Summary: In 2019, Emmelène had an excellent summer cruise from Portsmouth to Northern Holland, sailing approximately 400 nautical miles, or 735 km, in thirteen days, including two days of stops. The boat sailed perfectly throughout, helmed, for much of the time, by “Edna,” the Hebridean windvane.
“Sailing yacht Emmelène, you may leave from the east harbour entrance,” crackled the voice from Dover port control. The little Honda outboard pushed us past the car ferries that were manoeuvring into their berths. Emmelène nosed through the harbour mouth, which looks quite different from the cockpit of a 20’ Coromandel than it does from the towering deck of a ferry; and we were gone. Above us, the white cliffs of Dover; in our wake, the line of ships stretched south, across the English Channel. We had already been cruising for several days, but it felt as if the voyage was beginning for real.
Last year, we had planned a similar trip but there was no wind; summer 2019 proved much better. Richard (skipper of Tammy Norie) generously volunteered to come and “crew” for me, although his role was more that of highly-experienced pilot, and regular readers of his excellent blog will know that he has made this passage before, single-handed.
My dad dropped me off in Bembridge and I spent the first night aboard anchored in nearby Priory Bay, sorting out all my equipment. I was pleased to share the anchorage with my German friends, Hans and Inès, aboard their cruising Westerly.
The next morning, 17 July 2019, I woke up at 05:00 and watched the Germans motor-sail off into the dawn, bound for Brighton. After making tea, I raised anchor at 6am and motored to Portsmouth with ease. I raised my sail, but there was no wind. At 07:15 I picked up a buoy inside the harbour, had breakfast and rested. Leaving again at 09:00, I motored up to Fareham and tied up to the pontoon at 10:20. Richard soon appeared from the workshop, where he had been building a kit to allow remote control of the Hebridean wind vane. We discussed our plans and walked into Fareham to buy lunch at Gregg’s then £45 worth of food at Tesco. We spent most of the afternoon transferring equipment from Tammy Norie to Emmelène. At 16:45, we motored to Portsmouth harbour entrance, near Gosport, and picked up a buoy. We had pasta for dinner, then went to bed at 22:00. We had an early start planned for the next day, to get us past Selsey.
18 July 2019 – Thursday
Both alarms sounded precisely together at 05:30 and it was lightly raining. We had breakfast and left our unofficial mooring at 06:50, having prepared a full thermos of tea. By 07:17 we were off Gosport, putting up 4 panels. Although it was hard to stay to windward out of the main channel, we were soon able to bear away east and make easier progress in a nice westerly F4 towards the gap in the submarine wall.
At 10:00 we hit the Looe channel, using the chart plotter; some big waves followed, but no drama. Emmelène did fine. We stuck to the channel, but all around were confused seas. Richard said this was probably the most difficult part of our whole voyage, technically speaking: but his good planning made it easy.
By 11:00, we were at Owers buoy.
Richard slept most of the afternoon as we zoomed through a lively sea, mainly on a run, at an average of about 4 knots. Downwind, we disconnected Edna the Hebridean because she needs modification to increase sensitivity at the extremity of her swing.
Lunch was very welcome and Richard made coffee despite very difficult conditions down below, the thermos having been finished.
We arrived in Newhaven at 18:15 on the pontoon, having stood off pending the exit of a reversing car ferry – like the big yellow one, in the photo below. We had fish and chips on Emmelène, as a light drizzle fell outside.
19 July 2019 Friday
We got up at 06:30 and then dallied a bit because another sailor, called Bernie, came to chat about my Hebridean and his Achilles 24 with he had recently undertaken the Jester challenge to Baltimore, Ireland.
My installation of the wooden extensions to my rubbing strakes, to maximise the efficiency of the Hebridean, started later than planned and this had ongoing repercussions for the rest of the day and night. But the job got done and the results work well. It was a little precarious getting the screws in upside down, laying on the dock: but we turned Emmelène round to do the other side, and once the job was done, we left at 10:00.
The best thing about today’s sail was how well Edna the Hebridean worked. It really creates a feeling of calm to not have to helm at all times.
We sailed in a lively SW wind to Rye, arriving at 18:00 but arrived too late to cross the sand bar. We anchored in a nasty, rough position south of the wall, and made broccoli and pasta for dinner while we waited to enter the river that leads to Rye. But despite our calculations, we ran aground twice trying to enter, around 22:00. In the darkness, it wasn’t pleasant at all. To gain a little sea room, we motored off and I suggested we continue to Dover overnight, which we did, in heavy rain.
We took nocturnal shifts, sitting through one major thunderstorm each, as we sailed from Rye to Dover. Everything got soaked. It wasn’t much fun. Having sailed all night, we motored into Dover at 06:00. It was still raining. We paid £22 for an overnight mooring, had breakfast in the nearby café. Then I had a shower and we had a sleep on board.
It did me a lot of good to sleep in a calm marina as the gale roared over the cliffs, 100m above. It felt very safe.
20 July 2019 – Saturday
We had lunch onboard and the sun came out strongly in the afternoon. That enabled us to dry all our sodden gear and chat to a few other sailors on the pontoon, especially a Dutch guy on a Rival 32 who exchanged information on cruising spots.
I also got in contact with 2 Dutch sailors that Richard knows, Antoine and Marco, to discuss possibilities for overwintering Emmelène in Holland. It seems that we’ll be able to find an affordable solution.
Richard and I took a walk late afternoon, up to the spectacular Dover castle, which was just closing to visitors. The sun shone but nothing could make the town itself seem anything other than run-down. It is a nightmare of traffic and abandoned shops.
21 July 2019 – Sunday.
The day of my first Channel crossing!
We began the morning with breakfast at the Happy Diner across the road from the marina. Then we visited Dover castle, the entrance fee for which was a preposterous £23 per person. That said, it was beautiful and the views of the Channel that we were about to sail across were almost inviting, with France clearly visible.
Returning to the boat, we cast off at 13:00 and radioed harbour control for permission to leave using the eastern (ferry) entrance. They were extremely efficient at getting us out safely.
Once out into the English Channel, we headed in a zig-zag: avoiding the ferry lanes altogether, we headed just N of E for about ten miles, then SE to cross the TSS (traffic-separation scheme) in a perpendicular way, and lastly to port, downwind, for the final leg up the Belgian coast, the longest leg as it took us through the night, and indeed most of the next day.
The only noteworthy part of crossing the TSS (traffic-separation scheme) itself was when one ship failed to change course convincingly and we had to call them on the VHF; they were polite and altered course immediately to avoid us.
Although Edna the Hebridean did the lion’s share of the helming work, I maintained watch throughout the night, whilst Richard slept.
22 July 2019 – Monday
The dawn was magical as we sailed past Dunkerque with an increasing SW force 4 which later gusted 6. Needless to say, it became quite exciting with fairly large waves as we hit the Dutch coast and I tried, and failed, to sleep. My weariness caused me to be a bit irritable, although I was still enjoying the sailing.
Because the winds were in our favour, and forecast to vanish tomorrow, we pressed on past our original destination, Vlissingen, and made for Scheveningen, just north of Rotterdam. I thought this was a good idea to start with, but became tired, and somewhat regretted it, later. Here’s Richard sailing past Rotterdam, in the background.
But press on we did, through some choppy wind-over-tide until finally Rotterdam’s cranes came into view. It took several hours to reach this huge and busy port, negotiate the small-vessels channel and press on, with the tide finally doing us a favour, to Scheveningen, near the Hague.
I called the port on the VHF, who advised contacting the marina of Scheveningen on channel 31- which does not exist on either of our radios!
A tourist boat had heard our radio call and asked if we were the English boat that had crossed the channel. When we replied that we were, indeed, there was a spontaneous round of applause from all on deck!
The marina was very busy but extremely well-run. We had pasta for dinner, a shower and then went to bed, having sailed non-stop for 30 hours. Emmelène has crossed the English Channel!
23 July 2019 – Tuesday.
We awoke at 09:00 to beautiful sunshine. The marina had been quiet and calm, despite the crowded moorings. Having paid for two nights (total €44), we took a day “off”. I did a to-do list of tasks aboard Emmelène and Richard went off on the train to visit a friend in Leiden. I watched a yacht being cleaned, on the crane:
After I had sorted out the boat jobs, the day became hot and the local kids amused themselves by jumping off the nearby lock into the yacht basin. Eventually a couple of bicycle cops came and noted names in their notebooks; but it was all very good-humoured.
I unfolded my Dahon bicycle and cycled through the pleasant town of Scheveningen towards the pier and the dunes. Everyone was smiling and courteous. Cycling was a real pleasure. I returned by a coastal route, stopping to enjoy an Italian ice cream; and do some food shopping en route, at the well-appointed Jumbo supermarket, right on the dock.
I had a shower, Richard came back at around 20:00 and we had a fish sandwich and a beer, enjoyed a discussion about Robert Crumb, and went to sleep at about 23:30
Wednesday 24 July 2019
We left our pontoon at 0610, bound for Amsterdam. Harbour control gave friendly permission to leave on the VHF.
As soon as we left harbour, we raised sail and headed north in light airs from the SW.
It got hot pretty soon and the wind dropped off, but we still made good way at 3.5kts with the current under us.
Richard adapted the rope work at the bottom of my mast, where it meets the boom. While testing the new setup, I managed to trap the full sail in its up position. Richard climbed the mast to disentangle the halyard; a brave thing to do. Luckily, the sea was very calm, but the boat still rocked rather alarmingly. However, once it had got to a 30° pitch, it stopped rocking, leaving Richard dangling over the sea, with an inexplicable grin on his face. I was pleased when he was back on deck.
He then sorted the halyard blocks so that they will no longer swivel and jam the line when sail is fully raised.
It got even hotter! We sailed on slowly towards Imujden. Richard slept and I drank tea and water. We later found out that today was the hottest day ever recorded in the Netherlands.
A very friendly man in a speedy RIB full of children came and offered to take photos of Emmelène sailing. It was a very positive, friendly encounter.
The Imujden canal was long and hot. The outboard coped very well. Other than trying to leave the first lock too early, before the green light, I was reasonably competent.
At 16:00 we finally arrived in the centre of Amsterdam and turned to port into Sixhaven marina. Although crowded, it is well-organised in the Dutch way.
Richard went off with his friend Tilly, who lives locally, and I had a cold shower and then a nice drink with my mate Gee near Sixhaven, at “Nelson Mandela bar”, then we rode our bikes to Gee and Karin’s home, had a quick salad, and went for a delish pizza.. Again, my folding bike was really useful, to zip round the city, which was full of heat, light and colour. A lovely evening.
Thursday 25 July 2019
I wrote this journal entry very late at night, so in a nutshell:
We had breakfast with Tilly.
I sorted my SD card problem in the excellent IT shop near Amsterdam’s central station.
We left Amsterdam at midday, but got delayed an hour at the lock to exit the city.
We followed the very-busy waterway east to Ijsselmeer, which was rather windless and extremely hot. It was possible to sail, albeit in very light airs.
Our rate of speed was significantly slowed by the growth of weed in the water, some of which Richard decided to eat.
We made a detour towards this yacht, to see if we could assist: no need, as the girl at the top of the mast had a tool belt on and knew exactly what she was doing!
We were beating into the wind all day and at the end of the afternoon we resorted to the engine to take us to Edam, a lovely and well-run little port, where we were met by affable fellow-Coromandel sailor Antoine, who took us to a lovely seaside restaurant for dinner and a beer.
We used the port’s bikes to get into town to refuel our petrol cans, and then I had a cold shower before bed. Thanks for the awesome welcome to Edam, Antoine!
Friday 26 July 2019
A long day of sailing on the Markermeer and Issjelmeer, starting at 06.30 and sailing nonstop until 23:15. The sailing was mainly excellent although I had to hand-steer for a while because Edna wouldn’t perform, for some reason (probably an unbalanced and under-reefed sail creating weather helm). In any case, the weather was scorching and the wind was welcome – we made way successfully to windward all morning.
Once again, I marveled at how flexible the split-junk rig is for this type of cruise. We could increase and derease sail on a whim, and within a few seconds. Windward performance was very satisfactory, and downwind was simply fantastic.
The locks were very busy but we didn’t have to wait long.
Lots of traditional boats were out sailing, especially around Enkhuizen.
We bore away a bit in increasing wind from the east, towards Kornwerderzand. We made it through the final lock, and Emmelène was back in the sea again!
We motored to Harlingen, motor-sailing towards the end. I made pasta as we approached Harlingen.
The cheerful harbour master said the marina had closed for the night, so we should moor alongside a barge just inside the harbour, which we did. A midnight beer in a friendly bar made a nice end to the day.
27 July 2019 – Saturday
This beautiful day of wind and sun was marred by a mistake I made, manoeuvring Emmelène into the inner harbour, under motor: I crunched into the harbour wall whilst trying to maintain steerageway just behind all the motorboats that had entered the harbour ahead of us… and had then stopped in front of us! The bridge swung closed just behind me, the headwind blew strongly and pushed us in a tiny, constrained circle, and we were trapped. So I gunned the throttle to gain some steerageway and we went straight into the wall, damaging the pulpit quite badly, as these photos (taken later) testify. Note the slanted pulpit, knocked off centre, in the third photo below:
The rest of the day was too hot and annoying. I felt terrible about the damage.
I wrote in my journal: “My mistake on this voyage has been to try to get to Lauwersgoog at a certain date (in two days time, on Monday). I really regret the stress and pressure involved with this deadline.”
28 July 2019 – Sunday
We walked to Jumbo supermarket and did some shopping to prepare for the last leg of our trip north. Richard bought a lot of Dutch cakes!
Leaving the marina was much easier than arriving, as most of the yachts had already left, so we had more room to manoeuvre. Luckily for me, whilst I was sulking about my mistake yesterday, Richard had extensively discussed potential passages through the shallows east of the Fresian Islands, with a German girl on a barge, called Fatima. He had also taken photos with his phone of the relevant tide tables. All very useful.
However, I found crossing the 2 “bars” that block access to the north to be fraught and annoying. Richard worked hard to keep my spirits up, and helmed very professionally in between sleeps. We inched towards Ness. Several other boats were trying to do the same, including the magnificent Dutch barge below. It’s such shallow water that it is like navigating in a labyrinth, the hedges of which are all hidden below the surface.
As night fell, the unlit buoys became invisible and for a while, we relied on an open-source chart on Richard’s phone.
We eventually ran aground- but it was part of the plan. We set our alarms for 02:30 and tried to fall asleep as Emmelène tipped sideways onto the sandbank, pushed by the considerable current, as the tide swung.
29 July 2019 – Monday
At 03:30 the tide lifted us off and we proceeded past Ameland and into the second “bar” area, which proved easier than yesterday’s. Most of this part of the passage was downwind.
I helmed is under full sail towards Lauwersoog, turning a 360° near the entrance, to allow a ferry to pass.
Once through the lock, we motored towards the Jachthaven at Oostmahorn and moored in front of a seamanlike motor yacht and skipper Martyn took our lines. We chatted with him and his wife Joka for a while and then I went to sort out leaving Emmelène overwinter. Martyn later bought us two local apple tarts, saying that, “Anyone who has made it from England to here on a 20-foot sailboat deserves a Dutch treat!”
Inka, the lady running the marina desk, had already heard from Marco that we were on our way. She was extremely friendly. The marina is a bit run-down, having gone bust previously, and subsequently having been bought-out by some former tenants. But there is a nice, relaxed atmosphere, and they can lift Emmelène out this winter, making repair work to the pulpit easy.
Overall, I was delighted with our cruise, but I must admit that I had a bit of a feeling of anticlimax at its sudden end, and was sad to say goodbye to Richard. The successful passage would not have been possible without his skill, positive attitude and (let’s be honest) his patience with my “ups and downs”! So thank you very much, Richard!