Holland to Ardfern - bulletin two
Down to the sea again: Elburg, Holland to Woodbridge, Suffolk, via Zeebrugge, Dunquerque and Ramsgate.
Crew: Titsoot Tottie, Broontroosers and Peg-leg Hamilton.
You will know by now that these Bulletins are meticulously prepared by some of the most competent sea-going folk around. Truth and accuracy are our watchwords. So, whilst revealing that the 'Deneys Reitz' show has already rolled from Amsterdam to Woodbridge Tide Mill yacht harbour, Suffolk, via Middleburg, Vlissingen, Zeebrugge, Dunkirk and Ramsgate; we would also like to take you back and give you a glimpse of the peerless skills and sang-froid of the crew in getting it there.
To those cynics who think we have made up our whole story of seagoing derring-do whilst skulking in the Norfolk Broads, we can proudly announce that the whole trip below was conducted on the actual real salty sea, and not on the back of a truck.
So there, doubters and cynics! If you count England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales as four countries, the brave 'Deneys' and her strange array of crew, friends, children, relatives and dogs have visited 16 countries including Luxembourg (notable only for cheap diesel) since 2001- and contributed mightily to the wineries, distilleries and breweries in all of them.
So, the scene was set in the mighty sea-lock at Vlissingen (Flushing) in Holland. The old boat and its crew of Broontroosers, Titsoot Totty and Peg-leg Hamilton of the engine room and broken ankle were prepared for their first salt-water encounter for over a year. The forecast was sort of OK - SW, Force 4 to 5; visibility moderate to poor.
With an ear-splitting creak, a crack of light appeared between the gargantuan lock doors and they swung back majestically, revealing a two hundred meter passage to the end of the harbour wall. After a parody of insincere politeness with a small Dutch fishing boat - “After you, sir” - “No, no, after you please”, we agreed to go first, thus not being able to assess what the sea conditions were like. The old boat accelerated eagerly, sensing the proximity of its natural medium, salt water. Round the end of the wall we went......
Boff! Crash! Bash! Smack! went the first, unexpectedly violent waves.
Bloody Dutch fishing bastards, they have gone back into the lock!!
Clang! smash! wallop! tinkle! went every loose fitting, piece of crockery, cooking utensils, knives, forks, books, CD players etc etc - straight on to the floor. After 15 months of soft living on rivers and canals, we had forgotten everything we knew about preparing for the sea! Loud were the cries of surprise, shock and alarm of the crew - bugger! damn! Jesus! shit! "Why didn't someone bloody warn me it was going to be rough!" (Don). For a while, all that could be heard were curses and the tintinnabulation of loose possessions. The only positive manifestation was the obvious delight of the old boat as it galumphed and cavorted, throwing great lumps of solid water all over the place. After 10 minutes of mayhem, Totty spoke to Broontroosers and Peg-leg, saying, "I suppose this is not too bad - the visibility has improved and the sea - well, they're only waves, aren't they? What say we go the 25 miles to Zeebrugge"? BT's glum silence was read as acquiescence by the other two. So, we then sloshed and bumped to Zeebrugge, and from there to Dunkirk, ready for the channel crossing - no point in spending too much time being beaten up in the middle of a decidedly rough North Sea.
After another bumpy trip from Dunkirk to Ramsgate, when the Dover Strait offered its usual mix of short waves with holes in between, BT was given counselling by Totty and Hamilton. After four large gins, his impassive exterior cracked and he confessed that his grossly rude and unpleasant behaviour in rough conditions might just possibly be connected with the fact that he was a teeny-weeny bit nervous about big waves. Such are the benefits of gin and a strong, skilful crew, experienced in pouring drinks and stress counseling......
Constant followers of the antics of the on-board domestic sanitary arrangements will have been bitterly disappointed to hear that the pumps on both toilets and the infernal 'Pink Pig' pressure vessel were all replaced in Holland over the winter. So no more excitement.... Not a bloody bit of it!
The blasted new water system pressure vessel, now named the 'Blue Bastard' packed up on day one, one of the toilets leaked unmentionable stuff because a jubilee clip had been left loose, the sodding Strum Box shower pump won't expel shower water, which just pours into the bilges; and the unspeakable holding tank pump refused to expel a full 60 gallon load of the usual stuff, which remains in the boat. Paul Watts, engineer extraordinaire, has been called for to help BT teach this bloody lot a proper lesson before we start the next leg of the Great Voyage to the West of Scotland a week on Saturday.
The first leg of this hazardous saga is from Lowestoft to an anchorage inside Spurn Point on the bleak, grey-brown fast-flowing river Humber, taking us across the Wash, a shallow treacherous graveyard of many a brave boat - total trip 120 miles. “OMG”, as I think they say: Prayers required from all our readers.