To the Frisian Islands - September 2014

friesian islands map medium

This was the first foreign HSC dinghy cruise.  Although groups of HSC members have in the past road trailed boats to France to take part in big sailing festivals this was the first time that we planned a foreign cruise ourselves and included it in our club program. So, in mid September 2014, we road trailed two dinghies via cross channel ferries to the Netherlands. We stopped off at Den Helder where we visited the large naval museum then continued to a camp site outside Harlingen, an old port on the Waddenzee. John and Josephine had their fifteen foot home built and home designed sailing dinghy and Gerald had his Drascombe Dabber dinghy with Mark as crew.

den helder museum

Josephine takes control of a Dutch submarine at the Den Helder naval museum

After pitching tents on the campsite we wondered where we might launch our boats, then realised that there was a canal running right alongside the camp site - canals run pretty well everywhere in Friesland. So in the morning we launched into that canal and rowed through the canal network to Harlingen, then a big mechanised lock took us into tidal water. It would be at least a 20 mile open water sail to the island of Vlieland but we had several hours of fair tide to help and an easterly breeze - ideal to get there, if not to get back. Much of the Waddenzee dries at low tide, so we were following winding channels between extensive sand banks - see sketch map above. It was a slightly hazy day so we were out of sight of land for much of the passage but the important channels are very well marked. There were also plenty of local boats to show the way, these including large inter-island ferries and many lovely traditional Dutch sailing barges carrying charter parties or youth groups. At one point John and Josephine started to explore a possible short cut across the sand banks but no one else seemed to be going that way so they turned back and re-joined Gerald and Mark in the Dabber.

gerald sailing harlingen to vlieland

Gerald and Mark on the psasage from Harlingen to Vlieland, typical Dutch barge behind

Boating facilities are generally excellent throughout the Netherlands. At Vlieland harbour we had a choice of visitors pontoons, all in as new condition and the wash rooms were immaculate. The harbour and entrance channel are dredged so boats can enter and stay afloat at all tide states - very convenient. John and Josephine put up their boat tent for the night whereas Gerald and Mark went to find the local camp site. Gerald does have a plan for a hoop style tent on his Dabber but this is still a work in progress, but that didnt matter since there were pleasant campsites just a short walk from the harbours we visited.

vlieland campsite

Vlieland has a spacious campsite in the sand dunes

The following day we felt we deserved a break from sailing and hired bicycles to tour the island. As with the other Friesland islands, there is a wide expanse of clean sandy beach all along the NW shore. Above the beach there are sand dunes and going further inland the sand dunes become small hills overgrown with scrub bushes and woodland. These are only tiny hillocks, but when you have become accustomed to the totally flat country of most of the Dutch lowlands they seem quite impressive, especially if you are an inexperienced cyclist as some of our party were. There is also a pretty little village offering a choice of bars and restaurants.

vlieland 01

Exploring Vlieland on hired bicycles - this is the main street in the village on the island

From Vlieland we sailed to Terschelling, the next island in the Friesland island chain. There is a long sand bank blocking the straight line route between Vlieland and Terschelling harbours. Our slightly out of date paper chart showed a channel through this sand bank but our Ipad electronic chart suggested that this channel no longer existed. We found that there is actually a small gap in the sand bank marked with two small yellow buoys, presumably the remains of the proper channel from a few years ago. With our shallow draft boats we were able to squeeze through this gap at about half flood, a welcome short cut to Terschelling.

geralds boat entering terschelling

Geralds boat - right with brown sail - entering Terschelling harbour - lighthouse to left

navigation buoys at tesschelling

 Spare navigation bouys stacked on the quayside at Terschelling

in terschelling harbour

John and Josephine's boat with tent in Terschelling harbour

Terschelling harbour is used by large ferries and many large sailing barges and it also has a marina with excellent facilities. Again, we hired bicycles and spent the next day exploring the island. This is a larger island than Vlieland and in a day of cycling we covered only about half the length of it. There is a prominent light house - a huge brick built tower that stands in the centre of the town at West-Terschelling. Although late in the season it was a really hot sunny day and a couple of us tried to swim in the wild breakers coming in from the North Sea, the others were content with just a paddle, then we all headed to a beach cafe for lunch.

with hired bicyles on terschelling

Exploring Terschelling with hired bicycles - this is in the extensive nature reserve at the east of the island

cycle park

 Lots of cycle parking and recycling bins in the Netherlands

terscelling beach

The beaches on the north sea side of the Frisian islands stretch for miles

terscelling beach 02

Some of us tried to swim in the North Sea, but it was a bit rough (and cold)

Over the past few days the wind had remained persistently from the east, but by moving north from Vlieland to Terschelling we hoped to avoid a dead beat back to Harlingen even if the wind direction refused to shift. In the event, the wind for our return passage to Harlingen was light and a little to the north of east, so we did minimal tacking. We left just before low tide to benefit from the flood carrying us in towards the mainland and this also had the advantage that the sand banks bordering the channels were still uncovered for much of the passage, so we had a very calm sea. The wind did eventually drop to nothing leaving us rowing for the last few miles - all good exercise.  As you may notice from the picture below, there was an engine on Gerald's boat but I can assure you that we were pure sail and oar since Gerald had forgotten to bring any petrol!


Sailing in company on a calm Waddenzee

We were back on the mainland with a couple of days to spare before our return car ferries so we became conventional tourists and took the opportunity to visit some of the picturesque old cities of the Netherlands including Leewarden and Dokkum in Friesland and Delft in Holland.

There may well be further HSC foreign trips in future - details will be announced on our website