Tales of two crossings…

Here I am sat in Den Hague in the Netherlands on a blustery grey day. since my last post I have managed to cross 2 major waterways, the Thames and the North Sea. Here is how they went…

The Thames. 

I was last on the Thames back in January when we sailed a Bavaria 45 back from London with Cornish Cruising, a memorable trip as on the way to Falmouth we were demasted off of Portland Bill, cut the rig off and managed to get into Weymouth under escort from the lifeboat. This time I was on my own, and in my fine but small Hawk 20. I slipped the mooring I had picked up in Faversham as the Sun was rising, and motored out against a flooding tide to the estuary. Off Pollard sands I raised the sails and used the flooding tide to head out to mid channel, aiming roughly for the red towers on a broad reach. By the time I got to the towers the tide had well and truely turned, and I made for the west swin channel. Knowing it was neap tides (the small ones), and having a lifting centre board I cheekily took a short cut across the west Barrow sand bank, with about a metre of water under the boat. This I had calculated before leaving, using a tidal curve which gave me how much water there would be at each hour of the tide. Surprisingly there wasn’t much traffic on the river, so the main channel was all mine.

On into the East Swin channel I sailed with the wind dropping down to Beaufort scale force 2 I headed for the Whitaker East Cardinal before turning North Esat for the river Blackwater.. I would of loved to have cut across the Foulness sands, but due to the artillery firing ranges, which I knew were in use from the mornings gun and sub facts report, I decided to be prudent for a change and stayed in the main channels, Pushing up the Blackwater against the last of the tide on a 7 mile broad reach was relaxing sailing I headed for Bradwell marina, and a pint of Ruddles finest ale.

The North Sea.  

This crossing would be my biggest yet, quite a few people had said I was a fool to attempt this in such a small open boat. Others have been further in smaller boats, Shrimpy, Frank Dye etc.

I am fairly new to sailing after refinding my love of the sport at Exe Sailing Club, after doing my Dinghy level 3 course in September 2014, I sailed as often as possible over winter, and did my instructor training the following February gaining my ticket in June after racing as often as possible on dinghies and cruisers and helping out with junior race training and sailability sessions. I decided I would do an intensive sailing course that winter and signed up for a zero to hero yacht master course with Cornish Cruising based in Falmouth, hoping that if I can cope with a west country winter of sailing I should be well prepared for future endeavors. The instructors were great, patient and thorough, the boats were, lets say well used…. I successfully gained my Yacht Master Offshore at the end of February this year, and felt mentally ready for the upcoming challenge.

To begin with I had hopes of sailing from The Wash straight to Esbjerg in Denmark, a crossing of over 330 nautical miles, though after the sail from Exmouth in Devon to Essex my self steering system was weak and I realized this passage may be the end of the voyage one way or another, or even me! So whilst sat in Titmarsh marina in Walton on  the Naze and studying various weather and wave websites, I saw a window to hop over to Holland, hopefully missing shipping channel with suitable wind. I swiftly grabbed some extra charts of the Dutch coast, double checked all gear on arctic joy, and left 2 days later.

The alarm buzzed at 3.15 on the 20th of May 2016, after a short nights sleep due to the many thoughts going round my head about the crossing, I packed up the boat and left the marina at 4.30 a.m. . I knew I would have to sail against the tide for the first hours of the trip, but I wanted to arrive in daylight and with a 130nm passage I would have it with as well when it turned. With the sun rising i made for a South Cadinal bouy marking the Whiting Bank to the east of the mouth of the river Ore. With the wind up my arse, which is never a favoured point of sail, I goose winged on port and starboard tack against the tide and with less than 10 knots of wind, I got frustrated, cursed the wind and a few other things, wondering what the hell I was doing out here. It took a few hours to settle into this leg, knowing how far I was going to sail and with these waters being some of the busiest in the World, shipping coming and going from Harwich, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Newcastle, the Baltic ports to name just a few. On reaching the cardinal I altered course and made for a waypoint I had decided on mid channel. I had stocked up on snacks before I left, so the cockpit bags were bulging with chocolates, scotch eggs and pasties, and of course  several of my fine wet ration bags. I had found on the sail up from Devon that I wasn’t regularly eating, and hunger affects my decisions, so more was better and at the first stomach grumble I could reach down and grab something sweet or savoury whatever the weather was doing.

Some showers were forecast, and the 7am shipping forcast brought a strong wind warning in sea ares Thames and Humber with a force 7 predicted. This gave me food for thought and a couple more nerve endings buzzed. I had tried to prepare myself and the boat as well as possible and believed we could cope with that though it would be at both of our extremes. So with about 15knts of wind I made for waypoint one on a broad reach with about a metre high swell, I was beginning to enjoy it. With a wind farm on my starboard beam, a couple of vessels passed me, the first of these I radioed to see how I was appearing on their radar, as I had installed an Echomax radar transponder before I left which should give me a much better ‘echo’, they said they could see me well which calmed a few nerves. As I got further into the North Sea the swell increased to 2 – 3 metres which gave some good surfing as it was almost astern, though when it came onto my beam (middle of boat) we did roll a fair amount, but not too much to worry me.

On reaching the way point, there wasn’t really any going back now as I was over half way across, there was the odd ship on the horizon, then one was headed in my direction, ok lets see if we are on collision course. Were, as it got closer I saw it was a large car carrier, very large when you are in a 20ft boat, so I hove to and waited for it to go past my bow at about 500m distant. As I was alone and evening was coming I knew I would have to keep a very good watch  for shipping as if they ran me down, they probably wouldn’t notice and I probably wouldn’t even scratch their paint work, however shoddy it was. Dusk drew in and more ships appeared on the horizon, they were headed to all points of the compass and I had to dodge several, but I knew the main shipping lane was to my west and hoped the majority would stay in there. Midnight came and went I was feeling tired, and had a wet bum, after opting for regular wet weather gear instead of my trusty dry suit. This was probably an error as trying to get into a drysuit whilst sailing is not an easy option especially with a fair amount of spray onboard, so i stayed as I was, but added an extra primaloft layer under my Musto MPX jacket.

I was hoping for an early morning arrival in Scheveningen, which I prefer as if things go astray on the passage it gives me plenty of daylight to sort things out and still have time to get into a new Port or anchorage without darkness to hinder me. By this time the wind had risen enough for me to use my ‘deep’ third reef and still be making a good 6 knts, if the wind kept up I would drop the mainsail totally and go on my headsail alone. At about 3 am my course took me past what I thought were  a couple of ships at anchor, as one made way towards me I changed direction and ducked behind a tanker, expecting to be in clear water afterwards, but to my shocked and blearily tired eyes there were dozens of ships at anchor, presumably waiting to enter Rotterdam about 40 miles away. After about 30 minutes inside this anchorage I found clear water and my nerves were half shot as some were very poorly lit, I headed back out to sea as I thought. But no, somewhere in there both my compasses on board were showing 100 degrees different to my gps, I dug out my spare gps and it was reading the same as its brother. A little panic then set in, I knew where I should be, which was about 25 miles East north East of my destination, but which should I trust, 2 compasses or 2 gps’s? I decided to wait half an hour until it got light enough to see clearly, consult charts, eat, calm down then make a rational decision. As daylight sauntered in I saw at least 3 tankers that were unlit at anchor, which is not only illegal but scary when you are sailing around them in a wee boat and they are dark coloured, and therefore invisible to me, I breathe a huge sigh of relief that I hadn’t hit one, decided to continue on my course using gps, hoping there was a magnetic anomaly in the area or from the other ships.

The last broad reach into Port was grand, with seriously drooping eyelids, I fell asleep on the helm and only woke as the tiller was yanked out of my hand, I needed help to stay awake. A good friend Vicki and mentioned at a pre trip dinner that at some point there would be time for death metal.. So out came the ipod and speaker, Metallica was found and out they thundered, no sleep now. Hoping they wouldn’t be overcome by water and drown as my ‘waterproof’ speaker had i carried on with them both sheltering under my crocs. My final way point came into view a safe water mark, freshly painted and gleaming red and white striped. I dropped my sails radioed harbour control and entered port, feeling  exhausted but elated, I had done it.

Solo across the North, over 30 hrs at the helm of my 20ft hawk, arctic joy. Now for a short rest before island hopping up the coast to Denmark and beyond…





3 thoughts on “Tales of two crossings…

  1. Great stuff- will keep an eye out for more posts. We are just off to the Outer Hebrides with our Hawk but seems quite tame…

    PS I would be a bit cautious of running under jib only in big winds and seas. You lose the benefit of rounding up in a broach. I think I would be happier under your 3rd reef only.
    Do get in touch if you have any questions.

    Best of luck



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