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Saturday, 1 August 2015

Goes - Monnickendam (31 July 2015)

The weather forecast for Monday 19 July foretold of mainly sunny periods. So looking forward to that we slipped our mooring at around 0845 so that we were ready to make progress when the Ringbrug (a small road bridge) was opened at 0900.
St Maartensbrug in Goes - typical small lifting bridge
Three yachts and two cabin cruisers then made their way in convoy down the very attractive Havenkannal, through the bridge at Wilhelmina and on to the lock, the Schutsluis at the mouth. Within 45 minutes we were into the Oosterschelde again, This is the only part of the southern Delta region which remains tidal salt water with a storm surge barrier closing only in times of extreme high water.We firstly motored north making use of some tide on what was a fairly still day with glimpses of the sun. We had to avoid both a large shallow area and a few fishing boats heading towards the sea lock before we turned E into the wide Keeten Mestgat where we headed the wind and dodged sailing boats passing in the other direction as well as keeping just out of the channel used by barges. By now light drizzle had started, so much for the weather forecast! At the end of this long passage we reached Philipsdam and Krammersluizen, a major lock system and known bottleneck. So imagine our pleasure when, as we turned the dog leg into one of the yacht locks (two of those and two for barges and commercial traffic) boats were entering the lock. However we were to be disappointed as the lock was full and four boats reversed out. We all tied up at a waiting pontoon and now a steady flow of boats began to join us. A Dutchman tied up alongside us who had just failed to get into the lock) explained that one of the yacht locks had failed in the last few days and was awaiting repairs. There was about a 45 minute wait before the lock was ready for east bound traffic again. By then we had a third boat outside of us, one that had arrived midway through our wait, but had steamed past other moored and rafted boats to the head of the queue. There were some serious conversations apparently taking place between Dutch sailors as clearly only about a third or half the boats waiting would be able to get into this lock. Then, just before the gates opened to let west bound boats depart an announcement over the lock loudspeaker to the effect that boats were to enter the lock "in the order that they arrived". An announcement that was made in Dutch, Flemish and English. Of course boats were not moored rigidly in that order but in the surge forward that followed we made sure that we were not too far behind our position. One noticeable boat that got in the lock was a big traditional Dutch barge which was long and wide and which had arrived relatively late. We learnt later at another lock that this had caused a lot of ill feeling as the young men on this had clearly pushed in! There is not much change in the height of the water in the Krammersluizen but you are in the lock for about 20 minutes. That is because the lock acts as a barrier between the salt water Oosterschelde and the fresh water Volkerak. To protect the habitat and wildlife the locks have to exchange the salt water for fresh and vice-versa to protect the eco systems. Very clever. On exiting the Krammersluizen we saw dozens and dozens of small craft waiting for the lock so a much bigger queue going the other way!
We then headed to the Volkerak, another wide water course with a channel about 6m deep, and on to our final lock the Volkeraksluizen, again with different locks for small craft and barges. Here we had another wait for traffic coming west and it was around 1630 (with the rain just beginning to stop) before we entered the lock under a huge road bridge about 20m above us. On leaving we said goodbye to a Dutch couple in a small yacht who had been with us since before the Krammersluizen and then had to cut across busy streams of big barges going to and from their locks to enter the harbour at Willemstad. The passage had been 30nm but had taken most of the day. The harbour was very busy and we ended up rafted three out in a small space but from which we enjoyed the view of the 18th century windmill.
18th Century windmill (now a residence) above harbour in Willemstad
Another attractive but very small town, named after William of Orange, and with star shaped fortifications which we walked along. We found an unpretentious restaurant in the town and I tried Dutch Mussels which naturally came with chips but also three dipping sauces for the chips.
We decided that we had seen most of Willemstad and that it was very crowded and so after a quick visit to the supermarket at 0915LT we slipped our mooring and slowly edged our way through moored boats on what was to be, thankfully, a sunny day!
Willemstad is said to be the beginning of the Standing Mast route, the canals through the spine of the Netherlands where you can travel through lifting bridges. As we left Willemstad we were able to unfurl our genoa and motor sail E along the wide Hollands Diep. We watched the very busy barge traffic from just outside their channel and so when we did have to cross the channel at the entrance to the narrower Dordtse Kil we did so quickly ducking behind some relatively large and fast moving barges. But in this narrower channel barges slowed to around 7kn whereas the cruisers and sailing boats travelled in a procession closer to the banks at about 5.5kn. Our major obstacle on this day was the railway bridge at Dordrecht which only opens at fixed times. We arrived and tied up to the waiting pontoon about 45 minutes before the opening at 1312. Another impressive bridge, this one lifts the rail tracks between four steel pillars to provide 24m clearance. Through that and into the small WV Maartensgat marina, described as quieter than the other town marina.
Whileaway (stern) in WV Maartensgat, overlooked by 18th century town houses.
With a day and a half to explore Dordrecht we initially learnt much about its history from a visit to the Grote Kerk and its associated tower. For a start it is the oldest city of Holland (the western part of the Netherlands); it was where there was a gathering of representatives from 12 cities in 1572 that led to independence from Spain and the establishment of the Netherlands; and here also the Dutch translation of the Bible was agreed by a Synod in 1619. The Grote Kerk and Tower buildings are on the edge of Maartensgat. Construction began in the early 14th century, but when part completed 100 years later (liquidated damages claim must have been high!) it was seriously damaged by fire. Rebuilding started and was completed in 1626. But the tower is shorter than intended as it began to subside during construction (another claim?). During the 1950's the slow subsidence was halted but the Tower is now 2.25m off plumb at the summit and you can notice that as we climbed the 275 steps to the top of the tower. The climb is interesting, up a brick spiral staircase for much of the way and we were rewarded with a superb view.
Dordrecht historic centre; Maartensgat marina in foreground
Like many other Churches this tower also houses a carillon, in this case Europe's largest "and most sonorous". Although Maartensgat claimed to be quieter this ignored the fact that the carillion played twice an hour throughout the day and the chiming of the hours continued throughout the night!
Dordrecht has over 900 listed buildings and 700 municipal monuments as well as attractive streets.

Dordrecht houses and, in centre, the Tower.
The Grote Kerk Tower was not the only leading building. Many of the historic buildings in the city center leant outwards or inwards, very noticeable when adjacent to newer buildings, or those with stronger foundations.

Leaning buildings.
We also took a long cycle ride out to the nature reserve of the Biesbosch in reclaimed land. The cycle paths themselves are excellent but regrettably signing is not to such a high standard so we missed our route a few times.
On Thursday we set off for Gouda. The first obstruction was a major road bridge on the north side of the city with an opening at 1015. Over the following 3 hours we headed first towards Rotterdam and then turned north up the Hollands IJssel where we passed through one lock, an open flood gate, one railway bridge and another two road bridges. The marina at Gouda was very full but the very amusing Havenmeeester said that the boat before us (a very helpful Dutch couple) and ourselves could stay the night on his pontoon. So on a sunny afternoon we explored Gouda with its busy town centre, historic and attractive buildings and lovely streets, some with water courses.

Attractive Gouda street
Particularly impressive buildings were the town hall and the De Waag (Weigh House) the latter with every variety of gouda cheese that you might imagine. Plenty of other cheese shops too.

Plenty of Gouda here
We had noticed many herons on the river bank. What did surprise us was one in the centre of Gouda looking for fish in one of the waterways within feet of passers by and not even flinching.

Heron at work, studying fish amongst the lilypads
Friday saw us heading north in a convoy in a convoy of 4 yachts. You end up in a convoy as on joining the canal at Gouda we had to wait for the timed opening of a railway bridge. Many of the subsequent bridges which taller boats need lifting open "on demand" but you have to go through together as the bridge keeper invariably waits until everyone is present! At times this channel was quite narrow but we still had to make room for barges passing the other way. The 17nm took us 5 hours and involved opening of 4 railway bridges and 10 road bridges, some more quickly than others. After passing through a large inland lake (the Braassemeer) we reached Kaag island and with the yacht that we had travelled with from Gouda we decided to stop there. This was because the next bridge (a railway one) was not available until 1840, nearly 3 hours hence. Better to have a break on a small holiday island and set off again for the 0839 opening the next morning. It was a lovely sunny evening but with strong winds (coming from a low over UK moving E) forecast for Saturday. Indeed at that stage winds of 40+kn were predicted. We kept our options open but after a wet night the forecast had tempered the winds down to 30+kn in the afternoon and the morning was sunny and winds around F4 (about 15kn). So we set off for the 15nm ot Haaleem. After the railway bridge we (and the two other yachts with us) passed through the countryside with just three opening bridges until we reached the edge of Haarlem. By then though the wind was strengthening and becoming more gusty. There was no available mooring space as we passed through the half dozen bridges in the city centre so we headed towards a small club on the northern perimeter. En route, and for the first time, we had to pay a levy for the raising of the bridges. This is payable at an electronic machine prior to the last bridge. The machine only accepts payment by Maestro Card, which are not common in UK and we certainly don't have. Luckily a bridge keeper arriving at the office by the machine took my 10 Euro and said that he would phone his colleague in the next bridge to clear us which he did,. By now it was raining heavily and winds were gusting to 35+kn (F7/8) and handling the boat was difficult in the squalls. So much for easy sailing inland! Andrea rang ahead to the Yacht Club who said that they had space. To our relief the HM was waiting for us at the end of a pontoon and as the wind got even stronger he was then joined by a couple of other members whose help was invaluable in securing us alongside the HM pontoon. During the following few hours the winds continued to gust strongly and we had all mooring lines doubled up. It was not until the early evening that the wind dropped to F4/5 and occasionally the sun came out.
After the gales of Saturday the wind had dropped to 15kn (F4) by early Sunday morning. So we moved Whileaway from her emergency berth on the HM pontoon to another part of the marina. Here we were with the ducks, geese, grebes etc and in the hazy sunshine we enjoyed the views across the lake.
Scenic mooring at Haarlemsche Jachtclub
We then took advantage of the loan of bikes from the Yacht Club to cycle into Haarlem to explore its many fine buildings and squares. We were particularly impressed with the Windmill De Adriaan, right on the bank of the canal in the city centre. It is a “smock mill”, a wooden towered mill built in 1778 on the foundations of an ancient defensive tower. Its presence came to a dramatic end in 1932 when the wooden windmill was destroyed by fire. However decades later, by 2002, local enthusiasts had rebuilt the windmill to the original design. It is now a working (occasionally) monument and during a guided tour we learnt much about De Adriaan and Dutch windmills in general. It has been recreated to a very high standard and you can see all the engineering mechanisms that are powered by the sails.
De Adrianne windmill, Haarlem
You also get a good view of Haarlem from the stage 12m above the river. This is also the platform from which the guide demonstrated how he could climb the sails when it is necessary to increase or reduce canvas. He did only climb a few steps though!

Haarlem from De Adrianne balcony
After a late lunch in a restaurant at the Grote Market light rain began and we decided to call in at a supermarket for supplies en route to the Yacht Club. Needless to say the rain increased and so by the time we were back at the boat we were again drenched. The rain stopped shortly afterwards!
The forecast for Monday had been for stronger winds (F5/6) and rain (of course). Our next destination was Amsterdam. Only 10nm but we had to pass through a lock and then a busy motorway bridge that only opened a few times a day. The first of these openings is at 1030 on weekdays. We were philosophical about the rain (coming to Holland this year it seems that you have to be) but we didn't want to be caught out in storm and near gale conditions so soon after the last episode!
On Monday morning we agonised over whether to go. Looking at the various web sites I use on my phone by the HM Office (for best reception) I could see that the general consensus was not good, still up to F6. The always jolly HM passing by said “you can stay another day”; looking at the forecasts I said that those for Tuesday were worse so it would mean two days. “Good, you are welcome” was the response! What was also clear was that the wind would increase significantly in the afternoon so if we were to go it would have to be this morning. OK, full kit on, let’s go for it! At 0900 we slipped the mooring and out of the lake towards the lock where one other yacht was waiting. About 10 minutes later two other yachts joined us,
We were all keeping an eye on the time as the major potential impediment to progress was shortly after the lock at the Brug Rijksweg A9 bridge. This carries the major trunk route, the A9, over the canal. Because the road is so busy the bridge only opens three times a day, the first opening on this day being 1030LT. The wind gusted to 25kn, heavy rain fell, the gates opened and we were admitted to the lock,  This was the first lock were you had to pay – Sluisgeld – and Andrea went up the steps to the lock keepers control room to hand over 3.50 Euro. This included (for the last 10 cents) 1 and 2 cent coins. Apparently these were unacceptable and they didn't want them! However they let us off, took 3.40 and gave us a receipt for 3.50!
Only about another mile to the motorway bridge. Here we had a 45 minute wait so we tied up to a freestanding wooden wall provided in the Netherlands at such places. We were now five, one other yacht having already been waiting. Wind gusts to about 25kn every five minutes or so were continuing and in the heavy showers with horizontal rain the visibility reduced sharply. Thankfully not long after 1030 the traffic was stopped and we processed through the lifted bridge with good speed. Within another couple of miles we reached the very busy Noordzeecanaal which runs from the coast at Ijmuiden to Amsterdam and beyond. There is constant barge traffic as you pass oil and gas refineries, sand and gravel plants and other sea port industrial installations. 
Rain continues as barge with large cranes crosses Noordzeecanal ahead of us
We were headed for the relatively new Amsterdam Marina and with the wind now behind us the gusting had less impact although it was now touching 30kn from time to time. About 1330, with not a little difficulty coping with the wind we were, thankfully, tied up in the marina. That afternoon and the next day the wind was very fierce at times and so everyone was staying put.
We took advantage of the free ferry across the canal to the city centre being landed at the Central Station which is having major improvement works behind its impressive 19th century facade. We sought out a marine book store not far from the station and purchased a set of Dutch charts that we needed for north Netherlands. Then we wandered round the city centre remembering some of the places that we had visited before.
Houseboats in Amsterdam
On Tuesday morning, in strong winds, we cycled about 30 minutes to Orange Nautical Services whom we had previously been in email contact with. The plan is for Whileaway to stay inside their large shed for the winter, an experiment on our part. This will mean that next spring we start from here as we head further north and east. It will be necessary to step (remove) Whileway’s mast and she will then be treated to avoiding the winter weather in a shed heated to about 5C. The cost is competitive with outside winter berthing in the UK. Orange can organise maintenance. They had been recommended to us by David Hailes, another Cruising Association member. The visit was hugely reassuring, not only was everything we asked possible but they are clearly a professional and very friendly outfit.
Later we returned to the city and for our treat had dinner at a French restaurant, Cote Ouest, where we could enjoy moules, poisson and various other traditional plates.
The forecast for Wednesday was not good. Thursday a little better. But we were flying home Friday so we had to get to Monnickendam ideally on Wednesday, certainly by Thursday. On Wednesday morning the wind was quieter and the forecast was less threatening than previously albeit still F5 gusting F6. Another discussion and agreement to go.
Threading our way through ferries and barges in Amsterdam
Once again the wind was behind us as we made our way through Amsterdam arriving at the Orangesluizen, the main lock, at around 0900. Wind was a steady F5 so acceptable. The lock was interesting in that the water height difference can only have been centimetres! A short wait at the subsequent road bridge and then we were free! Well free of locks and bridges as we headed into the Markermeer and unfurled the genoa. Just as well we had the genoa well reefed as the wind increased, not falling below 20kn and gusting to 33kn (F7). After three hours we entered Yachthaven Waterland and lined up, in fierce winds, for our allotted berth. It was a box mooring and we wedged firmly between the posts with no prospect of reaching the pontoon. Following discussions with the Marina Office we were offered a choice of alternatives which we could get into and so we berthed.
Monnickendam old harbour
Monnickendam has a beautiful old town centre with newer developments outside this. It has a lovely small town or large village feel. It was originally a fishing village but now it mainly focuses on smoked fish as well as marinas (three) and yacht maintenance services.
The Tower dominates the main square
Naturally Monnickendam has its Tower and its carillon! This one has an unusual feature in that on the hour jousting knights revolve!
The knights are below the piper and the clock
Here we have left Whileaway until September. So that was the end of our second leg sailing during which we covered 405nm. More significantly from a time perspective, since entering the Netherlands two weeks earlier we had coped with 10 locks, 40 lifting road bridges and 8 lifting railway bridges. It had certainly been different to our usual passages and we had enjoyed visiting some very attractive towns. When we return we will stay north of Amsterdam in the Markermeer and the Ijsselmeer and perhaps another part of the Standing Mast route.