Home! Across the North Sea

We had planned to wait on Texel for a weather window to cross to the UK – but as it happened the weather gods were in a good mood and we didn’t have to wait at all.  The day after we arrived, we stocked up on food, filled the water tanks and then headed out on the afternoon tide.

Part One: The Nice Bit

The first hour or so was nice and relaxing, but after avoiding a submarine who was doing confusing manoeuvres in the middle of the channel we hit some stronger wind in the seegat.  The wind was only force 5, but it kicked up some steep chop and we had to put a couple of tacks in to stay in the channel, or at least to avoid the various sandbanks on either side.

It didn’t last long, and soon the surrounding sandbanks were deeper so we were able to sail a course that took us of the channel and out to sea over the banks.  The wind dropped again and we had a nice relaxing sail into the evening, towards several gas platforms, with very little shipping around.

Most of the night was nice sailing, with some spells of motoring, and the AIS allowed us to quickly confirm our analysis of what the various ship lights were up to.  There were gas platforms in sight the whole time.  The only vessel that caused us confusion was (as always) a fishing boat that had all sorts of extra lights on, and no AIS.  They kept changing direction, and we probably altered course by more than we needed to, but eventually we we managed to pass them and get clear.

Crossing the shipping lanes went well despite there being a reasonable amount of traffic, and again it was reassuring to know that (hopefully) the ships could see us on AIS rather than relying on them having someone looking out of the window who was paying enough attention to see our tiny lights.

Part Two: The Next Bit

The second part of the trip was less enjoyable.  As we neared the UK coastline, at around 10am the wind suddenly strengthened and the waves got horrible.  I think we were sailing into the combination of wind-over-tide and a cross-sea from previous strong winds.  The wind had been variable, so when the strong wind hit we just furled up the #1 genoa quite a lot, thinking that the wind would soon drop again.  After we shortened sail Lizzie took it all in her stride and we were still making reasonable progress but the motion was pretty unpleasant.

After the conditions had remained like this for a while, we worked out the distance still to go and realised that we might be in for another 12 hours of this.  We had originally planned to head for Harwich, which gives access to our home port on the river Orwell.  Lowestoft was temptingly 30 miles closer, but unfortunately was upwind, and we knew that the motion would be a lot worse and progress a lot slower if we went that way.  Also, timing the tides to thread our way in between the sandbanks off Lowestoft would be tricky.  The other ports in between, such as the Alde, have complicated entrances where you have to time the tide to perfection.  We gritted our teeth and carried on heading for Harwich.

As Lizzie were still sailing well, we left the heavily-rolled #1 genoa in place rather than swapping down to our new #3.  With hindsight this was probably a mistake, but rolling around with no headsail while working on the foredeck to change sails would have been pretty unpleasant and dangerous.

We made progress all day, taking short watches to steer – there was no way the autohelm was going to cope with these conditions.  As we neared the coast the visibility gradually got worse.  We saw some anchored ships on AIS a long time before they loomed out of the murk a mile or two away.  Luckily it never got properly foggy, and as evening approached the visibility improved again.

Part Three: Harwich Harbour

The wind finally dropped for an hour at sunset, and we unrolled the headsail as we sailed slowly down one of the channels between the sandbanks north of Harwich.  Soon it was completely dark and the wind picked up again as we approached the buoys marking the entrance to Harwich.

There are four lines of buoys here, marking an inner big-ship channel and shallower side channels, and there are various junctions and corners marked by cardinal buoys.  From a distance all this is just a confusing mess of flashing lights, but I made a quick pilotage plan and gradually identified the various key lights that we needed and we successfully wove our way in.

Catherine spotted an outbound ship, so we did a short beat up and down before “crossing the road” to the south side of the channel.  We started the motor and motor-sailed up through the harbour.

By the time we had passed Harwich town, the wind had died and we motored slowly up the river Stour to an anchorage that we have used before, enjoying the amazing peace of flat water and no wind after more than twelve hours of horrible waves.

We wove slowly around some other anchored boats and nosed in towards the side of the river, watching the depth sounder, before lowering our anchor, trying to keep the noise down as it was now around midnight.  We put up the anchor light and collapsed into our bunks.  We were back in the UK!

Part Four: The Next Day

After a great night’s sleep we felt a lot better, and we had a really nice sail round to our old mooring at Woolverstone on the river Orwell.  It was nice to be back in familiar waters.

We discovered that yesterday’s sailing in strong wind with the #1 genoa rolled up had stretched the top of the sail slightly, so it doesn’t set quite as well now.  This was annoying, because we had just bought a new #3 genoa, which is much stronger.  With hindsight, knowing that the strong wind was going to last for 12 hours, we should have changed the headsail.

We also discovered that our outboard motor mount was broken.  I made the mount last year as a temporary solution, and a year of water on cheap plywood had weakened it.  Twelve hours of steep waves had broken the wood, and the motor was still there but was facing down at a bit of an angle.  We were glad that we didn’t know about this the previous night when we were motoring up through the harbour!

 

 

Harlingen to Texel

This trip took us from the canals in Harlingen out through the shallow tidal channels of the Waddensea to the Frisian Islands, the chain of islands which form a barrier between the Waddensea and the North Sea.  We planned to wait on one of these islands until conditions were right for crossing the North Sea back to the UK.

The exit from Harlingen was a bit intimidating, because we had to mooch around in the main canal for a while, waiting for the locks to let us in and trying to keep out of everyone’s way.  The locks then spit you out right where the channel from the fishing port converges with the busy ferry dock…

In practice, locking through went very smoothly and we managed to get out of the fairway before the next ferry arrived.  We joined a steady stream of sailing boats taking the Boontjes channel down towards the Afsluitsdjik, enjoying some really good sailing and trying to beat various other boats.

Later that day, the wind died for a bit and we were plagued by swarms of flies, which was quite annoying.  We took it in turns to keep watch and squash flies while the other person hid down below.  Most of the other boats had locked through the dam into the Ijsselmeer, leaving us with just a handful of others heading out to the Frisian Islands.  Eventually the wind picked up again, and we had a great sail out to the island of Texel and into the port of Oudeschilde.  We judged the cross-tide at the entrance just right and made it into the port just ahead of a massive sail training ship.

We had visited this island by ferry a few years previously, and it was nice to be able to revisit somewhere that we vaguely knew.  The marina at Oudeschilde is vast, and quite expensive.  The port is also home to a fleet of enormous fishing boats, and I had fun working out the function of the gear on the quayside (turns out they were electric pulse trawls, a novel way of catching flatfish which only the dutch really use, and which is in the process of being banned by the EU!)

 

To Harlingen

By now we were daring to hope that we might actually make it back to the UK in the time that we had available, rather than having to leave Lizzie somewhere in the Netherlands and come back later in the year.   It would all depend on getting a good weather slot to cross the North Sea, but in the meantime we would push on towards our chosen port of departure at Texel as fast as we could.

We had an uneventful trip through all the lifting bridges at Leeuwarden and out along the canal to the coast at Harlingen.  In Harlingen it took a long time to get moored up… we had chosen a small marina jammed in the canal system rather than heading into town through lifting bridges and locks and mooring alongside.

The entrance to the marina was exciting, with a very narrow channel and a 90 degree blind bend.  Inside there was very little room.

We paused at the designated “calling berth” to talk to the harbourmaster and be assigned to a berth.  The harbourmaster was nowhere to be found and the office had a note saying that he would be back soon.  We waited around for 30 minutes but eventually gave up and started manoeuvring ourselves into a box berth with a green tag.  The space was very tight, even for a 26 foot boat, and it required a lot of planning and nerve in the strong gusty cross wind with a boat which doesn’t go backwards, particularly with an outboard engine mounted on one quarter.

Just as we were finally in the berth and about to start adjusting the lines, the harbourmaster arrived and told us that we had to move across two places.  Another complicated manoeuvre was stressfully, but successfully, executed and we were finally allowed to tie up.  Sure enough, we had barely tied up when the owner of our original berth arrived in his boat.

By this time we were both extremely hungry, and we headed into town in search of food.  There was a festival going on in town, with some good live music, a trials mountain bike display, and some kind of home-built-boat race.

Harlingen is a lovely place, and we spent the rest of the day exploring it, including walking around the massive (extended several times) harbour.  We finished the day with some great fish and chips near the ferry terminal.

The next morning there we woke to the sound of distant crowds and cheering, getting closer and closer.  We eventually worked out that there were two separate things going on:

1: A guy was doing a huge multi-day swim around lots of the canals of Friesland.  He passed a few feet from the stern of Lizzie, together with an escort boat and various TV cameras etc.

2: There was a swimming race around the canals of Harlingen, which had a turnpoint just up the canal from where we were moored.  We went and watched this for a while.

We had a relaxing morning in Harlingen while we waited for the tide to be right to head out into the Waddensea.

What’SUP Leuwarden?

Canals: Day 1

At Delzjil we moored in the marina and walked into town for a well-deserved cafe lunch.  After buying more petrol we locked into the canal system and spent a relaxing afternoon motoring along the nearly-deserted canals from Delfzjil to Groningen.  We arrived just as the bridge-keepers were about to finish work so we moored at the “Motor Yacht Club” for the night.

We walked into the town centre and found supper and great ice cream, but got completely soaked by a biblical rain shower just as we were almost back at the boat.

Canals: Day 2

In the morning we trundled through Groningen’s 15 lifting bridges surprisingly smoothly and chugged along the canals all day.  Near Lauwersoog, the canal briefly joins the Lauwersmeer.  This used to be an estuary, but is now dammed off from the sea and is a non-tidal lake.  We arrived down one tributary, turned left and headed up another one.  We were now retracing the route which we had taken last year, which was nice.

We managed an hour or so of actual sailing at this point – the winds were light but it made a lovely change from having the motor on.  We ran aground for a moment on one of the corners of the channel but fortunately managed not to get too stuck.

After locking back into the canal system we went a bit further before mooring at the canal equivalent of a layby for the night because the bridge keepers were about to finish work for the day.  This was a patch of mown grass with mooring bollards, in the middle of nowhere somewhere near “Ee”.   It was very peaceful.

Canals: Day 3

We motored on and on along the canals, through small towns and various lifting bridges.  We stopped in Dokkum for lunch – we had no choice because the bridge keepers were on their lunch break.  After running around trying to moor in the normal mooring slots, we header over to the designated “deep draft yacht” area, not something we normally consider Lizzie to be!

After lunch we pushed on to arrive just outside Leeuwarden just as the ring-road bridge stopped lifting because of the evening rush hour.  We moored up at another layby for a couple of hours until the bridges started working again and then moored up in the park in Leeuwarden very close to our mooring from last year – though this time we managed to choose a spot without any overhanging trees to ensnare the mast, and didn’t run aground.

After a slick mooring operation we headed into town to our favourite restaurant from last year’s visit.  This time the menu was slightly uninspiring but the food itself was really good!

 

Thursday night is party night on the canals of Leuwarden with the locals taking to paddle boards with boom boxes and beer filled tow floats!

The perfect day’s sailing

Every once in a while, the sea gods smile on us and from Langeoog to Borkum we had that rare thing, a perfect day’s sailing – lovely breeze, calm flat sea and plenty of sunshine.  In short; a delight.  We ripped along at 4-5 knots, made the Wester Ems fairway buoy at the ideal time, just as the tide was turning to sweep us up the estuary towards Borkum, and even the  entrance to Borkum harbour was relatively calm (the harbour channel runs perpendicular to the main estuary and the cross tides usually cause havoc with each other).

The normal marina in Burkana haven was full when we arrived at 11pm, but we moored very happily at the alternative establishment on the large jetties in the north of the basin, by the wind turbine transfer boats.  There were some other yachts there but we managed to wedge ourselves in right at the end.  Handily, the harbourmistress for this pontoon was around, otherwise we wouldn’t have known that we were allowed to be there, or that they now have a toilet block!

I spent a worrying minute trying to work out how we were going to moor to this enormous pier intended for ships because the tidal range is reasonably large here and there was a lot of crumbling concrete and rusty metal around.  Luckily I then twigged that the entire jetty is actually an enormous floating pontoon, so would move up and down with the tide, taking us with it.  No complicated mooring arrangements required after all.

Not wanting to push our luck (and mindful of the forecast for westerlies coming) we grabbed a few hours sleep and then set off again, this time for Delfzijl, further up the estuary on the Dutch side.  There we could lock into the canal system and take the standing mast route through to Harlingen in 3 days or so.

Wonderful Spiekeroog and case of the missing Buoy…

From Cuxhaven most larger yachts head straight to either Nordeney or Borkum, missing out the smaller Frisian islands, but it wasn’t a particularly windy day and with Lizzie struggling to maintain more than 3 knots the closer island of of Spiekeroog was a more achievable target for us before the tide turned.  It was also our favourite of all the islands that we visited last year – very much less developed that it’s western neighbours, no cars and the best ice cream shop.  Enough said.

It was with the promise of such delights that at 9pm we approached the fairway of the seagat, only to find, well… nothing!  The channels through the sandbanks of the seagats are known to shift, but usually only the section over the bar itself, and we had a chart update from March so we hadn’t expected the fairway buoy itself to have moved.  Time was of the essence as we didn’t want to be sniffing around close inshore to the banks without lit buoys when it got dark – in about 45 minutes time.   Staying further off rather than risking the shallows we sailed an experimental course to the west, on the hypothesis that the channel might have moved back to an old postion shown on last year’s charts.  The gamble paid off – though it was almost 10pm by the time we arrived at the fairway (several miles from it’s charted position) and the remaining buoys were unlit, so Tom took some hasty bearings to all of the red/green gates we could sea and we turned and raced in with the tide leaving us just off the harbour approch channel by the time proper darkness fell.  This is a narrow mile long dredged channel, marked only with withies, but these have very effective reflective red and green tape on, so a quick flash of a torch is all that’s needed to keep on course.

The harbour itself was a lot less busy in June than it had been in late July last year, and we easily found a berth where Lizzie would sink happily into the soft mud at low water.   We spent a couple of days enjoying Spiekeroog before heading west again, this time inside the island of Langeoog across the drying sands.

Back into the north sea – and the waves

After a relatively smooth transition from Baltic to Canal at the eastern end of the Kiel Ship Canal, the drama quota was provided in full at the western end where we locked down from Brunsbuttel into the infamous river Elbe in a fresh southerly wind.   Wind over tide whipped up a nasty sea in the lock approaches and it was touch and go (and very wet) for a moment or two before crossing to the more sheltered side of the channel, where the waves were a bit smaller and more manageable.

On the plus side with over 3 knots of tide swooshing us down river it was a quick trip to Cuxhaven.  And when we got there we could bail out the errant north sea that had made it’s way onboard.  It had even pentrated one of the cabin top vents over the galley with the result that my stock cubes were now extra salty…  oh well – worse things happen at sea?

Locking up at Holtenau – with a couple of tankers

Kiel (again)

We’re currently moored up on the pontoons next to the big container ship locks at Holtenau, waiting for morning to lock into the Kiel Canal and travel through from the Baltic back to the north sea.

Bit of a mixed trip here, we left Ærø in force 6 winds and had a hard time getting out of the harbour with the waves, yet by the time we got to Kiel tonight it was flat calm and sunny with hardly a breath of wind.  In between we had some fast sailing (good) some bumpy waves (expected) and a lot of fog (less good!) Tom’s electronics wizardry paid off as our new AIS was brilliant showing us where all the massive ships we couldn’t see were.  Usual number of British warships on firing exercises around Kiel.  The sea here must be better to shoot at…

 

First sailing of 2019

On Sunday we had a cracking first sail of the year from the boatyard in Augustenbørg to Søby on the island of Ærø.  It was sunny and lots of wind for the first half of the day so Lizzie barrelled along:

Taken by the lovely skipper of BIRKA who we sailed alongside for a while 🙂

In Søby the harbour was very nice with great facilities as usual but to cap it all the island has a brand new 4MW fully electric ferry!!

Check out the charger:

Back to the Baltic – lots of trains and a great bath!

Tom and I have a month off work (yep we are very jammy) and so we have come back out to our boat Lizzie in Denmark with the aim of sailing her back towards the UK.  We left her snug in a shed in Augustenborg over the winter, and the trip back out here – entirely by public transport –  was quite an adventure in itself.

Glossop – London – Amsterdam – Flensburg – Sønderborg – boat took 3 days, and thanks to the incredible Deutsche Bahn rail app which gives you live updates on all the connections you are definitely going to miss, we only arrived a few hours late, despite lightning strikes, points failures and a major incident which closed all the railway lines into Denmark.  Still the journey wasn’t without high points and it was particularly reassuring to know that sailors aren’t the only ones to suffer from navigational errors; on the approaches to Hamburg station our train went the wrong way out of a set of points and we appeared set to bypass the station all together until the driver presumably noticed the error and reversed! 

The second, more genuine positive was a very pleasant stopover in Amsterdam, where we stayed in the brilliant volkshotel again, who upgraded us to one of their themed rooms – this one had a projector and massive screen so that you could watch films in bed – or even from the bath? (It was a great bath)  I suspect some of the benefit was lost on us, we watched  a documentary on the Barkley marathons and then fell asleep.

Now we’re here we’ve been doing a few jobs – rigging our brand new headsail, installing a new AIS unit and filling up with food, fuel and water before we can set off.   

Lizzie back in the water with her smart new headsail!