Monday, 10 November 2014

Wemeldinge to Dordrecht, a stamina and skills test?

Monday 28th July, the tour handbook has today as "a good daytrip!" of 37Nm.

Plenty to consider, the initial waterways we are using are tidal (3m range and significant flows), we have two major locks to negotiate and some time critical bridges - a whole new gammut of passage planning considerations for me. Plus our overnight venue has a town centre along-side mooring, another novelty, oh! and sailing boats are not permitted to tack on certain waterways. The newly acquired ANWB Staande Mastroute (mast up) atlas has had some serious attention and routes have been entered on the Garmin chartplotter, Nexus 7 ANWB charts and Xperia Z2 Navionics chart. The zoom v. detail jumps on the chart plotter render it less suitable than the tablets for pilotage of this nature, but it is weatherproof!

The ANWB Staande Mastroute chart booklet

Staande Mastroute chart detail

Radio communications raises another set of considerations in terms of VHF channel use, CH16 is still the emergency channel, however, there is a "listening channel" VHF68 for waterway control, a calling  and bridge-to-bridge channel VHF10 and local channels for each bridge/lock. My combination of three VHF sets and two ears seems mismatched.

Route plan for the day

The route from Wemeldinge takes us via the tidal Oosterschelde, Brabants Vaarwater, Keeten and Mastgat for a distance of 12 mile to the Krammer Lock (7). Exiting the lock we are into the Volkerak as far as the Volkerak Sluis (18) then Hollandsdiep until the branch North onto the Dordtsche Kil and finally the Oude Maas for the entry into Dordrecht.

As we cast off at 08:30 the weather forecast comes true and a torrential rainstorm sets in, reducing visibility to less than 100m, maintaining visual contact with the fleet is impossible and it becomes a case of concentrating on the nav and keeping an eye on the boats immediately ahead and astern. The rain ceases after about an hour and the improved vis allows a check on the fleet which is now fairly dispersed along the route. No sign of fellow single-hander Barbara on Moon River but she was still preparing her boat when I cast off and there are a few other boats who miss the commercial vessel Krammer Lock opening that has been planned for the fleet.

Arriving at the Volkerak Sluis it is necessary to hold at the waiting moorings for entry and fellow Solent single-hander Marion rafts alongside with East Breeze (a Tamarisk 22). Come the green light for lock entry and the engine on East Breeze refuses to start, so we quickly set up an alongside starboard tow with Hyrst of  Eremue, agree some basic handling plans and set off at the tail end of the charge for the lock. The lock looks crammed as we approach and at the critical moment the lights go to red against us! Fortunately (knowing Sodd) we had anticipated this and kept well to port on the approach as I could only manage a tight turn to starboard under this configuration, and with both helms over and using max prop wash we clear the lock entry and set off for the waiting mooring again - only to look back and see a lock-keeper frantically waving us in against the red! Another starboard about u-turn and a run for the lock, but where to go in the lock, it is packed! Tied two-abreast and with a fair amount of momentum we have a tense few moments getting the attention of crew on the rearmost boats in the lock but manage and achieve an impact free "merging" with the other boats. It is obvious that Hyrst will not be able to tow East Breeze any distance and whilst in the lock we manage  to contact the Hamble based Cornish Trader "Beagle", a sturdy 30ft ketch, who agrees to take on the tow once we are clear of the lock. While waiting for the lock opening Marion and I manage to encourage the reluctant engine into life, but agree that I will maintain the tow until clear of the lock and into more open water, Beagle agrees to standby as a back-up. East Breeze manages to remain under own engine power for the rest of the day (no switching off at locks/bridges) with Beagle and Hyrst staying nearby just in case.

It can be seen that confidence and capability is starting to build amongst us first-timers at this inland waterways lark, although the entrance to Dordrecht causes a fair amount of tension as a large gaffer fleet arrives at the tight bridge-restricted entrance to the inner harbour. The local water plod (aka Rotterdam Harbour Police) are soon on scene with two patrol boats to manage the situation as we are at the junction of two busy and controlled commercial waterways. After much position holding/jostling the bridge opens and we experience the challenge of getting the fleet in and berthed in a space that few of us thought large enough. I moored Hyrst bows in between two boats in box moorings who were bows out, well fendered there was hardly a need for warps!

Moon River had fallen behind but, accompanied by East Coast gaffer "Bonify" rejoined the fleet. It appears that Moonriver suffered an engine overheat soon after leaving Wemeldinge and during the rain storm failed to raise any of the fleet on VHF (I suspect the combination of VHF channel options and battened down boats in the rain exacerbated the comms problem.)  Barbara then resorted to sending text messages to skippers in the fleet, which was responded to by Howard, the skipper of Bonify, who then took Moon River in tow whilst he set about clearing a water blockage on Moon River's engine.

The entrance to Dordrecht, with some of the fleet on approach.

 The day's sail had been challenging but interesting, with a first insight into the commercial aspects of  the waterways, the significant industry and infrastructure associated with it, and then the total contrast of the old city of Dordrecht.

The gaffer fleet in the harbour at Dordrecht. (photo. Barbara Runnels)

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