There's nothing like sailing in strange terrain to bring out the weaknesses inherent in most part-time sailors. Jonty Pearce sets about exposing his

There’s nothing like sailing in strange terrain to bring out the weaknesses inherent in most part-time sailors. Yours truly has been busy exposing my own lapses in concentration. Firstly, after the hottest day recorded in Holland for 100 years, our crew decided to enjoy a barbecue in the ‘cool’ of the evening. We set up our instant barbecues in a marina-side BBQ chimney at the Dutch town of Edam. Only they weren’t. Instant, that is. In fact the barbecues were an abject failure, failing to gain cooking heat within two hours. Our food was swiftly transferred to the yacht’s oven and a fine evening duly enjoyed. As night fell I took the now cool barbecues to the skip, first responsibly wetting them at the chemical toilet disposal water tap.

My heart sank when we were later alerted to a fire in the rubbish skip – I swiftly went to investigate to find a small fire, to my relief at the opposite end to where I had left our supposedly cold, wet barbecues. Having responsibly doused the fire with water, I went to my bunk with a clear conscience. Carol and friend Susan were just commenting that it was fortunate that the fire brigade had not been called when a distant siren grew in volume. Next morning the foam was still all over the car park and the skip looked like an overflowed bubble bath. We did not beat a hasty retreat – the town of Edam was only a short cycle ride away, and we needed cheese, but I am now known in the club as the man who tried to melt Edam. Sometimes it’s best just to have broad shoulders and not argue the toss…

My next faux pas was one of spring confusion. Not the season, but mooring lines. With a fresh breeze from astern, we were preparing to follow the example of the yacht ahead and warp the ship round on the pontoons. Muggins let the stern spring off without thinking and our yacht started forwards, directly on ramming course for their midships. A worried cry rang out but I had already corrected my error and a healthy separation was preserved. I still felt a chump, though!

My reading matter for the fortnight was, of course, The Riddle of the Sands. It was taking longer than expected as, with all that fresh air, as soon as I had read more than two pages my eyelids drooped and my brain went into standby. Subconsciously, I must have needed more clues, as when we had entered the tidal Waddenzee and were en route to Texel, I drifted outside the main channel whilst waiting for our companion boats. The yacht hesitated as we touched lightly. I span the wheel to reverse our track and pinned in our sails to create heel to lessen our draught; we started the engine and swiftly regained deep water. My resolve was to keep to the marked channel – the sands shift and can shoal sharply. Getting stuck on the falling tide would have spoilt our day and covered my face in egg to join the melted Edam. It was a firm clue to solving the riddle, and I was not allowed to forget my tactile moment.

Apart from these three incidents our fortnight’s charter passed smoothly and enjoyably in gorgeous hot, sunny weather. Sailing an area so full of shallow channels made me yearn to be aboard our own lifting keel Southerly rather than the fixed keel Bavaria we had chartered – Carol and I are certain to return to explore these fascinating and picturesque sailing grounds again.

Jonty Pearce

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