Tuesday, 27 July 2010

1 Year Old

8th July was Lilians 1st birthday.
We had a bit of a barbeque on the saturday afternoon to celebrate with family and friends.

Our special thanks to Glyn, off Narrow boat HUMBUG for taking the photo's while Laura was the hostess with the mostess and yours truly in true form took care of the cooking.

Oostende voor anker 2010 pt3

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.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Oostende voor anker 2010 pt2

Where was I......oh yes, we had just arrived in Ramsgate, I have never ever chosen Ramsgate as a port to visit other than as a refuge to avoid the heavy weather and seas that batter those shallow shoals around the South East Coast of England.
It does seem that almost every time we set sail for Oostende we invariably end up running for that safe haven that is the Port of Ramsgate.

Imagine how important and secure that Port was to those brave souls in flimsy, lightly planked and totally unsuitable boats 70 years earlier as they gathered and waited for the 'Nod' to head off towards Dunkirk.

The Sea during that time was maybe the least of their worries.

We hoped to be berthed in one of the inner pontoons however, there was a dredger working inside and we were instructed to 'Raft up' alongside one of the old little ships on the outside pontoon, it was a lovely white hulled heavily varnished gentlemans Yacht so very typical of 1930's design.
I made sure I put every fender down that we had on board as steve brought us alongside assisted rather quicker than we wouldve liked by the still strong easterly winds.

Directly in front was an old wooden ferry/trip boat

Eventually the dredger finished its work and we shifted position to the inside pontoons. The rest of that evening was spent on board Mary Jane

The next day the winds were still easterly 5-6 so it was a no go for Oostende, That meant we were going to be late as the festival was due to start the following day but as things turned out we were able to enjoy the celebrations laid on in Ramsgate for the 70th Anniversary of operation Dynamo

This entailed a few breakfast bevies aboard Mary Jane then a visit to the shops to stock up on supplies and then to watch the parade of the Dunkirk Vets and Fly Past by the Battle of britain memorial flight

That evening we spent in the Yacht Club which sits on the cliff overlooking the harbour and gave us an excellent view of the firework display which exploded into the skys from the Harbour breakwater.

The Dunkirk Ships were due to leave the next morning so all eyes had been on the weather reports during the day. Anything above a force four and it would be likely that the 70th Anniversary Run wouldnt go ahead.

There would be a Go or No Go descision made at 7am the next morning

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Oostende voor anker 2010

The end of May saw us once again in Boat Festival season.

I was very fortunate that my old friend Steve was in need of crew to attend the Oostende voor anker festival, so I took my berth on the good ship Valonia and we set off from Cuxton on the river Medway towards Ostend in Belgium.

Ex Pilot Cutter Valonia worked the south of England UK waters from i think 1969 onward. She has twin 200bhp Cummins diesel engines which when new could push Valonia through the water at 25 knots, She probably manages 20 knots these days if pushed.

The weekend before was absolutely lovely, the sun was cracking the flags without a breath of wind. I drove down to Kent with the soft top down and met Steve at the boatyard.
An evening meal at the White hart and a few sherberts later saw us aboard and ready for the morning....the weather report didnt look good.

Sure enough, the next morning saw an overcast sky and a vicious North Easterly Wind gusting force 4-5 occasionally 6.
This is never good news for a run along the North Kent coast on an outgoing tide. The reasons being, the tide flows easterly and a North Easterly wind means the tide pushes against the wind making the sea rather choppy....(understatement of the year)

We knew that we wouldnt get to Ostend this day so a run to Ramsgate was the order of the day.
The construction of valonia means that you have to spend all of your time in the wheel house as both engines are located forward of the wheelhouse which means the forward accommodation is cut off as it would be rather dangerous to try and attempt to enter the engine room when under way due to the boats movement. (too many hot exhaust pipes)

The River medway itself is very sheltered so we made good time heading down river to the thames estuary,
As we passed Chatham I caught a good look at my tub Emblem, She looks a little tired but I understand she is due for dry dock later this year.

The sun came out as we approached the mouth of the Medway but the wind continued to blow as Strong as ever.
We ventured forth into open water, ie the Thames estuary and headed east along the inshore passage towards Ramsgate, As soon as we left the sheltered waters of the the River, the waves came at us in regular and irregular intervals. We only had appx half revs on the engines in order to save fuel so instead of riding on the waves at cruising speed we ploughed through the waves, The bow digging deep into the crests and then scooping up the water collected on the deck and tossing it back over the wheelhouse as one would do with a shovel of sand.
the first time it happened I said to Steve "we're going under" it seemed to take an age for the water to clear the screens and our only view was a pale green watery mass while the boat shuddered and thumped her way through the trough.

Passing The Northforeland was interesting, it looked like we had indeed become a submarine as we dipped and scooped our way round the Kent Coast.

It was with much relief that we finally arrived at Ramsgate after 6 hours of bouncy bouncy and what a nice surprise awaited us.
It was the 70th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuation and our old friends on the Dunkirk little ship Mary Jane cracked open a beer and refreshed or flagging souls.

more to follow