This is in the nature of a catch up post. We arrived in Faaborg, Denmark on 7 May having left Chichester exactly a month earlier. This is a synopsis of how we got here.
Our first passage was the relatively straightforward 62 miles from Chichester Marina to Sovereign Harbour, Eastbourne. It didn’t get off to the most auspicious start as there was a fault on the Chichester Marina lock that lead to a delay in our departure. The passage was, however, uneventful with light winds and a slight sea but we did have to fight the tide for much of the way. By 3.30 we were in the lock at Sovereign Harbour and soon tied up on their visitors pontoons immediately to port.
The next week was breezy, cold and windy for much of the time and didn’t provide the incentive we wanted for a Channel crossing. We passed the time with the usual “boat admin” and took on our last fill of red diesel for the season.
By Monday 15 April a good dose of harbour rot had set in so we decided to make a run for Boulogne. To make a correct ninety degree crossing of the Dover Strait TSS, this passage entails a run up the coast to Dungeness and then a south easterly leg of about twenty miles across the lanes before turning easterly again on the final approach to Boulogne. The first part of the passage was completed with a slight following sea and with favourable tide. We were able to make our preferred cruising speed of 7kts, giving around 9kts over the ground. Crossing the shipping lanes there was a beam sea which tends to be uncomfortable at displacement speed. Increasing to 12kts over the ground reduced the roll effect and gave more flexibility to avoid the many ships in both up and down lanes.
The entrance to Boulogne’s outer harbour no longer has any ferry traffic though a fast cat service to Ramsgate is on the cards for this summer. Arriving at the marina at around 17.30 local time, we were surprised to find that the finger pontoons had not yet been installed for the season. Fortunately we found space on the alongside pontoon where we were to stay for most of the next week.
We were holed up in Boulogne for the next six days but were joined by Stu and Chris Proud in Lorna Adam in an Aquastar bound for Berlin and the only other UK registered motor boat we have seen since leaving Eastbourne. We enjoyed their company for the next ten days. Whilst in Boulogne we hired a car for a look around the vicinity, visiting Cap Gris Nez and the lesser known Blanc Nez and the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Etaples.
This is one of the largest of its kind, containing graves of servicemen from both wars and some civilians. It is, as they all are, perfectly maintained and such a peaceful place. We also took the opportunity to re-stock with wine from the local Intermarche.
On 21 April we departed Boulogne for the 44 mile run to Dunkirk. The seas were lumpy off Cap Griz Nez with only a light wind over tide. The Pilot Books don’t single out this point for attention but it can be quite nasty in strong winds. Fortunately on this day it was only inconvenient in that we had to wash off the salt on arrival at Dunkirk! Apart from contending with a lot of ferry traffic in and out of Calais, the passage was otherwise uneventful. We like uneventful passages!
Dunkirk was just a one night stand as the reasonably settled weather allowed us to make more progress. The next target was to make Breskens, the first available port in the Netherlands. This meant a coastal passage past Belgium which was undertaken with a certain amount of trepidation because of apparently unresolved issues about Belgium’s attitude to the use of Red diesel. Although we saw a couple of Belgian Military vessels, we were not disturbed during the passage. I must admit to having switched off our AIS transponder for the duration so as not to advertise our nationality! The passage was completed in good sea conditions with hazy sunshine.
In Dunkirk we had discovered that the macerator pump had failed; so we hoped to find a pump out station at Breskens but not much was working there. There is a phone on the welcome pontoon which is supposed to connect to the marina office. It wasn’t working but there was so much room on the pontoon we decided to stay put anyway. The pump out wasn’t installed for the season, nor was the fuel berth in operation. Some of the joys of early season boating! More about the macerator later if our readers can stand it!
The next day we intended to cross the Westerschelde estuary to Vlissingen and then to proceed northwards via the Dutch inland waterways system. Besides being an enjoyable trip, this route avoids much of the exposed North Sea coast of the Netherlands, which previous experience had taught us, can be a fairly poisonous stretch of water. However, on arriving at Vlissingen we found, courtesy of Lorna Adam, that the bridges at Middleburg were closed until the following day at 20.00 hours. As by now we would have a very foul tide for the alternative route, there was nothing for it but to return to Breskens. Fortunately, it was only a six mile round trip.
On 24 April we took the advantage of an early tide to go up the Westerschelde estuary to enter the inland waterways at Hanswert Sluis and from there via the Kanaal door Zuid Beveland, crossing the Oosterschelde into the Bergsediepsluis to Tholen.
This 35 mile trip took five hours including the two locks. In the charming small marina at Tholen we found a comfortable alongside berth (we don’t much like box mooring and avoid it whenever possible) and a working pump out!
By now we were in need of a fuel top up. John and Jill, owners of another Trader 42, Aqualibra, based in the Netherlands, had told us of a bunker barge (BS Dintel) in the Vluchthaven at Dintelsas on the Volkerak. This was our first objective the next day. John had told us that the price was likely to be lower than most other places in the country and so it turned out to be. At a price of Euro 1.40 per litre (approx £1.19 at the then exchange rate) it is the least costly we have seen since leaving UK. John had warned us that cash was the preferred payment method but we got a proper receipt in case of any questions from the Dutch authorities.
From there we re-entered tidal waters through the large Spuisluis into the Hollandsdiep. This is effectively the estuary of the River Merwede which becomes the Waal which eventually becomes the Rhine. In fact, most of the rivers in this part of the Netherlands are part of the delta of the Rhine which means fighting some quite impressive currents, particularly when the snows are melting in the far away Alps.
At 16.50 we berthed at WV Merwede in the Voorhaven at Gorinchem after a passage of 42 miles. In the congenial bar we got into conversation with “Et”, the skipper of the Benjamin, a barge that plies its trade mostly between Rotterdam and Frankfurt carrying 1.5 million litres of diesel up river. It’s no wonder these barges are wacking big ones! Unfortunately Benjamin was empty at the time so no possibility of an illicit re-fill!
“Et” was kindness itself.He took us to the local supermarket in one of his two vintage Jaguars, theother having been craned aboard the Benjamin in advance of his next trip. He also put me in touch with an engineer who he thought could help with fitting a new macerator pump which I had purchased in Breskens. Between us we will tackle quite a lot of jobs on Ocean Star but we draw the line at macerators!
The weather the next day was filthy – heavy rain and quite windy but we had arranged to meet the engineer on the Merwedekanaal on the outskirts of Gorinchem. He turned up spot on time, accompanied by Et and soon set about fitting the new macerator.
As a bit of an aside, we had a new macerator pump fitted last September but it had started to leak after very little use. We had concluded that this was either a case of faulty manufacture or incorrect fitting but we favoured the latter. Our engineer agreed with this conclusion and proceeded to modify the fitting so as to put less strain on the body of the macerator. He worked very quickly and charged Euro 50 for labour and pipework, completing the job in an hour and a quarter. This compares with £180 charged by a respected south coast marine business to do the same job and, arguably, not getting it right.
As the work was not finished until well gone lunch time, we were clearly not going to get very far that day. In fact we did just a few more miles along the Merwedekanaal, mooring on the free berths at Meerkerk. Fortunately the Chinese Restaurant de Lange Muur is a very short stagger from the moorings and did us proud with their Friday buffet!
Leaving Meerkerk the next morning we straight way found ourselves for the first time in the world of bridges which Ocean Star cannot get under. Fortunately a quick VHF call to the remote bridge keeper effected a lift so we were on our way with little delay. Actually, I don’t think a call is really needed as most, if not all, of the bridges on our route are camera monitored and remotely operated.
At the end of the Merewedekanaal we came to a lock and bridge with headroom of only six metres or so which John had warned us about. Although six metres is plenty for a 42HT, it looks an awfully small gap when you pass under it. We proceeded in a very gingerly fashion!
Leaving the Merwerdekanal, we crossed the River Lek, yet another part of the Rhine delta and joined the Amsterdam – Rhine Canal through the Prinses Beatrixsluis which was shared with one of those massive Rhine cruisers, redolent of the Viking Cruises TV advertisements. As the skipper “kindly” left his engines running whilst in the lock we had to make judicious use of Ocean Star’s engines and thrusters plus crew’s arm strength to keep everything on a reasonably even keel.
The Amsterdam – Rhine canal is a major artery and carries much barge traffic. We made our speed 8 kts to fall in with their speed and settled down to a fairly boring trip past Utrecht until reaching WVW Weesp with a very sharp turn to starboard off the main canal to be greeted in short order by a lifting bridge and little room to stop and none to moor!. Fortunately the bridge keeper is on the spot and promptly lifted the bridge. Mooring for the night involved using a box for the first time for six years. The marina manager was on hand to assist as there was a sharp cross wind. Squaring Ocean Star into the box and alongside the short pontoon was quite a pantomime!
By Sunday 28 April we were ready for a rest, Ocean Star needed a wash down and it was time to press the washing machine into use! We had enjoyed Enkhuizen on previous visits and decided to take a few days out there. The passage from Weesp via Amsterdam and into the Markermeer was uneventful. The weather was even kind enough to allow the off watch person to enjoy a bit of sun on the foredeck.
We booked into the Buyshaven marina for a few nights. This is not as colourful as mooring in the Buitenhaven, more central to the town but it is a lot quieter. This proved to be a stroke of good fortune as,the following Tuesday, the country celebrated Queens Day and the investiture of the Crown Prince as King. A sea of orange and bands playing in the streets made for a very lively day.
Wednesday 30 April saw us set off for the 33 mile passage to Sneek. We were now on the well publicised Staande Mastroute which we had used in 2007. The Ijsselmeer was in a slightly frisky mood so the recently washed decks and screens soon got a coating of salty water. Once back into the canal system at Lemmer things quietened down and we had a nice trip to Sneek, where we took on fuel and moored at the Boarn Stream yard. The fuel was expensive at Euro 1.64 (approx £1.38 at the then exchange rate) but was partly compensated by a mooring fee of only Euro 10, a far cry from UK prices. To our chagrin we passed a fuel barge the next day with an advertised price of Euro 1.45 per litre. Memo to selves – don’t fuel in marinas unless absolutely necessary!
John had e-mailed me a map showing bridge heights and canal depths along the main routes through the Netherlands. From this I had worked out that we did not need to follow the whole of the Staande Masroute which takes a rather lenghty detour through Leeuwarden, Dockum and past Lauwersoog to reach Groningen. We could stay on the Prinses Margriet Kanal and the Van Starkenborgh Kanal which is a much shorter route and has a higher speed limit. The latter was soon re-named the “Starbucks” canal! The fixed bridge limit is 6.8m which suits most motor cruisers.
In Groningen we moored at the friendly Jachthaven Reitdiep, entered via another tight turn with accompanying bridge. Discovering that their diesel price was Euro 1.52 we decided to fill up with sufficient fuel to reach Denmark which we thought might be less expensive than Germany. However, the marina office didn’t like either our credit or debit cards, neither did the local supermarket ATM. This is a common occurrence in the Netherlands, which seems to favour Maestro over Visa other than in bank ATMs, so it pays to carry plenty of cash. So, it was out with the bikes and into the town to find a bank ATM, all of which we found quite acceptable for our Visa debit cards
Leaving Groningen on 3 May we got mixed up with a friendly crowd of Dutch motor cruisers in company for a long weekend trip. It took three “fills” of the lock to get us through but all was done in a very orderly fashion. In France things might have been a bit more frantic!
Reaching Delfzijl signalled the end of our very enjoyable journey through the inland waterways of the Netherlands. The facilities had been good and inexpensive and the people unfailingly friendly and helpful. The Netherlands is a great place to go boating!
Delfzjil, on the other hand, is a very unprepossessing place, being an industrial port but it offers the shortest passage to Cuxhaven passing down the Ems estuary, outside the German Friesian islands and into the Elbe estuary. In fact it is only just shorter than starting from Lauwersoog so it’s a marginal decision which to take. I wouldn’t want to be bottled up in Delfzjil for much more than the two nights we spent there.
5 May was going to be a long day. We estimated that the 115 mile passage to Cuxhaven would take about 11 hours. This is more than our ideal day and could perhaps have been split by stopping at either Borkum or Norderney. With a forecast of light winds and good sea conditions it seemed a good idea to make hay while the sun shined. Good conditions are not always easily to be found in the eastern part of the German Bight! There was little commercial traffic in the Ems estuary and very few leisure boats once outside the islands. Sea conditions were as forecast but mist or haze kept visibility to around two miles for much of the time.
Passing through the big ship anchorage off the Jade and Weser estuaries necessitated several course alterations to avoid around fourteen vessels waiting the tide for Bremerhaven or Wilhelmshaven.
On reaching the first of the Elbe channel markers we ran into thick fog, caused by warm air over a still very cold sea (less than 10C according to the trip). We measured visibility at less than 200m most of the time but hallucination and lack of perspective can make it seem much less. Fortunately there is a small boat channel which runs just outside the main ship channel and the electronics worked perfectly. The AIS showed that we were overtaken by an MSC container ship and a fast ferry from Helgoland, the latter at 32kts in the fog, but all we saw of them was wash!
Cuxhaven is another of those places you don’t want to have to stay for long although the marina facilities are good and there is plenty of space for visitors. There is also now a fuel berth in the marina, a definite advance on six years ago when there was no facility for non commercial bulk re-fuelling in the town!
So, the next day we set off on the 17 mile passage up the Elbe to Brunsbuttel, the entrance to the Nord-Ostsee Canal, perhaps better known as the Kiel Canal. Nothing much had changed at Brunsbuttel. The lock still has logs bolted together and chained to the wall which serve as a sort of pontoon with mooring rings. This means that crew have to get off to secure the boat in the lock, risking life or limb in the process! Elvia executed the task with some trepidation. It is also necessary to rig fenders at waterline level as the logs are only an inch or two above water.
Once through the lock we settled back into canal speed. The limit is 8.1 kts but most ships seem to take the view that so long as there is an 8 on their instruments everything is OK. In practice most seem to make between 8.4 and 8.9 kts!
It is possible to complete the whole passage in one day but it is pretty tiring for a crew of two. We elected to stop in the marina at Rendsburg, about two thirds of the way through, and took the opportunity to do a bit of shopping at the supermarket, a ten minute walk from the marina.
On 7 May we departed Rendsburg bound for Faaborg on the Danish island of Fyn. The remainder of the canal trip was uneventful but there was a delay of an hour and a quarter at Holtenau, the Kiel end of the canal. This seemed to be caused by two of the four locks being out of action and the fact that we arrived in company with two ships. In the end we shared one of the massive locks with a few leisure boats. Once clear of the lock we set a course down the Kieler Fiord and then direct for the north tip of the island of Aero. This passage was enlivened by a German motor cruiser that crossed our path, blithely ignoring the Colregs. His response to a blast on the horn and a verbal blast on Channel 16 was an insouciant wave. My response is unprintable!
The last five miles or so into Faarborg is between islands and shoals and needs careful pilotage. On arrival we found almost the same alongside berth we had occupied in 2007. This is in what was once the fishing harbour and is central to the pretty town.
The shops and restaurants are a short stroll away and there are five supermarkets within walking distance. It is very easy to get sucked into the ambiance of the place.
By the way, Faaborg is on the same latitude as just north of Stranraer.
Richard and Elvia.