Finally (12 september – by Jim)

After 35 years of kayak (mis)adventures with Frits in the Alps and elsewhere, and probably 1000 cappuccinos, I am travelling to finally see De Goede Verwachting and meet Thecla after way too long…

Packing/logistics is complicated as I arrive from Italy and depart directly for two weeks in the US. A (too) early flight to Eindhoven where Paul picks me up and then Gé. Then it’s off to quaint Carolinensiel, where we relieve the previous crew of friends and where the friendly staff at the Heimathafen jokingly, yet firmly, refuses to serve Frits a second, smaller Weizenbier with our Flammkuchen. This triggers the group’s typical lowbrow humor that will continue throughout the trip…

As we leave the picturesque port, I am impressed with the ship’s length as we proceed though the canal, and its height as we pass though the first open bridge. We wait at the locks for which the ship is too long and therefore can only go pass with the falling tide, due to which we immediately beach just outside: my first lesson in wad sailing patience.  We float free but need to anchor in the canal as the motor cooling has silted up. Frits nervously “poles” the ship aside as two large ferries slip out past us. We cautiously begin to motor again and managing to rig a “Friese zak” to capture the wind behind us as we sail along the tree branches marking the way into a beautiful sunset.

We spend the next low tide probably only 30 minutes short of the slack-tide (wantij) that we were trying to reach the night before.  I’ve now learned that despite all the late-night planning, it is the tides and a little luck that will determine whether we make it to our daily destination.  I try to nap but wake up to scratching noises, only to emerge to find Frits, Paul and Gé knee-deep around the boat, scraping off the newly attached barnacles. We float off the sandbar and manage to get the full sails up and I can finally appreciate the true majesty of the ship and feel the power of the wind as I take my first turn at the tiller while sailing.

We make it to our destination for the day, Juist, with its typical horse drawn taxis and delivery carts. The stay is short, and we leave feeling unwelcome after paying an exorbitant docking fee, coming up 15 cents short which the harbor master returns to collect, unsuccessfully. We motor out and begin to weave our way over the next wad when we pass the tiller to Paul who demonstrates his unique ability to find the sand bars. This time we end up literally in the middle of nowhere and spend the sunny day relaxing, swimming and just taking in the silence. Perfect.

We reluctantly drift off the sand and head towards Borkum, which I find in some ways more “authentic” than Juist despite of its obviously touristic character. I am drawn to the view of the North Sea beach with its colorful “strandkorb” chaos, which is refreshing after Italy’s perfect rows of beach umbrellas and chairs. 

Strandkorb ‘chaos’ at the Borkum beach

We motor out of the port under the rain, safely cross the channel while debating which buoys to follow and begin to weave our way again between the at times already beached buoys marking the way through the ever-narrowing water path until we finally run aground for our last evening on the sand. 

After a full day with the sails often up, a challenge as we try to follow the zig-zag of the waterways, Paul tries to ground us again in sight of the harbor, but we manage to dislodge the ship to arrive at the Lauwersoog fisher’s port in time to visit the classic fishing/boating store and enjoy fresh fish sandwiches while overlooking the port. We move to the inner port, where we are hit by an intense mini-storm as we dock, shortly after I, luckily, ducked inside due to my lack of rain clothing.

The zig-zag challenge

It is a pleasure to meet Thecla, after too many years of only photos/stories, as we settle down to our first meal with the five of us, although we almost become four again as the group attempts to leave the dock without me the following morning. 

We spend what feels to be never-ending last day/night on Schiermonnikoog with coffee at Hotel van der Werff, biking and walking though the unique landscape and even a chance to get our feet wet in the cool, North Sea on a seemingly infinite beach; all rewarded by a Schierse Hippo beer at the Marlin café. This is followed by lovely sunset to improvised music on the quay and then an impressive full moon. We finish the evening with the last of the kayaking pictures/films, reliving many of those shared experiences, and cappuccinos….