Friday, August 27, 2010

Oostenders

Thought: Oostende is a much more interesting place to hang out than Dover. Apart from an excellent range of the normal type of shops it also has wonderful food shops interspersed on the main streets - so right next to a Zara or H&M there's a vishandel with beautifully displayed lobsters, trout, sole or mussels, or a traiteur selling ready-cooked chickens, lasagne, ready to serve meals with local shrimps and salad, or even tubs of mashed broccoli. And that's before you start on the patisseries, chocolate shops and even a specialist oil and vinegar shop. Why aren't all the Belgians very fat?

Not Dover

So after two bites at the passage from Breskens we have made it 36 miles down the coast to Oostende.

The first bite, on Thursday night, was straight into a south-westerly which showed no sign of moderating and going northerly as promised. The tide was with us so our speed over the ground was 5-6 knots, but our speeds through the water plugging into wind and quite large waves were only 2-3 knots, and it was clear that once the tide turned we would be going nowhere. In addition it was bucketing with rain and visibility was pretty poor. So we headed into Zeebrugge and were surprised to meet Skipjack, the UK First 32 with which we'd left, in there ahead of us. They saw winds of 27 knots on the nose and decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

Once more we tied up to the  fuel pontoon and awaited the promised wind change. It wasn't there at 0530, or 0630, but by 0730 the wind had finally dropped and gone northerly, so out we headed.

Turning south-west things looked excellent for a while with a very fast broad reach and speeds of 8-9 knots over the ground. But again the winds and waves were building, and we started to see consistent winds of 23-25 knots and waves up to 2m - not ideal when the whole passage is in water which goes no deeper than 10m. So we headed for Oostende, which turned out to be even braver for a while as the entrance is a big, scarey surf in onshore winds. Probably the new outer breakwaters, currently under construction, helped, but Sam helmed us in brilliantly while I hid below.

So now we have tickets for tomorrow evening's Eurostar and will head home for a while, hoping to collect Kalessin next weekend if wind and waves permit. Yes of course we feel like wimps compared with Skipjack, which carried on, but our excuse is that Oostende to SYH represents the shortest passage home - any further progress down the coast actually takes us away from home.

Meanwhile Guy is completing his second Channel crossing, en route to Brest and due in tonight. Hope he's ok - he said he was sick a lot on the first passage. I want to be there to give him a cuddle - which he would hate :).

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dover or not

I had a long conversation with weather guru Simon Keeling, and decided there was no safe window for a passage home. After a few days of changeable winds, with some strong patches off Suffolk which means we would probably encounter at least force 7 somewhere en route, they go north-westerly for a few days which is as bad as possible. Sam was deeply pissed off, we all shouted at each other and went to bed in a very depressed mood. My preference was to abandon the boat, take the Eurostar home, and worry about it later. Sam just wanted three days of settled southerlies, which is not looking likely. Please note, the weather is not my fault.

This morning brought new counsel and a chat with a British 32-footer moored opposite us, which is heading for the South coast. They reckon they can make Dover with modest winds all the way and have invited us to tag along. The advantage of this is that there are possible havens at Zeebrugge, Oostende, Dunquerque or even Calais, so if things turn nasty we are never more than two hours from port.

Breskens doesn't really want us, there is no guarantee of a berth, and this at least gets us to the UK. So unless things change we will be off in around three hours.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Goodbye to Guy

One small benefit of the horrible weather is that Guy was also unable to set off on his delivery trip from Stellendam. So yesterday, after extensive planning and phone calls, we trotted down to the ferry terminal in Breskens, headed to Vlissingen where we were met by a nice man from Avis, and rented a Corsa for the day. From Breskens it's 115 km to Stellendam by road, via the tunnel under the Westerschelde; from Vlissingen it's only 65km.

Anyway after a couple of unintended laps of Middelburg we made it to Stellendam and saw Guy - hooray! We met his skipper and the mate and took a quick look at the Najad 50 which he'll be crewing - impressive, but stripped down and with every chippable surface covered, to avoid damage. Apparently it took them a whole day to find all the kit they need. It seems not every yacht has its first-aid kit in a first-aid locker, marked First Aid on the outside, as we have on Kalessin. And on some boats, flares can be hidden at the back of a locker in a cabin, not in a waterproof tub in the saloon ready for easy use. Very strange.


Guy and his 50ft Najad (ignore small motorboat in front)
Anyway we had a pleasant, leisurely lunch at the Stellendam clubhouse and headed back, admiring the white horses on the Oosterschelde en route. It was very nice to be in a car rather than a boat on a day with so much wind. We even had time for a trip into Vlissingen after nice Mr Avis dropped us back at the ferry terminal - partly via a solar-powered tram, which was exciting. Vlissingen was pleasant but quiet.

Dutch schoolchildren are now back at school and things are much quieter here - the few children around seem to be German. The main excitement in Breskens is preparation for Breskens Sailing this weekend, together with the erection of a giant scaffold covered in 10ft red plastic penguins. The latter apparently is Art and cost €300,000 from Cracking Art group.

Giant red penguins
And of course we need to find a weather window to cross the N Sea - I'm hoping to speak to Simon Keeling in the next few minutes to get some advice. Guy left this morning and has texted us to say he is off Oostende in the rain - his boat is leaking like a sieve. Hmmm.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Back to Breskens

Internet access has been erratic over the past week so our exciting progress has not been updated as we might wish.

From Middelburg we headed up to the Veersemeer and a pleasant lunch on one of many moorings on the islands in the lake. Our plan was to head for Wolphaartsdijk, where our sailing club used to go for its summer cruise but we have never been. Our lunch-stop neighbours warned us it might be very full however, and the forecast was looking a bit iffy, so we headed instead for a marina north of Veere at Oostwatering. They managed to find us a berth for a couple of nights. The first day (Sunday) was windy but quite pleasant, and we headed into Veere to join the tourists and see the sights. Monday however was utterly vile, with gusting rain all day. In the morning we moved the boat about 30 metres across the marina, and in 15 minutes we all got soaked.

Windy Veersemeer

It was good to see a better day on Tuesday - the wind was strong but fortunately behind us, so we hurtled along the Veersemeer with just the jib out, rounded the corner of the Oosterschelde and headed up the canal to Goes.

WV de Werf in Goes was our favourite Dutch mooring ever when we went there in 2004, and although the roads are a bit busier now the marina is just the same. Trees overhang the box moorings, old machinery furnishes the quays, and the little lighthouse at the end provides a small but perfectly formed lavatory.

the path to the loo


In the town, once more we were greeted by a funfair - what is it with the Dutch and these terrifying rides? But the excellent outdoor shop is still there, and numerous bakers' shops, plus - heaven for Ben - an extremely high-end hi-fi shop stocking real examples of some of the headphones he has only dreamed about up to now. We also discovered, on the edge of town, an excellent park with adventure playground type stuff around and over a little lake - enough to make us all behave like 10-year-olds.

Possibly more manageable than Kalessin

On Thursday we walked up to the station to explore the stoom trein (steam train to you). We only planned to look, but somehow we managed to let ourselves be persuaded to buy excursion tickets. We grabbed the first-class accommodation, which was absolutely straight out of Harry Potter - red velvet seats, only four to a sliding-door compartment. We chugged slowly through the Dutch countryside behind a small but magnificent red steam engine, with lots of people waving to us.

our locomotive


Epic journey...


... in first-class comfort
After 40 minutes we arrived at a small town with unpronounceable Dutch name somewhere on the Westerschelde, walked down to look at the river, had a cup of coffee, and then chugged back again. It was a really excellent afternoon which we all enjoyed very much.

From Goes we determined to visit Zierikzee. We originally planned to head further north, maybe to Willemstad, but we wanted to meet Guy at Breskens before he heads off on his first delivery trip to Valencia, so that cut short our plans a little. Zierikzee is part of the classic circuit enjoyed by British boats, famous for rafting visitors seven deep. We went there once in 2003 and didn't care for it much, so wanted to give the place a second chance. It is a very pretty town, with a great sailing atmosphere, but it still didn't quite enthuse us as much as Goes. However, we had an excellent and unexpected meal - walking into an eetcafe we liked the look of to discover it was Thai night, with a no-choice, three course meal. Service was a bit slow, but otherwise a real pleasure.

On Saturday we headed back into the wind for the first time, a bit of a slog from Zierikzee back to Middelburg. And here we are today, back in Breskens, only to find that Guy isn't here at all, he is in Marina Stellendam which is 32 miles away in a straight line and god knows how far by boat (not that we plan to sail there). The weather, which was looking promising for the long crossing, is now very much not - pleasant and peaceful today, but the Met Office forecast for Thames says: "Southwest 4 or 5, becoming cyclonic, then west later, 6 to gale 8, perhaps severe gale 9 later."

So the curse of Breskens strikes again - no Guy :-( and no way we will be able to sail home before Wednesday, with a possibly even worse storm now expected for Friday.

Rudder repairs

First sight of the damaged rudder as Kalessin comes out of the water

ouch!  
Visible bend

Repairs under way at Breskens Yacht Services

Straightened and repaired - antifouling still wet

It fits....

Back in the water after only three days. Our thanks again to Breskens Yacht Services

Friday, August 13, 2010

Middelburg

Very quickly from my iPhone on a connection from a pizza restaurant in the middle of Middelburg...

We are back in the water with the rudder all mended - and launched on Thursday afternoon. What a very good thing it wasn't today (Friday 13th) as that would have been incredibly unlucky.

We travelled the three bumpy miles to Vlissingen in about 40 minutes and the further four miles to get here in a further three hours.... Middelburg is so nice that having got here we decided to stay two nights. We were last here in 2003 in Magewind.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Ooops

Sunday has not been a good day so far. We wanted to stay an extra night and were asked to move to another berth just on the other side of the pontoon. The wind was a steady 11-12 knots blowing us back out of the berth. We reversed out OK and up to the end of the pontoon, then somehow when we tried to turn into the wind it all went wrong. In the course of going backwards and forwards we went aground on the mud two or three times. [Later note: the mud is actually full of rocks from the seawall.] The upshot was that at some point the tiller jammed completely, with no way to steer the boat at all, and it appears the rudder is bent. Bugger.

The very helpful crew of a German Halberg Rassy 29 at the end of the pontoon managed to take our lines and we are rafted alongside them. The harbourmaster will arrange for the yard to look at Kalessin tomorrow. She'll have to be hoisted out and inspected. The rudder hangs from a long steel shaft which goes straight up through the bottom of the boat, with the tiller fastened to the top. If the shaft is bent, the repair could be a long and expensive business. Luckily our insurance will cover us, but at best we'll see rather more of Breskens than we intended, and at worst we might have to go home and collect Kalessin later.

It's hard to say just when the damage occurred, but I helmed out of the berth and I lost control initially when the wind caught us. After we touched the first time, I asked Sam to see if he could turn the yacht as I was struggling, and he went aground harder. So we are probably both to blame, and all of us feel awful. Sam is currently asleep, Ben is hiding in his cabin, and I am typing this and wishing it wasn't true.

Just to make things worse, the wind is blowing from astern with waves running all the way up the marina and slapping our sugar scoop, which is very noisy, and this internet connection is nearly useless. The loo is still not flushing properly, we can't connect to shore power because we're rafted up, but on the good side it looks like we have mended the cafetière, so we can have coffee without lumps in tomorrow morning.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Across the North Sea

We successfully made it to Breskens on Friday morning, after a fast crossing mostly under sail. The promised occasional force 6 never materialised, with winds mostly between 10 and 15 knots, initially from the north-west and later from the south-west.

The route is a complex one: first you have to follow the edge of the Harwich shipping channel, then cut across the Roughs sands, then there is a (relatively) new Sunk gyratory system and traffic lanes, so you dog-leg down the edge of the traffic lane to cut across at the approved point. At last you get on your proper course, but only for two hours and you then cross the main Channel traffic lanes at right angles, which takes another couple of hours. From Garden City buoy on the edge of the traffic lanes you go to the West Hinder beacon, which would be a straight line if it wasn't for the Fairy Bank in the way, then you cross yet another traffic lane system which runs along the Belgian coast, and finally you run up the southern edge of the main shipping lane for as long as the tide favours you.

We left Suffolk Yacht Harbour at 9am, which was a bit later than we planned, because Sam very kindly rushed off to Sainsbury to get me some Stugeron (seasickness tablets). Who knows, I might have been fine without them, but it's a security blanket thing, and the North Sea was quite bumpy. It was a chilly morning, but bright, and we didn't get rained on for the whole crossing although we got a few splashes of sea! 

Tidal timing and good winds meant we saw lots of speeds over the ground of 6 or 7 knots, even occasionally touching 8. From Landguard point to the entrance to Zeebrugge took us 15 hours at an average of exactly 6 knots, which is a record for us. Our first-ever 2003 North Sea crossing in Magewind followed a similar route (although simpler in those days without the Sunk traffic system). It would have been about 12 miles shorter although in fact we went tacking around and covered a lot more ground, and took us 24 hours altogether. We remembered it fondly as we went storming past the Oostendebank buoys at 7.5 knots, when seven years ago we spent two or three hours in that spot making no progress against wind and tide.

We ran out of tide somewhere around Zeebrugge, and were starting to get very tired and cold. We decided to head in rather than trying to make way into the tide out of the Westerschelde which runs at 2 knots even at neaps (which it was). Just as well we did, as when we pulled the string to furl the foresail nothing happened and we had to lower the sail. Zeebrugge is a vast port, 1.5 miles from the entrance to the yacht harbour, and when we got there at 0140 it was very full, but fortunately we found a spot on the fuel dock. Ben was really pleased (not) to be asked to untangle strings, raise and furl the foresail at 2am, but we got it all done, fell into an exhausted stupor, and woke at 0745 (Belgian time – so just four hours of sleep) to find a beautiful, warm morning, a gentle breeze, and no-one around. We headed out without paying ;-) and carried the morning tide the 15 miles to Breskens, where they squeezed us into a small berth and we have been enjoying the fairground noises from the Fishing festival.

We can't believe it's six years since we were last here. There have been a few changes and the yacht club restaurant is a fair bit more expensive than we remembered. At the moment every nook and cranny seems to be full of market stalls and fairground rides, but behind that I think it's still the same small, pleasant resort.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Off again

Well, it's time for the summer holidays and some serious indecision about where and when to sail. I have wangled a five-week gap between contracts but we don't want to spend all that time away.

The current plan is to head off tomorrow, taking the more southerly of the main routes across the North Sea via Long Sand Head and the West Hinder. This gives us the option of heading into Oostende, Zeebrugge or Breskens via a deep-water route. Probably we'll head to Breskens because we have a yearning for Breskens mussels, having missed out last year, but we'll see how it goes. If all else fails this route also allows us to duck south into Ramsgate.

Last year we managed to avoid the new Sunk circulatory system by heading north up the Sledway, so this will be our first experience of it apart from those scarey magenta-shaded bits on the chart. I don't know if people actually follow the recommended dog-leg route or not. However on the upside we also miss the Greater Gabbard wind farm, which was only just started last year and is probably much bigger now. Hmmm, better get some up to date info in case we want to come back that way.

There are patches of Force 5 and possibly even Force 6 around but I hope we'll manage to miss anything strong, or at least do them with the wind behind us.

Guy has completed his Flying Fish training and an extended R&R period at home, including a brief starring role in Henry V at Eye Castle. We now need to persuade him to go and do something, somewhere on a boat. Tall Ships volunteering in Hull or Professional Yacht Deliveries from the Great Lakes to Chesapeake look like the best options at the moment. Not sure if we can sort all that out before we go down to the boat this evening though....