Having got to my mid fifties I consider myself to be well travelled, having spent time in many corners of the globe. Rather embarrassingly though I have yet to set foot in three major European cities – Venice, Amsterdam and Dublin. I had hoped to change the situation with the latter during my cruise last year, but the Irish were still imposing a Covid-related quarantine. This year, for various reasons, I decided to start my summer cruise by turning left out of Portsmouth and heading up the European North Sea coast to IJmuiden, with the express intention of visiting Amsterdam.
Crew for the passage were the duo with whom I crossed the Atlantic in 2018 – Alan and Neil. We were joined by friend Sean, gathering at Itchenor in Chichester Harbour where Spellbinder had been at a rally. Once gathered, we anchored out and got an early night, anticipating several days of sailing ahead, with quite brisk following winds.
First stop was Eastbourne Harbour, which we arrived at after a fairly uneventful downwind leg with light winds at first, allowing us to fly the cruising chute.
Once safely in, we plotted our next day’s route along the coast, planning to turn south before Dover to cross the busy shipping lanes at right angles and going into Calais. Sadly events meant a change to our plans, as Alan received news about a bereavement in his family and we headed to Dover to drop him off. Dover is currently closed to yachts for marina renovations, but they were understanding and allowed us to do a quick in and drop off, at the very pontoon where in calmer conditions asylum seekers are routinely landed, having been intercepted trying to cross from the French coast.
Once Alan had been dropped off we had a short and quite bumpy crossing to the French side in that worse of all sea states – residual swell and little wind. We got into Calais at last light, thinking that we might have to spend the night on a buoy outside the marina, but the bridge opened (automatically we think) letting us into the marina for the night.
Brexit has complicated matters for us yachtsmen, as in common with other travelers with UK passports we now require a stamp to start a clock which limits us to a 90 days stay in every 180 days. Calais didn’t seem in that much of a hurry to help us, and since we hadn’t left the environs of the marina we decided to immigrate at the next destination, Zeebrugge.
It was a fairly quick passage up the French coast, past Dunkirk and Ostend, with strong following winds which we were glad to gain shelter from as we rounded the big entrance.
Having arrived safely we phoned immigration and they promptly arrived at our pontoon to stamp passports and ask us various questions. I didn’t sense they were impressed with this new workload imposed by Brexit. We were able to head out and enjoy an excellent dinner at a nearby fish restaurant but didn’t have time for an extensive tour. I am returning there in a couple of weeks’ time, and hope to go through a bridge which takes one to Bruges, a few miles inland.
The final leg was up to IJmuiden, some 81 miles, but we decided to cut it a bit short by heading into Scheveningen, a small port adjacent to The Hague. It was blustery again, as I hope the photos below show, and we were pleased to get into what proved to be a very crowded little marina, raising our third courtesy flag of the trip (after the French and Belgian ones).
IJmuiden, and the entrance we wanted into the Netherlands inland waterways, was 24 miles north, and we had a boisterous 3 hour fast beam reach up the coast the next day, leaving a crew member or two slightly green. Once into IJmuiden we headed straight for the small lock (there are several big ones) which allows entry into the Nordseekanal, the canal which leads to Amsterdam.
It is a busy 24km into Amsterdam, and you have to monitor VHF traffic carefully. We met lots of different types of craft, including huge container ships and several other yachts. Once into Amsterdam though we found a berth at the main marina, from where we have been able to explore the city.
The plan is to head south now through the Standing Mast Route over the coming few days. I leave you with a few photos of this beautiful city and some of its cultural attractions and interests.