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.

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