Passage from Holyhead to Holland

Frans & Sarah Toonen
Sat 26 Apr 2014 19:00
Pelagia needs some critical repairs, in particular the drive systems needs attention. Best to have that done by the original builders we think. Passage to Holland therefore required, some 700 sea miles from Holyhead to Medemblik. The builder’s yard is ready for us from early May so late April departure preferable. Sarah’s off on a ladies (+ Tony) holiday to Spain so crew required, after some searching found Paul Sutherland an experienced sailing instructor albeit a couple of decades ago. 

Departing Holyhead 1800h on to go around the treacherous North and South Stack of Holy Island at slack water. Forecast for northerly winds which manifested itself as a force 4 to 5 all the way to Land’s End. Sea was a little rough at times as a force 8 the day before had built up the seas a bit.
Just before Land’s End the wind dropped and never really appeared again until we reached Holland. Close to Eastbourne we encountered thick fog with at times less than 50m visibility. Most boats have AIS (a digital signature that is transmitted that allows us to see other boats and other boats to see us) compulsory on bigger boats but some of the smaller fishing vessels haven’t bothered and low and behold Paul on his watch got very close to one, a scary experience because with 50m visibility any avoiding manoeuvres will probably be too late.
The plan was to drop in at Eastbourne to take on fuel and Paul was running out of clean underwear and in need of laundry facilities, however when calling up the Harbourmaster he told us the buoyage had been removed for the dredger and the dredger had broken down as a result it was not possible for us to enter Eastbourne (usually a 24h access marina) with 50m visibility because we wouldn’t be able to find our way and probably get stuck, there are also some nasty rocks by the entrance to the outer harbour. 
Onwards to Dover, again briefly contemplated entering for fuel and a nights sleep (we had been at sea for nearly 4 days by now) but a fresh northerly was forecast and we didn’t fancy tacking up the French and Belgium coast. 
Visibility had improved by now to about 500m, Dover coast guard was calling up ships to give local visibility reports and these ranged from 100m to 1000m. Before crossing the Dover Straight we made sure that Dover coast guard could “see” us on the AIS. We didn’t actual see any vessels but had plenty of contacts on the AIS display not least the ferries that cross between Dover and Calais going some 20 knots.
Plain sailing/motoring up the Belgium coast, the wind picked up briefly and we actually managed to shutdown the engine for a few hours. I did however underestimate the amount of traffic coming out of Antwerp and had a bit of fun again with the AIS avoiding the various ships to cross the shipping lanes, next time I will take the close to shore route where the shipping lanes are narrower which makes crossing them easier.

Before spending 5 days at sea with a complete stranger.

South Stack by Holyhead. We timed departure to go through at slack tide and it was still bumpy. With some tide and wind this would be unsailable.