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.

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