The next morning saw us both up and about very early, steve to make preparations in the engine room and me to make a flask of coffee and ensure there was enough fresh water and snacks in the wheel house for our expected 10 hour trip.
The sky was overcast and there was a little drizzle but we had a window. I cant remember the wind direction but it was 2-3 occasionally 4.
Sure enough over the VHF we listened to the announcement from the Little Ships Admiral and it was a Go. They wanted to be away fairly sharpish as there was a Ferry expected at 8am
We slipped our mooring and hovered around the harbour watching as one by one the boats left ramsgate to take up position outside in review order to be escorted across the Channel by the Royal Navy HMS Monmouth and HMS Raider
Once outside the Harbour there was still a noticeable residual swell from the previous days weather but the little boats gathered themselves together and set off once again for France.
Sadly as we monitored the VHF we heard that one boat had been unable to leave harbour due to an over heating engine caused by a blockage picked up in the harbour in the water intake and a second boat had to return shortly after leaving due to a similar problem.
We followed the fleet to the North East edge of the Goodwin Sands the turn East for our own trip to Oostende
The good ship Mary Jane
The Rest of the Fleet
We said our goodbyes and continued to listen to the VHF channel being used by the Fleet till we were out of range. Our own crossing was very uneventful thankfully, there was very little traffic in the shipping lanes and we sipped our coffee and nibbled our snacks till we finally raised Oostende in just 8 hours.
Normally smaller boats are berthed in the inner Mercator Dock for the Festival, however, upon our arrival we were told we would be berthed in the Outer Montgomery Dock. We wernt overly pleased with this for a couple of reasons, Firstly, The Outer Dock is Tidal and during rough weather it can have a swell of over 6 foot and secondly, everything goes on in the Inner Dock and we felt we would be rather out of it stuck so far outside.
Never mind, we would make the best of it and make Valonia as presentable as we possibly could.
The three remaining days just flew by what with visiting ships, showing guests around Valonia and of course plenty of evening entertainment.
We once again met up with the crew and skipper of the Tug Kent
The weather as usual was its classic May mix of sunshine and rain and all the time, ourselves and the rest of the English contingent had an ear for the long range forecast.
It didnt look good, yes the winds were shifting southwesterly but still between force 4-6...and this time we would be heading West...same old story.
The final day of the drink up.....i mean Festival came and went and we spent the last evening in the company of the Kent's skipper. I forgot to mention we picked up an extra crew member on the saturday. Nick came over from the UK on the Eurostar as I had the previous year but would be returning with us.
That night, the wind was a full blown gale, We were moored to a pontoon which was rising and dipping in the swell and the ramp leading down to it was groaning and squealing in protest. Steve rechecked the lines and made sure that at least we would remain with the pontoon should anything untoward happen and we then retired to our berths ready for the return journey in the morning.
The next morning dawned bright and very very breezy, The general forecast for the rest of the week wasnt good so after much discussion with Kent, it was decided we would set out and radio back how we were getting on so that they could make the desiscion to go or not. We then also had the option of turning back if things got too bad.
We set off to much horn blowing and safe trip wishes, and made our way out past the break water.
Conditions were very similar to our trip along the Thames estuary, our nose was digging deep and we were throwing water up and over us.
After about half an hour Steve called up Kent on the VHF.
It was just at the point of him saying "its a bit lumpy but not too bad" that we were suddenly caught by a large wave on our port beam, we rolled slightly to the right, then, mounted the crest and quickly rolled to the left and kept on rolling, Steve was cut off mid sentence as he gripped the wheel with both hands and I just remember looking down at him. We were on our beam ends, steve in the bottom of the trough and me high up at the top looking down at the water through the port wheelhouse windows, As quick as we had rolled left we again rolled right and our positions were reversed. I rember hearing loud thuds from behind us as nick was tipped bodily from his bench seat, thrown onto the chart table and then thrown back onto the bench. We suddenly righted ourselves and as if nothing had happend, Steve resumed his radio conversation with Kent....this time adding that there are occasional rogue waves.
That was the senario for the reat of the run along the Belgium and French coast until we finally turned North West for England. Nick and myself swapping seats to allow each other a rest from trying to remain on the bench seat and steve all the time keeping us on a course which offered the smoothest ride.
There are no photos of our return trip as both hands were used for support, we didnt even get our first dose of coffee till England was finally in sight.
We eventually reached Ramsgate and if ever I have been glad to see that port it was then.
It was with much regret that I jumped ship at Ramsgate in order to catch the train home as I felt I had left Laura on her own with Lilian for too long and as I only had 1 more day left before I returned to work I thought it best that I get home.
All in all a very excellent week. My deepest thanks once again go to Steve for the invite and his seamanship in getting us there safely and home again, To Valonia for being a worthy seaboat and to Laura for giving me the time off once again for this most excellent adventure.