Thursday, 17 August 2006

long legs

After precious little sleep, we arose at a quarter to midnight, and quickly made up a flask of coffee, had a coffee to drink, and quietly crept off the mooring buoy at midnight. The weather had decided to play ball, and the wind was a North Westerly at about 12kts, so a decent reach across to Holland was on offer. Given the forecast showed wind being about, albeit not in our part of the sea, I decided to set a course towards Oostende, where we would be able to head up towards Holland, with an option to dive into Oostende if it wasn't nice out there. This looked OK as a plan given that the forecast suggested a swing to South Westerly, so the Oostende entrance would be quite safe in a blow. However, we still had every intention of making Vlissingen. Harwich as usual was challenging in the dark. The bright Sodium lights of the docks making the navigation marks very difficult to pick out. I know the water well, but have often wondered how challenging it would be for a stranger to the area. By 02h00, we had rounded Cork Sands Yacht Beacon, and set a course across the base of the north sea... things were looking OK... I had planned on 5kts for the passage, and we were just about making it.However, and hour later, and the wind dropped.... our boat speed reduced to just 3.5kts... I didn't really fancy motoring for 20 hours... and even then, with Maggie's small tank, we only just about had eough fuel remaining for 14 hours motoring anyway, so we plugged on under sail... The Northerlies of the last few days had left a large rolling sea, and while not concerning from a boat perspective, the wallowing motion wasn't pleasant... no one was seasick, but it didn't make for a nice motion. We reached the Southbound TSS by midday, a good three hours behind the passage plan, but fortunately had very little traffic, in fact only one ship, and that was well off, so all we did was motor straight across... we could have held the course at right angles under sail with the wind by now having gone South West, but I needed to gain back some time, so at 6.5 kts, it was helping, plus got us across the lanes quickly... there was slightly more traffic on the Northbound lanes, not suprising given the tide going north, and we had twice to alter course, but again, nothing serious. As we popped out of the TSS it was decision time, either head over towards Oostende, or set north towards Holland. Given that we had already lost the first two days of the trip to the weather, and the amenable wind strengths and direction, we decided to make for Holland, so we set course heading straight towards the main entrance fairway to Vlissingen, conveniently on a direct line... The slow passage had mucked us up though, and the tide was turning.... and it flows at a ferocious rate along that coastline.... under sail, we were making a pathetic 2.5 kts over the ground... So on came the engine, and we bumped it up to a still inadequate 4kts. Mixed in with this was a rather messy refuelling effort, where our backup 5 gallon can was poured in... not easy in a big rolling sea, and some ended up on the decks, and some on SWMBO... I wasn't popular! About 17h00, the weather changed. Dark clouds came over, and the wind freshened up to about 18kts. This was actually quite handy, as I was starting to worry about having enough fuel, so the sails were set, a full main, and a few turns in the genny, and we powered off, at last over target speed, sometimes making 7kts over the ground. This still proved inadequate, and as the evening set in, the wind inevitably dropped. Fortunately, late enough to ensure we were OK on fuel, so down came the sails, and on came the engine... but as we came in towards Vlissingen, the tide was devastating us, and we were making just 3kts over the ground with the engine working hard... We finally started our final approach into Vlissingen at 22h00, 2 hours after my planned arrival time, still crawling along, and depressed to see that we had a further 5nm to go... at this speed, another 2 hours. The kids had long given up, and had retired to bed. Despite the bouncy motion, they were happily snoring from below! The route into Vlissingen is a 'preferred yacht track' just outside the main shipping channel. I'd always though Harwich to be a busy port, but it is nothing compared to Vlissingen. A constant stream of shipping was plowing in and out, and it required enormous care to make the right moves at the right time. Not easy when tired, and in the dark in an unfamiliar port. The route also requires a right angle crossing of the mini TSS in the estuary itself. I had planned all this out, and fortunately also taken care to write down all the light characteristics on a note card for the cockpit, so that was all OK... but as we entered the harbour there was an ENORMOUS ship being turned around by tugs ready for departure to sea. It was going to be tight on our planned route, and I didn't fancy either getting in his way, or having to sit and wait for another half an hour, so we cut across early. dodging 5 ships in the process, and being bounced around mercilessly by the wake mainly caused by a constant stream of pilots seeing to their business. We found ourselves up again the foreshore, in plenty of water, but it did make picking out the lights to the main harbour entrance into the lock and canal system very difficult, and it was with a sight of relief that I finally confirmed the lights that I suspected as being the right ones by sighting the outlines of a large number of wind turbines that were marked on the chart, and showed up in just the right spot... we followed the sectored light, until it showed the safe white sector, turned in, and sighed with relief as we entered flat water for the first time in 23 hours. I called the lock who happily responded that they would open up, and we entered the mouth of the lock... a huge beast, not made any easier psychologically by it being low water, and through tiredness... I entered what I belived to be the lock, to look up and see red lights still showing. We were just in a entrance 'tunnel'!. I was going to be there too soon, so reversed... the usual dramas with Maggie not answering the helm in reverse, but now I know her, I was confident enough to hold her, and she gradually crept backwards, despite getting very close the barnacle encrusted sides.... the lights changed, and we popped into the lock... no pontoon, only chain risers, and we made a bit of a mess of getting in... nothing too serious, again tiredness showing its face, but I did have to reach over to the ladder set into the wall with the boat hook, and pull the stern in so that we could get the rear line on.... it was a quick lock, and while we rose, the customs guys yelled down at us asking if we had duty free, where we had come from, who was onboard etc.. all the usual stuff, and done quite politely and in a friendly manner.... We locked out, and into a strange, almost discomforting area, that looked more liked a disused trawler hidey hole, made wierd by the yellow sodium lighting all around.... we motored according to the pilot, to the far end, turned to starboard, and breathed a sigh of relief at the sudden appearance of the Schelde marina. We slowly crept in, and were dismayed to see a long line of completely full box moorings, and all the waiting pontoons deep in rafted boats, with no more room without blocking up the main channel... so we very slowly motored around to the far corners of the marina hoping upon hope to find just one empty space... things were looking dire as we approached a dead end, and could see all the slots filled, and then SWMBO spied that the fuel pontoon was empty. Now, I don't like mooring on fuel pontoons without permission from the marina, but it was late, they had gone home for the night, we were dog tired, and there wasn't anywhere else, so we tied up finally at almost exactly midnight, 24 hours to within 3 minutes since leaving, ignored any efforts at tidying the boat, and dropped into our beds exhausted. Quite a passage.

Miles logged 110nm
Miles logged this trip 110nm
Miles this season 519nm
Miles since this blog started 1,300nm

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