Oh to be old and foolish again!

One of the most important factors about any port of call is where to find the internet. In the case of Harlingen we found a nice old bar where , for the cost of a beer , or coffee , or apple cake ( or indeed all three!) we could study the weather to our hearts content. On this occasion it needed a lot of studying and we were soon on first name terms with all the other yachtsmen sheltering there.

Outside, the weather was plain horrible , albeit blowing from the ( favourable ) SW. If we waited until Sunday it would be Westerly and soon heading NE. This would mean a beat out of the Terschelling Zeegat in wind against tide conditions – and head winds for either the Baltic or Norway. Computer models showed the wind slowly moderating from midday Sunday and an opportunity to take the last of the SW wind for 24 hours to get some decent Northing. The problem was getting out of the Wadden and out to sea .

The Friesian islands all have channels which exit between them in a WNW direction , and the ebb tide runs so strongly in these channels that they are distinctly dangerous with any strength of wind from the W or NW on the ebb. Beating out against the flood didn’t look like much of an option either – especially as it would occur at night. IF we left mid afternoon at just after half ebb, we should theoretically arrive at the dangerous bit at slack water The problem was that the wind wasn’t really going to be less than 25 knots before midnight. I had discussed the possibility of the sea state in a strong SW with an experienced fisherman a few days ago in Enkhuizen, and his conclusion was , “very unpleasant , but not actually dangerous!”

The crucial time arrived and we took the bridge opening into the outer harbour, and a bit of a shock. The wind was a solid 30 , gusting 37 and a group of fully crewed race boats had obviously tried leaving but were back inside , moored up in the lee of the sailing barge fleet. Not to go meant waiting on the Dutch coast for another week, but 35 knots was more than we had bargained for. It was decision time.

One of the problems about getting older is that you are never going to have the opportunity to be young and foolish again, with all the experience ( making a mistake is the best possible way of learning) fun , excitement and indeed terror that can result . My decision was undoubtedly influenced by the thought that we can however experience all those things by being old and foolish ,…. and we went for it! After a few high speed circuits of the outer harbour getting the rig right, we were off through the outer moles like a scalded cat before turning in to the wind for the first stretch , a one leg beat with a training wall to leeward.

Immediately we were engulfed in water . The downwind stretches were relatively comfortable as the Wadden does not have sufficient fetches of water for significant swell s to build up , the deep channels forever snaking this way and that. The windward work however gave wind against tide conditions and a really nasty steep wave pattern that we simply had to drive through. We might have been more comfortable with storm jib and trysail , but Festina stood up well to her 3 reefs and inner blade and was able to bully her way through the maelstrom in a way that gave me huge confidence. Lynda , on the helm and coping magnificently , was plainly scared , and that first fetch with the white water breaking over the training wall just to leeward was a bit nerve racking. Further down, the channel broadened out , giving us more room to play with and I gradually relaxed and started to enjoy myself.

Perhaps relaxed is not strictly accurate as 2.5 knots of ebb and 7 knots of boat speed made negotiating the tricky chicanes through the sandbanks a full on occupation. I was also getting nervous about that last beat through the entrance channel against the full force of the SW swell that must have built up over the last 2 days. Predictably it wasn’t nice, and the crashes as we leapt off waves were heart stopping and opened every locker and drawer down below. The timing, thankfully, was perfect and we negotiated those breakers just at the turn of the tide, and I can now confidently say that it would not be safe to have been there at full ebb in 30 knots of SW wind.

The relief once we bore off and headed into deep water was huge, although it was a further 12 hours before we were able to start increasing sail. Should we have gone ? Well impetuous old age (!) was tempered by a plan born of meticulous studying of met , tides and charts and we carried it off. There is no doubt that any equipment failure might have been disastrous and people would have then said ,there is no fool like an old fool .

I leave others to judge if we were lucky , or foolish – or both!

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