Tuesday, 15 March 2022

Nes - Alkmaar (28 September 2021)


The harbour at Nes

We left Nes early with the tide. As when leaving other islands, we first had to head E to go clockwise around the E of the island and then into the North Sea heading W. We then turned S into the Westgat heading Lauwersoog where there is a lock giving access to the Lauwersmeer and the Frisian Canal. We noticed that there were plenty of fishing boats around this area, probably out of Zoutkamp, and when we reached the relatively narrow lock they had priority. We were though squeezed in behind three others and were grateful for help from the fishermen in lying up to them.

By now it was an overcast afternoon as we headed for a narrow channel leading to the Dokkumer Nieuwezijlen bridge and lock at the SW end of Lauwersmeer. We were on our own here and having tied up the lockkeeper came to welcome us and ask where we were heading. We explained that our plan was to get to Enkhuizen on the W side of the IJsselmeer as we were meeting friends there. He reported that an opening bridge between Leeuwarden and Lemmer had failed and so that part of the canal was closed. Fortunately we knew that there was an alternative, if longer, route that would mean leaving this canal at and then heading for Harlingen in the North Sea from where we could access the IJsselmeer. 

The weather was deteriorating with increasing wind and rain and this part of the canal is quite exposed between open fields. So when we reached a small pontoon in the country at Oostrum, just short of Dokkum, we decided that the day had been long enough and tied up alongside. We had started early and covered 56nm.

                                                                             Back to the canals

The following morning we continued our passage along the canal which we have travelled before in both 2015 and 2019. Dokkum is a very attractive town with many opening bridges for which you pay by putting money in a clog lowered by a Bridge Master.

                                                                    Bridge lifting on our approach

                                                        Passing through the pretty village of Birdaard

                                                                     A modern part of Leeuwarden

At Leeuwarden we took the diversion of the Van Harinxma Kanaal to Harlingen. This is a wide canal, used regularly by commercial barges. It was late afternoon when we arrived at the HSWV sailing club marina just short of the sealock at Harlingen. We had to pass through 18 lifting bridges in 29nm so progress is not so fast on this stretch. We have stayed at HSWV before, a very pleasant location on the edge of this lovely town.

                                                                             HSWV marina

We had an enjoyable night in Harlingen finding a restaurant for a traditional fish supper. On a misty morning we motored to the Tsjerk Hiddessluizen lock and then passed through the harbour (dodging arriving and departing island ferries) and headed S to the Kornwerderzand lock by which you enter the IJsselmeer. On the way, we were passed by a few barges heading back to Harlingen at the end of a week's voyage. Harlingen is a big centre for traditional barges.

                                                                    Gliding through the mist

Once through the lock, we shook out the sails and continued to head S across the IJsselmeer to Enkhuizen. This is another port that we have visited before, usually staying in the main harbour, the Buitenhaven. This time we thought that we would try the Buyshaven harbour on the S side of the town and despite arriving in a heavy shower it proved to be a good choice. It is set in green space, although only a 10 minute walk into the town. 

                                                     Parent and young crested grebe in the harbour

On Saturday we did some shopping and then cycled on the levees surrounding the town.

                                                              Small canals inside the town perimeter

On the levee

Bridge lifting to access an inner harbour

Leaving the town on Monday morning

We needed to get a new continuous furling line for the main sail, the old one showing signs of wear and potentially parting. I had found a yard to the S of Enkhuizen who could do the job. So on Monday morning we motored a short distance over the Naviduct Krabbersgat (which has a lock) and into the Markermeer. 

After getting this job done we passed back through the lock into the IJsselmeer and had a pleasant sunny sail E across to Stavoren, a passage that only took about two and a half hours. We had not been here before and it is a pleasant town giving access to a number of canals.

Canal in Stavoren town centre
Unusual fountain on the quay

 Renault 4 in immaculate condition in a back street canal

We stayed two nights in Stavoren and then on Wednesday headed N to Makkum with a pleasant downwind sail for 17nm.

A typical Dutch windfarm just off the coast at Makkum

The town of Makkum is some 2nm down a wide canal. It is a significant ship building and repair centre. I was having a couple of problems with the new chart plotter and had been advised that one of the big maintenance yards was a main agent for the one I had. So we tied up alongside their yard and spent a couple of hours getting to the bottom of the issue that needed to be fixed. We then continued to the main town harbour.


The main canal and (below) the town at the end of the canal

Town centre canal
Plenty of interesting buildings in the centre

We spent our first full day exploring the town and having a walk in some of the local open spaces. Our plan was to leave on Friday but for the first time in our trip there was a gale warning and the wind was steadily building. So we decided to stay an extra day! Andrea had researched local places and we discovered that a 30 minute bus ride away was the historic city of Bolsward which sounded interesting. So it was! An attractive main street with historic buildings; a thirteenth century church used as a community facility; an impressive city hall; and many canals around the centre.


A view of the main street

 The old City Hall
The ruined Broere Church, now with a glass roof and a lovely communal space on the inside

By Saturday morning the gale had passed and we needed to start heading back towards Alkmaar. We had to be there earlier than planned because of the UK Government requirement that we had a PCR test for Covid within 72 hours of our arrival in the UK. This seemed a nonsensical requirement given that at that time the infection rate in the Netherlands was minimal, about 20% of the rate in the UK! But we needed the test on Monday. The Netherlands Government were generously providing tests for travel free of charge, not only for Dutch people but also for us! We had found a location in Alkmaar able to do the test so that seemed the best soloution.

On this fine Saturday morning we left Makkum and turned to starboard to the Kornwerzand lock which took us back into the North Sea. We then followed wide marked channels to the NW back to Den Helder. I needed to refuel before winter so rang the marina we were proposing to stay the night in at Den Helder only to learn that they had run out of fuel. Reserch revIealed that there was one other fuel point at the KMJC Harbour, that of the Dutch Naval Yacht club which was at the entrance to Den Helder's big harbour. I rang the HM who kindly offered to go back to the harbour earlier than planned, just after lunch, so that he could serve us. I was pleased to give him a few beers for his help.

We then moved on to a lock which gave access to Willemsoord Marina which is where the old Royal Dutch Naval Shipyard was located. This is not a smart marina but very functional with a helpful HM happy to help. 

On Sunday morning we set off at 0900, passed through the lock from the marina, called the Bridge Master for the bridge in the harbour requesting opening and then entered the Koopvaarderssluis lock which gives access to the North Holland Canal. We then headed S back to Alkmaar and in the next five hours met only two other boats travelling along the canal. Despite being on our own most of the many bridges opened promptly. Historically the bridges would each have had their own on site operator. Now there are remote control centres with CCT on the bridges which means that on a quiet day like this the operator often anticipates our passage and is ready to lift the next bridge.

Thantched cottage next to the canal
Bridge Master saw us coming (through CCT) so opening the bridge
Last bridge, second in Alkmaar so the Alkmaar control is anticipating our passage!

We again tied up next to the Police Station and began preparing the boat for the winter. First task was to remove the two sails which we did on Sunday afternoon. Over the next couple of days we worked our way through all the pre-lift work as well as enjoying some time in Alkmaar. In addition we had the Government required Covid PCR test on Monday afternoon and within 15 hours we had texts confirming that we were negative. On Tuesday we also spent 30 minutes filling in the Government required Passenger Locator Form - mainly repeating information we had already provided forthe  PCR test and Day 2 Covid test in UK as well as to Stena Line for Government required Advance Passenger Information!

The Weigh House at night

City centre lit up

On Tuesday afternoon we thought that we were ready so we decided that we would head to the yard, only about 1nm, to be ready for lift out on Wednesday.When we arrived at the Yard we were welcomed back with the news that a big storm that the UK had a few days earlier was in Alkmaar the following morning. The concern was that the wind was forecast to exceed the safe lifting requirements specified by the Yard's insurers. The Yard Manager said that if they could do it they would and that we were the first priority for a lift.

Well we did have torrential rain the following morning but we carried on through it getting the mast down and being lifted by 1230. Soon after it became very blustery so we just made it.

In the sling
Back into the dry hall by lunch time
Because we were back inside the hall by early afternoon we finished all that we had to do on the boat by the end of the day and headed off to our very hospitable nearby B & B. On Thursday we were on the afternoon ferry from the Hoek of Holland back to Harwich and home soon after midnight.


Sunday, 13 March 2022

Alkmaar - Nes, Ameland, Netherlands (14 September 2021)

Leaving Terschelling

 Our planned sailing for the summer of 2021 was severely curtailed by ongoing Covid-19 restrictions in the Netherlands. As citizens of a "third country" we would have been required to quarantine until late autumn. However, if we came from a country not regarded as "High Risk" and had been there for at least 10 days, quarantine was waived. So it was a tough call, but we decided to holiday in France for 10 days. We spent a very pleasant time in St Valery-sur-Somme and then St Simeon, about 60 km east of Paris. 

We arrived at the yard at Alkmaar on Tuesday 31 August and relaunched the following day.

A smooth relaunch at Nicolaas Witsen

Not surprisingly after an almost two year layup, relaunching revealed a few problems that had to be fixed including rigging tightness, dead bow thruster battery, setting up of new chart plotter and instruments installed March 2020, defective handheld VHF, etc. On the next afternoon, we gently motored 1 nm down the North Holland Canal to Alkmaar town centre. An enjoyable couple of days were spent in this attractive city, reprovisioning and getting familiar with the new chart plotter. We also reacquainted ourselves with the charming and helpful lady Harbour Master who found us space immediately off the main canal in front of the police station! We particularly enjoyed the busy Saturday Market with fresh vegetables, fish, meat, bread and cakes and so on.

                                                                                            A vibrant city

                                                                             The Weigh House

                                                                       Distributing cheese

                                                               Whileaway outside the Police station! 

 North Holland and the West Frisian Islands

By Saturday evening we were ready to leave so we decided to make a prompt start on Sunday morning. The bridges would not be available to lift until 0915 so we then made our way north along the North Holland canal. for the 22nm journey 16 bridges required opening, two of them railway bridges with opening at 30 minute intervals to fit timetables. We arrived just outside the sea lock at Den Helder at around 1415 and learned from a VHF call to the Lock Keeper that there would just be a short 10 minute wait. So we were soon through the lock, into the harbour beyond and then out to the Waddenzee and the short 5nm passage across to Oudeschild on Texel. Entering the harbour we realised that it was quite busy here, the Dutch were obviously having a staycation year.  

Within about 90 minutes of our arrival we were visited by two uniformed Douane (customs officers). They asked where we had come from and where we were going. They were most interested in the tax position of the boat. They took copies of our UK Certificate of Registry, EC T2L form showing VAT paid and the letter that we had from the yard where the boat was ashore (in the Netherlands) on 31 December 2020. They agreed that the latter two documents showed that Whileaway was a VAT paid EU boat. All very polite and friendly as you would expect from the Dutch. No other checks (passport, Covid vaccinations, stores etc) and they wished us good sailing.

We are the only "foreign" boat here as apart from the Dutch the only other nationalities seem to be German, Belgium, Norway and Switzerland, the latter two having trading and other arrangements with the EU.

We were last in Texel, the largest of the West Frisian islands, in September 2019. So we talked about the island then. During the three days that we were there we cycled along the coast and made some plans for the rest of the month.

The outer harbour at Texel
                                                                A North Sea beach on Texel

Early on the morning of Wednesday 8 September we left Texel. We had to head to starboard on leaving the port, sail clockwise around the west of the island and then head east along the North Sea passing Vlieland to Terschelling. We had to fight adverse currents for a while before gaining the tide on the north of the island. The total distance was 42nm and we arrived at West Terschelling in mid-afternoon. 

Terschelling was also quite busy. We were there in 2019 and liked it a lot. Plenty of cycling, walking and bird life. Plus lots of Dutch barges visiting.

Passing the barges on entering West Terschelling


Our favourite bar in the town 

Market day in one of the villages


  Old lifeboat, part of a small museum.

Plenty of sand at lower states of tide!

We then had an adventurous trip to Ameland. This is an even quieter island as it usually requires a passage between the islands and the mainland which is very shallow. Plenty of buoy or withy hopping required! We took advice from the West Terschelling Harbour Master who said that the passage was fine if your draught was less than 1.6m and you left around 3 hours before high water. We draw 1.4m. So we had the luxury of an extra 0.2m under the keel! We started following the main buoyed channels and after just under a couple of hours began crossing one of the shallow patches. Unfortunately after a short distance we ran into the sand. So with some assistance from the engine we went astern and retreated to the last buoy to wait 15 minutes for more water. A quarter of an hour later we repeated the experience! Annoyingly a Dutch barge with a flat bottom passed us, the skipper regularly hanging over the side and pushing a stick into the sea to check the position of the channel. On our next attempt we got past the problem buoy only to hit the sand again and have to retreat to the immediately previous buoy. We were on the last throw of the dice as we were less than half an hour before high water but we eventually made it with least depth 0.1m. But we had saved about 4 hours if we had gone around the North Sea side of the island.

It was though well worth going to Ameland. The main port is Nes and is very quiet. Whilst there are visitors who come by ferry from the mainland the difficult access deters others. There are plenty of birds and four attractive settlements with buildings back to the 1600's. 


                                                  Traditional homes on Ameland
                                                             Many wading birds
                                                Plenty of sheep on the levees
    The harbour at Nes with Whileaway in the centre

We spent a very enjoyable couple of days exploring Nes. It had a lovely relaxed atmosphere with excellent cyclepaths both hugging the coast and inland. Well worth the visit.