The beginning of this is going to read a little like an Oscars speech, but really, I wouldn't be here without all the help I've found along the way... I'm immensely humbled right now by the generosity of friends, new and old. People are supporting me in so many ways, through sending me money so I can actually start the trip, to feeding and welcoming me into their homes. Thank you to the generosity of David Watts, someone whom I have never met in person who generously sent funds to keep me on the move. Big thanks Tracy for sending funds live from New York city - Guess who's getting married?! Thank you to Aaron for sending me money to sort out the stove situation, by extracting funds out of his Dubai relocation package no less! Gigantic thank you to new friends-in-person, Paul, Lisa (I've been wearing the Fladen suit already!) Lonneke and Peter for absolutely everything. Thank you to Mum & Dad for the SSB receiver so I can check the weather and listen to the BBC - I know you hate the idea of my trip, but I promise to only sail in 2ft swells, sunny conditions and 11kts of wind. And of course, thank you to all the 'early adopters' who actually believed my ridiculous idea was for real from the beginning.
So, here I am... In June, 2006, I hitch hiked across Sweden into Norway, and saw the beautiful Fjords. I decided there that sailing would be the only true way to travel - It is one of the only ways left where travel can still be adventure, freedom and true exploration. In July, 2006 I researched boats and emailed brokers, and by August 'Constellation' was part of a hairy monthly payment plan. I worked for fly-by-night companies, friends and even behind a bar. I had grand plans of satellite connections, digital navigation and summer sailing - I never really achieved any of those things, but I do have the necessities. I'm not leaving as I had planned, with money in the bank and good conditions, so for now this trip is going to be more of a 'work yourself home' thing, than a non-stop sailing adventure which is funded by a decent savings plan. I could have stayed and worked another year to achieve that, but I made the decision that to at least begin, and see how far I get was more important.
Two days ago I left Monnikendam on a non-descript Monday. It was raining, I had my last coffee with the very kind Harbour Master, and left. It was an odd feeling to think I was departing on this great trip, and all it really consisted of was me backing out of my berth and disappearing into the Markemeer, back towards Amsterdam. I engaged the windvane self-steering for the first time, and she steered a perfect course, to my amazement; not that I didn't think it was going to work, but I'd just never used one before. It rained heavily all the way, and I ended up sitting in front of a large bridge for two hours waiting for it to open. Eventually it opened at 6pm, and I contended with another lock full of charter boats. I was nervous about crashing around in the lock to such a large audience, as everyone looks at me alone in such a small boat with the British flag... Luckily my lock maneuvers are well rehearsed - I came in gracefully, and watched some Belgians smash their pushpit against the wall to the amusement of the barge charter crew. Through Amsterdam city it rained gallons, and I sang to myself like a man with early onset madness. I was so happy to be going somewhere, and it was an exceptional feeling sailing through such a large historic city like Amsterdam, on route to the other side of the world.
Darkness came, and I motored through the North Sea canal towards the coastline. Through the other side of my final lock, I could feel the swell already, and as I motored on past the last industrial area, it became suddenly pitch black, except for a few navigation lights. I managed with a headlight torch and the Reeds Almanac on the cockpit seat to find the marina mini-channel, and I finally berthed at 12am.
I woke up at 5am to enormous winds, as Constellation was locked against the pontoon by the gusts. I sat in bed thinking that I wouldn't be going anywhere that day... It was a favourable Northerly wind, which is becoming increasingly rare, as the winds have changed already to predominantly South, yet it was too strong with a large swell. I sat in the marina confident the next day would yield something more sailable. I defiantly left at 10am with a fairly brisk Southerly wind, and exited the Ijmuiden breakwater. To my shock, the swell was enormous. A 36ft Bavaria yacht came up from behind, being thrown around like a rag-doll. They looked at me quizzically and motored on. My little 10hp diesel was doing 1.2kts against a headwind and 4m swell. I battled to raise the mainsail and began heading towards Den Haag (The Hague). The sail increased stability slightly, but moving South with the swell coming from a South Westerly direction proved impossible - I neared broaching still running at 1-2kts of speed. The windvane was struggling to steer a course, because the freshly made knots in the steering lines had tightened up, therefore putting too much slack on the tiller. I eventually gave up after spending two hours just getting 1.5nm off the breakwater. Turning around I was back into less choppy waters within 15minutes, doing 7kts under a second reefed mainsail. I was annoyed returning, but I've vowed to sail conservatively, to conserve myself and the boat - I have nothing much to prove on the front of small boat heavy weather sailing, and the less I break on the boat, the less money I have to spend, and the further I can go.
I don't like the North Sea at all, and would never wish upon anyone to have to sail it in a small vessel. Today it is a small ships warning, with some kind of front moving down from Germany. Tomorrow does not look much better, however Saturday may be the one I can finally move on. I can see at this rate, it will take me a very long time to progress South. My primary aim right now is to just get out of Northern Europe ASAP, yet with this weather, which seems like an early winter, I may spend considerable time wasting away in marinas...! At least I will finally get to finish Moby Dick.