Passage Report 65 Holland to England
13 September 2011 | Ipswich
Passage Report No. 65
Holland to England
It is different in Europe. The planned cruise is subject to many variables. Skipper’s visa expires in two weeks. An exit plan for Europe is required. The English Channel and North Sea are prone to weather, changing winds, tides, sandbanks, shipping and transit lanes. A course, Holland to England is less prone, the further from the narrowing Channel. However, it is longer and includes sailing overnight. Skipper being solo and cautious opts to shorten the crossing. Sahula will exit at the southern port of Vlissingen. Sahula must again transit the “mast up route.”
Hans and Martine join as crew. Roy (marina manager) waves Sahula from the marina. Skipper leaves with some misgiving. Staying in Holland was always the preferred option. Skipper has enjoyed the welcoming, easy going people, the canals, historic towns, inland seas, focus on sailing and the bike riding.
Sahula farewells Amsterdam to enter the canal and wait for the convoy south. Sahula joins a fleet (15 yachts), berthed two and three abreast, awaiting the 0200 convoy south. The northern convoy (starting 2330) must first clear.
The major obstacle is a rail, highway, bridge. Fast trains shorten its opening time. Traffic is less in early morning. After passing this bridge another 7 bridges are opened consecutively.
However, bridges opening times are delayed and yachts mill about waiting. Progress is slow. After the convoy sector, further bridges await the fleet.
Eventually, canals give way to the Holland Diep, an inland sea. Sahula overnights at Willemstad, an old historical fort town.
Various locks, bridges and Sahula passes through the Volderak, Krammer, Mastgat, Oosterschelde, Veersemer – all inland lakes to the Walcheren canal to Middelburg. Crew disembark; Skipper solos the canal, bridges and lock to Vlissingen.
Sahula says goodbye to Holland. A final lock and a harbour swell heralds the sea. The Westerschelde is Sahula’s first saltwater since Romania (April).
The wind is a light westerly. The wind and tide are against. Sahula makes slow progress. Tanya pushes through. Skipper has miscalculated the tidal flow.
Shipping, Antwerp bound, is many. At dusk, the westerly increases to 18-20 knots. Seas build. Skipper decides long night in unknown waters is not an option. Sahula heads to Zeebrugge, Belgium, a few miles to port.
At the harbour entrance, Tanya turns and dies. Refusing to start, Sahula is unable to gain the port marina. Skipper radios port control and asks for a tow inside the harbour.
A “rib” (large inflatable) “RAR” (volunteer rescue) speeds alongside. Crew offer to take a line. Skipper explains that sails must first be lowered out of the harbour shipping channel. To no avail.
“A ship, a large ship is coming,” is yelled by RAR crew. A line is thrown and Sahula is violently, towed aside.
An engineer determines Tanya’s problem is electrical. All plugs are cleaned. Tanya starts – the problem passes. It is an expensive exercise. Tow: 500 euro. Engine: 260 euros.
Sahula departs for Ostende, a few hours south. Skipper has determined the channel crossing will be by a day passage from Dunkerque. A light northerly drives Sahula to the harbour. To port, a low, sand-dunned coast, interspersed with high rise apartments. It is here that many perished in past, endless wars. To starboard, a grey, cold, windblown sea, ships silhouetted, hides England.
At the harbour entrance, Tanya again refuses to start. A tidal current sweeps Sahula towards a dredge. Skipper gybes in a dying wind to avoid a near collision. Sahula sails to sea. Skipper informs the harbour authorities of an engineless Sahula. A tow will be needed to the marina. A police launch speeds alongside. Skipper works the emergency stop switch and Tanya bursts into life. Skipper cancels the tow. The police launch escorts to the marina berth. (Royal Prince Albert Yacht Club: 29 euros a night) Police make a report, check the passport and depart.
An engineer determines the problem is the emergency stop switch. It is sticking, preventing starting; a replacement will take ten days.
Sahula moves to the Mercator Marina (25 euros per day) and awaits the part.
Ostende is a mass tourism, mass apartments, seaside, resort city – grey, characterless, soul-less. Leopold II’s statue, gallops seaward. A memorial to Ostende’s Royal patronage. Crowds pack the shopping mall and restaurants. Blued striped wind breaks line the beach. No one swims. Children fly kites. A continual cycle of morning sunshine overcast giving way to passing rain, thunder and lightening.
Yachts come and go. Weekend sailing is along the coast to other ports.
Skipper hires a bicycle (5 euro per day) and follows the country canal to Brugge. There is no escape – tourists crowd the ancient streets. It is a picturesque maze of old buildings, palaces along winding canals.
After one night at a hostel (Dorm bed: 13 euro), Skipper pitches the tent (Camping: 14 euro). Overnight storm drenches the tent. Skipper retreats to Sahula to dry out.
Maintenance uses the time. A day trip by train to Gent. A beautiful “Dutch” architecture, canals, grand buildings, castle and art gallery.
“The part is here.” Cedric installs it and Sahula departs for Dunkerque in France. The passage to England is a day’s journey. Marina “pleasantly” charges 28 euros.
Tanya refuses to start. Skipper starts with increased revs. Tanya bursts into life. Skipper is relieved. Tanya will remain on the whole trip to Ramsgate. Skipper decides not to risk having no engine in shipping channels.
The forecast is favourable. Sahula departs running with the south flowing tide. Ruytingen beacon. The sandbanks are numerous. Seas well, swirl in a brown, green mass, waves are chaotic. Sahula under full sail with Tanya on sails through.
Channel rules require yachts to passage Separation Zones (dividing the north south passage of commercial shipping) at ninety degrees. Sahula passes Sandette light ship to Goodwin Sands light and is across. Shipping steams astern.
Wind increasing the seas mount in their confusion Waves break on deck. A rough passage. It is no wonder coastal Europe and England, breed the sailors to rule the waves of history.
At 1500 Sahula sails into Ramsgate to a calm berth.
David and Tina, English couple, met in Ostende, herald welcome. They were heading to the French canals but late season water levels meant they would return next season.
David is a retired marina owner. He checks Tanya. Tanya leaps into life showing none of her ailments. Adding confusion to uncertainty.
Day dawns fine and light easterly breezes. Sahula is heading to the Medway River – 30 nautical miles. Tanya motors out. Sahula is aground in the harbour channel. Always a risk to pass inside a channel marker. Free, sail up, an aft quarter Force 3 sends her along to sea off the coasts chalk cliffs.
A rising tide meant the charts shallows gave ample depth. A sea mist reduced visibility. GPS guided Sahula down the inside channel, huge ships out of London port, plied the outer.
Crowds enjoyed the beaches and brown water. Hotels, apartments, towns, mounted every headland of a crowded land.
Into the Medway the entrance guarded by a power stations high towers and commercial container port. Past into a tidal estuary nature reserve. Birds flocked and flew in the low mud and sand islands. Sahula anchored off the islands in Sharfleet Creek. Low tides sank Sahula off mud flats and banks.
A sunset subtled by the haze backgrounded the reeling birds and the many anchored yachts.
We’ll meet at Strood Pier up the Medway. Sahula motors past moored yachts, historic Chatham Docks (HMS Victory – Nelsons flagship), large ships to the Pier before Rochester Bridge.
Rochester is a historic village dominated by a Norman keep (England’s highest). Strood in contrast is a run down town of the downtrodden.
Skippers meets Graham who lives aboard a nearby yacht. “I just want you to know that the kids here likely to pinch your motor…”
Skipper, Graham and Dave leave the dinghy (outboard locked on) for a beer in the local pub.
“Its gone, the dinghy has gone.” There is no sign of it loose on the river banks. Zod and its outboard have been stolen. Skipper phones the Kent Police. A crime code is allocated. “Officers will be down in an hour.” Dave drives up river but to no avail.
“It’s probably Harry Lowe – the fat kid who lives in those low class town houses, they’re the areas toughest; I’ve seen him on our dinghies” (local yachtsman). The Police twice apologise for the slowness to attend. They do so the next day. They advise they have notified boating businesses along the river. Skipper thanks them for doing all possible.
Skipper feels emptiness – helpless vulnerability, frustration at not taking more precautions, concern at the cost of a replacement, a want to leave Strood. A hard lesson, testing faith in human nature.
Graham on a nearby yacht offers to take Skipper ashore. “I apologise for England, I am embarrassed.”
It is the first major theft of Sahula’s equipment since leaving Australia. A costly lesson. Replacement will dilute Skipper’s cruising funds to critical levels.
Dave’s phone calls to local marinas reveal little difference in cost to Ipswich. Skipper opts to winter there. Mariners Farm boat storage is least expensive but Sahula is too heavy for the lift out.
The weather breaks, Sahula must remain till it improves. A grey, rain driving, gale sweeps the mud bound river. It tests Sahula’s fenders.
Mary (Australian friend) crews Sahula. It is time to leave. Tanya pushes Sahula across the calm Thames Estuary avoiding sandbars, shipping and wind-farms. Gold breaks the heavy grey backgrounding sundowners of Chilean wine.
Green fields, villages and historic houses, welcome Sahula to the River Orwell. A lock and Sahula is in Ipswich Haven Marina in the cities midst.
Sahula will winter here (October to April) while Skipper flies to an Australian summer.
Next Blog No. 66 – Ipswich, Suffolk to Heathrow airport.
Ipswich, Suffolk, England
13th Sept., 2011