Left reasonably early to catch the tide and had a great sail along the eastern Solent and up Southampton Water. Found a vacant spot on the pontoons and after a quick chat with some of the members we know, we inflated the rubber dinghy and Anne went off to catch the bus and train home to collect the car.
Richard was in trouble because he had not done enough work whilst Anne was away, but we soon had the car packed and then motored Harvard out to our allocated mooring. Launched the dinghy and fitted the outboard and then did all the checks and preparations to leave Harvard on the mooring. The moorings are now silted up so we will be sitting in the mud when the tides are really low, unfortunately. Harvard’s bottom is absolutely clean after sailing every day but we fear it will soon be fouled because of the mud and the conditions off Marchwood.
Then it was back ashore, pack up the dinghy, load it in the car and drive home. Fish and chips for supper and an early night.
So we made it and delivered Harvard back to the UK covering over 700 nautical miles in exactly one (long) month. It felt a bit relentless at times and it felt more like a delivery voyage than an enjoyable cruise. However, we had new experiences, met some new friends and the last bit from Breskens in the Netherlands to Marchwood was great because it was sailing nearly all the way and passage making is what Rustler 36s are all about; not so much motoring along Dutch canals!!
The anchor alarm woke us up during the night as Harvard swung with the tide but there were no problems and Richard, at least, slept well considering we were at anchor. Not quite such and early start as we caught the last of the ebb out of the harbour (neap tides so no problems with the depth over Chichester bar) and along to Portsmouth through the submarine barrier. We sailed all the way which was nice and arrived just as the tide turned so it was easy to enter the harbour. As Anne had booked ahead we were soon directed to a berth in Gosport Marina (Premier). It was a little tight manoeuvring in but we made it without incident.
We spent the afternoon cleaning Harvard and packing things ready to take home. The good news is that we have been allocated a temporary mooring at Marchwood YC, our home club, so we will not be faced with huge marina fees. Premier were very understanding when we said we now only wanted to stay for one night. We had planned to stay longer if we couldn’t have a mooring at Marchwood as all the marinas in and around Southampton are full because of the upcoming boat show. After a shower we were going to eat ashore but decided in the end to buy ready meals and a bottle of wine and celebrate the end of our voyage on Harvard onboard; Gosport is not the most alluring place to eat out.
Up at 06:30 and we had the 07:30 departure lock all to ourselves having worked out our passage plan to Chichester Harbour. We wanted to catch the good tide around Beachy Head and then go against the tide before arriving at the Looe Channel off Selsey Bill (Bognor Regis) at slack tide.
Once around Beachy Head it was a fantastic 40 nautical mile sail in a great breeze, the Hydrovane steering all the way, and we arrived at Selsey Bill spot on schedule having estimated an average speed of five and a half knots. We were doing over 7 knots through the water at times but the adverse tide meant the average over the ground was somewhat less. The only problem we had was that the house batteries are really on their last legs and we had to run the engine out of gear for a short time just to recharge them. We knew we have to replace them, but they are about half the price in the UK compared to what Anders would have charged us in Denmark for the same battery!!
We hand steered the final few miles to the West Pole entrance to Chichester Harbour and caught the flood tide in so no problems with the head wind and were soon firmly anchored in the Thorney Channel off Thorney Island. Our passage plan was spot on so after 2 years of no tides and currents we finally felt we are back on top of our passage planning!!
Pretty exhausted again, so a quick Marks and Spencer’s tin of beef curry, with rice and the trimmings, and then collapsed in the bunk!!
The passage plan called for us to leave 3 hours after high tide to catch the west going stream out of Dover and be around Dungeness before the tide changed. So we were up just after 6 am and ready to go at 7 am. This worked out really well and still with a brisk north to north easterly breeze we made good time. With the wind more or less off the land the sea should have been flat, but there was still quite a swell driven by the strong northerly winds in the North Sea. At least these pushed us along! The breeze did die a little later so we did a little bit of motor sailing just to keep up the average speed.
No trouble passing through the lock into Sovereign Harbour at Eastbourne and had a welcome shower before discovering that as it was Sunday and none of the local shops were open so we had to have an improvised supper. Then it was early to bed for another early morning start tomorrow.
After a tough day with an early start we decided to treat ourselves to a day off in Dover. Richard further treated himself to a great English all-day breakfast and then we did some shopping for essentials given that it is the bank holiday coming up.
After talking to some fellow sailors we met waiting to enter Granville Dock, we decided to eat out in the evening at the sailing club on the seafront in Dover, the Royal Cinque Ports Yacht Club. We called in at lunchtime to check the opening hours. We returned at around 5 o’clock and had a very convivial evening with nice food, drinks and company, including one of the sailors we met yesterday. All in all a good day.
Through the night the wind moderated, so we were up at 05:30 local and out in the harbour at about 06:00 to raise the mainsail with one reef. A big bulk carrier, with tugs, was lining up to enter the harbour but we had the correct lights to exit and kept well clear by bearing away south west as soon as we could. Unfurled most of the genoa and we were soon roaring along on a beam reach, with the Hydrovane doing the steering, at over 7 knots at times. The sea was really grey and rough and even though we were sailing against an adverse current we made really great progress towards Calais.
We put the engine on for about half an hour when the wind dropped during a heavy rain shower, but once it had passed the wind picked up again and veered from NNW to more NE which was a real bonus and meant we could sail across the Channel traffic separation scheme rather than having to motorsail to keep a heading of 90 degrees to the lanes. Whilst Richard kept a watch out on the shipping, Anne steered, and Harvard loved it doing 7 knots in 20 knots of breeze, close hauled, with the one reef in the mainsail and full genoa. Two small ships, one in each lane, altered course slightly to give us more room, which was really nice of them. The result of being so far ahead of schedule was that we were on the UK side of the Channel when the west going current was at its strongest. Worried that we might be swept past Dover, we decided on some judicious use of the engine to make our true course take us to a point up tide of Dover. We should have been more careful when calculating the amount the tide would push us sideways for different passage speeds, so another lesson learned and stored in the “bank of experience”.
Soon safely berthed in Granville Dock, Dover after only 7 hours for over 40 nautical miles. Rang the National Yachtline for customs clearance and then checked in with the marina office. Apparently the new marina in Dover is not open because it is untenable in certain weather conditions with too much swell. A new wave barrier is planned, costing umpteen millions, but it is still awaiting planning permission. It is scheduled to be finished by March 2022. We filled in our C1331 arrival form as instructed by National Yachtline and took it along to the Border Force office in the docks but were told we didn’t really need to submit it after all!!! We think they probably have more than enough to do with the migrant crisis to be bothered with “yachties”.
With all formalities completed, we wandered off towards town and enjoyed drinks in a nearby bar. Good old English ale tasted ever so good after continental lagers and then it was back to the boat for an early night.
A really windy night so Richard was up at half past three in the morning to fit snubbers in the bow lines because of the swell in harbour that was making the lines snatch. Anne stayed asleep!!
Our main focus today was to have our passports stamped as we intend to leave the EU for Dover tomorrow. We had hoped somebody in authority nearby would be able to do this but after visiting the police, the port captain and the customs we had to go to the “police aux frontieres”, PAF, or border police, at the ferry port at the other end of Dunkerque, about 6 or 7 miles away. Two buses took us near but it was a very long, unpleasant, walk through the dock area with big lorries roaring past before we were able to find the PAF office. Happily the customs had forewarned them of us coming so it was only a matter of seconds before our passports were stamped and we walked back and caught the buses back to our marina.
There is really no mechanism for dealing with yachts like us at the moment but in the end, after a long, tiring, and at times frustrating day, we achieved our objective and are ready to head off first thing tomorrow. Hopefully the wind will have moderated a little when we leave.
We left Breskens at first light and hoisted sail to reach with the ebb at a cracking speed over the ground. As we approached Zeebruge the wind died a little so we motor sailed with the engine ticking over to keep up our average speed. We were intending to stop at Ostend but we were making such good progress having the wind and tide with us that we decided to carry on to Dunkerque. We knew we would be pushing the tide for the last hour or so but as the wind was forecast to build we were confident we would still make good time.
So it turned out and we were soon able to turn the engine off and had a great sail to Dunkerque. We felt pleased that we had pushed on and made real progress as now Dover is only one more day away.
Woke up to a beautiful morning in Middleburg. Had a wander around the town and a coffee before heading off to the fuel pontoon for 50 litres of fuel to top us up. We then joined the 12:37 convoy of yachts towards Vlissingen (Flushing). The bridges only open at set times for the convoy, so it is important to be ready to depart “en masse”.
We were soon in the lock at Vlissingen and dropping a couple of metres out into the Westerschelde. It was great to be back at sea again. We made a quick crossing to the marina at Breskens on the opposite shore and prepared to head on southwest tomorrow. This included blowing up the dinghy to fit the Hydrovane rudder, then packing the dinghy away again and generally tidying up Harvard ready for sea.
We have travelled from the northernmost part of the Netherlands to the southernmost part entirely through the Dutch canal system. This was the right decision as the wind has been blowing consistently from where we want to go up until only the last couple of days, but pushing on through the locks and bridges has felt a bit remorseless at times and more tiring and stressful than enjoyable. Still it has been an experience that we will probably not have the opportunity to repeat.
We now had to rely on other guides and charts to take us further south and first we had to go under a fixed bridge that was nominally 18m high. We reckon Harvard has an air draft of 16m so we thought we would be fine. The bridge was over a lock just near to Willemstad and we went in with another yacht with a taller mast that provided some reassurance. There was a display board outside the lock that gave the clearance and it was 18.9m when the lock was empty and we learned that the other yacht had an air draft of 18.5m so they had to stop in the full lock before the bridge and only just made it once we had descended!! They told us that at the next lock the clearance was only 18m and that they would have to use the commercial lock with a lifting bridge.
By now the wind had shifted to the north as high pressure builds over Scandinavia so we actually sailed for a little while using just the genoa and made it safely under the bridge and through the next lock into the Oosterschelde. It was quite wild and windy by now and we motored, motor sailed and sailed as we took a rather circuitous route around the shallows accompanied by a huge tug pushing two barges. Then through another lock and bridge into the Veerse Meer. Again a mixture of motor sailing and sailing and we half thought of anchoring in the Meer. However, now were on part of the route we had travelled before during a summer holiday visit to the Netherlands when we were still working so we decided to press on to Middleburg. Although very tired we were pleased we had carried on and were soon found a berth by the friendly harbour staff. Apparently we were only the second UK boat to visit in 2021.