Blyth to Ijmuiden (via Whitby)
In 1984, Josephine of Hoo cruised extensively in Danish waters. Her crew became so enamoured of flat, tideless seas, sunshine and soft winds, that in 1985 the decision was made to re-sample the luxury of continental sailing, by visiting the Netherlands.
The crew were to be Edward Chester and Don MacFaul, both veterans of the previous season’s North Sea crossings. As it happened the chosen date for departure, Friday 5th July 1985 did not suit Don, who wished to attend his son, Alex’s, Confirmation on the Saturday. Compromise was reached by Ed and I racing Josephine overnight in the NECRA Sunderland to Whitby race, where Don would join us for the crossing to Ijmiuden.
So it came about that after lunch on board HY Tyne, Ed and I put to sea bound for Sunderland. The wind was a light South Easterly with visibility in fog of no more than two cables – an unpromising start to a summer cruise. Three hours later we tied up in Sunderland North Dock and went ashore for fish and chips.
The race started at 2130, ghostly shapes of yachts manoeuvring for position in the fog, winches singing, spinnakers barely lifting in the breeze. Josephine was well placed at the South Whitburn Range Mark. Thereafter the fleet split, the leaders taking a close fetch inshore, while Josephine led a small group down the rhumb line to Whitby.
With only two on board, the night passed watch and watch about. When I came on at 0700, the visibility had cleared in a freshening South Westerly. We could see yachts inshore under the cliffs of Cowbar Nab, carrying spinnakers shy. Some of our off-shore group also hoisted spinnakers but had difficulty in laying the course. We persevered with genoa and full main. As we closed the pier-end and Whitby Yacht Club finishing line, one of the other competitors lost her spinnaker, torn to shreds in a gust. Josephine crossed the line flat-out doing about six and a half knots, and we screwed round the pier-end to enter the harbour and raft up alongside the other yachts waiting for the road bridge to open. Once through up to the marina we lay at the North end in the visitors berth.
Our hosts at Whitby Yacht Club were their usual kind selves and the day passed in companionship in the lounge bar. We learned that Josephine had won NECRA Division I (Heavy). The NECRA handicap is calculated from measurements, whereas within RNYC the handicapping is based upon performance (Portsmouth Yardstick). As it happens, Josephine’s NECRA handicap is more favourable than her Portsmouth number, so winning NECRA races is less of an effort than doing well in Club races. For the same reason winning NECRA races carries less satisfaction.
Don arrived on board at 1730 and within half an hour we had cleared to sea, not neglecting to post our Customs Clearance form through the Whitby Customs House door. The course required for Ijmuiden was 123° T and the distance 217 nautical miles. The wind was North Westerly Force 3, although forecast to increase to Force 5, before backing South Westerly Force 3. I placed a radio telephone call home to tell them of our departure, and we settled down to watch-keeping for the night. The wind died away at dusk, and we motored for an hour and a half, chiefly in the interests of battery charging. The night was clear, with a particularly fine moon rise, which at first we thought might be a ship’s light.
At 0730 on Sunday 7th July the first of the innumerable North Sea gas well-heads came into sight. I intended to pass between two, a mile or so apart, but we were sailing so slowly the tide set us down on one rig, necessitating a course alteration. Two young lads in an inflatable came over to pass the time of day. They were under orders to warn off passing vessels, but did not seem particularly anxious about us.
At noon, a sun’s meridian passage gave our latitude. Then 87 miles out of Whitby, the echo-sounder picked up the Sole Pit, a deep trench on the seabed across our track. The afternoon passed lazily, warm sunshine inducing some of us to bare torsos, obviously previously unexposed that season. The wind backed South Westerly and died away. A further bout of battery charging seemed In order. Chug – chug – chuuug – chu ….. The battery was flat!
It is possible to hand-start Josephine’s engine – we had done so on previous occasions but not so today. Each in turn sweated and heaved on the handle, until finally we admitted defeat. The battery had never let us down before. The problem we now faced seemed to be caused by old age. The battery was too old to be capable of supporting night-sailing and the crew were too old to hand-start the engine. Without electrical power, log readings were suspect, navigation lights dim, and the VHF radio out of action.
The wind returned shortly after dusk and by midnight had increased to Force 5, necessitating a foresail change and reefs pulled down in the main. As I was working on the deck I saw navigation lights on the horizon. By the time all was secure, the vessel, a Russian tanker, was upon us, and we had to take avoiding action. In retrospect it might have been sensible to let off a white flare – we had one ready – but although she passed within two cables, her masts were always well open, and the risk of being run down never materialized. It is always a tricky matter avoiding collision at night. The tendency is to assume that merchant ships are at least keeping a radar watch, and that they have seen your echo, and also (crucially) that they will hold their course. Both assumptions are risky, but so too is drawing attention to yourself unnecessarily. What if the other vessel alters course towards you to “investigate” your flare?
The best solution is to have a reliable battery and adequate navigation lights. By now our battery power was so low and the mast-heads so dim, they might easily have been indistinguishable against the background clutter of the lights on the rigs of the Indefatigable Banks, through which we were now sailing.
Dawn saw us clear of the rigs broad-reaching towards the distant shore of Holland. “Let’s have the spinnaker up,” I said. Ed obliged, but a snarl-up developed during the hoist, the sail partially filled and then dropped into the sea ahead of us. I put the tiller down hard and Josephine sailed over only one clew. But it was enough. By the time we had recovered the sail, it was torn right across in two places. By this stage, we were all becoming fatalistic about the cruise. Morale sank. It seemed the Fates were against us. We cheered up later that morning when Ed spotted a buoy, NAM 25, but it was not charted. The wind was now Westerly and increasing. We raised the chimneys of Ijmuiden at 1400, and at 1645 entered between the piers, with a good Force 6 behind us. Now the only problem was to stop!
Stage one was to round up and drop the sails, achieved without incident. Stage two was to hoist the International Code Flags”RN” meaning “my engine is out of order”. They stood out strongly in the wind. At least we had tried to warn others of our predicament. Stage three was to tow two buckets on a warp – not much effect – and the sea locks were coming closer. Stage four was to have been an anchor over the stern, with a length of nylon warp, but fortunately we did not need to test the warp’s breaking strain. A 25’Belgian yacht passed us a tow, “Your engine is broken, yes?” “Thank you”. We heaved a sigh of relief. Our benefactor turned us into the wind, opened his throttle, and commenced the tow. Nothing happened, or to be more precise, both boats continued to be blown towards the lock gates. Full of resource, the Belgian skipper called for help by radio, and in no time at all, a large Dutch ketch came alongside, took our lines, and, rafted up together, we waited our turn for the lock.
Once through, we cast off, and with many shouted thanks, managed to put a line onto a Dutch barge moored alongside in the Nord Zee Kanaal. Customs and Immigration control were at the top of the canal bank, so I went up with ship’s papers and crew passports. Now we could say we had officially entered the Netherlands.
Customs were intolerably slow, until I managed to explain we hoped to get our battery charged that night. “You had better hurry, the garage shuts in one minute” said the Customs man, showing me the way. I sprinted up the street, just in time to see the garage proprietor lock up shop and get into his car. Breathlessly I explained Josephine’s predicament. “O.K. I’ll take a look”, said the proprietor, and in a matter of minutes, Josephine’s battery was taken ashore to be put on emergency charge.
Monday evening passed quickly enough. The only bar directed us to the only restaurant. We arrived at 2100 to find them on the point of shutting but managed to persuade them to prepare us a legendary multi-course rijstafel. It tasted delicious, although I daresay not the genuine Indonesian article, if only because our restaurant was Indo-Chinese. By the time we had finished the entire staff were sitting about waiting for us to be off. We did manage to phone home between courses.
At 1030 on Tuesday 9th July, battery power was restored (cost -fifteen guilders). Josephine’s engine started first time. Within minutes we had cast off and were heading East along the Nord Zee Kanaal to Amsterdam. The Nord Zee is 109 years old and 22 kms. long, partly canalizing the River Ij. Under power Josephine slowly overtook a large Dutch tchalk whose spars were so full of shakes it seemed daylight showed through. Soon we had in view the tell-tale shape of Amsterdam’s huge Centraal Station. Apparently it rests on over 9,000 piles. Free ferries ply constantly between a berth on the entrance to the Nordhollands Kanaal and the rear entrance to the Station. On the North bank of the River Ij there lies a yacht marina called the Sixhaven.
There we found a berth, but not without some difficulty from the piles, or mooring posts. These are less than a boat’s length from the jetty, which means that stern lines have to be led forward from the cockpit winches.
The afternoon was spent in shopping – mainly ship’s stores, but also souvenirs for our families. It was heavy and overcast, and stickily hot. Sightseeing took in the Nieuwe Kirk and Oude Kirk, both burial places of many famous Admirals. However much of the time was spent wandering, and sitting at pavement cafes watching the Amsterdamers and tourists pass by, over a round of Amstel beer.
That evening we ate on board. One of the parafin burners clogged and the cleaning needle stuck in the jet. It was becoming one of those cruises. As we were leaving the Sixhaven on foot for an evening out in Amsterdam, a thunderstorm broke, so most of the evening was spent in the Sixhaven bar, queuing to place phone calls home.
Wednesday 10th July was clearer. We spent the morning sightseeing, and found an excellent chandlery in Prins Hendrik Kade – the Scheepvarthuis. There we obtained one of the excellent Dutch charts – No 1810 covering the Ijsselmeer, as well as a make-shift Primus pricker (it didn’t work). The other essential element of ship’s stores, several bottles of spirits, including some Jonge Genever, came from a shop in the sleazy red-light district. The practice of the women of the town to advertise themselves in windows is quaint, even homely – one was engaged in some complicated crochet work in between clients. What we found depressing, were the garish plastic hoardings on the old buildings advertsing sex shows and the like. There is no style.
The sightseeing took in another church, “Our Lord in the Attic” beside the Oude Zijds Voorburgwal canal. This fascinating place, now a museum, was once the home of Jan Hartman and his family. The house was built in the 1660s when Roman Catholic worship was officially banned. However, provided Catholics adopted a low profile, their worship seems to have been largely tolerated. Jan Hartman caused to be built in his attic, and stretching over the houses behind, a jewel of a church, which is highly recommended to any visitor.
The final fling was to visit an exhibition of Medieval torture instruments. By common consent it was useless – a tourist rip-off.
At 1500 on Wednesday 10th July, Josephine slipped her moorings in the Sixhaven, and headed East along the Buiten Ij bound for the Ijsselmeer. There was some delay at the lock, and a long delay for the road bridge to open, but at last we made sail in company with a flotilla of yachts. In a fresh Westerly, Josephine soon outpaced all but the largest as we headed North for Marken. The charted depth in these waters is 2.4 m. Josephine draws 1.7 m. At first, I found myself mesmerized by the echo sounder. It doesn’t seem right to sail at 6 knots with under-keel clearance of less than 1 m. After awhile we relaxed, enjoying the scenery, the wind and the company of other yachts. The North Sea’s waves and tides seemed light years away. The Ijsselmeer makes sailing a luxury instead of a penance.
We cleared the breakwater to the North of Marken and reached down the buoyed channel towards Its bifurcation. One arm leads to Mommickendam, the other which we took, leads to Marken. The public quay in the Oude Haven was crowded, so we nosed into an unoccupied private berth in the Westhaven. Josephine’s beam is 8 feet, and it was a squeeze between the posts; in truth we were too big for the berth.
We went walking ashore. It had something of the feel of Holy Island, especially in the evening when the tripper boats stopped and the coach loads of tourists went on their way. Marken used to be a true island, but was joined to the mainland by a causeway some thirty years ago. We discovered considerable local opposition to a new plan to re-claim this part of the bed of the Ijsselmeer. The new land is already named the Markerwaard, and its creation will irrevocably change the character of the towns and villages presently bordering the “sea”. An interesting spot, but rather touristic. We finished the day with a superb but expensive meal in a harbour-front restaurant. Before turning-in I pumped the bilge which was rather full.
Next morning, Thursday 11th July, I awoke with a very stiff neck, perhaps from the pumping. The day got off to a slow start, and we didn’t clear Marken until 1315. In a Westerly Force 3 we sailed North past Edam, to the town of Hoorn, finding a berth in the Marina rather than the more crowded, but attractive Town Quay. The marina is large, with all facilities, and only 200 m. from the town centre.
My neck was eased by a hot shower at the Marina, and we trooped ashore for a sightseeing trip ending up drinking bieren in company with three animated Dutch couples, also visiting by yacht.
I spent a thoroughly uncomfortable night with my neck, which now seemed to involve the shoulder. Any movement was difficult, and on Friday morning the crew correctly assessed that their skipper needed medical attention and arranged for me to see a doctor. The appointment was at 1430 with Dr. Knaap, who turned out to be a grave young woman. She examined the site of the injury and explained: “You have not slipped a disc. You have torn these muscles. I will give you some liniment, and some pills for the pain”. “How long before it is better?” I asked, explaining “I have a yacht to take back across the North Sea to England”. She replied, “If you take my advice, you will give up yachting, now.” This profound consultation took ten minutes and cost eight guilders more than the battery charging. I was heartily glad that I faced only a “simple” muscle tear and nothing worse. A visit to the pharmacy procured the items prescribed. I used the liniment which certainly helped, although for pain relief decided to rely on the traditional slug of spirits before bed.
That evening we queued to watch the latest James Bond film, “View to a Kill”. It is not even good for neck relief, although it reminded me of another cruise, where Quentin Mitchell and I were gale-bound in St. Andrews and watched the latest James Bond film with equal lack of satisfaction.
Our general impression of Hoorn, the town which lent its name to the Cape, was most favourable. It is charming, with excellent facilities, including, so we found, spares for our Primus. We finally tore ourselves away just after midday, Saturday 13th July, making for the locks at Enkhuizen, in order to pass into the Northern Ijsselmeer. The day was hot and sunny, the wind Southerly Force 2, and the Enkhuisen lock packed with boats of every type.
From Enkhuisen we decided to make for the Friesland shore. It was a perfect day, although as the evening wore on the wind dropped and Josephine ghosted past Stavoren, finally putting in to Hindleoopen at 2130. There is a huge marina but we lay in the Gem Haven, and went ashore immediately for beers in a pub overlooking the harbour. Friesland is perhaps the most distinctive of the Dutch Provinces, with its own language and flag, which many of the yachts were flying. One speciality of the place was furniture and other pieces mainly ducks, boxes and plates, painted in a distinctive style, which has elements of Scandinavian “rose” painting as well as East Indian influence. An obvious must for souvenirs.
On Sunday 14th July, we made a leisurely start, concentrating on various chores like topping up with fuel and water. Josephine was about to go tidal again. We departed at 1230 and passed through the sea-lock at Kornwerderzand at 1400, in time to pick up the first of the East-going flood toward Harlingen.
The visibility was poor, although temperatures were high and the sun glimpsed through the mist from time to time. The wind was South Easterly Force 4. Josephine happened to be first in, and so first out of the sea-lock, which gave us the opportunity to make sail ahead of the small fleet of yachts which locked through with us.
We held our advantage in a roaring reach along the buoyed channel to Harlingen. On either side stretched sand and mud which make up the flats of the Waddenzee, although they rapidly covered as the flood gathered strength. We enjoyed an impromptu race with a Dutch yacht out of Harlingen which tacked under our stern to have a look at Josephine. To prevent her taking our wind I luffed toward the edge of the buoyed channel. Still sailing at 5 knots plus, Josephine ploughed her keel into the mud, slowed, gathered speed, then struck again. We never actually stopped, although the Dutchman got past us. We had not strayed out of the channel, it was simply shoal. Still no harm was done.
At 1640 Josephine entered the bustling port of Harlingen. We searched for a berth in the Noorderhaven eventually turning in a very tight space and mooring alongside a ferro-cement ketch. Harlingen is the supposed site of the famous Dutch boy who put his finger in a hole in the dike to save the people from flood. There is a statue commemorating his exploit. The Harbour Master’s office doubles as a chandlery, called Leeuwenbrug, and lies at the East end of the Noorderhaven. The canal bridge has two cross-eyed heraldic lions, guaranteed to raise a smile. That evening we dined out at De Gastronoom, a restaurant in the conveniently placed shopping street parallel to and immediately South of the Noorderhaven.
Monday 15th July provided a hectic start to lay in stores for the North Sea crossing. The bridges open at half past the hour, and to catch the tide we needed to be through at 0930. There was a long queue for the bridges, but we were soon through, motor-sailing to windward in a North Westerly Force 5, with a sluicing ebb under us, estimated at 3.5 knots. Wind against tide conditions like these always test Josephine’s submarine abilities. Virtually every sea came aft over the deck, and one of the early “green-uns” dumped itself on the chart-table while the hatch was open.
We were making for the Zeegat van TerschelIing, between the islands of Terschelling and Vlieland. The buoyed channel is not difficult to follow. In the early part there is a submerged training wall to the East, marked by regular beacons, and a line of starboard hand buoys to the west. The channel takes a dog-leg before widening out into the Vliestroom.
There are good yacht harbours at Vlieland and Terschelling, but having lost a day in Hoorn on account of my shoulder, our itinerary suggested we should press on for the open sea. Josephine carried the ebb (or perhaps the other way round) well out through the Zeegat and along the North Shore of Vlieland. The hundreds of yachts sailing in the Waddenzee, thinned out to one solitary elderly stor Tumlaren plodding to windward, bound for Blyth.
North Sea (Again!)
Josephine’s departure was Buoy ZS2 which we brought abeam at 1315 BST. The shipping forecast gave North Westerly backing South Westerly Force 6 for Fisher and German Bight. In fact we were able to steer 340°T close-hauled on port tack. The seas were short and steep, and the motion uncomfortable. Back once more to the penance of yachting, muffled up in oil-skins, constricted by harnesses, everything running with moisture.
During the night, the wind backed South Westerly and moderated to Force 3. We were surrounded by the lights of the rigs of the Placid field. The midnight forecast spoke of SW veering NW for North Sea areas, so rather than free-off on the rhumb line to Blyth the hard decision was made to stay on the wind and gain as much westing as possible.
Around dawn the wind began gusting up to Force 5 or 6 so we shortened sail, thereby causing the wind to moderate. The gusts obviously presaged the passage of a front, because the barometer fell, and it came on to rain heavily. The wind increased, so we changed headsails and reefed.
Throughout Tuesday 16th July Josephine ploughed alonely furrow across the wide North Sea. Visibility was poor, there were white caps everywhere, and we saw no ships. It continued to rain, although toward evening the rain eased off. No sextant fixes were possible.
The night was fine. As forecast the wind slowly veered, heading us. We stayed close hauled. Around dawn on Wednesday visibility closed in to about a mile, but mercifully it did not rain anymore. We were visited by porpoises. The DR position put us in range of Tynemouth RDF station, but although the signal confirmed we were heading the right way, the null was too indistinct for a reliable position line. The 1355 forecast was for SW gales in Tyne.
I found myself developing navigator’s impatience to sight land, and actually proposed that if land was not sighted by 1500 we should head West and find it. Fortunately, just before the deadline, the cloud lifted to the South West revealing the moors of North Yorkshire, Tees Bay and the County Durham shore. There were no distinct land marks to provide a fix, but the land gave us the confidence to hold our course, and in time St. Mary’s Day-Mark (as the old Light House must now be called) and Blyth came into view. After 263 miles close hauled on port tack, we berthed alongside HY Tyne at 1845 and reported our arrival to North Shields Customs. As usual, they could not commit themselves to a time at which they would visit, so I simply stated we would wait until 2100, and then go home to our families. So we did, but I subsequently learned a Customs Officer did come down, and expressed annoyance at our leaving.
In the event, no consequences ensued. I posted the relevant part of Customs form CI328 to North Shields, and that was the end of the matter.
Incidentally, the weather forecasters were right. Within half an hour of our arrival at Blyth it blew a full gale from the South West.
I was pleased the cruise was over. It was always intended to be no more than a short hop to Holland, just to say we’d been. It has given me ideas of a more extended family holiday on the Ijsselmeer, one day when the family is old enough. For the time being I pay tribute to the loving forbearance of my wife, Olivia, to whom this log is dedicated.
Obviously British Admiralty North Sea Charts are required. By far the best coverage of the Ijsselmeer and Waddenzee, as one might expect, is provided by Dutch Hydrographic Charts, nos. 1810, 1811 and 1812. This series of book-form chartlets contains Harbour Plans as well as a glossary of useful terms in Dutch, English and German. They are published annually, but do not print small corrections, as do British Admiralty and Dutch sea charts. The other curious feature of the Waddenzee charts is that sometimes the charted buoyed channel does not correspond with the charted deep water. The explanation given to us in Leeuwenbrug’s is simplicity itself. When the deep water channel shifts, the buoys are moved. The new positions are shown on new charts, but the economical Dutch do not necessarily re-draw the plate from which the bottom contours are printed.
The moral when navigating these shoal waters is equally clear. It is that buoyage is more reliable than charted depths, and the ship’s echo sounder is the most reliable source of information available.
Mark Brackenbury’s Frisian Pilot (Stamford Maritime 1979) covers the area from the Waddenzee in the West, to Die Elbe and Kiel Canal in the East. Anyone fortunate enough to cruise Erskine Childers Riddle of the Sands waters needs a copy of Brackenbury, even though it is now a little out of date.
As for the ports of the Ijsselmeer, it is not necessary to have a pilot book as the Dutch chart 1810 contains all relevant information and is up to date. We used the tourist Blue Guide, which contains much fascinating historical material, such as the number of piles supporting Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. There are also chapters on the construction of Polders and locks.
One word of caution about Dutch locks is in order. Pleasure craft are packed into them like sardines. A crowd of different sized vessels moves in together and are expected to pack in willy-nilly. We were singled out by the lock-keeper because we rafted up alongside one yacht, instead of mooring bows to the one ahead, and stern to the one astern. Obviously fendering in these conditions is problematic.
Like most bridges, the Dutch ones open at set times. This usually means a vast queue of boats jockeying for position, which in confined waters in strong winds means it is usually worthwhile to moor alongside temporarily, until the bridge opens. The bridge may not remain open until the yacht – queue has cleared, so be prepared for the lights to change and the bridge to close just as you have picked up speed to pass under. Usually, having allowed the queue of cars to clear, the bridge will re-open for yachts.
The Dutch provinces are RNYC’s nearest piece of the Continent, and justifiably popular with generations of cruising yachtsmen from the North East. NECRA’s North Sea Race is usually to Ijmuiden, and provides an excuse for the North Sea crossing. Josephine’s cruise was a short one, someone with a fortnight’s holiday could easily fit in several more ports.
On the whole, the Ijsselmeer could be an ideal spot for a first Continental cruise. The sea passages are not daunting, and could be substantially shortened, if one was prepared to coast from Blyth to e.g. Lowestoft. Marina prices in Holland are reasonable and most marinas have excellent facilities, including, at most we visited, something to keep children amused ashore.
Josephine’s previous major cruises to the Orkneys and Faeroes in 1982, and to Denmark in 1984, were full-scale tests of seamanship and stamina. By contrast Holland was a little tame. Perhaps it is a sign of encroaching years that Josephine and her owner are contemplating less adventurous horizons. How about the Firth of Forth in 1986?