Making use of wind power to travel around and discover new places is a priori a quite special leisure activity. However, the time spent on the boat might turn even more special and exciting if you choose an exceptional sailing spot. The so-called Wadden Sea along the Dutch coastline in central Europe for instance is definitely to be classified as a unique navigation area: The vast region of wetlands located between the Ijsselmeer and the Dutch North Sea islands, such as Texel, Vlieland or Terschelling, has been declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 – a fantastic area to be discovered by boat.
Sailing through the Wadden Sea is a particularly exciting experience. The whole landscape changes dramatically depending on whether it is high tide or low tide: At high tide all the sandbanks are hidden just below the water surface turning the area into an enormous ocean. However, only hours later, as soon as the sea level falls again, the mudflats reappear and the ocean seems to have dried out. An impressive spectacle of nature!
As you can see on the photo, the navigation chart displays all those drying areas in green colour. Even at high-water, those green areas are still way too shallow to sail through. So to navigate safely and to avoid running aground, it is essential to stay in the buoyed shipping channels marked in blue on the charts.
Generally speaking, in the Wadden Sea, it is the tide and the weather telling you where to go. To take advantage of the predominant strong tidal stream, so that you sail with the current and not against it, it is important to do some time planning in advance. Usually, all boaters come to the same conclusion, when it’s time to head to the islands. ‘Same conclusion’ means that every skipper wants to pass through the locks, which regulate the variable water levels between the Ijsselmeer and the Wadden Sea, at exactly the same time. So, get ready for some exciting ‘lock action’, as you can see on the photo.
Well, you’ll soon forget about the excitement in the locks, as you enter the Wadden Sea, hoist the sails and make your way through the channels. It’s time to let wind, tide and waves do their job. It’s time to enjoy this worldwide unique natural site – not to forget that this particular site off the Dutch coast represents an important part of the world’s largest system of mudflats, extending from Denmark to the Netherlands.
Sitting in the cockpit of the boat at the end of the day, berthed in one of the well-equipped marinas, enjoy a great sunset and calculate the time of departure for the next morning… My recommendation: stay a couple of days in port, drifting up and down with the tide, and visit the absolutely picturesque villages.
Yannick has been sailing in the Netherlands and through the Wadden Sea region for a couple of years. He is currently working for the sailing magazine “Voiles et Voiliers” – the leader of the nautical press in France.