The weather is a drama queen, that’s for sure. From blowing old boots, the sudden transition to carpet slippers and a white veil was mostly welcome for the expectant boats of the Motor Boats Monthly Cruising Club fleet.
On our control boat, True Blue, the day started with a small amount of drama of our own. Having briefed the crews that we would nose out of Breskens at 0400 to see if the anticipated hole in the synoptic chart had actually appeared, we were still slumbering deeply at 0500 when one of the fleet knocked loudly on the hull. Perhaps the lost sleep of the past few days had caught us up, or you shouldn’t rely on mobile phone alarms, or both. Either way, the extra hour in a bunk was very welcome.
In the end it didn’t matter too much either. Within five minutes of wake-up we were underway, out of the harbour and finding that the Westerschelde was virtually flat. A few miles towards Zeebrugge we had nothing more than a light breeze and swell; it was time to press the go button for the remaining six boats in Breskens and four boats in Nieuwpoort that were on standby.
Soon afterwards the Breskens fleet ran into poor visibility that gave us a quarter mile at first, then half that again. Our course safely down the inside of the main Westerschelde channel kept us away from trouble and no other small craft appeared to be moving, apart from a Dutch Princess 52 that decided to play tag with us. The only tricky part was crossing a Zeebrugge channel busy with several ships and its surrounding shallow waters that were hosting a good crop of the usual local fishing fleet.
The Nieuwpoort boats also had poor visibility as they left, but soon broke out into a mile or more, as indeed we did once we left Zeebrugge behind. That wasn’t the end of the fog for some, as isolated banks were to be encountered in the Dover Strait up until late afternoon. But the really important thing, as far as we were concerned, was that the water was virtually flat, with no residual swell from the 30-knot plus winds of just a few hours before. Reports from the advanced guard running from Nieuwpoort also provided encouragement. What a difference a tide makes.
Amongst the fleet there were few problems, save for the Fairline 31 Corniche Carole Ann of Eastbourne that started dropping revs on her port engine. It was a suspected repetition of a problem worked on at the start of the cruise when water and rust were found in the pre and fine filters. Our advice was to shut off the port engine altogether, to avoid pulling any overflow of water into the engine. The boat was going to divert to Blankenberge for filter changes but the crew felt they could keep the port engine going at reduced power and opted to join us at Nieuwpoort as we popped in there for a fuel top-up and to check other MBM boats.
The delay also allowed us to hold back for the arrival of the crew of High Time who, having returned to the UK but heard of the weather window, opted to jump on the first Seacat ferry to Oostende of the day, get over to Blankenberge and pick their boat up. When they got going the fog had mostly burnt off and we were left with a hot, sunny day.
By that time the control boat singular had also got a twin, Tom Gregory co-opting the Princess V39 Play D’Eau to run closer to the faster boats for the Dover Strait crossing while we hung back for the slower ones. Another twinning was created when our tagalong friends on the Dutch Princess decided to run with the Broom 37 Crown Dawn Capers all the way to London. So 11 had become 14 for the great escape.