Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Continuing on to Scheveningen

We got the instruments back from the Raymarine service people today, but they couldn’t find anything wrong with the instruments themselves. After reinstalling them, John still couldn’t get them to work properly, so we’re sailing to Scheveningen tomorrow (easy sail, within sight of land, and we do have our e-charts and handheld GPS) so that we can have the service people come to the boat and find the problem in situ. It’s so frustrating—especially to John—when there’s a clearly a problem, but we can’t find what it is. John does a really good job keeping the systems going, but sometimes, you just need to call a specialist.

We’ve had quite a bit of company since we returned to Holland. Marike came Sunday and treated us to a nice lunch at a beach restaurant. The weather was warm, but not too hot, and we had a great visit. That evening Claire and Menno, friends from Democrats Abroad Netherlands, stopped by, and it was fun to talk with them too. We also heard from Esmeralda today and Sjoerd yesterday. Maybe we’ll see Esmeralda this weekend in Scheveningen. I don’t know when we’ll hook up with Sjoerd, but I hope we work something out.

There are a couple museums in Den Haag (The Hague) that we’d like to visit while we’re in Scheveningen. It’s supposed to be stormy Thursday, and the service people can’t come to the boat until Friday at the earliest, so we’ll have at least a day to explore.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Back in Holland after some adventures

When we left Helgoland, we had a plan A and a plan B. Plan A was to sail to Scheveningen if we had favorable winds. Plan B was to go in at Den Helder if we didn’t have good winds and then go through the IJsselmeer to Amsterdam and the North Sea Canal, emerging again at IJmuiden and skipping most of North Holland’s North Sea coast. Plan B was recommended to us by a couple of Dutch sailors who stopped by the boat in Helgoland. They were heading to Terschelling and also advised us when the best time to leave Helgoland was.

We ended up devising a third plan en route. When we left Helgoland, at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, the 21st, we didn’t have optimal wind, so we motor-sailed slowly in the direction we wanted to go. Our first adventure happened just across the shipping lanes into the Elbe River: we heard strange sounds from the engine compartment—never a good thing. John opened the compartment and told me to shut off the engine immediately. The alternator belt (like a fan belt in a car) was separating. It hadn’t broken yet—thank goodness—but it needed to be replaced, and we had a spare. We had favorable current and a little wind, so I nursed us past the ships in the anchorage at about two knots while John changed the belt.

After that everything was slow and a little boring except for during my midnight to 3 a.m. watch when the wind kicked up from about 40° to starboard. Good enough. I shut down the engine and we had a nice sail for four or five hours doing over seven knots with favorable current.

Then it got boring and slow again until about Ameland. (I tried to find a map for a geography lesson, but not everywhere I mention shows on the same map. You can Google the Frisian Islands and click the map link for the islands and Google other places individually if you're interested.) The seas started building, along with wind on our nose, and the current wasn’t helping either. We bashed along, tacking across the inshore traffic zone along with about a half dozen other sailboats that we could see. At one point a boat in front of us started behaving oddly, and we started gaining on it. I was at the helm while John tried to get some rest below, and I wasn’t at all sure what was going on. We had plenty of wind by then and were doing over six knots, so I shut down the engine to slow us up so that we wouldn’t get too close. It turned out that the other boat was reefing. When I started seeing sustained winds over 20 knots, I called John and we reefed too.

Soon we heard a gale warning from the Dutch coast guard radio station. The quality of the transmission was terrible, so we couldn’t hear the details. By next we were near the passage that could take us into the Waddenzee between Terschelling and Vlieland, so I thought that was an option if necessary, but it wasn’t too bad yet, so we went past it.

And then the GPS on the chartplotter quit working. Except it wasn’t only the GPS that quit: it was all of the instruments feeding information to the chartplotter including the radar. At this point we were bouncing around on the three-meter (10-foot) waves pretty good, double-reefed and using only the staysail for a head sail. We do have paper charts as back-up and a hand-held GPS, which is attached to our AIS, so we knew where we were, where the big ships were, and whether we were likely to run into each other, and we could see the islands. I figured out that we could use the electronic charts on the chartplotter (the only part of that bit of Raymarine equipment that was still working) and plot our progress using coordinates from the hand-held GPS.

This all worked out because we were using the wind-based steering on the autopilot, and that still worked. Since we sail short-handed—just the two of us—whoever isn’t on watch during passages needs to try to sleep, so whoever is on watch is basically single-handing most of the time. It definitely keeps you awake when you have to run down below to get your position and plot it every 15 minutes or so. It also means that you don’t want to attempt any tricky navigation.

During my watch we were still tacking back and forth because we don’t have enough engine power (it was back on) to go into the wind and against the current. When the positions I plotted after tacking started being behind where they were on the previous tack, I woke John because I didn’t know what to do. I actually thought that the engine wasn’t working.

John checked and confirmed that the engine was actually turning the propeller shaft, but we didn’t have enough sail up to make progress. The 30-knot winds that I had seen for awhile were gone, and we were back around 20 or less, so we brought out the jib. That helped enough, and eventually the current changed, and we made it around the corner (Vlieland and Texel).

I swapped watches with John so that he could get some uninterrupted sleep and I could get rid of my darkest watch (midnight to 3 a.m.), which I usually hate, in return for John’s two half-dark watches on either side. When I went off watch at midnight, we talked about whether we should attempt to get into Den Helder through a narrow channel with strong currents or just go on to IJmuiden on the outside. We decided to see how it was going when the time came to make a decision. That was during John’s watch, and he told me when I came back on that there had been a passenger ship circling outside the channel waiting for the current to change, so he decided to continue on. Wise man.

The rest of the passage was uneventful, and we’re now at the Marina Seaport in IJmuiden. We’ve paid through tomorrow night and may decide to stay longer. If the wind is favorable, we may decide to go on to Scheveningen. We can do that with our paper charts and hand-held GPS, or even with a compass because we would be within sight of land the whole time. We’ll see.

Today we took public transportation (bus, bus, train, bus) to the Raymarine service center in Leiden and dropped off our defective chartplotter and autopilot control (because the autopilot control was also misbehaving). Marko at De Jong & Zoon will call us when he knows more (probably Tuesday). Meanwhile, we’re considering doing more sightseeing, maybe taking the fast ferry into Amsterdam to visit friends. We’re flexible.

By the way, to those who look for our position reports on Yotreps or ShipTrak when we’re underway, we apologize. We were unable to get a good enough connection on the short-wave radio to post updates on the last passage (or get weather files or e-mail either). We’re actually too close to the station we need to connect with. It’s in Belgium, so we’re likely to be out of touch unless we have Internet until we get to Normandy.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Helgoland revisited

It was kind of nice to come to a place where we had been before and knew what to expect in terms of docking. We expected huge raft-ups. When we were here in May the rafts were already five deep. Now in the height of the season, they're still only five deep. Whether it's the less than beautiful summer weather or the recession, I can't say, but it's been nice for us. We anchored out the first night, but since then we've been the boat on the dock in our rafts.

We had planned to leave today, but the wind continued a bit strong for us and the water is quite rough. One of our neighbors is going the same general direction we are, and he said tomorrow is supposed to be good, so we're both leaving at noon. A couple of Dutch boats are also heading back to The Netherlands and leaving tomorrow mid-morning.

This time we've actually explored Helgoland a bit. The island has three levels: lower, middle and upper. Last time we only saw the lower level, but this time we also went to the upper level and walked along the cliffs. If it weren't for the duty-free fuel and alcohol, there wouldn't be much tourism, but it is pretty in a non-tropical-island-in-the-middle-of-nowhere kind of way.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

If there is wind, it's on our nose

We are now anchored at Helgoland. Getting here was a combination of motoring in light winds or sailing in stiff winds on a close reach. As Shirlee noted with winds under 10 knots a close reach is not uncomfortable, but with 15 to 20 knots the only comfort to be found is on the downwind settee. As the winds built we rolled up the jib and used the staysail. Tomorrow we will top up with fuel and food then wait for our next weather window to continue southwest.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Slowly sailing down the west coast of Denmark

We left Hirtshals yesterday morning at 10 o'clock. Any hope we had of maintaining our theoretical 5 knot average vanished instantly as both the wind and the current were on our nose. Even motor-sailing with the main and staysail (because it doesn't make as much noise as the jib when we get too close to the wind), we couldn't quite do 4 knots. On the plus side, with so little wind, there were no uncomfortable waves to deal with.

Finally this morning around 5:30 we got enough wind to turn the engine off and really sail, but except for one squally period, we're barely getting up to 5 knots. Weather forecasts and GRIB files continue to get it wrong here. Oh well, as long as the winds are light, we can deal with them. Our arrival in Helgoland will probably be Friday morning, though, rather than Thursday evening.


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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Kiel Canal was a great idea

As we get ourselves around the Jutland peninsula and back down to Helgoland, we can appreciate why the Germans built the Kiel Canal. Now that we’re committed to going around, we sort of wish we’d taken the canal back out. But we wanted to sail, and we thought we’d get to do more of that—and less docking—by going around. And we will get to do more sailing. We just have to wait for the right weather window to do it.

Geography lesson: Helgoland is circled in red; the Kiel Canal is drawn in blue; Hirtshals is near the top; Helsingør is where Denmark almost touches Sweden (Click on the map for a larger view.)

Meanwhile, we’re waiting in Hirtshals. The marina here is small and a little primitive, but it’s half the cost of Skagen, and it’s on the west side, so part of the hard part is behind us.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Leaving Helsingør

John is still suffering from the cold or flu that he’s had since we arrived in Helsingør. His fever, which was never very high, is down, but he’s coughing more. Nevertheless, we’re leaving here today and heading out on an overnight passage to the island of Læsø.

Læsø is the biggest island in the Kattegat and the farthest north. We had thought that we would leave here a couple of days ago and anchor out in the Swedish west coast islands for a couple of nights, but we’re eager to get back to the English Channel and do some exploring there, so we’re pushing on. After a day in Læsø, we hope to catch a weather window to get us through the Skagerrak, into the North Sea, and down to Helgoland without stopping. That’s a three-day sail. We have identified harbors where we can duck in if we get too tired or if the weather changes.

Castle from the town side across the moat

We haven’t done much in Helsingør except rest, but we did manage to get to the castle the other day. We were right on time to catch two tours in English. The first tour was of the casements, the area beneath the walls, and included Holger the Dane. Legend has it that this sleeping medieval warrior will awake to save Denmark when the time comes. The other tour was of the royal chambers and ballroom. The ballroom was the site of a display of modern royal tapestries, which seemed to annoy the guide, but we liked it.

Statue of Holger the Dane in the casements

Ballroom with tapestry exhibit

After the tours we also visited the maritime museum there, went up in one of the towers, and wandered around some more. It’s a really big castle with a great view and important history as guardian of the narrow passage (4 km) between Denmark and Sweden. Before the Kiel Canal, this was the primary entrance to the Baltic, and it still sees lots of traffic from big ships.

Castle lighthouse as seen from the tower

Cannons guarding the strait (they still work)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Taking a break in Helsingør

John is under the weather, so we’re taking a break today and staying on the boat instead of going to see the castle as we had planned. That gives me a chance to catch up on the blog. We hope to see the castle tomorrow before we leave.


We found the marina at Kastrup Strandpark near the Copenhagen airport a pleasant and convenient place to stay for a few days, both as a base to visit Copenhagen and as a place to do some work on the boat. I won’t bore the non-sailors with the details of this little-known marina, but I will write it up for the Seven Seas Cruising Association so other sailors will know about it.

One of our first sights in Copenhagen was this military group marching down the street in traffic in full dress.

Our first day in Copenhagen we bought a day pass for the DFDS Canal Tours and hop-off/hop-on canal buses. That gave us an overview of the city and a nice sea breeze to cool us off. Yes, we did see the Little Mermaid statue. In fact, we walked all along the harbor area there and also saw the polar bear statue and two impressive fountains. Did you know there’s also a statue of a merman and his family? A woman passenger on the canal tour told us about it, so we went to see it too. It’s in the water by the Højbro at Ved Stranden in the Gammel Strand area.

The little mermaid and American friends

Trekroner Fortress is only accessible by boat. It's on the DFDS green route.

Location of merman statue circled in blue

The next day we started by climbing to the top of Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Savior's Church), which we learned about on our tour the day before, for a view of the city. It was spectacular and well worth climbing the 400 steps. I’m glad we started with that, though, because I don’t think I would have had the energy later.

View from Our Savior's Church

From there we went to Christiania, Copenhagen’s hippy town. John had heard of it before, but I learned about it from our friends Lex and Maria. Maria wrote about it in her blog last summer. It was a beautiful day, but I confess didn’t find Christiania appealing. John had a beer and I had some ice cream, and then we set off to find the Geological Museum.

To get to the museum, we got back on the metro or subway. We had purchased a three-zone klippenkort (a 10-ride public transportation card that can be shared) to get from the marina to the city and back, but we didn't want to waste it on a one-zone trip. At the ticket machine, all I could find was two- and three-zone tickets, so we shrugged and concluded that one zone was free like fareless square in Portland. (We learned later that it’s a two-zone minimum, not free, but by then we were headed out of town anyway.)

The Geological Museum was pretty good. It had several exhibitions that were in both Danish and English, and we appreciated that. They included some interesting multimedia displays about meteorites and asteroids. We had hoped to visit more museums in Copenhagen, but by the time we wandered through the botanical gardens to get to the Geological Museum and then spent some time there, it was getting late, so we just went to a brewpub called Brew Pub and then home. On the first day we visited the Museum of Danish Resistance (1940-1945). It was quite impressive, and admission was free.

Botanical gardens

The next two days we worked on the boat. Oh, the glamor of cruising. Most of the 4th of July we spent motoring from Kastrup to Helsingør. There was no wind until we were almost at the castle, and then it was against us. What a busy place the waterway between Helsingør (Denmark) and Helsingborg (Sweden) is! We had to turn off our course to let four ferries go by—three going one way and one the other. Plus, there were lots of pleasure craft out on a hot Saturday afternoon.

We haven’t decided where we’ll go when we leave here. So much depends on the weather at this point. I’ve plotted out a route that takes us to Sweden and one that doesn’t. I guess it will just be a surprise to everyone.