When lightning strikes...

Exchanging addresses at the Anglesey Sea Symposium a few weeks earlier resulted in an e-mail on May 28th. Justine is en-route from Austria back to Wales and asks me if she could stop-by in the Netherlands to do some sea kayaking. A few e-mails later a one-day trip turns into a two-and-a-half days trip from Den Helder to Vlieland and back. Camping on the sand-spit of Noorderhaaks and paddling in a figure-of-eight around the islands of Texel and Vlieland. A gem of a trip that by pure coincidence has the perfect tides for it.

Monday, June 3, 2002 (Den Helder - Noorderhaaks; 3,3 nm)
HW Harlingen: 15:55
LW Den Helder: 20:10
Weather: CG 11:00: Texel: SE-4/5, first chance of 6, veering SW-3/4. Occasionally a shower, possible thunder. Good, in a shower moderate, possible poor for a time.

We take the afternoon to drive to Den Helder, do some shopping and pack our sea kayaks at the Den Helder marina. Justine uses my Kirton Meridian sea kayak. I just recently patched it up. It is seaworthy, but looks quite battered, waiting for a new paint finish. Camping on the sand spit of 'Noorderhaaks' this evening puts us in a good position to catch the full tide early tomorrow morning. The weather forecast calls for chance of a thunderstorm. The sky is already overcast and of a strange threatening greenish colour; not a good sign. We set off at 18:15 but I am not sure if this is the right thing to do and I get very anxious. Ten minutes into the crossing of the 'Texelstroom' I decide to turn around and head for the nearest shore which is near the T1 buoy. We pull the sea kayaks on the basalt rock dike and within moments thunder and lightning are everywhere, especially over the mainland and over the island of Texel in the distance. For some reason we keep lingering in the open and on top of the dike, awing at the spectacular 'fireworks' display. But when the thunderstorm gets really close we walk to the street down below and take refuge under a car porch. Lightning strikes often and very close-by. People looking out of their windows see two strangely dressed persons... I am rather nervous. When the thunderstorm has passed we head back to the sea kayaks. We arrive at 'Noorderhaaks' at 20:15 and still have to make dinner. I am still very anxious and nausea prevents me from eating my normal amount of food. This creates even more 'distress' because I know I will need all my energy for tomorrow's distance.

Tuesday, June 4 (Noorderhaaks - Stortemelk; 27,5 nm)
HW Harlingen: 04:25 and 17:04
Weather: BBC 05:35: German Bight: SE-4/5 increasing 6.

I am not that much better off today. Trying to get as much breakfast into me to compensate for yesterday evening I again feel sick. We leave 'Noorderhaaks' at 09:00. I paddle on auto-pilot. We have the wind at our backs and can surf all the way. Only when we are near 'de Koog' at 10:30 my stomach feels normal again. We go ashore at 'de Slufter' at 11:45. Never before I have set foot here where there is an opening in the dunes and where storms and spring tides deposit salt water in an inland brackish lake. It is a bird sanctuary. At 12:30 we arrive at 'Eierland' at the northern tip of the island of Texel. Many trips around Texel take two-days and here lies the strategically located campground 'de Robbenjager'. But our plans go further than this. We leave again at 14:00. We enter the air force bombing range of 'de Vliehors' when we pass the VH6 buoy at 14:50. During our break at Texel I called 'Vliehors Range Control' to inform them of our passing through the area. As soon as we are out of the area helicopters open machine-gun fire at on-shore practice targets. Justine proposes to make a short-cut through 'Keteldiep' that brings us to the north-east point of 'de Kroonpolders'. As I expected this takes us over shallows, but we can paddle all the way. We pass old army tanks rusting away in the water; more practice targets. Then we take a direct course for the Vlieland lighthouse. We are early and therefore can still play in the most famous of all (one) Dutch tidal races; 'de Wals' off east Vlieland. It cannot be compared to any of the Anglesey tidal races that Justine knows so well, but it is just enough for a play. At 17:45 we arrive at the North Sea side of campground 'de Stortemelk'. There is a high sand dune between the beach and the campground. But we leave the sea kayaks at the beach and only take our camping gear with us. On my first trips to Vlieland with the 'Peddelpraat' (translates as 'Paddle talk') club we used to carry the sea kayaks over the dunes, but this seems ages ago now. Justine has a bottle of wine, but has to go to the restaurant to have it opened because we don't have a corkscrew with us. I feel much better now.

Wednesday, June 5 (Stortemelk - Den Helder; 29,2 nm)
HW Harlingen: 05:50 and 18:14
Weather: BBC 05:35: Synopsis: Low Malin 991 filling. Low France moving steadily North Thames. German Bight: E-5/6 occasionally 7. Humber/Dover: NE veering SE-4/5.

Already at 08:30 we are on the water. We have an amazing luck with the weather. The wind has turned to the north-east giving us again a tail wind. At 11:00 we are at the land beacon on the south tip of Vlieland. We choose a narrow channel that should bring us back to the northern tip of Texel. But this channel now is longer than the chart indicates. We have to paddle quite a way to the east before we can head south again. There are lots of seals on this sandbar that lies between the narrow channel and the 'Eierlandse gat'. We take a short break near an anchored fishing vessel. Seals approach us to within one meter. We stay put and do not move a lot as not to scare the seals that lie on the sandbar a little further away. At 11:40 we paddle on but we cannot prevent most seals leaving the sand bar. And now we are surrounded by over a hundred inquisitive seals... When the channel finally opens up to the south we can head for the lighthouse at 'Eierland'. A ship approaches. Whatever course we take, the ship is homing-in on us. It is 'de Vriendschap'. Contrary to the name of the ship, meaning 'the Friendship' the captain is raging... It is a tour boat taking people out seal watching. Oops! I can only explain to him that we did sound navigation and did not do anything illegal. Had we known that the channel would take us that much east we might even have gone on the outside of the sandbar. But depending on the sea state this channel has always been a safer route than going through the treacherous 'Eierlandse gat'. We continue our course but after a few minutes the vessel again approaches us. That captain is really angry. I again explain my actions. I stay calm, but by now I get a little annoyed because he now almost prevents us from carrying on. I joke to Justine that we should take our lunch break at the dock where this vessel anchors. But we land a little further. I make a call to the 'Eierland' lighthouse to get things cleared. The captain must have complained and I do not want only his side of the argument heard. The coast guard explains that this captain is only complaining because we interfered with his business of seal watching. The channel we used is not a restricted area. In fact when we passed through there was that anchored fishing vessel and a small motor boat cruised through the channel as well. Between all Dutch 'Wadden' islands there is that area that is called the 'Wantij'. In that area the flood current that goes around the island meet. This area is also the highest part of the tidal flats. Sound navigation means to be on the 'Wantij' at local high water. One can paddle with the last of the flood to the 'Wantij' and then just after slack continue using the first of the ebb. I originally planned very conservative to be at the 'Wantij' at local high water, meaning at 17:45. Justine asks why not leave early. I explain all of the above and in fact that constitutes most of the typical knowledge of Dutch sea kayak navigation. But trying it anyway might bring us to Den Helder by 18:00. That is a much nicer time than my ETA of 21:00. The prospect of a normal dinner makes me go with her plan. We make one small mistake of trying to take a short-cut along the 'Vlakte van de Kerken'. We paddle through very shallow water but as it is not high water yet there is no chance that we could get stranded. Once we are passed the 'Wantij' we still have the last of the flood current against us. My GPS tells me that we have a half to one knot current against us, but our speed is still about three knots. We paddle to 'Oostkaap' for a break until 16:15. By now we are a little tired. When we leave we stay close to the shore to use any eddies until we are well passed Oudeschild. Now her plan really pays off. It is slack and we can directly aim for Den Helder at 190 degrees. Normally the three to four knot currents requires calculating a more southerly course starting at Oudeschild. Only at the T7 buoy the ebb starts running noticeable. At 18:15 we are back at Den Helder. We have dinner in the 'Land's End' restaurant. I am glad that Justine in one of her e-mails asked: "What's that island next to Texel, can we go there as well?". Tides were perfect, the wind always at our backs.

© A.M. Schoevers