Position: 51 18.74 N 003 07.09 E
Weather: Sunny, warm
The breeze freshened yester evening, for a short while we were down to a
reefed mainsail and partially furled jib leaning well over, decks awash with
spray flying over the coach-house. We had plenty of shipping to look out for
with a few oddly lit boats which took me some time to work out. In
particular one vessel was displaying lights for a vessel restricted in
ability to manoeuvre which mean she had right of way over Sylph. Initially I
thought she was a pilot vessel as I could only see a red over a white, I
tweaked the binoculars and thought maybe it was about time to purchase a new
pair. But as I got closer (and cleaned the lenses) it became apparent that
as this vessel changed aspect the upper red light would disappear then
reappear. I tried to manoeuvre to stay clear but twice she altered course
almost 180 degrees in front of Sylph. I thought of calling her on VHF but
decided this would simply be a distraction from me keeping a good lookout
and with language difficulties may only add to the confusion. We were soon
pass and despite the subject vessel's decks being very brightly lit I was
none the wiser why she was restricted, she certainly seemed well able to
manoeuvre in my way.
As we passed the Zeebrugge the number of large merchant ships crossing in
front of us increased, and required a careful eye on the situation, Europort
yesterday afternoon had also kept us on our toes, but I still await the
European equivalent of Singapore and Hong Kong, Dover Straits just ahead
will no doubt give me a good work out. I should add that my experience in
these Asian waters was in a fast moving destroyer, a mch more interactive
experience than a slow moving tide and wind bound small sail boat, where one
really is rather like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery, but in this case
hoping one is seen and an attempt made to miss rather than hit.
The wind had died overnight and progress slowed right down but nonetheless
we made better than expected time, arriving off Blankenberge just after low
water at 10.30 rather than closer to 2 pm and high water. Blankenberge has a
bar across it with a charted depth of only 1.5 meters. We closed to less
than a mile, started the engine, dropped sail and cautiously, ie slowly
crawled towards the entrance. At about the same time all of a sudden a
plethora of boats started exiting from the mouth of the harbour entrance,
like someone had fired a starter's gun, and like the Dutch, no sooner did
they have a few feet of sea room then up went their sails. I like to sail
but as a single hander and often with several hundred miles of ocean ahead
of me when I leave port my keenness to hoist sail is somewhat less than my
Blankenberge was recommended as a very typical Belgium town by a Dutch
couple I got into conversation with on a bus back in the vicinity of
Amsterdam. As we approached I was confronted with a solid block of what
appeared to be apartment buildings, not exactly the most appealing landscape
from sea. We crossed the bar no problem though the echo sounder dipped
suddenly at one point and had me holding my breath momentarily.
Finding a berth in the crowded harbour was a bit trying but a vacant spot
was soon found. A neighbour told me that the harbour master would soon be
around so I decided to do something constructive while I waited, I sewed
together a Belgium flag to hoist at the spreaders. I had meant to do this
earlier but it seemed the opportunity had escaped me. Have you ever read
Conrad's "Lord Jim"? Now every time I say or write 'it seemed' I am reminded
of Tuan Jim's famous line, " I jumped, it seems." An instant when we make a
choice, with perhaps only the thickness of a piece of paper in it, and such
a line we use to abrogate our responsibility for the choice we have made.
What a great book, n ot without its faults, .Conrad himself admitted them,
but still not a bad effort form a sailor with English as his third language.
Here English is my first and I do not have the mind to string more than a
couple of ideas together at a time. Oh well, I shall have to be satisfied
with Sylph's blog as my literary exploit.
Belgium flag made and hoisted, neither the harbour master nor one of his
staff had materialised so I decided I had best seek them out. And I could
now leave the ship, Belgium courtesy flag flying, with an easy conscience. I
duly shortly found the marina office, fees have been paid for a stay of two
days, and since I have visited a chandler, there bought a new sail batten to
replace the mainsail's top batten which has now been repaired several times
and broken each time after a short while later. I trust a new batten will
last a little longer. A thorough walk around the crowded streets of this
European beach resort town, for that is what it has revealed itself to be;
many restaurants, bars, ice cream shops, and other tourist related retail
outlets. The lack of cars is still very nice. I eventually found a
supermarket, I think the sign said it opens on Sunday - all Dutch to me, so
tomorrow I will take the big backpack and partially refill Sylph's rapidly
emptying food lockers. And speaking of things logistical, I ran out of Irish
gas last night as I was cooking up a Sylph curry (nose turned up towards by
young American crew so hasn't been enjoyed for a little while) so now must
find some more gas as I am back on to my small emergency supply. Today's
investigations revealed that the solution is going to cost over 100 Euros -
Argh! And a relatively small replacement bottle only costs 30 Euros a pop.
Bloody ridiculous! But ultimately I do not think I have any other choice.
Now I wish I had kept the old kero stove/oven.
Tomorrow I will replenish food stores, if the weather is fine do a little
painting, and plan the next leg. Just read "The Snow Goose", maybe we should
call in at Dunkerque.
I shall sleep well tonight.
All is well.
Skipper Bob has been writing overtime. Dear reader if you have made it this
far, which I doubt, then I shall burden you no further but commend to you
that mender of unravelled souls, (Janice help me out here) sleep . Zzzzzz.