Category Archives: PASSAGES

Sailing from point A to point B with at least one 24-hour sail

Passage

BAY OF BISCAY

Sunday-Tuesday, July 7-9, 2019

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 “and the 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.

 

 

 

 

PASSAGE PLUS

KIEL CANAL

Friday-Sunday, August 31-September 2, 2018

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 at the 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.

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Take-off!

 

Friday – Monday, April 13 – 16, 2018

Hoorn to Afsluitdijk to Vlieland

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.

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BACK TO THE NETHERLANDS: Kiel Canal to Cuxhaven to Makkum

Makkum, Netherlands

Thursday, August 10

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 massive Afsluitdijk 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!

Two spoiled sailors we are! :)

 

We meet again, North Sea

Egersund, Norway, to Vlieland, Netherlands

Wednesday-Friday, July 13-15, 2016

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.

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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.

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The better meal was partaking of the freshly caught salmon Oddbjoern gave us the day before, which made for several delicious meals.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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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 :)

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Back to another country we now call ‘home’ :)

Fourth Time’s a charm

Sunday – Tuesday, June 19-21

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.

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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.

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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).

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So, it was a nice change to not have to do a contortionist act to enter and exit one’s berth.

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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.

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Of course, there’s a very good reason for steering clear of these manmade apparitions as one chart warned us:
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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…

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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.

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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.

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My Tuesday early-morning watch was accompanied by dolphins feeding under and around JUANONA.

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And, as we neared the coast of southern Norway fishing boats began to appear more regularly.

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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

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while Max’s were a bit more sedate.

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With relatively quiet shipping lanes (unlike heading to Ijmuiden) and a calm cockpit day, Max enjoyed a book given to him by my brother

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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.

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Finally in the early evening we sailed into the protected harbor of Egersund, one of Norway’s southern cities.

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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.

Norway here we are!