Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We are home

We are home safely after an 18-hour passage from the Roompotsluis in conditions which could not have been more different from those we sailed to Oostende in - smooth seas and very light winds. I'm far too sleepy for a full post now so will do a proper update tomorrow.

The Westerly fleet elegantly lined up in Yerseke

Sunday, June 28, 2015

And finally...

Zierikzee was, as ever, delightful. We thought of our friends Richard and Cathy whose new Arcona is too big to fit under the fixed Roompotsluis bridge, but who love Zierikzee. I bought two waterproof cushions for our cockpit, then we all went out for a very nice group meal and spent far too much time trying to answer very difficult quiz questions - Ben and I won a Harken drybag, which perhaps we might use sometime.

We left Zierikzee at lunchtime on Saturday after a pleasant morning and a supermarket shop for me. It was a rather boring motor straight into about 12 knots of westerly breeze, but at least we had the compensation of seeing a race, probably part of Delta week, coming towards us with the wind behind them. You can see jolly spinnakers anywhere, but it was rather wonderful seeing the traditional boats flying every single tablecloth and pocket handkerchief they had on board, including water sails I have never seen in use before.

Roompot Marina is big and modern and has not a lot on offer, apart from its very convenient location for departure from the Roompotsluis and a nice beach. It's surrounded by a holiday village but most importantly from our point of view is convenient from the Neeltje Jans Delta Expo, which we have failed to visit on numerous occasions despite sailing past it at least three times and, on our last sailing visit here, motoring past it in a hire car when we went from Vlissingen to Stellendam to see Guy in 2011.

It was an expensive day out - €55 a head including a coach there and back, coffee and apple cake, a guided tour of the expo and visit to an actual storm sluice, lunch and an afternoon in the rather tired Delta park. The expo includes a lecture and film about the 1953 floods and how they led to the whole Delta scheme, including the closure of the Veersemeer and Grevelingenmeer, and the late decision to leave the Oosterschelde open to the tides to retain the marine wildlife. The visit to the storm barrier was impressive, and Sam managed a staircase down to the viewing platform where you can see all the mechanisms and a storm barrier ready to lower. They only go down when a tide of more than 3m is forecast and in many years that doesn't happen at all. In addition because they were built to deal with very high tides, any rise in sea level as a result of climate change shouldn't have any effect until well after the expected life of the barrage, some 200 years. All fascinating and I'm glad we have finally seen it.

Then back to the marina to passage plan and compare notes with all the other departing crews, which started with a dispute over the time of high tide - there was some suggestion it was around 11am, which is clearly (I think) not the case, as high water was around midnight at Zierikzee on Friday when I brought Sam back to the boat, and we are now three days further on. Also both my tide tables and two different apps say 1400-ish. However I know nothing, and will let others go their own way. It looks as though we will be last out of here, as I want to take a fair tide out into the North sea and that really doesn't happen until about 3pm. A number of others are taking the morning tide with departure at 5am, but the other factor for us is that the light northwesterlies (boo) are due to die away and go easterly tomorrow evening, so although we will probably have to motor we should at least get a fair wind for part of the way. Even Travelling Light, which is heading for the Deben, goes down to Oostende tomorrow - they are talking about making the most of the easterlies on Wednesday but I'm seeing gusts up to 25 knots forecast for the UK side, and I'd rather motor in nothing than deal with force 6 plus, especially with Sam on board.

Definitely time for bed now, I need to go and do some worrying....

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dutch language delights

I posted this on Facebook but felt blog readers would enjoy it too. Considering what good English almost all Dutch people speak, their names for types of hairspray are quite surprising....


Grevelingenmeer pictures

Zierikzee

On Wednesday we left Marina Port Zélande at 1030, giving me just time to pop around the corner for groceries. The nearest supermarket is inside the Center Parcs complex and it was an extremely weird experience to walk in from the marina, around the outside of the villas, through a sliding door and suddenly into the middle of Center Parcs looking just like the one in Elveden Forest. Just like the supermarket there, it was a large shop full of a surprisingly limited selection of distinctly overpriced groceries.

Ben awoke feeling less than wonderful but was galvanised by the thought of raising the cruising chute. It took a lot of thought and quite a few lines but we did fly it for an hour or so until the wind died completely, and then later for half an hour when the wind picked up a fraction.

We had a wonderful afternoon and evening on the tiny island of Mosselbank in the Grevelingenmeer, although sadly we couldn't get Sam ashore as all the jetties are about 2ft wide with posts in the middle. Ben suggested the best option would be a narrow wheelchair with enormous wheels to take Sam over the top of the posts, but in the absence of such a device he stayed on board while we enjoyed a "tastery" organised by our Dutch hosts - an interesting selection of essential Dutch foods and of course drink, including some things we knew about like stroopwafels, gouda with cumin, Heineken and and smoked trout, and some less familiar to us like (raw) nieuwe herring, bitterballs, Dutch pea soup and Skipper's Bitter, a ferocious liqueur meant to be restorative after a long sea passage. (One of the other Westerly skippers said to me "I'm not sure if it's a ladies' drink". He doesn't know how lucky he is still to be alive with his testicles intact).

Ben and I were kept busy running back and forth with samples for Sam - it was incredibly hot in the shelter of the island, where Tjaerke and Gerard had set up their "tastery" under an awning, and much cooler on board where we had rigged our hot-weather canopy instead of the tent so that Sam didn't fry, so deliveries to Sam also helped to cool us down. Later we were very pleased to welcome Lavinia and David from Anrheg on board for a cup of tea, which was about all we could manage after an afternoon of tastery. They made polite noises about the Storm (they have a Discus) but what they were most impressed by was our porcelain mugs. I'd forgotten what a luxury they were to us when we first got them.

Today has been a dull and rather hot motor in almost no wind, through the Bruinisse lock out of the Grevelingenmeer, down to the Zeelandbrug where we had an unexpectedly long wait for an opening, and into Zierikzee where the extremely efficient harbourmaster team had reserved a length of visitor's pontoon for us and made sure that Kalessin was alongside the jetty so that we can get Sam off. (We have three Westerlies rafted alongside us. The first time we ever came in here, in Magewind in 2003, we were rafted seven deep, so we really appreciate the effort and planning it takes to get an inside berth!).

We have a group meal at 1830, so I need to head off into the town for a pootle and some supermarket shopping.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Marina Port Zélande

What we were expecting today was a boring motor into very light winds. What we got was a genoa run up to the lock at Bruinisse, a wait for the lock which was not too bad considering that it is the busiest lock in the Netherlands, and then a stonking sail, a close reach most of the way up the Grevelingenmeer to Marina Port Zélande. Sam was in the cockpit, the sun shone, it was quite warm and it was really good sailing. Fortunately we had elected to keep the one reef in the main so that we didn't tip Sam out of the cockpit, and about halfway up we had to put some extra rolls in the genoa because I could no longer control the tiller, but otherwise pretty damn excellent.

In the marina we were allocated a hammerhead berth, which was great from the point of view of getting Sam off, but a pity that nearly two thirds of it was already occupied by a large yacht with enormous bowsprit. Ben and I wrestled with warps for 10 minutes or so to get Kalessin into the berth but we did eventually succeed. Thirty minutes later the bowsprit owner came and looked disapprovingly at us (by this time we had about three springs rigged to hold us forward) but when Ben asked him if we were ok where we were he said he had rigged an extra spring to hold his yacht back. Which was nice.

Anrheg invited us on board for drinks, which particularly kind after I tried to ram them at the Bruinisse lock (I thought they had sprung off but in fact the spring jammed). We think it's the first time Sam has been on another yacht, but somehow we managed ok, and it was delightful to sit outside in a warm cockpit and chat. Back to Kalessin for a late dinner of various random bits from the fridge, and then Ben and I walked to the sea, which was slightly further than I thought, while Sam washed up. It's now very late so I must be away to bed before I turn into a pumpkin - 10am departure tomorrow and I have to get to the supermarket, which is in Center Parcs just outside the marina!

Miles today: 17

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Sint Annaland

Yerseke proved pleasant but not very exciting - a little, mostly modern, Dutch town with almost everything closed on Mondays. We ate dinner at the little fish restaurant on the quay with the crews of Merlot and Anrheg - a really nice spot with nice ambience, but possibly because three of our number ordered lobster which is cooked fresh from the tank, we had a very long wait for our dinner. Sam and I had mussels which were pleasant but came with no bread to mop up the juice, and although we ate some chips I'm not quite sure that they were ours! Great company though and a very pleasant evening.

This morning we had a major logistical exercise springing 16 yachts off the long quay with the wind blowing them hard on, then a short but painful plunge to windward, almost directly into the north-westerly for 10 miles and as it was gusting up to 20 knots and wind was against tide, it was very choppy. Only 15 miles altogether however and now we are in Sint Annaland, a huge marina attached to another small town which we haven't explored yet. The plan was to have a group barbecue tonight but with the wind still howling, dark grey skies and drizzle, Sam, Ben and I opted out and had a very delightful Cobb barbecue on our own in Kalessin's cockpit tent. Not very sociable but definitely better for Sam.

The wind has finally eased and is forecast to be much lighter tomorrow - just as well, as we will be heading down the Grevelingenmeer straight into it most of the way to Marina Port Zeeland.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Yerseke

On Saturday Ben and I shopped for groceries, a new pair of Crocs for me as my old pair has no tread left at all and therefore almost no wet grip, and a pair of woolly slippers which were Ben's delayed birthday present to Sam. We had kibbeling (deep fried fish bits) for lunch which left us rather full.

In the afternoon we felt we should get Sam off the boat, as we had been awarded the disabled berth with an alongside pontoon. There were eight steps up to the road but Sam managed those in fine style. In the way of Dutch towns on a Saturday afternoon almost everything closes at 1730, but before we managed a nice wander around the very pretty centre of Middelburg, an icecream, and a chance to watch a bizarre sport something like five-a-side trampoline volleyball, played on a giant bouncy castle with a net in the middle. Then Sam went for the shower in the disabled access facilities which are wide open with no shelter from the spray, nowhere to put possessions, and have no grab rails. Still, very welcome. The kibbeling had left us very full so in spite of the attractions of the harbour club, which even has a stairlift, we elected to eat on board.

Today the forecast from Windguru gave us westerly winds around 12-15 knots, gusting up to 20 knots, and that's pretty much exactly what we got - plus a mixture of fine drizzle and occasional sunshine. Fortunately most of our route was more or less easterly - up the rest of the canal, wiggling along the Versemeer, and then out through the always slow Zandkreeksluis lock into the Oosterschelde and round to Yerseke. We were able to sail almost all the way, using just the genoa (foresail), and discovered that our Ed Dubois-designed hull is noticeably faster than the older knuckle-bowed Westerly designs, certainly on that point of sail, even though we only have a 110% foresail compared with the original 130% genoa and we had a couple of rolls in it much of the way. The Zandkreeksluis was a bit unpleasant as the wind was blowing us straight in and gusting up to 19 knots, but we got onto a waiting post ok and got into the lock with no more than a slightly skinned knuckle for Camilla.

I'm not quite sure why we are in Yerseke. Apparently it is the Oyster and mussel capital of the Ntherlands so we will sample some tomorrow. The marina is of the very open and slightly bleak type, on the edge of town, and is a bit of a shock after the urban delights of Middelburg. Still, at high water we had a lovely view out over the Oosterschelde. I suspect at low water we will sink into the mud - hopefully we won't fall over as we have a Konsort tied outside us.

Miles today: 22

Yerseke: the view from the cockpit tent at HW. An hour later, all I can see is concrete sea wall.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Dutch treat

With a forecast of 1.2m waves and NW4-5 I really wasn't looking forward to today. We had already decided to forgo the "blue wave" of opening bridges up the Kanaal door Walcheren in favour of making the most of the tide from Zeebrugge round the corner into the Netherlands and the Westerschelde. From the marina in Zeebrugge, around 2 miles inland from the harbour entrance, it is very difficult to judge conditions. So when we left we were pleasantly surprised that the wave height was actually less than when we arrived two days ago, there was some sunshine, and we were on a broad reach.

As ever the tide was slow to arrive but with one reef in the main and a full jib we were making good speed. The WOA was running a competition to guess your time from a buoy outside the harbour to the entrance to the Kanaal, but as we left the harbour a dredger and barge left with us and forced us hard round to the right, so we decided to forgo the competition and not round the crucial buoy.

It was nice to see our old haunts at Breskens as we hurtled past at 8 knots, desperately trying to duck astern of a MSC container ship as it dawdled to pick up a pilot. Eventually we made it into the entrance to the Kanaal and were lucky to go almost straight into the lock with five other Westerlys, and we then formed our own blue wave with very little wait for the bridges, thank goodness.

Even better, when we reached Middelburg we explained to the lady from the harbourmaster's office that we would rather not raft up as we had a disabled person on board, and she said "ah, in that case you must go into box no. 1 which is for disabled people". Hooray! So we are in a very nice box with a finger pontoon, next to two other Westerlys instead of being rafted four deep with the rest of the fleet on the other side of the harbour.

Tomorrow Guy is leaving - from Middelburg there is a train direct to Rotterdam and then to the ferry at the Hook, so it's much quicker than going from Zeebrugge and much cheaper than getting the Eurostar. It will be a struggle without him but hopefully Ben can step into the breach. Other than that it's a rest day so we will be shopping at supermarket and chandlery, exploring the town and cleaning up the boat.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bruges pictures

Here are my boys in Bruges:

Day out in Bruges

A non-sea day today, with pretty much the whole WOA crew on a trip to Bruges - by coach, as it was worth it with 32 of us.

Last time Sam & I went to Bruges was before we were married, when we met my sister Lucilla to bring some of her possessions home after she lived in Germany for a year. Bruges hasn't changed much but it has an awful lot of cobbles, which are uncomfortable for anyone sitting in a wheelchair and very hard work for anyone pushing - mostly the heroic Ben, in our case. We had a two-hour guided tour, which was interesting although the guide was quite hard to hear, then lunch at a little restaurant up a side street which somehow managed to attract at least a dozen WOA crew, a wander around some shops and then coffee plus outrageously vast waffles for Ben and Sam, then back to the boat.

Tomorrow we head into the Kanaal door Walcheren and up to Middelburg. We have done this a number of times before and never realised there is a thing called a "blue wave" - if you turn up at the right time, all the bridges are opened for you. However, to get there for the last blue wave means pushing the tide for around three hours from Zeebrugge to Vlissingen, and we are quite sure we would rather spend less time in the horrible  North Sea even if we spend more time in the canal waiting for bridges. So we will not be pushing the tide but will be leaving at 1300 and hoping the forecast 1.2m waves with a 5sec gap between them will not actually materialise.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Tales from the North Sea - part II

On Monday high water at Tollesbury was at 12 noon. Access is an hour either side of HW so I was aiming to leave just before noon if possible. By 0830 Sam, Guy, Ben and I were in the car. By 0930 we'd filled a couple of new cans with diesel (the old 20-litre jerrycan, which I can't lift when full, is a write-off after the lid cracked - apparently you can't buy replacement caps) and we had the phonecall from Volspec to tell us that the new pipe was in place and all was well. By 1100 everything was on board, although not exactly tidily stowed, and just before midday we headed out of Tollesbury.

The Met Office forecast was for north-easterly 4-5, occasionally 6 at first. Windguru showed a pretty steady 12 knots NNE, dying away at night on the UK side but not until later on the Belgian side. From Tollesbury you can't head straight out across the North Sea, there are several sandbanks in the way, so you have to head up to the level of Harwich anyway before heading out to sea. So we decided to go up the Wallet, the channel closest to the Essex coast, so that if anything went wrong we could turn into the Orwell. Once again it was a bumpy beat, with one reef in the main and several rolls in the jib, and the wind was further to the east than predicted, but with the tide with us we made good time up to the top of the Gunfleet sand and then to Long Sand Head.

At Long Sand Head the deep water opens out in front of you - technically you should turn south and cross the Sunk TSS further down, but as the wind made it impossible to cross at a right angle anyway and we didn't want to be pushed further south than we had to go, we headed straight out. Zeebrugge would have meant a course of about 115 degrees and within ten minutes it was clear that even if we could hold the course it would be close hauled and extremely uncomfortable in the very bumpy North Sea. (Technically the sea state was "moderate", but with the very short chop it was more like "moderately appalling'). However we could make a course for Oostende, passing just to the south of the Westhinder bank, and then running up the coast and into Oostende.

It was not really sailing at its most enjoyable. Guy and I hung on grimly through the afternoon, with the compensation that the wind held steady and the sun was shining - Guy paid for this later with nasty sunburn. Sam was originally sitting in the narrow berth on the starboard side, but with the prospect of 50 miles on starboard tack he couldn't possibly have braced himself. Somehow we managed to lever him into the much wider berth on the port side of the main saloon, wedged in with cushions, duvets and pillows, and although it wasn't exactly comfortable it was probably the best spot on the boat. Ben spent a lot of the afternoon asleep in the starboard berth with lee cloth rigged to stop him falling out. Ben had been ok to heat us some soup for lunch in the Wallet, but later on I found cooking our lasagne for dinner very difficult and Ben's sadly went over the side again a little later. (I don't remember him ever being sick before, which shows how rough it was). And around 1am it took me half an hour to make three cups of tea and quite a lot of the contents of the teapot jumped right out of the pot and on to the cabin floor.

The upside was that we made very good speeds with mile after mile of speed over the ground between 6 and 7 knots. We reached the main Traffic Separation Scheme as it was getting dark, with Ben helming by hand for part of it after one of our two autopilots refused to work any more, and got to the Westhinder light around midnight - fantastic timing, because it was just as the tide turned to run with us eastwards. (On our first ever crossing to Oostende in Magewind we missed the tide at this spot completely and spent about three hours going nowhere, trying to make way into both wind and tide, somewhere near the Oost Dyck sands). Fortunately also the wind had backed a bit further to the north and we were able to track along the southern edge of the Belgian traffic scheme and finally turn south for Oostende and its very nice new entrance with big outer walls. Altogether, with beating up the Wallet, we covered almost 100 miles in fifteen and a half hours, an average of 6.4 knots. When we did our first ever, shorter passage from SYH in Magewind in 2003, it took us more than 24 hours at an average of 3.5 knots!

We tied to the waiting pontoon outside the Mercator Jachthaven and went to sleep, finally locking in around 0930. We like the Mercator, although it's noisy and you have to lock in and out, but it's very sheltered and in the heart of Oostende which we also have great affection for.

The Westerly Owners Association cruise was due to assemble in Zeebrugge today, so at noon we locked out of Oostende hoping for a pleasant short hop. The wind had turned SW, the forecast was was for pleasant sun and F4. In the event what we got was F4-5 and more bloody bumps. With about half the jib and no main we hurtled up and across the Wenduinebank and surfed down the waves at up to 9 knots (well, for moments anyway). The worst bit was when Zeebrugge port control asked us to wait for 10 minutes for a ship to come in - by this time the wind and seas were strong enough that even with full revs we were in danger of being pushed backwards in front of the ship we were trying to avoid.

Anyway here we finally are in Zeebrugge with all the very nice Westerly owners and their beautiful boats. Tomorrow we're on a coach trip to Bruges and on Friday we head up to Middelburg and lovely sheltered inland waterways.

Tales from the North Sea - part I

It's been a slow start to the season but at last we have done some proper sailing and the longest passage with Sam on board since he had his stroke three years ago.

Kalessin finally went into the water in May after a false start when I failed to attach a new seacock tightly enough and it had to be hauled out again rather quickly (and rather badly by SYH who broke a bronze rubbing strake). Once in the water, Sam, Guy and I took her for a test sail in the Orwell and everything seemed to be more or less ok. Our plan was to join the Westerly Owners Association annual cruise to the Dutch delta for the last two weeks of June, and the shakedown was to be the Haven Ports Yacht Club cruise to Burnham on Crouch over the late May bank holiday weekend - we'd even found a crew for the weekend, Tim Moynihan, whom I met through the Cruising Association crewing service.

On the afternoon of Thursday 21 May, Sam clearly wasn't feeling very well, and Guy and I were trying to persuade him that he shouldn't go to a concert at Norwich Cathedral for which I had tickets. He was literally attempting to convince us that he was absolutely fine when he had a fit - stopped breathing for a minute, twitching, blue lips, totally unresponsive and extremely scary. Guy called an ambulance and Sam was taken to A&E at the Norfolk & Norwich Hospital. To cut a long story short, he was very weak and wobbly and they wouldn't let him out of the N&N until Tuesday, by which time Sam was so weak from staying in bed that it took two nurses to get him from the bed to a chair and the physio wanted to discharge him to a community hospital instead of coming home. Guy and I were very firm and assertive and insisted we could cope and eventually managed to get him home. By Friday he was walking around the house, not quite as if nothing had happened, but definitely recognisable as the Sam we know and love.

Sam and I went to see our GP and ask, rather hesitantly, about travelling & sailing. His response was basically "go for it" - he said life is too short to stop doing the things you care about, because of the risk of another seizure which might never happen. (Sam is now on levetiracetam, better known as Keppra, which is anti-seizure medication). So we alerted Tim the very nice crew again and signed up for another HPYC weekend cruise, this time to Tollesbury over the weekend of 6/7 June.

The delay had given us time to arrange for Phil our electrician to remove one of the cockpit speakers whose powerful magnet had stopped our autopilot from working, reroute the VHF to the other existing speaker, fit new (music) speakers on the pulpit rail, and diagnose the Navtex aerial as a complete failure (and an expensive one - a new aerial is more than £250 which is an awful lot given that 95% of the time you can get a better forecast using a phone). We also found a marine fridge engineer who fixed the fridge - just a top up of coolant and a repaired thermostat.We also rigged a new main halyard and topping lift.

The passage to Tollesbury went well - a bumpy beat down the Wallet, but quite manageable, although Sam stayed below. The evening barbecue was pleasant but got very chilly and we were fortunate that Tim the Tollesbury harbourmaster, his strong son, and Tim our very nice crew, were all able to help get Sam down the low-water (steep) ramp, hoisted straight out of his wheelchair and straight down inside Kalessin where he could warm up.

We set off from Tollesbury on the afternoon tide and only half a mile out heard a sound we had really hoped not to hear again - the bl***y engine overheat alarm. Lindsay Rufford had replaced a twisted pipe last season which we hoped had fixed the problem - but evidently it was not fixed at all. We picked up a mooring and Tim, who in private life is a civil engineer with a much better understanding of engines than mine, did a sterling job of checking all obvious options before returning very slowly to Tollesbury marina, who offered to come out and tow us in, and put us on the crane berth. (I later discovered that the crane hasn't worked for two years).

After discussion with Tim the harbourmaster, who is also an engine guru, we felt we might detach the overheat alarm and leave on the 0400 tide. This time we got slightly further, with Tim below watching the engine like a hawk, before the coolant suddenly boiled, again we hung on a mooring to let the engine cool, and again returned to the crane berth. It was a wonderful sunrise over the Tollesbury saltings but I wasn't really in the right frame of mind to appreciate it. At 0900 Tim and I strolled the 30 yards or so to Volspec, specialist Volvo Penta engineers, to see if they could find someone to look at the engine. Sharp intake of breath, but they might be able to find someone who could just look at it by the afternoon. At 1100 we got a cheery call from Ben the engineer, who just happened to have a cancellation and could look at our problem. Again, a long tale unfolded - he found several internal blockages. We got Guy to do some complicated manoeuvres with cars and take us all to SYH where Tim could collect his car and head back to London, and then head home. The pontoon at the crane bay was quite impossible for Sam to walk along, and once again it was low water and the ramp extremely steep, so the fine chaps at Tollesbury marina put Sam in a full body harness and hauled him from the boat to the shore with their mast derrick - well above and beyond the call of duty.

Meanwhile Ben spent many happy and expensive hours working on Kalessin's engine and eventually diagnosed the main problem as the electric pump which powers the aftermarket conversion of our engine, originally directly cooled by sea water, to an indirectly cooled engine which means we can get hot water. The problem was that the pump was working intermittently, hence the fact that it would sometimes be fine and other times overheat. Ben thought it would be possible to start the pump by tapping it with a winch handle but that really didn't fill me with confidence. A new pump was ordered but could take anything from a few days to a few weeks, so a better solution seemed to be to reconvert the engine to raw water cooling which could be done, Ben thought, with just an engine anode and new thermostat. Alas it turned out not to be so simple, an extra pipe was needed which had to come from Volvo in Sweden and cost over £100!!! and could not be delivered until Monday.

So we determined to head off to Zeebrugge on Monday 15 June. We had overcome Sam's seizure and engine failure - what else could go wrong? Find out in Part II....