3. Sailing on the North Sea

Here is story 3 of 3 short stories written by Eef, happy reading!

An unexpected turn of events

Part 3. Sailing on the North Sea.

1998, North Sea

“I am looking for a small crew to assist me on a weekend sailing trip,” said my friend and colleague
Dirk. “Anyone?”
We were having a noon break in my office in the headquarters building of our employer Aga Gas
BV. ‘We’ are Dirk and me, and several other colleagues, all of whom wished to avoid the noise,
smell, and fast food from the company restaurant.

A lot of subjects were discussed during those breaks; in fact I think that was even the main reason
for the participants, rather than the aversion to fast food.
And the topics were abundant: politics, sports, books, films, actors, developments in the digital
world, and more. Life, the universe, and everything for short.
Subjects were brought in by everyone, with Dirk as the main source and me often acting as
Famous were his anecdotes about sailing trips. He was a world-class sailor who owned a yacht with
his brother, and the two competed in major competitions.
I can recall a few: the Sint Maarten Heineken Regatta in the Caribbean, the Round Gotland Race,
and the Isle of Wight Race. There is more, much more, but I forgot.
Dirk was never bragging about his victories, instead he preferred to tell us about the persons he
met in this peculiar world. Here are two of his anecdotes, as he told them.

Don’t waste time during a race
“One day I had Ard Schenk the ice skater as a companion aboard my ship. We took part in a nottoo-challenging sailing race and I thought that I could do with him as a fellow sailor.
Ard was eager to learn the sport and appeared to be a quick study. In no time he memorized the
commands and the required actions upon these. Halfway through the race we were in a fair
position and I was trying to avoid being lee bowed. That is getting maneuvered into another
vessel’s dirty wind.
So we needed to come about, which is turn into another direction, and I asked Ard to reel the Jib.
He confirmed with ‘In a second’, finished his coffee first, and did as I asked.
I told him that we just might have lost the seconds that we needed for the victory, due to his
Ard smiled and said ‘Come on, what harm is a five seconds delay on a ten-hour sailing trip?’
On the finish line, he saw that we fell short of victory by two seconds.”

The freak wave
“Another time we had to bring our ship back from Trondheim to Scheveningen. The crew consisted
of my brother, a friend and his wife, and me.
Halfway we were caught in a terrible storm but there was nowhere to hide so we went on.
We split the crew up into two couples and since this friend and his wife were relatively
unexperienced, my brother went with the friend and I with the friend’s wife.
After our second shift, the girl and I went into the cabin for a short and troubled sleep.
In the middle of our off-time, the ship was hit by an enormous wave – one that ‘old salts’ call
a freak wave. One that you may expect no more than once in your lifetime. Our sailing craft
nearly capsized and I was catapulted from my bed into the bed of my friend’s wife on the other side
of the cabin.
The ship rightened itself again and the other half of the crew came checking for possible damage.
Of course, we were accused of taking advantage of the opportunity.”
Dirk certainly wasn’t the only one who entertained the group, but his stories were the most
impressive no doubt.

With winter approaching, I had to set the rule that the room was a no-smoking area since the
windows had to be kept closed. Everybody understood and accepted this constraint.
Everyone except Dirk. “I cannot give up my two cigarettes at break time,” he said. “As much as I
regret it, I am just too addicted. So I will no longer join this meetings”
That was quite a loss indeed, I thought long and deep and decided that this was too high a price to
be paid. I told the noon participants that the no-smoking rule stood but with one and only one
exception: Dirk. We all agreed and Dirk was reinstated and was allowed his two smokes.

So on an early August day, he came with his call for a small crew on the from the stories well-known sailing vessel.

“I’m in,” I said quickly. The others in the room were more reluctant.
Finally colleague John said, “I am in too ,on the condition that my girlfriend Marga can join us.”

“That’s no problem,” said Dirk.
“Well, the trip will take us short of two days, and this is the program: we’ll depart next 24th
August at 11:00 AM from Scheveningen.
From the harbor, we slide straight into the North Sea where the sails are hoisted. Then we will sail
towards IJmuiden and upon entering the North Sea Canal, we douse the sails and proceed on the
engine. I hope that we are able to pass the locks of the IJ in time, after which we will spend the
night in the port of Durgerdam.
The next morning we will finish our journey by sailing across the IJsselmeer to the marina of
Medemblik. And with all that settled, we will have lunch at my house in Medemblik if everything
goes well.
But of course, it all depends on the weather.”

As agreed we left off at 11 o’clock on the intended day and sailed calmly along the pier of
Scheveningen. That turned out to be the last calm moment for a long time.
Once we – with sails raised – got past the pier the ship was caught by huge waves and the
tranquility was gone. John ran straight to the railing and got rid of his last meal.
Meanwhile, Dirk explained that we would have wind force 7 right against our course all the way to

“And that means,” he continued, “that we have to sail alternating on port tack and starboard tack.
This trajectory alone will take us about 7 hours. The good news is that the wind pressure in the
sails causes the ship to lie more calmly in the waves.”

I studied his face but could not detect any deliberate deception, he really seemed to mean what he
said. The expression ‘calmly’ was exactly the opposite of what I had in mind to describe the
situation. I felt like riding a rodeo bull and John’s girlfriend had joined him at the railing.

Dirk had provided us with old waterproof outfits, to prevent us from getting soaked by the
overtopping water mist and that turned out to be a well-thought measure.
Three sailing vessels were at various distances in front of us, heading for the same destination,
IJmuiden according to Dirk.
“So there will be some competition,” he said. “We’ll see.”
After two hours we overtook the first ship.

Because of the strong north wind, we had to make a long stretch on port tack, come about, make a
long stretch on starboard tack, and on and on… Like the other ships did of course.
I was glad that seasickness remained an unknown concept to me, which certainly wasn’t the
case for the other half of the crew who hadn’t left its position at the railing for a single minute.
Again about two hours later we overtook the second ship. We had a genuine competition vessel
But even my inexperienced eyes could see that the last sailer was too far ahead of us to intercept,
and I informed Dirk about my calculations.
“Well, it ain’t over until it’s over,” he just said and left it at that.

A short time later he announced that he had to visit the loo, which on a ship actually is called the
“I have an upset stomach,” he said “and it might take me a while to recover down there.
“In the meantime, you are my number one, hence responsible for the ship.
“There is not much to it, you sit here at the rudder and watch those ribbons over there.”
He pointed at a couple of ribbons tied to the Jib. Or was it the Genoa, I’m not sure. Probably with
this strong wind the smaller of the two. The Jib I suppose.
Anyway, Dirk said that on the proper course, the ribbons remained calm. And then he disappeared.

I grabbed the rudder bar and tried to radiate confidence and self-control. How hard can it be,
keeping the ribbons calm?
Unfortunately, the ribbons did not stay calm. Where Dirk could keep a straight course with one leg
hooked over the tiller, I couldn’t achieve that even close, with two sweaty hands on the bar.
The ship turned slightly and with my clumsy correction I overcompensated by a large margin, after
which the correction for that mistake only made matters worse.
“She bears away,” Dirk shouted from below. “Bring her back!”

The wind had picked up further or was it just my imagination? The ribbons went mad.
And with the loss of control, the entire ship became unmanageable. Or so it seemed.
I looked behind. The neat straight lines of the experienced helmsman had changed into a wobbly,
irregular pattern that had nothing to do with a steady course.

And there I was. I did it again.
Once more I got myself stuck in a situation, that was way above my level of competence.

Suddenly I had this fearful illusion, a clear image of an unconscious Dirk, taken out of action by
food poisoning, and I glanced sideways at the disabled remainder of the crew. The two at the
railing seemed more miserable than ever and Dirk remained silent.
Hence I was captain, first mate, and deckhand at the same time, it was up to me and only me!

By expert observation, I saw that the sails were not as tight as before. I understood that I had
turned the ship too much into the wind and let her cautiously bear away. The pressure in the sails
increased and I kept her there for the moment.
Even the ribbons appeared to lose some of their excitement.

At that moment to my great relief, Dirk came back.
He took a quick look at the crazy course tracks behind us but he didn’t comment.
“That went well down there,” he said. “Must have been something I ate last night. I’m refreshed so
let’s see how our opponents are doing. Mmm,” he said thoughtfully.

We had not eaten since breakfast and we were quite hungry now.
“I will try to prepare something for us in the cabin kitchen,” I said.
I had some ingredients for a simple macaroni dish, and I knew that the little kitchen was equipped
with a clever hung cooker system that remained always leveled, no matter how the ship was
thrown back and forth. I had something in mind that looked like and smelled like a warm meal. But
after two minutes in the cabin kitchen, I gave up. Being tossed around in the open cockpit is one
thing, but in a closed cabin with no view around, that’s something else.

Not that I felt sick, I just was so disoriented that I no longer could distinguish ‘up’ from ‘down’ and I
had to quit. Instead of a hot meal we tried to eliminate our hunger with a roll of chocolate biscuits.
The ‘railing couple’ could not stand the thought of food, let alone touch it, so the crew members
still in action had the biscuits to themselves.

We approached IJmuiden.
I checked the position of our ‘competitors’ and could see them almost finishing their last long leg
out, before sailing inward straight to the entrance of the IJmuiden port, whereas we just started
our outward direction.

“That’s it,” I said. “We have lost, admit it.”
“I think not,” said Dirk “You’ll see.”
And halfway our outward stretch, Dirk laid in an inward course again.
“That won’t help us,” I said knowledgeable. “Then we still have to go for some outward leg, or else
we will get stuck.”
“Not so,” was Dirk’s answer. “You see, the outgoing tide just has started. And the enhanced tidal
stream along the pier will push us just enough northward, to be able to enter the port entrance.”
We missed the pier by three meters and passed the imaginary finish line first. I realized that a high
ranking sailor was visible here for a brief moment.

The journey continued with the sails lowered.
In the quiet North Sea channel, I succeeded in cooking my infamous macaroni dish, immediately
wolfed with no concern about the taste, by all crew members with the exception of John and
They had at least left their fixed position at the railing but digesting a meal, especially my powerful
‘stew’, was a bridge too far.
We were just too late to pass the Oranjesluizen in Amsterdam, which had a service window from
06:00 to 22:00. Dirk however knew the lock keeper personally, and found him willing to wait for us
for half an hour.

It was dark when we moored in the little marina of Durgerdam and secured the yacht tightly.
A pleasant brown pub was the perfect location to have a beer, and at the same time, to exchange
some travel stories. Adventures in which our personal heroic roles inflated by the minute. Dirk,
who easily could have exceeded those narratives, was remarkably quiet.

Finally, we were summoned out long after closing time and we went back to the ship. John and his
girlfriend, still recovering from the exhausting long hours on the sea, fell unconscious on their
beds. I helped Dirk at the card table, to interface a navigational device with the computer. At three
o’clock I went to sleep for a couple of hours and after waking up at 6:30, I found Dirk still in his seat
at the card table.

The second day on board couldn’t have been more different from the previous day. The wind was
gone. We slipped quietly out of the port on a nearly idling engine. The coastline with its trees and
picturesque houses was beautifully reflected in the sunlit lake, of which the mirror-smooth surface
was slightly disturbed by the ship’s small bow wave that propagated calmly.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful but pleasant nonetheless. We crossed the IJsselmeer in
the same quiet pace, with Marga at the tiller for the most part, and finally moored the sailing ship
in Medemblik, where she would get some required maintenance.

We had lunch at Dirk’s house as promised and hereafter I was dropped off at the train station.

The end of a most remarkable weekend!
Once more I experienced that true excitement, comes from unexpected turns of a plan.


Eef, 2023-05