Haarlem and Amsterdam: 1 August 2014

Waiting for the bridge
Waiting for the bridge

Around 50 gaffers from the UK and Netherlands OGA continue on passage through the busy locks and under the lifting bridges, as they carefully manoeuvre in tight spaces, at times with some difficulty, to leave room for the large, fast commercial barges, some of which are 10,000 tons or more.

Ranging in size from the small trailer sailors ‘Charlotte II’ from the Netherlands, ‘Sepia’ from the Solent and ‘Step Back in Time’ from Grimsby, to the 40-ton Dutch smack ‘Brandaen’, built of steel with a formidable bowsprit, the fleet may rightly be described as a ‘motley crew’, with varying degrees of experience with locks and canals.

A significant difference in passage planning, when travelling the Dutch waterways, is to be sure of the lock, bridge and railway timetables rather than tide tables and tidal streams. Travelling in company allows plenty of opportunity for OGA skippers and crews from both sides of the North Sea to work together on passage, meeting up during the evenings to develop a firm sense of fun and enjoyment as the tour proceeds towards Amsterdam and North Holland.

Perhaps due to the need to motor more than they’re used to led to several English boats suffering engine problems, some more challenging to resolve than others. Before reaching Haarlem, past President Mike Shaw’s boat ’Susan J’ along with East Coast vessels ‘Else’ and ‘Gwenili’ were towed in search of marine engineers. ‘Else’, having no sail power, was forced to remain in Haarlem, taking a professional tow to Nauerna, where she remains for repair until the end of August.

‘Susan J’ took tows from ‘Cine Mare’ whilst on the canals and into overnight harbours, enjoying the chance to sail as far as Enkhuisen, where she remains with a new gearbox awaiting a ‘weather window’ for the passage back to the Solent. ‘Gwenili’ successfully sourced repairs to her engine south of Haarlem and re-joined the fleet to make passage north to Friesland and Den Helder, where she’s moored in the historic harbour awaiting the return of her skipper, and hopefully better weather, in September.

Most of the OGA fleet arrive in Haarlem by Friday 1 August, mooring up to four abreast along the Spaarne below Catharijnebrug. Haarlem has a rich heritage, dating back to the 13th century, and is well-known for beer brewing and as a centre for the tulip trade. The city is very different from Harlem, New York, founded in 1658 by Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of the Dutch colony, Nieuw Nederland, with chic shops and restaurants lining the streets and canals.

Saturday morning finds the fleet departing for Amsterdam, still numbering over 40 vessels, and leaving in small groups to time their passage under bridges with strict opening times. The route takes the fleet north along the Spaarne and into the Noordzee Kanaal. Construction of the North Sea Canal took place between 1865-76, linking Amsterdam with the North Sea at Ijmuiden, planned to supplement the Noordhollandsch Kanaal which proved inadequate for the 19th century increasing traffic.

Converging on Amsterdam throughout the day, depending on which bridge openings the skippers manage to catch, a growing fleet of gaffers grace the pontoons at the sparkling new Yacht Marina, which boasts excellent facilities including luxurious bathrooms and a bustling restaurant. East Coast boats ‘Cygnet of London’ and ‘Kajan’ were the last to arrive, just after a torrential rainstorm forced everyone to take shelter. For those wishing to ‘party’ the night away, a tour of the city’s canals was organised by Fred in small launches, returning late after a taste of Gay Pride, Amsterdam.

On a very practical note, the free ferry service to the city centre and railway station, allows convenient opportunities for skippers to bid farewell or welcome new crews before the second part of the tour begins.