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Sunday, 29 May 2016

Sneek - Norderney, Germany (29 May 2016)

We returned to Sneek very efficiently on Tuesday 24 May having flown from Southampton to Amsterdam and then onwards by the very effective Dutch railways.
We had taken the precaution of checking, through a Dutch Cruising Association colleague, that the first bridge at Leeuwarden was now back in operation. Thankfully it was and we negotiated the many bridges, including another one undergoing works. This was a railway bridge and the helpful Bridge Master said that he would have to contact the station to see when he could open. It also transpired that the construction work had to stop as the bridge swung so we also had the bridge workers waving us through! There are quite a few bridges in Leeuwarden but we passed through that very attractive city in about a couple of hours.

Leeuwarden's leaning tower
After leaving Leeuwarden the canal became very rural with reeds at each side and little traffic. But there were still bridges. Usually bridge or lock openings are free. But in some Frisian towns it is customary to pay Brug Geld, a fee for the bridge. Often this involves putting the appropriate money into a wooden clog which is dangled from the Bridge Master's window on a long pole as you pass; so a speedy deposit is required!

Brug Geld payable so Andrea stands ready to grab the clog as we slowly pass
Having made reasonable progress (in canal travel terms) we were contemplating mooring for the night in Dokkum, an attractive Frisian town. However we opted instead to moor at one of the occasional pontoons provided on the canal side in the middle of open country. These pontoons are designed to allow up to three medium size (10m) boats to tie up. The maximum stay is 24 hours and there are no facilities; but also no charge. The one we choose was only about 4km from Dokkum so out came our folding bicycles and we headed along the nearby cycle path to town.
The casual mooring in the middle of open country
Dokkum is built on a mound so most unusually for the Netherlands has sloping streets! On the five points of the mound there were originally defensive forts but in the nineteenth century three of these were replaced by windmills which still stand today. It also has attractive historic buildings and a network of canals, the main ones being wide and attractively landscaped. Although now inland it was once a flourishing port.
On board Whileaway it was a very quiet evening. Until we cast off the following morning no one passed on the canal or the footpath and being in the middle of fields we were surrounded by bird life. We particularly enjoyed the black tailed godwits with their noisy call and rapid flight. At least one pair had a young chick which they seemed to be teaching to fly. Amazingly they weren't scared of us and walked within feet of Andrea as she stood on the path. A lovely tranquil evening and an enjoyable way to start the next day. We planned a shorter travelling day on Thursday and there were many fewer bridges. We began by passing through Dokkum.
Canals surround the mound on which the old town of Dokkum stands

After a few bridges in small towns we then passed through a lock and into the Vaarwater naar Oostmahorn, a wide estuary cut off from the Waddenzee by a large dam. We continued heading east along the scenic river or canal with fields of highland cattle at the waters edge. They are grazed here as the ground is rough and (presumably) wet and they can cope with such conditions and stay out throughout the year.

Highland cattle, some taking a dip!

By lunch time we were at Zoutkamp, tied up alongside in the Binnehaven (the old harbour).
Zoutkamp was established as a fortress by the Spaniards in the sixteenth century and was then taken over by the French. It has a strong industrial and fishing past and boasts a fishing museum.
After finding the Harbour Master (Owner/Manager of the bar/restaurant at the head of the harbour) we explored the small town and had a fish plate for dinner at a local restaurant where the owner was interested to know where we had been and why we were in Zoutkamp. 
In the Binnehaven at Zoutkamp
Our plan was to move on about 20nm to Gronigen the next day. However we decided that if we made an early start we might be able to make Delfzijl. We had of course already spent time in Gronigen delivering and then reclaiming our car after the problem with the bridge at Leuwarden hampered progress somewhat. It is an attractive city but having spent many hours there we decided that we would see if we could make Delfzijl. To do so would mean us getting through more bridges than we had ever achieved in a day, many of them in Gronigen and its environs. Just after 0745 we slipped our mooring and moved out of the Binnehaven to join two other boats that had just come through the Zoutkamp bridge. 
Typical village or small town lifting bridge

At the first bridge we were to be joined by another boat and that and one of those from under the bridge stayed with us throughout the day. We passed through a succession of bridges and by soon after 1100 we were on the far outskirts of Gronigen and into a truly horrible lock. Unusually there was a significant change in the water level and as it rushed in the boats were buffeted. We lost a steel plate that covers the rubbing strake with a plop as we were bounced against the lock wall. Grin and bear it! Onwards to begin tackling one bridge after another. One held us up a little longer than others but it was a railway bridge!

Through the centre of Gronigen
We got to about bridge five or six where we had to wait. Then the Bridge Master appeared on his bike. In the Netherlands towns Bridge Masters sometimes cover two or perhaps three bridges, cycling between them to open them. So sometimes you are let through one but then have to wait for the Bridge Master to cycle by you to open the next bridge. The Bridge Master duly opened the bridge and let two oncoming craft through. He then promptly shut the bridge and peddled off – it was just after noon and all the bridges shut for lunch from 1200 to 1300!

We can see the Bridge Master hurriedly cycling from one bridge to the next!
Soon after 1300 we were permitted to continue and by about 1430 we were leaving the last of the Gronigen bridges behind and heading the 15m to Delfzijl.
We enjoyed travelling right through the centre of busy Gronigen especially the squeaks of the University students and others as Bridge Masters tried to close the barriers on the many cyclists and pedestrians seeking to cross to allow the bridge to be lifted.
We finally got to Delfzjil (now with six boats in company) at around 1700. We had all opted to moor in the sea side of the harbour so had to go through the lock and we were now mixing with big sea going ships and barges. Fortunately Pieter and Reita on Watervogel who had been with us since soon after Zoutkamp were in contact with the Lock Keeper and we had instructions as to where to wait.
We were moored in Delfzijl at 1750 after 10 hours motoring, having completed just 34nm but set a record for us of having had 31 bridges lifted as well as the 2 locks.
That evening I exchanged passage plans with Pieter as he too was heading for Norderney through the wattfahrwassern, the drying channels between the mainland and the islands. Originally all this area was land but at some time the sea flooded the area creating the low lying islands.
On a sunny Saturday morning with a light NNE wind we left Delfzjil in company with Watervogel heading for the German island of Norderney. As at times we are using shallow (some drying) channels between the islands and the mainland with very careful pilotage is required so that you do not run aground. This route also requires anchoring for 2 hours in deeper water south west of another island, Borkrum, to wait for the tide to turn as we have to get over a drying patch. When  Watervogel anchored and was going astern to dig the anchor in the gearbox cable broke and thus the engine couldn't be got out of reverse gear! So after discussion of all the options (and having switched off the engine) we offered to tow Watervogel slowly back the 15nm to Delfzjil. Repairs were carried out after the weekend. 

Towing Watervogel back to Delfzijl
We set off again the following morning in less favourable conditions. We again anchored at bouy 39 until 1345. The wind was then F5, around 20kn, much more than the forecast F4. A German boat Ciao Mare came past just as were raising the anchor. So we followed her. We had just 0.1m (4 inches) minimum clearance on the first drying patch. Then a little way past we were in the middle of a deeper channel just behind and parallel to Ciao Mare and we both hit a sandbank not marked on the charts. We were both aground for 20 to 25 minutes in F5/F6. In the choppy conditions we bounced a bit so it was not a nice experience. But we both struggled off and found the deeper water again. At this point we were also fighting the tide and the wind on the nose which slowed us down so we were a little late at the next drying patch where we have to follow a narrow channel marked only by withies (tree sapplings) on one side. The minimum there was 0.4m luxury of 15 inches under the keel. Half way along the 2nm of withies we had to avoid a fishing boat then a car ferry coming the other way! We were very surprised that they were also using this very narrow channel as we passed close by. Eventually we arrived in Norderney at 1830 by which time the wind had dropped to F4. Once we had passed the withies and were on the last 5nm stretch to Norderney the German skipper of Ciao Mare called on the VHF to  invite us to his boat for a drink later to help steady all our nerves! He later told us that he had travelled this passage three or four times and this was the first time he had run aground. Exchanging notes and looking at the paper and electronic charts it is clear that we were in a buoyed channel when we ran aground!
A restful day in Norderney was now planned!

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