Saturday, 3 June 2017

Homeward Bound

A sea breeze ruffles the water. The sluicing Schelde ebb begins to flow. It is time to head homeward. Stargazer beats seaward from Breskens, then hoists her cruising chute for a leisurely reach south past the bustling harbour mouths of Zeebrugge and Oostende. We gybe close in off Cadzand - a newly built marina at the mouth of the Westerschelde. I mark the entrance channel with waypoints on the plotter. A possible landfall for our next North Sea crossing.

In from the rolling sea, we come alongside at Nieuwpoort....

.....with its shaded square...

.....chiming bells....

.......and watchful gargoyles.

Stargazer plunges and rears through wind over tide seas, beating in 26 knots of breeze, We short tack (every 6-7 minutes all day long) between the Banc Smal to starboard and the Trapgeer bank to port, feeling our way down to the Passe de Zuydcoote spitway. We've made good time. Maybe too good. Its dead low water when we arrive. We heave to, waiting for some rise of tide. Then 'Jantje' thunders up through the channel to greet us. In we tack. We make it in one long board, with two metres to spare beneath our keel.

One last tack carries us down the approach canal, into Dunkerque. Out of the tearing wind and driving salt spray.

Up on the quayside a fisherman mends his nets in the sun. Aboard Stargazer I cook myself a large reviving curry.

Fog closes in off Ruytingen, as we enter the shipping lanes. We cross The Channel in a tiny world of our own. Grey sea merges with grey fog. Visibility is 50 metres. Beyond our 50 metre bubble the world of commerce continues. Ships rumble by with fog horns lowing and engines pounding like the hooves of stampeding cattle.

I sleep late into the afternoon and awake to the cries of seagulls echoing off Ramsgate's familiar stone walls

We push the southbound tide for an hour, up past North Foreland, to catch the first of the London River flood off Margate. Its a calm day, with marginal breeze. Ideal to sound our way through 'The Overland Route' into the Medway. Charts and pilot books are contradictory on the location of buoyage. One thing they are agreed on is that depths at low water are generally insufficient to float us.

We ghost east, allowing the flooding tide to lift us up and over the shoals. I lay way points and note depths under keel versus rise of tide. The sky darkens. Thunder cracks. Lightening sizzles. Rain smokes off Stargazer's deck. The storm clears as quickly as it appeared and visibility begins to lift. Ahead, as if appearing through the mists of time, a Thames barge stands into The Swale. We are home.

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