Breskens to Delfzijn – Spring 2018
The Netherlands’ ‘Staande Mastroute’ (Mast-Up Route) offers sailing yachts the opportunity to visit places off the tourist trail while enjoying the comfort of ‘home’ aboard their own vessel. The route takes cruisers through historic towns, tulip growing areas, bustling cities and quiet country canals. Marinas are relatively inexpensive and the ease of passing through the many, many bridges make your visit more enjoyable.
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‘Blue Heeler’ is a 12 tonne Hallberg Rassy (HR39) 12.2m length, 3.7m width, with a 2m draft and an 18.2m air draft. These dimensions are important to consider if contemplating travelling the Mast-Up Route.
‘Blue Heeler’ spent three weeks navigating the salty and fresh, wide and narrow, tidal and non-tidal channels and lakes within the provinces of Zeeland, South Holland, North Brabant, North Holland, Friesland and Groningen.
There are a variety of entry and exit points from the North Sea as shown in the image at the right. More information can be found at http://www.varendoejesamen.nl.
Our entry point was Vlissingen at the southwest of The Netherlands. Arriving in Breskens in the first week of April 2018 our trip took seven days to reach Amsterdam. From Amsterdam we crossed the Markermeer and Ijsslemeer, through to Delfzijl where our trip ended. The distance is around 500kms.
Planning your trip
To get the most out of your trip, it’s important to plan your journey and understand water depths to bridge heights and their opening times, to marinas and dockside facilities.
Top priority is to know the navigation rules of inland waterways of the Netherlands. Naturally, you should spend some time researching the places and sights you want to see along the way too.
You don’t have to plan the entire trip as you can plan each day trip the night before but it’s always a good idea to have a destination in mind. You will have to refer to a few apps and books at the same time as one doesn’t have all information, although we found the Waterkaarten the best resource (*see below).
‘Blue Heeler’ traveled the Mast-Up Route in mid-April as the famous Dutch tulips were beginning to bloom. Spring is a good time to travel too as summer hoards haven’t arrived so there’s plenty of dock space. But the journey is not always along calm canals – busy shipping lanes, barges over 150m in length and strong currents will have you holding your breath at times so forward planning is recommended.
The resources you’ll need are available in PDF, IOS App or hard copy and you can organise these before you arrive in the Netherlands. Below are some useful resources we used during our trip through the Netherlands:
- Waterkaarten* – very useful iPad app and used the most out of all our resources. Includes sailing details, locations and details of all marinas, navigation aids, service stops, bridge opening times and fuel/waste stops. Also identifies bridge numbers and kilometres along the waterways, plus identifies where to change VHF frequencies.
- Google Translate app – Unless you speak Dutch, you’ll definitely need to translate. Google Translate allows you to either translate direct from typed text or from a photo image – we used this feature many times to decipher text from the Waterkaarten or from signs along the route.
- Vaarkaart – another useful app for inland waterways and similar to Waterkaarten, but you will need to be online. This app gives further information around the Waddenzee and islands north of the Netherlands.
- ‘Inland Waterways of the Netherlands’ hard copy guide by Louise Busby and David Broad (Imray). This publication was purchased prior to arriving in the NL. Handy to have along for the Staande Mastroute and to use in conjunction with Waterkaarten. Louise Busby has a blog with further useful information including an interactive map.
- Google Maps – useful for aerial views and local map knowledge.
- De Havengids – free magazine guide available from marinas or chandleries listing marinas in the south and north regions (In Dutch).
- Charts – we use Navionics+ 28XG SD/Micro SD (UK, Ireland and Holland) in our Raymarine a-series chart plotter.
- Bedieningstijden van sluizen en bruggen – Useful list of all bridges and their opening times (in Dutch) – http://www.vaarweginformatie.nl
- Ayetides iPad app with tide and current information – You won’t need to worry about tides within the waterways except where the estuaries run into the sea.
- ANWB Wateralmanak 1 (2017/18) – This book contains Inland Police Regulations, laws and regulations of the waterways (in Dutch) and it is mandatory to carry a copy on board. ANWB Wateralmanak 2 is not mandatory but has 1000 marinas included.
- Chart No. 1 – lists symbols, abbreviations, and terms used on paper and electronic charts – all boats should carry a copy.
- http://www.varendoejesamen.nl – here you can download a number of English brochures which cover Communication, Passing through bridges, Rules of the road, Safe boating, the ‘Blue Sign’, and the Mast-up Route.
- Know the correct VHF channels (marifoonkanaal) for inland waterways. Unlike coastal stations, busy junctions and bridges will have their own dedicated channel. Refer to the Almanak or Waterkaarten. (Note: We have two VHFs on board so our remote VHF was always on channel 10, the hailing channel, while the other was switched to the local nautical information channel).
- Amsterdam Ordnance Datum or Normaal Amsterdams Peil (NAP) is a vertical datum in use in large parts of Western Europe. It’s worthwhile understanding this – click here.
- Carry plenty of 50c and 1 and 2 Euro coins – you’ll need these in some places for showers, laundry, pump-out, or for bridge openings where you’ll be asked to place the money in a clog at the end of a fishing rod!
- Visa, MasterCard or foreign credit card not always accepted, even in supermarkets such as Jumbo or Albert Heijn. There are plenty of ATMs around towns, but carry enough cash to get you through. Some marinas only accept Debit Cards – we had no problem using an Australian travel/debit card in most places, specifically at town docks. However small marinas generally requested cash.
- Some marinas will charge a tourist tax per person, usually around €1.50 per person per day.
- The general VAT rate in the Netherlands is 21%.
- Some marinas charge by the length of your vessel; others may have a standard charge for a certain range; while others charged on m2 based on length x width.
- Rubbish/Recycling – most places have recycling stations.
- Plenty of supermarkets within walking distance of most marinas and major town docks.
- Toilets – pump-out stations are located in some marinas and also identified on the Waterkaarten. Showers and amenities are very good along the way.
- Diesel and fuel – locations identified on Waterkaarten.
- Know your mast height! The lowest bridge we saw was 18.3m (Krammersluizen). If that is an issue (like it was for us) you can pass through the commercial dock instead of the dedicated yacht lock. We had no trouble with mast height (18.2m) for the trip from Breskens to Amsterdam and into the Ijsselmeer.
- Anchoring – there are not many opportunities to anchor, but town docks or marinas are relatively inexpensive. We anchored at Hoorn only. Look for the watchplaats along the way. You may avoid paying marina fees if you’re on a budget.
- Bridges have strict opening times, particularly on weekends and public holidays – try and plan your day’s travel the night before to avoid long delays. Bridge operators are congenial and during our trip we rarely had to wait long for a bridge or sluis to open.
- Public Holidays – check your itinerary isn’t affected by bridge closures on public holidays.
- Have a bicycle – cycling is ubiquitous to the Netherlands and as the terrain is flat, and an ideal place to cycle around and see further afield.
- Tulip fields – South of Haarlem to Lisse are spectacular fields of tulips and hyacinth in mid April.
- Have plenty of time. We planned two weeks, but with so much to see our trip took three weeks from Breskens to Delfzijl, then we had to wait a few days to leave.
Language and Communication
The people of the Netherlands are welcoming and most speak English. It’s always fun to try a new language and Dutch has many words familiar to English speakers. But you will need to understand a few Dutch words too as signage and navigation aids are in Dutch. Below are a few words you’ll quickly pick up along the way. Click here for a link to other sailing terms translated to Dutch.
- Watchplaats – waiting areas outside bridges or locks
- Havenmeester, Havenkantoor – harbour master, harbour office
- Diepte, diep, ondiep – Depth, deep and shallow
- Brug, bruggen – bridge, bridges
- Sluis, sluizen – lock, locks
- Havendienst – harbour service
- Uitgang, Ingang, Toegang – Exit, Entrance, Access
- Marifoonkanaal – VHF channel
- Slagroom – whipped cream!
Internet and mobile phones – since June 2017, when travelling throughout the EU with an EU sim card, there are no roaming costs and you can use your ‘bundles’ throughout the EU. For example for my iPhone I purchased an ASDA prepaid mobile SIM from the UK (£15 for 1000 minutes, 5Gb data and unlimited texts) plus a £15 data bundle (6Gb) for an iPad. Very easy and worked everywhere. Most marinas and town docks have free WiFi too.
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Below is the itinerary of our trip. You’ll find up to date information on marinas, fuel stops, etc., in the Waterkaarten. Note that I’ve used kilometres rather than nautical miles, as the canals are marked in kilometres.
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Breskens, Vlissingen to Middleburg
Distance 11kms – 3.5 hours
Breskens is at the southern bank of the Westerschelde about 1.5nm south of Vlissingen. It has an easy harbour to enter whereas Vlissingen has a sluis and small marina. Breskens has a good supermarket if you need supplies. Once through the Vlissingen lock, you’ll pass through five bridges to reach the small village of Middelburg where you will be greeted by a friendly havenmeester. This is a nice place to stop for the afternoon and evening.
Waterkaarten has information on VHF channels, bridge opening times and how to contact the WV Arne Middelburg harbourmaster.
Breskens Yacht Club: €26.50 per night.
Havenkantoor Middleburg: €25.77 per night.
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Middleburg to Volkaraksluizen / Willemstad
Distance 70kms – 9 hours
From Middelburg you’ll pass one bridge before entering the Veerse Meer – a 22km lagoon. At the east is the Zandkreekdam and sluis.
Passing through the lock, we then headed north into the Oosterschelde and once around the top of the Vondelingspaat we headed east making our way through to the Krammersluizen. It was here where the jachtsluis (yacht lock) had an air draft of 18.3m. Our vessel’s air draft would be too close so we confirmed with the lock operator that we would travel through the commercial lock located next to the yacht lock.
Out from Krammersluizen you’ll enter the Zuid Vlije then head northeast along Volkerak until you reach the Volkeraksluizen. We arrived late evening so stayed at the watchplaats for a free evening and navigated the lock the next morning.
The bridge height at Volkeraksluizen was 18.8m Blue Heeler passed under the bridge with a couple of foot to spare. Note that this height can change depending on tides.
Willemstad is 4kms east of the Volkeraksluis and a pleasant stop. In this quiet season, Blue Heeler tied up at the town dock giving us easy access to the historic part of town and to hear the bells chime on the hour at the town hall. Willemstad is located within a star-shaped fort – stunning when viewed from Google maps. There are many star-shaped forts throughout Europe and you’ll see a few on this trip.
Willemstad’s town dock is managed by the harbour master – laundry and ablutions at the harbour marina are available to use and only a short walk away.
Willemstad Town Dock or Harbour cost: €25.77 per night including electricity, water, showers.
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Willemstad to Dordrecht
Distance 28kms – 3 hours
Willemstad is on the south bank of the busy Hollandsdiep waterway. Turning north up the Dordtse Kil, 2.5kn of current helped Blue Heeler reach the Hefbrug at Dordrecht in time for the 11.12am opening.
The small Engelenburgerbrug at Dordrecht opens throughout the day but closes for lunch between 12-1pm. Time it right and you will reach Dordrecht before lunch! Dordrecht is the oldest town in Holland (around 800 years) and the historic docks and ships are worth the walk.
Cash only accepted here – €20.19 for one night, €1 for showers.
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Dordrecht to Alphen aan den Rijn
Distance 48kms – 7.5 hours
From Dordrecht head north up the Noord (North) river. This river also has a strong current and plenty of large barges and ships to keep things interesting. The Oude Maas, Noord and Beneden Merwede rivers junction is one of the busiest in the Netherlands so take care!
Heading north, then northwest, until you reach Stormpolder and turn northeast out of the current. A few hours from Dordrecht is the town of Gouda – famous for gouda cheese. Blue Heeler didn’t stop here as we hoped to make some miles that day. But we have eaten plenty of gouda along the way!
Continuing north passed Gouda, we then turned left after the Hefbrug Gouwsluis (number 661) along the canal through Alphen aan den Rijn. After bridge 605 we turned north a short distance and stopped for the night at W.V. Alphen a/d Rijn – a small marina with good facilities and a friendly harbour master. Through the park into the town are restaurants, various shops and a Jumbo supermarket. The guys at the marina will loan you a bike too.
WV Alphen a/d Rijn cost: €15.00 for one night including water, electricity, showers.
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Alphen a/d Rijn to Haarlem
Distance 31kms – 6 hours
Continue north up through Braassemermeer (a small lake) then turn west at Weteringbrug (599b). Be sure to plan your timing through the Kaagbrug Spoorbrug (bridge 599 and 598) and be prepared to rest at the waiting post.
Next town to the west is Lisse. This is it’s a good place to stop if you want to visit the Keukenhof Gardens. Alternatively, as we did, you can cycle from Haarlem to Lisse and enjoy a trip through the tulip fields along the way (20kms each way). Check out our video of the Keukenhof Gardens.
From Lisse, a few more bridges and you’re in downtown Haarlem. A useful guide to download beforehand is the small pamphlet ‘On and Along the Water‘ produced by Haarlem Marketing which shows where you can dock your boat right in the heart of Haarlem.
Dockage is paid for by dockside debit card machines and depending on your location you will probably have access to showers at one of the nearby bridges. Facilities are marked on the above guide.
Once you have your sticker and receipt (can take up to one minute to come out so be patient), the sticker must be placed on your boat visible to the havenmeester.
The best place for the sticker is on the safety lines as they are easy to remove afterwards.
Havendienst Haarlem: €18.50 per night with electricity. Showers €1.
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Haarlem to Amsterdam
Distance 24kms – 3 hours
It’s important to get the bridge opening times right on this leg of the trip. Blue Heeler was ready the for 9am opening at Catharijnebrug (bridge number 586) but there are a couple of bridges with set times farther along the way until you reach the Noordzeekanaal. There was one small lock which required a fee of three Euros – Rijnlandsluizen (number 583). No clog here, just tie your boat up and run up to the brugwachters office.
Once into the Noordzeekanaal which leads down to the busy port of Amsterdam, it’s important to keep as close to starboard as possible and ensure your VHF is on the correct channel.
Blue Heeler berthed at the Sixhaven Marina on the north bank. Booking wasn’t necessary when we visited. The ferries across to Amsterdam city are free and only a short walk from the marina. Payment at Sixhaven is all done via a machine where you can purchase a Facility Card. Here you can add money to use on showers, laundry and water. Payment for your berth is also paid using a debit card at a set rate for your vessel’s length.
Sixhaven €25 per night, plus €0.50 per 100 litres of water, extra for electricity and €0.18 per minute for showers.
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Amsterdam to Hoorn
Distance 53kms – 5.5 hours
Leaving Amsterdam you’ll pass through one sluis and under one bridge and enter the fresh water lake of Markermeer. Then depending on the direction of the wind, you may enjoy a sail to Hoorn. We had no wind and motor-sailed all the way.
Hoorn is a pretty town filled with history of the Dutch East India company. It’s small enough to walk around in a few hours. If you’re lucky you’ll catch the Saturday market and stay for a cold beer at one of the restaurants along the dock.
The harbour at Hoorn is quite small and as we arrived on a Saturday was filled with sailing yachts, rafted up three deep. Luckily for us the buithaven (outer port) behind the breakwater is a shallow anchoring area (2m depth) where we and two other boats anchored for the night. Diesel (only) is available nearby.
Cost for anchoring – free.
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Hoorn to Enkhuizen
Distance 24kms – 2.5 hours hours
Only a short distance from Hoorn but worth the stop is the port of Enkhuizen at the entrance to the Ijsslemeer. Also a star-shaped fort surrounding the town, Enkhuizen was once a major town for cargo from the VOC (Dutch East India Company). The harbour is filled with old cargo vessels, now used primarily for tourist trips.
The buitenhaven (outer harbour) is where we docked. As in Haarlem, the Havendienst is payable through a debit machine where you can buy a sticker and a facility card to pay for electricity, showers, and water.
Enkhuizen €27.00 for one night, which included 2x people tax, €5 for facility card and credit which we used for electricity and showers.
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Enkhuizen to Stavoren through to Warten
Distance 64kms – 8 hours
From Enkhuizen crossing the Ijsslemeer, you need to decide which route you take through the Mast-Up Route, or you may wish to leave the canals and head into the North Sea. After speaking with a local sailor, he recommended entering through Stavoren. The distance of 12nm was an enjoyable sail.
From Stavoren we headed along the canals rejoining the traditional Mast-Up Route at the Sneekermeer. From there we passed through the town of Grou to the small quiet village of Warten.
At Warten is the Stichting JV Wartena. The canal which leads to the marina was very shallow and had Blue Heeler’s 2m draft riding gently through soft silt.
Stichting JV Wartena: €14 per night plus €1.00 for showers, plus €0.50 per 1kWh electricity.
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Warten to Leeuwarden
The bridges at Warten open at 9am and at the town bridge you are asked to pay €2. The bridge operator drops a clog from a fishing line in front of you where you can deposit your coin.
From Warten we have little under the keel, but by the time you reach the aqueduct the depth improves. A couple more bridges then you’re in Leeuwarden. There is a dock before the Verlaatsbrug where you can dock and grab supplies from the nearby Jumbo or Aldi before moving on to the town dock.
At the Verlaatsbrug a clog will be dropped in front of you to pay €7 for access to pass through the series of bridges. This bridge was delayed for some time due to dredging so we stayed the night in Leeuwarden. Dockage at the Gemeente Leeuwarden is cheap and easy with payment by Debit card. Electricity, water, pump-out all extra on a card.
Cost for us €14.50 for the night. We didn’t need electricity or water.
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Leeuwarden to Zoutkamp
Distance: 64kms – 6 hours
From Leeuwarden heading up to Dokkum, through the National Park Lauwersmeer to Zoutkamp is very shallow. Our draft of almost 2m pushed through the soft silt barely noticeable, but this was no hindrance to speed. At Dokkum you will be asked to pay €3.50 to the brugwachter to pass through the bruggen (bridges) at Dokkum. Timing your bridges (which open at 9am at Leeuwarden) will have you reach Dokkum, as we did, right at midday. East of the Woudpoortbrug (number 227) on the north bank it’s deep enough to tie to the dock. Dokkum’s bridges and the two immediately out of town close for lunch until 1.00pm, so take some time to either stay in Dokkum or have a lunch break.
You will pass through a lock before heading into the tidal area of the National park Lauwersmeer. Our plan was to try and reach Groningen by the evening, however, with time against us and a need to top up diesel, we opted to stay at the friendly family-run Jachthaven Hunzegat Zoutkamp. It was a little shallow to the south of the marina, but okay at the fuel dock.
Cost for one night €19 plus PP tax and extra for showers (€0.50). Diesel available.
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Zoutkamp to Groningen
Once again our timing was a little off. Hoping to reach Groningen on Thursday as Friday 27th April was celebrations for the King’s birthday so all bridges in Groningen were closed.
We managed to get within 8kms north and tied up to a watchplaat with two other yachts. From here it was a 15 minute cycle ride into Groningen.
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Groningen to Delfzijl
Distance: 37kms – 5 hours
The Zernikebrug has strict opening times so it was important for us to leave right at 9am on a Saturday. Along with us were three other yachts so we all travelled in convoy passing through 18 bridges to get around Groningen. By the time we’d gone through the town it was already 10.30am.
At Delfzijl we stayed at the pleasant Abel Tasman motor boat haven. Cost: €0.80 per metre per day, plus person tax and you’ll need to buy tokens for electricity, laundry and showers.
As The Netherlands wakes up from the cold winter months, travelling through the waterways in April is a wonderful experience – we were fortunate to have unseasonably warm weather for the first week. The canal systems are efficient, the people are friendly and the ability to get around by boat and bike is a fantastic way to travel.
We hope this information is useful to you as you plan your trip along the Mast-Up Route in The Netherlands.