Saturday, 26 August 2006

Bloggers convention

Wednesday dawned as a pleasant day, with plenty of sunshine, so we decided to talk a walk. The plan was to walk into Nieuwpoort itself, maybe have a coffee, and see what the town was like. Initially we walked into Nieuwpoort Sud, which was a msitake, as it was suburbia.... so we carried on to Nieuwpoort Bad, which is where the beach is located. It was a long way... we think probably about 4 miles... Ok for us, but a long way for the kids.... although to their credit, they didn't complain once.... Nieuwpoort is a classic North European seaside town... a long row of grey concrete tower blocks along the seafront, with parallel rows of faceless shops.... not overly stimulating.... we did however find a nice seafront restaurant, and had a slow and pleasant lunch. By 15h00, we were flagging, so we caught the tram back to Lombardsjide, the nearest station to the marina, and walked just a few minutes back. Early nights allround in preparation for a day trip to Brugge the following day. Thursday, we caught the tram into Oostende, and then the train from Oostende into Brugge... much like our last visit, we wandered aimlessly for several hours. This time we also treated the kids to a ride in one of the horse and carriage 'taxis'... We caught the train back to Oostende, arriving back there at 17h00. We had arranged to meet up with fellow Blogger 'OliveOyl' and her family in Oostende for a meal... is this a first? Just before 18h00, we met with OliveOyl in Oostende train station, and after a bit of meandering, found a restaurant, and settled in for a meal.... well... what a super evening... very pleasant company... good food, good wine. By about 20h00, OliveOyl suggested that with an early start, that we might like to get back to the boat.... and they were clearly keen to have a little peek at Maggie, so very graciously, they offered us a lift back to Niuewpoort, and we enjoyed a drink on board with them.... OliveOyl.... thank you so much for the evening, we really enjoyed it... it was really nice to meet you and your family. It will be our treat next time we are in Belgium. As we were retiring to bed, the wind had started to build, despite the forecast suggesting just a few knots of wind.... I logged on, and the forecast still confimed light winds.... so why were our instruments reading 20kts? Regardless, we retired to bed, with alarms set for 05h30 (BST), and when they woke us, it was still windy...... I took a look.... 20kts, NW... nasty exit from Niuewpoort, long passage dead into the wind.... we went back to bed! I awoke again at 07h00, and the wind had dropped right off.... I ummed and arred for a few minutes, and then thought 'sod it, lets go'.... So we quickly readied for departure and set off by 07h45... The entrance was messy. The wind of the previous evening had left quite a swell running.... it was heaping up in the narrow entrance and we pitched our way out, with some fairly violent slamming, and plenty of water coming over the bow... it took a while as each wave stopped us in our tracks, and we crept at a snails pace out.... It was a little unnerving, and wouldn't have been fun to have been caught broadside too.... carefull helming, and everyone else clipped on in the cockpit..... As we cleared the entrance, the swell rounded off a little, but was still large, I estimated about 2m, and so we had a bouncy run to a 1/4nm off shore. I set course for the D1 mark, which is pretty much on the direct line from Nieuwpoort to Harwich, and we rollercoasted our way out. This course takes us over several sandbanks... OK for depth, with a minimum of 5m, but as expected, each time the sea state got a little messy. It would be very difficult to pick a way out round all these banks. I had set the main with a single reef before we had left the entrance, which proved to be the rigth decision, as therev was still 22kts of wind, so with a small amount of genny unfurled, we set off.... it was tight on the wind. We could just hold our course on a tight port tack... it wasn't however much fun. The boat was well heeled, it was grey, with no sun, and every wave was throwing spray over the bows.... we left the motor on, as the waves were killing our boat speed (down to 2kts without the engine), so we needed the extra drive otherwise we were facing a long upwind passage.... By the time we passed D1, the weather was clearly changing... the skies cleared, the wind eased, and the sun came out.... by the time we reached WestHinder, just 15nm offshore, we had 12kts of wind.... The swell however persisted, so we had to continue motoring.... At West Hinder we crossed the first of the two TSSs (Traffic schemes), and had to take a little avoiding action, but nothing serious... We then set course for the main north sea TSS. This is a fair way, and we didn't reach the TSS until 15h00.... the tide had set North, and there was an enormous amount of traffic going north.... we had to avoid no less than 5 ships.... it was very difficult to pick a way through, and we ended up crossing in short bursts, whith periods of 90 degree turns inbetween.... as we crossed the seperation zone and into the South bound lanes it was obviuous that the tide was against the ships, for we saw only 3 vessels going south and only had to avoid one.... It was 17h00 by the time we exited the lanes, and set course for Long Sand Head... The wind had all but vanished by now, and after a few hours the sea had settled a bit, so our average speed was improving... it was still however depressing to see the GPS state that its was 22nm to LSH with no chance of sailing..... We passed LSH at 20h00, and with a sense of being back in the Thames Estuary, and being near home, we set course for Rough Towers... or rather continued on pretty much the same course since we had left West Hinder..... The wind had lifted again a little to 12kts, and had turned to a bit more Westerly, so I freed the sails, and (still with the engine) shot off at 6.9kts towards the Rough Towers.... it was getting dark, and the lights of Harwich were clearly visible on the horizon, which helped psychologically, but ironically made it very difficult to pick out the nav marks... it was a further 10nm to Rough Towers.... We had yet again to avoid a large ship, trying to get into the Sunk Anchorage, and this cost us another half an hour...... the clouds has also come over again, covering the moon, making a dark night, and it started to rain......The wind also built back up to 20kts, so, not wanting to pick out the marks in the dark under sail with a stiff breeze, we dropped sails, and continued under engine alone... Rough Towers appeared out of the dark just 1nm before we approached it... a strangely oinous sight in the dark... two large concrete towers in the middle of open water.... with just two cardinals to mark them.... we shot past them in the full flood, and then had the challenge of picking out Cork Sands Yacht Beacon. Whowever placed this mark I don't know.... its a tiny North Cardinal, on a pole, specifically designed it seems to place the light right in the centre of all the background light from the shore..... it however does mark a very shallow piece of water, and isn't a mark to be missed! As in previous visits to this area in the dark, the only way forward is to find the main Cork Sands Mark for large shipping, which is a flashing red, and far more obvious, and then when close (like within 1/4nm) try to spot the Yacht Beacon.... this time we had passed it towards the red beacon before we saw it.... We turned towards The preffered Yacht Track, and followed the remaining 3.5nm to Harwich, just outside the channel, which was good as there was a lot of traffic flooding in and out...... With the tide at full strength, we shot down here at over 7kts, and before we knew it, had turned into the harbour itself. Our plan was to grab a buoy at Levington, and then take a slow trip up the river in the morning.... however, every buoy was occupied, so we had to carry on to Ipswich..... not much fun in the constant rain... We locked through, with advice from our ever cheerful lock master to 'get dried off and have a stiff whiskey'..... and entered the marina.... our berth was occupied (we had in fairness told them that we'd be away until Monday), so we grabbed the fuel pontoon at 00h45, and retired straight to bed.... The following morning, our berth became avaialable, so we hopped onto it.... we fueled up while on the fuel pontoon while we are it.... I was delighted that after 16 hours of motoring we had only used just over half the tank..... Now we need to decide what the rest of the plan is!

Miles logged 86nm
Miles logged this trip 295nm
Miles this season 704nm
Miles since this blog started 1,487nm

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