We decided to take in some of the inland waterways of Holland on our trip north. There is an established route across the country with lifting bridges, which allows sailing boats to travel with their masts up. (The Staande Mastroute). We left Breskens and crossed the busy Westerschelde to Vlissingen. Here we locked into our first canal which took us to the Veerse Meer and on to the old town of Goes where we moored in the a basin in the centre of town. In Goes we saw the two “Scouts Offshore” boats from the UK packed with Explorer Scouts. Nice to see these kids having an adventure, and hats off to the adult Skippers and Mates who were making this possible. Goes was pretty, but quiet.
Next day we motored and sailed to the old fortified town of Willemstad, crossing the Oostershelde on the way. The scale of these waterways is huge, and there are some surprisingly big barges and sea-going ships sharing it with you. The Oosterschelde is not unlike sailing in the Solent.
Ever since we started this part of the trip it had been in the back of my mind that we had to get our mast under two fixed lock bridges with not much clearance. Before leaving the UK we measured our air-draft from the tip of the masthead VHF aerial to the waterline, we have 18.2 metres. The bridges we had to get under have about 18.5 metres clearance. It was going to be tight, and today was the day when our measurements would be tested……
I called the first bridge on the radio and explained. The Lock/ Bridge Keeper said “just come in slow you are fine, I have 18.5 on my height gauge”. Looking up from the deck it looked like we had inches to spare, the Lock Keeper came out of his control cabin to check, and indicated by holding his arms out that we had maybe half a metre to spare. We cleared the second bridge too, much to our relief. The Dutch probably scrape under bridges with inches to spare all the time, but I was pleased to put these two behind us. I was looking forward to getting in and having a drink in a cafe in Willemstad to calm my nerves! But before that could happen we had to tackle our first Dutch-style box mooring. I’m sure it took us twice as long as the locals, but fortunately it went OK. The next day it blew hard, so we stayed put and did some jobs. In theory you can keep going in the inland waterways when the weather is too bad to be sailing off-shore. However, shunting about in a tight canal, surrounded by loads of other boats, in a strong wind, waiting for a lock or bridge isn’t much fun. So sometimes it’s best to stay put. There is no real hurry after all……
And so on to Dordrecht, where the only viable moorings are within the walls of the old town, away from the river where the barges and coasters run up and down 24/7. We arrived late, and tied to a staging in a narrow gap between riverside buildings to wait for the lifting bridge which gives access to the old town basins and the moorings within. I tried the bridge intercom and the mobile number posted by the bridge, no answer. We waited for about 30 minutes, but the bridge stayed down. Then two boat-loads of Dutch Sea Scouts arrived (yes Scouts again), also trying to get in. (The oldest one skippering a yacht didn’t look more than about 16. Great to see, and we should encourage that sort of thing more in the UK.)
The kids made some phone calls, and then they told us “the bridge will not open tonight because the moorings are full, we are going to find somewhere else”. So, assuming that this was good information, we reversed out into the river and spent an hour unsuccessfully looking for somewhere else to moor. The commercial traffic was so heavy that even crossing the river was difficult at times. Eventually, having run out of other options, we returned to another of the town canal entrances. I was just going through the intercom and mobile phone routine again when a very kind Belgian yachtsman spotted us from a restaurant and came out onto the quay to tell us that if we stayed there the bridge would open in 10 minutes and there was room in the first basin beyond the bridge. Not really what we needed at the end of a long day, but these things happen. We hope the Scouts found somewhere safe that night, and we were grateful for the thoughtful and helpful intervention from our Belgian friend.
Next morning we awoke in the old town surrounded by trendy converted warehouse apartments and shops. We decided to have a walk and get a coffee or maybe breakfast. Amazingly, at 09:00 on a weekday, we couldn’t even find anywhere to get a cup of coffee. Funny old place……..
Gauda next. We met some nice people, but surroundings unremarkable.
Then onto the Braassemermeer, which is a large lake with several Yacht Havens and all manner of watersport activity going on. We arrived on a Saturday, having come up through the pretty town of Alphen ad Rijn where lots of houses back onto the canal, and people use boats like cars. It feels like the whole populous is out on the water in every size and type of craft. You need eyes in the back of your head as there are boats, and the odd commercial barge, everywhere. Decided to take Sunday off and start again after the weekend, when hopefully it would be a bit less manic!
The next stage of the journey took us through the city of Haarlem. You go through about 10 bridges in the space of an hour in the company of lots of other boats. It’s a bit chaotic, and at one point the whole convoy is held between two closely spaced bridges in the centre of the city while the traffic coming the other way is first admitted into the space your convoy is occupying. Well, we only saw one minor bump between boats……. We tied up on another lake quite close to Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport at the Haarlemsche Jachtclub.
Up with the lark next morning and through the big lock that would lead us to the North Sea Canal which connects the sea port of Ijmuiden with Amsterdam. Unfortunately, I got the times wrong for the next rail bridge, so we spent 2 hours having a second breakfast and reading while the Amsterdam commuters whizzed by on the trains! Then, just as the bridge opened, we ran aground in some mud. We got straight off by raising the keel, but for the first time we blew the “Hydraulic fuse” on the rudder. This is a small thin brass disc which fails to relieve the strain on the hydraulic ram if you strike the rudder on the bottom. I replaced it as we went along, and we made the bridge. Good job as the next one was in about 4 hours.
We had to share a lock with a big barge today. Now we’ve seen this before on the Seine and the Rhone, the golden rule is no matter how much the lock keeper tries to hurry you, don’t go into the lock until the barge’s prop stops turning. The guy in front of us obviously hadn’t heard this one, and we winced he shot across the lock in the prop-wash and hit the side. He was a big steel boat, so probably just some scratched paint. We ended the day North of Amsterdam at Alkmaar where the canal passes across another big lake. There was a surprisingly big fleet of yachts racing at the club where we tied up.
And so to our last day of canal bashing. Slowly making our way North in the pouring rain and wind with the North Sea and the main road to Den Helder on our left most of the day. The canal developed a current of about 1.5 knots in our favour as we neared Den Helder. This was good for progress, but with a brisk breeze behind us it made holding position for the last rail bridge a bit of a nail-biter. Then one last huge lock, which also had a horrible current running through it, and into Den Helder. Top marks for parking in the Sea Port Marina by Jane.
That night we celebrated the end of this leg of the journey in the Yacht club at the Naval Base. Den Helder is the home of the Dutch Navy and they run the harbour, including the yacht mooring area. Looking out of the club window we could see Texel, the first of the Frisian Islands.