A DUTCHMAN endured a nightmare voyage under sail from Inverness after it was claimed he was "forced out" of the Caledonian Canal by the prices charged by Scottish Canals.
Jeroen Wertwijn set sail alone at about noon last Tuesday to start heading for Holland, but soon encountered four metre high waves as his yawl also suffered severe damage.
His friend, Titi Bouman, believes he was lucky to have survived.
He set off flares according to his friend, who is back in Holland, but they were not seen by nearby fishing vessels.
Mr Wertwijn was eventually able to limp into Fraserburgh harbour on Wednesday morning, exhausted and bleeding.
It was the latest in a saga of problems for the pair since they bought the vessel in Avoch about six weeks ago, hoping to sail her back to Amsterdam where it was to become a permanent residence.
After a row with Avoch Harbour Trust over whether the boat was insured or not, though, Mr Wertwijn lashed an outboard to the yacht and motored across the firth to the Caledonian Canal at Inverness to step the mainmast and make the vessel seaworthy for sailing across the North Sea.
Ms Bouman returned to Holland as they were running out of money, and Mr Wertwijn was not allowed to live aboard under canal rules.
Although receiving much assistance from some local people, she said that eventually he was given notice to quit the canal when the weather improved.
After hearing her friend was safe in Fraserburgh, she added: "I want to explain that my friend did not sail because he is totally irresponsible. He went away because he felt forced to leave by the office of the Caledonian Canal.
"It was a total nightmare for Jeroen. He had a storm with waves four metres high. All things of the boat has damage, even the new sail.
"He sent up fire signs (flares) for SOS, but the fishing boats were passing by. He screamed all night long, he was scared to death."
She said the conditions Mr Wertwijn had to deal with while at sea meant he had to stay at the helm throughout and was completely unable to get below deck to alert the Coastguard to what was happening.
She said Mr Wertwijn phoned her saying he had reached a village but his hands were bleeding and at first he was too exhausted to ask where he was.
"I cannot repeat everything he told me about the hell. He knows now the storm will stay for one week. He does really not know what to do anymore."
She added that the canal had promised to tell him when it would be safe to set off and go through the locks to the sea.
"They let him go through the locks and for him this was a sign the weather would be calm," she said.
A spokesman for Scottish Canals said they were sorry to hear Mr Wertwijn and Ms Bouman felt they had been "anything less than considerate or fair" during their time on the Caledonian Canal.
"Our prices are very clearly published and we have been as flexible and supportive as we can during their stay – including waiving our berthing fees for a number of weeks," he said.
"We take the safety of our boaters seriously and during several meetings we made very clear we would only expect them to leave the canal when it was safe to do so.
"We have the utmost sympathy for Mr Wertwijn and Ms Bouman but feel we have been both fair and considerate during their time on the canal. We wish them all the best on their onward journey."