Sunday, 17 August 2014

Blankenberge to Vlissingen ... and on

Thursday 24th July, we should be in Dutch waters by the end of the day.

With a passage distance of 23 Nm to Vlissingen Dutch waters should be a relatively easy days sail, however, I have been warned to make plenty of allowance for the strength of tide in the Westerschelde estuary and time arrival accordingly, otherwise it will be sailing with negative progress. Once again the wind is on the nose, yet another NE F5 forecast and wind against tide to get into the estuary.

Still in company with Alice Pellow we depart Blankenberge at 08:45 local making sure to clear the drying shallows on the route out for the first leg to a point safely offshore of Zeebrugge entrance. The sea already has a nasty chop to it and in the shallow water of the area is kicking up a lot of sand from the sea bottom, and true to the pilot book warnings the sea off Zeebrugge became decidedly worse, yet another motor-sailing beat with two reefs in the main. Progress seems painfully slow in the conditions but the tide means we are managing the required SOG to beat the 15:00 tide turn. I reach the Zeebrugge channel at 10:55 and take 30 minutes to cross it, having to divert astern of an incoming container ship in the process - why did he have to time his approach to inconvenience me in these conditions! The flog to windward continued, staying south of the buoyed large ship route to Vlissingen Roads where we have to run in on the south side of the estuary towards Breskens before turning due North on the small boat crossing to Vlissingen. By now the wind has increased to F6 and the sea state is foul, Dave and I note that a lot of locally flagged yachts are ignoring the small boat crossing and making a beeline direct to Vlissingen, after a quick radio chat we alter course to join them.

By 13:45 we are outside of the lock at Vlissingen, in Dutch waters and about to enter their inland waterways. I remember to turn the VHF ATIS facility on whilst waiting for the lock and hold position waiting on the lock signal lights. On the green light there is a bit of a surge by waiting boats for the lock space but I had been warned to expect it as we Brits are the only ones who queue. All is going well until the lights turn red on us whereupon the boats not within the gates try to recover to a waiting position again (within the confines of the lock approach walls). Unfortunately for me the Dutch boat ahead promptly went full astern without looking behind until the children on board started frantically pointing to Hyrst with a bowsprit about to engage his rear. I decided there was no alternative but to go hard astern with Hyrst to at least stop my forward momentum, however, Hyrst does not go astern predictably and we do a dramatic sideways astern arc to starboard, towards another Dutch boat still going ahead. No options left but to go full ahead to port to clear both of them which we achieve but with the embarrassment of Hyrst head butting the lock wall with the bowsprit before we lose way. Not how I wanted my entry to the inland waterways to start but on analysis not a lot of choice without crew to fend off. No serious damage done other than a bowsprit mount that needs tightening and our mark on the lock wall. During the activity I did rename the skipper of the reversing Dutch boat. One other failure rounded off the farce when I used my boathook to pull the boat alongside the lock wall, only to end up with the boathook coming apart leaving me posing with the handle end and the hook end dangling uselessly from the wall. I should have gone round with a hat.

Subsequent progress through the lock goes without incident and we push on along the Kanaal door Walcheren for an overnight stop at Middelburg. Four bridge openings later we are at the HM's pontoon at Middelburg and I am allocated my first box mooring to contend with, which I achieve well enough other than my stern lines are not long enough for the length of box so a bit of quick action with a spare line was necessary. The sun is out and the evening is fine, time for some R&R. I join Dave and Kay, who have already cycled around the town and selected a bar cum eatery where we sample the local food and then move on to the Yacht Club for a further drink or two or ..., can't recall exactly.

Hyrst of Eremue (centre) on the box mooring at Middelburg.

And the crew of Alice Pellow sampling the Yacht Club hospitality.

The trip to the start of the Dutch OGA Cross Country Tour has turned out to be the hardest and longest I have ever worked a boat and there is still the tour and return trip to complete.

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