The winds were still coming out of the southwest as we left the Marina Seaport IJmuiden — perfect for us as we were still on a north-northeast course. We would not change course significantly until we rounded the Fresian island of Terschelling.
Barely out of the marina, we got our very first VHF call in Freja’s history — from the Netherlands Coast Guard. Someone on one of the dunes onshore thought we were sending S.O.S. signals and they wanted to ask us if everything was OK. Had we had been signalling with a bright light? No, we had not, thank you very much! It was quite reassuring to get a call and realise that your LRC certificate training had not been forgotten.
An hour later, we had our second VHF call. This time, they asked us very politely, how many people were onboard, who was onboard (two Swiss and two British nationals) what our last port of call was (IJmuiden) what our next port of call was (Cuxhaven) and then wished us good sailing. We think it had been a training exercise for new coast guard recruits as we heard them calling another yacht not far from us afterwards.
We were now each on one-hour watches until 22.00 (sunset is about 22.30 at this time of the year where we were) when Liz and Mark would take the first 4-hour watch, and then Jacques and I would take the second at 2.00. The thinking behind the watch assignment was that Mark and Liz seemed to be night owls and Jacques likes to be in bed early and wake up early. Well, two o’clock is a bit early, mais voilà, that was our logic.
Cruising with both headsails poled out, main in.
Since we had the wind behind us, Mark thought it was a good idea to roll in the main and sail with the two headsails poled out until we got to Terschelling and changed to a more westerly course. It worked brilliantly once both poles were out. Our speed was about one knot faster and we didn’t have to worry about setting up the preventer. Here is a video of us sailing with poled out headsails.
Late in the afternoon, we reached Terschelling. We rolled in the genoa and rolled out the main as we were now on a broad reach. A few hours later, the sunset into the north sea was magnificent. We had now passed the island of Schiermonnikoog, Mark and Liz started their watch, and we went to sleep.
Both Liz and I were taking photos of the magnificent sunset.
It’s difficult to believe this is the North Sea
We woke up from a not-so-deep sleep to the incredible spectacle of an electrical storm over our heads. Fortunately, the lightning was far enough inland to not be a danger to us. We never heard any thunder. The amount of electricity being generated was just amazing as lightning illuminated the entire sky about every 20 seconds or so. We saw all of the little fishing boats and a yacht in the distance that we had been monitoring with AIS and radar. It was as though night and day were switching back and forth every 20 seconds.
We were now just north of the island of Langeoog in the German friesian islands. Apart from the various fishing vessels we saw on the plotter, we had one yacht that kept us company as it steered a parallel course to ours. The TSS was about 3 nautical miles north of us so we had an easy crossing to the bight of Bremerhaven at a speed over ground of 10 knots. Since Bremerhaven is a large port, we had to be careful of the shipping channels and the enormous anchoring areas for the cargo ships.
The wind had also veered to an easterly direction and died down to just a couple of knots, forcing us to use the motor to properly cross the TSS. We had three channels to cross using three different courses as they must be crossed at right angles.
After crossing the channels, the sea started to become visible. It was about 5.00 in the morning and we noticed that the first thing you notice when the day dawns is that you begin to actually see the surface of the water, even though the sky is totally black (we had no moon due to the clouds). It’s amazing how well the water reflects just a minuscule amount of light.
Just as the sun was appearing over the horizon through the clouds we came across an enormous anchoring area and had to slalom between the huge container ships.
Huge anchorage for cargo ships near the mouth of the Elbe river in Germany
We finally reached the mouth of the Elbe at around 7.30 and woke Liz and Mark for breakfast. We still had about 30 NM to go before arriving at Brunsbüttel at the entrance to the Kiel Canal.
Freja approaching the mouth of the Elbe River in Germany.
Day 5: Elbe River to Rendsburg in the Kiel Canal
The mouth of the Elbe is so wide that you don’t see from one end to the other, at least not at high tide. We arrived at high tide, which was unfortunate because that meant we were fighting both the natural river current as well as the tidal current emptying out of the river, which was about 5 knots. With the motor at 2,300 RPM we managed a decent 5 knots.
We motored past Cuxhaven marina, where we had planned to spend the night, but as we had arrived about 7 hours earlier than planned, we pushed on to Brunsbüttel to begin the journey up the Kiel canal. We’ll save Cuxhaven and Hamburg för another cruise. After about a 30-minute wait, the lights for permission to enter flashed and the lock doors were opened. We entered after a couple of local boats, thinking “we’ll just do what they do”, as none of us had ever done the Kiel Canal before!
Mooring Freja to the lock pontoon in the Kiel canal at Brunsbüttel
Freja in the locks at Brunsbüttel
One thing we were not prepared for was how ridiculously low the lock pontoon is. They’re less than 10 cm (4 inches) high! We had hung our fenders at a “normal” pontoon height and had to quickly lower them to “floating in the water” height. The next time, we plan to have a couple of fender boards because we noticed that fenders are seriously not effective if they’re floating in the water! They pop out of the water because of the slippery algae that grows on the pontoons. Fender boards will be one of our winter projects.
Freja tied up in the Brunsbüttel locks
The lock gates opening for passage into the canal
The water level didn’t really change much while we in the lock, so the locking process after the gates were closed was rather uneventful. The forward gate opened and we immediately saw a large cruise ship heading our way. Thankfully we had needed to pass that one going in the opposite direction!
The Kiel canal at Brunsbüttel
We found the canal landscape to be rather charming. We passed village after village, ferry landing after ferry landing. The amusing thing about the ferry landings is that they all have a pub and an ice cream shop. Mark, typical Englishman that he is, was groaning about not being able to stop for a pint at the pubs.
Making our way up the Kiel Canal
One of the many charming houses along the Kiel canal
One of the many cargo ships transitting the canal. The speed limit in the canal is 8 knots.
We arrived at the harbour of Rendsburg, just after the halfway point of the canal. Rendsburg has three different marinas and we chose the marina at the very heart of town. After being helped to a nice hammerhead mooring, I went to pay the marina fee — only 20 Euros for our 55-foot boat (prices start at 10 Euros for a boat 8 meters and below).
A Google Earth photo of Rendsburg. The three marinas are clearly visible.
It had been a hot, humid and hazy day, so we weren’t surprised to see the build-up of cumulonimbus clouds on the horizon as the evening arrived. By 19.00, a thunderstorm bringing heavy rain arrived, so we were no longer very keen on plans to take a long walk around the town.
It was just as well — the marina has a lovely restaurant and covered terrace. We managed to get the last table – for six – as we’d met lovely couple from Hamburg, Germany, Heidi and Axel, on their way home from sailing in Denmark. We all shared a hearty meal, laughs and great conversion and received an invitation to visit them in Hamburg. The “cruising community” isn’t just a Caribbean thing!
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.
Christening Freja at Ocean Village Marina in Southampton. We are celebrating with John and Caroline Charley, owners of Discovery Yachts, as well as Mark Williams, Sales Manager, and John Eustace, Owner Care Manager.
Christening Freja at Ocean Village Marina in Southampton. John Charley, owner of Discovery Yachts, on the right.
Drinking Champagne at Freja’s christening
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.
The Wonderbag eco-cooker — keeps your food simmering.
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.
Freja in the Solent with Liz at the helm.
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.
Bye-bye Portsmouth. We won’t be seeing you for awhile!
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!
Good-bye Isle of Wight. Jacques relaxing on one of the stern benches (sometimes referred to as “gin & tonic seats”).
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.
Beachy Head on the south coast of England
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.
If you haven’t sailed on the Belgium and Dutch coasts, this is what the TSSes look like. Fortunately, it looks much worse than it is, but be prepared!
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.
Off Zandvoort in the Netherlands.
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!
The Marina Seaport IJmuiden
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.