Exploring two islands and meeting some Frisians

We leave Terschelling at 0600 on the dot, and catch the last hour of the outgoing tide that sweeps us out into the North Sea before it changes direction and begins to carry us eastwards. We have a 75 mile sail in front of us, and need all the help we can get to minimise the time. The wind is from the north and on our beam, but with the long period of northerly winds we have had over the last week, there is a significant swell from the side, and we wallow through each successive wave. It is not comfortable, and we both start feeling queasy.

Leaving Terschelling harbour at sunrise.

Before long, Terschelling is fading into the distance. Other Frisian islands with the weird and wonderful names of Ameland, Shiermonnikoog, Rottumerplaat, Zuideruintjes and Rottumerroog appear and disappear in the haze. We would love to visit them, but all are too shallow for us to enter their gats and harbours.

Fair winds for Borkum.

After a hard day of sailing, we eventually arrive in Borkum harbour. There is only one pier for visiting yachts, and we need to raft up again. There is a strong cross-wind, and manoeuvring Ruby Tuesday isn’t easy. We select another boat of similar size and edge close in to it, but a sudden gust of wind pushes the bow round more than our stern. I frantically try and use the bow-thrusters to avoid our anchor from scoring their side, but the gust is too strong. A disaster looms. Luckily the owner of the boat has seen the danger and is waiting to fend us off. The anchor misses by centimetres and we glide alongside, fenders absorbing the shock and protecting each boat from damage. Ropes are thrown across from bow and stern, are threaded through cleats, and then returned – we are secure. Our new neighbours are from Norway, they have been to the Caribbean, and are now waiting for southerly or westerly winds to take them home again.

Arriving in Borkum harbour.

As we are now in Germany and not Holland, I put up the plain yellow Q-flag to indicate that we still need to clear customs and immigration formalities. I am not sure it is needed, but technically we are in a new country, and with the UK no longer in the EU, I reason that it is better to be safe than sorry. The Germans like their rules.

“The flag looks like it’s upside down”, jokes the First Mate.

“How can a plain yellow flag be upside down?”, I say.

But she is right. I have tied the little loop at the bottom and the long tail at the top without thinking. It’s soon fixed.

Upside down Q-flag?

The next day we cycle into Borkum town and head for the beach.

“Oh, look”, says the First Mate. “There are some strandkorbs. I have always liked them. They are great for sitting on the beach when it is windy.”

Strandkorbs are basically two-seater park benches, but have evolved into quite elaborate structures that can be tilted backwards and forwards, rotated to face away from the wind, have a canopy that can be pulled down against the sun, folding foot-rests, folding shelves for drinks, and storage drawers underneath.

“The most expensive with all the extras can cost nearly €3000 new”, she continues. “Made of teak, with porthole windows, cushions, you name it. Germans think it is the pinnacle of sophistication to own one. But you can also rent them by the day or by the week. See, these ones cost €12 a day.”

Enjoying the beach whatever the weather.

I had always been amused by them. I had seen photos of old couples sitting in them completely wrapped up on cold, windy and overcast days, stoically determined to have a day at the beach in spite of the weather. I can see the point of them, but why not just wait for a good day?

“Often you can have sunny warm weather here, but there might be a strong wind lifting sand from the beach”, says the First Mate, a little defensively. “Strandkorbs allow you to enjoy the sunshine while protected from the wind.”

“I can’t imagine a family with parents and kids all cramming into them”, I say.

“Ah, but they do”, she retorts.

We buy some filled rolls and sit in the small park opposite the train station to eat them. A little girl is fighting with her brother for a scooter. Their exasperated mother grabs the scooter and tells them both to behave. A man with bags of cat litter stacked up on the carrier of his bike parks it and comes and sits on the next seat. Opposite, a woman sits with a laptop on her knees and talks animatedly into her mobile phone. There is a toot, and the small train from the harbour arrives, disgorging its passengers. Two horses wearily plod past pulling a wagon-load full of tourists.

“Life in Borkum, eh?”, says the First Mate.

The small train arrives from the harbour.
Horses for courses.

“Come on”, I say, swallowing the last of my roll. “Let’s get going. We haven’t got all day.”

We find a cycle path leading from the town beach, following the sand line around the northern coast of the island.

The cycle path along the northern beaches, Borkum.

Eventually it leads away from the beach and though a lush green woodland.

The First Mate enjoying a woodland cycle.

At one point, we see a sign pointing to the FKK beach. There is even a bus stop called FKK Beach.

“Shall we go there?”, I say. “Perhaps we can have a swim?”

“I didn’t bring my swimming costume”, says the First Mate.

It’s as good an excuse as any. We cycle on.

The path circles round to the south and we find ourselves cycling back along the southern dyke just as we did in Terschelling. On the landward side are fertile polders, and on the seaward side marshlands growing rushes which give way to the mudflats. There is a strange beauty.

Cycling along the southern dyke.

In the morning, we set off for Norderney. As with Terschelling, we catch the last of the ebb tide to take us out to the North Sea, and then the flood tide to take us eastwards. This time it is only 35 miles, but the swell has persisted, and the wind is strong. We have a good sail, but there is a fierce chop and it is not smooth.

We approach Norderney. There are two channels into the harbour. One, the Schlucter, is from the west, and therefore is the natural one that we would take. The other, the Dovetief, is from the east. Both are relatively shallow, marked on the charts as 2.6 m at low water. The four slight problems are that our keel is 2 m deep, that we are approaching just after low water, in choppy conditions, and the Schlucter is very narrow with drying sandbars on each side. Get it slightly wrong, and we could end up grounded. The Dovetief is wider, with more margin for error, but would entail a long detour eastwards to enter it, then back again.

“Why don’t you call the harbourmaster at Norderney and ask him about the depth in the Schlucter?”, says the First Mate, anxiously. “He might be able to advise us.”

I manage to get through to him.

“It could be touch and go for you, especially in choppy conditions”, he says. “I would wait an hour for the tide to rise a bit more, if I were you, then you should have enough to get through. Follow the red buoys, keeping them to your port side. However, remember that the S6 buoy has moved and you need to keep it on your starboard and not your port.”

We reach the outermost buoy, the S2, and decide to anchor there for an hour. The bottom is sand and the anchor sets well, but with a choppy sea with long swells rolling in from the North Sea, it is not comfortable. Ruby Tuesday pitches up and down, and we both feel queasy. The information about the S6 buoy being in the wrong place also does not add to our confidence.

Eventually the hour is up, and we motor gingerly in, counting the red buoys, S4, S6, S8. As advised, we are careful to go on the wrong side of S6. At one stage, the depth reads 0.8 m below the keel. We breathe in, and slowly it increases again: 1 m, 1.1 m, 1.2 m. We are past the worst. Later I calculate that the extra depth that we gained by waiting an hour is 30 cm. We probably could have made it with only 50 cm under the keel in calm conditions, but with the pitching and tossing of the waves, we could have easily hit the bottom. Better to be safe than sorry.

Threading our way through the Schlucter channel into Norderney (red line).

In the evening, we sit in the cockpit and enjoy the soft golden glow of the setting sun. Suddenly the peace and calm is shattered by the piecing shrieks of a flock of oyster-catchers on the opposite bank. Something has upset them. We watch in fascination as they set upon a solitary black-headed gull in their midst. On one of the posts in the water, a single oyster-catcher seems to be directing operations. Again and again, the attackers dive bomb the gull, who runs this way and that trying to escape. Eventually it gives up and flies away. The shrieking dies down and peace returns.

“Internecine warfare in the bird world”, I say.

“I think it is over territory”, says the First Mate. “The oyster-catchers must think they own that piece of land over there, and try and keep any other bird species away from it.”

I am not so sure. We didn’t see any oyster-catchers there earlier in the day, and after they had proved their point with the gull, they all left. The next day we see a huge flock on another promontory. They don’t seem to be wedded to a specific territory.

Oyster-catcher territory?

In the morning, we unload the bikes and cycle into the town centre. We find the Tourist Information in a stunning building called the ConversationHaus and obtain a map of cycle tracks over the island. Outside there is a band playing “Time after Time”. We sit and listen, but it is their last song, and they pack up.

The ConversationHaus, Norderney.

We cycle out of the town and find a cycle track that takes us around the island. From one of the dunes we have a fantastic view over the rugged interior. It looks wild, but there are cycle tracks criss-crossing it.

Mature dunes in the centre of Norderney island.

We eventually reach the lighthouse in the middle of the island and stop at the restaurant there for lunch.

The lighthouse in the centre of Norderney.

The track eventually comes to the southern dyke and takes us all the way back to the marina. I am conscious that Erskine Childers’ spy novel Riddle of the Sands was set here, and try and imagine Arthur Davies wending his way in his Dulcibella through the narrow channels and fog to Memmert island and the waiting Captain Dollmann in his yacht plotting to invade Britain in WW1.

“Look!”, says the First Mate suddenly. “There’s a plane taking off.”

A small aircraft is taxiing along the runway of the tiny airport in the centre of the island. We watch it climbing until it disappears into the clouds.

A small plane takes off from Norderney airport.

“It’s probably heading back to the mainland”, says the First Mate. “They have regular flights back and forwards.”

Suddenly there is a swishing sound above us and we see half-a-dozen parachutists descending rapidly in our direction, their colourful parachutes contrasting with the white of the clouds. The same small plane is coming back to land again.

Parachutists coming in to land.

“They are probably British paratroopers come to attack Dollmann’s Medusa”, I say. “Carruthers must have ordered it.”

She looks at me strangely.

“You have a weird imagination sometimes”, she says.

I notice that a pattern seems to be emerging for us on these islands. We tie up in the harbour, explore the town on the western side of the island, then cycle eastwards to see beautiful sandy beaches, small villages, and woodland until we reach the nature reserves on the eastern end of the island, then return along dykes with polders on one side and the muddy flats of the Wadden Sea on the other.

“I told you that once you have seen one of the Frisian Islands, you have seen them all”, says the First Mate.

And yet, somehow, each one does have its own character. Terschelling is the summer playground of the Dutch, Borkum is the same for the Germans, and Norderney is supposed to be the new Sylt, the island playground of the international jet set in the North Frisian Islands.

“I haven’t seen any rich and famous yet”, I say.

“No, nor have I”, says the First Mate. “They are probably all hiding in their beautiful houses overlooking the beaches, trying to avoid the peering eyes of the riff-raff like us. And all those small planes we saw parked at the airport probably belong to them.”

Planes of the rich and famous?

In the evening, we meet Jost and Marina for drinks. We had first met them in Borkum when they tied up behind us, and then again here in Norderney when they had rafted up next to us temporarily before being allocated a proper berth. Josh is born and bred in Friesland in Holland and is financial controller at a large school, while Marina is from Amsterdam and is a university lecturer.

They proudly tell us something of the history of Frisia.

“The area was first settled in Roman times, when the people lived on man-made hills on the Wadden Sea mudflats to stop being swept away by each tide”, says Jost. “The Romans considered them a bit primitive as they hadn’t developed any agriculture and lived on a subsistence diet.”

“It’s interesting that the area eventually developed the Frisian cow, the highest milk production cow in the world, and yet were so primitive in those times”, I say.

“Yes, but the cows did exist even back then, but were kept by a different Frisian tribe further inland”, says Marina. “It’s thought that people from Hesse came to Frisia with their black cows and crossed them with the white cows that were in Frisia at the time, which eventually become the modern-day Frisian.”

“My sister lives in Friesland In Germany”, says the First Mate. “It’s interesting how Frisia seems to be split between both the Netherlands and Germany nowadays.”

“Yes, the Frisians were always more interested in their farming than in warfare”, continues Jost. “They never really existed as a separate country as such, but were invaded by various other peoples, including the Vikings, the Franks, the Saxons, you name it. In the Middle Ages, they became part of the Hapsburg Empire, but they didn’t like that too much, so they did revolt, and joined the Dutch republic when it was formed in 1577.”

 “What about the Frisian language?”, I ask.

“There are actually three main Frisian languages”, says Marina. “West Frisian, Saterland Frisian and North Frisian. But there are also a lot of dialects, many of which are not mutually intelligible. It’s pretty complicated. Frisian is also the closest Germanic language to English, with a lot of similarities particularly with the English spoken in Norfolk. Probably due to the trade links they had back then. Some Frisians even joke that London is a suburb of Frisia!”

“In Frisian, we say tsiis for cheese and tsjerke for church, for example”, says Jost. “Old English and Old Frisian were very similar, but English and Frisian are two separate languages nowadays, mainly because of the influence of other languages – English by the Norman French, West Frisian by Dutch, and North Frisian by German.”

I shiver. It is getting late, and we are the last customers left in the bar. The moon has risen and casts a streak of light across the water. We drink up, put on our jackets and stumble back to our respective boats. It has been a fascinating insight into a small part of Europe that I knew little about. Frisia is not just about cows.

Frisia – not just about cows!

A sea battle, a sandy island, and washing the clothes

The Dutch East Indiaman changes tack and cuts in astern of us trying to position herself to fire off a broadside at us from the cannon protruding from her gun-ports. Sailors line the decks, shouting and brandishing their weapons. We are faster and more agile than her, but a cannonball amidships or through Ruby Tuesday’s mast could cripple us and make us ripe for the picking.

I turn stern on to her to minimise our cross-section and pray that her gunners will have trouble aiming in the gently rolling swell. There is a puff of smoke from one of her gun-ports, followed by a deafening boom rolling across the water. There is a swish as the ball flies harmlessly to our port side. I shiver; another shot to get our range, and they will have us in their sights. I tack quickly to gain speed to distance Ruby Tuesday from them, then turn suddenly broadside on, and give the order for our cannon to be fired. I smell the stench of burning gunpowder as ball after ball rips into the Indiaman’s gunwales and rigging, turning her sails into tatters and holing her at the waterline. She won’t be able to follow us now, I think.

“Watch out for that sailing ship behind us”, shouts the First Mate in alarm. “It’s going faster than us, and it’s getting very close. I’d almost say it is going to hit us.”

Hostile intentions?

My mind snaps back to reality. I was daydreaming of the First Anglo-Dutch War in the 1600s, when the English and Dutch were at each other’s’ throats to gain dominance in the lucrative maritime trade. The English had won the first war, but had come second in the following three.

“It’s OK”, I say. “I have it under control.”

We are on the way to Terschelling, one of the Dutch Frisian islands. I had done the calculations the previous evening, and we had left South Harbour in Harlingen just before high water to catch the outgoing tidal flow along the channel. A lot of other boats have had the same idea and we are just one of a long procession. The wind is favourable, coming from the north, giving us a nice beam reach for the first part of the voyage, and we make eight knots. The Dutch East Indiaman recedes into the distance.

In the procession to Terschelling island.

We eventually reach the Schuitengat, the narrow buoyed channel that leads to West Terschelling harbour, and turn into it, leaving the main channel. The tide is now against us as it flows out to sea, and we need to start the engine to make any progress.

We arrive at the marina, and are met by a member of staff in a small RIB who directs us to the space allocated for boats of our length. All the pontoon berths are already taken, but there is enough space to raft up alongside another one.

“We normally have a maximum of three boats rafted together”, explains the staff member. “You can chose where you want to go.”

We decide to raft up to a large catamaran as it counts as two boats, but it also means that we only have one other boat to clamber over. At least we have a place for the night.

Rafted up in West Terschelling marina.

“You can take your glasses into town to see if they can be fixed”, says the First Mate at breakfast the next morning, cutting another slice of cheese.

I idly think the cheese looks like the shape of Terschelling island. Mind you, anything could look like the shape of Terschelling when one of the legs on your glasses has become wobbly and they don’t sit straight on your face.

We unload the bikes and cycle into West Terschelling, the main town of the island. It seems there is an optician there.

“Don’t stand so close to me”, says the optician as I hand him the glasses. “You are supposed to be 1.5 metres away.”

It’s an interesting customer relations approach. I am wearing my mask, and he had asked to see the glasses. I am not sure how I am supposed to give him the glasses unless it is on the end of a fishing line. And in any case, I am not much less than 1.5 m from him anyway.

“I am afraid I can’t fix these”, he says curtly. “They are a special SpecSavers make. You’ll have to take them back to the place you got them.”

I explain that this is a bit difficult, as we are travelling for some months.

“Sorry, there is nothing I can do”, he says. “You could try and fix them yourself, I suppose.”

Fixing glasses is not something I am good at. At least not without the risk of breaking them. And anyway, what are opticians for? Luckily, I have a spare pair back on the boat. They will have to do.

“He was a bit grumpy”, says the First Mate, as we leave. “I wonder what side of the bed he got out of this morning? Anyway, forget about him. I just want to have a quick look around the shops. Why don’t you find somewhere to have a coffee, and I’ll catch up with you shortly.”

While I am waiting, I scan through a small brochure on the natural history of the island that I had picked up at the marina. It seems that the whole of the Wadden Sea that we had crossed yesterday used to be dry land and the islands didn’t exist until fairly recently, geologically speaking. When the ice melted after the Ice Ages, the sea level rose by 60 m and by 7000 years ago it was all flooded. Then wave action from the North Sea started building up sand banks until some of them grew enough not to be covered by the tide each time. Vegetation became established which allowed them to grow further as sand was trapped from being blown away by the grasses and shrubs. The constant supply of sand from the seaward side created beautiful sandy beaches and behind them, dunes. The younger dunes are white from the fresh sand, but as they begin to accumulate organic material from the vegetation, they become darker. In between the dunes, fresh water collects to create marshes.

The First Mate returns from her shopping expedition.

“I read last night that the islands are actually migrating eastwards”, she says. “With the predominant wind from the west, the sand gets blown from the western side and is deposited on the eastern side. All the towns now are on the western end of each island, but they used to be in the middle.”

“We had better not stay here too long, or else we might find ourselves back in the sea”, I joke.

We jump on the bikes and head eastwards, following the well-signposted cycle tracks criss-crossing the island. There is a strong wind from the north, and it is tough going in places. We pass through some delightful forest tracks and eventually reach the beach on the north coast. Unfortunately the wind is so strong that the sand is being lifted from the beach and stings our faces like tiny needles. I now know how Ruby Tuesday feels having her hull sand-blasted to remove marine growth. We beat a track to the café at the start of the dunes and have a cold drink behind the glass windscreens to recover.

Sheltering behind the windscreen from the sand.

We eventually reach the end of the bike path. Beyond is the Boschplaat, an extensive nature reserve of nothing but rolling dunes interspersed with marshes. It’s a wilderness.

Looking over the Boschplaat.

We consider a walk, but rain is forecast. Already a few drops are falling, so we decide to head back home along the southern dyke that separates the Wadden Sea from the polders. These are areas that used to be part of the Wadden Sea mudflats, but which have been drained and are now used for agriculture. A farmer mows the lush grass growing on the rich soil of the former sea bed.

Mowing the grass on the polders, Terschelling.

With the wind from the north, we have a nice beam reach as we cycle along the top of the dyke (did you see what I did there?). Bird life on both sides is abundant. We see geese, lots of oystercatchers, cormorants, terns, and black-headed gulls, to name but a few.

A cormorant dries its wings.

We are particularly taken with the little stone-turners hunkering down between the cracks in the rocks making up the side of the dyke.

“They would have a job turning those stones”, says the First Mate.

Wadden Sea stone-turners.

Back near the town we spy a boat resting on the sand, her keel withdrawn. The local boats are built to have wide flat hulls which can sit quite happily on the exposed sandbars at low tide. Apparently it is a highlight of tourist boat trips to the Wadden Sea islands for the skipper to ground the boat and allow the tourists to walk around the sandbar before the tide returns and they have to get back in the boat. It’s not a party trick that Ruby Tuesday can do with her fixed deep keel, unfortunately.

Boat resting on the Wadden seabed.

We arrive back in West Terschelling. Luckily, the rain has held off, so we decide to have coffee and cakes.

“Apparently cranberries are a speciality of Terschelling”, says the First Mate. “I think I might try a cranberry pancake with cranberry liqueur. You can have some of it.”

The First Mate treats herself to a cranberry pancake.

When we get back to the boat, we have new neighbours. They are a young couple from Amsterdam who have rafted up next to us. They are three deep, and have to clamber over us and the catamaran.

“I hope you don’t mind”, they say shyly. “There was no other place left.”

“Not at all”, we say. “That’s the way it is done here.”

“You know, I don’t think that we have seen another British boat since we started off”, they say.

We had noticed the same thing. There had been a lot of Dutch boats obviously, and German ones were increasing in number the further north we went, even a smattering of Norwegian and Swedish craft. We had even seen one with a Swiss flag, despite that country not being well known for its extensive coastline. But no UK ones so far apart from ourselves.

“I guess it’s a combination of COVID and Brexit”, I say. “Now that the UK is out of the EU, we are treated as a third country as far as things like pandemics are concerned, and are given no slack when entering the EU. And now that COVID numbers are rising exponentially again, we are really persona non grata here. They just don’t want us bringing nasty variants into mainland Europe. And who can blame them?”

Not only that. Now that we are out of the Customs Union, boats are also treated as foreign goods, and need to be temporarily imported into the EU for a maximum of 18 months at a time without paying VAT. And to complicate things even further, UK-registered boats must pay VAT a second time if they are out of Britain for more than three years, even if it was paid at the time of purchase. Many boat-owners are heading back to the UK to avoid this tax before the deadline in June 2022.

“It’s a pity”, says the First Mate. “When I first came to Britain, it was well-known for its pragmatism and openness to people from other countries. Now it has changed, and foreigners don’t feel welcome there anymore. It is well on its way to cutting itself off entirely from Europe.”

It’s true. Brexit was sold as an opportunity to become more global in its outlook. So far there has been little evidence of that. The reality is that a generation of Britons will be more inward-looking because of the country’s self-imposed isolation from their nearest neighbours. The absence of the Union Jack in European waters may be a permanent feature of the future.

A declining presence in European waters?

“I have just discovered that the washing machines here are free”, says the First Mate in the evening. “Not only that, the washing powder is added automatically. We should get all our washing done while we have the chance. The only problem is that they are in tremendous demand, but I have heard that if you get in when they open the building in the morning you have a chance.”

“So, I have been thinking”, she continues. “You are usually up at that time. You can take the washing over.”

“But it’s my birthday”, I protest. “I was thinking of having a lie-in.”

The real reason is that washing machines and I just don’t get on. I just get confused with all the options –  temperatures, soaps, conditioners, fabric types, and colours – that are important in washing clothes these days. After 20 years, I have learnt the buttons to press on the one at home, but every new machine I encounter seems to have a different set of dials, displays and buttons to negotiate. I am usually happy to leave it to the First Mate. Not only that, in this case all the instructions are in Dutch.

In the morning I find myself trudging to the washing block carrying two huge bags of smelly clothes. The washing machine room is empty, so at least I am spared the ignominy of having to be shown how to operate the machine. Ten minutes later I have worked it out. I press the button and it starts to rotate. So far, so good. The machine completes its cycle, and I transfer the clothes to the drier.

An hour later, I return. There is one other person in the room – a man with bulging biceps, an earring, shaven head, tattoos, and a tight-fitting vest with Nebraska University written on it in Varsity Font. He is a lot bigger than me. My drier has completed its cycle, but not all of the clothes are dry yet. I pick out the ones that are dry, and push the button to start the machine for another cycle. Nebraska Man glares at me. I realise he also wants to use the drier. I decide to brazen it out and wait for my cycle to complete. Nebraska Man moves closer and clears his throat.

I crack.

“Are you waiting for the drier?”, I ask, knowing the answer.

Nebraska Man grunts. I take it as a yes, and press the stop button.

“Ah, that’s better”, I say, reaching inside and feeling the clothes. “They are dry now.”

It’s been only two minutes and they are not dry. But at least I leave with my teeth intact. I put it down as a win-win situation.

“These clothes are not really dry”, says the First Mate, when I get back to the boat.

“I know”, I say. “There was something wrong with the machine.”

Not worth losing teeth over.

An un-forecast wind, meeting friends, and a decision

“Bye, bye, Enkhuisen”, says the First Mate. “We’ve enjoyed being here, but it’s time to move on.”

“Enjoyed it, yes, but not happy to have lost my keys”, I say grumpily.

“Never mind”, she retorts. “It’s not the end of the world. I am sure we can get some replacements at some stage.”

Leaving Enkhuisen.

We are motoring out of Enkhuisen harbour on the way to Makkum, across on the other side of the IJsselmeer. It is not the ideal day for sailing as there is almost no wind, so we continue on motoring, following the line of buoys almost directly north. According to the forecast, there is supposed to be a slight breeze later in the afternoon, so we are hoping we will catch that. At least it is warm and sunny, so we relax and bask in the sunshine.

A flappy sail is not a happy sail.

But not for long. Catching us by surprise, a strong wind suddenly springs up, and within a few moments it is blowing at 16 knots.

“Is this the slight breeze that you reckon was forecast?”, shouts the First Mate, grabbing her towel from the foredeck. “I think you need to study those forecasts a bit more carefully next time. This isn’t a breeze, it’s a Force 4.”

None of the three forecasting websites we use had predicted this, all saying a breeze of around 6-7 knots. Momentarily, I feel a little bit aggrieved that I am getting the blame for nature not obeying human weather forecasts, but there isn’t time to dwell on it, as we haul out the sails and cut the engine. The sails fill and Ruby Tuesday leaps forward. It is a welcome relief on the senses to hear only the swishing of water as it flows under the hull and emerges in a gurgle of bubbles at the stern, rather than the throb of the engine. Sailing boats are built for, well, sailing, aren’t they?

Ah, that’s more like it! Full sails in the IJsselmeer.

Buoy after buoy slips past us, LC8, LC6, LC4, LC2, VF-B, VF-A. Each has its own name and number, making it a doddle to find where exactly in the IJsselmeer we are. A lot of boats seem to be outside the buoyed channels, but we tell ourselves that they have local knowledge, and with our deep keel of 2 m, we need to play it safe and keep to the lanes.

Keeping us on the straight and narrow.

We arrive in Makkum Marina and are allocated a box berth. It seems the owner is away, but will be back in two days. If we want to stay longer, we will have to move to another one. The berth is the tightest we have ever fitted into, but somehow, we manage to squeeze in with centimetres to spare on each side, without even touching the neighbouring boats.

“Breathe in …”. Not much to spare either side on this one!

“Phew, I really didn’t think we were going to make that”, says the First Mate.

“All in a day’s work”, I say nonchalently.

The next day we borrow some bikes from the marina and cycle into town for lunch.

“Oooh, look here’s a place that does uitsmijter and flammkuchen”, says the First Mate. “They are my favourite. You can order one, and I’ll order the other, and we can share.”

I am usually not all that keen on these sharing arrangements with the First Mate, as I invariably end up with the smaller ‘half’. In this case, however, it seems like a good idea. Uitsmijter is not for the faint-hearted – it is a kind of sandwich with bacon and cheese finished off with a fried egg or two on top. Flammkuchen is a kind of pizza. Both not really what you might describe as a fat-free light lunch.

Uitsmijter and flammkuchen – eyes bigger than our stomachs!

I see the First Mate struggling.

“I thought they were your favourite”, I say. “You don’t seem to be making much progress with that.”

“I feel full”, she says, halfway through her share of the uitsmijter. “I had forgotten how much it is. Can you finish mine?”

I am also feeling pretty bloated and am starting to feel drowsy. Heavy lunches always do that to me.

“Afraid not”, I say.

“Put them in this bag and we can finish them tonight for dinner”, she says, pulling out a paper bag. She always seem to have such items concealed about her person somewhere.

After lunch, we watch the lock-keeper opening and closing the lock for boats passing up and down the canal. He collects his payment by dangling a blue-painted wooden clog attached to the end of a fishing rod down to the boat, into which the skipper puts his money. Any change is returned the same way.

“They can’t get away without paying”, says the First Mate. “He won’t open the lock-gate until they do!”

“I wonder if he accepts credit cards if you have no cash?”, I muse.

The lock-keeper lowers a clog on the end of a fishing line to collect the fee.

Later in the afternoon, our friends, Harry & Beate, come to visit us. They keep their boat in Workum, just down the coast from Makkum, and have decided to sail up to see us. We had thought about calling in at Workum to see them on our way up, but we are not able to enter the marina there with Ruby Tuesday, as her draft of 2 m is too deep for it. They are a little late as the lock at the entrance to their marina had been closed for the lock-keeper to have his lunch. First things first!

Harry and Beate come to see us.

It’s good to see them, and we settle down on their boat to a relaxed afternoon and evening of beer, wine, snacks and dinner. They have just flown back from Austria where they went all the way to participate in a dragon boat race against other dragon boats from all over Europe.

“How did you get on?” I ask.

“We came second in our race”, says Harry.

I’m impressed, and am about to say so.

“But there were only two boats in it”, continues Beate. “A lot of competitors didn’t come because of COVID restrictions.”

We decide that coming second sounds much better than coming last out of two, especially having gone all the way to Austria. We congratulate them wholeheartedly.

They bought their sailing boat a couple of years ago and are in the process of refurbishing it. The previous owner lived on it for 14 years with his wife and son, but decided that was long enough and bought a camper-van instead. Consequently the boat is well fitted out.

“We call her Dabeh”, explains Harry. “It’s a combination of the first letters of our daughter’s name and our names. We thought it sounded kind of exotic.”

I have to agree. Perhaps a hint of Arabian? Scimitar-wielding princes and dusky princesses come to mind.

“Our plan is to take her home near Dusseldorf at the end of the summer”, he continues. “It’s great over here in Workum for sailing on the IJsselmeer, but not very convenient for doing work on her over the winter. The idea is to take the mast and sails off and leave them in Workum, and motor back home along the Rhine. Then we will bring her back next summer.”

I can sympathise with him. It’s all very well overwintering the boat abroad, but if it isn’t possible to get to her because of COVID19 or other reasons, jobs get squeezed into the week or so at the beginning of any sailing, or left un-done for some other time.

The next morning, they head back to Workum and we set sail for Harlingen, an ancient fishing town further up the coast. First, we must pass through the Afsluitdijk dam via the Kornwerderzand locks. We follow a couple of other boats into the holding area. Suddenly a loudspeaker booms across the water.

“Willen de boten in het wachtgebied naar de juiste lijn gaan?”, or something to that effect.

My Dutch is almost non-existent, but it doesn’t take much to guess that we are in the wrong lane, and that the lock for yachts is the next one. There is even a sign with an arrow pointing the way for sports boats, which we had somehow missed. We turn around swiftly and manage to be the first one into the correct lock. I pretend that we have been there all along, but I don’t think anyone is fooled.

Waiting in the Kornwerderzand lock.

“We need to take more care reading the signs next time”, says the First Mate.

She’s not wrong.

We pass through uneventfully to find ourselves in the Wadden Sea, a vast area of sand and mud flats that flood and drain with the tides. The area is criss-crossed with numerous channels through which boats with deeper drafts can sail if they know where to go. When the tide is in, it looks just like one giant sheet of water. The route to Harlingen is marked with red and green buoys along the sides of the channel, with dangerous patches of green marked on the charts outside them. The green areas dry as the tide recedes and are probably only a few centimetres deep. Woe betide any sailor with a deep keel that strays beyond the safety of the channels.

Our route from Makkum to Harlingen along the Boentjes channel.

“Why do you think that this channel is called the Boentjes channel?”, asks the First Mate. “Boentjes means ‘beans’ in Dutch. It’s a strange name for a channel.”

“I have no idea”, I say. “Probably some reason that is lost in the mists of time. Perhaps someone lost a can of beans overboard in the old days?”

A random thought flits into my mind as to whether the Dutch have the equivalent of ‘Heinz means beans’. Almost as quickly, it flits out again.

We follow the channel around, and eventually see Harlingen in the distance. At one point in the channel we have only 50 cm of water under the keel, but we scrape though. The water deepens again as we approach the harbour entrance. I call the Harbour Control on the VHF and ask for a berth for a boat with 2 m draft. We are told to go into the North Harbour in the centre of town.

A few minutes later, he calls back.

Ruby Tuesday, Ruby Tuesday. Change of plan. Can you go to South Harbour instead? Right at the end just where the church is.”

South Harbour is further from the town centre, but is deeper. I had wondered if it might be too shallow in the North Harbour. A bridge lifts for us, and we cruise slowly along the narrow confines of South Harbour. Traditional boats line the quays on each side. Teenagers sun themselves on the decks of some of the old boats. A dog looks over the gunwales of one and barks at us as we pass. A kayaker speeds by, his paddles almost scraping our sides. Eventually we find a set of pontoons at the end.

Entering South Harbour, Harlingen.

“Look, there’s an empty berth”, says the First Mate. “It’s free as it has a green nameplate on it.”

The system in some places is that a berth owner can indicate with a green nameplate that his boat is away from the berth and that someone else can use it, for the normal fee of course. It means at least that berths are not lying empty while others are looking for one, and the berth-owner can offset his own fees. A red nameplate indicates that he is only out for a short time and wants it to be free when he comes back.

We go to find the Harbour Office in the centre of town to pay our mooring fees. We are still semi-debating whether to take the Staand MastRoute to Delfzijl rather than the outer route around the Frisian Islands. Harlingen is the last chance we would have to enter the canal system. The problem has always been that it is supposed to be very shallow in certain sections, mostly around Dokkum, too shallow for our draft of 2 m, but can vary with rainfall. But it depends on who you talk to. We had spoken to a few people who had said that we shouldn’t have any problem, but usually these are sailors who have shallow drafts and have passed through unscathed, with no idea of how little or how much water was under their keel. In Enkhuisen, we had met a couple who had just come through from north to south with a 1.9 m draft, and they said that it had been ‘scary’ in places where they had touched the bottom. That had more or less decided us against it, but we decide to check one more time with the harbourmaster here. After all, if a harbourmaster doesn’t know about canal depths, who does?

“I think you might have problems”, he tells us. “It’s only about 1.8 m deep around Dokkum, and I think you would struggle for a few kilometres coming through there. The rest of the route would be perfectly fine.”

That more or less settles it. We decide to take the Outside Route around the Frisian Islands.

“And besides, sailing via the islands is much more interesting, unless you like cows and locks”, he continues.

I have nothing against cows or locks in the grand scheme of things, but with all due apologies to dairy farmers, once you have seen a few cows you have more or less seen them all, and we did do a lot of locks last year in the southern Staande MastRoute.

We find a café and order coffees. The First Mate treats herself to a cake as well.

“You know, one thing that I like about Holland in the towns that we have seen so far is that there is a feeling of affluence”, she says. “In the UK, many of the places looked a bit dilapidated with several of the shops closed or boarded-up.”

Feeling of affluence?

I hadn’t really noticed it. But now that she mentions it, I realise that she has a point. People in the Netherlands have the ‘feel’ of being better off on the whole than those in the UK. Of course, we might have been seeing a biased sample – places along the canal side may be the most prosperous, while we just never see the run-down areas of Holland. Someone needs to study it.

That evening, we hear on the news that the Dutch Prime-Minister has apologised to the nation for allowing the COVID virus to get out of control in the Netherlands, and re-imposed restrictions on bars, restaurants and nightclubs and cancelled all events involving large crowds.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

“I don’t think that it will affect us very much”, says the First Mate. “But I wonder if the British Prime Minister would ever admit to the nation that he has made a mistake?”

The numbers of new cases per day in the Netherlands is now not far off the UK on a pro rata basis – 488 vs. 509 per million per day. When we had arrived just over three weeks earlier it was ‘only’ 51 per million per day. It feels like we are out of the frying pan into the fire.

“Somehow, I doubt it”, I sigh.

A storm, lost keys, and a bygone era

“The forecast is for strong winds tonight and tomorrow”, I say. “We might need to put some extra warps on, and batten down the hatches”.

“That all sounds very nautical”, says the First Mate. “Splice the mainbrace, me hearties, and all that. Have you been reading the Manual of Sailing again?”

I suspect she isn’t taking me seriously enough. We have some sailing friends who are in the Isles of Scilly at the moment, and they have emailed us to tell us that they are making a run for it back to mainland Britain as they don’t want to weather the storm in the limited shelter there. The winds forecast for Enkhuisen are the tail-end of their storm.

Depression centred over the Isles of Scilly.

The wind is already starting to rise, and there is a steady stream of boats coming in off the Markermeer for shelter in the harbour. There isn’t a lot of space, so all the newcomers have rafted up to others already there. We are in a relatively sheltered part of the harbour, so I think we should be alright. I put on a couple of extra lines just to be safe and make sure the hatches are closed. I don’t want the harbour master thinking we are blasé about it.

The wind increases and the trees start to sway, their leaves shaking loose and blowing around the harbour. Ruby Tuesday strains against her moorings, the mast moving slowly from one side to the other. We sit in the cockpit and watch the seagulls struggling against the wind to try and get home, and then giving up and flying where it takes them. The sun breaks through the gathering storm clouds for a moment and catches the lighthouse at the entrance to the harbour, and lights it and the sheltering yachts up against the darkening storm clouds.

The calm before the storm.

Then the rain starts. Small drops at first, then becoming heavier and heavier until we can’t hear ourselves talk. We sit in silence. There is something comforting sitting in the cockpit enclosure, protected against the elements, as the forces of nature rage around us.

Warm and dry inside.

The next day dawns bright and clear. We decide to cycle out to the Zuiderzee Museum for the afternoon.

“Have you see my keys?”, I say. “They don’t seem to be in any of my pockets.”

“Perhaps the jackdaws stole them?”, says the First Mate. “They like bright shiny things. Where did you last have them?”

I try and think. I had locked the bike the day before when I went to the harbour office to pay our mooring fees. I hadn’t used them since – the First Mate had locked the two bikes together overnight. We ransack the boat looking for them, I check at the harbour office, and try and retrace my movements after that, but to no avail. Luckily there are only two keys which are missing, one to the boat itself, and one for the bike lock. Oh, and my COVID facemask. All are important, but at least we have a spare of each.

“No problem”, I say. “We can see if there is a keysmith in town, and we can call in with the spare keys on the way to the museum and get him to make copies. We can pick them up again in the evening.”

Mr Google tells us that there is a keysmith not far from where we are tied up.

“It shouldn’t be a problem”, he says when we get there. “Call back after your museum visit and I’ll have them ready.”

Relieved, we cycle out to the museum on the north-east of the town. There are two parts – an indoor part, and an outdoor part, about two minutes’ walk from each other. As the sun has come out, we decide to do the outdoor section first. Who knows what the weather might do later?

The Zuiderzee was a former large body of shallow seawater that extended inland from the North Sea. During storms, it had the effect of funnelling water in from the North Sea and flooding the surrounding land, drowning people and destroying villages on a periodic basis. The Dutch eventually became fed up with this, and in 1932 decided to build a huge dam across the mouth of the Zuiderzee to stop these storms causing so much havoc. The dam was called the Afsluitdijk, and it created a new lake behind it, which was named the Ijsselmeer. Parts of this lake were also drained and made into ‘polders’ or farmland, and even a new province called Flevoland where town and villages were built. A second dam completed in 1975 called the Houtribdijk further divided the Ijsselmeer to create the Markermeer. This was the dam that we had passed through on entering Enkhuisen.

Flooding in the Zuiderzee.

Although the dams stopped the flooding, it did have the effect of destroying much of the fishing culture that had previously existed around the shores of the Zuiderzee, and the museum is an attempt to preserve some of that culture. The indoor part contains many of the different types of boats used in and around the Zuiderzee, while the outdoor part consists of an artificial village constructed from houses from different parts of the region.

Model Dutch village at the Zuiderzee museum.

We stop at one of the houses. Inside is a women dressed in traditional Dutch costume. She introduces herself as a traditional storyteller.

“Can you tell us a story in English?”, I ask. We are the only other people in the house at that moment.

“Of course”, she replies. “Let me tell you the story of the mermaid who lives in the Zuiderzee.”

“Once upon a time there was a young boy named Sijmen who lived in one of the villages around the Zuiderzee”, she starts. “As fate would have it, he fell in love with a girl called Geeske, the daughter of one of the skippers of the village. Eventually, they decide to get married, but first Sijmen has to ask Geeske’s father for her hand in marriage.

“No, you can’t marry my daughter”, is the response. “You are much too poor. Only if you can give me one thousand guilders can you have her.”

Sijmen is a bit downcast at this, as 1000 guilders is an impossible sum for a poor fisherman’s son. So, as one might do in these circumstances, he jumps in his boat and goes fishing.

“Why are you looking so sad?”, says a voice suddenly.

He looks around. Who is talking to him our here in the middle of the sea? Then he spots a beautiful mermaid poking her head up out of the water. He tells her his story.

“Perhaps you made a mistake in counting how much money you have?”, she says.

“No chance”, he says. “I only have 200 guilders. I know, because I count it every night.”

“I still think you might have made a mistake”, says the beautiful mermaid. “Go and count it again.”

So Sijmen goes and counts his money again, and discovers that indeed he has 1000 guilders. Overjoyed he goes back to Geeske’s father and gives him the money and the couple get married. And from that time on, every time that Simjen goes out fishing, he looks for the mermaid to thank her. But he never sees her again.

The Zuiderzee mermaid (from Wikimedia Commons).

The storyteller looks at us and sips a glass of water. Did I just imagine a small tear in her eye?

“Rumour has it that she is still out there”, she says. “Many a fisherman since has seen her. But others say it is just the waves. Make of it what you will.”

We thank her for the story, and continue on. We pass kilns used to extract lime from seashells. Here and there, old fishermen chat to each other in the sunshine while mending their nets, a woman hangs out the washing.

Mending the nets.
Hanging out the washing.

The houses are tiny, yet this was where whole families lived together, and often worked together as well.

Living room in Zuiderzee house.

Real cows and sheep graze peacefully in the lush grass near the canal. A post office has scales for weighing letters and parcels, the carpenter uses his chisels to shape timbers for a boat, and wooden clogs are lined up neatly outside the school classroom.

Carpenter in Zuiderzee museum.
Clogs in the school cloakroom.

The church stands at the centre of the community as a place for people to come together. All relics of a bygone and simpler age.

We stop at the café for a coffee and cake.

“That was one of the best museums I have been in a while”, says the First Mate. “Life was certainly tougher then. But more sustainable. It’s a bit like my parents lived when they were young. I think what impressed me was the community spirit they all would have had – everyone helping each other. I wonder if it will ever revert to that kind of lifestyle again, or has it gone for good?”

A jackdaw alights on a chair nearby and eyes our piece of cake.

“It could come again”, I say. “We only have a high-powered lifestyle now because of cheap fossil fuels. Once they run out and we haven’t found any alternative energy sources, then we might have to accept a different way of living than we do now.”

Over the winter, I had read 2052: A Global Forecast for the Next Forty Years by Jorgen Randers, one of the authors of the original Limits to Growth book back in the 1970s. I had read Limits to Growth back in my university days, and it had been a major influence ever since. In this 40-year update, Randers uses a mixture of real data, models and projections to hazard a guess at what life will be like over the next 40 years. Global population will keep increasing, but will slow down and peak at around 2040. We won’t run out of fossil fuels, but they will become increasingly expensive to extract, meaning that a greater proportion of our effort will have to be spent on doing that. Use of renewable energy will increase, but again, the cost of this will increase. But the biggest challenge will be climate change and its impacts – more and more effort will have to be spent on dealing with the damage it causes – rising sea levels, flood defences, lower food production and the like. Even though we know now about these impacts, we will be sluggish in doing anything about them, as the consultation and participation of our democratic political systems are just too slow to make the rapid, and sometimes unpopular, decisions necessary. For that reason, China will be the next world superpower and not the USA. The bottom line is that the global economy will change drastically – less money will be spent on consuming things we don’t really need as more and more will be spent on just keeping the world safe for us to live in.

“I am not sure if I would like that too much”, says the First Mate, trying to shoo the jackdaw away. “I am quite glad that we are living when we do. It worries me what our grandchildren will have to face.”

Jackdaw contemplating the future of the world.

It does all sound doom and gloom, but it might not be such a bad thing. Randers argues that consumer culture will be replaced by other things that give us longer term satisfaction and meaning in life, and that the focus on individual rights will give way to more cooperative behaviour where the common good is more important than personal pleasure. And the environment will benefit as a result. It’s a more upbeat perspective than Limits to Growth, emphasising societal change rather than collapse. But is it a change that we will choose, or is it one that will be forced on us?

We finish our cake and get up to leave. The jackdaw flies off with a disgusted look on its face. I am fairly sure it is because he didn’t get any cake, and not because of the topic of conversation. But I might be wrong.

On the way back to the boat, we call in at the keysmith.

“Here they are”, he says. “The bike lock key was easy, the boat one other more difficult, as there is no number or make on it. But I managed to find a blank that is close enough, so I think it should be OK. Give it a go.”

Getting new keys cut.

We cycle home. I decide to try the keys. The bike lock one works perfectly. The boat door key doesn’t fit at all. It’s too late to go back to the keysmith as he is closed, so we decide to do it first thing in the morning before we set off for Makkum.

In the morning, I jump on the bike and pedal around to the keysmith.

“I don’t think I’ll be able to do it”, he says. “It’s a really unusual key. You’ll probably need to get some blanks from the boat manufacturer, and get someone to cut out the pattern from the spares. It’s consumer culture. Sorry. Here’s your money back.”

Up until now, I had had no idea of the intricacies of key science. They had all looked the same to me.

Just before we leave, an email arrives to tell us that our sailing friends have made it safely back to Cornwall, but that other sailors they had met out there and who had decided to ride out the storm have had a terrible night of it, with several boats dragging their anchors, and one being dashed on the rocks. Enkhuisen seems benign in comparison.

Enkhuisen the morning after the storm.

Visiting family, and setting off at last

“I’m glad we went”, says the First Mate. “It was good to see them all again, after all the travel restrictions last year. And I am glad we found a solution to the gas problem.”

We are driving back from a few days in Germany to visit the First Mate’s family, particularly her mother, who has almost reached the impressive age of 88. We had hired a car in Hoorn and driven the two-and-half hours to her home town. We had decided to call the car Strawberry Custard because of its colour scheme. Choosing a car to advertise the rental company had been the latest in the First Mate’s efficiency measures.

Strawberry Custard, our rental car.

We had arrived just after lunch. The barbecue planned by the First Mate’s brother for the evening had unfortunately had to be cancelled as thunderstorms and heavy rain had been forecast. It didn’t really matter, as the time had been spent visiting various members of the family and other friends, making the most of the good weather in the following days by enjoying coffees, teas and ice-creams in the street cafes, catching up on the gossip, and, of course, shopping.

In particular, we were keen to solve our problem of a gas supply for the boat. We had discovered that despite the best efforts of the EU to standardise gas bottles and fittings, every country still had its own system, most of them incompatible with any of the others. The existing bottles on the boat were butane Calor Gas ones from the UK, and could not be filled for love or money on the Continent, mainly because it is illegal. We had found propane bottles in Germany, but of course the dimensions of the bottle were different, and foolishly I hadn’t measured the dimensions of the gas locker on the boat. We weren’t desperate yet as we still had one more bottle of Calor Gas left, so we decided that the best thing to do was to check the dimensions of the German bottle and our locker, and if compatible, to buy one later, along with the fittings, when we were in the German part of the Baltic. Assuming our current Calor Gas bottle lasts until then, of course.

Not easy to find a replacement.

We arrive back in Hoorn, unload all of our luggage, load one of the bikes into the boot, and take Strawberry Custard back to the rental company.

The next day we cycle into the town centre.

“I don’t think you are allowed to ride your bicycle down there”, says the First Mate, as I enter a narrow lane. “It’s only for pedestrians.”

I am not so sure. The sign says Fietsen toegelland buiten winkeltijd. I get out my phone and ask Mr Google to translate. He tells me it means “Cycling allowed outside shopping hours”.

To cycle or not to cycle, that is the question.

It’s a Sunday. Many of the shops are closed, but some are open. Is it ‘shopping hours’ or not? I hate uncertainty, but I do as I am told, and push the bike rather than riding it. I’ve found that it’s easier that way. To do as I am told, that is.

We sit down at a café to have lunch. We can see the statue of Jan Pieterzoon Coen, one of the Dutch Governors-General of the Dutch East Indies, in the Roode Steen square. We had learnt a bit about him when we had visited the Friesland Museum in October, but over the winter we had both read Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton on the history of the spice trade in the East Indies. Different times, different morals, of course, but by most measures Jan Coen was a nasty piece of work. A Calvinist with no sense of humour, he hated the English with a vengeance because they had killed a close friend of his, and was determined to gain control of the spice trade by conquering islands, subjugating the natives, and establishing Dutch colonies. Any Englishmen that he captured were whipped, had salt and vinegar rubbed into their wounds, and were put into cages and paraded around ports to show Dutch superiority. The Bandanese islanders fared even worse – their leaders were hung drawn and quartered, and the people dropped over cliffs into the sea, or shipped off to Jakarta and sold into slavery.

Jan Pieterzoon Coen – putting others in the shade?

“It’s unbelievable”, says the First Mate. “How could people be so cruel? And I thought they were supposed to be Christians. How do you think they reconciled their beliefs with what they were doing?”

“They probably just thought of them as a different category of human”, I philosophise. “Don’t you remember in the book that Coen said the Bandanese were an indolent people of whom little good can be expected. That probably justified in his mind the way that he treated them. Love one another, but only if they are the same as you – that kind of thing.”

“Not very ‘woke’”, says the First Mate. “It’s interesting that his statue is still standing – in the UK, there is pressure to remove the statues of people associated with the worst aspects of the British Empire. I wonder if it is the same here?”

She has a point – the statues of Edward Colston associated with the slave trade and Cecil Rhodes associated with subjugation of Africans are currently proving contentious in the UK. We read later that, in fact, there had been a large demonstration against the Jan Pieterzoon Coen statue in June 2020, but that the authorities had refused to remove it. Apparently many of the Dutch regard him as a national hero.

Another couple come and sit at the table next to us. The First Mate strikes up a conversation with them. They live in Hoorn, and are enjoying the fine weather by having lunch in the town before heading back to watch the Austrian F1 Grand Prix. The Dutchman Max Verstappen is a favourite to win.

“After the Netherlands was knocked out of the Euros by the Czech Republic, we need something else to cheer for”, says the man.

“We were just wondering if you are allowed to cycle in those little streets in that area over there”, says the First Mate, pointing to where we had just come from.

“No, definitely not”, the woman says. “Pedestrians only.”

“But what counts as ‘shopping hours’?”, I ask. “It’s Sunday today, and some of the shops are open even though most are not. How many shops have to be open in a street to count as ‘shopping hours’?”

“That’s a good question”, says our neighbour. “Do you know, I don’t really know. The owners can choose to open on Sunday or not. Shopping hours are definitely before 1800h during weekdays, but I must admit I don’t know what they would be on Sunday.”

I decide to play safe and push the bike through the narrow streets. I don’t really want to cause an international incident over cycling rights. It’s not such a big deal anyway. Either way is good exercise.

With Ruby Tuesday now ready to go, we decide to leave Hoorn around 0900h the next morning. It’s about 13 NM up the coast to Enkhuisen, just a nice distance to get us back into the way of sailing after about eight months. It’s a bit overcast, but the wind is good. I look back as we motor out of the harbour entrance, and feel a tinge of sadness to be going. We had both enjoyed Hoorn, and had got to know it well – its narrow streets, picturesque houses, beautiful harbour, and friendly and helpful marina staff – in the weeks that we had been there. Not quite like home, but somewhere familiar nevertheless.

Leaving Hoorn.

We cut the engine and hoist the sails. Ruby Tuesday surges forward like a bird who has just regained its freedom after being imprisoned for a period and wants to test its wings again. The First Mate takes the helm. She is keen to get more practice on helming and getting the feel of the sails and the wind.

The First Mate in control.

The first hour the wind is from the SW and we are on a beam reach, giving us an effortless stretch. I am always a bit nervous on the first sail of the season – have we forgotten to do something, is something seized up after a long period of inactivity? Weed around the propeller or rudder? Growth blocking up the log paddle wheel? But everything seems to be working fine. I begin to breathe easier.

We reach Kraaienburg, and turn to the NE. This is not so easy – with the wind more-or-less directly behind us now, we need to take care that we don’t gybe. We decide to furl the mainsail and use the genoa only to avoid this. There is still enough power in the wind to push us along at 5 knots, and we are not in a hurry.

Making good progress with the genoa only.

Eventually we reach the Krabbergat Naviduct on the Houtribdijk, the 27-kilometre dam that divides the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer. Here the road goes under a canal constructed for boats moving between the two bodies of water. Apparently this used to be a real bottleneck for both road traffic and shipping when there used to be a only a single lifting bridge as only one or the other could pass at any one time. Now the traffic can flow through unimpeded underneath while the boats sail through overhead.

Traffic passing underneath the Krabbergat Naviduct.

“That’s clever”, says the First Mate. “It reminds me of that viaduct we crossed on the Forth and Clyde Canal in our little boat with the motorway going underneath.”

She’s right. We had taken our small boat from the centre of Edinburgh to the centre of Glasgow along the Forth and Clyde Canal a few years ago, at the same time as the infamous EU Referendum in 2016. We had crossed the Edinburgh City Bypass on the Scott Russell Aquaduct and looked through at the traffic zooming past underneath.

We arrive in Enkhuizen around 1300h, and enter the town harbour. We had heard that it gets busy here, and that sometimes 20 boats have been rafted up next to each other. We are not all that keen on that as it means clambering over other boats to get to shore, and also probably means that we won’t have power. By chance another boat is leaving from the small number of box berths at the end of the harbour, so we quickly nab that one. It’s perfect – no one else can raft up to it, it has its own power supply, and it is a five minute walk to the town centre. What more could one wish for?

We find a good berth in Enkhuisen harbour.

The owner of the boat in the next box-berth gives us a hand tying up.

“Have you been here for a while?”, says the First Mate, noticing the two folding bikes next to the boat.

“Most of the summer”, he tells her. “We live in Amsterdam, but my wife is working in Enkhuizen at the moment, so we decided to come up here with the boat and stay here. I am working remotely.”

It’s not the first time we have heard something similar. We had met a couple in Hoorn marina who lived in a small poky flat in Amsterdam, and were glad to get out if it in the summer and come somewhere nice in their boat. I can’t say that I blame them.

He shows us how the electric power system operates. We need to purchase a card with credit on it, then place it against a reader, and push a button next to our socket. The First Mate presses the button.

The First Mate getting to grips with the power supply.

“Ah, it’s nice to have power again”, she says.

The power goes off about an hour later.

“Perhaps we have a dud socket”, I say.

We plug into a different socket and press its button. This time it lasts a couple of hours before stopping.

It eventually dawns on us that each button push gives us 1 kWh of electricity, and that we need to push the button a few times to get enough for the day. I calculate that we are using about 4 kWh per day. At home we use about 20 kWh per day. I push the button four times.

We are feeling peckish and find a place serving food overlooking the harbour. As we munch our kibbelings (fried chunks of fish) dipped in garlic sauce, we watch the boats coming in after us, circling around the harbour looking for free spots, and eventually rafting up to another boat of similar size. We feel slightly smug that we managed to bag the last of the box berths, and that we have power and water and no pesky neighbours. It’s the same feeling you get when you have got up early and put your towel on the best sun-lounger on the beach. Not that I do that, of course. In the distance, the sun catches the green onion-shaped spire of the church, and its glockenspiel starts to play a cheerful tune announcing the top of the hour. All is good with the world.

“Look out for those dohlen” says the First Mate suddenly. “They are pretty cheeky, and will steal anything shiny when you are not looking.”

She is referring to the flock of jackdaws have descended on our eatery and are perched on empty chairs, eyeing our food like vultures. The people at the next table pay and leave, and the jackdaws converge on their table, pecking at any food that is left. In nature, little goes to waste.

Jackdaw waiting for the leftovers.

That evening, we hear on the news that Johnson is dispensing of all COVID regulations in the UK on July 16th, despite the number of infections by the Delta variant still shooting up meteorically. The idea is that the country just has to learn to live with the virus. It this wise, we wonder? Will it translate through into more and more admissions into hospital, intensive care, and eventually deaths? Perhaps the vaccine roll out will stop this happening, who knows? But we feel glad that we are in Europe, and are onlookers in this massive public health experiment rather than part of it.

Gambling with people’s lives?