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Betty at Ramsgate Royal Harbour



Monday 09. August 2010


geographical position
51° 19.4' N 01° 26.1' E
miles covered today:
70,6 nm
prev. day:
358,4 total: 429,0


days events

It is only normal to start the day of a Channel crossing at Blankenberge very early at 5.30 Belgian time. All three weather forecasts (BBC Coastal Forecast, Koenigliche Weather Forecast of the Netherlands and the German Shipping Weather) basically agreed on slight SW winds of 2 to 3 bf veering to W and to increase slightly. They forecast a clear, sunny day with practically no waves. The tide would not be running in my favour at first unfortunately, but since it would turn while crossing, I did not worry too much about it.
When I open the hatch, I can just make out the next boat for the thick fog which obscures everything more distant than 10 meters. I decide to get ready for a departure at 6.30, hoping the mist will clear sufficiently by then, wash and have breakfast. One hour later I can just make out the blue sky above the mist, but motor very slowly through the canal out of the harbour of Blankenberge. Although there is not a breath of wind stirring, I decide to hoist the main sail still close to the beach and by the time I motor westwards along the coast of Belgium, the fog has cleared completely.
Problems start at about nine o'clock, when a breeze from the SW is picking up, soon becoming a gusty wind of 3 to 4 bf and while blowing against the tide running westwards, it is whipping up a rather short and steep sea. By the time I reach the shipping lanes at midday, Betty sticks her bowsprit deep into every other wave and we make 2 to 3 knots at most. The trouble is, with the wind blowing from the direction it now is, I can no longer use the foresails to lift and stabilize the bow over the waves, which are getting higher the longer it is blowing. My only hope is the change of the tide in the afternoon, but now another problem manifests itself, the ship is making too much water. Only now it becomes clear, that the boat has dried out too much in the almost ten weeks in the shed and during that heat wave to boot. And the time back in the water has certainly not been long enough for the wood to expand completely and stop the gaps. Going through the waves instead of over them lets the water find its way through every seam in the deck and the cockpit and my electric bilge pump is simply overpowered. Now I have to man a pump and bail out the bilge manually every now and then. But apart from the slow speed we make and the discomfort of water sloshing from side to side down below, everything is hunky-dory.

But after crossing the traffic separation zone it gets really serious: Although the tide is now slowly turning in my favour and the wind decides to change to a more SW direction - which should be favourable and makes me hoist the foresails - it slowly picks up in force to a 5, occasionally 6 bf and the waves get higher and higher. I am now motor sailing, but soon the autopilot is overwhelmed and instead of steering the ship some of the time, I now have to man the tiller for good, making it impossible to be at the bilge pump at the same time.
So here I sit hour after hour, steering an over canvassed boat over cresting waves, outmaneuvering every other BIG one, that comes rolling in like a mountain with a crown of white foam, while a couple of bathtubs of salt water are sloshing back and forth inside the boat and I can't do the least thing about it... At about seven o'clock I start to get frightened: the wind seems to get even stronger and I definitely need to get some of the sails down, especially the big jib, which is now just too big for this wind. I still need to keep the staysail up to help the bow over the waves. Then again much later, finally past the huge offshore wind farm, using the autopilot to turn the boat and opening the main all the way as a shadow for the jib, I finally get it down and stowed away in the forepeak. Luckily without accidental gybe I manage to turn the boat around and resume playing hide and seek with the big rollers for a very long time. Until quite exhausted, I reach the shelter of the land, the waves are getting less frightening and after having put up the paraffin navigational lights as it is getting dark fast, I mange to take down the main and enter Ramsgate Harbour at 23.00, sixteen and a half hour after I set out from Blankenberge.

When tied up to the marina pontoon in the Royal Harbour, the wind is still howling in the rigging, but Betty is safe now and I can start taking stock of the damage. Well, luckily it is not as bad as I first thought. After wiping the floors and moving lots of stuff around, I even manage to find a dry bunk for tonight and apart from the mattresses drenched in sea water and most of my clothing soaking wet, there is no damage. So I settle down to have something quick to eat, thinking all the time: Thank God, I made it and the sleeping bag stayed dry!
This crossing, the last of a total of seven (four with Betty in 2003 and 2004, and two before that), turned out to be far too much on the brink for what I would consider safe - 'border lining' in other words. If only the slightest thing had gone wrong on top, I would have been in serious trouble and this is not a good realisation on a trip you are single handing. The most obvious conclusion: I can not have complete trust in any weather forecast - for all the computer power they throw at it today - and what logically follows is, I will not do long distances of open water without crew ever again!

  skipper:Jan Holthusen  

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