A North Sea Crossing in Winter

By |Published On: December 17, 2022|Categories: England, Europe, Netherlands|1597 words|6 Comments|

Having spent a couple of weeks in the UK based out of the Burnham Yacht Harbour we were both keen to move on – to go somewhere else and, not least of all, sail this boat a bit. We had had consistent below zero Celsius days and winds that alternated between blowing hard or glassy still. This had meant that we hadn’t had a chance to actually sail her and had only motored a bit as we tried to figure out how to manoeuvre her in close quarters. Not what we had hoped for. Also weighing on us was the fact that Christmas was approaching and Frederieke wanted to be in the Netherlands to spend time with family. We had two options for getting over there, we could either get a ferry over and back or we could leave the UK in Yuma and sail across. The latter of course required that we get a window of weather that made it possible. Ultimately the weather gods were going to make the choice for us. Either option was good, or at least endurable.

There was one issue however, a disagreement between the two of us about how we should approach the crossing. Frederieke was worried about the combination of the cold, a new boat and the heavy marine traffic in the North Sea. She was concerned that the cold would compound the fatigue of standing watches and make for mistakes with an unfamiliar boat, while the busy traffic was something we weren’t experienced with and could be dangerous. She thought we should get an experienced North Sea sailor to join us. My reasoning was that the cold was something that we needed to prepare for properly and was no worse than what we had dealt with on bushwalking and ski-mountaineering trips in the past. The marine traffic seemed to me to look far worse on the small AIS monitor than it was in reality – there are a lot of ships but they are spread over a lot of water. I didn’t think we needed a third person and thought instead that we needed to prepare carefully and properly for the passage.

In the end we couldn’t arrive at an agreement, but also couldn’t find a third person, so the decision was that we would start the passage north along the English coast and, at the point between Felixstowe and Lowestoft where we had to veer north east to clear the first of the windfarms, Frederieke (being the one with the greatest concerns) would make the call as to whether we were going to continue with the passage or head to a port on the English side. The important thing was that we got out sailing and that we were both comfortable with the sailing, not where it was that we ended up.

A weather window started to appear on the forecasts on December 17, 36-40 hours of southerlies below 20kts and gusting to 25kts. We decided that this was what we would aim for. It was enough time to do the whole trip if the conditions panned out as forecast and, if they didn’t, it should still be long enough to get up the coast to Felixstowe or even beyond without running out of reasonable weather.

The morning of December 17 saw us slipping our lines in the dark at 0600. It was bitterly cold (-6˚C) but glass-out still. Strangely we were alone as we slid down the river towards the open sea under motor. The sky began to colour just before we reached the sea and by the time we were in the Spitway the day had arrived. With daylight came the wind, 15kts of cold that in the shallow waters quickly pushed up some rough seas. We crossed through into the Wallet and into the lee of the Gunfleet to make our first ever hauling of the sails on Yuma a bit easier. After a bit of faffing around with one of the reef lines we were able to head north on a pleasant run, double reefed and with the wind and sea on our starboard quarter.

And didn’t Yuma feel different to Kleine Vis, smooth, solid and purposeful. What a delight to sail!

Frederieke happy on the wheel


The day passed nicely. The winds built slowly to 20-25kts and the seas grew with them but overall it was pleasant, if cold, sailing on a brown winter sea. Strangely enough there weren’t too many other recreational boats, sail or otherwise. However, there were fleets of wind turbines arrayed in careful rows over huge areas of ocean and, between them, strange scaffold structures that seemed to be placed randomly here and there and which had no obvious or purpose.

By late afternoon we had crossed the shipping channel that led into Felixstowe and Ipswich. This looked like it would be the reasonable point to make a call about our destination as there was still time to reach an anchorage in the River Stour in daylight. Frederieke’s decision was to continue on to IJmuiden. It had been cold but it hadn’t been hard and we were feeling good. So, we gybed northeast at the mid Bawdsey marker and headed up to the North Shipwash light. From there it was a long run, at times broad reach, in the growing dark across to the northern side of Inner Gabbard windfarm and then, sometime near midnight, to the northeastern corner of the East Anglia windfarm. The East Anglia turbine field is, to put it mildly, huge. We sailed obliquely along it and towards it for hours before turning east along its northern side. The turbines themselves were monsters, only dimly visible in the night but arrayed in long rows of flashing lights and shadowy spinning arms.

Somewhere early in the evening, Frederieke went below to eat and warm up, and, promptly threw up. We were doing a bit of a stern swinging wobble and roll as the waves passed under us and, not having been at sea for a while, she was sensitive to the motion. This put her out of action as she retreated under a sleeping bag on the bench in the main cabin. This meant that I got to keep watch for a few hours longer, until we arrived at the shipping channels just north of the Anglia turbine field. As agreed, I called up Frederieke to make the crossing together as this were our first real challenge with shipping traffic, but in the end turned out not to present too much of an issue. Those big ships do move fast though!

About 0400 I went below to get some rest and Frederieke took over the watch. Stupidly I stripped down to just my thermals. Less than 30 minutes later Frederieke ordered me back into the cockpit to handle the sheets as she turned 180 degrees to avoid an approaching hydrography vessel. I was so bleary, tired and confused that she had to tell me step-by-step what to do. Of course, I didn’t have time to dress so the cold (yep -5˚C and 25kts and me in bare feet and underwear) woke me up fairly quickly. Once we had avoided a collision, she allowed me to go back down to get dressed properly to then assist with another 180 degrees to get back on course to IJmuiden. And then I got about an hour and half of sleep before coming back on deck for my next watch.

By this time, we were well along the channel into IJmuiden, dodging fishing boats, oil rigs and assorted big craft at anchor and underway. You can say one thing about the southern part of the North Sea, it is one busy and messy bit of water. There is stuff everywhere and enough wrecks marked beneath it to show that things often don’t go well.

About 6nm out of IJmuiden harbour the channel swings east and on this morning that brought us pretty much nose onto 25kts of freezing wind. We could have tacked backwards and forwards for hours on end to push our way into the harbour but instead, being cold and tired, we dropped sails and punched our way in under motor for about 2hrs. It was a grey, dim and bleak morning and IJmuiden’s industrial skyline seemed almost post-apocalyptic. A snow and ice blanket on the rocks of the breakwater to lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the scene.

We pulled into one of the many empty pens in the Seaport Marina IJmuiden and having secured Yuma had a congratulatory hug. We’d made it without any sailing dramas. For me it had been a fun sail, cold but still enjoyable. For Frederieke it hadn’t been easy. She had been too cold and getting seasick (for the first time in many years) had meant that the fun vanished partway through the passage.

What did we learn? Well, first that there are a few things on the boat that need to be changed. The compass light is white and way too bright. How silly is that? A red, blue or green bulb has to be found. Some of the sheets are waaaay too long. And so on. All small but important things. Other things were about us and our equipment. We need to have warm food and drinks prepared before leaving port. Frederieke needs a way to keep her feet and hands warm and better thermal underwear. I need to get my camera batteries sorted out (I have no photos from the trip).


  1. Caro Imming June 21, 2023 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Wat een spannend verhaal. En ook lef om zo’n toch wel uitdagende overtocht met onbekende boot te maken.

  2. Frederieke June 22, 2023 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Idd. Lef of dom? In ieder geval zijn we heelhuids in IJmuiden aangekomen. En lang geleden dat ik het zó koud heb gehad.

  3. Julie Carmody August 9, 2023 at 12:54 pm - Reply

    So enjoyed reading this ! What an adventure… safe sailing

  4. Arndt December 18, 2023 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    I loved to read jour trip journal. Pure fun! Go ahead with your adventures! I will definitely follow you…
    Cheers Arndt

    • David Westcott December 28, 2023 at 2:01 am - Reply

      Glad you like it Arndt. We’ll keep it coming, but slowly…and irregularly, I’m afraid

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