“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.”
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.
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?
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
“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.
“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.”
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.
“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.