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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Monnickendam - Den Helder (16 September 2015)

On a sunny Tuesday 8 September we crossed from Harwich to Hook of Holland, the first time that we have used this crossing. On a ship about one third full the 7 hours soon passed and we then drove north, through the evening rush hour, around Amsterdam and then on to Monnickendam. Whileaway was fine and so we adjourned to the restaurant at the marina for a very enjoyable fish dinner.

Whileaway in her "box" at Monnickendam
The following day we unloaded the car and visited the supermarket. We then had to drive back towards Amsterdam as we had been invited to leave the car in the yard of the firm (Orange Nautical Services) where we were leaving Whileaway for the winter at the beginning of October. This was also an opportunity to check a few details of the lift out. Having done that it was proposed that we parked the car inside the big shed where the boats are stored. We were then ready to get the buses back to Monnickendam via Amsterdam Central Station but Maurits, the man in charge, insisted that one of his team would drive us back to Monnickendam as it would only take about half an hour to get us there! Couldn't see Premier Marina Gosport doing that!So on Thursday, another sunny day, we said farewell (although we would probably be back) to Monnickendam. We had to be back at Orange near Amsterdam on Friday as we had an electrical fault that was disrupting one of our electronic
 instruments and Maurits had arranged for an electrician to be available to investigate. It was another sunny day and we first motored just under 3nm across the enclosed bay to Marken. This is a small settlement that had been an island until the Markermeer had been created in the 1950’s. Once a fishing village, many of the original houses were built on stilts to combat the winter floods. Now small scale tourism is more apparent with a regular ferry service from Volendam and the facility to drive to Marken on a long causeway from the outer fringes of Amsterdam. We moored in a vacant box and then spent a couple of hours wandering around the central area. The place certainly has a feel of sea faring history to it.
After lunch we resumed our journey, first heading N to round the long spit that protects Monnickendam, then turning south. By now it was a sunny afternoon with leisure sailors out in force. So we worked around many other sailing boats amongst them some beautiful small Dutch sailing barges. We then turned S and had an enjoyable 90 minute sail close hauled down to the channel which leads into the Noordzeekanaal which connects the North Sea at Ijmuiden with Amsterdam. But first we had to wait for an hour at the Schellingwounderbrug, a bridge that carries busy traffic to and from Amsterdam over the canal. It was 1700 and, not unreasonably, the bridge does not open during the peak hours. We chatted to a Dutch yachtsman who was heading for the coast and who had just returned from Nepal helping after the earthquake. He also talked about enjoying sailing to Whitby! Promptly at 1800 the bridge opened and all waiting headed a short distance to the Oranjesluizen, the lock that admits you to the canal. Half an hour later we were through and starting to see the buildings of Amsterdam. We had a choice. Either to moor in the Amsterdam Marina or to press on a little further to Orange Nautical Services where we were due to get that electrician on board to tackle a fault that was stopping some of the electronic devices operating. Orange had said that we would be welcome to stay overnight on their short pontoon so we decided to do so. After passing through the city centre we turned off into a couple of basins and then threaded our way along a canal, past many shipping and commercial docks and facilities and at 2000 we were tied up alongside the yard.
The next morning I chatted to Mauits about the lift out. The electrician came on board and in 30 minutes had traced the root of the problem, a loose wire, and fixed it. AIT (device to show where we are to other ships and us to see other ships course, speed, distance etc) was reconfigured and began working. Automatic bilge pump reconnected and working too.
So soon after 0930 we were off again, now heading north along the Noordhollandsch Kanaal which would eventually take us to the North Sea at Den Helder. At first we travelled through Zaandam, a mixture of suburbs and small scale commercial development, in an area that is very much a dormitory for Amsterdam. Having said that many of the newer residential developments were very attractive with different design styles. A refreshing change from the fare that the large private sector builders serve up in every part of the UK. After our first bridge we had been caught up by a small Dutch
sailing barge which was to stay with us for most of the day. For a few hours we also had a commercial barge as part of the party. Whilst being in convoy means that you travel at a similar speed there is a strong advantage in being with a couple of Dutch boats on a trip like this. Our passage to Alkmaar required us to pass through one lock, a railway bridge and thirteen road or pedestrian bridges. All except the railway bridge operated "on demand" and commercial traffic has priority. In addition the Dutch know the ropes and how to plead with bridge masters for an opening (although we have also now learnt the technique for when we are alone).
In the early afternoon a branch of the canal opened out to the Alkmaardermeer, a large expanse of lake said to be (in the book on the Inland Waterways of the Netherlands) reminiscent of a "Norfolk Broad but larger".  It is quite shallow in parts so we had to stay near a buoyed channel but with a S wind behind us the engine was silenced for half an hour as, like quite a few other sailing boats, we gently glided across the lake. Just as we reached the outskirts of Alkmaar we waved goodbye to our friend in the sailing barge as he turned along another canal and we headed into the small city.
The Harbour Master's Office is a three story tower standing on the edge of the main canal and we moored at the pontoon only to discover that the HM was not there. A nearby sailor said that she rode a bike with panniers in case we could see her; as Andrea noted so did at least half of Dutch people!

Behind the HM Office one of the small canals that ring the city centre
On 'phoning her mobile she explained that she was on the other side of the canal and would be back soon. A very helpful lady subsequently offered us a very suitable and cheap berth on the other side of the city and so we moored up for the evening.
The HM told us of the excellent Saturday market and also said that the weekend was "Monuments Day" in The Netherlands when many old private and public buildings were open to visitors. She was interested to learn that there is a similar weekend in the UK. What we discovered was that Alkmaar has many fine buildings and a vibrant atmosphere.

Interesting buildings and skyline in Alkmaar
We noted that Alkmaar was another place claiming to be the cheese capital of The Netherlands. Saturday began with provisioning in the market including cheese, "English pies" (fruit, sort of half pie half crumble), but also brown shrimps and a couple of Sole fish for dinner. During the afternoon we visited about ten interesting buildings, including the HM Office (the original use being an office to collect taxes from traders; a warehouse converted into architects and designers studio (where one of the partners showed us around and discussed their projects in Amsterdam and Alkmaar as well as the housing situation in both countries); almshouses now converted into private ownership; a cafe and adjacent antiques dealers with a small first world war museum (about the German occupiers); and the splendid Town Hall. As a result of that we discovered the origin of the Bath-Alkmaar Town Twinning which started near the end of the second world war when Alkmaar was liberated. A young Alkmaar resident had escaped from The Netherlands in 1940 and joined his sister who lived and worked in Bath. In 1945 shortly before Alkmaar was freed, because of this interest, Alkmaar was adopted as its sister, this at a time when "twinning" was unknown. What was known was that how poor Alkmaar residents had become and how many children and adults were so short of decent clothes. That led to appeals in Bath and the sending of many clothes together with money all organised by individuals and Rotary. In the Town Hall is the hand cart with organ that was paraded around the Bath streets at that time to attract donations. For more information see www.bath-alkmaar.eu/origins.asp

The Stadhuis (Council Offices) in Alkmaar
Sunday was another mainly sunny day and the bicycles came out for a trip to the coast. First to Bergen then Bergen aan Zee where despite a brisk breeze the beach was busy with walkers. After coffee in a smart sea front restaurant I spent time having to perform on the spot running repairs as Andrea's rear inner tube had developed a split near the valve. But once we were on the move again we headed north into the "Duinen" an area of dunes which unlike much of Holland involves some up and down hills! It was an interesting half a dozen kilometres seeing the wooded and scrub landscape with some highland cattle and horses grazing. I guess that we covered 20+ kilometres all on excellent cycle paths.

Dunes north of Bergen ann Zee
By Sunday evening we had lost the sunny weather and rain had set in. On Monday we decided to move a short distance up the canal to t'Zand. The distance was relatively short, 15nm, but it involved another railway bridge and ten road bridges, some a new light variety where the deck was pushed across the canal from each bank. In t'Zand there was a free pontoon on the canal (free for up to three days) and so we stopped and walked around the small village. Fortunately the heavy rain abated for long enough for us to enjoy a walk.
The next morning an even shorter trip (7nm) with only one bridge to open and we arrived at Den Helder. It was very wet when we arrived and the forecast was for more rain and storms so we decided to stay in the canal rather than going through the lock to the sea and an alternative harbour. We called a small yacht club recommended in one of our guides and they were happy to accommodate us even coming down to take our lines despite torrential rain at the time. We walked around the main shopping centre which was not particularly attractive. We concluded that Den Helder had, not surprisingly, been heavily attacked and bombed in the war and much of the redevelopment was of the 1950's and 60's slab block, flat roof variety!
Busy commercial harbour in Den Helder
The next morning we had a longer walk around Den Helder in the strong wind, rain and mizzle and found some very attractive large and small houses that had escaped the second world war devastation. We looked at the North Sea - a very monotonous and uninspiring promenade looking out over a very grey sea.
But then we also found a small and very interesting "cabin" on the edge of the harbour where fish and chips was the speciality; and very fresh and enjoyable they were. That afternoon I tackled another electronic problem in this year of electrical and electronic challenges! My chart plotter draws the chart information from a separate card that is updated each year as buoyage changes, new hazards are discovered etc. For some time data transfer had been intermittent. So I had contacted the suppliers in Italy for advice. They suggested that I get the card checked at a local agent and sent me their list of agents in The Netherlands. There were two companies in Den Helder and we had noticed the office of the first one that morning as we had walked around the town. So off I went to see them only to discover that they dealt with systems for ships, a different sort of card altogether. But the helpful young man printed off location maps and phone numbers for the other agent. I phoned him first to check that he could help and he said that he could. it was only as I started cycling to his location in the rain that I realised that this was going to be about a 15km round trip. He operated out of an office in his home in a residential area right on the edge of Den Helder! With help from various people (when I was struggling to find some roads) I eventually found this helpful man who after 10 minutes could confirm that there was a problem with the card, not the chart plotter. So I now have to sort out that replacement and in the meantime rely on the paper charts and the navigational skills that I learnt before chart plotters existed. In the meantime we agreed our next destination, which would involve a brief foray into the North Sea and then on to the Ijsselmeer.

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