I always think that there is something special about urban kayaking and over the years I have been fortunate to dip my paddles in the waters of some of the worlds great cities.My first was probably Venice in 1972 when I paddled an early version of a Gaybo sea kayak. I have been struggling to remember the model but it’s name escapes me. In those days kayaks in the waters of Venice were an infrequent sight, so I generated a fair bit of interest.
Since then I have enjoyed the urban landscapes of cities such London, Paris, New York, Valletta and Seattle to name a few. Along the way I have paddled through towns and cities which may not necessarily have the same worldwide appeal but have their own unique charm. This includes such fascinating destinations as Leicester, Wolverhampton, Milton Keynes, to name just three. What is great about paddling through towns such as these you gain a totally different perspective of the urban environment.
This week we were fortunate to be able to paddle around the historic Dutch city of Utrecht. In terms of population it is the fourth largest city in the Netherlands so there was no doubt that we would be experiencing urban kayaking! There was plenty to see including football stadiums, prisons, old fortifications and possibly the most interesting from a sea kayakers point of view part of the University.
Christophorus Henricus Diedericus Buys Ballot attended Utrecht University before going on to become a Professor in Mathematics and Physics. He is best known though for his achievements in meteorology, with Buys Ballots Law named after him. It states that if a person in the northern hemisphere stands with their back to the wind the low pressure is to their left and high pressure to the right. Pretty much essential knowledge for anybody who wants to work as a sea kayak leader or guide.
Who says that Urban Kayaking has to be boring? There is a whole world out there waiting to be discovered and perfect when the wind is too strong to be on the open sea.
I had heard about Engelandvaarders, a number of years ago. Mainly men but some women who escaped from the German occupied Netherlands to Britain. Many took the dangerous overland routes but a smaller number risked their lives crossing the North Sea in a variety of small craft. Earlier this year I heard that an Engelandvaarders Museum had been opened in 2015, so whilst on a visit to my daughter in Amsterdam it was planned that we should go to Noordwijk, to visit the museum.
The section that most interested me, the most, was the story of those men who attempted to paddle across the North Sea in canoes. As far as is known 38 men attempted the journey to the English coast in folding canoes (kayaks). Unfortunately only 8 people made it to the English coast, and of these only 3 survived the Second World War.
The stories of some of the escapees are remarkable, Rudi van Daalen Wetters and Jaap vanHamel, were at sea for 5 days and nights before they were picked up by an Australian ship. When rescued they were unable to stand. On the 20th June 1941, Robbie Cohen and Koen de Longh left the beach in Katwijk and 50 hours later landed on the beach in England. Both amazing feats of survival. Sadly many of the others were not successful.
In 2011 Dutch marines Chiel van Bakel and Ben Stoel and English paddlers Alec Greenwell, Ed Cooper, Harry Franks and Olly Hicks recreated the crossing completed by the brothers, Han and Willem Peteri on the 19th September 1941, although I would assume that their navigation equipment was slightly more sophisticated than a school atlas and a watch. The Peteri brothers took two days to cross from Katwijk to Sizewell in Suffolk.
As paddlers we are possibly in a reasonable position to understand the fears and concerns of those young men as they slipped quietly away from the Dutch coast, under the cover of darkness. Their future far from certain but prepared to chance their lives on the hostile waters of the North Sea, rather than remain in their occupied homeland.
If you are in the area then I would recommend a visit to this small but fascinating museum.