The ill-fated first crossing attempt

Our first attempt to bring Hendrik across the North Sea was a complete disaster (in every possible way except the obvious!).

This was the email I circulated to family and friends directly after our return to London, on 27 February 2007.

The weather took a turn for the very, very bad on Saturday night so we could not bring Hendrik back with us. She is moored in Volendam, just north of Amsterdam and is 100% ready for us to go straight out to the North Sea when we get the call on good weather.

The crew were definitely the high point of a weekend otherwise fraught with disaster after soul-crushing disaster. To sum up some of the disasters:

1. I woke up at 4:30am Thursday to get to Liverpool Street in time to take the 6:25am train (the only train) to get to the ferry port at Harwich in time for the ferry. The train sat on the tracks for 45min at one point meaning we missed our connection and the railway could do nothing. After a very stressful hour at Manningtree station and being previously told the ferry would not wait for us ~30 passengers, they relented and held the ferry for us.
2. After finally arriving in the Netherlands (after 7 hours on the ferry), the entire rail line between Rotterdam and Gouda was out of service, so after sitting on a packed train for 40min with all my luggage, someone told me I had to re-route through Schipol and go all the way around to get to Steenwijk where the boat was moored.
3. After a very cold night spent on the saloon floor with the crew, I started taking inventory and packing up absolutely everything on the boat. It took two days and the handwritten lists spread over 4 sheets of paper (with small writing). Most of this time was spent in a 4 foot high crawl space, bent double hauling very heavy loads of crockery and glassware.
4. The €3000 transfer James made to the boatyard owner in Steenwijk for the crossing preparations and engine repairs did not go through because one number was missing from the bank account he was given. The Dutch bank was closing for the weekend, and the UK bank would not change anything. The boatyard owner refused to let the boat go without payment and would not take anything short of the full amount or any paperwork proving we’d tried to pay. The only reason he let us go is because he personally knew our skipper and he paid our bill for us to reimburse.
5. Five minutes outside Steenwijk, our external drum setup started leaking diesel at an alarming rate. It took all three of us frantically mopping up the spills on deck with a huge amount of newspaper and about 5 bedsheets to avoid a major spill and a massive pollution fine.
6. Because of the holdup with the funds, we only got midway through the drawbridges before 6pm when all the operators go home for the day and the bridges closed.
7. Still no showers, as the only hot water on the boat is in the kitchen sink. my hair will smell like diesel until Monday night when I get a shower on the ferry back.
8. When we got to Amsterdam, we picked up a friend of the skipper’s who took us across to the petrol station. The €100 of red diesel I bought could only go into a barrel and not in our tank as we didn’t have any paperwork saying we were a commercial vehicle. James and Luke had to buy a manual pump to move the diesel, another €90. We also took this opportunity to fill up our water tanks, as the toilets stopped flushing. Unfortunately about 15 minutes later, we had about 8 inches of water in the kitchen and we’re still not entirely sure whether one of the 4 1000 liter water tanks leaked, overflowed, or where the indicators were or what happened at all. So we had to borrow another bilge pump to get the kitchen dry enough to cook dinner in.
9. We found a flakey wifi nearby and checked the weather, which was getting worse but still looked possible for Sunday afternoon window.
10. I was woken at 6:30am to bring the laptop up to the wheelhouse (in the pouring, freezing rain, which was with us the entire trip) to check the weather reports. The weather was far too bad and our high pressure ridge had evaporated and we could not safely cross.
11. The skipper could not wait any longer because he was flying to Canada to go dogsledding on Wednesday. He flew back to London and left us with his Dutch skipper friend and the other crew member. Then we discovered the inverter wasn’t working. So we went to turn on the generator but it wouldn’t start. So no electricity apart from a few feeble lights running off the engine battery (depleting the engine battery every minute they were on), and gas for the cooker. We moved the boat to Voldendam where we could moor it free for 30 days and get shore power to top up all the batteries on the boat (the batteries were almost entirely dead, which is why everything was failing).
12. Midway through the trip to Volendam, the security system went off because the batteries were nearly dead. Had to find where to disconnect it. I spent most of Sunday afternoon sobbing under 4 duvets in a saloon lit only from a small porthole in the door.
13. Topped up the batteries in Volendam, figured out how to get the toilets flushing, got the generator working again, and then got really drunk as there was nothing else to do.
14. The ferry back to Harwich was delayed and made us sit in Harwich port for 90 minutes after docking, meaning we did not get home until midnight Monday, after travelling all day.

Throughout all of this, I had a continuously runny nose, a hoarse, hacking cough that got worse instead of better, a throat so sore it felt like I was trying to swallow a marble each time I swallowed, and a raw, burning nose. I can’t get a doctor’s appointment until Friday.

So we wait for the weather AGAIN. We pay to get to the Netherlands AGAIN, for 5 people x 3 days’ of food AGAIN, we pay for the crew’s wages AGAIN and we continue to pay for the mooring we’re not using AGAIN.

I am physically, mentally, and financially exhausted. I am writing all this out so I only have to do it once, so I don’t have to explain it to everyone individually, so I don’t have to relive it and start crying all over again.

- posted by Melissa Fehr on 27 February 2007, 19:15 in