Go­ing Dutch

Nat­u­ral beauty and hos­pitable lo­cals make for an un­for­get­table sum­mer cruise from Hol­land to Nor­way


In 2015,

we cruised to Nor­way’s Lo­foten Is­lands on our Nordic 40, Juanona, which we’d sailed transat­lantic from Maine to Eng­land. Our 2016 plan was to cruise through the Nether­lands to the Kiel Canal, sail into the Baltic as far as Stock­holm, then cruise the west­ern coast of Swe­den and the south­ern coast of Nor­way. We were un­cer­tain where we’d spend the win­ter of 2016-17, al­though the United King­dom and Ire­land were our de­fault des­ti­na­tions, be­cause they are much more lib­eral than the rest of Europe with re­gard to visas for U.S. visi­tors.

It’s only a hun­dred miles from Ip­swich, on Eng­land’s east coast, to IJ­muiden, Hol­land, an easy overnight sail ex­cept for the clut­ter of tar­gets on the AIS. There was also a lot of chatter on the VHF, al­ways pro­fes­sional but some­times bor­der­ing on the hu­mor­ous. One cable-lay­ing ship was on the ra­dio much of the night, im­plor­ing other ves­sels to give him ad­e­quate clear­ance. Some­one re­sponded, “There’s no way I can give you a mile clear­ance, give me some­thing I can work with.” Af­ter a pro­tracted dis­cus­sion, they even­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ated a half-mile of room.

Ev­ery new coun­try we visit re­quires a learn­ing curve, and in Hol­land, the chal­lenge would be locks, bridges and sluices, that and fig­ur­ing out the mean­ing of signs, chart nomen­cla­ture and VHF pro­to­col. Sur­pris­ingly few re­sources are avail­able in English. But we quickly learned that the Dutch are masters at or­ga­ni­za­tion and make things as easy as pos­si­ble. With an age-old ori­en­ta­tion to the sea, they give pri­or­ity and re­spect to mariners. Traf­fic on any a busy road was promptly stopped to open a bridge for us.

Af­ter our land­fall, we headed south along the canals to the town of Haar­lem and tied up along the same sec­tion of a canal wall that we later saw de­picted in an an­cient plan of the town. Be­fore land recla­ma­tion, Haar­lem was a ma­jor port along an im­por­tant water­way, and it of­fered us our first taste of the rich his­tory that the Nether­lands is blessed with. Here, too, we first en­coun­tered the gen­uine friend­li­ness of the peo­ple we met and their will­ing­ness to go out of their way to be help­ful—what would prove to be a hall­mark of the cruise, and what made it so spe­cial, both in the Nether­lands and later in Nor­way, dur­ing which we made some very spe­cial friend­ships that will last for years to come.

Haar­lem also served as a use­ful base for train trips to such in­ter­est­ing des­ti­na­tions as Delft, a quin­tes­sen­tial Dutch canal town fea­tur­ing an ex­cel­lent back­drop to Ver­meer’s now re­built stu­dio and an in­tro­duc­tion to Willem van Oranje (Wil­liam the Silent), con­sid­ered the fa­ther of the coun­try. We also trav­eled to Ley­den,where we found the same neigh­bor­hood in which the Mayflower Pil­grims lived and wor­shipped, and the al­ley where Wil­liam Brew­ster pub­lished the writ­ings that in­spired them. From the 13th to the 17th century, Ley­den was a lead­ing tex­tile man­u­fac­tur­ing cen­ter and the Mu­seum De Lak­en­hal, housed in one of the orig­i­nal guild halls, re­calls its im­por­tance in an im­pres­sive way. We also biked to Keuken­hof Gar­dens in the heart of tulip coun­try and vis­ited the Aalsmeer Flower Auc­tion. Twenty mil­lion flow­ers from around the world are auc­tioned here daily, in a build­ing cov­er­ing 128 acres— the largest build­ing by foot­print in the world.

The pre­vi­ous Septem­ber, our nephew Rudy had helped us sail down the east coast of Bri­tain, and we had taken him to see Hadrian’s Wall, where ar­chae­ol­o­gists re­cently ex­ca­vated hand­writ­ten Ro­man tablets pre­served in the anaer­o­bic soil at the Ro­man fortress of Vin­dolanda. Rudy later vol­un­teered to help at the dig for a cou­ple of weeks and then in May he re­joined us in Am­s­ter­dam. From there we sailed across the shal­low in­land sea, the IJs­selmeer, to Hoorn, an­other his­toric city from which

the 1615 ex­pe­di­tion that dis­cov­ered and named Cape Horn sailed.

The town is chock full of an­cient struc­tures, in­clud­ing a trio of buildings adorned with a wall pic­to­rial de­pict­ing the 1573 Bat­tle of Zuiderzee, in which the Dutch beat the oc­cu­py­ing Span­ish. To sail through the same lock and past the same de­fen­sive tower carved in the mu­ral made us feel like we were living in a his­tory book.

By the end of our first two weeks in Hol­land, we had fallen head over heels for the coun­try. It’s a his­toric, vis­ual, artis­tic and cul­tural feast that is com­pact and easy to get around thanks to its ef­fi­cient trains, buses and bike routes. We also con­tin­ued to meet friendly and help­ful folks ev­ery­where we around. While tied up to the town wall in Hoorn, for ex­am­ple, we were vis­ited by a lo­cal sailor named Thijs Nouwens who had crossed the South Pa­cific and loves meet­ing sailors from afar. When Thijs sug­gested that the “pri­vate club” (mean­ing non­com­mer­cial ma­rina) in Hoorn had nice fa­cil­i­ties and an ac­tive year-round com­mu­nity, we im­me­di­ately de­cided we would like to spend the win­ter there, in­stead of in UK as orig­i­nally planned. Not only that, but we soon changed our sum­mer plans as well: rather than head into the Baltic, we’d now sim­ply sail to south­west Nor­way, then re­turn to the Nether­lands and put in an ap­pli­ca­tion for an ex­tended stay. (We would have liked to have also vis­ited Swe­den, but did not have enough time to make it all the way there and back within the three-month visa pe­riod granted us un­der the con­ti­nent’s Schen­gen rules.)

With these plans in mind we there­fore ex­ited the fresh­wa­ter IJs­selmeer at a lock through the Af­s­luit­dijk, part of a 20-mile dike the Dutch com­pleted in 1932, thereby seal­ing off Hol­land from the North Sea. On the seaward side, the Frisian Is­lands called for care­ful at­ten­tion to the tides and cur­rents, but re­warded us with stun­ning panora­mas of windswept beaches and tidal es­tu­ar­ies.

We’d read that the Nor­we­gian coast east of Lin­desnes (Nor­way’s south­ern tip) gets very crowded in high sum­mer. We there­fore headed in­stead for Eger­sund, a town on the south­west coast, about 310 miles and what proved to be an easy 50-hour pas­sage away from Vlieland in the Nether­lands. While in Eger­sund we no­ticed a trace of diesel bug in our fuel pol­isher fil­ter and set out to find a bet­ter an­ti­dote than the ad­di­tive we’d been us­ing. The lo­cal stores didn’t have any­thing, but when I in­quired of the crew of the mar­itime res­cue ser­vice boat (part of the highly re­garded “Red­nings­sel­skapet”) they im­me­di­ately poured out a bot­tle from their own sup­ply of what they called “the best stuff avail­able.”

The rugged nat­u­ral grandeur of Nor­way pro­vided a dis­tinct and re­fresh­ing con­trast from the quaint, largely man­made en­vi­ron­ment of the Nether­lands. We were also pleased that we’d have some more op­por­tu­ni­ties for an­chor­ing out in se­cluded coves, which are not read­ily avail­able in Hol­land. While south­ern Nor­way isn’t quite as rugged or dra­matic as the coast far­ther north and you don’t get the mag­i­cal 24 hours of light, the scenery is still im­pres­sive, with nu­mer­ous cruis­ing des­ti­na­tions and many fas­ci­nat­ing glimpses into both Euro­pean and Vik­ing his­tory.

From Eger­sund we sailed to Moster­hamn, where Olaf Tryg­gva­son first brought Chris­tian­ity to Nor­way af­ter he be­came king in the year 995; a 12th-century church, still in use today, re­placed an ear­lier wooden one built on the same spot. Af­ter that we stopped at Sku­de­ne­shavn, an old fish­ing vil­lage on the south coast of Kar­moy Is­land. As of­ten hap­pens when tied to a town quay in a tiny har­bor, we ended up with a cou­ple of boats rafted along­side and met a lovely Bri­tish cou­ple and two fun Nor­we­gian lads. Next day we took a bus to Avald­snes, an im­por­tant Vik­ing strong­hold in the Mid­dle Ages with a fine learn­ing cen­ter de­scrib­ing the his­tory and ex­ca­va­tions that have taken place there. Later that same even evening, Max was cook­ing din­ner when he hap­pened to look out the gal­ley win­dow and who should he see but the fa­mil­iar face of his old friend Paul Nadeau, look­ing down at at

ear­lier that af­ter­noon, Paul had been

sail­ing his 23-footer boat down the Karm­sun­det, a nar­row pas­sage and part of the “north­ern way” from which Nor­way is said to get its name, even­tu­ally de­cid­ing to pull into Sku­de­ne­shavn for the night. Once upon a time Paul had spent his child­hood sum­mers on Bai­ley Is­land, Maine, where he’d also hap­pened to have sailed with Ab­bot Fletcher, Max’s fa­ther, in many lo­cal races. Wan­der­ing the town that evening, he’d seen the Amer­i­can flag, then “Orr’s Is­land” on Juanona’s tran­som, prompt­ing him to in­ves­ti­gate fur­ther. We agreed it was one of the most stun­ning co­in­ci­dences we’ll ever have in our lives; and for the rest of that evening we had a mem­o­rable re­union with Paul, a ge­ol­o­gist who spent much of his ca­reer with Sta­toil and, un­til re­cently, taught grad­u­ate cour­ses at the Univer­sity of Sta­vanger.

We spent the next few days ex­plor­ing the Har­dan­ger­fjord and hik­ing to a viewpoint of the Fol­ge­fonna Glacier near Sun­dal. Rather than sail­ing into Ber­gen, we de­cided to visit by bus from a nearby town named Os, where shortly af­ter dock­ing, we were vis­ited by a gentle­man named Gun­nar Furnes. We in­vited him aboard and learned he was a fluid dy­nam­ics en­gi­neer who had done work in a va­ri­ety of ar­eas, from tes­ti­fy­ing about par­tic­u­late pol­lu­tion com­ing from the UK to study­ing the ef­fects of ocean cur­rents on sus­pended un­der­sea pipe­lines. Gun­nar is one of those soft-spo­ken, un­der­stated gentle­men that you im­me­di­ately take a lik­ing to. Be­fore we knew it, he was driv­ing us around Os, show­ing us the fa­mous Osel­var work­boats—lap­strake boats com­prised of only three strakes—that he helps re­store, as well as the sur­round­ing coun­try­side.

We wanted to visit the town of Telavag, de­stroyed by the Nazis in reprisal for some of their res­i­dents help­ing the re­sis­tance dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, so we docked at a town on the other side of the is­land and hopped on a bus head­ing in that di­rec­tion. When the bus reached the end of its route, we were still sev­eral miles from Telavag and learned there wouldn’t be a bus head­ing that way for an­other two hours. Our bus driver, though, said, “My shift just ended, so I’ll drive you there my­self,” a kind ges­ture was an­other re­minder of what a spe­cial place this is.

The day af­ter that we had a glo­ri­ous down­wind sail along the beau­ti­ful Nyleia pas­sage and then sailed back down the Karm­sun­det to a tran­quil hur­ri­cane hole at Vestre Arsvagen. As we raised an­chor next morn­ing, a man in a skiff zoomed along, in­vited us to his home and asked if we knew his friend Ernest God­shalk from Mas­sachusetts. We didn’t have time to visit, but promised we would stop by next time we were in Nor­way—likely to be next sum­mer be­cause we love cruis­ing this coun­try so much! We also stopped at the serene monastery at Ut­stein Kloster, built on the site of the for­mer royal res­i­dence of King Har­ald “Harfa­gre,” mean­ing “fair-haired,” the uni­fier of Nor­way af­ter the Bat­tle of Hafrs­fjord in the late 9th century.

Max’s great-great-grand­fa­ther, Peter Chris­tian Assersen, was born on Mid­brod Is­land near Eger­sund in 1839, em­i­grated to the United States and be­came the only Nor­we­gian-born Rear Ad­mi­ral in the U.S. Navy. Know­ing noth­ing about his life other than his birth­place, we set out to find out what we could. The Eger­sund town of­fice had no records, but sent us to the town’s old church. Their records didn’t go back far enough, but the help­ful wo­man there printed out the ad­dresses of the four Assersens in the phone book. We then sent a post­card to each and a week later got an email back from one of them, telling us they weren’t re­lated, but that their daugh­ter had mar­ried some­one who was. We started com­mu­ni­cat­ing with Max’s cousins, and agreed to meet when we were back in Eger­sund on our way south.

It was with con­sid­er­able ex­cite­ment that we awaited the re­union. We found that we couldn’t have cho­sen a more won­der­ful fam­ily to be re­lated to. Max’s fourth cousin, 78-year-old Od­db­jo­ern Skad­berg, is as tough as they come but with a most gen­tle heart. He has done win­ter fish­ing in the Lo­fotens, has tended the Eger­sund light­house that we learned Peter Assersen had helped build as a teenager, and he re­mem­bers a lot of the fam­ily his­tory on the tiny is­land of Mid­brod where he still lives.

We spent a day with Od­db­jo­ern, his son, Bjo­ern, daugh­ter-in-law, Sylvie, and their two daugh­ters. We also vis­ited their fam­ily homes, the sur­round­ings where Peter Assersen grew up, and we went to the top of the Eger­sund light­house. On the way up the wind­ing stair­case, we passed a win­dow in an in­te­rior wall with a tall shaft, as if for a dumb­waiter open­ing far be­low. Od­db­jo­ern ex­plained that be­fore elec­tric­ity, the light keeper had to man­u­ally wind up a weight to keep the light turn­ing—a sort of gi­ant grand­fa­ther clock. A pic­nic that in­cluded salmon caught ear­lier in the day by Od­db­jo­ern rounded out a most spe­cial and mem­o­rable day: all the more so given the fact we now live in the house on Orr’s Is­land, Maine, that Peter Assersen’s son-in-law, Rear Ad­mi­ral Wil­liam B. Fletcher, pur­chased in the 1920s; that and the fact that Juanona is named af­ter the Law­ley sloop that Fletcher sailed for over 30 years and on which Max sailed as a child. It made us feel not so very dis­tant from the per­son whose roots we had sought and dis­cov­ered on this small is­land on the coast of Nor­way.

The next day we had a win­dow to head south, and given the pre­dom­i­nance of south­west winds in the North Sea at this time of year, it was an

op­por­tu­nity not to be missed. A low was pass­ing by to the east, and we rode the northerly winds on its westerly side back down to Hol­land. On our ap­proach to Vlieland, we were boarded by the Dutch bor­der pa­trol. We’ve also been boarded in the UK, Scot­land, the Nether­lands and ques­tioned on the VHF in Nor­way. They’d been uni­formly pro­fes­sional and friendly and have never given us any trou­ble what­so­ever, al­though it’s clear they are on the look­out for un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, drugs, stolen boats and the like.

By now the sum­mer hol­i­days had started in earnest, and the Dutch were flock­ing to the Frisian Is­lands. For our part, we re­turned to the IJs­selmeer and ex­plored its east side, bas­ing our­selves at the quaint town of Hin­de­loopen.

Through­out our Hol­land ex­plo­rations, we’d been sup­ported by a friendly Dutch sailor named Henk Zon­nevi­jlle, who we’d had aboard for cock­tails, along with his wife, Kiki, back when we were moored in Hoorn. Henk had given us sev­eral valu­able tips on cur­rents and nav­i­ga­tion of the kind you don’t read­ily pick up from the cruis­ing guides. One time we’d also emailed Henk when we were try­ing to fig­ure out how to nav­i­gate the shoals and cur­rents of the Wad­den­zee. A few hours later re­ceived both some thor­ough notes and a chart an­no­tated for us in English. When it came time to fly back to the States, Henk also of­fered to check on Juanona while we were away since the ma­rina was “only an hour’s drive from his house,” as he put it.

In Hin­de­loopen we met an­other Henk when he and his wife, Lena, pulled into a slip ad­join­ing ours. Hearing that we were plan­ning to sail to Den­mark and Swe­den the fol­low­ing year, they en­cour­aged us to come over so they could show us their fa­vorite anchorages as well as an over­view of the kind of in­for­ma­tion that you re­ally only get from hav­ing been there. Again, meet­ing folks like this who go out of their way to be help­ful was the norm that sum­mer, to an ex­tent we’ve never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore. It’s been so ex­tra­or­di­nary that it even pro­vides an up­beat an­ti­dote to the doom and gloom that tran­scends so much of the daily news.

In Hin­de­loopen we spent a cou­ple of days with our friend from Hoorn, Thijs Nouwens, and his wife and daugh­ter, do­ing the Dutch thing: bik­ing. We also ex­plored the Friesian in­te­rior by train, with a stop at Franeker where the Eise Eisinga Plan­e­tar­ium was an eye­opener. Be­tween 1774 and 1781, a hum­ble trades­man named Eise Eisinga built a scaled plan­e­tar­ium in his living room, pow­ered by a pen­du­lum clock with nine weights that still ticks on its orig­i­nal wooden cogs and dis­plays with re­mark­ably ac­cu­racy the in­tri­cate move­ments of the so­lar sys­tem.We left Juanona at a ma­rina to head back to Maine, plan­ning to re­turn in the fall and make our ap­pli­ca­tion for an ex­tended stay.

In both the Nether­lands and Nor­way, our over­whelm­ing im­pres­sion is that gov­ern­ments are gen­er­ally good stew­ards of the coun­try’s wealth, and most of the cit­i­zenry seem to feel their government is work­ing for them. Nor­way has had the fore­sight to save it oil wealth, know­ing it is a fi­nite re­source, and in a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time has cre­ated the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund. Sim­i­larly, the Nether­lands ben­e­fits from the “polder model,” of con­sen­sus de­ci­sion-mak­ing whereby from an­cient times co­op­er­a­tion was re­quired even amongst com­pet­ing par­ties.

Both coun­tries have in­dus­tri­ous, ed­u­cated cit­i­zens with co­he­sive so­cial struc­tures. The in­fra­struc­tures are among the best we have ever seen. To bor­row a phrase from our friends Dick and Gin­ger Steven­son, the Nether­lands prob­a­bly has the great­est con­cen­tra­tion of “I wouldn’t mind living here” lo­ca­tions of any coun­try they have ever been. To us, Nor­way is prob­a­bly a close sec­ond. Nor­way of­fers a tra­di­tional cruis­ing ex­pe­ri­ence of coastal sail­ing in spec­tac­u­lar scenery, with much op­por­tu­nity to an­chor out. In Hol­land, we do a lot less sail­ing and not much an­chor­ing: in­stead, the boat is both our car­a­van and a base to ex­plore the fas­ci­nat­ing sur­round­ings, which gives us the best of both worlds. We’ve been sur­prised that in two sea­sons of sail­ing in Nor­way and one in the Nether­lands, we’ve run into just one other U.S.-flagged yacht. In the end, we were so pleased with cruis­ing these wa­ters—and feel­ing like we’d only scratched the sur­face— that we de­cided to keep Juanona there longer than the two sum­mers we’d orig­i­nally planned. s

Max Fletcher grew up rac­ing and sail­ing in Maine and has cruised ex­ten­sively in many parts of the world. He and Lyn­nie Bruce live in Harp­swell, Maine, where Juanona, a Nordic 40, is based. This ar­ti­cle first ap­peared in Voy­ages, the an­nual jour­nal of the Cruis­ing Club of Amer­ica. The CCA has more than 1,200 mem­bers, all ac­com­plished ocean sailors. The club has 11 sta­tions around the United States, Canada and Ber­muda and is co-orgnaizer of the New­port Ber­muda race.

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