Summer Trip by Sailing Dinghy - Lechlade to Schiermonnikoog - 2012

Account by John Perry

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Sketch map of our route

The map above shows the route Josephine and I followed with our 15 foot home made sailing dinghy during the summer of 2012. Although this was about our longest cruise to date, it was intended to be a relaxed holiday, it was certainly not an attempt to cover a maximum distance in a set time.  We adjusted the route to visit friends on the way, we stopped whenever we felt like it to visit places of interest and at two points during the cruise we left our boat and made trips back to Devon to catch up with things that needed doing back home.

We started from Lechlade near the head of the river Thames in Gloucestershire. Our reason for starting at Lechlade was to join a fleet of eighteen boats from the HBBR that were travelling downstream to arrive at the Beale Park boat show on the first day that the show opened. The HBBR is a group of people with one thing in common, that being that they have all at some time taken a look at the HBBR WEBSITE.  The HBBR is intended to be a group of amateur boat builders but since there is no list of members and no collection of any money, anybody could consider themselves to be a member and join in with the group events. The HBBR has existed for a few years now and has held several day sails and cruises in company, including two previous long distance cruises on the River Thames. 

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Launching HBBR boats at Lechlade Marina

'Timmo', one of the HBBR 'members' had arranged a mini-bus so that after we had launched our boats at Lechlade marina we could drive our cars and trailers to Beale Park then get bussed back to our boats ready to start the cruise in the morning. Timmo had also been in contact with several lock keepers to arrange permission for those who had no on board accommodation to camp near the locks. All ran smoothly even though the HBBR has no formal management structure. No less than six of the HBBR boats were newly home built, being launched for the first time at the start of this trip.

  It rained hard through the afternoon and evening that we arrived at Lechlade, a foretaste of the weather for the next fortnight or so. The rain provided an early test for our new boat tent and we were glad to find it kept us dry and being a nice light colour it was much more cheerful inside than our old dark blue tent had been. Most of the HBBR folk spent that first evening sheltering from the rain under a rough open sided shelter in the marina, but despite the weather I think everyone was looking forward to getting underway in the morning.

I shall not attempt to write about this trip as a day by day log, I think that would make for a tedious account. Instead, I will attempt to give an overview of the various regions that we traversed for the benefit of others who may be thinking of a dinghy cruise on the Thames or in the Netherlands.

The wet weather did give us one advantage - a favourable river current. The lock keepers on the Thames have a system of red and yellow notice boards to warn boaters about strong currents and many of the boats on the river have insurance policies that prevent them from navigating when these boards are displayed on the lock gates, as they were during most of our trip. However, with our small and easily handled boats the current was much more of an advantage than a hindrance; it was nice that one could rest on the oars a moment and still be moving in the right direction. Some of our fleet were rowed, the various home built canoes were paddled and some boats used outboard motors. One boat was powered by an electric motor, taking two battery charges plus some power from a large solar panel and oar assistance to complete the trip.  Sailing was not really practical because of low bridges and trees and buildings shielding the wind, but Alastair in his Paradox that has an easily lowered mast managed to do some sailing as we approached Beale Park.

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HBBR boats in Goring Lock

The plan had been for the HBBR fleet to arrive all together at the Beale Park boat show, presumably to applause from the massed crowds, triumphant music playing over the PA system etc. With this in mind we gathered at Goring lock, the last lock before Beale park, but then we learnt that the first day of the Beale Park boat show had been cancelled due to muddy ground conditions making the car park unusable. That was a dissapointment, but when we arrived at Beale park at least the exhibitors stands were set up and refreshments were available, including the beer tent which stays open late into the evening for the benefit of those exhibitors who are staying on or near the site overnight. The exhibition organisers were busy bringing in bales of straw by tractor and spreading the straw over the mud to make it possible for vehicles to get around the site and in and out of the car parks. The weather improved for the Saturday and Sunday of the show and as usual the weekend of the show passed very quickly without one seeming to do anything except chat to people last seen the year before and watch various activities on the lake, including the wierd 'Cordless Canoe Challenge'.

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Timmo's new canoe propelled by a Hobie 'Mirage' pedal system

Several of the brand new HBBR boats were entered in the Beale Park home boat building competition and they carried away a fair proportion of the prizes on offer.  Timmo won the innovation prize with his clever canoe powered by a Hobie 'Mirage' pedal system - picture above. The decks of this canoe are removable for luggage stowage and to allow a more open layout when carrying passengers. Another HBBR 'member', Dr Chris Adeney, won the the prize for the most professional looking home built boat with his lovely strip planked canoe and yet another, Adrian Gingell, won the prize for the boat offering most encouragement for beginners with his tiny and pretty canoe built in his living room. (It's the boat nearest the camera in my photo of Goring Lock) Our boat with its new boat tent was on display on the Dinghy Cruising Association stand, alongside the brand new Roamer dinghy just completed by David Jennings, technical adviser to the DCA. David's Roamer incorporates a number of changes from Eric Coleman's original design, it retains the high level bouyancy tanks that help it to recover from a capsize but the corners of those bouyancy tanks have been chamfered to improve aesthetics and avoid damage when coming alongside a high quay wall.

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The Dinghy Cruising Association pontoon at Beale Park Boat Show

In the photo above, our boat (outside) and David Jennings Roamer are on the left, Roger Barnes Ilur dinghy astern, Liz Baker's Cormorant dingy at the end of the pontoon and Peter and Alastair's two Paradox mini cabin yachts to the right.

Leaving Beale park, we pressed on down the Thames. As we progressed towards London, the urban stretches of river bank became longer and the rural stretches shorter. We passed many splendid and presumably expensive riverside properties, especially in the vicinity of towns such as Marlow, Henley, Maidenhead and Windsor. We noticed how popular competitive rowing has become as a sport, as much with women as with men. We also noticed that there seemed to be almost as many motorised catamarans used by the rowing coaches as there were actual row boats. These catamarans seem to have replaced coaches with megaphones riding bicycles along the towpath. The locks on the Thames are all kept in good working order with electro-hydraulically operated lock gates and they are attended by lockeepers during working hours. If one needs to use a lock while the lock keeper is at lunch or is busy with some maintenance work there will generally be a 'self service' sign up and you can then work the machinery yourself, reading the instructions to press the foolproof buttons. We did stop a couple of days to visit Hampton Court palace, using the public landing right outside the ornamental gates into the gardens. They had some actors wandering around the palace playing the part of King Henry and other celebrities of the time, we thought that was rather well done and quite amusing when some members of the public with good historical knowledge started to join in with the acting.

Teddington lock is the highest point the tide flows on the Thames. We passed through this lock at high tide early one morning and then rowed right through central London on the ebb. Having lived in London in the past, I found it interesting to see familiar sights from a small boat for the first time. It was surprising how quickly the urban landscape passed by with the strong ebb tide helping us along. One moment we were approaching the houses of Parliament, then it seemed that in no time we were at Tower Bridge.  A couple of police launches hailed us and asked us where we were going, I refrained from replying "Amsterdam". One policeman told me that I should be wearing a lifejacket, then realising that it was a hot day and that I was rowing he added 'well, maybe'. We ran out of ebb tide somewhere around Limehouse, so at that point we put the oars away and were able to sail slowly against the flood tide with a light following wind. We spent that night alongside the pontoon at Greenwich Yacht Club. The GYC members were very helpful, even insisting on keeping their kitchen open so that we could have a meal. With hindsight, we might have done better to dry out on the foreshore near the clubhouse since the wakes from passing river traffic gave us a rather bumpy night alongside the pontoon. The picture below shows the main Clubhouse of the GYC which is built on an old ship pierhead. The enviable facilities of GYC include several other buildings on shore, one of them a spacious workshop where members can work on their boats under cover.

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The GYC clubhouse, pontoon heyond

Our next stop was Canvey Island. We spent a few days visiting freinds in the Southend-on-Sea area with our boat berthed at the Island Yacht Club, another very welcoming sailing club. Then we sailed over to Lower Halstow, a favourite spot on the Medway estuary, and Josephine went to spend some time with family in Kent while I sailed our boat single handed to Ramsgate.  I made a mistake in stopping at Whitstable on the way to Ramsgate. Whitstable is a lovely old town to walk around but I discovered that pleasure craft are definitely not welcome, the harbour is only for commercial vessels such as fishing boats and the fast launches that service the offshore windfarm. The harbour master told me that my boat should not be in the harbour but I was lucky that the skipper of one of the smaller commercial vessels allowed me to moor overnight close by his vessel on condition that I left before 6:00am the next morning, if it were not for that I would have had to sail through the night to reach Ramsgate. 6:00am came and that corner of the harbour was dried out with all the boats sitting on soft mud, so no one was going anywhere, but I did leave as soon as the water came up.

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Our boat in Ramsgate marina ready for the passage to France - we dont need to take up a whole yacht berth - any spare corner will do

We had a flat calm on the morning of the day that we planned to cross the channel from Ramsgate to Dunkirk. We had travelled from Lechlade to Ramsgate entirely with sail and oars but all that time we did have our Seagull outboard motor stowed at the bottom of our aft locker. With the prospect of crossing the channel shipping lanes on a calm day it seemed appropriate to use the motor for the first time since we had last used it on the French canal system in 2002. Before starting this trip I had filled the tank with fresh petrol and cleaned the points and I was pleased to find that after being dormant for ten years the motor started with the very first pull of the starter cord, as indeed it did every time we used it on this cruise. I am not sure why some people seem to have trouble starting their Seagull outboards. I am no expert on this subject but perhaps it helps to have the points clean and adjusted. It is recommended to carry a spare spark plug, which we do, but I have not found it necessary to change plugs more than about once every 20 years.

Our policy for this cruise was to generally operate as a sail and oar craft but we knew that we would not enjoy rowing against a stiff headwind along endless stretches of canal without the favourable current that we had on the Thames. In addition to the channel crossing, we motored most of the way from Gorinchem to Muiden - see map above. This would have been a fairly difficult stretch to do without engine since it is a fairly narrow waterway by Dutch standards and there were trees sheltering the wind in many places. All the bridges on that route are lifting bridges, but being under power with our mast lowered we could shoot under the bridges without waiting for them to lift. What we tried to avoid was being neither a proper sailing boat nor a proper motor boat. I dont like sailing with the engine hanging on the transom, I would rather either put the engine away out of sight and out of mind or alternatively become a pure motor boat for a while, preferably with the mast lowered to reduce windage and to avoid risk of damage from bridges or overhanging trees.

We had an uneventful trip across the channel, although we saw a lot more ships than I had seen on any previous channel crossing with our boat, including one previous passage from Ramsgate to Dunkirk. We motored for about two thirds the distance, crossing the shipping lanes at right angles which meant that we approached the French coast well to the south west of Dunkirk. There was then a light breeze so we hoisted full sail and sailed north east to the old entrance to Dunkirk harbour, this entrance being several miles along the coast from the southern entrance which is the one mainly used by shipping. Between the two entrances there is a huge harbour and industrial complex, we sailed past this as we closed with the coast.

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Typical scenary along the Belgian coast - the bathing huts on wheels reminded me of some Victorian beach photos

We enjoyed a fine downwind sail from Dunkirk to Vlissingen (Flushing), spending one night at Ostend. With our shallow draft boat we were able to keep within a few hundred yards from the shore for much of the way, I find that more interesting than being out at sea with the deep draft yachts. This is a low lying coast line, mostly sandy pleasure beaches and appartment blocks. I was told that the planning rules limit the appartment blocks to ten stories so they are all this height and they form a solid wall along much of the Belgium coast.  Vlissingen was our first Dutch port, so in just three days sailing we had visited four countries, UK, France, Belgiun and Netherlands.

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Josephine making the best of the wet weather in Vlissingen

Stepping ashore in Vlissingen we immediately noticed how tidy and well kept is Holland. There are always exceptions, but generally the Dutch houses are well built and well maintained, often freshly painted with bright colours. The streets are litter free, public transport seems to generally run on time, the people are friendly and helpful. The yachts are also mostly kept in imaculate boat show condition, one Dutch yachtsman told me that is because they are mostly used on fresh water so dont get corroded and salt caked, but I think there must be more to it than that. One possible reason why the Dutch seem to take such pride in keeping the Netherlands tidy and well organised is that they are aware that their country would not exist naturally, it has mostly had to be laboriously taken from the sea by the pick and shovel work of their fairly recent ancesters, so perhaps they are not so inclined to let it go to ruin in a hurry.

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At a street festival in Vlissingen

We spent a few wet days in Vlissingen. It has been said that the Dutch weather is the English weather second hand and at the time of writing I have just heard that 2012 was the UK's second wettest year on record. While in Vlissingen we visited a Dutch street festival, a strange kind of event. One could for example volunteer to remove one's clothing (in the pouring rain) then be towed around the town sitting in a bubble bath on wheels - just for fun of it (presumably). Or there was the shed with peep holes in the side, once one person had looked in others wanted to see if there was anything worth looking at, but I dont think there was. And there was a strange and rather cleverly constructed vehicle that jumped around the town centre on pneumatically powered suspension struts, with steam coming out everywhere and looking like something from a Scrap Heap Challenge. A bit later on we came across another example of Dutch eccentricity - villages where people had made knitted wooly socks to fit over all the traffic bollards, lamp posts and some of the tree trunks. When I asked Dutch people about this they generally replied 'Oh, that's just kunst (art), as if that explained everything.

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In Middleburg

From Vlissingen we rowed up the canal to Middleburg, a lovely old town that I believe has mostly been reconstructed after being bombed to bits during WWII, not that you would ever guess from looking at it now. We were in a bar in Middleburg when we thought it might be an idea to look up two Dutch members of the Dinghy Cruising Association, a couple that we had previously met when they attended a DCA event in England. We typed the address into Google maps on our laptop and would you believe it - they lived in the next street to the bar we were sitting in! As well as a sailing dinghy, these friends also have a Dutch style steel motor sailer which they keep in a marina on the Veeres Meer a few miles from Middleburg, so we sailed to that marina and met them on their boat. Like quite a few of the marinas in Holland, this marina is owned by the local authority but managed by a committee formed entirely from the boat owners that use the marina, our friends being active members of that committee. We stayed there a few days, using the bicycles provided free by the marina to visit nearby villages, including Veere, a small waterside village with a huge church, now converted into a concert hall.

veere 01 From the top of the big church in Veere, looking over the Veeres Meer....

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... and looking the other way over the canal to Middleburg and Vlissingen

We made our way under sail and oar across the broard waterways of Zeeland, the southern part of Holland. All these huge waterways were once open to the sea with extensive mudflats at low tide. Now all but the WesterSheldt in the south and the main entrance to the port of Rotterdam in the north have been dammed off from the sea, but some areas are still partially tidal, the water levels being controlled by a system of locks. These locks are built on a scale far greater than any locks in the UK. Typcially there is not just one lock, but a set of two, three or four locks side by side, huge locks for ships and smaller ones for yachts and other small craft. Even the small craft locks would dwarf any of the locks on the Thames. The photo below is a small craft lock - needless to say we did not have a need to use any of the ship locks. We were told that all the locks and lifting bridges in the Zeeland area of Holland are now remote controlled from a few control rooms which may be far from the locks being controlled. Video cameras monitor the movement of vessels and red and green traffic lights indicate when you should enter and leave the locks. It is strange to pass through the locks without leaving your boat and without seeing any lock keepers, but the system does seem to work well and I wonder if it is the intention to extend it to the whole of the Netherlands.

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In one of the small craft locks in Zeeland

Attention has been given to making the Zeeland waterways natural looking and to provide habitats for wild life. In many places there are woods and marshlands along the banks and on the islands, but none of this is truely natural. The islands themselves have mostly been constructed by earth moving machinery and the woods and marshlands have been planted to create habitats. You soon realise that this is a man made landscape if you try to bring your boat up to what looks from a distance like a natural river bank fringed with reed beds. Once you get close, you find that the bank is actually lined with carefully placed boulders that could do serious damage to your boat, the top of the boulders being just a few inches below the water level with reeds planted behind. This does mean that in many areas the only places you can stop for a picnic on shore are where public landing stages have been constructed for small craft, fortunately such landing places are reasonably plentiful in most areas used by pleasure craft.

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Rowing through a smaller channel in the Biesbosch

From Zeeland we moved into the Biesbosch, the largest national park in the Netherlands. The Biesbosh is an area reclaimed from the sea back around the 1300's - I had not realised that the Dutch started reclaiming large areas of land from the sea as early as that. In 1421 a storm surge broke through the sea wall and dozens of villages were flooded. Over the next few years there were attempts to make repairs and redrain the land, but this was only partially successful and much of the area was eventually allowed to return to a natural state. Today it is mostly a carefully managed nature reserve, so not entirely natural, the area also includes some large drinking water reservoirs that supply nearby cities. We found it a lovely area to exlore in a small boat and we spent nearly a week there. There are stretches of open water providing space and clear wind for sailing, also narrow waterways through the woods and reedbeds that are best negotiated with oars, the photo above is typical.  The area reminded me of Barton Broard in Norfolk, although it is much more extensive than that. Most of the shoreline is so waterlogged and overgrown with willow and other vegetation that it is impracticle to land from a boat, but in some places landing stages have been provided so you can tie up overnight and get ashore to take a stroll along the prepared footpaths. We noted the large litter bins prominently placed near every landing stage to encourage people not to leave barbeque remnants and other litter.

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In the Biesbosch - this little inlet had been dug out specially to create a place for small boats to stop for a picnic or to stop overnight

From the Biesbosch we moved on to Gorinchem, (the Dutch seemed to pronounce it 'Horchem') a sizeable town on the broad river Waal which is a main route for commercial barge traffic. We had now been away from home a few weeks and we guessed that our lawn would need cutting - well not just that, we had also been invited to spend some time with Josephine's family in Kent. So we left our boat in a marina at Gorinchem and returned to UK on the Eurostar, spent about three weeks at home then returned to Holland by car and car ferry. Returning to Holland, we had our partially dismantled boat trailer on the car roof rack. This meant that we would not have to sail all the way back to the UK, fighting the prevailing winds. That had been an important consideration when we planned this cruise - as I wrote at the beginning, this was meant to be a holiday, not a challenge. Carrying the boat trailer on the roof rack worked well, it saved a few quid on the car ferry but more importantly it avoided the problem of an unloaded trailer bouncing about on its over stiff suspension.

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Heavy traffic rumbles past us on the River Waal - I liked the name!

We left our car at Gorinchem and continued north to Utrecht along a fairly minor route, the Merwede canal. At Utrecht the Merwede canal crosses the Amsterdam-Rijnkanaal which is a relatively recently built canal serving as a sort of watery motorway for commercial barge traffic between Amsterdam and the Rhine and Germany. Many of the barges are around 2000 tons and this canal is not recommended for sailing dinghies. When when we crossed it we stopped, looked left then right (or should it be right then left) until there was a decent gap in the procession of barges, then we rowed quickly across. We found Utrecht an interesting city with an old university and a number of museums. We rowed down the narrow canal right through the middle of Utrecht, shops and eating places all along the canal banks and bicycles everywhere, picture below. North of Utrecht the waterway becomes a river and takes a winding course, but the current is very slight, at the time we were there I would say undetectable. We took one diversion from the Merwede to head down a side channel into a large lake (certainly more than a mile across) which we found to be much used by pleasure craft, we were one of dozens of sailing boats zig-zagging about on the lake, enjoying a sunney afternoon and a fresh breeze. Numerous minor channels branching off the lake were packed with moorings for pleasure craft and for houseboats which I think were mainly holiday homes.

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Narrow canal through the centre of Utrecht

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We visited a botanical garden in Utrecht and were told that these monster water lily leaves take only a week to grow to full size

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A very traditional Dutch style lifting bridge on the Merwede river

From Muiden we headed out into the Ijsselmeer, or more correctly the Markermeer since in 1975 a dam was built dividing the Ijsselmeer in two and this was the southern part now known as Markermeer. After being on some minor waterways it made a change to find ourselves on water that extended to the horizon and beyond, albeit fresh water. We crossed the southern corner of the Markermeer and headed up the North Sea Canal that leads from the Markermeer via Amsterdam to the North Sea at Hook of Holland.  Passing through Amsterdam, this canal is roughly twice the width of the Thames in central London. We spent an enjoyable, but exhausting, week in Amsterdam visiting all the main museums and art galleries. It is a fascinating city. This is not intended to be a general tourist guide, so I will say no more about all those museums and art galleries. While in Amsterdam we stayed aboard our boat at the Sixhaven marina which was packed with yachts in transit, there were yachts filling all the space between the pontoons as well as alongside the pontoons, the reason being that this is the most convenient marina for visiting the centre of Amsterdam. From Sixhaven marina it is only a few minutes walk to the northern terminal of one of the free ferries that shuttle across the North Sea Canal, then in a few more minutes you arrive outside the central rail station in the heart of the old part of Amsterdam city. It occured to us that it would probably be possible to stay on board a sailing dinghy within the canals in the old part of the city. Although there are a lot of small craft and houseboats moored along these canals, there are some gaps between the moorings big enough for a sailing dinghy but we preferred the marina - it's good to have showers and toilets to hand!

From Amsterdam we continued north along the western shore of Markermeer, stopping at the village of Edam, famous of course for the cheese, then into the Ijsselmeer proper to visit the old fortress town of Enkhuizen. Enkhuizen has a large maritime museum which looked interesting, but we did not manage to get there while it was open, another trip maybe.  All over the Netherlands we saw traditional Dutch sailing barges, kept in sailing order either as individually owned pleasure craft or as charter vessels. These range in size from quite small boats up to a size somewhat larger than the Thames barges that we see on the Essex coast. In the large docks at Enkhuizen we noted a concentration of such craft - along just one quayside there were something like thirty Dutch sailing barges each one about the size of a large Thames sailing barge.

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Barge race on the De Fluezen

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Spectators watch from the shore

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Floating cranes and tugs stand by in case a barge capsizes

We sailed across the Ijsslemeer from Enkhuizen to enter Friesland at Stavoren, then made our way through the maze of canals, rivers and lakes to the historic town of Sneek, pronounced 'Snake'. Although you see lots of people enjoying boating all over the Netherlands, the area of Friesland around Sneek is considered to be a particularly good area for small boats, espeicially sailing boats. One point is that the height of the banks along the waterways in much of Holland is such that you don't get a view of the countryside from a small boat. For some reason, Friesland seems to have slightly lower banks along the waterways so you can often look out over the surrounding fields. While crossing De Fluezen, one of the large lakes in Friesland, we became spectators to a barge race for traditional sailing barges. This was clearly a popular event, there were dozens of spectator craft anchored to one side of the race course, spectators watching the racing while listening to a commentary on local radio. The flat bottomed barges were sailed to the limit, heeling onto the turn of the bilge when beating to windward. We didnt see any barges capsize but we were told that they are quite capsizable and that was the reason for floating cranes being at anchor close by, ready to de-capsize any barge that needed it.

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A Barge carrying a brass band (bottom right) makes its way around the canals in Sneek

Our visit to Friesland coincided with Sneek week, a big regatta with lots of dinghy racing on Sneekermeer, the lake just to the east of Sneek. There were also street festivals and pop concerts in the town of Sneek. We joined a large crowd that were following a barge carrying a brass band around the town canal system.

We sailed through De Alde Feanen, another national park consisting of lakes and interconnecting waterways but less of a wilderness than the Biesbosh since it includes habitations and farmland. Then came the Lauwersmeer, once a tidal estuary on the southern shore of the Waddenzee, now a large freshwater lake bordered on the east by another extensive nature reserve. We passed through the lock from the Lauwersmeer into the Waddenzee, so back into tidal water - indeed very tidal since much of it dries out at low tide giving plenty of opportunity to miss the channels and get stuck - as we found out later.

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In the village on Schiermonnikoog

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The scenary in the nature reserve at the east of the island

It had been our hope from the beginning of this trip that we could cross the Waddensee to visit at least one of the string of islands along the northern side of the Waddensea and we did finally achieve that, entering the yacht harbour on the island of Schiermonnikoog. Schiermonnikoog is an island about 12 miles long and 2.5 miles wide. It is very popular with tourists and the village towards the western end of the island was heaving with tourists (of which we were two of course) at the time of our visit. However, by walking or hiring a bicycle, you can go out to the relatively deserted eastern part of the island which is nature reserve consisting of scrub bushes, rough grazing land and grassed over sand dunes.  A broad beach of white sand extends right along the northern shore and round the western corner.  A Dutchman on a neighbouring yacht told us that Schiermonnikoog is the nicest place in the whole of the Netherlands. His wife said it is the second nicest place, I think she said she preferred Vlieland, another island in the chain, only because she found the harbour less crowded than at Schiermonnikoog. We did enjoy Schiermonnikoog; we hired bicycles (visitors are not allowed motor vehicles) and found that we could make little excursions to the beach or into the nature reserve, then when we felt like it we could just get on the bikes and pop back to the village for a meal or a coffee outside one of the cafes. It is a very nice island as long as you are not looking for hills, but having said that there were some tiny hills. To the north east of the village there are sand dunes that have been overgrown with pine woods and some of these might be as much as 30 feet high - when you have just spent a few weeks on the Dutch waterways a 30 foot high mound can look almost like a mountain!

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At low tide the beach is extensive

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Immaculate barge yachts packed into Schiermonnikoog harbour

From the little we saw of it, the bouyage system in the Waddenzee is comprehensive, but even so we managed to run aground on a falling tide when returning across the Waddenzee to the Dutch mainland.  We came to a branch in the channel. One way was marked with the usual red and green bouys, another way was marked with yellow bouys. Yellow means a special purpose bouy and we were not quite sure what that special purpose might be, with hindsight it should have been pretty obvious that they marked an alternative route. In fact it was the yellow bouys that marked the best channel and having taken the other channel we found the water rapidly disappearing from under our boat. This reminded me of the various times we have been stuck in the Raysand channel in Essex. Due to that error we were about one minute late to catch the last opening that day of the lock into the Lauwersmeer and we had already agreed a date to visit some friends near Leiden on our way home, but we did catch up with our schedule over the next couple of days.

After returning through the Lawersmeer, we chose a free public slipway at the small town of Kollum to haul out our boat then went back to Gorinchem to fetch our car and drive home, stopping on the way back at Leiden and at the DCA Cobnor event in Chichester harbour.

Overal, we thought this was about our best ever holiday. The excellent boating facilities throughout the Netherlands and the helpful advice we received from many Dutch boaters certainly helped a lot. BTW, don't I just hate that term 'boaters', but there is no avoiding it now since it is the term the Royal Yaching Association have adopted for those who indulge in our pastime!