Friday 2 September 2016

Dutch Odyssey- last thoughts

Nic's impressions of the trip

The bad stuff about the trip is forgotten already, like night sailing through a fishing fleet and arriving in a strange town harbour at 4pm with a temperature of 32°. The good stuff outweighs the bad massively.

Holland was remarkably neat, well organised and welcoming - as long as you do things their way! 

We accepted the fact it was a 'motoring' holiday with only the occasional blistering sail thrown in as a bonus. Compared to our previous trips,  we did a lot more sightseeing and that was fine. 

Our experiences were logged into the Cruising Association website for other sailors to read. I very much enjoyed the Dutch food especially the cheese from Gouda!

Lesleys impressions of the trip 

I'm still surprised by how nerve wracking it is to sail at night in seaways you don't know, such as the night passage during our 140 mile trip across to Holland. The strange lights you see that might spell danger, the constant checking to make sure there's nothing new in sight and the struggle to keep your night vision while still checking a lit chart plotter.

Loved the beautiful architecture of Holland, the clean neat streets, the general efficiency of the bridge and lock operation and the mind boggling achievements  of engineering in creating dykes and polders and giant lifting bridges. Also loved the Oude Gouda cheese and Stroopwafels.

It was a special kind of journey with almost zero sailing but huge practice in mooring and unmooring, sometimes 10 times a day as we tied up to wait for bridges and locks. Also lots of practice at manoeuvring at close quarters in very small spaces. And some bumps and scrapes as evidence.

Our distance run looked poor compared with previous trips..only about 500 miles but then we were going very slowly and inland!

The ever inventive Nic designed DIY mozzie nets for the hatches using midge netting and turquoise gaffer tape. We didn't suffer a single bite, even on the hottest night in the canals. Result.

From both of us. 

Would we do this kind of trip again?
We would recommend any sailor to do the Dutch canals once. But then,   we do own a classic sailing boat which doesn't really belong on a canal. She needs her freedom. 

Wednesday 31 August 2016

A day at the seaside

Our last rest day before the last leg home to Gillingham, spent in Ramsgate. This is our 6th visit in 4 years so we know the harbour and marina, and we know our way around town, all of which makes for a stress-free visit. The town has a slightly run-down, frayed-at-the-edges charm about it, and the Royal Harbour keeps going due to the maintenance fleet for the offshore wind farm now that the cross-channel ferries have gone. 

Last night we had a drink at the Royal Temple Yacht Club and then a swift and tasty meal at the Italian restaurant literally underneath it - there's a steep hill that looks out over the Royal Harbour. Swift because we'd been up since 4am UK time. 

This morning we walked around to the beach, wolfing down a freshly made crab sandwich for elevenses on the way. The sun was warm, the wind slight, the holiday-makers thin on the sand, and we had an excellent swim. 

By the time we had de-sanded and changed in the public toilet block that said 'no changing' it was time for lunch so we repaired to an excellent locals' cafe off the classic English sea-side front for baked potato and various filings with salad and excellent coffee. We had remembered it from last year.

Then it was time for a little mooching round some charity shops, a couple of purchases. Thence to Waitrose for a very few supplies as we are running stocks right down now. L carried on retailing while N returned to the boat via a sit at the top to watch a yacht come in, and 10 mins quiet reflection in the Seamen's Church on the quayside. 

After some relaxation and tea we gathered ourselves to hose the boat down, washing off the grit of a hundred ports (well, a couple of dozen at least). A three  course meal on board with generous G&Ts, to celebrate our last evening of the trip, rounded off a splendid rest day at the seaside. 

Tuesday 30 August 2016

Channel fever

Our sailing guru, the great Tom Cunliffe talks about Channel Fever. It's the sudden onset during a sea passage of thinking only about the destination and what you'll do when you get there. 

In a small way that's happened to us. As we are crossing the Channel today, normal life is waiting for us and our minds are already ticking away about our complex schedule for September.

It's a perfect sunny day with little swell and yet it's as cold as charity. Several layers needed, hats and gloves too. What a shock after the sweaty excesses of Dutch heatwaves! 

We left unlovely Dunkerque at sparrowfart and it took an age to escape the foul chemical smells emanating from the industrial zone. (See pic)

Crossing the 'motorway' went pretty well. We only had to change course for one juggernaut of the sea.  Our AIS system on the chartplotter showed us the others would pass safely.

We passed very close to the famous Sandettie Light Vessel which you Radio Four listeners hear about on the shipping forecast. (Pictured)

Now we are heading past the Goodwin Sands towards Ramsgate and hopefully a drink at the Royal Temple yacht club with fantastic views over the sea. Back to Blighty. We've had a splendid time but the mind keeps switching feverishly to what comes next. 

Monday 29 August 2016

Ostend to Dunkirk

0800  Ostend on a cool, wet Monday morning is a different, subdued place. No more bulging restaurants,  sweating w/e trippers, screaming kids and hooting teenagers. Just a town quietly going about its business. 

1000 The sky brightens as we prepare to leave, going calmly through our routine which is well practised after 4 weeks. Only a bridge and a slimy, shell-encrusted lock between us and the open sea. 

1200 An exemplary exit from Ostend - we heard one of the huge motor cruisers going out so we tagged on behind and were out of the lock in 30 minutes. In the calm of the outer harbour we had the fenders and warps stowed and the mainsail up. Now we are having a cracking sail against all the odds (i.e. not the forecast direction) with a 12kn wind on the beam - lovely! 

The Belgian coastal resorts are anything but beautiful. Rows of identical blocks of flats behind a long, long beach. (Pic)

1400 Threading our way along buoyed channels through sandbanks on our approach to Dunkerque. Still under full sail though the wind is easing. 

1600 Rounded up outside the harbour and dropped the sails, motored gently in with no commercial traffic, set fenders and warps in the calm water of the outer harbour. Called Marina du Grand Large on VHF and they gave us a pontoon berth with no fuss. We found it, we got into it and we tied up with no problem or shouting, sweating or swearing. 

Truly an exemplary day. 1 hour motoring and 6 hours sailing. You could almost think we've got the hang of this. Wonder what surprises tomorrow will bring? !

It has been a much cooler day with cloudy sun and a cool breeze. We are sitting in the late afternoon sun enjoying a snack and strong coffee ... there are no caf├ęs near this marina. We won't make the trek into town because we're just here for the overnight stop. If we had chosen to moor nearer the town there would have been delays in leaving. Tomorrow we leave at 0700 to catch the tide for Blighty in the form of Ramsgate. 

Sunday 28 August 2016

The Blackpool of Belgium

From the land of the Stroopwafel  (Dutch syrup waffle) to the land of Moules et Frites, we had come a long way. Well only thirty odd miles really, to the Belgian port of Oostende.  

They always call port cities 'bustling' and Ostend is certainly that. The reason? The 30 degree temperatures have brought people streaming from the hot centre of the country into the breezier seaside in their thousands. Huge sparsely- clad family groups roam the streets seeking entertainment and chips. It feels like Blackpool but without the cheesy charm of that town.

The only attraction we visited today was almost empty,  and we loved it. The Amandine is a full sized Icelandic trawler launched in the 60s and pensioned off in the 90s which has become a museum on land.  

We learned about the Belgian fishermen who spent 4 days travelling in her to the cold waters off Iceland to land giant catches of fish, pulling in the nets by by hand and gutting the fish on the deck. We saw hair raising film from the 60s of great force 10 or 11 storms with trawlers ploughing through appalling waves. 

And we climbed all over Amandine, which had been only lightly and sympathetically restored, thank heaven. We saw the homely galley and eating area, and the helmsman's comfy seat with the built-in ashtray at one side and built-in wooden mug holder on the other. Essential during gales I would say... The deck seemed a small and crowded space with a million trip hazards especially in foul weather. Our respect for these fishermen grew. It cost a measly 4 euros to visit Amandine and I heartily recommend it. 

We cast a quick eye over the railway station (unimpressive) and the church of St Peter and St Paul  (closed, pictured). Enough Ostend. There were charts and tide tables waiting, for the planning of our journey to Dunkerque and onwards to Ramsgate. And the making of lunches too. As I write, Nic is cooking tonight's dinner using root veg we brought from Sainsbury in Greenwich!

Last night moules, and tonight basic boat food like the trawlermen.

Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

Saturday 27 August 2016

Switching flags

As it turned out we left the Netherlands a day early and like a cork out of a bottle. With our intimate knowledge and deep experience of bridges and locks we confidently expected to take 3 hours to do 5 miles from Middelburg to Vlissingen (Flushing) that required 6 bridges and a sea lock out into the Westschelde. Much to our surprise we popped out after an hour and a half. 

Our last Dutch port was to have been Breskens, opposite Vlissingen, but they informed us they are full due to a yacht festival. So with fair wind and tide, a lucky happenchance, we decided to make straight for Ostend (Belgium). Hence the switching of the courtesy flags as we rolled along the coast. 

The rest of today's story will come tomorrow as we're too full of moules & frites to stay awake. 

Friday 26 August 2016


Middelburg doesn't sound inspiring, rather bland and middling really.  Yet it's quite spectacular in a quiet way. This was our second day exploring and it was twenty times more enjoyable at a civilised temperature of 22°C rather than boiling 30+ yesterday.

It was an important trading town (slaves as well as spices) in the days of the Dutch East India Company and the affluence can be seen in the splendid abbey, town hall and many towering, elegant mansions.

In 1940 a chunk of the old town was bombed and destroyed by fire, and there's been a lot of careful restoration. Fewer houses lean drunkenly here than in other Dutch towns.

There's some dull modern bits but in large part it's  all very handsome. Lots of glossy dark green painted windows and front doors, with the owner's name in flowing white script above the door knocker.

We wanted to visit the old abbey, now a centre of local government and the Roosevelt university.  Sadly there is some enormous music festival starting tonight in the abbey square, and much of it is out of bounds. However we sneaked into the old cloisters of the Norbertine monks and sat in the fragrant herb garden at the centre (pictured) A Zen moment.

Earlier we nipped into the Oost Kerk, also pictured, a Protestant church with a huge Catholic style dome and much ornamentation. A very friendly woman told us about the Roosevelt connection. 

Apparently the antecedents of FDR came from Middelburg and that's why the university was set up here in 2004. Also they award a Four Freedoms prize - freedom of speech, worship, freedom from want and from fear. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu are past recipients.

Then we took a look at the Kuiperstraat, (pictured) a small and exquisite street of little houses which date back to the 16th century. One had an open stable door - you could imagine a Vermeer woman in a cap pouring milk in a shady corner.

Now we are back at the boat (see her pictured in her berth) for a spot of tea and Nic has again rigged a temporary awning over the cockpit to allow us to sit in comfort. Tomorrow we plan to leave for Breskens on the coast, so this may be our last night on the canals before we finally burst out into open salty sea.