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Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Den Helder - Enkhuizen (22 September 2015)



Thursday 17 September was an overcast morning; but after a light shower we had a dry day, a welcome change after two very wet days in Den Helder. There was no hurry to leave the sailing club mooring for although we had to motor a short distance to the lock that links the canal and the sea, the wonderfully named Koopvaardersschutsluis, the lock was undergoing major renovation. As a result it was only operational before 0700, 1200-1500 and after 2000. We had opted against a very early start so at 1130 we slipped the mooring and a little after 1210 followed a barge and a very small motor boat into the lock. We exited from the lock and a short distance on a harbour bridge lifted and we motored past the many working ships, a number being huge rescue tugs and naval vessels, and out into the Marsdiep, the passage between Den Helder and the island of Texel in the Waddanzee.
Following a barge through the harbour at Den Helder
We turned east and headed for the buoyed channel which would take us outside the shallow sands which lie along this coast. The wind was a brisk 15-20kn (F4/5) from the south so we had soon rolled out the main and genoa and were achieving around 5.5-6kn. However we were having to fight the ebbing tide so our speed over the ground was up to 2kn less than this. But it was great to be able to turn the engine off and let the wind do the work. For a while we were followed by a Dutch Navy Motorboat which had two or three ribs running around it (marines training we mused?) but then it turned back leaving us to concentrate on spotting the channel marks as we buoy hopped first west then south west. By about 1530 we were approaching the very long dam that encloses the Ijsselmeer and in particular the westerly extreme at Den Oever where there is a bridge carrying the traffic that travels the long distance across the dam, followed by a lock. Although we had passed a few barges and fishing boats heading north as we approached the dam we found that we were the only boat waiting to go south. After circling around for 5 minutes Andrea called the bridge master on the VHF and requested an opening. “Going into the Ijsselmeer” he asked, which we confirmed and “sure” was the reply, “I’ll be there in a few minutes”. Within about five minutes bells started to ring, the signals at one of the two swinging bridge spans went from red to red and green together (signifying “prepare”), the traffic stopped, barriers on the road came down and the span began to swing. Once it is fully open our red signal went out just leaving the green and we waved our thanks to the bridge master as we went through. We were now in an enclosed pool about 100m long and 50m wide and there was already a red and green on the lock so the lock keeper knew we were there. In a very short while the lock gate opened and we motored into and tied up in a spacious lock, all to ourselves.

Andrea securing the bow as the water rises
Plenty of space for us!
Once the water levels had equalised, a wave to the lock keeper, cheerfully returned and we were off the very short distance to Den Oever marina where we tied up alongside behind a traditional Dutch sailing barge that had just arrived from the south. Den Oever marina is a functional place. It is about 2km from the village and is one of those developments where holiday homes have been built around the edge. The facilities were fine but there was nothing particularly exciting about the location. The next morning we cycled into Den Oever for provisions. The town, which had been an island before the dam, was pleasant, a typical small Dutch town where homes and commercial premises easily co-exist next to each other. There is also still a small active fishing fleet.
From Den Oever we headed 12nm south west then south, sailing for about an hour but then motoring as we headed straight into the F5 southerly wind. Medemblik on the west bank of the Ijsselmeer was our next port and we tied up in the Pekelharinghaven which until around the turn of the century had been a football pitch but before then home to a fleet of herring trawlers! We had a good mooring immediately under the remains of the castle begun in the twelfth century.

Pleasant mooring in Medemblik
Medemblik was the opposite of Den Oever. Busy harbours, attractive buildings and a thriving central shopping street, all of which we enjoyed. We also chanced upon some back streets being prepared for the big annual event on the following Monday when pony and trap racing takes place around the streets. In addition the weekend before had a live music event on a Hollywood theme! This was a vibrant town and we enjoyed exploring the area.

Back street in Medemblik
After shopping on Saturday morning we set off across the Ijsselmeer heading for Urk on the east bank. It was a day when the sun broke through from time to time and with a NNW F4 breeze on our beam or just behind we sailed all the way and very pleasant it was too, especially as many Dutch sailing barges were also enjoying the breeze.

Dutch sailing barge making good speed
As we neared Urk we could see numerous wind turbines on the coast, with more being built. The harbour was busy when we arrived at about 1600 but we were able to squeeze in alongside a wall that fringed a small beach. There were noticeably many German boats that night and on the Sunday, perhaps all of them heading home. Urk is unusual for a Dutch town in that there are short hills with buildings overlooking the harbour. So not surprisingly it too used to be an island before being joined to the mainland by the creation of the Noordoostpolder in 1942. We learnt that a strong protestant ethic still dictates life here with various churches regularly ringing bells and nearly all the shops and restaurants closed on Sunday. It is also a busy commercial harbour being used as a base for both the erection of the wind turbines on the shallows close to land and also their maintenance and servicing. It also still has a small fishing fleet. The houses are very traditional. A notable sculpture is the Fisherman’s Monument which depicts an anxiously awaiting wife and 31 marble slabs around her list the fishermen who have never returned right up until 2015.
The anxious fisherman's wife
On Sunday we headed for Emmeloord which is a small new town, now the regional capital. We cycled there and found the design and style reminiscent of first generation England new towns, with plenty of landscaping, a grid layout, big shopping centre and plenty of facilities for sport as well as medical and other facilities. Even terraces of flat roofed houses and shops!
After a lunch stop we cycled on to Espel. A much smaller place with another interesting story in that the original settlement had been abandoned to the sea in the early part of the twentieth century and then, with the creation of the dam, had been re-established in the 1950’s. A pleasant enough place including an attractive sculpture depicting seagulls taking off from a jetty post. From there we completed our 18m cycle by returning to Urk along the coast under some of the wind turbines (around 65 in this group!).

Sculpture in Espel
It was again overcast on Monday morning but around 1000 LT we cast off and headed a little over due WNW back across the Ijsselmeer to Enkhuizen. The wind was a brisk S then SW 4/5 and close hauled we were averaging around 6.5kn and in the gusts well over 7kn. There was a little chop (characteristic of the Ijsselmeer) but Whileaway sliced through the waves. For a while we were trying to puzzle out what activity and which direction one of the half dozen barges we encountered was pursuing but eventually he moved away from us and within less than 2 hours we had covered the 12nm to the approaches to Enkhuizen and were taking the sails down. As we motored up the channel on the edge of the town we could see at least a couple of dozen big sailing barges, ones that were now used to take holiday makers or children on school trips. In addition there were a few ferries as well as fishing boats and other small commercial vessels as well as leisure yachts. We firstly entered a yacht club harbour near the main lock but not seeing any spaces and failing to raise the HM on either VHF or 'phone we headed to the Buitenhaven (municipal moorings) where the HM immediately responded to Andrea's call on the VHF and said that we could moor in any free space we liked apart from the boxes used by the fishing boats. So after passing a few barges we moored alongside on the edge of the town centre.
A walk around the town showed that, once again, there were many fine buildings, quite a few with dates in the second half of the 1600's on their walls. There is also a railway station, a fine building and full of character in the booking hall (although all the "booking" now has to be by automatic machine!).

Part of Enkhuizen Station booking office
In addition to the fine buildings there were valuable resources such as fishmongers and cheese shops. From the former I enjoyed raw herring with onion. The young fishmonger said that traditionally people swallowed the herring fillet whole; but that younger people tended to have it in smaller bite sizes. I stuck with the younger generation. He recommended a couple of local fresh plaice fillets so that was our dinner sorted.
On our free day we decided to spend time at the town's main attraction, the Zuiderzee Museum. This gives an overview of the history of the area and the story of various communities around the Zeiderzee and the West Frisian Islands. It shows how these communities both benefited from and were adversely effected by the damming of the area. They benefited in that winter flooding was a regular occurrence, some severe with loss of livestock , homes and people. But also whole industries particularly fishing, were decimated. The first dam (the Afsluitdijk) was built in the 1930's between Den Oever and Makkum  and that created the Ijsselmeer; in the 1970's another dam (the Enkhuizerzanddijk) was created between Enkhuizen and Lelystad separating out the Markermeer. Hundreds of thousands of acres were reclaimed from the sea. The museum is in two parts. The first is housed within part of a building used by the Dutch East India Comapny in the 1600's; the second is close by and is an open air museum which has over 100 reconstructed or original buildings (the latter moved from their original site). It was strong on summarising the stories of the families who lived or worked in these buildings. 

The Dromeddaris Tower built in the 1500's is a conspicuous landmark  
We have liked the quality of the fine historic buildings in the attractive town of  Enkhuizen and have learnt much more about the unique geography and history of the area around the Zeiderzee. Tomorrow we head south to Monnickendam to meet friends visiting from England for a few days.

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