Apologies for the lack of updates... I've been taking advantage of the perfect weather to sail as far as possible! From Bruinisse, I sailed back through inland waterways and canals to the beginning of this Dutch adventure, to Vlissingen (Flushing). It was surreal moving back through the waters I'd already come through in such different conditions. So much of it was already unrecognizable - The weather was horrible, and I was glad to have made the decision to make progress inside Holland, as opposed to outside of it through the North Sea.
In Vlissingen I waited a several days for an incoming weather window, which turned out to be 7 days of perfect conditions. Possibly a little disappointing on the wind front, blowing only F2/F3 at best, however who was I to complain, given that it's Autumn already, and as far as I'm concerned, any weather I can be at sea is good weather.
The Belgian courtesy flag seemed to only be flown just enough to flap in the wind a handful of times - Progress was quick, through odd misty conditions to France.
The only thing of any real note was the spotting of what appeared to be a radio controlled boat, well offshore. Maybe my eyes were playing tricks, but I'm quite certain a steel object with an antenna motored past my bow on it's own steam, and was not in any way anchored.
I wasn't sure what it was, but I sailed quite close to check it out, and I still don't really know what I saw. Post a comment if you do!
From Belgium I sailed towards my first visit to France, directly to Calais. For such a major port, the marina was a little disappointing, considering it was costly and entry was restricted by a tidal lock. Nevertheless, I explored the town, did some shopping, and struggled everywhere because unlike Holland, few people speak English, and my French doesn't go much past 'Merci', 'Bonjour' and 'Bon voyage'.
After a night in Calais, and realising there was no tax-free Diesel, I decided to sail back to England for a refuelling stop. Due to lock, I waited around until 6:30pm to exit, resulting in a night crossing of Dover straight. There was little if any wind, so I motored across on a beautiful starry night. I think only other sailors will know what I mean, when I say that there is something so poetic and hypnotising about gazing up, and watching the sails and tip of the mast bounce against a ceiling of stars.
Back in England, I was awarded English prices, paying 25euros for a single night. It was disappointing after being in Holland, where my boat costs 7euros, often with free WIFI covering the marina. But all good things come at a price, and at long last, I had propane onboard - I looked everywhere for a liquid stove to replace my ongoing gas issues, but alas they're either way too expensive, or just plain hard to find. So I took on board 8kgs of gas, which I think will be enough for the next several months, at which point I'll have to deal with the issue again - I don't think sailing back to England will be sustainable method of cooking in the future. Warm pasta on board Constellation was the best thing in many weeks. If there is anything to be gained from my tea-candle cooking methods, it's that I have a new and everlasting appreciation for warm food and coffee.
In Dover, I stocked some extra food, and motored out at 10:30am to catch the tide, and headed back to France, on route to Fecamp. It was a long sail, but the best so far - I had a perfect beam reach, every scrap of sail up, and 'Windy the Windpilot' (I haven't thought of a better name yet, feel free to assist!) steered course to perfection.
When night came, I became nervous. There is something slightly terrifying about sailing 'blind' through the dark. I'm not concerned about hitting a boat, or being hit, as I keep a good watch - It's the idea of hitting something floating in the water that concerns me. Being hit I can avoid by keeping vigilant watch, however running into floating debris is completely unavoidable. After two hours of strung out nerves, I began to relax and rationalise that there is nothing I can do, so why waste the energy. I sat in the cockpit, lifejacket on, EPIRB, grab bag and flares within close distance. Call it paranoia or whatever, but I'm no hero - I'd rather be sailing than sitting at the bottom of the sea.
I arrived in Fecamp after being up all night at around 10am. Poor Constellation, she's so slow... I slept for a few hours, explored the town, cooked very hot food, went to bed, and pushed on the following day direct to Cherbourg, another long sail. Leaving again with a favourable sea, I maintained 5kts for the duration of the tide, before being hit with it going in reverse. I clocked back to 2.5kts, frustrated and helming due to a lack of wind to power the self-steering. As night came, my nerves shot back, again terrified of hitting something. This time I was in the middle of the Baie De Seine, which is hardly 'offshore', but it is out of reach of lights or any signs of life. A tanker or two was sometimes visible in the distance, but mostly I was entirely alone. I became twitchy about preserving my 'night vision', getting aggravated at my GPS backlight or compass illumination being too bright. I desperately wanted to maintain what little visibility I had, as there were little stars, and what is left of the moon, failed to appear. But again, around two hours into my fretting, I relaxed, made some coffee, and sat in my sleeping bag in the cockpit, keeping watch and thinking of nothing.
As if by magic (not really, it was actually by careful planning) the tide reappeared in favour and on cue, as I came closer to Cherbourg. Approaching the top of Point De Barfleur the tide carried me around, bringing with it a nice piece of wind, resulting in a steady 9.2kts of speed. There is nothing more uplifting than speed after a deathly slow passage in the night - I instantly put all the junk in the cockpit away, tweaked the sails for speed, heeled over hard and put the self-steerer back to work. Picking up my last needed cardinal buoy before making a straight line for the Cherbourg entrance, I saluted and thanked him for his navigational assistance and accurate flashing ability. Oh to be on route to sleep at 4am!
Once through the large fortifications of the Cherbourg entrance, I lost my bearings. It was dark, I saw port and starboard lights for an entrance, some poles I thought were masts, and decided it was the marina. I began cleaning up the boat, pulling the sails down, putting up fenders etc without looking at the port layout. To my dismay, I ended up in the navy port, alongside a submarine. I was within docking distance of it - Amazingly no one realised I was there, and I disappeared as quickly as possible. Oh what a stupid mistake, because if you've been to Cherbourg, you'll realise how blatantly obvious the marina is. Coming back out, I quickly took out the almanac and located the marina - I was going to lay at anchor for the night, but I was just too lazy to deal with the anchor and figuring out if I had enough chain to deal with the large tide. In port, I slept, and here I am.
The weather has changed slightly, so I'll be here for another couple of days, waiting on a good forecast. I can't be bothered dealing with the Channel Islands, or anywhere with drying marinas, outlaying rocks or otherwise difficult areas. Direct to Brest or Camaret I will go, and then I'll think about Biscay again. All logic and advice points to a direct crossing to Gijon or La Coruna - A passage of some 3-4 days.
On a side note - Sometimes I don't have the time or energy to write a post, and will update my Twitter or position reports regardless. So if you're keen, checking those regularly may yield more frequent information.