Monday 27 August 2012

Hoo to Amsterdam July/August 2012

Sharon drove me, brother Andy and my two boys Stephen and Vincent down to Hoo on Saturday p.m. 28/8/12.
High tide was about 2000, so plan A was to drop down the river as soon as afloat and overnight at Queenborough for a morning start.

Said goodbye to Sharon and cast off around 1830. Fair winds from the SW and good weather were forecast so decided to press on up the coast. Departed Garrison Point about 2130 into a beautiful sunset. 

After an hour or so of a very light breeze the wind freshened to force 3-4 from the SW and under a beautiful clear night sky made good progress across the Thames under main and boomed out Genoa.

Quiet crossing the Thames but the new Standard Horizon VHF/AIS radio indicated its future value.
Careless navigation meant we scraped over Shroeburyness. Had to put a tack in to cross the Spitway 1 hour before low water. Soundings down to 1.2 under the keel which seemed low for neaps.

The flood slowed us up after the Spitway and we crossed the Harwich Approach at about 0400 on Sunday. Everyone was happy to press on for Lowestoft so with the wind continuing fair we did.

Saw a couple of great shooting stars. The boys were knackerd (funny how they can party all night with no trouble at all) so Andy and I spent most of the night on watch. Called the boys up at about 0700 and Andy and I took a bit of a break. Crossed some very low soundings (1.5 meters under keel) inside the banks despite charted depths of 3 meters LAT) but did not touch.

Seemed to take an age to pass Sizewell but we did eventually. Encountered pod of jumping porpoises in the approach to Lowestoft - a great welcome - and entered Lowestoft RN&S at about 1330. A cracking passage.

Tidied up and then went for a farewell fish and chips lunch with Andy.

On return decided to turn the boat round so that it would be easier to get out. Conditions were fairly benign at the start but very quickly freshened and soon were bloody horrid even in the marina. I didn't have enough lines out and ended up making a complete pratt of myself in front of a visiting Dutch contingent, hanging off a bow line and swinging too close to other boats. Eventually with the help of a friendly motor boat neighbour order was restored.

The mayhem was followed by an afternoon kip while the boy's went shopping then a late night Indian.

On waking discovered new neighbour Mike alongside in his Nic 32 and 2 guys in a 23 footer. Both had been caught in the approaches to Lowestoft in the squall which hit when turning the boat round. This created the worst conditions either had seen. Mike on his own somehow managed to avoid grounding on the banks in very poor visibility despite not being able to leave the helm to check his charts etc. The other guys had to run back north under bare pole until the conditions moderated.

Tuesday 31st August 1430 departed for Ijmuiden. Hit by violent rain squall with strong westerly as we left the banks behind (thankfully). AS soon racing along at 8 k and over canvassed. Put in 3 reefs and we were still at 6k plus. Within half an hour it was all over and all plain sail set. Thankfully we were hit at slack water and were out of the banks so no heavy seas were encountered unlike the experience the guys had yesterday. Also we were being blown away from the banks so no real concern on my part.

So commenced what for the most part was a rather tame if uncomfortable crossing. A confused swell from the west and the south persisted for the entire crossing causing AS to roll a fair bit. The wind stayed in the west the entire time with frequent showers. The wind was often too light to keep up the speed required to make the tidal gates and therefore had to deploy the engine for about 60% of the time in fits and starts.

Tried to use George -  AS's old auto helm but no electrical connection so manual helming required all the way.
Crossing the deep water shipping channels was relatively quiet but we got swept a bit too far south and as we entered Dutch waters it was like Piccadilly circus because we were right on top of the traffic separation zone to the north of the Rhein delta. The AIS really earned its keep making it much easier to work out what ships we needed to be wary of. The alarm was a bit trigger happy (I later worked out that it was going off even if the ships were not within the display range set but would come within the CPA (Closest Point of Approach) range set ) which made me grumpy in the early hours when very tired.  But a small price to pay.

As we got closer to the Dutch coast we closed on two platforms and picked up the first fresh breeze of the crossing since the squall off Lowestoft. AS was soon romping along at 6-7k with the wind on the quarter. The boys missed it - fast asleep! This, the best sailing of the crossing lasted for about an hour and then the wind began to die down and veer further to the west. In an effort to keep sailing and a reasonable speed I was tempted to steer south of east for a couple of hours and it was this that brought us to the end of the TSZ north of the delta.

It was the heavy shipping that we had now encountered that forced me to check our position and discover the error.

A very grey dawn allowed glimpses of the Dutch coast as we corrected our heading and made directly for Ijmuiden about 25 miles off. Visibility was such that it was not until 5 miles out that the steel works emerged from the grey gloom. Spouting their own grey effluent, the chimneys formed a Dickensian scene reminding me of the recent Olympics opening ceremony in London. It looked pretty grim and for a while I wondered what we had let ourselves in for.

The entrance was moderately uncomfortable but the only hazards were the cross tide and shipping. I could well imagine it being awful in a strong blow with the wind north of west. We moored up in the massive marina at about 1400 without a chimney to be seen.

Our next door neighbour was Bobo, a wonderfully chirpy German in a Hanse 31 who had got in the previous day after a 31 hour passage from Ramsgate returning from a single handed circumnavigation of the UK. After a lifetime at sea as a professional seaman his wife couldn't cope with him under her feet and suggested he should buy a boat and go sailing! His immediate requirement was to obtain some euros and before we had finished mooring up was offering to buy 20 for £20! The boys took him up on the offer.

I took a quick run ashore to sort out the wonderfully quick formalities and to have a shower. No passports or crew list required, simply pay the €25 mooring fee! Next on the agenda was sleep for me while the boys went off to explore what turned out to be a remarkably pleasant seaside resort complex on the southern edge of the marina.

I got up to cook a meal and was back to bed at midnight. Tomorrow, Wednesday, would be the short (13 miles) easy leg up the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam, what could possibly go wrong?

In the morning the boys went assure to get their Internet fix at one of the local bars while I did odd jobs on the boat. I joined them for a quick beer and then we dropped our lines and headed for the locks. We had to take avoiding action to get out of the way of a large commercial barge that was overtaking but the rest of the approach to the lock was straightforward. We radioed ahead as recommended by the Pilot but were told to simply wait for the green light before entering. After making a bit of a mess of mooring on the waiting pontoon and in the lock we followed half a dozen other boats up the canal.

Vincent posing
Stephen's teeth
It was a beautiful sunny relaxing day with very little traffic. 
Skipper at the Helm on the North Sea Canal
Prior to the lock Vincent remarked on how easy it would be to smuggle drugs by boat into Holland. Half way up the Canal we were boarded by Customs who spent half an hour checking us over and yes they wanted to know whether we were carrying any drugs (we weren't). Passports, bill of sale and registration documents all had to be produced. They asked the boat's age and when I said she was built in 1972 they looked at each other and shrugged. I took that to mean they did not require proof of VAT paid which was just as well because I had none. However, I was soon in trouble over red diesel - to my surprise they told me it was illegal in Holland. Could I produce a receipt from the UK? If so they would let me off. Stupidly though I had not left them on the boat. However they seemed reluctant to pursue the matter and asked me how much we had. A genuine slip of the tongue produced the response 20 litres (it should have been gallons). They shrugged and dropped the matter. After a more than cursory but less than exhaustive search of the boat they left and recommend we went to see the Gay Parade on Saturday! I said I'd take the boys - that raised a laugh all round.

Drilling Platform under way heading for the North Sea

Meanwhile storm clouds were moving up the canal from the west.

Ten minutes after the Customs boat left us the rain arrived. Nothing out of the ordinary to start with but within half an hour it was an absolute deluge and followed us up the canal to Amsterdam. Another half an hour and we were approaching Amsterdam harbour with the viability varying between bad and atrocious. Thankfully the wind rose to no more than a force 4. By now traffic on the canal was heavy. Numerous barges thundering up and down and soon they were joined by the ferries crisscrossing the canal. Through the murk I could see central station on the starboard bank and the canal looked very busy over there. I vaguely recalled the pilot mentioning small boat lanes on the north and south side of the canal and with our destination - Six Haven Marina - being on the south bank I took advantage of a break in the weather and a diminution of traffic and I steered for the south lane (wrongly as I subsequently discovered I should have stayed on the starboard side). Then the rain closed in again and without realising it I was going the wrong way up a one way street. Soon avoiding action was needed to miss a ferry. I dashed down below for a quick look at the pilot - goodness it was hot down there but I had no time to digest the importance of that.

Then the weather lifted more permanently and Six Haven was alongside. At last it was possible to communicate with the boys and I got Stephen to ring the marina (no VHF channel) who said we could come in. The first challenge was finding the entrance it had what appeared to be a no entry sign outside which was confusing to say the least.

However, there didn't seem to be any any other option so 5 minutes after being unable see anything in the middle of Amsterdam Harbour we edged cautiously into Six Haven Marina. It soon became clear that the marina was overflowing with yachts squeezed into every conceivable space. 

There wasn't a pontoon to be seen and I decided we'd have to look for a berth elsewhere.  [Subsequently it became apparent that this was business as usual at Six Haven. There's a mass exodus every morning that requires all those who are temporarily rafted up to move to allow those in the boxes who want to, to  leave. Then there's a mad scramble for the berths vacated.] With AS's stern up against the bank and her bow inches from the last boat to have rafted up I was just about to attempt to turn her around when the engine stopped. Then I remembered the heat in the cabin earlier and belatedly concluded the engine must have over heated. I decided not to attempt to re-start it and hoped against hope that no damage had been done.

We therefore rafted up alongside the nearest boat and in so doing blocked the exit for half the marina. 

Then to my astonishment another boat came and moored alongside us.

I clambered over boats rafted up around six deep before eventually finding a pontoon and made my way to the marina office to explain our predicament. The Harbour master was very relaxed and simply asked me to prepare warps in the event of not being able to get the engine going in the morning - no one he assured me would be leaving this afternoon.
I returned to the boat, sent the boys off to explore Amsterdam and tackled the engine. First I remove water intake filter -perhaps it was blocked? It wasn't but it was covered in a sort of plaque and I thought that perhaps that was restricting the water flow. Then I inspected the water pump - the impeller looked fine so I re-assembled it. Then a long phone call to Mick - what did he think - should I try and re-start it? We decided yes. The engine fired up and sounded normal and warm water was coming out the exhaust. Then I noticed water spurting from a hole in the pump. The seals on the shaft had failed, Mick concluded - perhaps the thermostat too - best replace both.

The next day - Thursday - we temporarily relocated the boat to facilitate the morning exodus and then re-entered just in time to bag the last proper berth. The engine seemed OK but I didn't push it hard. We then watched the marina gradually fill to over-flow levels again. Went sight - seeing with the boys in the afternoon.

The boys flew back the next morning and I spend the day fighting to remove the water pump..

...and the thermostat.

Unsurprisingly various bolts were seized and I had to remove the flywheel ....

to deal with one. Eventually, I managed to remove both the water pump and thermostat and then ordered replacement parts to fit on my return.

The next day Saturday, I caught the plane home and left AS in the care of Six Haven marina. I had a week back at work before flying back out with Sharon for what was planned as a week's gentle pottering before the return leg back to the UK (without Sharon). Quite how much time would now have to be spent fighting with the engine remained to be seen. Indeed, I wasn't that confident that I would be able to resolve the problems myself.