Friday, 8th AugustThe 09:00 briefing this morning takes place on a rather windy pontoon and a race course is announced that takes us to the entrance of Den Helder via the buoyed channel leading NW from Den Oever (not a lot of choice over that part) to a mark at (8) on my route. From there the race course heads for the SE corner of Texel Island toward the west cardinal mark T-KL-B and then Den Helder harbour entrance. The race start time is 10:00 which means a flurry of activity on all boats as a more leisurely start was expected by most. The course distance is approximately 12Nm.
The weather is fine but with an ENE F4-5 wind blowing, resulting in some of the larger boats having difficulty getting off the pontoons. I have my own single-hander issues as I barely have time to get the boat ready for sea and plot my course, but I do manage to get two reefs in the mainsail while still tethered to the pontoon and get away on time for the race start. I am having a good sail with Hyrst going well in the conditions, however, at the change of direction (7) the wind is fluctuating around dead astern and the autohelm not able to hold course without the risk of a gybe, so it is a case of hand steering whilst navigating and skippering (there is commercial traffic). By the time I reach point (8) with one gybe already I opt to abandon racing, bring the wind to port and have a more enjoyable private race with two other boats making the same choice. Given that Den Helder is the primary port for the Dutch Navy, as well as a major North Sea oil support harbour, I am expecting port control signals and some large traffic, however, I get a clear run into the harbour and tuck into the eastern corner for some shelter to stow sails. Some of the early race finishers are gathering at the Zeedoksluis ready for entry into the Willemsoord harbour, a change from our published moorings. Some confusion then ensues as the lock becomes inoperable, then it is a follow-my-leader race as we head via a further lock, Koopvaardersschutsluis (what?), and three bridges to get to the other side of the defunct lock. As we arrive there the (repaired) lock opens and disgorges the rest of the gaffer fleet to join us!
I moor Hyrst alongside at 13:30, locate the friendly Harbour Master to arrange for refuelling and pay my harbour fee of €12/night for two nights - with the wind forecast I have no intention of moving before Sunday.
Safely moored up in Den Helder prior to the stormy conditions arriving. Half of the fleet on this pontoon, the other half on a pontoon to the left of shot. Hyrst, center, with no raft of boats :>)
Saturday, 9th AugustAs we are running a day ahead of schedule today is a rest day prior to the final gathering this evening of the "OGA NL Cross Country Tour 2014". There was a suggestion of a day sail to Texel, nearest of the Frisian Islands, but the weather has scuppered that possibility - it is blowing a hooley! When planning the cruise I had considered spending a few extra days visiting the Frisian Islands as I am unlikely to have the opportunity to do so with my own boat again, not to be though. The hosts have also arranged for a visit to a restoration boatyard close to where we are berthed, this is associated with the "Fairtransport" emission free project. In preparation for the return journey I go about the chores of shopping, laundry, refuelling, boat maintenance and passage planning which seem to take up a large proportion of the day.
The end of tour competition awards, speeches and formal goodbyes takes place in a restaurant within the restored wharehouses on the adjoining canal. Another lively event which is carried over to pontoon gatherings which last well in to the evening.
The NJoy restaurant (with light colour awnings) is the location for our final gathering of the tour. The harbour is to the far side of the buildings.
From discussion between skippers during the day it appears the weather has caused disruption to everyones ongoing plans. For several of the Dutch crews the intention was to cruise the local area or continue on to the Frisian Islands as part of their annual holiday. Many of the UK crews have commitments at home and had intended to make a fast return via the North Sea, which is likely to be a no go area for several days. Some have already arranged to leave their boats in Den Helder and return later for them. For others it is a case of arranging additional crew changes. For me it looks like Option 2 of my original return passage planning.