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Sunday, 19 July 2015

Dunkerque - Goes, Newtherlands (19 July 2015)

Sunday morning dawned dull and overcast but we were up sharply and despite being able to get an updated weather forecast we decided to make use of the time before conditions were forecast to deteriorate. So soon after 0730BST we were passing the eastern breakwater where in 1940 troops initially embarked until it was destroyed by German bombing and they then had to use the beaches. The wind was fine, a brisk SW4 mainly around 15-16kn. We also had tide adding 1kn and increasing as time passed. The only hardship was a noticeable swell that rolled Whileaway somewhat but we soon settled into a groove. We were quickly into Belgium territorial waters and the coast dramatically changed with medium and high rise rectangular blocks of flats crowding the skyline with a few breaks for sand dunes. After just under 3 hours we were off Nieuwpoort, the first port in Belgium and which sounded very pleasant. Nieuwpoort is accessible at all states of the tide being a former military port and we motored in between the mile long wooden jetties watched by large numbers of people promenading on this Sunday morning.
There are three marinas in Nieuwpoort and because a fellow sailor from the Cruising Association had recently visited one and was impressed, as well as it being nearer to town, we opted for KYCN (Royal Yacht Club de Nieuwpoort) and came alongside the Havenmeester’s jetty. There we had a friendly and helpful welcome and were advised of our berth.
After lunch we decided to explore the town, the weather having brightened up a little and we firstly noticed some very attractive 17 and 18 century buildings and then discovered that there were crowds in the centre because there was a special event – a medieval festival re-enactment! The town was buzzing with people in a variety of moving scenes and in medieval costumes from nobility to prisoners. There were sardines being grilled on charcoal fires, demonstrations of baking flatbread, blacksmiths, spinning, heavy horses and much more. 
Attractive buildings on medieval day in Nieuwpoort
We enjoyed a couple of hours walking round and also seeing some traditional looking housing in what is an attractive small town. That evening we ate in the Yacht Club and very nice Sole it was too, although we thought the starter of shrimp croquette a little strange. Interestingly this turned up on nearly every menu we saw in Belgium so obviously it is popular! What was immediately noticeable was that restaurant prices were about 50% higher than in France, quite a significant increase. However this just brought them up to UK prices.
On Monday it was again very overcast with rain forecast. So we decided to use the coastal tram which runs between the two borders about every 10 minutes. A day unlimited travel was 5 euros and the trams were very busy. Our first stop was Oostende which was a pleasant enough large town despite what was then heavy rain. So lunch was taken before we went further east on the tram to Blankenburg which we were thinking of visiting. By now the rain was really heavy so after a very brief look at the high rise flats on the seafront and the pier we were back on the tram to Nieuwpoort Beach. More medium and high rise slab blocks!
Unusual seafront with an older building left between the tower blocks!
The weather forecast for Tuesday was for force 4 gusting to 5 but reducing during the morning to 3 gusting to 4. So when the tide was right, at around 1000, we set off for Blankenburg about 20nm up the coast. Once again it was an overcast day but without rain! What we did have though was much more wind, gusting to 28+ kn at times, but as it was W it was very much behind us so we sailed pretty quickly and were off Blankenburg at 1300BST. Into the old harbour on what was now quite a windy and dull day. A walk through the town showed that there were a few areas with traditional buildings of good quality. But slab block flats were more in evidence, a large proportion of which were probably holiday lets. We agreed that Blankenberg was more down market that the much more attractive Nieuwpoort.
We needed to decide whether we were going to stay longer in Belgium as previously intended, or move on to Holland making up for the time that we lost sitting out strong winds in Boulogne. It rained again overnight! So it was an easy decision and, with a favourable weather forecast that said only light rain until around 1000, we cast off around that time and headed E. We still had the SW or W wind F4/5 so with genoa and main sails puffed out and coping with more swell, we moved along the coast carefully skirting Zebrugge and the few ships entering and leaving and 5nm later the coast changed again with the disappearance of flats and the re-emergence of the sand dunes as we crossed the Belgium/Holland border! But by now we were starting to get occasional light drizzle. It was a warm day and with no rain forecast we were not in full wet weather gear. We hastily donned our jackets as we continued along the coast and into the Wielingen estuary. We had to cross this very busy estuary with its many sandbanks and its succession of ships and fast ferries. We were heading for Vlissingen (Flushing) which we achieved without incident. I had decided that we would head for the lock that gave entry to the Dutch canal system and then stay the night at the old marina just past the lock. By the time we were at the other side of the estuary and waiting (with half a dozen other boats) for the lock, we were soaked! So it was a very wet couple that berthed about half an hour later! Not long after the rain relented. We spent a couple of hours looking round the town then enjoyed a very pleasant and reasonably priced meal in the unpretentious club house in the small marina.
The forecast for Wednesday was sun. And (until the evening) that is what we got! Having got into the canal system we now planned to travel just 3nm up the canal to Middleberg. But three miles and five bridges had to open! The first of these, just outside the marina, opened within 10 minutes of our arrival but that was because a convoy of about 10 boats emerged from up the canal. We were held at the next bridge, just 400m further, for about 50 minutes. Eventually we did get through all 5 bridges and arrived at the harbour just after 1200BST. The HM allocated us a “box”. In Holland they use boxes more frequently than pontoons with fingers as is usual in the UK and most European countries. Imagine no finger pontoon jutting out from the main spinal pontoon. Instead, about a boat length (sometimes more sometimes less) from the spinal pontoon are posts. You pass between two posts attaching stern lines as you pass (both sides), then you stop short of the spinal pontoon and secure through rings to it. Surprisingly (although on a day with little wind) our first attempt at this manoeuvre was successful, much to our relief. Now all we had to do was find a way of climbing over the bow to leave the boat!
Part of the harbour (box moorings nearest camera) in Middleberg
Middleburg turned out to be a very impressive town of about 50,000 people. It is the regional capital of Zeeland. Apparently in 1940 the centre was heavily bombed by the Germans. After the war many of the lost buildings were rebuilt to the original style, mostly 18th century. It has lovely cobbled narrow roads and alleyways with impressive buildings.

Alley in Middleberg
The harbour is close to the centre of the town and is run by the Yacht Club. We had a lovely meal in their narrow three story clubhouse on one evening. On Friday we got on our bikes and used the first class cycle paths to ride to Arnemuiden about 6km. It is now on a branch of the canal but was originally “a town of sturdy seafarers”. There were some small replica fishing boats and a shipyard together with a historic centre. But it was very quiet and most of the rest of the small town was more modern. We then cycled on to Veere on the Veerse Meer. This has Scottish connections as a Lord’s son married a Scottish Princess in the 14th century and as a result trade blossomed! Until the construction of the Veerse Dam in the 1960s this was a fishing and seaport but now it is the delightful historic houses and other buildings that attract the tourists. We would be passing nearby the next day but it was a good opportunity to spend some time there.
On Saturday we carefully exited our box around 0830LT and headed north along the canal to the lock at Veere Schutsluis which we were delighted to find open to us with just one other boat inside. As soon as we entered the gate began to shut and the water began to drain, although not very far probably a metre at most. We then entered the Veerse Meer a long winding estuary in which we passed many islands. It also became increasingly busy as we approached (about 90 minutes later) the next lock, Zandkreeksluis and its associated bascule bridges (one each end of the lock). Even as we approached there were around 10 yachts and cabin cruisers tied up to various pontoons or posts awaiting the opening of the lock so we also found a spot and tied up. It was about half an hour before the lock opened to release west bound traffic and by then the number of waiting boats had grown to around 40 or more! I was sure that there wouldn't be enough room for us all but once the green light showed there was a rush towards the lock and by the time the gate was shut behind us there must have been 50 boats inside. Not quite like the K&A!
In Zandkreeksluis lock, there are about another dozen boats in front of us!
From there a shorter distance through tidal waters of about 3nm to the SS Van Goes lock at the entrance to the Havenkanaal to Goes. A lift this time, in a much smaller lock filled with 8 boats) and then a few miles on through another lifting bridge before we reached the outskirts of Goes. It was now just after 1400LT and the HM who was responsible for the bridge was not returning from lunch until 1500. So tie up and lunch for us too. An hour later through the bridge and we choose the WV De Werf club marina (recommended by a Cruising Association colleague) which is like being in a small garden! Very enjoyable.
WV De Werf Marina, Goes
Goes is another very attractive town with lovely historic buildings, busy open air cafes around the Market Square and a considerable traditional shopping centre.
Town Harbour, Goes
On Saturday night and Sunday morning more steady rain. So it was not until later Sunday morning that we passed through the town centre and discovered that there was a gathering of old VW Beetles and Camper Vans. Very colourful!
After lunch we got on our bikes and spent the afternoon cycling on the super cycle paths that the Dutch have. We set off east, firstly passing through a new well designed housing estate on the outskirts of Goes and then across the flat country side to the edge of the Oosterschelde a large tidal estuary. We passed through Kattendijk and then on along the dyke on the coast to Wemeldinge and then Yerseke. The latter is a major fishing port and also supports mussel and oyster beds. We were amazed to see a large fishing fleet (50+ boats). The industry is obviously doing well here as the boats are well maintained.
Some of the fishing boats at Yerseke
All together we covered over 35km on our Bromptons so we returned to Whileaway somewhat tired and saddle sore! But a few interesting days in Zeeland and next we head north back to the Oosterschelde and on to Willemstad.

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