Mast Up Route in Holland
“You don’t have to call at every bridge. The bridge keeper is on his bike, and he is doing the best he can”. We were sailing through the canals of Groningen, with 7 bridges in the central part of the city. We were not certain if we should call the bridge every time, but had decided to be on the safe side and do so. This is the good way to do it, but as it turns out, in cities with many bridges it is often the same bridge keeper that opens all the bridges, biking from one bridge to the next. When we called on the VHF for the 3rd bridge the above response came from the central. Polite but determined. And we really didn’t want to stress anyone, but now we knew more about what to do in cities with many bridges.
The Netherland is beautiful, and while the westerly winds blow out in the North See, an alternative is to sail quietly through the canals and the Mast Up Route. From north you can start either in Delfzijl at the German border, og further west at Lauwersmeer, which you will also come by when starting at Delfzijl. We planned for Lauwersmeer, but due to engine issues we wanted to get into the mainland as quick as possible, as fixing the issues is easier here than on the Frisian Islands. Jeanette from our cruising network is dutch, and she helped us finding an engineer that could help us out. A great help.
Some of the things we will remember the canals for: Groningen, where you sail in the old part of the city. At Lauwersmeer we where on ground a couple of times and decided to stop at the Oostmahorn marina to investigate why we were on ground where there should be water enough. A nice dutch couple helped us moore. “Thanks for the help, are you local?” was the first June said to them. We told them we had been on ground where there should be water enough, so we could use som local knowledge. They invited us on their boat, which is one of the many old and beautiful traditional saling boats, as shown on the picture. We looked at the sea chart and they explained that cutting corners, even though the chart reports plenty of water, is a no go in these waters. Besides that, we should have no problems. Something that turned out to be almost true…
From Lauwersmeer via Dokkum to Leeuwarden is very beautiful. The canals are smaller, twisting, and suddenly you find yourself sailing right through a small village with gorgeous houses right by the canal. This was also the part where we touched the canal bottom several times, but it didn’t ruin enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
The night convoy through Amsterdam was a speciel experience, and very cosy. It wasn’t the easiest thing finding where to be at what time, but we figured it out (see experiences below).
Also minor things as paying bridge toll in a traditional dutch clog while sailing through an open bridge belongs to the memories we take with us from the canals.
It is possible to sail on the Mast Up Route all the way down to Antwerpen in Belgium. We got to Rotterdam before we decided, that now we had waited for plenty bridge openings, and it was time for sailing out into the North Sea again. We were a little worried how it would be saling through one of Europes busiest ports. You need to know which VHF channel to listen to at specific parts of the Mass canal, but luckily for us, our friend Jørn found out the hard way, which we then benefited from. It went very well getting out into the North Sea through Rotterdam, going with the tidal current. From there we have sailed to Boulogne sur Mer in France, and further on to Cherbourg and Roscoff, so we now almost are through the English Channel.
- Sailing the dutch canals requires CEVNI proof of competence (no-one checked, so we are not certain on this)
- You must have a CEVNI book on rules etc in your boat (again, no-one checked)
- Black water must not be emptied. Marinas with more than 50 berths are obliged to have pump-out. We had heard that you need to be able to prove you used it, but as they are free of use this is difficult (again, no-one checked)
- Our draft is 1,9 meters. In freshwater and loaded for a circumnavigation it is 5 cm more. We had heard this was no problem, but we did touch the ground multiple places. Especially from Lauwersmeer to south of Leeuwarden, but it might depend on the amount of rain etc.
- An advice: Get books and maps prior to sailing the canals. We thought it would be easy when entering the canals, but had a hard time finding this (OK, we might have been focused on engine issues instead). Harbour masters and others are very helpful, though, and halfway through we found a Mast up Route atlas.
- Night Convoy through Amsterdam. From north to south you go through the bridge Westerkeersluisbrug (from Ude Houthaven) and moor in the Westerkanaal. You can do this already before noon (see how to find opening times for bridges below). Around 11 pm it is announced on VHF channel 69 when the railway bridge opens and the convoy starrs. Similar from the south, where you moor in the northern part of Nieuwe Meer.
- Following web site shows all bridges and locks with VHF Channel, opening times etc., most of it in english. https://vaarweginformatie.nl/frp/main/#/geo/map?layers=BRIDGE
- There are 2 kinds of buoys. the usual red and green ones, and some with white stripes on. The latter shows the 130 cm limit, so be very careful sailing too close to them, depending on you draft.