To Holland and Back.

Our plan to leave on Saturday was delayed due to strong winds so we stayed the night on board after a pleasant time with the crews of Sisu, and Comus gratefully invited on board by Mike and Carol on Kailani. The wind was forecast to ease as we left the Chatham at lunch time headed for Ramsgate, the weather brightened and the wind was light but arrived in good time with the help of the reliable old Volvo MD7a which had recently had her annual service. The next day we motored east out of Ramsgate headed for Oostende, what wind there was came from the SE so we had to motor the whole way as it wouldn't even lift the club burgee. Its great having an engine the uses less than a litre per hour, our previous boat would have used nearly 2 gph at 6 knots! So we arrive on Oostende in a timely fashion and headed for RYCO, the harbormaster was very helpful and friendly and the showers etc were fine. We also sampled the Mercator Marina on the way back which I shall mention later.

Sailing to Vlissingen
Sailing to Vlissingen

The next day was forecast to be F5 SW occ F6, seeing as though it would be up the chuff so to speak we decided to head for Vlissingen, the worst part of the journey was heading out of the port of Oostende, for 2 reasons, firstly as it was a large working port with ferries and ships and we were a small slow yacht I thought it a good idea to let the VTS know our intentions as we left the marina via the VHF, the reply was ' thank you for your information, we have no ship movements at the moment and you are clear to leave the port' so off we trundles along the starboard side of the channel, only to see what looks like a lunatic in a hard hat franticly waving his arms at us to move out if the way, oh, and he his standing on the bow of a medium sized ship, this is followed by the ship giving 3 blasts of its horn as it's stern swings out from the dock towards us! At this point I wondered if there was any use in me having the conversation with VTS 2 minutes earlier on the radio, any way we carried on but moved over to port as the ship swung out from the dock.

The second reason was that as we left the protection of the breakwaters it was clear that the sea had not been produced by a F5, we continued out for 10 minutes before turning NE for Vlissingen, as we headed down wind it all got a little less hairy, we let out half the Genoa and got 6 knts through the water, the sun was out and it was quite warm, I decided to check the wind speed, and wished I hadn't when it showed a steady 35knots, but we were having a great time and the boat handled it a treat tracking well. However I must say this is the first time I felt we needed to be clipped on whilst in the cockpit as it is quite deep and feels safe, but you never know. We zipped along the coast surfing down some of the waves at nearly 10 knots !!!! Sharon was loving it, although as usual I was a little more apprehensive but went with the flow, before we knew it we were flying past zeebrugge (waves got bigger there) and it wasn't long before I had to change the courtesy flag as we were in Dutch waters. After 3 hours of the most rapid sailing I have experienced the wind died and we motored the last hour into the westerschelde and into Vlissingen port, we went straight into the lock behind a large barge, much to Sharonís dislike as she was at the bow and only 6ft from its stern and staring at its large rudder. The time was now 1815, we had cleared Oostende at 1400 meaning we had made the nearly 30 mile trip in just over 4 hours.

Middelburg
Middelburg

We headed toward the marina once out of the lock and noticed a Dutch yacht waiting for a bridge which was opening into the canal, as we still had several hours of daylight left we decided to carry on to Middelburg, we kept behind the yacht and the next couple of bridges opened as we approached, we had to wait for the last bridge which gave me the opportunity to have a chat with the skipper of the yacht in front who had sailed up with his wife from Dunkerque after spending a couple of weeks on the east coast. Soon we were turning off the canal into the very picturesque town of Middelburg, we were told by the skipper (Derk) in front to follow him in and he would show us where we could moor. We found a space on the pontoon opposite the harbour masters office and tied up for the night, I went over to thank Derk and his wife Sonia for their help and they insisted we joined them for drinks and food in the yacht club. So off we went and had a great night in the yacht club with the help of some nicely served shrimps. We stayed 3 nights in Middelburg and loved every minute, the people, the food (steak in the yacht club was excellent) and the atmosphere were great, we also met a couple (Wendy & Richard) on a custom built oyster 48 from Harwich, when I told them were we kept the boat Richard asked if we knew a Chap by the name of Les on a boat called Gee Bee Jay.........turns out they met les a few years earlier in Holland! Talk about a small world.

Our next plan was to head for Goes (Hoose). We set of with brilliant sun shine along the canal and reached the lock at veere in good time, when we locked out into the versemeer I was like a kid in a sweetshop all we could see were people on the water everywhere, sailing canoeing, motor boating, bathing, all amongst the islands, of to port was the very pretty town of veere, where we noticed a bride and groom having their photos taken at the end of the dock, we decided it would be wrong not to give this boaters paradise more attention, we remembered Wendy and Richard talking about a marina with a nice yacht club a little further along from veere called Oostwatering, so we headed that way and found a mooring, low and behold behind an oyster 48! That afternoon we walked into the town of Veere and had a great time, lots of touristy shops etc and a great atmosphere. That night we joined Wendy and Richard in the Yacht Club for dinner and had a great time.

The next day was forecast to be wet, but rather than spend a day getting bored on the mooring we decided to head on for Goes (Hoose). 9.00am and we were slipping lines and on our way, we weaved between the islands in the Veersmeer, out of the lock into the Osterschelde then back in through another lock to head down the canal to Goes. In the large lock into the Osterchelde we were joined by about 6 classic speedboats and various other yachts and motorboats. As the lock gates opened the speedboats got ready for the off as they could safely get under the bridge which was preparing to open, as the boats passed us as we were still waiting for the bridge to lift when I noticed a rather too eager skipper of a yacht following the boats and about to dismast his yacht on the bridge, I tried yelling at him and someone else whistled and at the last moment he realised! The 10 hp outboard started to scream as he engaged reverse at full throttle and narrowly missed disaster.

We arrived at the last bridge before going into the town and had 20 minutes to wait, we had been advised by Mike Townsend and Ernie Slogrove as well as Wendy & Richard to turn to port immediately after the bridge and stay in DeWerf Yacht Club. I decided to give them a ring and check if they had room for us, no problem, the harbourmaster would meet us on the corner once we got under the bridge......1500hrs came and the bridge lifted, we went under the bridge and found this rather odd looking chap on a pushbike who was waving us in, turns out he was the harbour master and instructed us to moor directly outside the yacht club. Not a problem I thought.....as we turned to port we were faced with what I thought was going to be a nightmare, we had to negotiate a very tight gap between yachts to get to the space allocated which itself looked very tight, without too much worry we managed to get moored and enjoy the delights of what seemed to be mooring in someoneís back garden!

After a while in Goes we decided it was time to start heading back, although this was not to be the end of the trip as we wanted to visit Breskins, Nieupoort and Calais but we were on a strict 2 week time limit due to work commitments. We sailed back through the Oosterchelde and Veerse Meere and planned to spend another night in Middelburg, however in one of the locks I overheard a skipper telling someone that one of the bridges on our way to Breskins would be shut the following day, so we missed out Middelburg and headed straight for Breskins. As we waited for the lock at Flushing we saw another Chatham based boat ĎAnother Diamondí come through along with lots of other large yachts with tired looking crew and oiles draped over booms so I guessed they may have been racing.

Veeresmeer
Veeresmeer

We headed across the Westerschelde and it was great to be at sea again, we moored at Breskins without incident and spent the next day there, the only down side to this was that a Dutch couple moored next door in their later years shall we say did insist on walking around their yacht without a stitch of clothing on! Next thing their swimming around the marina...itís just not on, donít they know we are British and would never part take in such activity, furthermore whatís with all this kissing 3 times! I had to explain to Derk and Sonja that being British we only show affection to dogs and horses in public!

The next day we set off for Nieupoort, again brilliant sunshine but hardly any wind so we drifted in style down the Dutch Coast towards Nieupoort, as we approached Oostend the wind picked up and moved round to the West and it clouded over, as I didnít relish another hour or two of wind bashing we headed in for Oostende, this time in the Mercator Marina, we moored alongside a pontoon in the middle of town and headed straight for one of the seafood stalls along the front and filled our boots so to speak, the next day was spent shopping and generally chilling out, although it was 30 degrees.

Our final foreign destination was now in sight, the Grand Port of Calais........or so we thought. A light NW was forecast and it was spot on as we sailed along the Belgium coast towards Calais, then from nowhere, again, the wind swings into the west and starts blowing 28kts, not a problem, we could see the Dunkerque light on the end of the harbour wall which was only 7 miles away so we headed for there. A delightful 2 nights spent at the Yacht Club Mer De La Nord (the marina on the starboard side) they had refurbished all of the facilities since our last visit and was much improved, along with great food in the Yacht Club we had a great stay, and would recommend it.

I had been keeping an eye on the forecast over the last few days via Wind Guru (which I found to mostly spot on) and decided that Thursday would be the best day to make our crossing to Ramsgate as the NW winds would be light allowing us to sail along the Dunkerque Channel then motor sail NW across the TSS. We left at 06.30hrs (our earliest start to date) with more brilliant sun shine and had a great sail along the French coast, as we approached the end of the channel and the point where we were going to turn NW I knew that we would be motor sailing the rest of the way......or so I thought! Within 30 minutes the wind went into the N/NE and we were set on our course of 320 degrees (right angle to the TSS) close hauled but still managing 4-5 kts, within another 30 minutes the tide started to push us north and our projected track which had showed us half way across the Goodwin Sands was instead showing us clear of North Foreland, within no time we were making our approach into Ramsgate. Perfick!

2 Nights at Ramsgate in brilliant sunshine Saturday motor sailed back to Chatham and arrived at High Tide, perfect end to a perfect trip.

More pictures from Cathala's trip to Holland

Date Published 9th Jul 2011