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Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Amsterdam - Sneek (3 May 2016)

Off again on a new season of cruising!

On 19 April we took the overnight ferry from Harwich to the Hook of Holland and by just before 10 am were at Orange Nautical services where Whileaway had been stored for the winter. On Wednesday we completed the last few winter jobs; on Thursday she was craned back into the water; and on Friday morning the mast was stepped. These few words summarise three hectic days work as we put various pieces of Whileaway back together again! There were a few last minute snags, but fortunately all were overcome. Helpfully we enjoyed sunny and dry, if a little chilly, weather. But that was to change.
Whileaway dangling mid air!
On Saturday 23 April at 0830 we cast off with the aim of a long passage to Lemmer on the east coast of the Ijsselmeer. With a fair wind we would be there by around 1800. There was a brisk breeze as we motored through central Amsterdam but we made good time to the Orangesluizen, the lock built in 1882 at the eastern end of the canal which admits you to the Markermeer. After just a brief wait for the lock to open and then what seemed a negligible fall in water level we were out and heading a very short distance to the Schellingwouderbrug. We have been under this busy lifting road bridge a few times and know that, apart from in rush hours, it opens every 20 minutes.At 1030 then, only 10 minutes to wait. A couple of other boats were waiting too and when at around 1045 a Dutch boat turned around and passed us he shouted across that it wasn't opening until 1500! We returned to the waiting pontoon at the lock and, in company with a crew on a German boat, headed towards the lock keepers look out. There we were told that the bridge had a mechanical defect that had caused it to break down. Temporary repairs had been made but until a permanent replacement part arrived they were limiting lifts to three times a day! That was the end of our plans to make Lemmer that day! We did though have a wander through the immediate vicinity and take lunch at a very impressive Garden Centre!
Schellingwouderbrug firmly closed!
By 1500 a flotilla had gathered and the bridge duly opened to let the many waiting boats flow both ways. By now the weather had, of course, deteriorated and so we ended up motoring into an increasingly gusty NW wind (soon on the nose) towards our revised destination of Enkhuizen on the west coast of the Ijsselmeer. Initially the wind was around 20kn and the sea just choppy, but by the time we were passing Marken (about half way to our destination) we were getting prolonged gusts of 26-29kn (F6/7) and significant waves which we were ploughing our way through. All this slowed us considerably and at a couple of stages I was weighing up the merits of diverting to Hoorn or running back to Monnickendam, both of which we had visited in 2015. But the wind (and more importantly the sea state) did eventually ease and we eventually made it, in company with four other yachts, into the lock between the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer at Enkhuizen. On into the harbour to raft up against a startled Dutchman at nearly 2100, so somewhat later than planned. Fortunately we had only visited this attractive and interesting town last autumn so all we needed was a restful night.
At 0800 on Sunday morning we were off again for our trip NE across the Ijsselmeer to Lemmer. This time just around 16nm and as we started with a light breeze of 10kn and sunshine (although cold), who wouldn't be looking forward to that? Within the first 20 minutes the first of a succession of black clouds began to pass over us bringing with it winds of 25+kn and rough waves. This pattern continued for the next three hours with winds bringing sustained gusts of 30kn and regular substantial bursts of hailstones. During one heavy spell, the wind indicator lost control of it senses and began gyrating madly around the 360 degrees and recording winds of 0-50kn! Of course it was now malfunctioning so I made a note to tackle a repair as soon as practicable. Consequently we were very pleased to see Lemmer and pass through the lock and into our last canal network in the Netherlands on the Standing Mast route.
Lunch time stop in Lemmer town centre
Lemmer is a very attractive town where the canal passes right through the town centre. We took advantage of “High Street” moorings to tie up, have a quick walk round between showers, and then have lunch.

But then we were off again, into the same changeable conditions but including strong wind gusts, black skies and horizontal hail stones before getting to Sneek (pronounced “Snake”) where we were pleased to tie up after two tough days. On Monday morning we explored Sneek, another one of those very attractive Dutch towns with fine buildings and attractive canal sides throughout the town.
Stad Huis (Town Hall) in Sneek

Waterpoort, old guardhouse,in Sneek
However the wind was very cold so we were pleased at lunchtime to begin a journey back to England for the funeral of a dearly loved Aunt. This involved a train journey (using three trains, all on time) to Amsterdam Central; a bus to the Orange Nautical Services yard on the other side of the central canal where Whileaway had been relaunched a few days earlier to collect the car and then a drive to the ferry at the Hook of Holland.

The funeral was at Colchester so we took the overnight ferry to Harwich on successive days returning to Whileaway on Wednesday 27 April. The weather had not improved, it was still very cold with temperatures dipping to 3 or 4C at night and only reaching 8C during the day. On our return it was "Kings Day" in Holland, a bank holiday, with many people wearing orange.We had an easy three hour drive to Sneek to offload some provisions and then went about 50 miles further west to Gronigen, our planned ultimate destination on this leg, where we had decided to leave the car. We then returned to Sneek on the excellent Dutch railways. 

Next morning we set off up the canal heading for our next planned stop of Leeuwarden and got through four bridges (including a railway swing bridge) making reasonable time and covering some 20nm. 

The railway swing bridge opening after a brief wait for a train to pass
However disaster then struck. We got to the edge of Leeuwarden and the first of half a dozen bridges through the town only to be told by a waiting harbour patrol boat that the first lifting bridge was closed and being repaired. It would not be open again until Mid-May! The only way round it currently involves a 150nm detour because a crucial lock, as the Kornwerderzand lock on the NE of the Ijsselmeer is also currently closed for repairs. So the diversion involved a passage back across the Ijsselmeer to Den Over and then a trip back along the North Sea reversing direction to re-enter the canal system at Harlingen. We thought that not only did we not have enough time to complete that but the weather conditions had been so unpleasant of late that the route did not appeal! We were caught out by this news; but as there had been no obvious advance warning so had another British and a German boat and presumably others on different days too. In effect a key part of the Standing Mast route is impassable. In very windy and wet conditions we adjourned for a discussion with the other British flagged boat "Batavia" with Ian and Renska (a Dutch lady living in England) at the canal side a couple of miles back. We both agreed that the immediately obvious thing to do was return to the small town of Grou, some 10nm back, at least for that night, whilst we evaluated options. So in more driving rain there we moored up for the night.

Having thought about it we concluded that our only options were either to leave the boat in Grou where we had come for the night or retrace our steps a little more to Sneek where we had left the boat for a couple of days when we returned to the UK for the funeral. Whatever option we choose we now also had to get the car back from Gronigen and cancel our arrangements to leave Whileaway there! We also decided that if we had time to spare we would catch up on a few maintenance jobs on the boat and perhaps visit some towns by train.

As it was we decided to spend a couple of days in Grou and a very pleasant little place it is too. As with others it is surrounded by water, the people are friendly and the atmosphere enjoyable.On the Friday evening we also invited Ian and Renska to join us. We learnt that they too were heading for the Baltic for the summer, having brought their boat in the Netherlands last summer.
 Fine 17th century house in Grou
On Saturday we motored just 10nm back to Sneek and returned to the harbour which we had left a few days before. The Havenmeester was surprised to see us and I explained our problem. Given that we couldn't now get to Gronigen, could we leave Whileaway in Sneek. Yes, it is possible he said, but maybe not on the visitors pontoon. He promised that by Monday he would find us somewhere which he duly did. By now the weather had begun to improve with sunny days, even a frost one night, so we tackled the maintenance jobs.

In addition on Sunday we travelled to Gronigen to retrieve the car and took the opportunity to spend time exploring the city. Some impressive buildings and a buzzing city centre with cafe life in full flow is the shorthand description. It is a university town, the buildings being right in the city centre, so that adds to the atmosphere.
Railway station from the age of the train in Gronigen
Canal side moorings in Gronigen
Similarly on Tuesday, on our way back to the UK, we spent time in the "prohibited town" of Leeuwarden, smaller than Gronigen and ringed by the main canal. as we were now in a fortnight's school holiday many families were around. We also noticed that the three principal centres of Sneek, Leeuwarden and Gronigen, within a radius of less than 30 miles of each other, all had large and thriving shopping centers with few empty premises. All of these places also had seemingly thriving industrial or business parks with what appeared to be many small businesses as well as larger commercial undertakings. Finally the Netherlands have clearly been investing heavily in infrastructure during the recession. Numerous new major roads and railway improvement schemes, just the sort of investment that should be being made at this time, are evident throughout the country. 

Leaning tower in Leeuwarden
On our return journey we also visited Harlingen in the NW of Frisland. This is north of the lock between the Ijsselmeer  and the North Sea and  also provides access to the canal network. There are fine old warehouses, now mainly converted to residential, and has a big fleet of historic Dutch barges.

Harlingen barges
Also on our way back we crossed the Afsluitdijk dam between the Ijsselmeer and the North Sea, linking the village of Zurich in Friesland and Den Over in Wieringen, quite a triumph of engineering built between 1927 and 1932 and 32km long and nearly in a straight line.

Mid point of the dam, Wadden Sea (part of the North Sea) on left and Ijsselmeer on right
The first leg of our summer cruise had not been an unqualified success! We had not had summer weather and had only covered 100nm in four days when we were sailing. May be we had started too early; or perhaps what the weathermen had called unseasonably cold weather was to blame. Either way we did not make as much progress as we may have hoped.

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