It is 0955 on Friday 7th July, the Dunkerque harbour control has given us permission to leave the Grand Large Marina and enter the main channel, he wishes a pleasant trip and a good watch.
I have organised a couple of people from the neighbouring boat to shove the bows off. The wind is almost head on and I know if I can get the bows round sharpish then I will avoid crunching our gelcoat on the concrete wave breaker about 6 m in front!
Made it! And we hug the eastern breakwater as we head out to sea.
We are now on 065 towards the E1 buoy, there are a couple of yachts ahead, the wind is light and we have the genoa up and the motor on.
By 1055we are crossing into Belgium and I raise the courtesy flag!
We are now on a broad reach sailing up the side of the Niewpoort Bank. The wind is shifting slightly so we decide to cross the bank at it’s narrowest point, taking the opportunity to dodge away from a patrol boat sailing towards us in the Westdiep!
On a bearing of 000 we head towards the Oostendebank West Cardinal Buoy, the strong tidal stream is pulling us to the east.
At 1440 we change onto a bearing of 120 and head towards Oostende, we had originally thought of going to Blankenberge but is is still 20 miles off, the wind is dropping and the tidal stream will soon start to move against us. The Blankenberge harbour master has sent out an alert. The entrance is shoaling and as we will have to approach it at low tide we decide to give it a miss!
It is now 1520 and we start our approach into Oostende, we are heading towards the O4 red and O3 green channel markers. At this point, a blue customs cutter which had been traveling away from us turns towards us but we are going so slowly that it gives up and heads in! Phew! No red diesel check so far! Perhaps they are waiting for us on shore?
Once in the channel I radio port control on vhf channel 09. We have consulted our Reeds and have decided we will go to the Mercator Marina, it’s bigger and sheltered behind some locks. We have had a few days of being bashed about and it would be nice to be still and calm.
On entry into the harbour, we follow a long white wooden breakwater to starboard, at the of which is an opening into a small marina to starboard and at the end of the dock a lock into Mercator. I radio the Marina on channel 14 and they tell us to enter on green.
Suddenly we are in and holding into the ropes, looking around I realise that we are going right in the middle of Oostende, just opposite the railway station! The lock keeper hands down our berth details on a bulldog clip attached to a rope. We wait until one road bridge opens, move forward and the next opens and we are in. We find our berth, tucked away behind the toilet block but it is easy to get into and by 1653 and after sailing 21 miles Grace is nicely moored up.
We go to the marina office to pay and get our connections to water and shore power. The harbour master is pleased to see us and bemoans that a flotilla of English yachts from Ramsgate have cancelled there visit due to the red diesel persecution. He says it is just one customs officer in Zeebrugge who is on a personal crusade. However just in case he has tucked us out of the way! Now all our crew list and entry forms are complete we go for a beer!
Oh and a bowl of fresh moules on deck as we watch the world go by!