All boats on the Motor Boats Monthly Zeeland cruise in company intending to reach UK waters have done so today.
Following a weather delay which saw boats hold in the Netherlands for an extra day (see previous story) the fleet left en-masse from Goes early yesterday morning in an impressive ballet of movements that saw a series of rafts transformed into a long snake through the lift bridges and along the canal back out to the Oosterschelde before taking the Kanaal door Zuidbeveland down to Hansweert where the open sea would be gained for the first time in nearly two weeks.
Despite a favourable forecast, high winds the day before had left the lower reaches of the Westerschelde and around Zeebrugge in a still sloppy state first thing in the morning, but a couple of hours into the tide turn the waters gradually settled in just at around the time most boats navigated through them. It was a long day for some as there was little choice but to punch a foul tide for much of the day; longest run of the day (10 hours berth to berth) was posted by the Van de Valk Royal 45Our Worldowned by Adrian and Tracy Allworth and the Broom 35CLSamphireowned by William and Carolynne Smethurst; the latter couple have only been boating since April and were universally judged by all participants to have handled the cruise very well.
Unfortunately the KYCN moorings at Nieuwpoort were jamb-packed thanks to a yacht race that had outstayed its welcome; the MBM RIB crew, Chris Brace and Ben Skinner, were kept busy mooring and re-mooring boats all afternoon but eventually places were found for all. For the MBM control boat team comprising Kim Hollamby and Toby du Pré onCalm Voyagerit had been a long and peaceful day running safety cover at sea following a frenetic start untangling rafts at Goes. Both teams were relieved to discover a snag-free fleet at Nieuwpoort, a first as there is usually something to fix prior to the Channel crossing. A further bonus was that the Shetland 355Marie Elizabeth, which had blown a cylinder on one of her Mercruiser diesels on the run across from Ramsgate, was repaired and would be able to return in company.
Given the by-now near perfect conditions a total of five boats decided to ‘touch-and-go’ at Nieuwpoort or Blankenberge; Bob Butcher’s Corvette 320Costa Bobclocked the longest run of the day, starting in Terneuzen and ending in London, despite the slight handicap of a broken bolt on one shaft coupling.
A building north-easterly and an unfavourable tide change just after 9.00am in the Dover Strait dictated a very early start back to home waters this morning. The slower boats pushed out at 5.00am, early enough to get four hours of useful west-going tide but not so early that there wouldn’t be enough light to spot lobster pots in a favourite place for them, the Passe de Zuydcoote west of Dunkerque. The faster boats left from first light onwards.
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As expected the fleet initially enjoyed near calm waters, bathed by blood red light as the sun started to emerge. Further down the coast it became obvious that visibility was good to see clear across to Cap Gris Nez on the one side and Dover’s Colgate-clean white cliffs on the other. With a forecast promising as much as a Force 5 north-easterly for later, not a nice wind in the Dover Strait, it was important to get boats across as early as possible and many managed to cross, wind with tide, in no more than a Force 3. The wind strength had picked up to a Force 4 by the time the last boats heading for the Thames and East Coast pulled into Ramsgate, but it wasn’t whistling load enough to drown out the clapping and cheers as the last boat in, Steve and Georgina Thurbin’s Project 31Relaxpulled into the outer harbour. By this time Angela and Eddie Donn were able to report the safe arrival of their Sealine 215Canta Librefrom a trailer at the top of the slip in Ramsgate!
Ian and Norma Hornsby’s Bénéteau Antares 10.80Edward Gibsonmade a perfect four-and-a-half hour run direct to Harwich. At time of writing several boats are making their way along the South Coast and we have left two behind in Nieuwpoort for them to continue the holiday a little longer.
We have just one glitch to resolve. Ramsgate’s improved fuel berth (it now takes credit cards) ran out of petrol before our Humber RIB arrived and so we are now ferrying cans down from the garage to stock enough for the run back to Port Solent, in company withCalm Voyager, this afternoon. It’s blowing around a Force 5 out of the east at the Greenwich Light Vessel but we are sitting here until the tide turn and that wind should push us along nicely to see the two boats home later tonight.