I felt palpable relief at the rattle of the anchor chain on Thursday evening at 2130. We were safely at anchor off Colton Creek on the River Orwell, the south westerly winds gently blowing off the river bank.
It was a low spring tide as we gently nosed into the bank, kissed the bottom with the keel and let go the anchor. ‘Talisker 1’, of her own accord drifted back as I paid out 20 metres of chain. The sun had just set on a lovely day. The Orwell looked divine … home waters. It was going to be a still restful night.
It had been an anxious day for me. Oostende to Harwich is roughly 80 nautical miles of concentration. The penultimate day of a cruise where I’ve been finding my way again after the best part of a year of no sailing. I only sailed 500 miles last year!
This was also my 25th sail into the port of Oostende.
It was the perfect weather window today. South westerlies backing as the day progressed, with winds slowly dying on the Belgian side, but steadily increasing into the afternoon and evening on the Harwich side. The winds were being kind and following us across the southern North Sea. The visibility was perfect.
My feelings of not being up to it persisted to Long Sand Head. But despite there still being a long way to go and traffic to contend with, the sight of Long Sand Head, a familiar friend, made me feel better. Slightly later, the cranes of Felixstowe became a tiny speck on the horizon, and with a good wind, we were but a few hours from home with not a cloud in the sky.
Leaving Oostende there was too much west in the breeze and, close hauled, our heading was northerly. We departed at slack water and the tidal stream was about to set south west. Away from the coast the wind would back sufficiently to lay our course for home.
Approaching Wandelaar Traffic, and 9 NM out from Oostende, we were called by the very busy Wanderlaar Pilot boat asking our intentions. I was just about to tack when the call came and so I was able to tell Wandelaar we were about to sail south west away from the congestion. Wanderlaar VTS asked for our destination and then requested we listen on Ch 65.
We sailed on a starboard tack for approximately 4 NM before tacking back on to port and finally being able to lay our course for home. The small West Hinder TSS is narrow and was busy. At 1020 we entered the easterly lane and switched on the engine.
Our heading was 90 degrees to the lane, our track over the ground, with the tidal stream, was pushing us west. Two ships passed astern of us. Entering the westerly lane, we waited for two ships to pass before clearing the TSS at 1050. Whilst waiting for a ship to pass we got buzzed by a Helicopter who circled us twice!! On clearing the TSS I switched the engine off with the Noord Hinder TSS an hour or so ahead.
Now we picked up speed!
Having exited the NE lane of the Noord Hinder TSS the wind was up to a SW5 and by the time we crossed the ‘central reservation’ and entered the SW lane I was putting a reef in the main, furling the genoa and setting the stay sail.
We were in a place we understood, the ship was sailing beautifully and just eating miles. Close to slack water we laid a course for Long Sand Head with the knowledge of a good lift from the strengthening north westerly tidal stream.
My anxiety did not start to diminish until the tiny spec of Lond Sand Hand Head appeared on the horizon.
We returned to Orford yesterday. Doc, Migs, Jenny and Mary were all out together in their Ten Footers.
A debrief from Doc yesterday evening. I told Doc I ought to sell the boat!
“Don’t you dare” he said. “That would be the end”.
It is lovely to be on board afloat on my mooring.
I’m slowly packing up and will head home to my Sally tomorrow.