The seven year itch

Colin Davidson reports on his cruise in Border Reiver

Wednesday 7th July 1999 – I am lying in bed, 6 a.m., in Hoorn in the Ijsselemeer. The sun is glinting on all shapes and sizes of houses around the harbour, heralding a beautiful day in prospect. I wonder why men bothered to leave this idyllic place to discover Cape Horn.

I transfer a thought to Blyth and setting out last Thursday evening, the 1st July. A pleasant party on board to see us off – bringing their own sandwiches and wine was helpful! A lovely evening and, would you believe it – sod’s law, the wind switches to South East at that very time. The one direction I can do without!

Left at 10 p.m. under motor, flat sea, with a crew of five, including Phil and Joyce Gibson (forget macho crewing – Joyce can organise food in a bouncing Force 6!). It is easy to become lazy and switch on the GPS – which we did of course! A modest deck log was kept to pretend we were real sailors.

Saturday was different stuff, it always is! The wind freshened, seas up to 12-foot troughs and crew feeling it, wind on the nose. The forecast prediction was “a veer to the Southwest” – promises, promises! We put up more sail for a roller reach for thirty miles in that direction (plus another) – and so up to Amsterdam.

Sunday is particularly busy on the water there. Dodging the amazing rapid ferries and hundred yard barges on the North Sea Canal. To Sixhaven – this is the only place I know with a tranquil harbour and serene scenes in the middle of a bustling city – plus a free ferry to get you there!

We need diesel! Holland has gone European and concessions on yacht fuel have technically finished (and duty free booze!). Phil was despatched to arrange a deal! 140 litres of “heating oil” was duly supplied and all smiled! Nice chap that Dutchman – keen Newcastle supporter – didn’t think much of Gullitt though – pathetic!

A day in the shops and cafes in the city with the ladies on board accrued brownie points. Glorious weather for observing the passing parade downtown. I must put a word in here on marina charges, which work at 50% of U.K. prices and the town quays even less (and much more fun!).

The cruise was organised to last throughout July and August, mainly based on cruising the Ijsselemeer, with forays out of the Friesian Isles when we felt like it. We became indolent as time went by, the temperature was in the 80s. The trick was to stay out in open water for the breeze, until 6 p.m. and tie up in the harbour when cooler. Mainly crews came and went week by week, so Border Riever quickly fell into a repetitive “Cook’s Tour” of the Ijsselemeer harbours. This certainly suited the family on their tour as with six adults and four children we did not have tide or mooring problems. The flat water made swimming and general entertainment easy.

Holland certainly shows it’s best aquatic parade in these months. The number and variety of craft is amazing. Every small town has a marina with several hundred boats. Lemmer, for example, on the Eastern Shore – a town the size of Morpeth – has 15 marinas logged in the pilot book. Certainly over one thousand craft there.

Onshore, jazz bands, festivals, firework displays and hoppings-sized fairs, entertained us. Food is reasonably priced and of good quality. Wine and beer are cheap. Our visit to Lemmer was timed to see the Dutch barge racing, when each of eight towns sends a crew and a boat to compete – level racing! Hundreds of people watched this on shore and afloat, with lots of money changing hands. As the local boat won, the pubs were doing well that night!

The summer eclipse was observed that day whilst at sea. An eerie experience of twilight and cold.

Regular maintenance and replacement of faulty gear was an almost daily occurrence as the heads, the batteries, engine cooling system, steering cables and assorted electric’s needed attention. Having two fold-up cycles was a plus, making shopping and general skippering chores a lot less onerous.

Holland expands its yachting facilities each time we go. Medemblik, has added two marinas in my time, one by digging up a soccer pitch (imagine that here!) and another by building out into the Ijsselemeer to produce their National Sailing Centre – very swish (the restaurant had a four page menu with lobster thermidore for the German boats!).

The cruise was a constant stream of amusing and interesting episodes. The return trip was organised to arrive, hopefully, at Sunderland for the Roker Regatta. So we decided to come “out at the top” via Den Oever, the Waddensee, Den Helder and then the channel north, skirting the west side of Texel. Navigation and buoy hopping essential here. I can thoroughly recommend the yacht club at Den Helder – quite small, floating and run by a steward with his wife. Excellent fare and bar – the chef is Thai – and the place jolly.

Coming home gave us a stern wind and we rolled to Whitby under two jibs after only one night at sea. Arrived in a massive thunderstorm, with very poor visibility at 10.30 p.m. GPS – brilliant, and Whitby Highlight bang on the nose.
Spent the next day in Whitby playing mini golf with the crew for beers and visiting the Pavilion Theatre in the evening for a laugh. Set off at dawn next day after Whitby Bridge opened, arrived at Sunderland at lunchtime.

Altogether thirty-two people were involved in the cruise. The logistics proved the hardest job; the cruising was the benefit.