Bookings for the trip settled out at a respectable 18 boats with about half from the south coast and half from the east coast. There was even one boat, Alastair Harvey
, from way up on the west coast making them the farthest travelled to the Zebrugge starting point for the rally.
The weather just prior to the cruise was dominated by a high pressure area over the UK producing strong easterly winds that made progress along the south coast difficult. Most south coast boats came via Dover, Dunkerque and Oostend, with delays in Dover caused by the weather. They also experienced some rough passages into and out of Dover. Smallest boats to make the passage this way were Merlot and Ampotis.
East Coast boats fared better being able to reach Zebrugge in a long overnight sail/motor sail from the Harwich area after the weather had improved.
arrived at Zebrugge a day early from Calais via Oostend to find that two boats had already arrived. Hurkur
and Titan of Dart
had both been sailing in the Nederlands for some time before the rally and were already waiting for the fleet at Zebrugge.
The Zebrugge harbour master had reserved the long visitors pontoon at the entrance to the Marina for the WOA fleet and over the next two days boats began to arrive with tales of the strong currents and busy shipping that they had encountered on the way into Zebrugge. Despite having the whole of the pontoon, rafting was necessary but this was mostly achieved without incident.
Rain was forecast for the early evening of the first day of the rally so the pontoon party was brought forward and food magically arrived at Sharina II
from where wine, beer etc. was being dispensed. In the event the rain held off, the pontoon stayed afloat and the food and lots of red wine was consumed making for good start for the cruise.
View video of Pontoon Party here
(this is a large file, please be patient while it loads
Next day was the planned trip to Brugge. Nick van Den Brul had organised an English speaking guide to meet us in Brugge and a coach was booked to transport us. All went smoothly. The guide was contacted and we all set out on foot in fine sunshine for Brugge city centre, armed with maps and instructions as to where to meet the coach for the return.
We walked through the BÃƒÂ©guinage courtyard, which the guide explained was a women-only community with a nightly no men curfew. This led us into a labyrinth of streets with glimpses of attractive waterways. The narrow streets were filled with bicycles, horse drawn carriages and tourist groups like ourselves. The guide explained how the wealth of Brugge had been generated by trade in the Hanseatic League between the 12th and 15th centuries, declining as a result of silting of the channel which had provided access to the sea for the wool trade.
In the main square the carillon in the medieval bell tower was playing tunes from the 1914-18 era and the guide explained that the tunes are changed every few years so the choice reflected the current anniversary of WW1.
The outstanding feature of Brugge is the network of canals which encircle the town and were once its main thorough-fares. The waterways penetrate right into the heart of the city even remaining in place underneath the main square which was once where boats unloaded. The main square was where our guide left us and the group split up to individually explore, buy chocolates in a variety of shapes and flavours and take lunch inevitably of something and frites.
After lunch we all individually made our way back to meet the coach at the designated meeting place. A roll call of boats confirmed that we had all got back safely and we were whisked back to the marina.
The following day we were due to travel to Middelburg but because of the state of the tide there was no hurry to set off so we could get the current to assist us between Zebrugge and Flushing.
We were still one boat short of those booked and it became apparent that Ampotis
would have difficulty in catching the fleet up and had decided to turn back at Dunkerque. So the fleet of 15 boats was now complete with all the WOA UK members and only the two home Nederlands boats remaining to join.
Whilst waiting to set off from Zebrugge the Belgian police paid us a visit and very politely checked our ID, ships papers and radio details (Radio serial number Sir? Don't worry if you don't have it). Sharina II
volunteered to be checked first having only white diesel on board but there was no diesel check. Falcon
also got a visit before the three policemen strolled back up the gangway in the sunshine and out of the marina. There were to be no red diesel issues at any time during the cruise.
On the Zebrugge to Flushing section of the trip we had a pilotage competition requiring each boat to predict passage time from rounding a cardinal mark off Zebrugge to crossing the finish line at the entrance to Flushing. Predicted times were sent in by text before leaving and actual self-timed results collected the same way after the finish. Despite there being no other rules with any mix of sailing or motoring allowed most people underestimated the strength of the current and arrived up to 30 minutes ahead of their predictions.
We had a good sail up to Flushing with a moderate sea with occasionally some big holes in the water and fast moving barges overtaking and passing close in both directions. Passage through the Flushing lock was our first experience of locks on the trip and apart from personally being unprepared and so a little hectic it went without incident. The lock was passed in two groups as a result of differing arrival times and also as a result there were two groups going up the Kanal door Walcheren to Middelburg. Sharina II
in the second group had a short wait for the first bridge but after that bridges opened more or less in synchronism with our arrival.
Arriving at Middelburg Sharina II
, Sea Quest
, and Chilli
in the second group turned left into the haven and Sharina II
went onto the Haven MasterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pontoon for instructions. The lady Haven Master arrived and opened the bridge and we motored one by one into the berthing area right in the centre of the city. By then most of the alongside berths were taken so we rafted out up to three abreast turning to face out of the Haven. Being surrounded by tall buildings there was no wind so manoeuvring was one of those pleasant exercises where the boat and the prop walk do as they are supposed to. Sharina II
ended up rafted to a Dutch steel motor barge that was leaving the next day and other Westerly boats had also moored onto Dutch boats so a general shuffle took place the next morning.
I will remember Middelburg as a very friendly town. We were there on a Saturday and the centre was buzzing with a fruit and vegetable market and a sand filled arena where beach volley ball and children's games were being played. The strawberry stall was impressive with an enormous display that could be smelled even before you got to it. At the bakers we bought an inexpensive loaf for sandwiches and were given a fruit loaf for us "to try". Then back at the boat we met with a Dutch gentleman and his Irish wife who had been sent details of our visit by Westerly Griffon (Alveolus
) owners Ian and Gillian from the Isle of Man. They came along to say hello and presented us with a small keep sake in the form of a fridge magnet with a pretty blue Dutch design. So nice memories of friendly Middelburg.
The yacht club in Middelburg served an excellent and inexpensive dish of the day as long as you knew what it was and two good evenings were spent there.
On the second evening we got a text message that Tjerke Tjeerde was on his way from his home port and was unexpectedly coming down to meet us. He arrived and moored his Conway Members Only
outside the marina on the waiting pontoon joining us in the yacht club to socialise and enjoy a drink.
For departure the Haven Master would open the bridge once an hour so we arranged to all go out together on the 9.15 opening and all turned left up the canal in an impressive convoy of 16 boats.
At the end of the canal we encountered our second lock this time keeping an eye on Tjerke to see how he did it. Singlehanded, he was soon hanging off from a post stern first! Again there were no serious mishaps and we left the lock to enter the open water of the Veersemeer. Sails were hoisted and almost immediately the fleet encountered several strong gusty squalls which resulted in some hasty reefing. The channel twisted and turned but we mostly had free winds and sailed up to Zandkreeksluice where we once again assembled as a group to wait for the lock. This time we all scattered as the lock opened to reveal an enormous three masted Dutch sailing vessel and a group of sailing dinghies.
The lock was enormous and we had no difficulty in fitting in with wall space for all. Leaving the lock we called ahead to Yerseke to be told that they were expecting us. Tjerke had briefed us that as we passed the canal exit at Wemeldinge we should expect fast moving barges and this proved to be the case. However we were unprepared for the barge carrying an enormous structure and we could only speculate as to its purpose.
At the entrance to Yerseke the briefing notes stressed the need to take the red/green buoy to port. Sharina II
entered first and was pushed out towards the buoy by a high speed fishing boat, nevertheless taking the buoy on the correct side. Fortunately we were entering at high water because Tjerke was amused to observe that most of the fleet went the wrong side of the red/green buoy. Proving that you can lead a Westerly fleet into harbourÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Ã¢â‚¬Â¦...but you better do it at high water!
Immediately inside Yerseke we were met by Jan the Haven Master. He encouraged us to move up and raft so that all 16 Westerly boats fitted perfectly together onto the Yerseke visitors pontoon. This resulted in some excellent fleet pictures with the bright red Harken flag and WOA rally banners flying.
In Yerseke next morning a rain squall went through and most people took advantage to rest and reorganise. We had hoped to visit the Oyster sheds but oysters being out of season and it being a Monday this proved impossible to organise. So the day was spent shopping for supplies for the BBQ. Nevertheless several boats had dinner at De Viskeete (Fish Quay) where the mussels were excellent albeit also being nominally out of season.
Next morning we were faced with the prospect of extracting the fleet backward out from alongside the visitorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pontoon with a strong wind blowing the boats on. Again we stressed leave the red green buoy to starboard. Unbelievably still one boat one boat went the wrong side......
went first and demonstrated how to spring off and one by one we extracted ourselves by several variations on the springing off technique. Including walking pairs of boats down to the end of the pontoon to give a relatively clear route out. Finally Sharina II
, having entered first, was left as the last boat out and after watching all the other attempts Sharina II
left by moving back down the pontoon with the aid of prop walk turning into the space opposite.
Back in the Oosterschelde we crossed to the busy narrow channel leading north out from Wemeldinge. Again we encountered fast moving heavily laden barges invariably complete with motor cars on the back.
The fleet entered Krabbenkreek and followed the buoys down to Sint Annaland Marina where Cees, the Haven Master, was expecting us. Joining the fleet here was Gerard and Gina on Ginger
and it was here that we planned to have the cruise BBQ. With a force 4 blowing across the exposed marina there was only one small sheltered place where we could possibly hold the BBQ. Fortunately we were allowed to move the marina BBQ stands to the relatively sheltered space outside the marina bar. We set up the Harken banner as a back drop and lit a disposable in the hope that the BBQ would actually happen. We were not disappointed as the WOA fleet turned up in force with different cooking devices and food ranging from enormous steaks to burgers and kebabs. Brian Easteal "experimented" with a new BBQ that had enough charcoal to smelt copper but, by dint of patience, it eventually burnt down to a useable cooking surface. So a good BBQ with night caps in the bar.
After carrying the BBQ stands back to where they belonged, the fleet set off next day for the Grevelingen. We said goodbye to Titan of Dart
that was to remain and to Restless
, setting off for home due to time constraints.
So by now the fleet was back to 15 boats and we were set for the best sail of the cruise. Entering the Grevelingen, we had a free wind of 17 - 18 knots for the entire sail up the Grevelingen to Marina Port Zelande. An exhilarating sail where Sharina II
learnt to respect the buoys whilst reaching a top speed of 7.4 knots. Depths dropped rapidly only a short distance outside the marked channel. Several boats also had a Seagull land on the stern outboard to pose and beg for snacks balancing as the boat heeled.
At Marina Port Zelande we had been allocated spaces in double box/pontoon moorings. The pontoons were short and depending on which side to you were allocated keeping off the post at the entrance to the box was challenging. The Marina was enormous and even had its own permanent Boat Show style Fairline Nederland showroom....a long way from Poole,
On the sail up, Falcon
had noticed an unusual noise from the prop that could have been a trapped rope or a loose rope cutter. Andy was considering a lift out when Tjerke appeared with flippers and snorkel and dived to check it out. No problem was found and the noise was finally put down to air in the Volvo seal.
stayed overnight in a nearby marina with Nick planning to leave his boat there and return to the UK for a while. So Ian temporarily transferred his East Coast Chairman's flag onto Revolution
Retracing our route next day back down the Grevelingenmeer was a more sedate affair with a gentle wind from nearly dead astern. The wind finally died away completely and we motored on towards Mosselbank Island in order to be there for shortly after mid-day, as planned by Gerard, to be there when the previous visitors would have left. The plan worked perfectly and we were able to take over most of the moorings on the west island as well as the two available seat tables. We had a beautiful sunny day for the island stay and as the boats arrived, the "Tastery" began to take shape.
All manner of delicious Nederland food and drink was laid out for us by Gina, Gerard and Tjeerke ranging from fresh herrings and eel to liquorice sweets, bitterballen (deep fried gravy flavoured paste-balls) and strong...very strong drinks such as Schipper Bitters at 30% and beers at 9%. An amazing experience and a day that the whole fleet thoroughly enjoyed. "Tastery" will henceforth be a new WOA legendary word.
After the Ã¢â‚¬Å“TasteryÃ¢â‚¬Â experience, which brought everyone together, the results of the passage planning competition were announced and Travelling Light
was declared winner of a Harken wet bag. Boat names were then drawn and as each name was drawn they were invited to select one of the generous Harken prizes of t-shirts, gloves and hats or alternatively they could select a lucky dip of a wrapped package containing some of the more obscure items such as winch grease, speed antifoul alternative (?), liqueurs and the fridge magnet that we had been given in Middelburg. With the sun setting over Mossel Bank most retired to bed but apparently a few sat up over midnight to light a Swedish Candle, to look at the stars and presumably consume more bitters?
Next day we had a relatively short motor to lock out of the Grevelingen and thence, motoring again, in convoy to the Zeeland Brugge. We assembled expectantly at the bridge only to be told that the bridge opening had been postponed because of emergency service traffic crossing. So we circled around to wait a little longer until finally the bridge opened and we all dived through. The next stop was Zieriksee which was only a short distance after the bridge. We entered Zieriksee down a channel leading into the centre of the city where we were met by the Haven Meester in a very smart uniform efficiently directing us to turn and raft together four and five deep at the alongside pontoon berth.
Zieriksee is a delightful must-see town which totally embraces sailing. Later at the Delta Expo we were to learn that Zieriksee had been very badly affected by the 1953 flooding which had cut it off for a year however again in the sunshine the busy waterfront, alley ways and shops showed no sign of this.
Zieriksee was where the cruise dinner was to be held in a restaurant only a short walk from the harbour. Several smart WOA ties and blazers appeared despite the warm evening and we walked together to the restaurant for the next cruise highlight - the table quiz. Thanks to Andy Clark for producing the quiz which was composed of two papers one on sailing general knowledge and the second a set of obscure cross word type clues which linked to towns in the UK.
The quiz kept every one busy until finally, on our table at least, most people had to admit defeat. However on other tables Denise and Brian did very well and were the eventual winners of the sailing paper and Sam, Camilla and Guy from Kallessin proved to have the necessary mind set to unscramble Andy and CarolÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s obscure crossword type clues. More Harken Wet Bags were presented to the winners.
At the end of an excellent meal, served in a nice atmosphere, Brian and Tjerke made generous speeches and in turn WOA burgees were presented to Gerard and Tjerke of WOA Nederlands on behalf of WOA UK and the cruise.
Fortunately we only had a very short hop planned for the next day so we were able to explore Zieriksee until leaving at about one o'clock. We also said goodbye to Tjerke, Gina and Gerard as they headed home leaving a very happy cruise fleet behind them full of appreciation for the friendship, warm welcome and hospitality that we had been shown.
Our final marina was Roompot Marina. We had a short but choppy motor across the Oosterschelde which turned out to be another treat because we met the Delta Week racing fleets heading for Zieriksee and as we passed through the fleet we saw some amazing racing yachts with many sails set. Some sails seemingly right down almost touching the water. At the marina we had been allocated the inside of the visitorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pontoon and everyone soon berthed without serious incident in the gusty conditions. Albeit Travelling Light
having a close call when a mooring line came off its cleat just as the load was being applied to stop the boat!
Roompot marina was very different to the other marinas we had visited. It is also a delightful holiday resort with a beach, bar, restaurants and a "tropical pool paradise" which is free to boats visiting. However the reason for staying at Roompot marina was to make it easy for us to visit Neelte Jans and the Delta Expo. Again we booked a coach and our big orange coach was waiting for us next morning for the short ride to Neelte Jans. The Neelte Jans visit was to prove to be a high spot of the cruise. Our party of 25 were met by the English speaking guide and welcomed with delicious coffee and apple pie that had been set out ready for us. After coffee, apple pie and and lots of chatter our guide gave an explanation of the issues that Zeeland faced and how these had culminated in the 1953 floods. This was followed by a film show describing the construction of the barrier at Room Pot. The scope of the work completed by the Dutch was enormous. Amazing special ships had been built for each phase of the construction. A special ship was built to consolidate the seabed, another to lay a base of matting, another to float the concrete caissons into position and yet another to fit the storm barrier gates. Rather like building the Thames Barrier across the estuary from Margate to Maplin!
After the film show we walked over to the barrier itself and went inside where there was a broad passage way with displays and models and finally we were able to climb up to the top of the caisson to the point where the official 1986 opening party, attended by HM Queen Beatrix and our Prince Andrew, had stood.
Our guide then encouraged us to return to the dining room for the Ã¢â‚¬Å“lightÃ¢â‚¬Â lunch. This was laid out ready for us in our own private area and was an excellent and very adequate spread. So time had passed very quickly and there was just time for a stroll in the sunshine round the water features in the park before our bus returned to collect us at 4.00pm.
Back at the marina, we got together for one final pontoon party, this time actually on Sharina II
, with discussions of the best time to leave and different routes that were planned. Some boats staying on, some retracing steps through Middelburg, some leaving early the next morning and going out through Roompot sluice for Oostend and some later in the day bound for Blankenberg.
So that is the story of the 2015 National Cruise organised by the East Coast Group. The promise of free winds, space to sail and excellent sea food had certainly been fulfilled. We had a good mix of weather comprising some wind, a little rain and sunshine and some great companionship.
Thanks to Gerard, Gina, Tjerke, Nick and Andy for their help with the organisation and to Harken for the enormous box of goodies for prizes and presentations. Finally thanks to Mike and Mick, the hard-working crew of Sharina II
, for putting up with me, running the boat and getting us moored on time at all the right places.
Vessels taking part in whole or in part were the following:
, Titan of Dart
, Restless of Langstone
, Sharina II
, Travelling Light
, Kalessin of Orwell
, Sea Quest of Hamble
, Alastair Harvey
Photographs are being collected on a Flickr site set up by Denise, look out for an email invitation. There are also some excellent Middelburg pictures - including the one of me looking only slightly more worried than Camilla (see link).
Link to details: www.thatguyphotography.co.uk/woa/