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.