With the school term reaching an end at the end of July we had planned to take Virtue North through Amsterdam to be situated in Harlingen for the arrival of the Tall ships race from Stavanger Norway, in which my son was sailing on the Swedish ship Vega Gabley.
The initial departure was a week earlier to get the boat through Amsterdam and leave it then in Enkhuizen for a few days before sailing to Harlingen. The weather had been week after week of lovely settled weather and was every day in the 30 degrees which proved to be a problem for our bridges in Amsterdam, having confirmed the opening of the night convoy through Amsterdam we duly moored up at the top of the Nieuwemeer ready for the transit only to hear that regrettably there was no way as six of the 16 bridges were stuck closed! Was a bit of a bummer as the only other way was to motor South 20 km back passed Aalmeer and across the Kaag lake and then motor in convoy through a number of villages via Haarlem and Spaarndam, it’s not a bad route but is considerably further and emerges ten miles away from Amsterdam so really it is quite a long day to go round that way.
We did also have to go through the motorway bridge we had navigated the night before at 5am so we had a good early start which we were glad of as the heat in the days previous had been so oppressive that we were glad to be underway before the sun had too much chance to overheat us, my raymarine plotter proved unable to cope with the temperature and insisted in shutting down continually, just as well I didn’t really need it except for the speed reference. We emerged into the North sea canal around 2.30 pm which was an earlier than expected but motor sailing down to the bottom of the Markermeer to Durgerdam took us till 6pm by the time we had negotiated the lock and bridge by Schellingwoude.
Durgerdam is a lovely spot to stop for a night, the harbour is much larger than it appears and they normally have enough berths for visitors, charge was around 12€ per night so was very reasonable, it’s full of interesting classic boats and that is all against the backdrop of the reed banks and charming village built on the dijk.
Next day we had a southerly light breeze so we hoisted the spinnaker briefly as unfortunately the weather did the dirty and rained on us ( first rain for 37 days !), and after that the wind turned Northerly and blew in inconsistent strengths all afternoon waiting till I had got my biggest sails up before it escalated to above the 20knts, anyway Enkhuizen was duly reached not without the considerable trials of our patience .
Having put my son on the plane to Norway we returned the following week to depart on a leisurely cruise with a remarkably settled weather outlook planning to be in Harlingen five days later.
The weather was still incredibly warm the winds were light force 2 SW, but there was a few thunderstorms about, most of them very localized, having just had a very brief downpour we sailed off on expectation that there could be a small rain squall but likely it would remain fine during our crossing to the other side of the lake.
Was a lovely day we were with a number of boats having a lovely downwind sail in the sun, minutes later a large dark cloud seemed at first to be going to miss us and then it was over us and the rain hit, then the wind started to pick up and increased within a few minutes it was over 35knts and it was becoming apparent that reefing wasn’t going to be the option, I was downwind so I turned the boat onto the reach and let out the main completely, the boom and quite a lot of the main was in the water as we were still keeled over to the toerail only with the working jib sheeted in! by this point my wife was inside with the storm boards in so luckily I had the auto pilot set up so I left the helm and climbed along the healed cabin top and released the halyard and pulled down the main which was then all dragging in the water, back in the cockpit I pulled in the sheet and gathered up the main.
The waves had built up dramatically by this time and we were heading north on a reach so the sea was fairly side on, but I was aware that I needed enough northing to clear the sandbanks off Stavoren which could be a problem if the waves pushed me too far to leeward so I started the engine and motor-sailed for Stavoren hoping to clear the sandbanks.
At this point I was asking myself which of the leeward harbours was going to be safe to approach in force 8+? tricky decision but I was fairly confident of sailing straight into Stavoren although it might be a very rolly and wet in the entrance, and I mustn’t mess up on my approach. At this point I was suddenly aware of a lot activity on the VHF as many people seemed to be in a muddle and there was several inflatable rib lifeboats charging back and forth, and people on the radio were being told that they were going to have to wait as they had a number of other boats to help first, it was really a little surreal and to be honest a bit scary. The squall probably didn’t last much more than an hour and a half and by the time we entered Stavoren it had dropped to force 6 and although the swell was still uncomfortable we made the entrance without drama, followed by a lifeboat towing a couple of yachts in one of which had been pulled off the sandbank, there was also one boat on the rocks one sunk with two young guys who were rescued by helicopter, apparently the approach to Urk was very difficult due to the swell and the lifeboat was very busy guiding boats into the harbour, so that would have not been a good option.
I have had quite a lot of experience with squalls on the Ijsselmeer but never had one as severe as this, guess the extreme hot temperatures had contributed to the severity and quick escalation of the storm, but never the less was a warning to me to be better prepared and to watch the weather better.