Annemie, Marie-Noëlle, Harry, Freek, Arnaud, Evarest and myself (Miguel) really intended to sail across the Channel to Harwich and Ipswich last weekend. A trafficless highway to the coast as well as a smooth food provisioning were a great start for a fantastic 3 day weekend.
On Friday evening, I gave a safety briefing where we reviewed several safety procedures, such as MOB (Man Over Board) and VHF Distress messages. I showed how to use the emergency tiller/rudder (French: Barre Franche de Secours) and we checked the weather forecast as well as the charts. We also tested the main sail and the Genua. Our experienced crew was ready to go. After a delicious chicken – boursin – peaches – brocoli – rice dinner, a few beers and a lot of water, the crew had to rest !
Alarm clock went off at 5.30, we left Zeebrugge RYCB shortly after 6 AM. The sun was already present and it was very hot, the wind was too mild and the first hour we did fight against the tidal stream with our 21HP engine. Zeebrugge was still well visible when a rapid additional check of windguru revealed that the wind expected on Sunday evening would be very weak as well. In 10 min we changed our minds, we headed Foxtrot, our Oceanis 37, on Vlissingen. The tidal streams brought us in a few hours at the entrance of the Kanaal door Walcheren. We passed several locks and bridges, had a short lunch break in Middelburg, and then reached Veere at the end of the Kanaal. There was no wind and it was probably the hottest day of the year.
We moored Foxtrot in the Oostwatering marina at 2 km from Veere and enjoyed apéritif with a lot of water. Arnaud and I even went for a swim in the harbor. The Oostwatering harbor is packed and the pontoons are designed for smaller boats. After mussels and fish for dinner in Veere, we walked back right to our sail boat. A thunderstorm with some severe rain hit the Veerse Meer at the moment we reached our boat. The sky was embraced with hundreds of lightning flashes.
Day 2 was more relaxed. A late wake up and a slow paced sailing brought us down the Veerse Meer at the Zandkreekdam. An expedited lunch (10 min top chrono) and we took the lock to enter the Oosterschelde. The wind was luckily picking up, sailing became fun. We toured in the Oosterschelde until the Zeelandbrug, on our way back to Wemeldinge, we saw a dozen of seals on a sand bank. Emotions weren’t over for Evarest as he was assigned the difficult task to prepare dinner. With the support of Arnaud, he brilliantly succeeded. The marina of Wemeldinge is very modern, the pontoons are wide and the average boat size is above 40 feet. The showers are clean, and free wifi is available.
We kept the best of sailing for day 3. With more than 40 Nautical Miles to go, it was an ambitious target. Especially if we meant to arrive on time in Zeebrugge at 17h. Marie-Noëlle had reviewed the tidal streams in the Westerschelde – we did leave Wemeldinge at 9h45, and spend almost 2 hours to accomplish the first 5 NM as we had to pass a few bridges and another lock. Freek’s experience was very useful to pass this ultimate lock with important barges transporting bulk material.
With a dozen of other sailing boats, we sailed to Zeebrugge in a minimum of time – 5 hours for 35 NM !!! Our SOG (Speed On Ground) was often above 9 knots and with a NNW wind of 15 to 20 knots, Foxtrot was heeling a lot. In some parts of the Westerschelde, we had to tack every 2 min, improving greatly our technique.
Two “near-misses” with other sailing boats with helmsman not paying attention need to be reported.
Foxtrot was safely moored and cleaned in Zeebrugge by 16.30 but the real accident still needed to happen. A tourist boat with 30 passengers doing visits of Zeebrugge harbor got its engine stuck in full gas position. The accident was inevitable but the driver/pilot of the boat managed it very well. She headed her uncontrollable boat between a fishermen boat and the dock wall, avoiding major damage to the surrounding sailing boats as well as physical damage to the passengers.
A word on Foxtrot, our Oceanis 37 rented at ChannelSailing in Zeebrugge.
The boat was very clean, recent, well equipped and the people running the company very laid back. They brought all the charts we needed as we planned to sail to Ipswich.
Although it is only 37 feet long, the cockpit is large with a nice table for lunch/dinner. The sails were in perfect shape. I would just regret that the depth meter is inside and not next to the helmsman.
We had to pay an extra 5 EUR per day for the gas and an extra 6 EUR per motor hour (fuel included) cash at the end of the weekend. We didn’t have to refuel.