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Discover EilandhopperThe sailing ferry service Eilandhopper only operates in summer and usually consists of two sailing ships that each take a different route. The Dutch clipper Willem Jacob is the main vessel sailing every summer and it’s often joined by another ship. Passengers can come aboard the sailing ships on the mainland for a crossing to the islands, choose the ferry service between the islands, or go on a short cruise of the Wadden Sea. Whichever route you pick, you can be sure of a hands-on sailing experience aboard a historical sailing ship of the so-called ‘Bruine Vloot’ – the fleet of traditional Dutch ships that carried cargo in the past.
What it’s like on board
On deck, not much has changed since a century ago, and every ship has an experienced captain and a mate who will show you how to tie knots and operate the sails. You can be as involved as you want to be and if things become a bit too wet outside, you can climb down into the cosy hold, where you’ll find a fully equipped kitchen, benches to lounge on, and a modern bathroom. There’s a cook onboard who whips up delicious lunches and dinners, using mostly local ingredients, many of which come from the islands.
Willem Jacob is certified gold with Green Key , which shows its commitment as a sustainable business. The engine on board is only used when absolutely necessary, making Eilandhopper one of the greenest means of transport on the Wadden Sea and in the Netherlands. It’s an incredible feeling to sail on such a large ship – Willem Jacob measures 26 meters (85 feet) – using just the wind for power.
Stay the night
What makes Eilandhopper special is the possibility to stay the night on the ship. Aboard the Willem Jacob, you can book a bunk bed in the spacious hold for a hostel-like dorm stay with a shared bathroom and hot shower. On the other ships, it’s often possible to book a private cabin. Nights are spent in the harbours of the islands Terschelling, Ameland, and Schiermonnikoog, under anchor in a bay, or even on a sandbank!
Willem Jacob and the other ships of the ‘Bruine Vloot’ have a flat bottom, using retractable leeboards as keels. This makes it possible to drop anchor in shallow waters and to wait for the tide to go out. As the water disappears, the ship drops to eventually come to rest on the sea bottom. The practice is called ‘droogvallen’ in Dutch and it makes it possible to overnight on sandbanks. It’s the most magical feeling to wake up and see the ship surrounded by mudflats without any water in sight. To read more about the experience and what it’s like to sleep aboard the ship, see: A Night on the Bottom of the Wadden Sea.
Note: as ‘falling dry’ takes quite a bit of time, having to wait for the tide to come back in to be able to get moving, Eilandhopper usually only offers one or two ‘droogvaltochten’ per week.