RSA Holland Cruise 2001
John Langrick

Not having sailed ‘foreign’ before, (other than Kent), for this cruise I was joined by Jon Walmsley. Jon had already made the trip before single handed in STRAVAIG. Richard and Justine Bessey were able to get away in PUDMUDDLE a week earlier and had arrived in Breskens on the previous Wednesday. We would meet up again in Breskens when we arrived.

With ‘well stocked lockers’ we left the mooring and motored up to IMOTHES as Jon wanted to take his folding Bicycle. I removed my inflatable from its stowage and installed the bicycle in it’s place. The inflatable was secured on deck. We then set sail on the evening of 27 July at 18:40. Wind NE 2 falling to nothing at all. High water at 18:30. We planned to go via the Ray Sand and motor up to Walton where we would anchor for the night ready for an early morning crossing. We would then cross the shipping lanes in daylight.

The weather forecast for the week was settled as long as could be predicted although the current high was bringing in winds from the N E.

On a warm evening with no wind at all, and with GPS reading of 5 knots, we passed the Knoll at full ebb and tucked into an evening meal of chicken with noodles. Jon spotted the Medusa at five miles! We rounded the Naze at nightfall and with such little wind motored into the shallows in Pennyhole bay and laid out the anchor in 5.6’ of water at 11:00.

Although no wind at all, we were rocked all night in a very uncomfortable manner, even though we had the centreboard down. The alarm was set to 05:00 and at 05:15 we weighed anchor and motor sailed into the dawn in about a N E 1 or less.

At 0750, we reached Long Sand Head and settled down to a breakfast of bacon butties and tea. A new way-point was set for the West Hinder and under autohelm and wind still from NE, motored at 5 knots in a calm sea.

At 12:30, we started to cross the S bound shipping lane. One large vessel even appeared to change course for us. The lanes did not seem particularly busy and by 13:05 we started to cross the N bound lane. Again very little traffic and eventually at the N Hinder at 15:45. Here we changed course to cross the remainder of the shipping lanes. Jon starting to read ‘Riddle of the Sands’, while I celebrated ‘going foreign’. 

16:40 change course for Kwintebank. Punching tide now and close hauled still with engine on. Tide will turn at 18:00 and should help us up the Belgian coast. Both of us tried the mobile phones.. neither worked.

19:30 now close hauled motor sailing, Wind NE 3-4, cook a dinner of Clam Chowder to start followed by Chicken Tikka Masala and Bombay potatoes. Jon now has a signal on his mobile and tried to call Richard. 21:00 passed Zebrugge, firework party on the beach. Must have seen us coming. Have a cup of tea, Richard called to say that they would meet us in Breskens lunchtime on the Sunday. 

We arrived off Breskens with the tide turned and now running fast over the entrance. Furled all sails and ‘crabbed’ through the mayhem of wind and tide into the entrance of the marina where all was peace and quiet. The visitor pontoon was completely full and on seeing a rather large brightly polished motor cruiser we put out fenders and moored alongside after third attempt at turning and crashed down to sleep at 01:00am.

On the Sunday morning, we moved SWANTI to a newly vacated visitor mooring and went for a shower and breakfast. Jon assembled his bicycle and went for a test run. Richard called again to confirm he would arrive at 13:30 and Jon and I spent the rest of the morning wandering around the impressive marina and testing the beer in the yacht club, but got so engrossed that we missed Richard’s arrival. We had lunch in the yacht club where we were served an excellent meal on a rather interesting place mat. The place mat was a chart of the inland waterways, a quite comprehensive chart of the whole area. This could be useful!

In the afternoon we went to the local fish market where we bought prawns and scallops to prepare an excellent fish stew, served with rice with fresh fruit for ‘afters’ washed down with more wine and beer. Head down to kip at 10:00 for a start to Veers Mere in the morning.

Monday 20th, crossing the Westerschelde for Vlissingen, same track as the ferry. We plan to go via the Kanal door Walcheren. Richard, on PUDMUDDLE, Justine washing clothes as the ferries slip by – Richard hanging them on a line spread between the shrouds. The lock was quite busy, but managed not to embarrass ourselves by making a reasonably easy ‘hitch’ on the side of the lock. Many very expensive looking Dutch boats around the lock and what looked like a British motor boat club outing.

Passed the lock, two bridges. While waiting for one, we chatted to an older British Motor boat crew. They were on a cruise with a boating magazine, they had also sailed over the day before. We continued our gentle motor up to Middleburg for lunch. 

We both tied up on the town quay, where we were allowed a 2 hour stay, and then a stroll ashore where we bought charts of the inland waterways. After a beer in the centre of town, we returned to the boats and set off again on a blistering hot afternoon, for the rest of the journey to Veere.

When Nigel Bishop last visited Holland and Veere, he wished he had left an RSA burgee in the yacht club and suggested that we might. Later in the afternoon, we tied up on the visitors mooring outside the yacht club and made our way to the bar. We donated the burgee to the yacht club and they in turn exchanged it for a Veere yacht club burgee. One day when we get somewhere to display it….

Richard and PUDMUDDLE decided to anchor off while SWANTI remained by the visitor pontoon as the small harbour was completely packed. Jon was fascinated by another Shipman 28 moored in the harbour and went for a cycle ride to have a further look.

In the evening we had an excellent meal in a small restaurant and then back to the Yacht Club for a final drink. We also collected a key-card so that we could use the shower block in the morning. There is a short walk along the harbour wall and then over a bridge to the ‘facilities’, but they were excellent and spotlessly clean. On the way back to the boat, I strayed off the path and almost fell over a wall.. I blamed the lack of light, others less charitable might blame the beer. 

In the morning Jon had a similar accident on his bike, this time hitting a kerb, falling off and grazing his foot. We could not blame the beer for this. We had breakfast on the visitor pontoon of fresh rolls and went to the harbour office to pay our dues.

We then set off for a trip to the Western end of Veerse Mere where we were to have lunch and look over the sea wall. The wind was from the West, but only 2-3, so we tacked slowly across the lake. 

We had to avoid many wind surfers and one was clearly in distress, being blown slowly down the lake, and we offered him a tow which he gladly accepted, hanging onto our dinghy. After pulling him back to shore, we set off again and eventually anchored on the Western shore close to the sea wall, next to PUDMUDDLE. It was only then that I noticed that our wind-surfer must have grabbed one of the oars on the dinghy and it was missing.

Richard explained that the pin on the cable that secured his centre plate had snapped so our first task before lunch was to try and pull the plate up by means of running ropes astern port and starboard. It took a few dives overboard to eventually hold the plate up and secure a new pin.

After another excellent lunch of fresh rolls, cheese and wine, we rowed ashore for a look over the sea wall. Still a blistering afternoon we had ice-creams all round and made our way back to the boats.

Our next stop was Kamperland. This small town is directly North of Veere. We motored down a small canal and tied up on a jetty, still in scorching sun. A short walk to a local supermarket enabled us to stock up with fresh food. Moored along the harbour wall were some exquisite Dutch Botters, one with the most beautiful carvings.

We had noticed that there was an apple tree growing over the canal and already a few wind-falls were floating in the canal. Equipped with a bag around his neck, Jon walked out on the Bowsprit of SWANTI and loaded a few apples into the bag. This would make an excellent photo and I was pleased to see Richard in PUDMUDDLE snapping away. We were later to learn that Richard’s camera had jammed – no evidence! 

We sailed to a small island to the East of Veersmere and tied up on a jetty on the island for our evening meal. Most of the small islands have excellent facilities including a jetty, waste bins and many even have toilets. We cooked a excellent meal of fresh kebabs and sausages washed down with wine and beer.

In the morning, our exit from the jetty was blocked by a family of swans. Mother, father and about five chicks were nestled on the landing and father was not going to let us past. Eventually Richard bribed them with bread.

Then off with a motor sail to the lock at Zandcreek Richard took Justine ashore for a stretch of legs and we met up again just before the lock. We were waiting for the lock to open and tied to a post next to some Canadians in a small motorboat. “You mean you sailed over from England in THAT THING!”. Not sure whether to be proud or annoyed.

The large cruiser in front of us missed his hold on the lock side and drifted helplessly from one side to the other. We were determined to make a better show and tied alongside a tug with huge fenders. At the other side of the lock, we turned sharply to starboard into a small bay where we anchored for a swim and lunch. By now there was no wind at all and very hot. Again a row ashore for an ice-cream and then back to set sail across the Oosterschelde. Jon pulled the anchor up and it was covered in the most repulsive smelling mud. 

It is very deceptive as you approach the Zeelandbrug, a long bridge that spans the Oosterschelde. There is an opening part to the North, but we felt sure that we could pass through and did so … with white knuckles. Then on to the small canal that leads to Zierikzee. 

The moorings at Zierikzee were absolutely packed, some more than six boats deep. We managed to make a turn in a part of the canal that was only as wide as SWANTI is long, to anchor next to a yacht on the outer extreme of a number of traditional Dutch yachts. And still yet another tied alongside us. 

We dined in a small restaurant at the top of the canal near the bridge and went for a wander around the town. Zierikzee has a reputation of being one of the oldest and most traditional towns in Holland. Certainly it was delightful to see and beautifully kept. Finally back to PUDMUDDLE for a lemon tea, then back to SWANTI for sleep.

On the Thursday morning we had a short queue for the shower, again very clean, then back to SWANTI to make ready for departure. The skipper of the Belgian boat next to me noticed that we had the same GPS and asked advice as to why his appeared not to function. A complete re-set soon fixed that. We continued to watch in amazement as many of the boats in the inside berths wanted to leave early. This entailed a whole raft of boats sheering off while the inner boat manoeuvred outwards. I had great fun sat on the end of the bowsprit fending off. A short walk into the town replenished our stores for the day. I also bought some long drills (about 18” long), for 50p each in the local market. I am sure I will use them one day.

After paying our dues to a delightful lady harbour master who darted in and out of the rafts of boats in an inflatable, we set sail again back down the canal, East through the bridge and then to the lock at Grevelingendam. The lock was again packed, but we were getting used the idea and jumped our queue straight into the lock.

We motored the small distance to an island named Mosselbank where we anchored for lunch. We had another excellent meal of cheese rolls with fresh strawberries for desert. As we sat enjoying our meal we heard a cry from the other side of the island, a highly polished Dutch Botter had run down a dinghy. Richard just spotted the mast as it disappeared under the bow. Luckily no-one appeared hurt but the police launch arrived within minutes.

We then sailed off for a small island named Archipal, to the north of Grevelingenmere, where we would moor for the night. The wind remained very light from the East and so had a very relaxing afternoon and early evening sail. We nearly went aground on a couple of occasions, trailing the rudder plate over the bottom of the lake. PUDMUDDLE was way ahead and we could not understand the course, but appeared to be going in the right direction. We arrived out our island where we were again able to tie alongside a quay and started our evening meal. We asked Richard why he went the course he did and he explained that he was using the ‘place mats’ from Breskens. We had an excellent curry followed by ‘scrumped’ apples and custard, followed by a walk ashore.

That evening we had a foul weather forecast over the VHF and as night fell, the wind increased dramatically from the West. We turned the boats with warps so that they both faced the weather. That night the wind was screaming in the rigging with thunder and lightning and the rain lashed down. This did not bode well for our journey home. We decided the following day we should try to get back to Breskens as we did need to start to think of our journey home. Jon suggested it would be great to have some good old fish and chips at Breskens. Sounds a great idea to me.

On the following morning it was much cooler as we set sail back towards the lock. The wind was South West and as that would be our direction down the Westerschelde, we knew we may be in for a lumpy trip. Still, this early part of the journey to the South East would be a good sail. Wind 3-4, a seagull at on the end of the ensign staff while Jon fed it some breakfast teacake.

Back through the lock in Grevelingendam, we motor sailed tacking down the Keeten (very lumpy) and then turned South East towards the Kanaal Door Zuid-Beveland. There are no locks at the start of the canal, but there are two bridges. We motored through the first after following a huge barge with a ‘telescopic’ bridge deck. Richard did not want to risk this with PUDMUDDLE so waited for the bridge to open. We waited with PUDMUDDLE for the second. A short motor brought us to the huge double locks at Hansweert. We tied up to the Starboard of the lock entrance against a huge wooden jetty. A number of very large and menacing barges seemed to have the same idea so we moved smartly over the port side of the entrance with PUDMUDDLE. 

When the lock opened and the last of the vessels had left, we heard a Dutch voice echoing around the lock. All the large barges seemed to be moving towards the entrance. Jon took the initiative ‘Small boat to big lock – can you please repeat that in English?’ and they responded! They were calling us to go first into the lock. At full throttle we set off, being followed by all the large barges. We moored against a fishing boat at the far end of the lock, again a great choice as it had huge fenders. The skipper leant over and gave Jon and myself a slice of freshly fried cod in batter. Who needs to wait for Breskens! We responded with some fresh beer. They also gave us some Dutch tide tables.

Through the lock and down the Westerschelde was a very unpleasant motor against wind but with the tide. A very lumpy ride pounding through the waves brought us to Breskens again at about 7:00 in the evening. In the marina all was calm and the wind dropped to virtually nothing. A fairground on the quay was pounding out music. Lets hope we are not kept awake all night as we planned to set sail back home at 3:00am.

The forecast for the following day was West, to Southwest 3 to 4 occasionally 5. The weather was to deteriorate on the Sunday and Monday so our best bet would be to try and get back as soon as possible. Worst case we had plenty of diesel and we could motor back.

We had a great meal in the yacht club, collecting yet more place mats, and then back to the boats at 11:00 to try and get some sleep. I could not sleep much and just dozed until the alarm at 3:00am.

A quick coffee and then we set off motoring out of the marina and then South West down the Dutch coast towards Zebrugge. The wind was absolutely on the nose and so we continued to motor into the wind without setting sail. We could see PUDMUDDLE behind us pounding through the waves. Off Zebrugge, Richard called us to say that he had had enough and would sail into Blankenburg for shelter. We agreed that we should keep on and see how the weather behaved. 

Into the morning, the wind continues, now turning more to the West. Exactly on the nose as we turned to the West ourselves. The sea was quite rough, but we seemed to be making reasonable progress. One of the alarming problems was that we appeared to be taking water over the top of the centre case and so we resigned ourselves to pump out the bilges every half hour.

The wind remained on the nose and we continued to motor towards the shipping lane. The waves appeared to be from the port side as we motored up one side, over the peak with a splash and then down the other. Jon and I had 1 hour watches as the rough passage had split the autohelm mount. I made a quick repair, but it could not stand the pull on the helm and we felt that what was left of the mount could be better used when we were tired and entering the Crouch in what we believed might be lighter weather. At least the shipping lanes were clear and we were able to cross with little concern. Another larger Dutch yacht sailed by and called up to make sure we were OK and we assured them all was well.

So the day was spent bashing through the waves until on the horizon we could see the sort of clouds we were taught at navigation class to avoid. There appeared to be a front approaching and we were directly in line. We set the jib and ran with the wind so I could switch off the engine and top up the tank with diesel. 

At Long Sand Head we turned to face a fury of wind and tide. The waves were now breaking over us and it was all we could do to keep her head to wind. It was now dark and I simply concentrated on the GPS and compass to try and ensure we sailed a correct course while the huge waves were trying to push our head-first this way and then that. Jon was watching for the buoys to ensure we were on the correct course.

A huge long cigar shaped cloud seemed to be directly above is in line with the Gunfleet. The rain was pouring down. To Port we could see nothing, to Starboard we could see over towards Walton. The thunder and lightening cracked and flashed around us. Waves continued to break over the bows sending spray over us both. We were soaked to the skin.

We were still making about five Knots, and then it happened. For apparently no reason, the engine just stopped. I checked the depth, 50’ of water. Below it appeared that we were awash. SWANTI has an automatic bilge pump, it was clear that this was not working. I have a manual pump also so Jon set to this while I checked the diesel. There appeared to be plenty in the tank, but perhaps the lumpy sea was making it draw air, so I topped it up again. I bled the system, but there was no air. Yet the engine refused to start.

Checking the depth, we were still in 50’ of water and in fear of being swept onto the Gunfleet, we let go the anchor peering at the GPS to see if it held. And it did!

The water appeared still to be coming in at alarming rate and try as I might, the engine would not start. Both Jon and I were exhausted by now and a decision had to be made. At about 10:00 I called the coastguard on 16 and then 67 to explain the situation. It appears they had had a very busy day and I was relieved to hear that the Walton Lifeboat was on it’s way to stand by and would be with us in 60 minutes.

As it approached, the lifeboat asked us to shine a torch along the hull so that they could get a light on us. We were asked to haul the anchor up so that they could get us a line. The anchor took some hauling to break its hold, but with both Jon and myself pulling with all our might, we managed to get it stowed.

The lifeboat motored stern first towards us with a throaty roar from it’s engines as the waves broke on the stern. One throw of the rope was enough to tie it around the samson post and start a slow haul towards the Crouch. First four knots and then slowly increasing, we were towed into the Crouch eventually at nine knots. Towards the entrance the Burnham Rib came along side and took over the tow into the Roach. All this time Jon is pumping with the manual pump. I went below to look at the damage.

The bunks were soaking, I lifted the boards in the forecastle. Water was gushing in on the starboard garboard. I tore up an old towel and tried to plug the gap, but with little effect. I called the lifeboat on the radio and asked if he could try and get me on the dolphins at Paglesham, lets hope they are clear. 

At about 3:00, the lifeboat just managed to get SWANTI against the Dolphins in the slightest of water. I thanked them profusely and they gave Jon a lift to IMOTHES where at least he could get a dry sleep. In about 30 minutes, the tide had left SWANTI. I changed into whatever dry clothes I could find and crawled into my car, reclined the seats and fell asleep with the engine (and heater) on.

As dawn broke and thoroughly exhausted, I walked down the slip to look at the damage. The garboard seam had been ripped out cleanly from the bow for about 2 meters. A small screwdriver could be pushed through into the inside of the boat.

Luckily Rodney Choppin and John Whittingham was scrubbing HALLOWE’EN and TREAGLE at the waters edge and he let me have some caulking cotton and I was able to fashion a quick repair. Rodney and John kindly said that they would keep an eye on SWANTI and I went home for a good sleep.

The damage was easily repaired a couple of days later, but I will re-caulk the garboards this winter from bow to stern. I had replaced the keel bolts two years ago, I believe this could well have upset the caulking and I should have re-caulked then in retrospect. It was two days before I could start the engine. The air filter was thoroughly waterlogged. When this dried out the engine started perfectly, but I still asked Mike Dallimore to check it over. One cause could well have been the fact that there is a 1” diameter hole punched in the top of the air filter case. This just happened to be in line with the cockpit sole on SWANTI. I believe the engine stopped when waves were breaking over 180 degrees and now the same hole points downwards.

Since then both Jon and I pondered whether calling the lifeboat was necessary. We were both tired cold and wet and in retrospect much could have gone wrong, We believe we made the correct decision. I did call the Walton life-boat station since to thank them and they agreed. A huge debt of thanks to the lifeboat crew and I admit that I have since started my annual subscription to the RNLI, I only wish It had not taken such an incident to initiate this.

Richard & Justine took a few more days to get back in PUDMUDDLE, working down the cost and eventually making the shorted trip to Ramsgate where he remained stormbound with others. Finally they got back on the following Thursday after another lumpy crossing.

A dramatic end to what was an excellent holiday, and in the end all’s well.