Monday, 26 May 2008

sleigh rides!

Well we've made it there and back safely as per our plan to visit Oostende. It has had its moments!We made it down to the boat at a sensible time on Thursday evening, and along with the crew we'd shipped aboard, had a sensibly early night, in bed with the lights off by 21h30.It didn't help however with the momentary pain caused by the alarm sounding off at 01h30, and I staggered out of bed, and through the normal 'getting the boat ready to depart' ritual with my eyes largely shut.By 01h55 however, we slipped the berth, and locked out to a cloudy, and therefore dark evening, but with quite light winds and still quite warm.The direction would have theoretically made it possible to sail to the first major waypoint, Cork Sands Yacht Beacon, but the thought of starting a passage of that length with a measly 2kts over the ground encouraged us to continue sailing.... we did however stick the main up to appease our consciences.It didn't take us long to reach Cork Sands YB, and we saw no real traffic of any kind, so the shipping channel remained nothing more than a distant threat. CSYB is a major part of the passage plan for Oostende, as once you are round this mark, the next way points of Rough Towers, Long Sand Head and then ultimately West Hinder tower off the Belgian coast are all roughly on the same course, so the wind direction at this point determines whether its going to be a sail or a motor.It was OK to sail direction wise, but was fluky at between 7 and 11kts.... we sailed a while, but our speed was pitiful, so eventually, we had to motor. We had a dissapointing sunrise, as it was obscured by the cloud, and the wind remained fluky and light. The need to motor was reinforced as we reached the TSS, with the wind reducing even further to around 5kts, but somewhat compensated by the sun appearing.So, finally as we cleared the smaller TSS off West Hinder and headed into Oostende, with just a few miles to go, the wind returned to about 12kts.... we didn't bother at this point with sails.... after 11 hours of motoring, we all just wanted to get there.Getting onto the pontoon was easy.... We reversed upto the buoy, and after a momentary problem with the crew getting a line through it, we suceeded, and then motored backwards under complete control elegant into the right spot. Only remaining challenge was the bow line was about 2m too short after the marina had fitted new buoys this winter, a bit further out than previously.... so our transom was still 1.5m from the pontoon... but no problem... another line added, and all was well.Deep breath. Motoring for 12hrs is exhausting. So we were all tired, and thus had a quick drink, and relaxed for the remainder of the afternoon, and finally took an early night.Saturday was a brilliant day. Not only did the sun shine its little heart out all day with shorts and tee shirts weather, but the Oostende voor Anker festival was in full swing, with fully dressed wooden boats, square riggers and grand vessels of all shapes and sizes everywhere you looked. We made the most of the opportunity and wandered around pretty much everything... We found a small square by the station with a stage, and an excellent folk band playing, and sat in the sun with a cold beer, and relaxed.... it must have been the best spot, as gradually more and more of the group arrived and settled in!It was one of those times where the world seems just right..... I was happy.Eventually, SWMBO decided that she needed to procure chocolates, so we set off into the town centre.... there it was agreed that males are a significant hinderance to the act of shopping, so dutifully Dave and I found a small bar and settled in. It was going well until the owner of Pipedream arrived, and we had to make sure he had his fair share. Now, for those folk that aren't familiar with Belgian beer, it is quite strong, and it was mid to late afternoon by the time we poured ourslves out of the bar.... and then back to the boat.SWMBO took one look and sighed.Later that evening, we all congregated at a rather nice bar in the town, had a marvellous barbeque and generally so******ed into the night. A grand bunch of people, with rather maginficently, 29 people turning up!I finally made it to bed quite late, and slep soundly until I was awoken by heavy knocking on the hull at about 08h30. It was Roger who was moored up alongside us. "Have you seen the forecast?".... "huh?"... "you might want to think about leaving today...."...... "why?"...... "NE 4 to 5 today, increasing 5 to 7 posible 8 later, and worse tommorrow""ah crap"So after the neccessary inspection of weather forecasts, along with crew consultation, a decision was reached to leave a day early...Quite obviously, the same forecast had been sinking in around the marina, and there were signs of a mass exodus underway.We slipped out of the mooring at just before 10h00, and set off out into the North Sea.The forcast 4 to 5 NE seemed a little suspicious by now, as we were faced by 5kts of Westerly winds.... this wasn't good. We were low on fuel, having filled up a couple of weekends back, and having used the engine a little and then motored the whole way across. We possibly had enough to motor the whole way back, but it would mean sucking the last dregs out of the tank, something i'm never keen to do, as there is a significant risk of picking up all the crudd from the bottom of the tank, and causing yourself all sorts of problems. However, with no fuel available in Oostende, we had little choice, so off we motored.Regular VHF traffic confirmed the departure of most of the other boats in our little fleet, and everyone was motoring.By midday, we were approaching West Hinder, and the wind had tuned a bit to the north, which didn't really help us as this was too tight to hold the required course, although it had built a little to 12kts. I had visions of us having to beat the whole way back.... but on we plodded under engine. The sea state was quite sloppy, with some decent rollers evidencing the previous few days of North Easterlies having had the whole of the North Sea as a fetch.We reached the TSS at West Hinder and continued to motor, having to take avoiding action in both lanes, in particular the South bound lane where we had 4 vessels to avoid, so as we exited the lanes, it was with some relief I saw the wind go finally North Easterly, and increase to 15kts.The engine went off, the sails were unfurled and we set off under sail alone.This however, was to be short lived.The wind was slowly increasing, and infront of us lay a large black cloud. As we reached it, the wind built up to 20kts, and we had to reef for the second time, now under 2 reefs in the genny, and 1 in the main. The sea had built considerably, and by now I was steering as much for the water as I was for the wind.And so it continued. It got windier and windier.... by now we had 2 reefs in both sails, and by the time we reached Long Sand Head we had the 3rd reef in, had 30kts over the deck, and house sized waves crashing past us..... this was a real challenge for the crew.... you know its got windy when the rigging is humming, and the boat is vibrating as it surfs down waves.... It was quite obvious that the wind had come through quite a lot earlier than expected.As darkness descended, we were approaching Cork Sands, and it was a full blooded F7, hitting 8 on a regular basis. we were creaming along, but well reefed down and working hard to keep the boat on her feet, with substantial rollers sweeping past us.So as we rounded Cork Sands YB, we momentarily let the pressure out of the main and furled it away, leaving nothing but a small scrap of genny out for the final downwind, down wave roller coaster into Harwich.... just 4nm to go, but under this tiny amount of sail, we were making 6.5kts comfortably, often faster, and I was grabbing big handfuls of rudder to keep her on course.It was with enormous relief that we rounded up into Harwich, and within a few minutes got under the lee of Languard point, which saw the sea state reduce dramatically, and then just after that behind the docks, with the wind taking a tumble to just mid 20's of knots....We were all exhausted, but despite this, locked in and berthed without drama. The lock keeper did give us a strange look as we entered at 23h00, quite clearly thinking we were completely mad to be out there. We didn't mention the fact that we'd just crossed the North Sea in a full gale. He did however make up for it by standing on the balcony of the lock building at that time of night and playing his accordian to us!Just 2.5 hrs later, another boat arrived, having taken the only sensible option and run into Harwich to escape the weather, and indeed when we arose the next morning, yet another boat again had turned up. Everyone had their stories of big waves, substantial boat speed, and decent broaches... but all had survived to tell the tale!Morgana handled a full gale with aplomb. At no time did she feel vulnerable, and indeed on occasions seemed to be revelling in it. I wouldn't do it again regularly out of choice, but I am confident that when (not if) we get caught out again, then she'll be just fine. Another tick in the box for a grand boat.

Miles logged 166nm
Miles this season 312nm
Miles since this blog started 3,249nm

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