Tried and tested
20 May 2014 | Ostend, North Sea
So, what to do with my time off work? After some pondering I came to the conclusion that sticking with the old 'tried and tested' made the most sense. Belgium and northern France (Normandy). Sounded like a plan. And yet again, another plan strangled in its infancy.
The weather (once again) and real life (Brigitte had to go into hospital for two shoulder operations) saw to that.
It looks like 'Settling for Less' is going to be the motto for this year. A trip to Ostend looked do-able, so I settled for that.
The trip there went well enough: SW 5-6 was forecast and did materialise. A brisk sail in the sunshine featuring a blue sky overhead. A brisk, fast crossing if somewhat cold. Eleven hours and a bit from mooring to berth.
Ostend was much as I remembered it, if feeling a bit 'empty'. Caught up with some friends, had a couple of nice meals, the usual... Only stayed a day as the weather looked like it was going to take a turn for the worse. And more importantly, it was going to be 'not nice' for a couple of days. If we didn't leave the next day we would stuck in Ostend till the middle of the next week. And then I wouldn't be home when Brigitte came home from hospital.
The forecast was: Wind SW 7-8, Seastate Moderate or Rough, Thundery Showers. Not ideal, but sort of do-able. And these forecasts always overestimate things. Alas, not this time.
Left Ostend with two reefs in the main and one in the genoa. The plan was to sail to Westhinder Anchorage and once there make the call whether to continue or head back. Wind was in the mid to high 20s and more of a beat than a reach. We were well north of our track, but I considered the fact that the tide was going to carry us the other way soon. Considered all the pros and cons for a while and then just went 'fuck it' and decided to carry on.
About an hour later, I started to regret my decision as the wind blew now consistently over 30kts. The autopilot could not deal with the heavy seas and we had too much sail up. Even with the genoa furled even more. Of course, by the time it became clear the main needed a third reef it was unsafe to go on deck. Hand helming was the only option left. For hours and hours and hours... Muscles I didn't even know I had started aching.
Once we crossed the TSS the wind dropped from time to time. After a couple of hours of 30+kts of wind, winds in the low 20s were a relief. In fact, it felt like there was no wind at all. Downside: the visibility went. Ships were only visible on the AIS plot and whole windfarms disappeared from view in an instant.
The Sunk TSS was unusually busy but it was nice to see merchant shipping and fishermen alike all take action to steer clear of us. The AIS transceiver investment paid off. Once past Rough Towers things settled down a bit and we were back on autopilot. Back in familiar waters and out of the way of other traffic I finally started to relax for a bit. Two hours later, we were back on our mooring and packed for home.
I've had my fill of heavy weather sailing for this year (and possibly next year as well). Once again, the boat coped better than its battered skipper. I'm ready for some drifting with sails up in the sun where the only thing I have to watch out for is not spilling my G&T.