Leaving the boat in Breskens, we took a “week off” to travel back to Burgstaaken in Germany and retrieve our van, which we had left in a boat shed back in May. Thankfully, the trusty old Berlingo started-up easily enough after it’s lay-up, and after hosing the dust and pigeon droppings off it, and kicking the tyres, we set off back towards the Hook of Holland Ferry and home. Two days at home enabled us to check our mail, and clear the beginnings of a fine rainforest out of the garden, before boarding the Eurostar and a local train back to the boat via Vlissingen. We’ve commented before in this blog about European rail travel, and once again it didn’t disappoint. Everything ran according to time, and we were soon back on-board in Breskens.
From Breskens we made a stop at the RYO in Ostende, where we had stopped in 2015 on our outbound trip to the Baltic. It’s a lovely Yacht Club, and the staff are very friendly. There was a large dredger uncomfortably close to the pontoon we were moored at, but the Harbour Master assured us it rarely went anywhere and had been there for weeks. Unfortunately it must have been waiting for a spare part to arrive, because after some earsplitting mechanical banging and grinding sounds, it started to discharge its cargo, left for a few hours, and then returned in the early hours to discharge another, making sleep impossible. So, bleary eyed, the next morning as soon as the tide served, we were gone, having given the Belgian courtesy flag, sadly, just a brief airing! Dunkirk, across the French border, provided a more restful night’s sleep, and we spent a few days there. This time going to the “Operation Dynamo” museum as well as visiting the town and enjoying the seafront promenade.
From Dunkirk we continued west along the French Coast to Calais. By now, the effect of the school holidays was starting to be felt, and the harbours were becoming increasingly crowded, fortunately we snagged a good berth – there were boats rafted 4 deep on the ends of the pontoons by nightfall and this proved to be pretty standard from here onwards. There seemed to be a whole armada of Dutch boats making their way west, and the only way to be sure of getting a decent berth at the next port was to leave as early as possible and press-on, motor-sailing if necessary, to ensure an early arrival.
After Calais, we visited Boulogne, Dieppe, and Fecamp. Staying a few days in each as dictated by weather, and also our own desire to slow down as we were nearly home. The old walled town in Boulogne was a pleasant surprise, and a complete contrast to the dock area around the marina. Before this trip, we had no idea it was there, and will certainly try to visit again. We were in Boulogne around the time of the big heatwave in early August, and witnessed some spectacular thunder storms, which somewhat made-up for the discomfort of living on a boat in such high temperatures. After experiencing a very hot summer last year we invested in a high powered hatch fan which helped considerably.
Dieppe was it’s usual bustling self, with all the harbour-side cafes and the huge Saturday market, and then on to Fecamp, which most yachties from the Brighton/ Shoreham area have a strong affinity with. We hadn’t visited for a few years, and I’m pleased to say that it hasn’t changed. For both of us this was the first cross-channel destination we ever sailed to, back in the early eighties. Here this time, we met up with friends who had sailed across from Portsmouth, and others who have a house nearby.
And so, our Baltic Odyssey ended with a pretty idyllic crossing from Fecamp back to Brighton Marina, from where we started out in 2015.
Reflecting on the whole Baltic experience, we would definitely do it again. It’s been a great adventure, and very achievable for a couple in an average well-found boat, provided you have the time.
Brits often think of the Baltic as cold and inhospitable. But in summer, the weather is often kinder than the North Sea or the Channel, and with the lack of tides, passage planning and navigation are easy. The cost of living in Scandinavian countries is higher than we are used to, but this is partly off-set by the surprisingly reasonable mooring costs. (Compared to the UK). In our experience, it’s a good alternative to the Mediterranean sailing that many people aspire to in retirement. Key to the whole enterprise is a good winter storage arrangement, so you can return home at the end of the season knowing your boat is safe. This is where membership of the Cruising Association really pays off. Their lay-up guide gives unrivalled access to information about boatyard and storage facilities across all Baltic countries, with reviews from members who have used them, as well as access to a network of Honorary Local Rep’s, who can help with information, recommendations for reliable local companies etc. It’s perfectly possible to sail to the Baltic without joining, but it does help. A lot….
We sailed in Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and the Aland Islands. (As well as France, Belgium and Holland on the way to and from the Baltic). You could easily spend a lifetime sailing in these waters, and we can see why many people do. We may return one day when we are older. But for now, there are some other places we want to sail to over the next few years.
Grey Wanderer will be coming ashore locally this winter for some TLC before we start out again next season.