Where Next?
Bob Williams
Sat 8 Aug 2009 19:00
Position: 51 18.74 N 003 07.09 E

Alongside Blankenberge
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 European comrades.

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.

Bob Cat:

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.