5 Maxi’s – and 13 people – meet in Nieuwpoort, 4-6th August, 2005
The Nieuwpoort ‘meet’ during the first week of August proved to be a very worthwhile event for all concerned with both social and sailing aspirations being well satisfied. This was despite the weather being less than compliant for a projected stay on the continent. Most boats enjoyed a good round trip, although Vouvray perhaps being the exception on her return voyage to the UK.
Interest for this “East Coast” Maxi meet seemed fairly laid back in the initial stages but firmed up quickly once the weather and tidal window for Saturday 4th August became favourable. Much interest in Nieuwpoort as a destination was shown from the outset, but of course leisure sailing often loses out to other priorities and time/place commitments are never easily made. However, a handful of boats is enough for a green light when your appetite is up for it, and some Maxi’s had the advantage of already being over the channel. Bacchus, our host’s boat belonging to Francois and Els DeDecker, have Nieuwpoort as their home berth. Also, John and Olivia Mason’s Moonwisp 2 had been sailing in Holland along with friends on their own Westerly and were now aiming to sail south to meet us. Coming the other way, north along the French coast were John and Nini Taylor in Amare, a Maxi 1200 from Southsea (John’s other boat is a Fireball!) so we had a very welcome participant from the South Coast.
Saturday, at 05.30 in the morning, Neroli and Vouvray slipped moorings and left the Orwell River just before a spring high water to take full advantage of the tide for an 80 mile south easterly crossing to Nieuwpoort. An initially weak SW wind later veered to give us a rolly but direct ride over to the Belgium offshore banks with SOG’s of over 7 knots. This had the bonus of arriving at the shoals off Nieuwpoort before low water so we could sail straight across Banc Small and into Nieuwpoort ahead of our ETA (a passage time of approx 12 hours). This proved an agreeable arrival with Moonwisp 2 already berthed and John Mason waiting to take our lines. Francois greeted everyone with invitations to apéritifs on Bacchus (great name for a boat – Francois was only too keen to live up to the God of Wine’s name!). We followed this by an “Gastronomique” indulgence in town.
Nieuwpoort is a good port of call with large marinas offering excellent facilities at attractive prices (my Maxi 1000 cost about £12 per night). Good food is readily available, especially sea food in wide variety. It is also well served by convenient transport in the form of trams/trains to Oostende, Brugge etc. plus being a good location for sailing passages up to other Belgium ports and Holland or down to the French coast.
Soon, thirteen hungry sailors were shuffling into a well chosen fish restaurant (with port holes on the walls and waiters dressed in traditional sailors garb!) to plunge into the depths of the best that our seas can offer – with wines to match of course. All this was punctuated by much talk of sailing experiences, Maxi greatness, boat gear gremlins and general philosophies. For me, at least, evenings such as this justify any efforts for such a meet up or rally as the relevant exchange of ideas and info between fellow travellers is priceless.
Sunday we awoke to a dismal day, despite John Mason’s prediction that the Azores High would arrive at 13.00 hrs. Chris and son Andy were on serious weather watch hoping to take Vouvray back to blighty P.D.Q. A break in the rain around midday allowed us to explore the town square and even dine Al Fresco accompanied by “live” music in the square. Later, on walk-about, we were very impressed by Nieuwpoort’s fresh fish shops – you’ll never see better!
Then Carole and I plus our crew Owen were impressed and entertained in style on John and Nini’s Amare (12 metres of luxury in motion) with the ladies as usual being treated to much “techno
-bore” talk that only us guys can dish up. By evening, we were aware of a decline in the weather and pondering Vouvray’s prospects for a return passage.
Monday saw everyone sitting tight and wondering when the wind and rain might ease. Carole, Owen and myself abandoned Neroli for the tram and train trip into Brugge which proved a good day out despite constant rain. Meanwhile Vouvray had departed and we all wished her well in what we knew would not be the easiest of voyages back. (See footnote!)
Tuesday and the weather brightened enough for Moonwisp 2 with their companions and Amare to depart – followed later by Neroli – to wander down the coast to meet up later in Dunkerque from where we would independently plan our homecomings.
This rally brought together different Maxi’s from diverse ports for a very worthwhile gathering and reinforced the common ground that all Maxi owners share. And many thanks to Bacchus for the local arrangements – I’m sure we’ll be back for more!
Rod Minkey (Neroli)
Footnote ~ Vouvray’s tale: We were in a classic “need to get home” dilemma. Andy, my son & crew, was on a week’s leave and needed to get back for the delivery of a bathroom suite. We then had just 4 days to get it stripped out and back functional in time for mum and 18 month daughter who, as it so happens, were elsewhere in Belgium visiting her family!
After hearing the 5.30am forecast, we decided we would give it a go as the winds were not forecast too strong (NW 5 and 6’s) although bang on the nose into what we knew would be short steep seas, around 3m height. We powered out of Nieuwpoort with fully reefed main and took plenty of green water as we cleared the entrance in 30 knots plus of wind. We then settled down and made good progress sailing until passed West Hinder, although the curren
ts and waves were not pleasant around any of the banks. Our progress really dropped (even though we were now motor sailing) due to adverse tide as we tried to cross the wide Hinder TSS and we even considered diverting to Ramsgate for a short while. However we managed to get into the relatively calmer seas near Kentish Knock, and the winds and seas gradually eased as forecast. As we approached Walton on the Naze, the sea was dead calm and we saw the first yachts! We then wondered why our speed suddenly dropped: we had picked up a pot marker. Fortunately, the rope cutter did its work.
Our only real drama was when I looked up at the reefed sail near West Hinder and saw our Visiball radar reflector and tricolour assembly swinging viciously around on the end of the power cable, bashing everything at the top of the mast. We were worried about several kilos falling down and damaging the deck or us. There was nothing we could do: the cable was too well cleated to be able to ease it from the mast foot (we tried!). Over an hour or so later, the light and reflector eventually severed the cable, falling safely into the sea.