Saturday, September 04, 2010

Back across the North Sea

We are home again, and so is Kalessin this time, after a quick dash to Belgium and a better sail back than we expected.

Eurostar took us back to Oostende on Thursday afternoon with absolutely no problem - in fact it was the emptiest Eurostar I've been on for ages - and we were in bed on board by 11.30pm local time.

Most of the passage is cross-tide but we didn't want to be heading into the tide for the short stretch paralleling the Belgian coast. That forced us to have a relaxed start, with time to pop to the supermarket to get a few provisions, pay the marina fees, and generally tidy up and sort out. Early on it was sunny, but as it clouded over it got a bit cold. As we headed out through the lock and into the North Sea, a much flatter North Sea than last time we were out in it, we were a bit shocked to realise that visibility was very poor - probably less than two miles, which is a problem if you have ships charging down on you at 25 knots. Even worse, it transpired that the radar wasn't working - there seems to be a problem with the switch, which has happened before, but this time we couldn't find a solution.

The forecast didn't mention poor visibility but it was delivering, as expected, very light north-easterlies and a pretty calm sea, so we motored on regardless. Once we crossed the first shipping lane at the West Hinder it seemed for a while as though our course was going to take us straight into the wind. Fortunately it strengthened a bit and swung further to the east, so we could actually start to sail - and the visibility improved hugely at the same time.

A downside is that neither of our autopilots seemed to be working.  One is the repaired original which failed on the long trip, one a new one delivered to us in Spain four years ago, but both of them went wild when we set them up, steering us in an increasingly zigzag course with their internal compasses apparently fluctuating. We can only surmise that something on board was causing major interference with their delicate electronic insides, but we have no idea what. Hand steering is a real pain as it takes a lot of concentration and you can't leave the helm to do a proper look around with binoculars, check charts or position, or even have something to eat if it needs two hands.

It was strange sailing without Ben, but halfway across the main Traffic Separation Scheme we picked up a passenger:


After extensive research we believe he was probably a chiffchaff or other member of the warbler family - these tiny birds typically migrate up to 4000 miles each year. He hopped around in the cockpit, flew below and hid in the forepeak for a while, explored the galley, had a trial flight and came back to the boat, and finally left us after an hour or so - having left no bird droppings at all as far as I could see. He was a great distraction from the terrifying Assyrians* bearing down on us like a wolf on the fold (*or container ships as they are more generally known).

The passage continued in a fairly uneventful way and we even had a bit of sunshine at supper time. It's interesting to note that at the same time Richard and Cathy were sailing Brave from Cherbourg to Gosport in more wind and non-stop sunshine.

So in the end we reached SYH about 1.30am having sailed more than half the distance, in a respectable time of just over 15 hours. I'd forgotten what a pain it is coming into Harwich harbour at night - every light is lost in the glare of Felixstowe, and you could even hit the very dimly lit Roughs Tower (which is huge) if you weren't careful. Gosh, I wonder if it would cause a diplomatic incident? (The tower is home to the nation of Sealand).

It was very nice to be home.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Back to Belgium

Eurostar and National Express East Anglia successfully got us home just after midnight on Sunday morning, with no problems at all. It was nice to be home, although with the odd little worry like the phone line - it broke the day before Guy left home, was mended by a BT engineer, and thereafter took to making 999 calls all on its own, apparently. We even had a message from a policeman who had popped round to check that everything was OK.

There's currently a settled high over Scandinavia with a ridge over the North Sea, which means relatively gentle north-easterlies. We had to stay in the UK until today as Sam had a crucial meeting this morning which had been fixed weeks ago, but this afternoon we'll be back on Eurostar again with the expectation of getting to Oostende around midnight UK time, sleeping on board, rising early to pay the marina and buy provisions, and then heading out on the mid-morning tide. I am very jittery that there will be a sudden change in the weather, the wind will strengthen to a 6 or go north-westerly, but at the moment it all still looks ok. We left buying the Eurostar tickets until the last moment (expensively of course) to accommodate my fears. Ben has to go back to school so we'll have to manage without him - at least that reduces the fares a bit...

Guy texted a couple of times to say he spent just two hours in Baiona, just north of the Portuguese border, on Monday, and rounded Cabo St Vicente on the bottom left corner of Portugal yesterday afternoon. It's a very different kind of sailing from ours, and I'm very proud of him!