International Rally 2011.....
Adventures in the Netherlands
by Dick Harrington
From: Richard Harrington
To: Hans de Bruijne et al
Sent: Thursday, October 13, 2011 2:28 PM
Subject: Adventures in the Netherlands
Dear Hans and Lous,
This has been a very busy year for me. Following the NWA Friesland Rally - a wonderfully memorable cruise - Jane and I spent the next week in the Netherlands and Belgium. Unfortunately, when we finally returned home there were just a few days before having to depart for Maine, where I was responsible for helping kick off the North American Rally. So, it's been a lot of activity compressed into a short time for an old guy like me.
Consequently, I find that nearly two months have flown by, in a flash, since departing the Netherlands - much too long to go without a proper reply to such wonderful hospitality we enjoyed from the NedWA Wayfarers. I am deeply sorry, but will will try to redeem myself, if possible.
Note: Because of space limitations, I'm not sure how much of this will be able to be published in the USWA Skimmer. I know that Uncle Al will post it on the Canadian Web site; and I'm expecting some, or all, of it to get published in one of our smaller US boating magazines.
Adventures in the Netherlands
An adventure story - not a log!
In times past, old salts were known for spinning yarns about the sea. Sometimes I imagine myself being one of those old timers. I enjoy the opportunity to tell a story about a Wayfarer adventure.
On this occasion Jane and I were on the coast of Maine - attending the North American Rally at Hermit Island. It was the end of August, less than two weeks after returning from the Netherlands and Belgium. My audience was our group of Wayfarer friends who traveled from distant parts of the US and Canada to take part in a week of camaraderie and great sailing on beautiful Casco Bay. At the skippers' meeting one morning, I saw the chance to have some fun. We were supposed to be discussing sailing plans for the day. But first I decided to make believe I was back at the International Rally in Friesland. No one was expecting this.
Holding up the sailing chart of Friesland, I began my act. No one would be able discern any detail, but as a group they could follow my finger as I traced the route of our week-long travels. To the unfamiliar, the maze of countless waterways shown in blue - a web of canals connecting one lake after another - was surely mind boggling. I knew, at least momentarily, I had everyone's attention.
Our first day on the water was a free sail. The principal part of the rally - the cruise - had not yet started. Jane and I had arrived in Heeg (pronounced Hage) two days prior. To do something different, we came by train from Düsseldorf, instead of going through Amsterdam.
Following the long transatlantic flight, the train ride was kind of stressful. It entailed multiple changes between several local routes. The trains were pokier and the process more complicated than I had anticipated. In spite of that, riding the train was a new and intriguing experience. Passing through northern Germany and the Netherlands exposed us to a countryside with sights far different than anything at home. We were already getting excited about this adventure. Except, there was little opportunity to close our eyes. As chief navigator, it was good I had managed to catch some sleep on the plane. We were in a strange country, unaccustomed to the trains, and challenged to decipher the postings at the rail stations. Thankfully, along the way we encountered a number of nice people, who spoke English and were willing to help with directions.
The sky was mixed, with more clouds than blue, threatening possible rain. But, what most impressed Jane and me was the chilly 18 - 20 knot breeze coming up from the south. The Heegermeer was rolling. Hard to fathom, we were wearing fall-weight fleece jackets beneath our oilies. It was July! We'd just arrived from the US where temperatures hovered around 30° Celsius (90°F to 100°F) for weeks. Though I should have known better, we weren't prepared. Luckily, the day before, Jane had reluctantly agreed to upgrade her gear. Her new heavy-duty Netherlands style sailing fleece was an unplanned expenditure, but a wise decision. So now we were prepared for the Friesland weather.
Ton Jaspers was the skipper that day. Ton is a big husky guy. So with the three of us in his Wayfarer Swiebertje, we were well-ballasted. No need to reef! Conditions were ideal for a record fast passage down the full length of the sizable Heegermeer. Starting out from the harbor, Heegerwal, we arrived at Nieuwe Vaart - the narrows at the south end of the lake - in no time flat. The beat, being a bit splashy, had Jane suffering the brunt of the spray. She now had a better appreciation for being fully dressed in oilies head to toe. At the narrows, it was time to change the pace. Tying up alongside the wharf, we paused long enough to chat a little and enjoy an excellent Dutch beer. The downwind return went even faster, being essentially one planing event followed by another. This time, fortunately, Jane was spared the dousing. Wow! What sailing!
Before going further, for the benefit of my North American readers it is important that I note what a huge undertaking, both financially and personnel-wise, this event amounted to. The Netherlands Wayfarer Association (NedWA) went far out on a limb planning this event. Their reason? They wanted to do something special to mark the tenth university of the birth of NedWA. It was hugely successful.
During the cruise we had two "mother" ships, the In Dubio - a 12-cabin converted motorized barge, and the Atalanta - a 10-cabin schooner-rigged sailing ship. Between them, the two ships accommodated a total of 43 participants. There were 18 or 20 Wayfarers (I don't remember the exact number). Jan Katgerman, the NedWA Chairman, provided outstanding fleet support and safety from his handsome and powerful motor launch, Twee Gezusters (Two Sisters). Twee Gezusters proved capable of towing more than a dozen Wayfarers at a time with ease.
There were two US and one Canadian couples from overseas. Each had a NedWA 'buddy' to assist them. Previously, in 2006, Ton and Connie Jaspers had hosted my wife, Margie, and me. They insisted upon doing the same again this time. Even though they would be unable to participate in the cruise portion of the rally, they met Jane and me in Heeg with floatation vests, sailing clothing, and most importantly, Ton's beautiful Swiebertje. We would get to enjoy Swiebertje for the duration of the cruise. When it came time for us to depart, Connie also provided us with transportation. So we are greatly indebted to them. The others were treated equally well, I know.
Each day, or two, the cruise ships sailed ahead of us to the next destination point. We would meet up with them in the afternoon. Many miles would be sailed each day; and by the end of the week we had completed a large circular orbit, passing through many of the lakes and canals in this portion of Friesland.
All aspects of the cruise were thoroughly planned out ahead of time and executed perfectly. Hans and Lous de Bruijne were the leaders throughout the cruise. They were true workhorses, performing admirably the leadership role and organizing this highly complex undertaking. Jan Katgerman, with his wife, Dieuwke, were obviously closely involved throughout. Other prominent NedWA members, such as Joke Peers and Francine van der Vaart, two who are most familiar to me, also provided valuable group support.
Still pretending to be in Friesland, I continued. After a couple of days of preliminary activities in Heeg - which included an excellent traditional Dutch BBQ, a sail on the Atalanta, and a kick-off banquet - the first day of the cruise arrived. Following breakfast, we packed our lunches and departed Heegerwal. The sun shone brightly, warming the air. The fleeces were tucked away. It was a perfect summer day.
Our route would initially take us southeast, across the top of Heegermeer and through a series of canals passing through the town of Woudsend, lake Slotermeer, and ancient, historic Sloten. We would stop at Sloten for a picnic lunch and sight-seeing.
A lasting first impression that seemed to connect with all of us non-NedWA participants was the large number of youth sailing schools we saw. The Heegermeer was especially alive this way. But we would see numerous sailing schools all throughout our travels. As soon as we got outside Heegerwal, we were surrounded by youngsters of various ages from at least three or four sailing schools. The sailors ranged from very young children in small Optimists to older, more advanced kids in jib & main sloops, practicing capsize recovery skills. Hovering over their fleets, like a mother goose herding her goslings, instructors motored about shouting instructions. We were impressed!
The morning's 10-knot or so southerly breeze promised good progress, though later it would mostly peter out. The first fairly narrow couple of canals passed through a picturesque country side. Cows and sheep grazed contentedly in grassy meadows bordered by marshy areas. The canals made lots of turns. This affected our wind, but made for far more interesting sailing than if they ran straight. Quaint, interesting summer cottages lined the banks. Moored in front were attractive Dutch yachts and small craft of all descriptions. We wondered what interesting new scene might lie around the next bend. The Dutch, who consider Friesland the boating mecca of northern Europe, flock there in droves every summer. Besides that, there is a lot of influx from adjoining countries, especially Germany. So, with it being the peak of the holiday season, there were lots of people about. A few times we noticed an arm wave from someone on shore. Jane and I tried to respond when we could. Was it possible they noticed the American flag Ton had graciously attached to Swiebertje's peak?
At the time, we were on a southerly heading, having to do quite a bit of tacking. Pretty soon I got a feel for how much centerboard we dared leave down and still manage to get in close to the bank before having to tack. Of course, inevitably, every now and then there was a mad scramble to get the board up before we came to a complete stop - buried in the mud! Fortunately, one rarely hits something that is hard. Further complicating things however, was the steady stream of on-coming motoring traffic. Sometimes there would be three or four good-sized boats headed toward us in procession. Learning to cope with this amount of traffic was a unique experience!
Comment: There are two notable aspects concerning motorboat traffic in Friesland that is completely different from anywhere I've been in the United States. First, high-speed travel is prohibited everywhere, except for a few closely regulated districts on lakes. PWCs (Personal Water Craft) are noticeably absent. Also, because there is no high-speed traffic on the canals, there are minimal wakes to contend with. Notably, the majority of Dutch yachts we encountered had efficient displacement type hulls - rounded and slender, not the boxy, less efficient planing type we see in America. Secondly, Dutch boaters exhibit outstanding courtesy.
Sometimes, in a tight situation, out of common sense and consideration for others, we felt compelled to luff up or tack away. But for obvious reasons, one doesn't want to do this on a regular basis. So we quickly learned to judge when it was safe to pass in front of, or duck behind, an on-coming vessel. We felt comfortable that if there was any question the other vessel would alter course or reduce speed. In times of heavy traffic there were a few occasions when power boats had to make adjustments for Jane and me. I'm sure that was the case with others as well. In such situations, a big smile and appreciative wave to the opposing bridge was definitely in order. So, as you see, the canals were great fun, but also busy to the point where the helm had to pay close attention to his/her sailing.
Arriving in the town of Woudsend brought us to the first of several bridges for the day. With four canals intersecting there, we encountered an impressive traffic jam as we approached the bridge.
Comment: To the unaccustomed sailor, transiting a bridge in lots of congestion could be daunting. Even with all my experience, I admit to feeling a bit nervous a couple of times. Under the best of circumstances, rarely, if ever, can one sail through a bridge. In light traffic, sometimes paddling works, but as a rule a motor is required. In our situation, Wayfarers without motors either got towed by Twee Gezusters or another Wayfarer with a motor.
Then there is the toll! Not all, but most bridges collect a toll. So, when passing beneath a bridge, the attendant from his bridge house drops a wooden shoe attached by a string to a pole to collect his 2 euros. (This can make a favorite photo opportunity.) Though the attendants are deft in placing the shoe where it can be reached, one still has to pay close attention and be ready. There are more than a few euros lying in the mud!
It turned out the bridge at Woudsend was our big challenge of the day. The bridge was down, with a jumble of boats, large and small, packing the canal for several hundred meters on either side - treading water and waiting! Following what would be the usual procedure, we furled the jib, tightened the topping lift, then dropped and furled the main. This generally went without a hitch, quickly and easily. Ton had everything on Swiebertje nicely set up for single-handling, and I really like his Bartels jib reefing system. With the topping lift holding the boom high, manning the four-stroke Honda engine would be no sweat. Except this was my first time using it!
Oh, no! The motor started fine on the first pull - at half throttle - but died immediately when cut back to idle speed. Repeated tries gave the same result. Surrounded by obstacles, there we were, one moment dashing - way too fast - head-on for an impending crash, or dead in the water being blown towards shore. It was unbelievable! Just before the cruise, Ton had taken the motor into the shop where it was declared fit to go. My nerves were a wreck. What should I do?
By a stroke of luck, I happened to spy a big boat, with fairly low freeboard, tied along side the waterfront. This seemed to be our best bet. We would chance hanging onto her gunnel while waiting for the bridge. Putting a line around a stanchion and setting out fenders, we prayed no one would come along and kick us off. Meanwhile, though the bridge signal lights still showed red, the bridge opened, but only long enough to let some traffic from on the other side pass through. Then it closed again. Gosh! I began to wonder how long we'd be stuck hanging on there.
Finally, something started to happen. "There, Jane, see! We are getting the initial go ahead lights"...one red, one green blinking - or something like that. (It is a good system, but unfortunately I've since forgotten the exact signal sequence.) Anyway, what it meant was get ready! On the canal the jockeying to get in position had started. Then the bridge was up and boats were moving. Spotting a small opening, with heart pounding I barged into the foray, unceremoniously cutting off some good folks ahead of us. It certainly wasn't a nice maneuver. Again, we were going much too fast, yet somehow managed to avoid a collision. What a relief! We'd made it!
On the other side, the wind was light and on our nose. By now many of the others in the group were ahead of us. Wanting to make up time and get through that section of canal, provided an excuse to stay on the engine for a while. Finally, free to run, the engine purred like a kitten, pushing us along at around 5 knots. (Following a day or two of exercise, the Honda changed its ways, deciding to run at idle speed. I even got to like that engine.) Just ahead was lake Slotermeer, and beyond that the town of Sloten, where we would stop for lunch.
In the US we brag about our freedom. But in many parts of Europe, particularly the Netherlands, the boating public has far more rights to the shore. Almost any open space along the canals is free to use. More importantly, scattered generously throughout the lakes and canals are numerous designated camping places, where dinghy sailors are free to tie up to bulkheads or docks, and camp. As we traveled the canals and lakes we couldn't help but admire these attractive camp sites. They always appeared well manicured, grassy, and located in a quiet spot - perfect for any cruising dinghy, such as a Wayfarer - or a Falcon!
Falcons! This was the most prominent sailboat we'd encounter throughout the cruise. We saw them on the water every day. It seems to me there must be at least a thousand Falcons in Friesland; and every one for hire. A classic, low aspect ratio, gaff rigged sloop - about 6.5 meters long and with a substantial keel - the Falcon is bigger, heavier, and more stable than the Wayfarer. They can be rented with a cockpit-tent, motor and all, ready to take visiting vacationers on a cruising adventure. It would be pretty difficult to get into serious trouble with a Falcon, I think. But it is slow compared to a Wayfarer.
Sometimes it was comical to watch three or four young people in a Falcon, who were obviously little more than beginners, struggling to make progress on the canals. In our Wayfarers, we would easily zip past them. Though, that may have surprised or frustrated a few of them, the Falcon sailors always seemed to be a happy crowd, having a jolly time just being on the water. Another unique aspect of the Netherlands!
Towing one of our fellow Wayfarers, we caught up with the main group, already tied up and just a short walk outside Sloten. Sloten, Sneek (pronounced Snake), Workum, and Hindeloopen, a few places I've been to, are marvelously well preserved, historic towns. They are extremely fascinating to see. My knowledge is minuscule, but as I recall, Sloten is situated on what was an ancient trade route and became a prominent merchant center, starting around the 16th century. Today, it is like a living museum, with fascinating old business houses built in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds, adorned with fascinating carved stone decorations. The buildings line both sides of a canal that runs through the center of the town. It also boasts a beautiful, well preserved windmill. Unfortunately, whereas one could easily spend a whole day in Sloten, we could afford little more than an hour - just enough time to take a few great photos.
The day was wearing on. We still had a long ways to go, including a couple more bridges, before joining up with the cruise ships anchored on Lake Langweer. Our route, now swinging northerly, put the wind behind us. Meaning, of course, less tacking and easier sailing. Here, my memory becomes foggy, but I think, though there were times when the wind picked up, ultimately there was a fair amount of motoring. Anyway, as always, Jane and I thoroughly enjoyed the scenery along the way.
When we at last reached the mother ships, it was getting late. Shouldn't it be cocktail hour, my brain told me? Already, a while back, our thoughts had wandered to In Dubio's well stocked saloon - which now beckoned. I could really go for a cold beer. Jane certainly wouldn't mind a glass of wine. But before any of that happened, we had to moor the Wayfarers.
This would be our first time tying up alongside the big vessels. Frankly, up to then I hadn't thought much about the complications of snuggling 18 to 20 Wayfarers, plus Jan's Twee Gezusters against those unforgiving iron hulks, anchored and warped together. I wasn't alone in this regard . Suddenly, it dawned upon the bunch of us, this was going to take a little thought.
No way was there room to tie up individually. We were going to have to raft up, alongside both ships, side by side, two and three abreast. The faces of a few of the skippers with beautiful, brightly finished woodies, as well as the owners of costly, shinny, new Hartleys, dropped. They were rightfully concerned. Rafting together a number of light-weight dinghies is not the same as dealing with heavier displacement type hulls. Wayfarers tip and bounce much too easily, even in a relatively sheltered location with minimal wave action.
But the irresistible urge to partake of a cold beer, or glass of wine, after a day on the water can work wonders. Everyone pitched in and worked together. Out came many fenders. Long lines were brought back to the ships, and spring lines judiciously set in all directions. Before long all were satisfied. A pattern was established for the remainder of the cruise. Problem solved!
We were through sailing for the day, but the day was not done by any means. The In Dubio's large open foredeck, and spacious saloon, was our congregating place for cocktail hour and socializing. In the dinning room below, Hanna - In Dubio's owner, chief cook, and crew of one - served us great meals. Hanna, whom I declare an outstanding chef - if that's permissible for a ship's cook - constantly surprised us with beautiful, outstanding multi-course dinners - Dutch style! One of my favorite Dutch discoveries is Mustard Soup. How could a dish so named be so delicious! It was our duty and pleasure to assist with the serving and clean-up afterward.
The great thing about these rallies is that our gang is akin to a long-time family. We are old friends, going back twenty years, maybe more - though at each succeeding event there are always new acquaintances to be made. Following dinner, all would retire to the saloon, where the first order of business was to break out the song books. Leading the singing, with guitar(s), clarinet, and sax were long-time members, Poul, Elof, Sue and Alan - plus several others too. They are our own official Wayfarer musical group - The Wayfarer Stompers.
The first song - always - is the Wayfarer fanfare. Sung to a lilting melody, it goes: Wayfarer - Wayfarer, Finest dinghy ever seen! Wayfarer - weather fair. Really makes me feel so keen. Do wake up from your lazy sleep. Sail your Wayfarer out on the deep. Wayfarer - Wayfarer, Finest dinghy ever seen! Verses are then repeated in Danish, Dutch and French. Wow! What a life, Wayfarering!
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