Cruising Logs: 2006 - A Scandinavian Cruise
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A week of Spoorbrugges, Stroopwafels and summer rain!

  A dribble was perhaps an unfortunate word to use, as we would find out later in the week. On monday morning however the conditions were perfect, with the wind astern and the sun shining.  Having originally decided to take it easy, the sight of a French ketch gaining on us with a spinnaker flying awoke our competitive instincts, and we soon hoisted ours to maintain our lead, while keeping an eye on the depth, which seemed painfully shallow after Norwegian waters!  

Approaching Marken the depthsounder remained stubbornly on 0.0, but as we still seemed to be moving we carried on and tied up alongside the quay as the sky turned a worrying shade of purple – which, though we didn’t realise it at the time was perhaps a foretaste of things to come! As it approached we put the tent up and explored Marken, a strange mix of souvenir shops and traditional Dutch culture.  In a small museum deep within the town, we found ourselves watching an in-depth History of Marken, from which we were too cowardly to escape - the exit was guarded by two, slightly fierce looking elderly women.

   Back at the boat we battened down the hatches and enjoyed large quantities of stroopvafels, as the rain lashed the decks and the wind started to howl. During the evening the wind increased to gale force and we were glad to be snugly moored up as we watched other boats trying with varying degrees of success to enter.

    Next morning, despite it being Ben’s birthday, Bryony dragged us all up early so (as she brightly put it) ‘we could enjoy the day in Amsterdam ’. We were a little apprehensive about leaving as the breeze still sounded fresh, but as ever it sounded far worse in the harbour than it was outside – the wind’s bark was worse than its bite! As we motored out of the entrance who should follow us but the French boat we had raced the day before, and so our relaxing morning passage turned into another unofficial race, which we are pleased to report that we won.  More importantly, these efforts meant that we unwittingly made the early bridge and lock opening, whereas les francais had to wait another 45 minutes. 

  We were shoehorned into a space in Sixhaven by a man who had the world’s smallest bike yet the world’s loudest whistle. After tying Festina in a cat’s cradle of warps, we set off into Amsterdam .  Here two thirds of the crew indulged in some retail therapy while Ben pretended to himself that he was doing some dissertation research in the Scheepvaartsmuseum, while actually indulging in one of the many varieties of Applegeback on offer.

  Big cities are always tiring, and we returned to Festina in Sixhaven to put our feet up.  The tiny harbour now resembled the proverbial tin of sardines, with Festina stuck firmly at the back.  This put paid to our plans to leave that night to catch the midnight run through the railway bridges, so we relaxed with a DVD and a birthday cheese (a long story), and resolved to leave as soon as we could escape the next day.

  Next morning we were ready as soon as the large German boats ahead of us had gone, and set off down the Nordsee kanaal in pouring rain, breakfasting en route.  Our hygiene standards improved considerably when one particularly huge barge went by, causing the contents of the breakfast pan to transfer themselves to the washing up bowl.  Still, washed down by rain we didn’t notice too much.  Shortly afterwards however we missed our first bridge (perhaps due to translating the winter opening times by mistake), but soon afterwards caught up with a veritable armada of boats heading south.  The rain intensified as we went through Haarlem ’s many bridges, and this, combined with the tendency of the other boats to behave like dodgems meant that we appreciated less of the lovely surroundings than we might have done without these distractions.  Two British boats in particular were so inept that we seriously considered sewing stars onto the Red Ensign to pass ourselves off as Australians. 

  Once through Haarlem we chugged through the Dutch countryside in convoy, reconvening at the frequent bridges, where it could be guaranteed that at least two boats (guess which!) would collide with a large immovable object and a large ex-minesweeper would lose steerage way and be blown onto the waiting yachts, all the while honking his foghorn and shouting through his megaphone in a panic.  All this meant that we were very glad to be able to take a different, much quieter detour to Alphen aan den Rijn at our own pace, where we tied alongside an old tug for the night.

  Next morning we cast off to be greeted by the sight of two of the most nerve-shreddingly cavalier boats from yesterday.  So once again in the rat race, we continued on our way to Gouda hoping to make the infamous bridge that we had missed on our previous visit to the Dutch canals.  The rain increased from torrential to monsoon strength as we approached and we waited a damp hour for the bridge.  We were cast off with 20 minutes to go by a twitchy man who was paranoid about missing bridges, but this was probably a good thing as it meant that we were first through, followed by about 20 other boats.  This large number of boats meant that the next lock, containing a barge and a minesweeper was a nightmare, but we escaped scratch-free and joined the procession once more, roaring through Rotterdam at a rate of knots.  At Dordrecht the monsoon increased to biblical proportions, but our schedule meant that there was no time to skulk inside.  Instead we were forced to discover Festina’s top speed under engine as we more or less planed towards a bridge which looked as though it would close at any moment.  We made it by a whisker, and as we went through it closed behind us, stopping the remaining half of the flotilla in its tracks.  Breathing a sigh of relief we carried on to Dordrecht , where we had two hours to wait for yet another railway bridge.  To the harbourmaster’s dismay we shot under another almost-closing bridge (a manoeuvre that was fast becoming a force of habit)… into the wrong marina! Here we had to wait guiltily until the bridge would let us out again.  With the heater on inside and having barely stopped since Tuesday, it was very tempting to stay the night and relax in one of Dordrecht ’s many cafés, but a quick glance at the chart showed us that we still had 40 miles to go to get to Vlissingen by the following evening.  

  There were by now only two of the many boats we had come through the canals with remaining.  It was with some relief that we found ourselves in (relatively) open water once more as we made our way to Willemstad , where we arrived fairly late.

  With 35 Miles to go, we had to have another early start.  The bridge over the lock into the Volkerak was at 18.4 metres (Festina’s mast we had measured at 18.5), and so we had a nerve-racking start to our last day.   Luckily the water level in the lock went down before we had to go underneath the bridge, and once through we breathed a sigh of relief and were able to sail for the first time in days.  This was short-lived, however, as the wind came ahead as we were going through a narrow channel.  The next bridge was even lower than the previous one, at 18.3 metres, and another stressful 15 minutes passed before we were clear, fortunately with the wind instruments intact!  Once in the Oosterschelde, the wind increased to 25 knots and it started to rain and hail alternately until we were able to bear away for the lock into the Veerse Meer, surfing downwind in 20 knots of hail. 

  The Veerse Meer is a lovely area, but unfortunately the driving rain meant that we were unable to sail slowly through admiring it, so once again we dripped through in full oilskins until we reached Veere and the entrance to the Kanaal door Walcheren , where we could finally feel that we were nearly there.  We stopped off halfway to Vlissingen at Middelburg, a lovely town where we did some shopping and half hoped to hear news that Philip’s flight had been cancelled so that we could stop the night, relax and sleep.  However, we heard nothing and so carried on for the last leg to Vlissingen , once more in torrential rain, eating in shifts to keep the food dry!  Four bridges later it was a weary, but relieved crew that tied up in Vlissingen for a few hours before Philip rejoined us for the ‘last push’ home. 


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