In the race against the clock to ready Constellation for departure, we made an unfortunate mistake of not refuelling, so a stopover at Portsmouth was required to refuel on route to Brighton. I'm still annoyed that I didn't bring more fuel to Europe, as the British 'red diesel' is about the only thing cheaper than continental Europe when it comes to boating. Somehow boating in England fits under Agriculture or something, which therefore means the fuel is tax-free... I don't quite know the whole story, but what I do know is that Diesel is now at least 1euro a litre, which annoys me to no end. Winds were poor on route to Brighton, so we motor sailed a considerable distance out through the Portsmouth forts and then East, however there were a few hours of nice winds from the stern, letting us goose-wing at 5-6knots over the ground. The trip was fairly uneventful, except for the aforementioned sharkbait boat-tow and that on arrival to Brighton marina, visitors have the pleasure of paying 20pounds per night for an overnight berth... Luckily I resisted purchasing the 60ft ketch, and stuck with Constellation as my prime choice of sailing vessel - Feet are certainly at a premium.
Up early, it was time to leave Jack in Brighton, to make his way back to Heathrow and for us to carry on directly to Dover. Again, winds were not all favourable, but with the combination of what was blowing and the tide, our journey steadily progressed. We crossed the 0degree point of Greenwich, where Johannes and I looked for the giant red line we thought would most certainly cover the planet. To our suprise, the line only exists on charts... What a let down :)
Coming around Eastbourne, considerable swell generated three to four metre waves, which were disconcerting to begin with, but ridden right, Constellation handled them with ease. Considering the nice weather, I hate to think what it would have been like in bad conditions. The waves were a bit much for 'George' the tillerpilot, but when you're sitting in a confined space for such long periods, the opportunity to do something (ie. helm) was a pleasant distraction. Time right, Constellation also felt as if she was actually 'catching' some of the waves. Spray came off the bow, as if someone had placed an oversized engine under the hood, as we reached speeds of up to 10kts over the ground (twice what the boat can really sail).
Being 'pushed' primarly by wind from the stern, the mainsail was let right out, meaning accidental gybes would leave the boom some serious distance to travel. We lashed the boom to a stanchion base, in case the wind changed, or my sightseeing distracted steerage, yet one of the two ended up gybing us, and smashing the boom to starboard, resulting in rivets being popped between the top of the mainsheet and the base of the boom. As a jury-rig, we then moved the mainsheet onto one of the reefing points, which were much stronger anyway, being connected via a proper track. It's a temporary fix, but until I can find the sliders that fit my boom, it will have to do... Any tips on where to find odd parts like that would be greatly appreciated.
Approaching Dover at the 2nm mark, I radioed for permission to enter the Easterly entrance. Port control let us through, and we stayed the night at Tidal harbour, the cheapest place we could find without going through closing bridges. It was also the only place that had a German and Australian flag side-by-side!
Restocking with fuel and food for the voyage across the Channel the next day, we ambitiously planned to sail through the night all the way to Ijmuiden, Holland. With this as the plan, we sailed out of Dover at 2pm to catch the tide and leave England behind. I tried to amuse myself by fishing with spinners, but the only thing I caught was the weight of of the tackle at 5kts.
As we crossed the traffic separation schemes, big shipping traffic was everywhere. Our route was still for Ijmuiden, and as night fell, the GPS read over 100miles to go, with 30hours at our current speed. Ignoring speed and time, I played the 'human gimbaled stove', sitting in the cabin trying to boil water while heeled over.... I need a new stove. Johannes said everything tasted better at sea, and I must agree, because my pasta was by no means special, yet it tasted like I had an Italian chef stashed in the sail locker.
By night-fall, we began 2hour watches. It was a strange feeling once Johannes was asleep, as the cold Northerlies blew, and the plankton began to glow like the stars in our wake. It was certainly a humbling experience, watching the tanker M25 equivalent to port, and Constellation sailing herself with 'George' the tillerpilot guiding the way. At 12am it was Johannes' shift, and I defiantly attempted to sleep in the forecabin, but there was just too much movement. Moving back into the lee quarter berth, we ended up 'hotshifting' for the rest of the night. By 4am the wind had kicked up, and George was having trouble keeping course. Heading into steep waves, we put in a reef and George was able to maintain course again, yet our speed had decreased drastically with the tide. Johannes made the decision to turn into Zebrugge, and I went back on watch, secretly rather happy the current situation wasn't going to continue for another 10-15hours, and also somewhat excited that I could now add Belgium to my list of visited countries.
It seems a considerable amount of the North Sea had been entering the cockpit throughout the night, and Johannes was sleeping in drenched oilskins from a wet shift. Everything was wet, and water was literally poring through the cabin roof from a broken seal around the solar vent. There was little to be done while on the move, so I sat my shift out, strapped into my harness, getting dumped on by wave after wave, watching trawlers and the occasional tanker fly past. I was fairly exhausted by the time Zeebrugge was in sight, and Johannes showed his sailing experience by sleeping less than I, maintaining an hourly plot, and automatically waking up whenever there was the slightest change in the boats movement.
I radioed Zeebrugge port control, and we finally entered port at around 8am, having sailed through the night from 2pm the previous day. Pulling down the mainsail 800metres from the port entrance turned out to be a trying experience, and I'm glad I was strapped onto the jackstays, as I had the unpleasant opportunity to hit the deck rolling, with unusual wave formations hitting us on the beam. Sail finally stacked, we eventually cleared the entrance, and berthed at the Royal Belgian Yacht Club, nestled deep in the harbour.
Johannes somehow managed to stay up that whole day, exploring the area, yet for me, I went back into the now calm forecabin, and slept like the dead.
Zebrugge to Holland and the canals next.