THE GRAND PLAN
To paddle a sea kayak along the North Sea coast and borders of the Netherlands with Belgium and Germany, on the sea and on inland waterways, incorporating the two major rivers entering the country, Rhine and Meuse.
Both Nico Middelkoop and Axel Schoevers each have paddled many thousands of kilometers over the years, in- and outside of the Netherlands.
But does a good expedition not start at one's doorstep?
This trip intends to promote all the challenging things that can be done by sea kayak in the Netherlands not overlooking safety in one continuous expedition of approximately 1250 km distance. It wants to encourage people new to the sport of kayaking find adventure right at their doorstep.
The origins of sea kayaking lie with the Inuit, the indigenous people of the high north (Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Siberia). The traditional 'skin-on-frame' sea kayaks were very seaworthy and the paddling and survival skills of the Inuit unsurpassed. The Greenland sea kayak tradition is enjoying a revival (www.quajaqusa.org). Fortunately much of the knowledge of the traditional skills of the Inuit has been preserved just in time. Mastering one of the thirty ways to 'eskimo-roll' a sea kayak is both a challenge and a milestone for every modern-day sea kayaker.
The western and northern shores of the Netherlands face the North Sea. Germany is on the eastern border and Belgium is in the south. The southwest (Zeeland estuaries) and the north (Waddenzee) are prime sea kayaking areas. Planning a trip there involves taking tides, currents and the weather into consideration. Apart from the natural beauty, paddling in these areas is therefore a navigational challenge and requires good judgment of ones own ability. The Netherlands has numerous lakes, rivers and canals that offer interesting and scenic routes along the cultural, historic and industrial heritage of the Netherlands.
A modern-day sea kayak is generally made out of glass-fibre (sometimes polyethylene) and has a length of between 4.60 and 5.50 meters. Bulkheads with watertight hatches provide floatation and storage space. The paddler is 'sealed' in the 'cockpit' with a 'spray-deck' and therefore remains 'dry' as long as he/she sits in the sea kayak.
Sea kayaking is a distinct activity within the canoe sport. The Netherlands is well-served with three national kayak/canoe organizations:
- Nederlandse Kano Bond (NKB) (www.nkb.nl)
- Stichting Peddelpraat (PP) (www.peddelpraat.nl)
- Toeristische Kano Bond Nederland (TKBN) (www.tkbn.nl).
And there are many local clubs, affiliated either with NKB or TKBN.
Paddling on the sea and 'unsheltered water' requires specific knowledge, experience and the right equipment. Safety aspects and 'seamanship' are of major importance. If you want to learn more about the kayak/canoe sport, or specifically sea kayaking, than we advise you to contact your local club or national kayak/canoe organization.
Part 1: Den Helder - Flushing (230 km)
This is the most exposed part on the entire trip. There is always a chance of shore break. This poses risks on launching and landing through surf with our heavy laden sea kayaks. We have to pass the busy Port of Rotterdam. On the Westerschelde, commercial shipping will be something to look out for.
Part 2: Flushing - Maastricht (145 or 325 km)
Here we have to make a difficult decision. The shortest route to Maastricht is via Antwerp along the Albert canal through Belgium. An alternative route passes through Zeeland, Brabant and than still partly through Belgium; more than twice the distance. Maybe we will toss a Dutch or Belgian euro coin.
Part 3: Maastricht - Arnhem (200 km)
After the weir at Lixhe the Meuse starts as a stretch of 'unnavigable' 'Border Meuse', but a sea kayak needs only little water. We follow the beautiful meandering Meuse to Nijmegen. A short stretch against the current of the Rhine will bring us to the border of Germany and after that Arnhem.
Part 4: Arnhem - Dollard (250 km)
The IJssel is a very familiar river for us. This is the route of the annual Veluwe Rally. This one-day 35, 50 or 100 km race is a challenge for any paddler in kayak or canoe. Unwillingly we leave the IJssel just above Zutphen to take the Twente canal that brings us close to the border of Germany and to the Dollard tidal estuary in northeast Groningen.
Part 5: Dollard - Den Helder (220 km)
The exact route now is highly dependant on tides, weather and sea state. This part requires knowledge and experience in paddling and navigating the tidal waters of the Waddenzee with it's 'wantij', currents, channels and tidal flats. Weather and tide permitting, a route along the outside coast of the islands is preferred.
On our trip around the Netherlands by sea kayak we unfortunately have to leave many other nice paddling areas unvisited. The many lakes in Zuid- en Noord-Holland, the 'Biesbosch', the 'Veluwse randmeren', the Friesian lakes and the unsheltered waters of IJsselmeer and the Zeeland estuaries are all beautiful (sea) kayaking destinations. And then there are all those other thousands of kilometers of rivers and canals with which the Netherlands is blessed with.