Friday, 8 September 2017

That's All Folks (Number 3!) and some sad news...

We set off for Chichester as planned early on Monday 28th August.

Very early, as it happens. I wanted to be sure of reaching Chichester marina while there was still enough water in the entrance channel for us to float in. I also wanted to have a favourable tide around Beachy Head and Selsey Bill as the water flows quickly around those headlands.

So we left our berth at 0440, in time to catch the 0500 lock out to sea. Hopefully it'll be a while before we next have to get up at stupid o'clock!

In the lock with the fishing boats. No other yachts for some reason...

Sunrise by Beachy Head

The forecast had suggested there'd be very little wind, so we were delighted when the breeze filled in enough for us to sail.

We are sailing....

Unfortunately after 15 minutes the wind went back to bed and we had to motor the rest of the way...

That's 0.0 knots of apparent wind. Trim the sails however you like, you ain't sailing today!

Our route took us past the wind farm that's under construction off Brighton. I'm not sure how many turbines there are, but it took ages to pass them all. The picture below shows the floating hotel for the workers and a levitating ship in the background:

Floating hotel and levitating ship. Huh?

A close up of the levitating ship. Well weird, but no doubt essential to the work

It sure was hot - hotter than we can remember for a very long time. Maybe since France 2016? Not only did Jo do without her thermals, she even rolled up her trouser legs a bit!

Glamorous, huh?

We knew we were nearing Chichester Harbour by the masts. The picture below shows the boats following us in. We hadn't seen so many boats under way since, well, since we entered Chichester Harbour in 2016!

Boats following us into Chichester Harbour.

It was absolutely packed inside too, but that's Solent sailing for you.

The Solent's a great place to sail. It's sheltered by the Isle of Wight, there are lots of places to visit within a couple of hours of each other and it's beautiful. Unfortunately this hasn't gone unnoticed and, as a result, it's expensive and very crowded. According to Wikipedia (so it must be true!) as many as 12,500 craft regularly use Chichester Harbour alone! Our preference is to sail there in the winter when we can have it pretty much to ourselves. Visitor's berths are a lot cheaper then too!

"Quiet" anchorage, Solent style...

... East Head, off West Wittering beach

Anyway, despite having to motor sail virtually the whole way, we made good time and actually reached Chichester Marina at about high water - which was great, as it meant we could pass through the lock on freeflow (when the gates at both ends are open). After showers in the luxurious facilities provided, we settled in for our last night of 2017 aboard Cyclone.

One of Cyclone's neighbours. Clearly abandoned, but why? Ill health? Bereavement? Sad

The plan for the next day was simple. I get aboard my "circus" bike, cycle 15 miles back home to Hayling Island (I'm far too tight to pay for a taxi and it's good exercise!) pick up our car and return to unload the boat and collect Jo.

The first part of the plan worked fine. The next part less so.

Unfortunately our car, which had started fine when our neighbour had run it up during our absence, showed me what it thought of being abandoned for 5 months by refusing to start. A bump start with the help of a neighbour (thanks Mike!) got it going, but all was not well. The alternator wasn't charging and I had the interesting experience of watching the car slowly shut down around me as I drove it straight to a local garage run by another neighbour.

First the blower stopped. Then the rev counter and speedo went to zero. Then warning lights illuminated one by one as the various systems like airbags, anti-lock brakes and the like shut down. Naturally the windows wouldn't open (it weren't 'arf 'ot!) and, by the time I reached the garage, the engine was starting to run rough too.

I'd hoped that a jump start using a battery pack would provide the power needed to get the alternator charging again but it turned out that the alternator was, in fact, as dead as a Monty Python parrot. Luckily the garage was able to lend me a car for the afternoon so I could pick up Jo and the essentials from the boat (the wine).

On reflection, I missed a trick there, didn't I? I could have had a quiet few days...

Anyway, we didn't get the car back for 3 days which was very frustrating (but not the fault of the garage, which had a full schedule before I dumped our car on them uninvited!) as it meant we were confined to base. We couldn't unload and strip Cyclone of her sails etc, visit our parents or do any shopping over and above the few items I grabbed before returning the loan car to the garage.

Never mind though, eh? We could have that takeaway we'd been looking forward to, couldn't we?

Well, no as it turned out. Having settled on the sofa with a glass of wine and some nibbles, perused the menu and checked the opening times of our local takeaway, I phoned them at 1900 with our order. Instead of the anticipated cheery Chinese greeting I listened to a recording which announced that, due to unforeseen circumstances, they were closed! Of course, I didn't grumble at all (much!).

So, that's the car in the garage and the takeaway scuppered. What else could possible go wrong?

The dishwasher, actually.

Suspicions were aroused when there wasn't the usual noise of water being thrown around when in use. When it had "finished" it became apparent that its sole contribution towards cleaning our dirty dishes was to bake the detritus on to the various plates etc. with its drying cycle!

Now the same thing had happened when we returned from our 2016 cruise and so I was confident I could fix it. In no time I had the unit up-ended and partially dismantled to give access to the motor which, as previously, had seized solid. A bit of a wiggle (it's a technical term!) saw the motor turning freely again and the unit was soon the right way up and ready for testing. My reward? 5 minutes of sloshing water on the rinse and hold cycle before the motor seized solid once more...

A quick search on the internet convinced me that the cost of a replacement motor couldn't be justified given the age of the machine and so we now have a new dishwasher on order. Oh, and a new washing machine too, as the noise made by our current one on the spin cycle was akin to that made by a jumbo jet taking off in the kitchen!

In need of consolation I relayed this tale of woe to the Roos (our Australian friends who are still sailing in the Baltic) and received the following reply from Phil:

"If the dishwasher and washing machine aren't working - you should feed her more and remind her of the wonderful summer cruise you just took her on".

Clearly I must distance myself from such remarks but maybe he has a point?!

Anyway, what a welcome back to shore-based life. 3 days at home and £1500 poorer. Ho hum...

Having got the car back we were at last able to go and visit Jo's mum and dad. Then it was time to strip Cyclone of sails, sprayhood and contents so she would be ready to go ashore on 7th September.

My plan to service the engine and gearbox over the weekend was thwarted by the Volvo Penta dealer in Chichester failing to open on the Saturday morning - despite the information in the window clearly stating that it would. That job had to wait instead until the following Monday (with parts bought elsewhere as I didn't feel like patronising the dealer who'd let me down...).

A "Naked" Cyclone. A bit sad really...

Our trip to Thornham Marina for Cyclone's winter storage was thankfully uneventful (as it should have been - it was only 7 miles within the protection of Chichester Harbour!). The team there came up trumps, as  they always do, with the sluice gate open and bridge withdrawn to allow us access to the small pool in which Cyclone could stay afloat until they're ready to lift her.

Approaching the pool. The entrance is really narrow...

See what I mean? I reckon we only had about 6 inches each side of our fenders!

Afloat in the pool

The lift that will put Cyclone ashore for her winter rest

We weren't there for her lift out but I do think the kit they use is impressive so I've included some pictures taken at last year's lift out to show how they do it.

The lift being driven into the water under remote control

The lift in place under Cyclone

And now Cyclone's ashore! Simples!!

So that's the end of the story for this year. Cyclone will need some work over the winter but that can wait for now.

As in previous years, I've included below some facts, figures and observations relating to the year's cruise:

Facts and figures

Total distance travelled (through the water):  3071 Nm (3534 miles)

Total number of different places visited:         60

Total fuel used:                                             415 litres (91.3 imperial gallons)

Total cruising expenditure:                            £6500 approx.

As in previous years, we've used tides wherever possible to speed us on our way, so the actual distance over the ground would have been greater than the 3071 Nm through the water. That mileage compares with 2546 Nm in 2015 (when we were away for a month longer) and just 1466 Nm last year, so we've stretched ourselves a bit this year. At times it felt like it too!

Although we visited 60 different places we actually moored up or anchored a total of 68 times, but stayed in some places more than once.

Once again, we motored more than we would have liked - a total of 359 hours. Quite a bit of this can be explained by the time we spent in the Dutch canals where opportunities to sail were few and far between. However, we also seemed to be kept in port by more than our fair share of strong headwinds and often when these abated we were left with next to no wind! Still, I don't think there's a sailor out there who actually thinks they get more than their fair share of, er, fair winds!

Our expenditure, remarkably, was pretty much the same as last year in France. Mooring fees are a significant part of our overall costs and these are cheaper in the Baltic than in France so we'd expected to spend less. Unfortunately, however, the weakness of the pound did much to negate any anticipated savings. Note that the £6500 is just what we spent during the 5 months we were away and conveniently ignores other unavoidable expenses such as our new sail and winter storage costs! It does, however, include more than £600 worth of wine (at UK prices) that we brought back with us - wine is still about half the UK price in France, even with the rubbish exchange rate - but not the cost of leaving our house and car idle.

Wear and tear

Nothing broke this year! Just routine maintenance required, such as the engine having 3 oil and filter changes. Cyclone is, however, starting to suffer from the dreaded Westerly droop - the headlining coming unstuck from the coachroof (ceiling). That's a job to look forward to over the winter (not!).

The southern Baltic as a cruising destination

Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia don't have the same natural beauty as Sweden and Denmark (although the Estonian islands are attractive). What they do have is history. Recent history at that. It's truly remarkable how places like Gdansk have been rebuilt following the devastation wrought on them by World War 2. And to think that Poland and the Baltic States were suffering under communist rule as recently as the 1990's. We don't know we're born!

Cruising in general

Well, we achieved our objective and made it to Tallinn. We sailed to France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden, Denmark and then back via Germany, The Netherlands and France. 10 different countries in just 5 months. Not bad really!

Did we enjoy ourselves? Well yes. At least until we reached Estonia. At that point we felt we'd met our objective and that it was an awful long way home! That doesn't mean we didn't have some good times on the way back though. There are definitely worse ways to live - like working for example!

The sad news

We learned tonight that our good friend Jim had suffered a major stroke. His son Mike informed us that he cannot communicate at the moment and has lost use of the right side of his body. Apparently he's better now than he was, but he faces a long and slow recovery.

Jim is just 65 years old. His philosophy has always been Carpe Diem - live for the day - and how right he is.

We look forward to seeing him in the next few days and will support his lovely wife Del in any way we can.

News like this really puts life into perspective. Do not put things off. You never know what lurks around the corner.

Get well soon Jim.

The blog

I write this blog primarily so we'll have something to look back on in our dotage. It also enables our friends and relatives to see what we're up to.

Despite appearances, it takes a long time to produce and it's nice to think it's entertained a select few.

I'm always pleased to receive comments - directly to the blog or via email - and am grateful to those who've made the effort to write them. Honourable mentions must go to my cousin Tim, Philippa (aka Paul), the Roos, Marjolein, Janet and Geoff. One of my favourite comments referred to my waffle as "entertaining ramblings". Praise indeed!

Thanks for reading and goodnight!

Rob and Jo

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Back in Blighty!!

As predicted in the previous post, we did very little at Boulogne-Sur-Mer other than visit the local Carrefour Market a couple of times and read our books.

Boulogne harbour. It's not the prettiest place!

I did, however, take a few photos to illustrate tides for our Baltic readers! Boulogne-Sur-Mer had an 8.1m range on the day the photos were taken: 

High water. Note "B" post on corner of pontoon...

... There it is again. At low water

Exit ramp at high water...

... and at low water

Exit ramp once more at high water. Pretty much horizontal...

... and at low water. It was steeper than it looks. Almost like climbing a ladder!

The Liane river flows into the sea via a lock in Boulogne-Sur-Mer harbour. Every now and again the sluices are opened to keep the level of the river within prescribed limits. This is something to look for when berthing in Boulogne-Sur-Mer as the marina is just downstream from the sluices and the water really rattles through. I think someone must have thrown some soap suds in when the sluices were opened during our visit!

Boats taking a bath. Does anyone else remember Matey? Such fun!

Eastbourne is just under 55 miles from Boulogne-Sur-Mer, so it's an easy day sail. However, we're now back in the land of tides which, like time "wait for no man". As a consequence we had to leave at 0500 French summer time, 0400 British summer time, to make the best progress.

It was very dark at 0330 BST when the alarm went off but, undaunted, we slipped out of the marina just before 0400 and were on our way.

For some time now we seem to have had strong winds against us or very little wind at all. This trip fell into the latter category so once again we ended up motor sailing the whole way...

Sunrise over the English Channel

Huge waves, huh?

That's England! 

Hastings, I think

Just before we reached Eastbourne we passed something of a milestone. When we set off on 1st April our log (the ships odometer) read 1690. As can be seen in the photo below, it has now passed 4690! For the mathematically challenged, that means we've covered 3000 nautical miles (3450 land miles) in 147 days, an average of 20.4 nautical miles per day.

Now 20 miles per day might not sound much, but bear in mind that we plan our trips on the basis of a speed of 5 knots (nautical miles per hour). That means that we've averaged just over 4 hours sailing every day for nearly 5 months! No wonder we feel like we need a rest!

3000 miles completed since April! Woo hoo!!

Our return trip to England was otherwise uneventful and we were actually hot whilst sailing for the first time in a long while. Shorts and T shirt for me. Jo even dispensed with her thermals!

The entry to Sovereign harbour, Eastbourne. It's not really at an angle.

The lock into Sovereign Harbour

Inside Sovereign Harbour. Perhaps it is at an angle! Is that Jo in the middle?

'Nuff said!

We have a forecast of pretty much zero wind for Sunday and Monday, after which the breeze will set in from the west (i.e. against us). We've therefore booked a berth for Cyclone at Chichester Marina from Monday 28th August. On Thursday 7th September we'll take her around to Thornham marina where she'll be lifted ashore for the winter and a well earned rest.

And yes, Cyclone is a "she" and not an "it". Boats have characters and Cyclone's a good 'un. She's been reliable and kept us safe for thousands of miles over the years. She's earned our affection.

Well that's our penultimate post for this year (was that a chorus of "thank goodness"?!).

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Farewell to The Netherlands, Boycotting Belgium and Bonjour to France!

Perhaps I should begin by explaining the “Boycotting Belgium” part of the title.

First and foremost, I'd like to make it clear that I have absolutely nothing whatsoever against the Belgian people. My beef is with their government.

The Belgian government has made it abundantly clear that British yachtsmen are not welcome in Belgium.

Oh they haven’t made a public statement to that effect. Their approach has been rather more subtle – well, as subtle as a sledgehammer!

What they've done is fine several British yachts visiting Belgium's ports the princely sum of 500 euros each.

Their crime? To have diesel in their tanks that has been legally purchased in the UK and on which all applicable taxes have been paid.

If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound that serious – or even illegal – the problem is that the fuel in question contained red dye. All fuel available in British marinas contains it. Therefore 99% of British registered boats will have diesel fuel with red dye in their tanks.

The Belgian government will argue that some EU directive or other states that the use of diesel fuel with a red dye in it should be restricted to certain categories of user - typically those who pay a reduced amount of tax on their fuel, such as fishermen and farmers.

And they may be right. 

Arguably the British government are in breach of this directive by allowing a situation to continue where the only fuel available to British boating types contains a red dye.

However, no other country in the EU has, to my knowledge, taken the Belgian government’s draconian approach to the issue. What kind of government slaps substantial fines on visitors without any prior warning of their intentions?

The effect of this is, I imagine, that British sailors and motor boaters are staying away from Belgium in droves. I bet the marinas and other businesses that rely on tourism are delighted with their government's actions!

Whilst Cyclone probably has no evidence of red dye remaining in her tank (it's designed to hang around for a long time, so we can't be absolutely sure) and whilst the Belgian government has now stated that it won't fine any more British vessels pending the outcome of a meeting in September (would you trust them?!), I won’t now visit Belgium on principle.

Which is a shame as we have fond memories of the places we’ve visited previously in Cyclone - Breskens, Zeebrugge, Bruges, Oostende, Blankenberg and Nieuwpoort. Ho hum…

Back to the plot…

Last time I updated the blog we were in Sint-Annaland. This is a pleasant town, but has little to offer the tourist. When the “Points of Interest” noted on the walking tour include the local cemetery it's clear the tourist board are clutching at straws, bless 'em!

Sint-Annaland Marina

Sint-Annaland's obligatory pretty old building...

... and windmill

So after a couple of nights waiting out the worst of the wind and rain, we got going again – this time to Middelburg, which is just north of Vlissingen (or Flushing as the British refer to it).

The weather wasn't perfect, with heavy showers...

... but also sunny spells!

Middelburg is another attractive and historic Dutch town - a bit like Gouda but without the cheese! Unfortunately the tourist information centre let us down as they'd run out of walking tours in English so, armed with a map and little other information, we just went for a stroll.

Middelburg's waiting pontoons on the left and far right (for bridges into the harbours)

Middelburg's Binnenhaven (where Cyclone wasn't)...

... and Dokhaven (where Cyclone was!)

Wavy house - reminds us of the Star Trek Transporter!

Canal side street - KinderDijk

Looking back over the Binnenhaven

Church organ - We arrived in time to hear it being played. Dad (and Edward) would have loved it

Alien. Big alien!

There's a houseboat under that lot!

Big old building (I told you we didn't have much information!)

Middelburg street with Lange Jan in the distance

Tree lined canal

Apparently they decapitate ugly people and stick their heads on stakes

The same goes for those with silly hats!

Walk of Fame - That's Boris Becker and Sting...

... Sarah Palin and S. Stallone...

... D. Beckham and Tine Turner. An eclectic mix!

Fish market? Dating from many, many years ago

Another old building in Middelburg

I know this one! The Zeeland Museum

Now, as you may have noticed, when we see a tower we climb it. This time we paid an exorbitant 4 euros each (Dordrecht's tower was just 1 euro each) to climb the Lange Jan - and very disappointed we were too.

Like the tourist information centre, the kiosk had no information available in English (Dordrecht did) but, worst of all, when we got to the top we couldn't go outside! Instead we had to look through grubby leaded-light windows.

If you're going to Middelburg, our advice is not to bother with the Lange Jan!

Anyway, these were the best of the photos we took (the others were hazy as a result of the dirty windows...):

Overlooking Middelburg from the Lange Jan

The Zeeland Museum from above

The top of the Lange Jan itself. Rubbish, Boo!!

Middelburg's town hall

Scary tree!

We stayed for a couple of nights in Middelburg whilst waiting for a favourable wind to whisk us past Belgium (boo!!) and on to France (hurrah!!). With a suitable forecast, we set off for Dunkerque on Monday 21st August.

There are 5 bridges between Middelburg and Vlissingen. To minimise disruption to traffic, yachts travel in convoy (sound familiar?) every 2 hours. We took the 1237 convoy which was scheduled to arrive in Vlissingen at 1330 - a couple of hours before the tide would turn towards France. Then it was just the lock to negotiate and we were once more in the open sea.

Vlissingen lock with our convoy of boats

Back at sea! That's Vlissingen, I think. Farewell Netherlands!

As stated above, there are some nice places to visit in Belgium, but I think it's fair to say that the Belgian seaside architecture is designed to admire the view from rather than the view of!

Somewhere on the Belgian coast. Could be anywhere, It's all the same

After giving each of the Belgian harbours a cheery wave, we arrived in Dunkerque at 2320. That's about 11 hours berth to berth. Not bad for 5 bridges, a lock and 57 miles. Not bad at all!

Bonjour France! Dunkerque marina. 

We'd hoped for a bit of a lie-in the following day but it wasn't to be. Being a late arrival, we'd been directed to the disabled berth (well done to Dunkerque for having such a thing - equipped, we think, with a hoist for lifting people on and off their boats). Unfortunately this was adjacent to the refuelling berth and, being nearest to the exit ramp, there was significant passing pedestrian traffic too!

Not wishing to depart until early afternoon (tides and all that!) we made use of our morning by seeking out a supermarche for wine and taking showers.

Sculpture park en route to the supermarche. They're anchors, you know

Then it was off once more - this time to Boulogne-Sur-Mer.

Bye bye Dunkerque

A photo I know my sister will enjoy. Look at all that pollution Ju...

... Clouds of it!!

We arrived at Boulogne-Sur-Mer at 2040 on Tuesday 22nd and that's where we are now. We've visited before so will likely pass our time here with visits to the supermarche and reading books rather than sight-seeing.

The entrance to Boulogne-Sur-Mer's inner harbour

Next stop Eastbourne (that's England!!) which is just 54 miles away. Maybe we'll get there as early as Friday but, as ever, that depends on the weather.

Thanks for reading.