Posted on the 28th April at 12:00 a.m.
"What did you do on the weekend?" - Well, we paid a quick visit to Ostend, Belgium. Where 'quick' refers to how much time we spent IN Ostend, and most definitely NOT the time it took to sail all the way there - and back! Read on for what happened...
On Thursday night it had taken me way too long to decide what should all go on our groceries order so we would have enough food to keep us going throughout the whole weekend. But finally it was Friday, the day of our departure, and Povl and I arrived at the Click&Collect on the way to Ipswich at about half past three in the afternoon - and then it took less than five minutes and we were gone again! That was fast. So we had plenty of time at Fox's Marina to stow away all the food, go through the engine checks, fill up the water tank, punch waypoints for the route into the GPS, and generally make sure everything on board was ready for our trip.
I had planned to leave our berth by 6pm, but one of our crew got a bit delayed on the way, and as every time, everyone took longer to get ready for departure than I was expecting. But eventually everyone was out on deck in their waterproofs, we cast off the lines, and started motoring out of Ipswich around 7pm.
There was a consistent F5 northeasterly wind, so it didn't take us long to hoist the sails and turn off the engine. Asia was preparing delicious wraps filled with rice, beans, guacamole, cheese, sour cream, and fresh coriander (everything gets better with fresh herbs!), and with our stomachs full, we set course for Belgium. Soon enough we were leaving behind the cranes and lights of Felixstowe container terminal, then the wind farms on the sandbanks. Eventually we got to the big shipping lanes in the middle between Belgium and England: surprisingly little traffic, but even so, there was one freighter right in front of our nose, forcing us to briefly leave our track to make sure we don't get TOO close... The wind was coming from the side, so we made good progress. With the full moon to guide us, it never got truly dark, but the sky starts brightening again much earlier than you would think. Before you know it, the night is over and it's daylight again!
Saturday: two hours in Belgium
The North Sea can get quite choppy, so Kwells had started to make their round in the night, and some of us weren't feeling at their best anymore. Even including the Skipper, despite that I generally never get seasick! And I have to admit, having thrown up feels great - it's like you got rid of all the nausea at the same time. Not worth trying to put it off! Otherwise, it started out as a nice and sunny day, and after noon we could finally make out the Belgian shore in the distance. (Ostend has a very ugly but prominent hundred-meter-tall concrete block tower.) Around 2pm we finally made it past the lighthouse, the breakers at the entrance and into the harbour. The wind was coming straight from the pontoon where we wanted to moor up, and it took me a couple of attempts to finally get it right. But we got there, and everyone was glad to get off the boat and onto less rocky ground. If only we could stay there - I don't know if anyone fancied getting back on board again!
We were moored up at the Royal North Sea Yacht Club (didn't seem as fancy as it sounds), but my attempts to contact the harbour master remained fruitless. There were a couple other sailors around, who helped me look up the weather forecast. They thought us mad for wanting to go out again in these conditions. That didn't make me feel any better about it! (But in the end it wasn't actually that bad.)
The wind forecast for the return didn't look very welcoming, turning right onto our nose, so we decided to turn around as fast as we could. The crew went off on half an hour's shore leave, while Povl and I filled up water and fuel tank, tidied up the boat and made it ready for sailing back. After a quick lunch of tortellini and pesto (and fresh basil), some 45 degree rain and a brief hail shower, we set off again at 5pm.
As forecast, the wind shifted to the northwest. Exactly where we wanted (needed) to go, so a lot of beating into the wind, having to go the wrong way, and all that. Needing to cross the shipping lanes at right angles didn't make it any easier. And on top of all that, the wind wasn't consistent at all, varying between a F4 and F6, so we had a lot of reefing ... shaking out the reef ... reefing again ... shaking it out again ... I could almost swear I reefed more this weekend than all my other trips together!
Having avoided some more big ships, we got back to the English side on Sunday morning. Unfortunately we got stuck at the bottom of London Array with the tide setting south against us, and we didn't start making good progress again until the tide turned in the early afternoon. But the wind was still against us! As we weren't getting much of anywhere, Dmitriy, always as solid as a rock in the waves, cooked us a much appreciated leek and tomato soup. Eventually, we turned the engine back on again, furled the jib away, and motor-sailed into the wind. If you have the nose ever so slightly off the wind, the main fills properly, and actually provides some additional forward thrust.
It was already getting dark again when we passed the Principality of Sealand (or more mundanely, as the charts say, Roughs Tower), and finally, FINALLY we turned around the tip of Cork Sand: at long last, our track wasn't straight into the wind anymore, and we couldn't wait to unfurl the jib again and turn off that noisy engine. Aaah, sailing. What a pleasure! As we were getting closer to Felixstowe, wind and waves calmed down. What a delight that we got a last stretch of relaxed sailing. Povl prepared the curry chilli (I kept getting that wrong so many times...) with rice, and we ate in delight, watching the moon rise up orange over the sea.
Once we got past Felixstowe, the wind had died so much that it would've taken us until Tuesday to get us back to Fox's - so for the last time we furled away the jib, lowered the main, and tidied everything away as we were making our way up the Orwell again. A quarter to 1am on Monday morning it was when at long last Puffin had returned to the boat's home berth again.
All in all we went 236 nautical miles (as measured by the GPS...), taking us over fifty hours at sea. We are all very excited about actually having managed to go all the way to Belgium - and back! - in a single weekend. But we spent so little time there, with nothing to show for it - it feels like a surreal dream, did it really happen?? Maybe we should go again, just to make sure... :-)