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.


Because we had Skip with us, we couldn’t just fly home to the UK like normal people.  Instead we had a three-day, twelve-stage epic public-transport journey through four countries.  I guess going overland and by ferry might have been greener than flying?

The Night Before

Lizzie was out of the water, in a cradle in the yard, ready to go into the shed for the winter.  The mast was off and all the sails had been dried and packed away.  We had a long evening of cleaning, sorting and packing and were pretty knackered when we eventually made it to bed.

Day One (two buses, three trains and a metro)

We got up early, walked the dog and left the boat at 0730, ready to catch a bus at 0800.  We had to transport a load of power tools home as well as all our clothes, so we had a heavy holdall each, some other smaller bags, and the dog.

The first bus took us to Sonderborg.   While waiting for the next bus, Skip and I went and bought some brownies from a bakery that Catherine had spotted on an earlier visit.  The next bus journey was  longer, a couple hours to Flensburg which is just over the border into Germany.  

Here we had to lug our stuff a mile and a bit from the bus station to the train station.  Luckily we had plenty of time so stopped for a rest in a park.  Skip was full of energy, so we disobeyed the “dogs on leads” sign and found a quiet corner where I could throw the ball for him.

We got a train to Hamburg, then another to Osnabruck (wherever that is) and finally another one to Amsterdam.  The first train was fine, but the second sat in the station for 45 minutes before leaving due to a “technical problem”.  This meant we missed the third train, and we thought we might be stuck in Osnabruck for the night, but another train to Amsterdam eventually appeared on the departure board.

At this point we were very glad that we had decided to break the journey in Amsterdam rather than trying to get the ferry that night, which should in theory have been possible.

On this train we got charged €40 for the dog!  We had pre-booked our tickets, and knew that technically we needed a child’s ticket for Skip, but when we tried to book his ticket it asked us how old the child was.  Should we enter his age in dog years or something?  We researched online and found that most people don’t bother with tickets for their dogs, and that you have to be unlucky to get questioned about it.  We got away with it on the first two trains, but the German ticket inspector on the third train was a fierce woman who demanded payment, so we paid up immediately.  Once the same train passed into the Netherlands the Dutch inspector was a lot more cheerful, and didn’t ask to see Skip’s ticket.

Arriving in Amsterdam at about 9pm, we dumped our heavy bags at the left-luggage lockers and took the metro out to Wibautstraat.  For once I was able to obey the “dogs must be carried on escalators” sign.  As usual Skip was amazingly unfazed by everything and really enthusiastic about boarding any form of public transport for some reason!

The Volkshotel was really friendly and seemed genuinely interested in our sailing trip, and Skip managed to charm everyone as usual.   We each had a long shower (very luxurious after the standard four minutes you get in a marina) and then had a relaxing evening in the hotel bar.  Another time we might have tried the rooftop hot-tubs, which did look good!

Day Two (a walk, a bus and half a ferry)

Free of our heavy bags, we had a really nice morning ambling back in to the centre of Amsterdam via various parks and gardens.  By 2pm we had retrieved our burdens and were waiting for the DFDS bus out to the ferry port at IJmuiden.   Having seen the weather forecast, Catherine nipped to the nearby chemist and invested in some sea-sickness tablets.

Gradually other passengers accumulated around us, for some reason pushing right up against us despite the acres of space.  I still don’t quite know how they did it, but somehow we were gradually displaced from our bench and despite being the first people at the bus stop we found ourselves in a heap on the floor, pressed in on all sides by people and luggage.

Eventually a bus showed up.  My expectations of a nice orderly English queue were also shattered as a crowd of elderly Brits elbowed us and each other out of the way in their rush to be first on the bus.  A young mother, standing with her pushchair as the grannies jostled past, sighed and pointed out that this was just the first bus of many, and that the ferry didn’t leave for hours yet…

We had sailed through Ijmuiden to Amsterdam several months before, so it was interesting to see the same sights from the road.  At the ferry port, having the dog allowed us to bypass the check-in queues (take that, rude grannies) and we excitedly boarded the ferry and deposited Skip in his kennel.

Catherine had promised that our ferry cabin TV would have a special channel allowing us to watch Skip and the other kennel inmates, but disappointingly our cabin didn’t even have a TV.  There was, however, a great view of the port of IJmuiden from the deck of the ferry and we spent ages looking at the various interesting ships and gas platforms that were scattered around the harbour.  Eventually the ferry set off, and as the motion didn’t seem too bad we headed to the canteen for our pre-booked “all you can eat buffet”.

The food wasn’t too bad, but annoyingly they tried to pull what is known in the trade as “a Ryanair”: although the price we’d paid included “all you can eat” it didn’t include any drinks at all, not even tap water.  A sealed bottle of still water sat on the table to tempt us, but it was labelled “€6.50” so we refused to give in and tried to eat our money’s worth of salty food without any drink.

As the evening progressed the waves got quite large, and the captain announced that we would be heading West across to the UK and then up the UK coast, rather than heading in a straight line to Newcastle.  The waves splashed over the boat in an impressive way, and they closed the outside decks at the front of the boat, but the motion was pretty benign compared to anything we’d had on Lizzie and we had no problem sleeping!

Day Three (more ferry, a bus and three trains)

We arrived in Newcastle and retrieved the dog from the kennels.  He seemed pleased to see us, and relieved to have a pee ashore, but not unduly stressed by the ferry ride.

We got the bus to Newcastle train station, worrying because we knew we were too late for our pre-booked train.  Catherine had booked the train using the official app, but a bug in the app had showed her the trains in Danish time for some reason!  She had told the app to book an 11:15 train, but the ticket arrived saying 10:15.  Luckily it turned out that the 10:15 train was cancelled anyway, so we were able to catch other trains, with an extra change to cope with the usual UK rail disruption, and eventually arrived back in Glossop.

Weather-bound in Assens

Today it is blowing force six and pissing down with rain.  We are snugly moored in Assens harbour and won’t be doing any sailing until the weather calms down.

We have booked our winter berth in Augustenborg, which is thirty miles to the south of here.  Lizzie will be stored in a nice dry shed over the winter. Our lift-out is booked for a week today, so we are in no hurry.

There are a couple of nice-looking anchorages on the way, so we will amble southwards in a day or two when the weather is a bit more cheerful.

Another up-wind slog

We eventually left the very nice (but unfortunately-named) town of Middelfart and headed south.

The wind in the narrow Snævringen channel was gusty and sometimes very strong, so we stopped to pull in a couple of reefs which reduced our angle of heel to something a lot more civilised.  We managed to find the un-buoyed small channel past the island of Fænø, at least close enough not to run aground, even though it wasn’t exactly where the chart shows.

Twenty minutes later the wind was down to a steady force three and we were hardly moving, so we took the reefs out again and had a nice sail down the rest of the channel.

Once we hit the more open water of the Bredningen we were hard on the wind, which was back up to a solid force four/five and sending sizeable and steep waves in our direction.  The sailing was uncomfortable for the first couple of miles because the waves kept on nearly stopping us – we kept lots of sail on to power through them which meant we were heeled right over once more.

As we reached deeper water the waves died away and we had a much more pleasant sail, and the wind later freed so that we were almost able to point in the direction were were trying to go.

The original plan had been to head for an anchorage a couple of miles up a river on the west side of the channel, and then head across to Assens (on the east side) the following day.  The waves picked up again as we neared that area, so we abandoned that plan and headed straight to Assens.

The last few miles into Assens were hard work – we were close hauled again and heading into some steep waves.  The channel and sandbanks are not marked by buoys, but Catherine managed to pilot us straight into the harbour very accurately.  We paused in the lee of the breakwater to get our sails down, and motored in.  As soon as we were inside the water was flat and the wind seemed much lighter, leaving us wondering whether we had imagined the conditions outside.

A lovely anchorage off Æbelø, and a wet dog

We had a slow but very relaxed sail downwind from Samsø to the island/peninsula of Æbelø.  We were goosewinged and running dead downwind for most of the day, in light winds, mostly with Fred the autopilot steering.

Æbelø is just about an island, but is joined to the shore by a thin bit of low lying land which you can apparently walk/wade along depending on the water level.  The anchorage was very scenic, and there were about five other yachts spread out along a mile or two of the shoreline so it didn’t feel crowded.

We inflated our canoe and went ashore.  The island seems mostly uninhabited, though there are a couple of houses.  There are twenty-foot high mud cliffs behind most of the beaches, then a lot of beech forest and some open areas grazed by deer.  Skip enjoyed playing on the beach as usual, but was far too interested in the deer to be allowed off his lead anywhere else on the island.

I carefully prevented Skip from swimming because we were about to go back to Lizzie to sleep and I didn’t want a wet dog trying to climb into my bed all night.  Unfortunately, Skip got a bit enthusiastic when climbing back on board Lizzie and jumped prematurely, ending up in the classic “front paws on yacht, back paws on rapidly-moving-away-canoe” position (we’ve all been there).

As the gap widened, Skip couldn’t stretch enough and disappeared with a splash.  After what seemed like ages, he he resurfaced and I dragged him back into the canoe by his harness.  We managed to get him warm and approximately dry before bedtime, and luckily this doesn’t seem to have put him off either canoeing or swimming.

To the land of Odde

After an uneventful night in Sweden we woke at 6am to make the most of the forecast southerly wind. There wasn’t much of it as we left Höganäs, so after some attempts at sailing we gave up and motored out across the shipping lanes.

There were quite a few ships in the Øresund, travelling in both directions (in separate lanes) and at different speeds, and we had to pick our way carefully between them all.

After we had safely made it across to the Danish side, Catherine went back to bed for a snooze while I imagined that I was singlehanding.

The wind picked up to a perfect force 3 reach, and the coast just to our south sheltered us from waves.  I stopped the engine,  lashed the tiller and went below to put the kettle on.

Lizzie sails herself in these conditions, so we trundled along for the next few hours while Catherine slept and I watched for ships, adjusted the sails and played with the dog.

I had diligently checked the navigation warnings the previous night and discovered that there was a military exercise taking place in the area which we were planning to sail to.  It wasn’t clear whether the whole area was actually closed, but anyway it was due to finish by 2pm.

We were overtaken by a small warship, and as we approached the area they were parked at the corner of it and we passed close by them.  A military helicopter was buzzing around and two RIBs full of marines went past.  We heard fast jets in the distance.

A few other yachts were around and nobody told us off, so we headed on towards the military area, which due to my amazing planning (luck) we entered at five minutes past two, just after their exercise had ended.

Catherine had woken up by this point, so we had some second lunch and I experimented with our electric auto-pilot (“Fred”) which we haven’t used much on this trip.  He worked well, so I continued pretending to single-hand all the way to the harbour entrance, with Fred steering most of it.  The wind had picked up, so we did most of the last few hours at 5+ knots, which is fast for Lizzie.

I started the motor and lowered the sails, then with my crew on duty again we executed a perfect box-berthing manoeuvre in Odden Havn.

The Sjaellands Odde is a thin peninsula sticking out of the top of the island that Copenhagen is on.  There are lots of holiday houses here, and lots of nice coastline, and not much else.

Møn to Rødvig

This was a nice sail in three parts:

First we had a tricky leg to windward, which we just managed to sail without having to tack.  The wind was a solid force four and felt quite strong.  We were sailing across a very shallow area and had to follow the correct course between a series of cardinal buoys marking even shallower patches.

Unfortunately, the cardinals were small and hard to spot, and there were lots of floats with flags everywhere indicating static fishing nets.  There were so many flags that it was difficult to work out which ones might be connected.  We managed to avoid getting snagged on anything, but were relieved when we could bear away onto the next leg.

The second part of the trip was downwind, so the sailing felt a lot more relaxing, but the navigation still required a lot of concentration as we were in a narrow and very twisty channel out through the sandbanks.  The channel was well marked with buoys and posts, but even in the centre of the channel we only had about half a metre of water below the keel at times.

Finally we reached open water and were able to relax for the third section of the trip – twelve miles downwind across the bay to Rødvig, our next port on the way to Copenhagen.  By now the strong winds had built up some steep waves, so we rolled quite a lot a times, but otherwise the sailing was very pleasant.

As we approached Rødvig I made Catherine put on her waterproofs as a big black rain cloud was heading our way.  We read that the waters surrounding the harbour entrance are infested with lots of static fishing nets, so we took the recommended (slightly less direct) route in.  As it turned out we didn’t see many net flags anywhere around Rødvig compared to the forest of flags that we had sailed through that morning further south.

We found a vacant berth (indicated by a green plastic marker) in the small-boat harbour and executed a perfect box-berth mooring.  And the rain cloud missed us so we were soon back in shorts and t-shirts, enjoying the nearby beach.

Stages 1 and 2 of the route, out through the sandbanks.

To Femø

A fairly short day sailing between two islands in the Smålands area, which is a patch of sea almost enclosed by the larger Danish islands.

We were close-hauled on the starboard tack for most of the passage, then we tacked into the Femø Sund and entered the harbour along the recommended track between the shallows. The short waves and fresh wind made it seem hard work at times, and we envied those sailing downwind.

Femø was a nice island with a friendly shop in the harbour.  Later we went for a walk and found an avenue of old pear trees, with lots of fruit on.