Our waters can be demanding and rough, or gentle and friendly. As you wish. Perhaps the best of nature’s creations are riverine, on the banks. Seals sunning themselves on sandbanks at ebb tide. Porpoises dart alongside your boat under sail. The Delta Works stretch ahead of you, a sight to behold and be grateful for. This is Zeeland at sea. A tour follows below, but feel free to change the sequence. That’s Zeeland too.
The Westerschelde estuary is the only open connection to the sea. It lies between Zeeland-Flanders and Walcheren and Zuid-Beveland. It is a challenging area of sea, tidal and with fierce currents. At times of strong winds, only experienced mariners should venture out onto the Westerschelde. It is a very busy route for large cargo ships. But it also offers many opportunities for water sports. There are yacht marinas in several places, including Vlissingen, Hoedekenskerke, Breskens, Terneuzen and Paal. When you pop into the Belgian part, don’t forget Antwerp. Who could?
The two estuaries – Westerschelde to Oosterschelde – are connected by the Kanaal of Zuid-Beveland. You can traverse it with mast upright, from the sluice complex at Hansweert. You can also enter from the North Sea through the Oosterschelde flood barrier. Although it is not fully open, the estuary is partially tidal, with serious currents. The Zeelandbrug is almost always visible. This gloriously spacious area of water is, in its own way, a tad playful for the sailor. And a paradise for the ‘bons viveurs’ amongst modern mariners. A popular pastime of theirs is a kind of coastal restaurant crawl.Their ports of call include Tholen, Colijnsplaat, Goes and Zierikzee.
Departing the Oosterschelde along the Zandkreek you enter the splendid Veerse Meer, 22 km long and 150 to 1,500 metres wide. Conviviality rules. Gezellig. For tourists, Veere and Kamperland have a certain allure. The islands are also appealing, with modest discerning havens, some only accessible to shallow drafts. Their meadows and wooded walks are good to stretch the sailor’s legs. A good place to moor, or anchor, have a rest. Swim, sunbathe, relax, have a picnic and on you sail.
The Krammersluizen at the south-west of Oosterschelde give you access to the Grevelingen lake. Now that it is no longer tidal, it is the largest and cleanest freshwater lake in Western Europe. The quality of the water is clear, down to the lake floor in places. Together with the Oosterschelde, this is the most popular diving spot in the Netherlands. And for sailors, it has long quiet stretches for sailing, and other water sports. Cut off from the sea, its relative isolation make it more enchanting. There are several nice villages where you can moor and explore: Brouwershaven, Scharendijke, Herkingen and Bruinisse. And of course, the Port Zélande bungalow park.
The greatest single asset of the Grevelingen is the collection of islands dotted around the lake. They emerged from old sandbanks and have evolved into small nature reserves. Jetties and beaches have been added – but most have the scantiest of sanitary amenities: just a toilet. Another word of caution: you are not allowed to use an underwater toilet head any on the clear waters of the Grevelingen.
All yours, skipper
Maybe you want to sail under someone else’s command? Many Zeeland skippers will be pleased to take you out aboard their own boats. To share all the joys, and some of the tasks. That’s the charm of sailing. Wind in your hair, the helm in your hands – and watch out for that boom, when you’re jibing and tacking. Skippers will tell you too. Got eyes in the back of their head.