My trip to Holland in the Boyes sponsored North Sea Race 2011 by Les Green
Although Alan Mills and I have sailed together for over 30 years all of our experience has been in dinghies. Only this year have we started crewing for Alan Smith and Steve Martin on their Sigma 33 named ‘Revenge’ out of Scarborough Yacht Club. So when the idea of sailing across the North Sea was first muted we jumped at the chance even though we had no real idea of what to expect. The sum total of our sea sailing at that time being half a dozen weekend races in Scarborough bay, a night race to Hartlepool that had to be aborted due to no wind and a coastal race to Whitby which also developed into light airs.
Alan and Steve eventually warmed to the idea that we could make a contribution to the crossing and agreed to take us. The other member of the team being Dave Flett who is a very experienced sailor and has the ‘Round Britain’ race in his list of sailing achievements. Alan (S) has competed in the race a number of times before but had never won, this year however he had a secret weapon, no not Alan (M) and me, but a brand new main sail.
20.00 hours Friday 8 July and we were off on a tight starboard reach with the Windex showing 18 to 20 knots. Alan (S) agreed with Steve and Dave that we adopt three hour watches. He said to Steve, with a twinkle in his eye and tongue in cheek, “if you and Dave cover a watch I will take these two Herberts”. For a little while we were Herbert 1 and Herbert 2 but this became just as confusing as having two Alans aboard so we reverted to calling Alan Mills by the name my daughters gave him years ago - ‘Pugwash’.
Night sailing was very interesting. Sailing on the compass assisted by the GPS and taking sightings on the numerous rigs in the gas fields was all new to us. Alan gave instruction on navigation, lights and shipping shapes and on the need to keep a 360 degree watch at all times. All shipping we gave a wide berth. I particularly enjoyed my turn on the helm. There was a 10 to 15 foot swell with occasional white crests which was running from the starboard stern quarter diagonally causing Revenge to be pushed up the face and surf down the back of each wave increasing the weather helm on the tiller as we surged forward; in the dark this was exhilarating and staying on course required concentration.
With the dawn came an increase in the wind and what the experienced sailors called a ‘confused sea’. Powered by her new sail, however, Revenge was making good time even though the ride was now more ‘bumpy’. We were healed over at 30 degrees plus and as Revenge pitched and rolled it required strong legs, good balance and physical effort to move around. As I have none of these attributes I had to hang on tightly to the grab rails on the roof of the cabin and as for making use of the heads (lavatory) well, you will just have to use your imagination (don’t dwell on it). As Pugwash tried to eat his breakfast the boat dropped into a trough, his cereal left the bowl, hovered, like in a Tom and Jerry cartoon, then dumped itself in his open bag of clean clothes and this was not the first incident of its kind. He had previously had a cup of hot tea drop onto his hand in the same fashion.
After about 12 hours sailing I had just come off watch went below and immediately felt queasy. I had not been sea sick before so this was another new experience. “Lie flat” I was told “and you will feel a lot better” wrong! I made a swift dash up the steps to the cockpit and hastily made for the leeward side of the boat. I don’t how long I remained on deck, I just remember that I felt better in the fresh air.
Before we set off I had asked Alan how long it might take to cover the 210 miles journey to which he had replied, “it can take up to 48 hours”. Now my sea sickness was coming and going. After each time I had to make that dash to the leeward side I was fine. I managed to take my turns on the helm, drink tea and eat the occasional flap jack (baked by Dave’s partner). I have a vague recollection of the others tucking in to a delicious stew made by Alan’s wife. After about another 10 hours of not much sleep and gradually becoming dehydrated I remember thinking to myself ‘can really take another 28 hours of this? (due to our quick crossing, however this became only 8 hours) – easy!
Our crossing was not without incident. Around half way, as the wind increased to approaching 30 knots it was decided that a fore sail change was needed, however, in lowering the number one genoa the halyard jammed half way and when all attempts to stop the sail flapping violently failed Alan said “Some one will have to go up the mast, who’s lightest? - Pugwash” but then Dave volunteered. The main sail was lowered and the bosons chair made ready. I was given the job of holding her into the wind and with mast oscillating like a metronome Dave was hoisted aloft. At a height of about 12 feet he lost his grip, swung out from the mast and back like conker on a string. He collided with the mast and shroud wire and it was now clear that another solution was required. The number two genoa was then hoisted with the spinnaker halyard inside the now shredded number one and we were on our way again with Dave nursing some fine bruises. Ah well as the saying goes ‘worse things happen at sea!’
We were still making excellent time and with Dave on the helm our ETA was looking like 2.00 to 3.00am Sunday. We crossed the busy shipping lanes, sailed past the huge wind farm and headed for Ijmuiden and the finishing line to record one of the fastest crossings in the history of the race. We were all on deck taking in the surroundings which included another yacht in race -‘Windshear’. We crossed the line and while congratulating ourselves our celebrations were interrupted by a large oil barge astern that was gaining on us rather quickly. We were illuminated by powerful search lights and given a warning blast on the barge’s Claxton. Alan, now on the helm, quickly steered clear and said that the barge skipper would probably be saying “dam WAFI’s”. I questioned “WAFI’s? Yes said Alan ‘Wind Assisted Flipping Idiots!”. (a loose translation).
By 3.00am, dawn had broken, the sky was blue and we were safely berthed in the Ijmuiden marina. I was feeling good and not one bit tired so while the others slept I joined Steve in a stroll round to the shower block. This turned out to be a mistake for although I felt fine I did not realise at the time that lack of sleep would catch up on me big-time.
Breakfast was to be bacon (from the cool box) and eggs ( which were in one of the lockers) but which one? We could all remember bringing them aboard, so where were they? We searched high and low without success. Eventually Alan asked Pugwash what was in the carrier bag he was holding. “They’ve not in here he replied there’s only the eggs in this bag.” He had been in an earlier conversation about needing a kitchen roll and had not heard that we were looking for the eggs. Well it was funny at the time.
By 10.00am we were ready to make our way through the lock and up the North Sea Canal to Amsterdam. It was a beautiful summer’s day and as we motored up the Canal there was a general feeling of wellbeing aboard Revenge as we swapped stories, most of sailing events and each one topping the previous. Life is good. By mid afternoon we were berthed in Sixhaven marina and after a relaxing for couple of hours we were ready for a few drinks and a meal in the city. We boarded the ferry and headed for the ‘tourist’ district. As Alan knew of a highly recommended restaurant called Co Co’s. We all followed him. We trawled up one street and down the next calling into the ‘occasional’ bar for refreshment. Nobody we asked knew of Co Co’s. “Well it was about five years ago” muttered Alan “pity”. We settled for another place to eat.
After our meal we called into one or two more of the local hostelries and on our way back came across the crew of Takaza. Over another couple of beers they kept us amused with stories of what they had eaten on the way over which included three cooked meals a day and a variety of pork pies starting with the posh ones from Fortnum & Masons to Tesco’s own. Thereafter we knew them as the ‘the pork pie boys’. By now I was trying desperately to keep on the pace. The combined effects of the food, drink and lack of sleep were sending me onto a state of robotic semi consciousness and at the last port of call I was gone. Sitting on a bar stool bolt upright like a cigar store Indian, much to the amusement of the others, I was asleep! I vaguely remember, being back on the boat and zipping up my sleeping bag but the rest is a blank.
Monday, back in the land of the living, was another sunny day and Dave made another trip up the mast. He discovered the genoa halyard had jumped its pulley and was wedged between the two pulleys in the mast. This time he soon had it free and we set off across the Markenmeer (the inland sea) to Hoorn.
Tuesday evening was reserved for the traditional dinner, also sponsored by Andrew Boyes. Alan had known from the outset that he had to return to the UK, his flight was booked and he was on his way just after lunch. The race results were meant to be announced at the dinner but during the day a couple of people congratulated us. By now we were intrigued and with the use of his iPhone Dave discovered that we had won our class by a little under three minutes on corrected time.
We were all given matching team shirts which we wore for the dinner. The forecast was for rain later but few of us bothered with a jacket. At the dinner the crews of Revenge and Windshear were seated under large umbrellas in a glass walled outside area. I initially thought it had a roll back roof but when it started to rain I soon discovered otherwise. I was on the end of the table not covered by the umbrella. It took me half an hour to eat my soup! After Andrew Boyes’ witty and amusing speech we had the presentations and Steve stepped up to receive the winner’s pennant for our class.
Wednesday was rain all day and the forecast for the next few days was rain and gale force winds with a ‘window’ in the weather on Friday. Talk about cabin fever only Dave’s home made chilli and shepherds pie made the day seem brighter.
We set off from Hoorn on Thursday in quite pleasant conditions, the sort of bright morning you often get after 24 hours of ‘none stop’ rain. The plan was to get back to Ijmuiden ready for departure Friday morning. As we navigated the inland sea the wind freshened, the sky clouded over and it was on with our ‘Oileys’ before it started to rain. By the time we reached Amsterdam and the North Sea Canal we were sailing on engine onto a full force 8 gale with lashing rain that felt like needles pricking my face. At times it was tricky threading our way though the other shipping whilst negotiating the marker buoys. Eventually we reached the lock and made fast together with two other yachts from SYC, one being the Pork Pie boys.
Once through there was only a short leg to the Ijmuiden marina. The gates opened to reveal a boiling sea that was being whipped up by the head-on gale force wind, which was now stronger than on the canal side of the lock. As we cast off I remember thinking ’this must been how the gladiators of ancient Rome must have felt when the lions were released into the arena. Steve gave the engine full throttle and we surged forward heading for the entrance to the marina about a mile ahead on the port side. One of the other yachts had insufficient power and turned back, a brave manoeuvre in such wind conditions. Steve and Dave agreed that only the way in was to stay on full power until we reached the lee of the harbour wall, any hesitation once we had turned broadside on to the wind could have seen us being blown on to the rocks at the mouth of the marina. I must say I was impressed by the way which Steve ‘just went for it’. He steered us through the entrance and alongside the berth expertly. Even when Revenge had been secured she was still bucking as the sea rolled into the marina.
08.30 Friday and we cast off in bright and breezy conditions, the ‘window in the weather’ that had been forecast still required a reef in the main. I had taken sea sickness pills and they worked. The wind moderated sufficient to return to full mainsail and 36 hours later we were home in time for tea -well earned Scarborough fish and chips.
My daughters text on return summed up, she asked:-
Did you enjoy it? – YES.
Were you sea sick? – YES.
Was you glad you did it? – YES
Would you do it again? – YES of course……removes tongue from cheek!