Saturday, 16th August - Breskens to Blankenberge (21 Nm)The weather forecast for the next few days is not favourable (actually dire) with today offering the only possible window for going to sea. At our skippers meeting I decide to make for Blankenberge and Barbara opts to do the same, Marion has ongoing concerns about the engine on East Breeze and decides not to take undue chances with it on what is likely to be a testing motor-sailing passage. Amanda chooses to go as crew on Moon River in order to meet her travel schedule.
The tide is favourable from 08:30 to 14:00 but will give wind over tide conditions as the wind is a near headwind forecast to be WNW 17 Kts gusting 26 Kts. With the shallow coastal waters here and a 3 Kt tide an uncomfortable trip is certain. I depart Breskens at 09:30 motor-sailing under main with two reefs, Moon River is due to follow soon after.
The Westerschelde is rough but improves slightly once out of the strongest tidal flow beyond the first headland. My route takes me west to stay clear of the Zeebrugge entrance and the sea state worsens as I get into shallower water again prior to Zeebrugge. Hyrst is being thrown around in both planes by the confused seas and taking a lot of solid water over the decks so I decide to fit all washboards and secure hatches in the event of the cockpit taking a lot of water. The autohelm is struggling in these conditions and I spend most of the time helming to work the waves, our SOG is around 7 knots with the tide under us, more than I planned for and raising the possibility of arriving too early at Blankenberge (low water entry not recommened). By this time I am caked in salt so hand back to the autohelm while I have a drink and wash my eyes out with fresh water. Opening a fresh bottle one-handed whilst hanging on to the pushpit isn't working so I let go the pushpit and get a grip of the bottle - just as a large beam wave throws Hyrst violently to port. I am launched across the aft cockpit over the tiller and coming down hard against the autohelm and pushpit with my safety line halting me. I recover postion on the next lurch of the boat, but my left upper arm does not feel good and the autohelm is u/s, jumping around and detaching from the tiller when under power. Placing my arm in the lifejacket harness as a makeshift sling helps and I am able to rest it whilst getting on with helming, firmly wedging myself in a cockpit corner. I then notice a warp which had been attached to the samson post coiled, tied and lashed on was trailing aft down the port side! Managed to get that inboard before it got somewhere nasty. The trip remains rough all the way to Blankenberge but I know there is calm water and space in the harbour to sort things out. Moon River has caught up with me and follows me into the harbour. My left arm is still painful but has normal articulation so I manage to stow the main and prepare the boat for berthing once in the shelter and as we enter the marina the harbour master is on hand to allocate berths and take our lines. Moored up at 13:30, then a much needed hosing down of my foul weather clothing and the boat.
Hyrst of Eremue alongside in Blankenberge after a tough day, possibly the roughest I have been out in.
Despite being well stowed for the passage the contents of the cabin have been dislodged and thrown around more than I have ever experienced before.
Sunday, 17th August - weather bound BlankenbergeThe weather forecast only confirms what can be heard in the rigging and seen from the flags, no sailing today. I am fairly certain that my arm injury is just severe bruising but obviously not up to any heavy work, so a rest period is in order anyway. With usable internet access and time available I take the opportunity to update my blog, do a web search for autohelm availability/price/delivery and make forays out of the cabin between the rain.
Monday, 18th August - weather bound BlankenbergeAgain the wind strength dictates no sailing, heavy rain showers also predicted for the day. My first priority is to source a replacement autohelm as the damaged one is definitely FUBAR, and I go in search of local chandlers. Unfortunately there are no autohelms available over the counter at the two chandlers I locate, so I convert the search into a sightseeing opportunity to the south side of the harbour. The sea state doesn't look too bad from shore but there is a distinct absence of any boats out there. On the way back to the marina I do a provisioning shop in town and return by way of a cake shop, at least dinner will be worthwhile. Later in the day we receive a visit from Marion who has got a little tired of the Breskens scenery and taken a train/tram tour along the Belgian coast, calling on weather bound gaffers including Bonify which is in Ostend. Amanda departs for the rail station homeward bound by rail and ferry. Not much left to do for the remainder of the day except transfer fuel from one of the spare cans into the main tank ready for departure, feed, do yet more weather checks, read and do another blog update.
Tuesday, 19th August - weather bound BlankenbergeThe first task today is to find the Harbour Master and pay for another days mooring, the wind is still howling and we are not going anywhere. He is happy to take the money and confirms that there is no issue with staying on the berth as the regular occupant is weather bound elsewhere and cannot get back. At least the marina fees are reasonable at €14 per night including electric v. the typical £25 or so it would cost on the UK south coast. Then yet more sightseeing to pass the time and get some exercise. On a more constructive note I get around to fitting the fiddle rails I brought with me to the saloon shelves, which in turn leads to a chat with my Belgian neighbour who provides me with brass screws when I ask where I can buy some. Surprisingly he has been following Hyrst on AIS and via the blog as he has a connection with the traditional/gaff boats in the region. Between walkabouts and chores Barbara and I have the occasional conflab on passage options and suitable ports, it is obvious neither of us will make the Y23 Solent event but she is trying to get to St Valery en Caux in time for an event there and I still have a chance to make the St Vaast rally.
Wednesday, 20th August - Blankenberge to Dunkerque (35 Nm)At last, a weather window, the forecast is for wind F3-4 WSW and early heavy showers turning fair. The tide is favourable from 12:30 and in company with Moon River I depart the marina at midday bound for Dunkerque but prepared to divert into Oostende or Nieuwpoort if conditions dictate. It is another motor-sailing trip under reefed main as the wind is still close on the bow for most of the passage. The sea state is a moderately lumpy swell in the wind against tide conditions but relatively comfortable, had the wind been more free it would class as a good sailing day once the rain passes through. By the time I am off Nieuwpoort the wind has reached F5 and conditions are less pleasant but no reason not to continue on to Dunkerque. Barbara is running Moon River under power only and pushing on ahead of me and I hear her on the VHF contacting what I believe to be High Barbaree, which must be one of the gaff rigged boats I can just make out on the horizon. I call Moon River on the radio and Barbara lets me know she has decided to follow the other boats which are making for Calais, did I want to do the same? As I am without an autopilot and it is a further four hours or so to make Calais, plus I have not done any plans for that passage or harbour night entry I decline and confirm that I will still make for Dunkerque. My left arm is already feeling the effort of todays sailing. I wish her a safe passage and focus on entering Dunkerque.
Bearing in mind my outbound experience of this harbour I have chosen to avoid the Port du Grande Large marina and go into the YCMN marina. I contact them on radio and after an initial misunderstanding on berth location have Hyrst moored on a finger berth at 17:45. I receive a cheerful reception at the office and find that the marina has all facilities and a decent restaurant/bar. A Dutch couple in a Folkboat are moored next to me, on their way home to Amsterdam after cruising to the Solent, loved Yarmouth. They had great sailing weather with following winds both ways. Don't I know it! I give Hyrst and my sailing suit a hose down, hose myself down in the showers and after a meal onboard call it a day, satisfied with the progress made.
Thursday, 21st August - weather bound DunkerqueAs predicted the weather window was short lived and the forecast wind today is F6 WNW, not suitable for a run to Dover nor a halfway trip to Calais. Tides not very favourable either. My main task is to buy and fit a new Autohelm even if I have to get one shipped to me. First though I have to make a check on Alice Pellow, moored on the same pontoon as Hyrst. Dave and Kay made the passage from Holland via the Roompotsluis and down the coast, gaining two days over my route in conjunction with their greater speed. However, the bad weather that held me in Blankenberge did the same for them at Dunkerque and they opted to go home by ferry and return for the boat once conditions became more favourable.
The marina staff give me directions to two local chandlers and the second turns out to be large and well stocked with practical items (not just clothing). Even better, they have the exact model autohelm I require and at a price not too far in excess of UK prices, they also accept UK credit cards! On return to Hyrst with the new item I discover that the actuator extension on the old autohelm (an add-on) is siezed in place and not likely to shift without workshop facilities. Back to the chandlers and unbelievably they have the correct size extension in stock, perhaps I should do the lottery today as well! Next problem, the electrical connector for the new autohelm will not fit the boat mounted socket due to different orientation keys, so I have to fit the new socket provided with the unit. Nearly there, but the new autohelm is electronically set up for starboard mounting, Hyrst has a port mounting so it operates arse-about-face. A bit of manual perusing has that sorted and once again we have a serviceable autohelm - success.
In the afternoon I make a visit to the Dunkirk evacuation museum, now able to relate the beaches I have seen to the records of the event. The walk there from the marina gives me the chance to check out the wind force at the coast, staying in harbour was the right choice. I continue on into town for a coffee and cake stop plus some more shopping and on reassessment, decide that it is not such a bad place afterall, still not a first choice harbour but OK for a stopover.
The "Operation Dynamo" Dunkirk Evacuation museum. A must-do item on my itinerary.
Friday, 22nd August - weather bound DunkerqueAnother day weather bound so finding work to keep me occupied and get prepared for the rest of the return trip to the Solent. Refueled the boat and filled both fuel cans, got the laundry done despite a defective dryer that ate my Euro coins (did get a refund for that). Dave and his son Cory are travelling to Dunkerque today anticipating the weather will be good enough to move Alice Pellow, I have got the marina to arrange a taxi pick-up for them at the ferry terminal. Marion is also due to arrive early evening with East Breeze having moved on from Breskens to Oostende during the last weather window. I have reserved a finger berth for East Breeze so all admin jobs done.
Evening sees the arrival of Dave and Cory via ferry from Dover. They commented that the sea state didn't appear very encouraging when viewed from the ferry. Dave has booked a table for us in the marina restaurant pending the arrival of East Breeze but it is now getting dark and no sign of arrival yet. I subsequently get a text from Marion at 19:40 saying she is at the harbour entrance. I go to the arrivals pontoon to direct/assist Marion in while Dave and Cory hold the fort at the bar. Once East Breeze is moored up we gather in the restaurant for an enjoyable meal and a couple of drinks whilst agreeing our plan for the morning - an early start (05:00) for Dover subject to a final weather check before departing. East Breeze requires reserve fuel so I drop one of my spare cans off prior to getting Hyrst ready for a quick departure and then turning in.