North Sea Rally 2019

(Aangezien dit verslag ook is gemaakt voor het jaarboek van de Engelse CO26 club is het dit maal opgemaakt in het Engels)

July 1st the long planned journey finally starts. Somehow, this trip has been in the back of my mind for a long time; actually ever since July 30th, 2017 during the Enkhuizen dinner of the first Contessa North Sea Rally. Mike Harrison had popped over from Cowes to be present at the event and over a nice glass of wine, he casually asked what the future plans for the North Sea Rally were. I am not sure whether is was the wine, but there and then Mike, Peter and I decided that it might be a good idea to make the event a tradition, and that the North Sea Rally would be organised every other year. Moreover, it was decided that the venue would be alternating between the continent and the UK. Peter volunteered to organise the 2019 edition and I promised to help wherever I could. 

Middle 2018 Peter and I got in contact again and although he mentioned that he had not yet come very far in planning the event, he did describe a draft plan already that was pretty closely aligned with the actual weekend. Peter also mentioned that he and Caroline would go for a 10 day scouting cruise to see what would be suitable places to stay. Mike also contributed by providing insight on the racing and cruising calender of the association and helped to pick a date. It was quite clear that I was not the only one with the new rally in the back of my mind. With all the information gathered, I was able to announce the rally in the newsletter of the ContessaZeilers Benelux, in order to round up as many participants as I could.

Over the months that followed the plans gradually took more shape. Peter took the lead in planning the whole event, assisted by Mike and I started to feel utterly useless in helping to organise it. On the UK side it was clear that no help was needed and I was unable to persuade any Dutch or Belgian Contessa sailors to join. Some declined because they thought the journey would be too challenging, others because they had bigger fish to fry (like the AZAB or a trip to the UK west coast).

My own trip planning was also not really coming together for a long time; I had difficulties finding a crew. As the North Sea Rally can not be the North Sea rally when there are no oversees participants, I was determined to go, even if it meant I had to go solo. To my relief, in the weeks before the rally, all of a sudden I had a crew. Remco, a good friend of mine, who I asked (read begged) many times, had a change in his plans and was freed up to join the first leg of the trip. And when I visited Ron, another good friend, for his birthday, he matter of factly told me he would join me on the way back.

This all preceded July 1st, the actual start of Kleine Johanna’s journey. On that day early in the morning Remco and I leave Kleine Johanna’s home port Medemblik, heading for Den Helder. The stretch over the IJsselmeer up to Den Oever followed the windward shore closely, and with a nice breeze of 20 knots and no waves we have a pleasant cruise. Time for coffee and a chat, live is good. 11:30 we have the locks of Den Oever behind us, and we are now on tidal waters. At once the nature of the trip changes. The Wadddenzee, with its narrow creeks that one must follow, forces us to beat against the wind. The wind increases, we need to reef down and, just as always, I am too late to put on my sailing gear. Remco on the other hand, being much smarter and very eager to put on the sailing suit that he bought specially for the occasion, remains warm and dry.

The whole stretch to Den Helder we must tack and with the wind against the tide, the waves build up. Especially on the Texelstroom the waves are impressive. As we already departed late from Den Oever, the tide starts to turn before we reach Den Helder. We find however a nice reverse current close to Texel that carries us to the entrance of Den Helder. Once in the harbour, it is time to dry our stuff and to have a look around. It appears to us that Den Helder as a city is not very attractive.

July 2nd is the big day. This is going to be our first real North sea crossing. Kleine Johanna and I have crossed the Dover Strait a few times, but the eminent trip feels different. The plan is to cross to Lowestoft. We take the tide out of Den Helder and sail past the Noorderhaaks. We have light winds, but are  able to make about 5 knots of speed. Unfortunately, we have to tack again. The gribfiles promised us that the wind would turn more to the North, but initially this does not happen. For a long time, we do not make a lot of progress, and around 16:00 CET we still can see the Dutch shore.

By that time the wind shifts and we can actually sail in the right direction. Around 18:00 CET we cross the Texel TSS North. We are amazed by the many obstacles we find on our way; drilling platforms and well heads seem to be everywhere. The TSS lanes are also quite busy, but we manage to get through. Remco navigates us through quite nicely and we are happy to get some practice while there is still daylight. Night falls and at 0:00 CET we have a little party: It is my birthday. During the night, while crossing the Deep Water channel, we get a bit of a scare. The AIS tells us that a vessel is heading towards us at a speed of 30 knots, and that the CPA is 0.0 miles. We can make out some lights, but can not make sense of them. All of a sudden the speed of the vessel increases to 40 knots, and also that does not make sense. Reading

glasses bring the solution: the vessel’s speed is 3 – 4 knots and it appears to be a fishing boat. With that knowledge the lights make sense and we continue our journey reassured. I can only think how happy I am not to be alone out there.

At the break of dawn the wind disappears completely, leaving us no choice than to switch on the engine. The last 30 miles of the 136 miles journey we have to motor. Time enough to hoist the UK visitor flag and prepare landfall. July 3rd, 14:30 CET we dock in the Lowestoft  RN&SYC Marina and are greeted by Micheal and Diana of MeMo. They are preparing themselves for a trip to Southwold. We are proud of ourselves and are happy to be there. After a stroll in Lowestoft, which we find only a little bit more pleasant than Den Helder we head for a beer in the yacht club. This and the lack of sleep get to us and we go to sleep early. It has been a long day.

July 4th, our goal is to get to Harwich. After a good breakfast with bacon and eggs, we call the harbour master to get permission to leave the dock and we are on our way again. We try to sail through the Standford channel, but very soon the wind gives up and so do we. We motor for 2 hours and then the wind is back. It becomes a lovely day of sailing. We sail through the Shipway and make it to the Felixstowe Ledge buoy. There we follow the Harwich North Channel and cross the channel at the recommended crossing. It is 16:25. We enjoy the scenery as it becomes prettier and prettier as time passes. We sail up the Orwell in very light winds and by the time we are at the RHYC (19:15) it is floating rather than sailing.

In my research for the trip, I learned that everyone who visits the Orwell goes for the Butt and Oyster at Pin Mill, so after checking in with the harbour master Remco and I follow the path along the river and have dinner in the world famous pub. We decided that the next day we would do no sailing and would enjoy the surroundings.

And so we did. In the morning we walked over to the Butt & Oyster for Breakfast and continued to Chelmondiston, where we wanted to buy some provisions. Although the walk to the village was nice, we were unsuccessful on the shopping side. Returning to the HRYC we got a glimpse of some Contessa’s navigating the Orwell; the party was starting. Mike and Barbara were already there, Peter and Caroline reported that they had had a slight delay getting to the Yacht Club and arrived at around 13:00. Colin was already there as well.    

The official program would only start in the evening, thus some of the participants decided to have an unofficial lunch at …. the Butt and Oyster. After having breakfast and dinner there, Remco and I were curious how lunch would be and we joined. When we got there, it was nice to see how things can change with a change of the tide; now the water was up to the wall of the pub where it had been at least one cable away from the pub earlier.

Returning from lunch we saw that most of the participants had arrived. Going from boat to boat it was great to meet the people that had participated in the 2016 50 years anniversary at Lymington. We gathered at the lawn of the yacht club and enjoyed the great view while having a drink and a chat. After that the group moved inside the club, where we had a great dinner in the wonderful RHYC. Fortunately Barbara was there to remind everyone what they pre ordered. Both Mike and Peter did some nice speeches and shared the plan for the next day.  After dinner the group went back to the lawn and were served as dinner for the mosquito’s. The thought that these poor animals might die of alcohol poisoning made us put on insect repellent and that allowed us a few more pleasant hours outside.

The plan for the next day (July 6th) was to sail for Harwich, go up the Stour and  look for a place to anchor and swim. After that we would sail back to Ipswich where we would stay for the night. Geoff of La Mouette would leave the fleet and return to his home mooring.

Somehow the start of the day was a bit difficult for some people, but finally everybody managed to sail off. Trinco was darting around like a border collie guarding a flock of sheep, while the fleet sailed in light winds down the Orwell. Kleine Johanna ran into the start of a club sailing race; we were just at the windward buoy when the race tried to round it and witnessed how some yachts collided. Remco and I learned some new English words in the process.

It soon became evident that the plan of navigating the Stour, anchoring, swimming and getting back to Ipswich was a bit of a stretch, given the light winds. So after we made it to Shotley, most of us decided to sail back up the river Orwell. Kleine Johanna carefully avoided Shotley Flat and Bloody Point, as we were warned by somebody that that was a tricky point in the river. The organising committee had  forbidden to have a race, but put two sailing boats together on a lake or a river, and you have a race. Put a bunch of Contessa’s on a river, point them in the same direction and ….

During the “not a race at all” up the Orwell the sky grew greyer by the minute and I started to fear that my only contribution to the event, the pontoon party, was going to be impossible. After all, nobody wants his of her wine watered down by raindrops. My fear became reality when we entered the Ipswich harbor. Peter and Caroline had organized everything so well that we even had assigned berthing, and now I failed on the one thing I had to do: arrange nice weather. Acknowledging my failures, I promised to do a better job the following day.

Instead of the pontoon party, Remco and I went on a scouting mission to find the railway station. Ipswich was the place where he would disembark, and he wanted to be sure where to go when he had to hurry from the dinner place back to the railway station. We found it, did some shopping and got back just in time to catch up with the group heading out to the “Lord Nelson Inn”, where had another great dinner. Remco had to leave after the main course, thus missing a great desert.   

When Mike and Peter did the palaver for next day’s sailing trip, something strange happened: the unanimous group of skippers of the previous day split into two camps: the fearless, optimistic group that wanted to cross the bar at the Deben at falling tide, thus cutting the time for crossing the sill at Woodbridge short, and the more conservative group that felt better by having a bit more spare time. I belonged to the second group. We reached a compromise: we would leave slightly earlier than the fearless group wanted.

We ended the night crammed together in Kleine Johanna, enjoying the wine that was actually meant for the pontoon party. Since the first North Sea rally, this has become a bit of a tradition. It is always amazing how many people and dogs can find a more or less comfortable place on a Contessa 26 when drinks and snacks are involved. It even made Rupert Brown, owner of CO32 Zora consider to trade his CO32 for a CO26.

The next morning, July 7th started extremely early. For me this had something to do with an alarm that was still on continental time, and a desire to see Mike and Alan take off for their trip back to Cowes. I took some pictures the participant’s boats, including the Midnight Lady of John Hooper, who had joined us. The water in the harbour was like a mirror, which had the promise (or threat) in it that there might be a bit of motoring involved in today’s trip.

Around 7:00 AM Mike and Alan made their way out of the harbour, and at 8:00 am my new crew member Ron arrived. At 9:30 most of us where in  the harbour lock.  Even though there was not a lot of wind, the day looked promising. After passing the Orwell bridge, we hoisted the sails and motor sailed down the river. After Collimer point the engine could be switched off and we enjoyed moving along without the noise of the engine. After Landquart point the fleet split up again. Some took the more sensible route just along the coast, avoiding the south current. Others tacked out a bit further, hoping to avoid the motoring. Even though Peter told me specifically to stay near shore, I tacked out a bit further.

It did turn out right and Ron and I arrived at the Deben bar 13:45. We crossed it without trouble, and realised that in a bit more challenging conditions this crossing might be very interesting. The Deben proved to be a wonderful river. Kleine Johanna made her way all the way up to Woodbrige by sail which made things even better.

At Woodbridge, we docked in the Tidemill harbour, again at the berth that was pre-arranged by Caroline and Peter. As the weather was brilliant, the pontoon party could take place. We decided that the right venue would be the Midnight Lady, as the CO28 had a fridge that has the capacity to store the required quantity of white wine bottles. While the wine was cooling, Ron and I went for a stroll through the lovely village. The pontoon / Midnight Lady party was enjoyable; the imported Dutch cheeses and sausages went down well. Thanks to the hospitality of John & Dee we all had a good place to sit and enjoy the event.

The dinner venue was “The Anchor”, another great pub with lovely food. During the dinner, we discussed the future of the North Sea rally and agreed that the next edition would be in 2022 on the Dutch side of the North sea. This means that we skip 1 year, to allow for the CO26 – 55th anniversary in 2021 in Lymington. We further assigned volunteers for organising the North Sea rally up till 2031. If anyone has difficulty remembering what he committed to, please feel free to reach out to Rob. After the wonderful dinner, the die-hards crammed together again on Kleine Johanna for a little night cap. Peter managed to finish the bottle “Hagel and Donder”, a treacherous Friesian drink. We discussed options for Kleine Johanna to return back to the Netherlands and decided for the most convenient option: sleep in, have lunch in Woodbridge, pick up a mooring at Waldringfield, have dinner there and leave on the early tide the day after. At 23:49 we received word that Mike and Alan already passed Dungeness. 

And so it happened. The following morning (July 8th) the Kleine Johanna crew was busy with stocking up for the trip back, the primary concern being the quantity of fuel. The wind forecast promised that conditions would be very light. Ron and I were invited to a light lunch by Peter and Caroline in the “Kings Head”. Together with John and Dee we enjoyed the lunch that was all but light.

After that we headed for Waldingfield, enjoying the short trip on the river. No wind, so no sailing. We picked up a visitor mooring, which came with a little rowing boat. Fortunately Peter and Caroline picked us up with their motorized dinghy. We walked around for a while and headed for dinner. We looked back at the event and concluded that it had been wonderful and very well organised. Peter and Caroline dropped Ron and Ioff at Kleine Johanna  by Peter and Caroline and we decided to go to sleep early. The next morning would be a very early start for us.

July 9, 4:30 we dropped the mooring and headed for sea. Dawn was stunning and we considered us extremely lucky seeing this. We passed MeMo of Michael and Diana, anchored at the rocks and crossed the bar around 6:00 am. Then we set sail and headed for the North Shipwash.

Picking put the tide, we managed to make sufficient speed over ground, but we had to switch on the engine again around 8:00 am. The journey was rather uneventful; the major events being the regular topping up of the fuel tank. Ron’s first North sea crossing (and second sailing trip ever) turned out to become a motoring trip. We had to change course a few times for vessels slightly larger than Kleine Johanna. Unlike the trip towards the UK, we decided to run a watch schedule so that each of us could sleep a bit.

During Ron’s watch he woke me up to check on a vessel passing by. It is remarkable how fast one can get up when needed… Around 4:00 the next morning, we could switch off the engine and continue on sails for the remaining 40 miles. This made the trip almost an exact opposite of the trip towards the UK. 12:15 we arrived after 153 miles in Oudeschild, Texel.

July 11th the last leg of the journey started. We sailed from Oudeschild back up the Texelstroom towards Den Helder and then turned into the “Visjagersgaatje”. We arrived at the Den Oever locks at 12:30 and after a pleasant sailing trip down the Noord Holland coast, across the IJsselmeer, we arrived in Kleine Johanna’s home port, Medemblik. We were welcomed by Marion (Ron’s wife) and Clara. During our final dinner, Ron and I told them all about what a great event the 2nd North sea rally had been, thanks to all the nice participants and the organising skills of Peter and Caroline. Looking forward to meeting everyone (and more) at the 3rd North Sea rally in 2022.