Oostende voor Anker 2015
01 June 2015 | Ostend/North Sea
The Oostende voor Anker maritime festival is sort of a fixture in our annual cruising diary. We missed out a couple of times recently (main culprits being adverse weather and lack of free time) but this year I was determined to make it.
I managed to shuffle some shifts around but it would still require at least one overnight Channel crossing to make the whole thing worthwhile. Weather was borderline too. Sometimes, it seems there is only a hard way to do things.
Anyway, I came off shift Thursday morning and slept for a few hours. When I woke I made my way to Levington where I was met by Yanni. Tender loaded and launched. Very wet, very slow dinghy ride to Guapa (wind over tide). When we finally boarded, we made the boat ready for sea. Underway by 16H30.
One of the first things we noticed is that the boat’s bottom is in desperate need of a pressure wash. The loss of boat speed was noticeable – even in a stiff breeze. Lift/hold/drop to change the anodes and a pressure wash already booked for the 18th. Had hoped to do it before this trip, but the diary and available funds dictated otherwise. Ho-hum, I quickly calculated that the loss of boat speed would add an hour or two to the crossing.
Foul bottom and adverse tide meant initial progress was very slow – despite the stiff breeze. Wind right up the ass meant we rolled a fair bit. Then, just before sunset, the wind dropped completely. We went from motorsailing to just motoring. The perfect time to prepare dinner: ravioli and a baguette.
The reefed main looked ‘silly’. But as stronger winds were forecast later that night and early morning I was not going to shake it out. Not keen to put the reef back in at night.
Just before midnight, a usable breeze materialised and we were once again making way in a manner befitting a sailing yacht. When crossing the TSS, the AIS transponder proved to be invaluable. Nice to see the merchantmen change course/speed up/slow down to stay clear of us. A lot less stressful than working out if those blobs of light in the distance had seen us. Especially that fishing vessel lit up like a Christmas tree.
I had initially planned to share watches with Yanni, but as the TSS proved to be a lot busier than I had anticipated, I let him sleep in. It was therefore a tired skipper who woke his crew 5NM from Ostend. Sails furled and stacked in good order and we were all secure alongside just before 09H00 local time. Fourteen hours and a bit after we set off.
Harbour master located – mooring fee (half price) paid – codes to shower and heads obtained in short order. Retired to my bunk for some kip.
Woke from coma rather sooner than hoped – wide awake but still tired. Met up with some of the usual suspect who had all made the crossing in the days/week before. First topic of conversation: the weather. It did not bode well for the return trip. We had planned to sail on Sunday, but gale force winds were forecast for that day. In fact, gale force winds were forecast till the middle of next week. And for once, all forecasters were pretty much in agreement. As Yanni had to be back in college on Monday sailing later was not an option.
After much conferring, all the crews returning to the UK were in agreement: there was a weather window Saturday midday till Sunday morning. Those with more time on their hands stayed put, but those, like us, with shore commitments decided to make a run for it. This would only give us just 24 hours to enjoy Ostend. So much to do, and so little time.
Anyway, shopping was done, friends were met and drinks were had. And that was just the afternoon. Continued the Oostende voor Anker tradition of blagging a ‘Participant’ flag. The most successful year to date as I walked away with a full goody bag. In the evening we met up with other UK based boats for drinks and a meal. A pleasant end to a nice but hectic day. Retired to the RNSYC for a nightcap and then my bunk.
Rose early Sunday morning to check various weather websites. Outlook still ‘not great’. Weather window still there. Westerly, backing SW 5-6. It would have to do. One boat ventured out, then another and then us. Once we passed the breakwaters, it turned ‘unpleasant’ very quickly. Short, steep North Sea chap. One minute you’re looking at the stars, the next at the fishes. Wind on the nose to boot. Struggling to make 2kts over the ground – motorsailing. Tried bearing away for a while, but that only seemed to take us due North. Neither of us fancied a visit to Holland, so onward we pushed – covering 7NM in 3 hours. At that rate we’d be home on Monday.
By 14H00, the wind started backing SW (as forecast). And just in time too, as the engine just died on us. Not an electrical problem (as Yanni first suspected) but a clogged fuel line (as was my idea). The hours of bouncing off the waves must have well and truly stirred all the crud in the tank. As for replacing the fuel filter? When you use your spare when you service the engine, you have to buy a new one straight away, otherwise you have... no spare. Lesson learned the hard way.
So, we pushed on under sail making a very respectable 6.5-7kts over the ground. Lots of time to contemplate and start contingency planning. What this, if that, ... Kept in touch over VHF with another boat (Jolie Brise) also making the crossing with us. If the wind did indeed continue to back SW (and S later) I figured it would be possible to get to our mooring under sail. Whilst I have picked up a mooring under sail before, I have never attempted this in the dark. A new challenge.
As we were approaching Long Sands Head, Jolie Brise – who was already on the Orwell - came through with a weather update. Blustery conditions on the river, and wind all over the place. Not good. As we passed Rough Towers I started monitoring Harwich VTS. Busy night in The Harwich Approaches. Not ideal. Then Thames CG came through with a gale warning: F8 – soon. And to top it all, the wind started veering W. This would mean we would have to tack in the fairway between Cork Sands and Landguard. And then there was the falling tide on the Orwell to consider. Should I let ‘pride’ have the day and try to make it to our mooring unassisted? Tiredness can lead to poor decisions and there was only one way that was going to end – ‘not well’.
I would like to think that I did the sensible thing, and I contacted Thames CG and informed them of our predicament. Laid it all out for them: no engine, gale warning, falling tide, amount of traffic, backing wind and crew fatigue.
Was told to continue to make way towards Harwich at best speed and they would monitor our progress on AIS and see what, if any, assistance they could offer. Just short of Cork Sands we were informed that Harwich Lifeboat was dispatched to render assistance and also the Harwich VTS had been informed of our predicament (why didn’t I think of that?).
About 15 minutes after we passed the Cork Sands goalposts we were met by the Lifeboat. Suggested the best option would be for them to take us in tow. Lifeboat cox’n agreed. Furled and dropped the sails while the Lifeboat stood by. Then, I put Yanni on the helm with instructions to keep the boat in the wind as much as possible whilst I made my way forward to catch and secure the towing line. All done without a hitch. Then there was not much left for me to do but sit back while Yanni helmed to keep the boat pointed towards our tow.
Once inside Harwich harbour a further confab with the Lifeboat – what was our destination? Told them we were on a swinging mooring on the Orwell just beyond Collimer. Lifeboat said they would drop us off there. Informed them that there was a dinghy on the mooring and that I would shine a torch on the mooring to point it out to them. As we approached our mooring the sheer folly of what I would have attempted soon became clear. It was pitch black and the moorings were almost impossible to see.
Anyway, the Lifeboat dropped us off on our mooring. Picked up the line on the first approach. Exchanged details with the crew and gave them a small token of our appreciation. Mixed feelings: embarrassed, but also relieved and very grateful. Only in Britain.
As the Lifeboat departed, Yanni and I set about securing the boat: furling and stowing the sails properly, securing all sheets and lanyards, etc... Suddenly, we were distracted by a noise. Shone a torch at the dinghy and all of a sudden it was filled with water. Bizarre. A minute later, that same sound again. But this time I thought I had seen a black shape. Shone the torch at the dinghy again and this time round we caught the culprit in fragrante delicito: a big seal was trying to get into our dinghy. Luckily I managed to persuade him that this was not a good idea.
Once the boat was all secure on deck I clambered in the dinghy and started bailing. Truly the cherry on the cake. In view of the forecast 30kts plus winds forecast for the morning we opted to make our way home straight away.
Got home about 20 hours after we had left Ostend. A long, eventful and tiring day.