Getting a crew for this cruise turned out to be a nightmare, several members were otherwise booked and others had to drop out. However I managed to rustle up two crew making three on board, just enough in my planning.
Plan was go as far as Waddenzee if all went well, do-able if the weather played ball and nothing else went awry. The weather did indeed play its wicked way, the weekend of the 22/23 saw predictions of F5/7 and gale 8 in Wight and Dover, no place to be with a crew fresh to the yacht. We prudently stayed in Chichester Marina picking up a buoy on Sunday to leave first thing Monday 24th.
Monday 24th saw us up at 0300 to get the east tide in the first light. The gales had built a ridge on the bar and we touched so had to raise keel to creep over at LWS. Once in deeper waters we poled out the large 130% genny and full main and rode the tide as far as Beachy Head. Here it was apparent we were not going to make Dungeness before the Spring tide turned against us so, as we had had a full day anyway, I decided to stop over in Eastbourne. This more or less put paid to thoughts of the Waddenzee as the autohelm had also packed up meaing the two crew had to helm for the rest of the trip on two hour watches which meant long overnight sails I now deemed too tiring. Days run c 45 miles
Tuesday 25th saw an even earlier start at 0130 to punch the inshore tide till it turned and then we planned to go as far as the tide took us. So with a NW 2/3 we motored till abreast of Varne light float and then started our strait crossing. The tide turned NE as we passed the float and from then on the tide wind saw us take off like a rocket. Speed was up to over 10 knots as we ended up with the tide vector well east of Calais.This good progress continued till the tide ran out off Dunkirk west harbour so we carried on to Dunkirk at 1900 and stopped overnight at the Grand Large Marina. Days run on log c80miles but over ground c100miles.
Wednesday 26th saw us off to get the first of the east tide at 1030 and we spinnakered at 2/3 knots in the light winds in the sun. We were to pay dearly for this enjoyment later. The spinnaker was kept up till we were headed in the slackening wind off Blundenburg. The slow progress under 3 knots of wind in the morning sun had seen the tidal gate of Zeebrugge missed. Motor on we pressed onwards towards Breskans but with the Spring tide progress was down to 2.5 knots as dusk came. Since I had passed this way last the Dutch had switched off a lot of the shore nav lights so we just had to monitor progress on the big ship bouys to the north and I crept in to just a couple of cables off the groynes to get out of the tide. Suddenly the heavens opened and we lost vis of Flushing lights on the far side. Then some really spectacular lightening close by came to make the evening complete and we lost the signal from the masthead wireless wind instruments. Back to basics and set a course for a cardinal off Breskans and then a course for the harbour entrance. It was with relief we found spare spaces at low water in Breskans visitors section as Ronhilda is a bit of a handful with the keel up, gusting 40 knots no bowthruster in a confined strange harbour. We tied up around midnight and I slept well. Days run c 49miles log.
Thursday 27th found Lazy Life in harbour and we learned Hunter's plans had also had been disrupted by the high winds on the previous weekend. They had arrived early in the evening and informed us they had been moored up when the fire works had started the prevous evening. Up later we started off for Verse Meer and found all the bridges and locks had been automated since my last trip through the Walchen Canal. We missed one bridge and had to wait for half an hour as the procedure seemed to be go for it on the red and green lights as soon as your mast could get through the opening spans. If you waited for double greens the lights would go red before you got to the bridge. Using this knowledge and following the locals doing the same we got to Veere at 1600 hrs and had a good if expensive meal at the Veere hotel and resturant where 'entertainment' was provided by the crows pouncing on the sparrows and pecking the life out of the poor little fellows. Perhaps the Yacht club would have been a better choice on reflection. Days run on log was 9 miles and Veere marina havenmeister could not do enough for us. Ronhilda squeezed in between his posts with 3 inches to spare on both sides.
Friday 28th saw us try to go Zierikzee but we were informed by the next door Dutch yacht that it was the South Delta regatta week and they had been evicted from there the previous night. My other hoped for destinations were Sint Annaland and Willimstad but these were also on the Regatta circuit so I opted for Goes instead. As Ronhilda is too tall to get out through Rompotsluis bridge into the North Sea this meant after that either blasting as far north as Stellendam lock or returning via Breskans. The weather forecast was also warning of deep low pressure at the end of the next week when the Dover Strait crossing would be taking place so I decided to return leaving a couple of laydays in reserve. So with this in mind we sailed down the empty VerseMeer and caught up with about six yachts waiting to go through the Zandkreeksluis lock and bridge complex. Through this we headed for the Goes canal sealock and up to the town passing a canal swimmer enroute. Arriving at Goes we read the bridge opening times and deduced the havenmeester would open it on the hour in the evenings and so it turned out to be. After closing the bridge he cycled ahead of us and manually heaved the tiny next bridge open into the town centre basin, we just squeezed through and had to lift the keel to scrape in. On arrival we were given free beer and titbit nibbles by the local resturants. Days run c13miles on the log.
Goes, its havenmeester, its resturants were well worth the effort of going up the canal. We had a great value steak meal at the Bistro Anvers between the pool and the town centre. The night was livened up by the locals jumping into the pool at 1am, but the showers and toilets which were open and not locked or secured were not vandalised in any way and were of the highest standard.
Saturday 29th saw us return to Breskans via the Walchen canal. We left Goes and its friendly havenmister at 0900 and were inspected by a dolphin on the way to the Zandkreeksluis lock complex. What a difference a day had made, Versemeer was now heaving with all kinds of boats and yachts and many shore camps had sprung up overnight. I spotted a working steam crane barge in the Walchen canal which was a surprise to see. Flushing was celibrating the hand over of a new super yacht and we crossed over to Breskans for 1530 hours. Days log c22 miles.
Sunday 30th we refuelled and set off at 0930 for as far west as the tide would allow. To keep progress up and not to make the same error as the inward leg I motor sailed as far as Zeebrugge were there appeared to be a mass regatta/celebration of somethig sea connected. Over 100 yachts and motor boats were tucked up and bouncing in the F4/5 on the windward side of the harbour sea walls for a sail past - the Dutch had sent a fire tug to join in. Down the Belgium coast is no more exciting today than it was in 1998 so eventually the tide ran out and we called in at Nieuwport and the Belgium Airforce Marina at 1630 hours. A friendly welcome was given to us the days log was 27 miles but over the ground it should have been 32. A sea pig ( Porpoise) was seen off Zeebrugge.
Monday 1st July we tacked down to Dunkirk and were put into a berth on arrival best suited for 30 footer not a 45 footer. Left Nieuwport at 0930 and avoided the Optimist regatta taking place on the open sea in a F5 !!! could not see the UK H&S jobsworths allowing this in the UK but quite a few UK kids had travelled over to take part. Taking Ronhilda down to the harbour entrance in the middle of this fleet tacking out as well was interesting. We beat all the way to Dunkirk and days log was 19miles.
Tuesday 2nd taking advantage of a lull in the lows we left at 0630, motored to the Strait and had a cracking sail over to Dover arriving as planned just to the North East of Dover harbour at 1500 hours. Shipping was light and we did not have to alter course at all in the 3/4 miles vis we had. Days log 37miles. Again a sea pig was spotted off Gravelines but they are not as inquisitive as Dolphins and he did not stop his fishing to inspect us.
Back in the UK it was shock to be charged £35 for a nights stay as in France, Belgium and Holland the Fees were between £22 and £24. Dover needs to get its act together we found the place a tip and dump, the worst Marina of the trip. Rip off merchants with captive market I suppose.
Wednesday 3rd we 'sailed' to Eastbourne against the wind in a F5 gusting 6. I say sailed as it was a day of square waves which Ronhilda's flat bottom did not enjoy with a fair amount of slamming even trying to sail cross waves on edge. Days run was 46 miles and I fully agree with the late Alan Waldren's view that 'gentlemen should not beat to windward'.
Thursday it was still forecasting F4/5 gusting 6 so we had a layday in Eastborne.
Friday 5th we set off at 0830 and drifted down on the tide to Beachy Head. Fog set in with vis no more than 2/3 cables for the rest of the run to Brighton. I set the radar up on 0.75 miles and could spot even rubber dingies out at fishing in the murk. We arrived at 1230 and days Log run was c14 miles. We had a meal ashore spotting the weekend talent before they went off nightclubbing, none of that for us we turned in for an early start next day,
Saturday 6th was spent motor spinnakering when the light variable winds allowed back to Chichester. Setting off at 0530 we arrived after tide shooting the Looe channel at 8 knots at 1430 in the heat. Still the strawberries and cream were good off Bognor. Days log 33 miles but over ground 37 miles
So I did not get to the Waddenzee and Riddle of the Sands, that will have to be another year. However we did have some excellent sailing and spinnakering, got Ronhilda to over 10 knots and had a great destination in Goes. Total mileage for the criuse was 400 miles on the log and over 450 miles over the ground.
So what was the Watershed if I did not get to the Waddenzee?. During the cruise I passed 25,000 miles sailing with Ronhilda. I keep I log of the cost as well but that is a less enjoyable figure to contemplate.