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2004 - 8
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Part eight: North Sea and back to England.

Scheveningen (16th Sep, 29 miles from Ijmuiden)

We untied from the pontoon at about 0830, the wind was from the North and force 2, so with full sail we where able to sail very slowly for a couple of hours, motoring the remainder of the distance to Scheveningen. The entrance to the harbour is easy but you need to follow two sets of leading lights in the outer harbour. Then a quick turn to starboard down a narrow canal into basin 2 and the visitors pontoons. Very sheltered as its almost a mile from the sea.

click for larger view, perhaps over the top for some tastes?

I have never seen a coastal marina covered in duckweed but this one was, quite strange. Basin 1 has an extremely healthy and active fishing fleet.

Two Danish boats Karma and Bonito came into the harbour and we later learned they were on passage to Spain but with the weather we had been experiencing I did not fancy their trip.

The weather forecast, as always it seemed, was for strong winds the following day so we decided to visit Den Haag (The Hague) which is a ten minute tram ride away. We walked around the centre looking at the interesting architecture, including the princess palace, and browsed in some very upmarket department stores in the commercial centre. Very enjoyable and would be worth a visit for a weekend break.

One other reason for visiting The Hague was to try obtaining a new plug for the VHF's microphone, as the transmit switch within it had ceased to work. The fault was diagnosed to the moulded-on plug, or should we say, the un-repairable moulded-on plug. The shop had been suggested to us by a HiFi shop in Schev'n.

Anyway, after a 2 mile trek, we found the new premises of the shop. It had sneakily closed down its old site and moved to new fancy premises, premises we had actually walked past earlier in the day. And what a shop, a geeks paradise, an anoraks joy, it had every sort of electronic component and when I showed him the microphone he asked if the plug was a 3, 4, 6 or 7 pin plug. It seemed they stocked them all.

Back on Mithril the new 6 pin plug solved the problem and so once again we could use the main radio. The handheld VHF did lack range.

click for larger view, perhaps over the top for some tastes?

Next day, although windy, the weather was sunny so we walked along the extensive promenade, visited the Sea Life centre and took a walk on the pier. I don't know how many visitors they get here in summer but I have never seen so many beach bars and cafes. On of our favourite sights was a collection of sea front sculptures.

Breskens (19th Sep, 59 miles from Scheveningen)

Anticipating another favourable weather window we untied from the pontoon at 0730 and called up port control for permission to leave. This was denied due to a large ship entering the harbour, so we circled along with other yachts and some seriously large fishing boats for almost 3/4 hr before being allowed to leave. As we left the entrance into a huge lumpy sea we began to wonder why? The beat to windward to get past the Hook of Holland entrance was uncomfortable and wet, and the Hook was extremely busy. After contacting Maasmond radar who control the area we were told to keep our course and speed, this was really reassuring as we would have been extremely reluctant to proceed due to the multitude of ships around us, some passing in front and some behind, anyway we crossed quickly. Once clear of the entrance, we where hoping to be able to alter course and be freer on the wind, but the wind had other ideas, we were still hard on the wind but now needing the engine to make the course. We almost gave in and altered course for Stelladam, but the need to make some miles made us grin and bear it so it was a relief to find the fairway buoy to the Oostgat and through into the Westershelde as, at this point, we were finally able to alter course by 40 degrees, turn off the engine and have a fast wind and tide assisted sail for the last ten miles. We tied up on the visitors pontoon at 1815 with a little help from a Dutch guy as the wind was blowing quite fiercely by this time.  

The forecast for the next few days was for strong winds, so we decided to have a few days doing some boat maintenance and cleaning. Breskens is only a small town, albeit with everything you need. We could have taken advantage of the hourly bus to Brugge but resisted the temptation so apart from a couple of wind swept cycle rides we spent our time working. We even enquired how much it cost to keep Mithril there for the winter, you can tell we were getting desperate. Below is the weather forecast for the weekend and, perhaps as you would, we decided to leave on the Saturday afternoon for Oostende.

THAMES (51.6N 2.2E) SST: 17C
TH 00 W-NW 5 6-7 1.5
TH 12 NW-N 9-10 11-12 3.5
FR 00 NW-N 7-8 9-10 4
FR 12 NW-N 7 8-9 3
SA 00 NW-N 6 8 2.5
SA 12 W-NW 4 5 1.5
SU 00 SW-W 5 6-7 1
SU 12 SW-W 4-5 - 1
MO 00 W-NW 4-5 - 0.5
MO 12 NW 4-5 - 1

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Belgium

Zeebrugge(25th September 20 miles from Breskens)

We left at 1130 and found the wind to be much stronger than expected and, surprise surprise, right on the nose. We had an extremely rough passage and decided to terminate the agony at Zeebrugge, supposedly only 12 miles from Breskens but due to all the tacking we had actually covered 20 miserable miles.

Zeebrugge has three sets of leading lights to get onto the pontoons of the Royal Belgium YC, but they are wonderfully bright and easy to see. The harbour was very sheltered and the showers are hot.

There is not much else good to say about Zeebrugge but for us it was a welcome port of refuge, some of the boats on the pontoons had been stuck there for a week. This included the Danish boats Bonito and Karma who we had met earlier in Scheveningen.

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France

Dunkerque (26th September, 47 miles from Zeebrugge)

We left Zeebrugge mid morning a couple of hours before the tide turned. We were given permission to leave the harbour by a cheerful controller who also gave us a detailed weather forecast for the day and wished us a good passage.

We motor sailed virtually the whole passage as the wind was almost on the nose but the weather was bright and sunny and the sea was flat. One dodgy moment was when a ferry out of Oostende was overtaking us. It was about 50m off our stern and closing fast seemingly intent on our destruction. We decided to change course 40 degrees to starboard to get out of his way and only then did the ferry seem to react. We could see from its wake that it had made a vicious course change to port. I think he was asleep or on auto pilot.

Entering the outer harbour we passed a just- floating tent, presumable blown off of the beach and now ready to grab any unsuspecting propeller. We avoided it and tied up at the yacht club on the outer pontoon.

Later we met another couple on Grebe , which had just been bought from the BKYC by a couple from Titchmarsh, and Karma a Nauticat 40 with Suno and Emmy onboard.

Calais Town Hall

Calais (27th September, 25 miles from Dunkerque)

During the previous evening the pontoon discussion centred on the following days weather and whether it would be suitable for the next leg to Calais. We expected S-SW 4-5 and although not ideal we all said we'd have a go at first light.

We set off with Grebe at about 0730 into a W5 and a lumpy sea. We motor sailed and tacked, following the main channel past Port Quest where the sea was particularly boisterous. At this stage we were over taken by Karma and they soon disappeared into the gloom, not to be seen again until Calais. We picked up a buoy in the outer harbour, had a quick sandwich, passed through the lock and were tied up by 1300.

The task for the day then became to source and buy good cheap wines for the winter period. Once again we chose the local Asian wine supplier located in the square, friendly chap, he delivered our purchases to the boat at about 1800, all very simple and civilised.

The following day had strong wind warnings for us and near gales in Thames so we had a day in Calais sightseeing. We visited the town hall which really is worth a visit, especially the first floor which has wonderful stained glass windows and houses the ceremonial room, the marriage room and the council chambers. There are also information placards in English which tell about the Town Hall. As always we were impressed by the wonderful floral planting in the gardens and grounds.

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England

Dover (29th September, 30 miles from Calais)

Typical, today there was very little wind, a NW2, what happened to the SW winds when you need them? But as we where keen to be in the UK, we headed out through the first lock opening at 1135. The sea was flat and the sun was shining. We left in convoy with Grebe, Karma and a 25 ft boat more suited to the Norfolk Broads, I bet he was glad the sea was flat. We have never seen the Dover Straits so empty of commercial traffic, apart from the ferries and the fast cat, we saw very little. We had a fast and uneventful crossing and we where tied up in the tidal harbour in Dover by 1545.

Eastbourne (30th September, 43 miles from Dover)

Early start, we left at 0615 just as the day was beginning to get light and an hour before low water. The wind was a S4/5 and the tide was with us, we where sailing with full sail and making good progress as we passed Dungeness.

We saw numerous groups of swallows flying low over the sea we assumed they too were flying south for winter. Unfortunately as the tide turned the wind dropped to a SW3, sadly as forecast, so we motor sailed for the last 12 miles. When we had about 1/2 mile to go we realised it was 1320 and, as the locks at Eastbourne open on the hour and half hour, we radioed ahead and asked what they thought our chances were of making the 1330 opening. When we arrived we found they had kindly held the lock open for us. There were a few boats already in the lock, including Karma who always seems to get in front when we sail together, in the end we were not the last to arrive as a fishing boat came charging along just behind us. With a bit of a shuffle from the waiting boats we all managed to fit inside and the lock closed.

For us this will be our winter berth, we had always planned to be back in the UK by the end of Sept but we never realised when we left Sweden how close to the mark we were going to be.

We have had a super time in the Baltic and despite the long slog to windward to return to the UK we are both agreed it has been a wonderful experience. We have met some lovely people and seen some wonderful sights.

We intend to spend the winter visiting family and friends, doing the necessary boat maintenance and above all planning next years adventure. As yet destination undecided.


September's figures
Distance logged. 582
Hours at Sea. 116
Engine Hours. 81
Average distance per day. 42
Overall figures
Distance logged. 3243
Hours at Sea. 649
Engine Hours. 345
Average distance per day. 41

3250 miles taking 80 sailing days and hence a daily average of 41 miles per day. So our average day must have been about 8 hours long; strange that, I'd have guessed nearer 5 hours for an average but we did have some long days and all of them in daylight, so maybe that clouds the memory.

Interestingly, well I hope it is, by the time we reached Helsinki we had used the engine 40% of the time, but by the time we returned to Holteneau, that's the Eastern end of the Kiel canal and the exit to the Baltic, our average had increased to 50% engine. Now, back in the UK, I see the overall average as almost 60%. Presumably this has been because of the canals and because of our desire to simply get back to the UK in spite of south westerlies.

Some thoughts after the event.

All in all a fantastic summer cruise and a largely successful year onboard Mithril until the latter stages of the trip, but more on that in a moment.

As with all goal orientated undertakings it is easy to forget that its supposed to be fun, and so on a 3250 mile trip its highly probable that the fun might slip into second place behind the need to make progress.

On the outward journey we seemed to initially have lots of time, and loads of fun, but then we remembered needing to be in Helsinki to meet son David's arrival on the 18th July and so as we entered June we already felt under pressure. This pressure caused us to alter our plan to visit Latvia and Lithuania and to travel via Sweden to Finland. Additionally we had a number of fuel related breakdowns which caused considerable delays and so put more pressure on our need to make progress. In the event we arrived in Finland almost one week early and so could have spent more time ashore.

On the homeward bound legs we had once again a self imposed limitation of being out of the Baltic by the end of August and so home to England by the end of September. All very achievable until we were kept in ports due to strong winds, big seas or winds directly on the nose. On these occasions we felt time slipping away so became irritable with one another. Janet seemed to want to abandon the boat at every port we arrived in. She really did hate these beats to windward and feared still being aboard long after September.

We originally planned another winter aboard Mithril and so to me any port could be home as all I needed was a good chandlery, but Janet said she wanted more time with family and friends meaning the only sensible berth was a UK one, or one served by a Ryan Air type company with flights to Yorkshire or Cambridgeshire. So on we battled to windward as the good days allowed.

Spares and breakdowns.

During our preparations we had read that we would need to be self sufficient with regard to spare parts and so we have amassed boxes of the stuff but we still lacked certain key items as it turned out:

- the fuel pump overhaul kit was for a newer model pump and so unable to cure the leak which developed,

- 8mm gas pipe (used as fuel pipe on Mithril as well), a standard in the UK as well as mainland Europe, has different fittings across the water so totally incompatible. In the event all we lacked was a couple more olives (5p each in the UK) but we searched and searched, we rode miles around the hardware stores until we realised the UK ones were unobtainable. We had to remove a couple of olives from an old piece of gas pipe, clean them up, ream them out and so refit the fuel filter.

But our biggest problem was the foreign body residing inside the main fuel tank. It could float about for days sometimes, or hours on other occasions before solidly blocking the fuel pipe and stopping the engine. It still puzzles me why it was 1263 miles into the trip before it became a problem.

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