Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Shepherd's Warning

An hour before the dawn; Stargazer makes ready for sea - by the light reflected from Blankenberge's streetlamps, in the still waters of the harbour.

A scarlet dawn breaks as we set sail from the pier heads. The shepherd's warning. The tail of Hurricane Helene is on its way across the Atlantic towards us, followed by Storm Ali.

We beat down the Belgian coast over lightly ruffled cobalt seas, in 15 knots of breeze, as a pale autumn sun rises into a clear sky.

By mid afternoon we are through the Zuydcoote Passe, into French waters and past Dunkerque. There are nine hours of fair tide to be had, headed southbound down this coast, and Stargazer is making the most of them - to outrun the gales.

By evening it is time to ease our sheets and reach up Channel towards the Kent coast. 

Our turning point is the Sandettie light vessel, guarding the southern end of the offshore shoals. We catch the turn of the tide and ride it north.

The sun sets over Pegwell Bay as we approach the English shoreline. The breeze is fading but the evening is too perfect to sully with the sound of an engine. We ghost on into the twilight. Stargazer makes her landfall two hours after dark, following the occulting road of red and green flashes into the embrace of Ramsgate's rock breakwaters.

Overnight the wind builds to a full southerly gale. By dawn a resonating booming in the sky overlays the banshee shriek of gusts.

The Dutch top sail schooner 'Oosterschelde' too has heeded the shepherd's warning; and run in for shelter.

Stargazer lies moored tight in under the lee of the granite harbour wall, waiting for a weather window for her passage home to the Medway.

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