time you get to Cuxhaven. I even exchanged greetings again with the sailor I met in Oslo and Rendsburg.
These transient interactions create a natural camaraderie knowing you’re voyaging the same waters. By now we knew of a large number of boats all leaving at 4:00 a.m. the next morning to ride the current out the German Bight.
And, sure enough, starting at 3:15 a.m. we heard engines starting up as some got a jump on the tide. Our five sailboats one by one untied and headed out. Our passage, albeit a mini-one, had begun.
Exiting from the marina it was still dark, not as dark as the picture below (due to using a flash) but, still, dark!
We all had to stay outside of the shipping channel, which meant we hugged the narrow waterway marked by buoys. Our friends Sylvia and Pascal, who hadn’t stopped at Cuxhaven but continued on to the Netherlands once they exited the canal, had given us a heads up regarding this waterway.
Looking both forwards and aft we saw masthead lights marking the flotilla of boats. It’s rare to be in the company of so many sailboats heading in the same direction for an overnight. Plus, we knew Dick and Leo on ADIOS and DUTCH ROSE, Erik’s boat, were part of the group. We could have arranged scheduled communicating on the VHF but no one needed any distraction sailing these waters or any loss of sleep during this short passage caused by unnecessary radio chatter.
We paralleled this shipping channel down to the Frisian Islands, ensuring we left as much space as possible between the edge of the “TSS” or Traffic Separation Scheme and JUANONA’s track. We wouldn’t need to cross it, but, if we did, we knew it needed to be at a 90º angle. Failing to do so could mean a 1,000 euro fine on the spot by a German patrol.
As the sky lightened we continued to see fellow sailors plying the waters west.
Once outside the mouth of the Elbe we entered a flock of anchored ships waiting for a pilot to guide them in. They looked like sleeping giants, and sailing through them I sure as heck didn’t want to ‘wake’ them.
Sharing the water with so many vessels meant keeping an eye out for any potential crossing of paths. Max monitored one whose heading seemed a bit erratic (note his eye mask from sleeping during his off-watch :) ) but all was fine. With so many boats around our AIS alarm kept going off as a warning of possible collision.
Later I went down for a nap only to wake up and have Max smilingly beckon me up top. Poking my head out I saw why: ADIOS was right off our starboard bow!
Max said they had sailed over to say hello, and he had begun capturing ADIOS swiftly gliding through the sea.
After fifteen minutes they waved good-bye with ADIOS living up to its name as they flew off with the wind.
During his night watch Max figured out we could save some time by approaching the mainland via the channel between Vlieland and Terschelling versus sailing another 20 miles to Den Helder. We could ride the tide (here, too, you need to account for a strong current) through the sandbanks and reach the lock into the IJsselmeer by early afternoon. Hey, I’m all for making any passage shorter!
The sun rose and we continued motor-sailing, or, I should say, motoring with a main sail up as by now the winds had pretty much died down.
We crossed into Dutch waters and changed out our Germany courtesy flag for our Netherlands one.
By 11:00 a.m. we were on the final stretch to the Lorentz (also known as Kornwerderzand) Locks which give passage through the massiveAfsluitdijk dike. Passing a local fishing boat with its seagull fans we knew our landing was in sight.
The lock can be packed, as we found out last year, so no surprise seeing it so again. Making it a bit more stressful were two people waving us over while we were jockeying for position to go through the opening bridge that precedes the lock (by now there were at least 25 boats waiting to go through). We headed over only to discover they were customs agents curious about our length of time in the Netherlands.
FYI: All EU countries (except Britain) including Norway had signed an agreement (the Shengen Agreement) restricting all non-Schengen residents to a three-month visit. After that visit, you have to leave for a full three months before re-entering. Thankfully, our temporary Dutch residency allows us to avoid this requirement unlike last summer when we had to get out of Europe early August to ensure we were in compliance.
I ran below and grabbed our temporary residency cards which they photographed. They then queried us about JUANONA’s time in the EU. [We have 18 months in the EU before we’d have to pay the 20% V.A.T. (value added tax) assessed on all large assets.]
Luckily, thanks to our friends Gus and Helen, ex-pats living aboard their boat in London, Max had filed paperwork allowing temporary importation of JUANONA. The customs folk were fine with our copy of the stamped receipt. And, yes, that is how I look coming off of a passage with bad sleep and not so great hygiene…
It took us three times before we could get into the crowded lock, and when we finally did, we knew we were ‘home’.
Our friends Sylvia and Pascal had anchored at 11:00 p.m. after doing a similar passage the day before. If we hadn’t been so tired we would have motored over. Instead, the four of us exchanged hearty waves from afar as we headed for Makkum and its marinas.
A wonderful hot shower and one load of laundry completed, we now are catching up on getting JUANONA ready for her winter berthing back in Hoorn.
Always bittersweet to think of our summer cruising pretty much over. But, what a summer! And, how we’ll miss the friends we’ve met!
Donning our foul weather gear complete with Norwegian rain hats, we left the home port of Max’s Norwegian family to begin our 310-mile sail back to the Netherlands.
There were no surprises. We realized the passage would be a rough ride, but the winds were in the right direction (NNW). Additionally, we might not have had another favorable weather window for a while. The result? The now-typical experience of jostling seas.
With flexible watch schedules each of us napped during the day but not without sustenance as I fed the captain crackers slathered with peanut butter.
The better meal was partaking of the freshly caught salmon Oddbjoern gave us the day before, which made for several delicious meals.
I’d like to say this crossing was no different than the one to Norway earlier this summer, but my stomach didn’t quite see it that way starting the morning of the second day. This shouldn’t last too long as it was only a three-day passage with the promise of still water at Vlieland’s marina. At least that’s what I kept reminding myself
Three days of this:
because of that:
With a second reef in the main sail and no jib we still managed to average over 6 knots as we continued our push south.
Finally sun greeted us on the third morning, and the seas slowly lessened as we neared the Netherlands’ outer barrier islands.
Upon sighting the welcome dune-scape of Vlieland we noted a coast guard boat patrolling the area. Whenever we spot one of those on our AIS (Automatic Identification System displaying boats within a certain radii from us) we keep watch to see if they slow down.
Sure enough, this one reduced speed, stopped and lowered an inflatable, which then zoomed over to us for further inspection. (FYI: This is our third boarding in two years not counting the questioning over the radio by the Norwegian coast guard last year.)
Similar to the other times, the Dutch border control treated us with professional courtesy while examining our ship’s papers and our passports.
With a quick peek below they thanked us and hopped back on their craft to return to the mother ship.
Soon we were turning the corner and heading for the marina from which we left two months ago. And, I predicted fresh bodies, clothes, and boat… and a lovely salmon dinner awaited us with no harnesses necessary :)
With a favorable forecast we departed Vlieland at 11:00a to begin our three-day passage to Norway.
Outfitted with my faithful scopolamine patch to offset any seasickness, I only felt a wee bit queasy viewing the breaking waves ahead.
As we rounded the eastern tip of the island JUANONA quickly began gyrating as the wind against current did its thing. Fortunately it only lasted an hour and then smoothed out enough where we didn’t feel we were riding a bucking bronco. My knuckles turned to red from white and we were happily on our way.
With a single-reefed main sail we settled into a routine.
As the day turned to night we began our alternating watches. Generally, this means a schedule of three hours on, three hours off; however, we practice a lot of leeway depending on how tired or awake one of us is. I have to say I believe this is the first, two-person passage where I got plenty of sleep, as did Max, which was heavenly. It also meant I wasn’t as grouchy as I easily could be.
Another first is using the aft berth for our off-watch time. Even when it’s just the two of us Max and I typically sleep in the main cabin with lee cloths (like on previous passages).
So, it was a nice change to not have to do a contortionist act to enter and exit one’s berth.
Late evening, Max added a second reef to the main (which means we shortened the main sail to a third of its full-size; this was due to a forecast of up to 30 knots of wind).
The winds did pick up on Monday at midnight as predicted, and poor visibility made our AIS and radar helpful crewmates as we avoided the usual North Sea obstacles of wind farms and gas/oil rigs.
To me it’s always eerie to come upon those structures out in the middle of the sea looking like some stalking, alien preying mantis ready to pounce on some poor vessel who gets too close.
Of course, there’s a very good reason for steering clear of these manmade apparitions as one chart warned us:
For those of you who wonder what the heck we do all day when on watch, the following will give you an idea of what it’s like to be hooked in…
and keeping an eye out for something, ANY thing that would provide a diversion from seeing waves go up and down and you with them.
So, here’s looking forward…
and, here’s looking aft…
Our preparations for 30 knots of wind proved to be overly conservative since they didn’t really get much above 25 as we coasted through our second day of passage-making. We took out the reefs and added the motor to augment Mother Nature’s lessening wind.
A rare sighting of a fellow sailboat provided a moment of kinship as we hailed one another across the water. They were also heading to Norway only a bit further north.
As the day moved into night we benefited from being this far north on the eve of the Summer Solstice. At 10:00 pm it was easy to spot more rigs and buoys arising out of nowhere in the middle of our passage.
My Tuesday early-morning watch was accompanied by dolphins feeding under and around JUANONA.
And, as we neared the coast of southern Norway fishing boats began to appear more regularly.
With the sun out the temperatures rose and we began to shed the woolies we had donned early Sunday. (Yes, we had both been wearing the same items ever since we left three days earlier…)
My long johns, having been a gift from my husband for Christmast 2013, are something you’d find on a Dr. Seuss creature
while Max’s were a bit more sedate.
With relatively quiet shipping lanes (unlike heading to Ijmuiden) and a calm cockpit day, Max enjoyed a book given to him by my brother
then hoisted our flags: one for the country in which we’re cruising (called a courtesy flag); and a yellow one (called a Q flag, which, in the olden days identified a ship as under quarantine until the authorities visited and deemed the ship and crew healthy enough to enter port).
I love seeing this as it means I can stop silently asking my childhood question ‘are we there yet’ and begin to salivate at the thought of some fresh-baked goods being part of my future.
Finally in the early evening we sailed into the protected harbor of Egersund, one of Norway’s southern cities.
Our fourth passage of the North Sea had felt seamless as we sailed and motored through three days of easy weather. Maybe I’m getting use to this, who knows? But, I do know as we both switched from passage-making to exploring, we were eagerly awaiting the formal beginning of our 2016 summer cruising.
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).
Although it was gray and chilly it still felt wonderful to be starting our summer cruising mid-April.
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.
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.
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.
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
and left the marina and JUANONA covered in ice balls.
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.
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.
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’.
(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.
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,
sleep, and tulips were in our future :) Hans Brinker, here we come.
In March 2004 Max and I were in Antigua to meet up with family vacationing on the island: Max’s to celebrate his mom Eileen’s 80th birthday; my mom and Betty Loc to enjoy some warm sand between their toes. Rudy, our nephew who was nine at that time, spent a night aboard JUANONA where we practiced an ancient ritual:
Fast forward eleven years and Rudy was joining us again much to our delight, this time to make his first passage and help us take JUANONA down the coast to her winter berth in Ipswich.
Thursday & Friday & Saturday, September 3, 4, 5
We picked Rudy up at the Edinburgh Airport Thursday afternoon (that morning Max and I stopped at Melrose Abbey) and drove back to Amble where we were waiting for winds to blow in the right direction (a typical sailing ‘plight’). Friday was not favorable for sailing so Rudy and Max visited Hadrian’s Wall where we’d been in May and then again with Iain and Sarah. I should preface our time with Rudy with a warning: he, like me, is a history buff only he, unlike me, remembers well.
Anyhow, his and Max’s tour of the wall (near Housesteads fort)
and town (Vindolanda) occurred at the perfect time:
while scrutinizing the ongoing archaeological excavation at Vindolanda, they met THE lead archaeologist, Andrew Birley. His grandfather began the dig in the 1930s and it’s still a happening place. Matter-of-fact one of the archeologists showed Rudy a pair of table legs they had unearthed that day – a piece of furniture last seen by a Roman some 1800 years ago.
And, speak of the devil, a Roman soldier approached the site and asked what they were doing in ‘his house’. Andrew immediately replied, ‘Oh, right. The utility bills are due for the past 1,890 years.’ Who said archaeologists don’t have a dry sense of humor? :)
Like us earlier this year, Rudy was enthralled with the letters penned in ink on wooden tablets discovered at Vindolanda, which tell so much of daily Roman life and are now considered one of the top treasures in the British Museum.
The extensive display even includes the well-preserved leather sandal of one of the Vindolanda letters’ authors:
That night we headed for the local yacht club where we’d also taken Iain and Sarah. Once again, we were made to feel extremely welcomed. The club’s volunteerism reminded us of our own club back home on Orr’s (OBYC) as the Amble club’s commodore was serving as bartender.
On Saturday it was my turn to show Rudy an old site, only this one was a bit more recent: Warkworth Castle. Iain, Sarah and I had walked up from the marina along the Coquet River when they were here. It was wonderful being with those two young folk, and time with Rudy was no different.
My annual English Heritage membership had just expired, but the two kind people manning the ticket counter said no problem and then asked Rudy his age saying he must just be 16 (the cut-off for free entry there). He corrected them stating he was 20 only to have one of the women say, no, you’re 16.
After several repeats of this Q&A, they said my membership card still shows active, and he’s considered a child at age 16, so here are the audio guides and enjoy your stay. There must be something about Rudy for this happened more times than not.
We walked all over this castle, originally built in 1200, and serving as a Percy home back in the 14th through the 17th centuries. One of the Percys, Harry Hotspur, is featured in Shakespeare’s “Henry VI” and is the hero of many Border ballads thanks to his raids against the Scots. Their family history makes for an exciting read for anyone interested in old English families. For Rudy and me, we just enjoyed checking out the keep (main house) and exploring the ruins.
Back aboard Rudy jumped into boat chores. Washing dishes became his nightly ritual, just like Iain and Sarah.
While we prepped below, Max frequently checked weather and email. Because the wifi signal was weak below, this was the view the two of us often had of the captain when in Amble:
RUDY’S FIRST PASSAGE: Amble to Lowestoft
Sunday to Tuesday, September 6-8
We filled the tanks with water and then documented our leaving.
The North Sea demonstrated its power as we steered our way out of Amble’s narrow and shallow entrance for the 210-mile passage to Lowestoft. It’s difficult to capture but you can see the waves surging under the pier below–the remnants of the storm that had kept us in port the previous few days:
Later, the seas calmed down and the sun created a delightful day of sailing. At one point, someone yelled, ‘Dolphins!’ resulting in the three of us being entranced by several of these synchronized swimmers.
After watching for a bit we realized there was at least one mom and baby pair keeping track with our bow.
Monday dawned another beautiful day as we settled into the typical routine of watches, reading, navigating, eating, and sleeping.
During this passage Rudy experienced the North Sea ‘game’ of dodge the oil rigs. Luckily they are well-lit at night and equally visible during the day.
The leftover seas made the passage quite bouncy causing a rare sight: Max with a seasick patch.
In spite of having to motor due to some lighter winds (which we rarely do at night unless far enough offshore to avoid the inevitable crab and lobster pots), we arrived on schedule Tuesday morning and pulled into a berth at Hamilton Docks, part of the Associated British Ports Haven (ABP) Marinas of which our marina in Ipswich belongs.
Rudy, as the Brits would say, was brilliant :) He completed his first passage with flying colors and, as he said, with the added bonus of not getting seasick.
We walked around the town, taking Rudy to England’s most eastern point
and enjoyed meeting up with our friends Helen and Gus Wilson of s/v WINGS who sailed in from Whitby where they had attended the annual Folk Week. We shared a dinner
and the next day (Wednesday, September 9) walked with them to The Broads, a network of shallow lakes and waterways formed in the 13th century by the flooding of medieval peat diggings. With promises to meet up again when in Ipswich, we parted and checked weather for our next-day departure to the Orwell River. Then took our usual positions after a full day.
HOME WATERS: Lowestoft to Ipswich
Thursday to Saturday, September 10-12
The winds were perfect for heading to our home waters Thursday morning, so we left on a strong breeze under bright skies. Knowing it’d be another seven months before JUANONA would be under sail again, we turned off the autopilot and took turns steering her home.
It seemed appropriate that the seas would be bouncy, almost as if JUANONA knew she was heading for the barn; and, with frisky winds come frisky waves resulting in Rudy’s baptism by the North Sea.
We entered the Orwell River on nearly the same date as we did last year. When the wind increased significantly Max furled the jib; however, all it took for the jib to be unfurled was Rudy’s and my comment that a sailboat under full sail was gaining on us. Out goes the jib and we maintained our lead with the sailboat behind us most likely oblivious to us Yanks’ machinations.
We were thrilled to be moored along this beautiful river again, and even happier to share it with Rudy. We snapped the requisite ‘end of voyage’ photographs…
and prepared for the night. Anyone who’s crewed with us quickly becomes indoctrinated to our dental ritual. We’ve even got my sister in tune with this. Rudy’s time aboard was no different as we merrily shared brushing time.
Friday we had arranged to meet up with our friends Anne and Peter of s/v SACRE BLEU at Pin Mill, a popular pub dating from the 1450s halfway up the river to Ipswich. It was wonderful being with them and introducing Rudy.
The day was perfect in spite of our dinghy being caught in the mud by a rapidly falling tide. Fortunately there was enough water for Max to push his way to a landing
where Rudy and I were able to hop on for the short ride back.
To ensure Rudy received as complete a cruising experience as possible, we decided not to enter Ipswich Haven Marina on the high tide when the lock gates remain open for ‘free flow’ (at high tide the water heights are the same both inside the marina basin and outside on the river). Rather, we’d go through the lock at mid tide. This entails hailing the Lock Master to ask permission to enter the lock… wait for the first gate to open… enter… tie up as the gate behind closes… let the water rise/fall to the same level as in the basin… wait for gate in front to open… then proceed into the marina.
While Max steered us into the lock, Rudy and I, being kindred spirits, broke out into a Bear naked happy dance (so termed by our friend Shawn) prior to entering.
We tied up,
then exited the lock and headed into our winter berth.
We were home! Or, as much home as one can be in foreign ports :)
A favorable forecast, or as favorable as we seem to get these days, has us leaving around noon for an overnight to Amble.
We had enjoyed our stay in Peterhead, primarily due to the folk we met such as Chris, Rita and Mike on s/v GRIFFYN, Nigel on s/v RASSY LASS, Ray and Lynn on s/v CRYSTELL, and two Dutch guys, Lucas and the captain whose name we never did learn how to say. In addition to fellow cruisers we also appreciated Peterhead’s marina staff and that of the local library.
Having landed Wednesday, August 19, we were primed for heading south to our winter berth in Ipswich.
Since we’d been in the area before, we had pretty much explored the town a bit, so this time we got on a bus to hike part of the North Sea Trail.
While waiting for the bus we spotted an electric car charging station. Would have been really interesting to see someone use it, but in lieu of that, we just took photos.
We caught the bus, which took us to Cruden Bay, 20 minutes away. We began the short coastal walk first coming upon Slains Castle, rebuilt in the late 1500s, and sitting close to the sea cliffs.
An easy stroll along fields of grain
and purple heather
brought us to a hole in the cliffs
followed by a collapsed sea cave called the Sea Caudron located
at Bullers o’ Buchan, an old fishing community where fishermen beached their boats and hauled gear and fish up the cliffs.
Other than that walk we watched weather, provisioned and caught up on emails and Internet tasks. There’s also a sailing school sharing the same cove as the marina, and the weekend brought several sailing clubs as well as kayakers. Seeing the young kids enjoying these water sports entertained us as well as reminded us of the AF sailing school at our club at home, OBYC.
Discussing when to leave seemed to be the topic on everyone’s mind with two of us heading south, two heading north, and one sailing across the North Sea. For us, Monday-Tuesday seemed doable in spite of knowing 25 knots of wind were forecasted starting midnight Monday and building into Tuesday. But, it’d be WNW so would give us a good run down to Amble hitting the noon high tide with time to spare (because of the sill bar, we have to time our entries and exits to be +/- three hours of high tide).
As we were leaving the marina, we realized (thanks to Ray) we needed to contact the Peterhead Harbor Master. When we did, he said to hold up for 15 minutes as a fishing boat was exiting and an oil rig supply ship was entering. We circled around while getting the mainsail ready to hoist since it’d be easier in the protected harbor than outside the breakwater. Considering the roller-coaster swells coming into the harbor, we could only imagine the extent of the roll once outside. And, the best clue as to how it’d be was the Harbor Master’s instructions to watch ourselves out there as there was a strong swell. With the waves crashing against the stone jetty, we took his caution to heart.
Well, there’s a reason they call some sailing outfits foul weather gear. We sure were glad we had ours on as we began our exit from Peterhead following the fishing boat out before we turned south.
That famous Bette Davis quote ‘Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night’ came to mind as we proceeded to pick up where we left off on that windy passage from Norway to the UK.
With harnesses strapped on and clicked in we began our sail as JUANONA bucked against the current, which fortunately wasn’t too strong, while the wind howled from the SE. We had the motor on as well because we needed to have as much power as possible to make 5 kts/hour.
This also required a sharp lookout for the fishing buoys that popped up in the most nerve-racking spots, such as right off the lighthouse rocks. The last thing we needed was to get one caught in our prop so close to land in an onshore breeze. Thank gods and goddesses it was daylight and thank gods and goddesses the buoys were bright orange.
Fortunately, I had made sandwiches before we left and had also picked up some scones. The former we ate for lunch and dinner while the latter helped offset some queasiness with their baking soda ingredient. To give you an idea just how bouncy it truly was even Max slapped on a seasick medicine patch halfway through the passage.
We skidded off and sledded down the sides of waves as we made fairly good time going against the current. Since we had 24+ hours to cover 130 nm, we knew the first part could be a wee uncomfortable; but, the winds were forecasted to die down early evening, eventually swinging to the WNW at midnight and grow to 25.
Catnaps in the cockpit allowed some rest.
Eventually Max took a much-needed break and went below, and I stood watch. At one point a bird fluttered aboard. Wherever it blew in from it sure looked happy to be able to rest; and, the need to perch itself somewhere outweighed the fear of being close to a human. Our birding friend Jayne will need to identify it. Always nice to have company as I entertained myself with snapping photos of our feathered friend.
Late afternoon the winds died down as forecasted, but they did so too much requiring us to motor-sail up to 10pm or so when the wind began to pick up again. At this point we were far enough offshore where fishing buoys wouldn’t pose a navigational hazard.
Our watches were flexible, with whomever was the most tired heading to the main cabin and cozy berth.
At one point the AIS showed a cargo ship getting a bit close, so I hailed them on the VHF to see if they’d like us to change our heading. They kindly replied they’d alter their course to go behind us. More times than not, we’ve received this courtesy whenever we’ve contacted larger ships. This consideration makes for an easier sail for us.
Tuesday, August 25
I woke Max up at 2am saying the winds were clocking up to 17. Time for the second reef in the mainsail and furling the jib. While he navigated forward to the mast I shined the flashlight while trying not to beam it right into his eyes. As he worked his way down the boom to tie up the sail, I got more and more nervous finally yelling watch out as a wave bounced us up and down. He was double clicked in (our harnesses have two leads, a short and a long one) so all was fine; but, I must say I’m never happy when he’s on the foredeck in the dark, in bouncy seas.
With only the mainsail up we were making 7 knots. As morning dawned the winds continued to grow, eventually reaching 25+. It was a beautiful sail, though, with the wind slightly aft the beam, and with seas relatively smooth since they were blowing off the land.
While I was asleep in the early morning hours Max was visited by both a dolphin frisking about
and a windblown, female kestrel (Jayne, this one we could identify… we think!). Max came below to tell me. Both of us were mesmerized by this bird’s beauty. Being visited by wild life can seem pretty magical when at sea.
In addition to the scones, sustenance were some pistachio nuts brought by Nigel during a shared cocktail hour several nights previously. Generally, we’re much better outfitted for passage meals but the short length of this one (24 hours) and the snacks we had prepared (sandwiches and scones) were enough to get us through the night.
The day dawned a bright blue, and as we neared the shoreline, we watched for buoys and local fishing boats
while enjoying the onshore scenery.
Soon Amble came into view.
We radioed the marina asking for a hammerhead berth (it’s at the end of a pontoon that looks like a capital “T”) if possible. They said no problem, and we headed in. Thankfully, once we turned into Amble’s harbor we were going into the wind. With 28+ knots it was a bit of a relief giving us better control than if going with the wind.
Mick and Ben, whom we knew from our stay earlier in the summer, greeted us, and JUANONA eased onto the dock. We finally relaxed. We’d made our destination with some great sailing.
That night we opened a bottle of wine, the same label as our friend Libby and David gave me so many years ago and that was used for Max’s and my first date. It was a perfect way to celebrate our 14th wedding anniversary and a safe landing in Amble.