Our First (Unplanned) Cruise, Part 1
Our original plan was to start cruising in April of 2016, leisurely making our way across northern Europe to finally end up in Sweden. That would have given us plenty of time to invite various friends and family onboard to share our first-ever cruising season on Freja.
That plan came to an abrupt end when Alistair, the former marketing manager at Discovery, asked us if were interested in showing the boat at the Orust “Öppna Varv” boat show in August, 2015.
The first thing we did was to immediately contact Adams Boatcare in Sweden to ask if there was indeed a place for us this winter (2015-2016) in one of their heated sheds. We got a “yes” only because they had just signed a contract to take over a new boatyard that’s about three time larger. Yay!
Only then did we agree that Freja could be the “model” for the show. The only thing thing we asked of Discovery in return was that they provide two people to help us get the boat to Sweden, as it was a bit late for rounding up two sailing friends who had time to sign on as crew. In addition, we were complete newbies regarding the boat and it’s about 1’000 nautical miles from Southampton to Orust. And we had only about a week to get there.
We christened Freja on August 10th together with John and Caroline Charley, the owners of the Discovery Yard, two other Discovery owners from Switzerland, as well as the entire owner care team. We then set off from Southampton’s Ocean Village Marina on the 11th. Our mission was to arrive in Ellös, Sweden on the 19th. That gave us one week plus two days’ margin for bad weather or for anything going wrong on the boat. That’s not much margin.
Admiring one of our christening gifts from Discovery.
Tuesday the 11th of August dawned grey and still. We had exactly 0 knots of wind.
We rose early to get the boat ready and to make an enormous pot of beef stew that we would be able to eat under way whenever we got hungry.
I’d bought one of those Wonderbag cookers. It acts as a slow cooker. It’s essentially a huge, heavily-insulated bag for your pot. Use a pot with two short handles on either side – it won’t fit otherwise. You bring whatever you’re cooking to a simmer and the then turn off the heat. Put your pot into the Wonderbag and the meal continues to simmer for the next four hours or so.
It kept our stew piping hot for six hours. It’s going to save us so much propane/butane in the future, as we love to eat comfort food like hearty soups, stews and chile con carne while under way — at least during the cooler months of the year.
We bought a set of Sistema “Soup-to-Go” mugs to make it easier to eat in the cockpit while under way. They’re as large as a soup bowl, and have a handle so you can keep a good grip on the them.
As we made our way down the perfectly flat calm of Southampton Water and the eastern Solent, the realisation that we really had our own sailboat started to sink in. We were finally on our first cruise. After more than a year in build, Freja was now a reality. Four years of planning and preparation had brought us here!
Our crew for the trip was Mark, the sales manager at Discovery, and Liz, a design engineer. Liz was especially keen to come along because despite having designed plenty of things on various Discovery yachts, she had never actually cruised on one. Both Mark and Liz are excellent sailors and we were delighted to have them onboard.
As we passed Portsmouth and exited the Solent, we decided to use our autopilot as we were now on a straight course for our next waypoint. Hand steering under motor in 0 knots of wind is not exactly interesting.
The autopilot was not very cooperative — it wanted to send the boat back to Southampton and put us into a 180° turn! We tried to get it to work several more times with the same result. We then switched to autopilot two. Same problem.
We got on the phone to Furuno UK to troubleshoot, and Dan at Furuno determined that there must be a wiring problem. Mark got on the phone with Greenham Regis Marine Electronics (thank you Iridium phone service) and they decided the best thing to do was to send a technician out to the boat to sort things out (the installation of the system had been outsourced to them).
We had already started to eat up those two days’ margin!
In the meantime, Liz, being the brilliant engineer that she is, came to the conclusion that the wiring of the autopilots had been criss-crossed. The autopilot one controller had been wired to the autopilot two motor and vice-versa. (The subject of why we order two independent autopilots: the subject of a future post.)
So instead of continuing up the English Channel, we steered into Brighton marina (our goal had been to continue until we reached Ijmuiden in Holland). Malcolm from Greenham Regis promised that he’d drive out to us early the next morning and re-wire the autopilot system.
Day 2 and 3: New start from Brighton all the way to Ijmuiden, the Netherlands
Malcolm arrive bright and early at 8.00 to sort out our autopilot problem. We greeted him with a cup of tea, standard operating procedure in Great Britain! If we had been home in Switzerland, we would had offered him an espresso.
Anyway, Malcolm spent the next hour re-wiring the autopilot systems. We then motored out of the marina with him to test and calibrate both autopilots in “real conditions” for about 45 minutes. Yay! Both autopilots worked flawlessly. We could now continue our journey.
The calm we had on Tuesday was replaced by strong winds coming out of the northeast, gusting up to 25 knots. Since northeast was our course to Dover, Mr. Yanmar was going to have to work again today. The Chile con Carne I had prepared during breakfast had been stewing in the Wonderbag all morning. We literally devoured it for lunch in the cockpit as the winds picked up even more. Ha! Little did I know that lunch would be my last meal until lunch the next day!
We were riding the tidal current up the channel, but the wind was coming down, so we had perfect wind against tide conditions — not exactly appetite-stimulating!
As we came past Dover at around 21.00,we could see on AIS that both ferries had just arrived, one after the other, and were probably still discharging or loading cars and cargo as we passed. As we changed course for France, we furled out the working jib and the mainsail leaving two reefs. We could get in about an hour of sailing as we crossed over to Calais.
The sun had just gone down and knowing that I’d certainly get seasick with the rough sea state with no horizon to look at, I popped a Trawell gum into my mouth as we changed course for Calais. It’s just Dramamine in chewing gum form, available over the counter, but it works like a charm for me.
We had planned to do shifts of 4 hours each pair — 22.00-02.00 for Mark and Liz, and 02.00-06.00 for Jacques and I, but the gods of seasickness threw that plan overboard. Jacques was the first to succumb and retired to his berth. Liz was number two. That left Marc and I to do the entire night. Our supply of Red Bull Sugerfree kept us from falling asleep. One can, and you’re good for the night!
I thanked the universe for the invention of Tra-well and Red bull. I felt just fine during the night, through the wind, waves.
I was a bit nervous as we were navigating at night in one of the busiest shipping channels in the world. Thankfully, we had lots of wind, so we had good visibility.
We had to stay alert to stay out of the many TSS (traffic separation schemes) and always cross them at right angles. The TSS at the entrances to both Antwerp and Rotterdam look a bit confusing on the charts as they almost look like huge round-abouts. The cargo and passenger ships are brilliantly well-lit at night and between the AIS and the radar overlay on the Furuno chart plotter, we managed to “see” all of the fishing and pleasure boats as well. It was really wasn’t that bad. At all.
The worst part of the night was the continuous salt-water bath the cockpit was getting. Even though we had both the sprayhood and the bimini up, the sea was rough enough to send spray into the cockpit from the sides. Everything in the cockpit was sticky and crusted with salt. Just try to put on some gloves after your hands have been exposed to salt water. It’s as if you’ve dipped your hands in glue.
We crossed from France into Belgium during the night and then into the Netherlands by 8.00 the next day. By then, both Liz and Jacques were up, having gotten over their seasickness, so now Mark and I could get some badly-needed sleep.
Cruising along the northern coast of the Netherlands is not the most exciting voyage. You need to keep a respectful distance away from the shore, so you don’t see much of anything but brown water.
The coast is strewn with sandbanks that constantly shift and we noticed that the depth under the keel never went over 16 meters. You really need to keep an eye on the depth sounder and the chart plotter. The pilot guide for Netherlands helped us stay outside the shallowest areas as well.
We finally reached IJmuiden Seaport Marina at around 17.00. The weather was windy, sunny, hot and humid! We were given an alongside berth from the marina office (VHF channel 74) along the far wall. After we were securely tied up I walked to the marina office to pay our fees. It’s a huge marina and it took almost 15 minutes to walk to the office! Keep in mind that unless you have a boat over 14 meters, you can try to find a berth that’s far closer the the marina facilities. Avoid the harbour wall on the port side of the entrance if you can!
It was a balmy 32°C (90°F), and we were sheltered from the wind next to the high harbour wall. Time to turn on the air conditioner! Who would have thought we’d need the air conditioner in the Netherlands!
After a late dinner and a glass of wine we retired to our bunks just as the wind suddenly picked up from another direction – the southwest. Jacques, Mark and I went back up on deck to check our dock lines and fenders. Everything was fine. But two minutes later, while I was brushing my teeth, the sounds of loud cursing in French put me on high alert.
It was a Sun Odyssey 42 with 6 or 7 men, all shouting epithets at the top of their lungs. I’ll spare you the translation. If they were going to try to raft up to us in these winds, it would not be pretty. After several attempts in various berths around the marina, they finally tied up at another pier and we were all able to get some sleep.
Facts about IJmuiden Seaport Marina:
- Water, electricity (16 amp), fuel, Wifi
- Showers, toilets, laundry
- Restaurant, pub, supermarket
- Repair facilities (motor, sails, hull, electronics)
- Price for our 55-foot boat: 39 Euros not including electricity