We left Breskens on a warm sunny day, the winds were light but the current was in the right direction so we sailed and drifted along the coast for a few hours shadowing a Dutch boat going the same way. Finally the wind died completely and we put the engine on for the last few miles. The Dutch boat soon followed suit.
After 9 weeks we crossed the border and we took down our Dutch courtesy flag and replaced it with a Belgium flag.
We approached Blankenberge to find a dredger was working in the channel. This made the entrance interesting as it was narrow and the dredger was working hard and the water was swirling around threatening to push the boat off course in the narrow channel. There were about 4 boats all entering at the same time, we proceed in and found a free berth.
Blankenberge is obviously a popular seaside resort. The beach was covered with restaurants and areas where you could rent sun loungers. It was hard to see the sea from the promenade. The seafront had a row of high-rise flats. We found that high-rise flats are a common feature along the Belgium coast, this does not in our opinion make it an attractive. (apologies to our Belgium friends).
One of our reasons for stopping here was to take a trip to Bruges. This took about 30 minutes on the train. We had hoped to take the boat to Bruges along the canal but this is not possible with a mast as you cannot access the marinas in the city as they both have low bridges.
Bruges was busy but we enjoyed walking around the streets and canals. Every other shop in Bruges seemed to be selling chocolates, the weather was hot and we did not think they would survive the journey back.
We headed further along the coast to Ostend. We decided to stop at the RNSYC marina as we did not want to get stuck behind lock gates. We had decided that Ostend would be our last stop before heading back to England.
We had initially planned to go to Dunkirk but reading various reports it seemed we would need to make a 10 mile trip from the yacht marina to the commercial ferry port to get our passports stamped and complete exit formalities. In Ostend we could do this right in town.
Friday the weather was good, from our vantage point in the marina we could watch the crowds walking to and from the beach, it was like watching a parade of ants going to and from their nest
Late in the evening we noticed that a local sailing boat had stopped aft of us, we realised that the reason they were stationary was that they had grounded at low tide. The crew hung off the boom and the skipper managed to reverse off , they had to wait a few hours for the tide to rise and return to their berth.
Saturday the weather was bad, the wind strengthened overnight and we had a really uncomfortable night with little sleep as the boat pitched and strained against the mooring lines.
In the morning the harbour master suggested we might want to move to the city marina behind the lock gates. We decided we would do this. We had heard it could take 90 minutes to get through the gates. We called the lock keeper on the VHF radio and he was able to ready the lock as we left our berth, it still takes the best part of an hour before you arrive through the lock and the two bridges and are safely tied up in a new berth. The water was calm and we did sleep better although a tram at 4 am did disturb us one night.
This marina also had the advantage of being close to the supermarket to take on essential supplies (wine) for the trip home.
There is a tram system running all along the Belgium coast. We decided as we were not going to sail to Nieuwport we would go on the tram.
Nieuwport played a significant part in the first world war, there are a number of memorials including an impressive structure the King Albert Memorial. This was built by the commonwealth war graves commission to remember those who have no graves. It was completed in 1937. Poingtantlly this was just 2 years before the second world war started.
Nieuwport also claims to be home to around 2000 of Belgium’s 8000 leisure boats.
We travelled almost to the French border on the tram, the dunes are punctuated by resort towns, most with a row of high-rise apartments on the shoreline.
Time had come to leave for home, we wanted to make an early start, the weather was looking good so we moved the boat back to the RNSYC marina as you could not get out of the town marina until 8 am. We made a visit to the police station to check the for getting our passports stamped. They were very helpful, as we planned to leave at 6 am the following day they were happy to stamp our passports there and then rather than make us come back at 5 am. There was an electronic form to complete. Twice I tried on my tablet and it failed, on the laptop it worked and a few hours later we received our clearance certificate to leave.
Sitting in the boat in the afternoon we smelt a smell of burning plastic. The first reaction is to look around the boat to check we are not on fire. We went on deck and the smell was stronger, the other side of the marina a local boat was on fire. Soon the fire brigade were soon in attendance the hatches were opened using axes and the boat was filled with foam. Later in the day the boat was towed away with 2 sad owners on board. Fortunately no one was injured and the fire did not spread to any other boats.
After a sleep we woke at 5am to get ready to leave for the 60 mile trip to Ramsgate. We were off just before 6. Once clear of the harbour we hoisted the sails and set our course. We had one of the best sails we have had. The sea was smooth, the wind was consistently between 12 and 15 knots, we were making 5 to 7 knots through the water. The only fly in the ointment was the current flowing in the wrong direction.
The sun shone through the day, the sails only needed slight trimming as we made our way across the shipping lanes. It took about 12 hours to complete the crossing, we estimate that the current added about an hour and a half to the trip but it was a good day at sea.
As we approached Ramsgate we heard a mayday relay from the coast guard reporting a possible incident about 5 miles from our position, we could not see anything and it would have taken too long for us to get there to be of any use so we continued into Ramsgate.
As we arrived the wind increased to 15 to 17 knots, it was a crosswind which made if interesting coming into the berth.
Whilst in Ramsgate we met up with the crew of a German Island packet who have just taken the first step across the north sea on their multi-year trip to New Zealand. It is always interesting to hear other people’s stories
We also saw a boat brought in by the RNLI, the boat had suffered an engine failure some 28 miles away from Ramsgate, it only had one person on board and he was suffering from fatigue. The boat was flying a Swedish flag. Let’s hope he soon gets on his way. (I wrote this before we left Ramsgate, he had fixed his boat and had left before us Wednesday morning, as we left we found him sitting firmly aground at the harbour entrance. waiting for the tide to come back in.)
We decided to stay a week as we need to sort a few things out, this adventure is moving in to its closing chapters. After three and a half years we will be moving back to our home, we will be putting Island Girl up for sale as she needs to be used not sit in a marina.
We have a few places in England we want to visit in the next month or so before this adventure draws to a close.