End of an Era

We did keep our fingers crossed (see Home and Dry), the survey was successful and the sale went through without a hitch.  Pipistrelle had been on the market for just two months. And now keep asking ourselves the question:

Were we fortunate to have sold her in December last year?

Ruminating on the past few months, as I write at the end of April 2020, the resounding response has to be in the affirmative.   Her new French owner is delighted, having searched for two years for a suitable Wauquiez 48PS.  In February he managed to sail her across the Channel to Deauville.  Not ideal timing, we thought.  Little did we know what was on the horizon that would affect our lives in so many unforeseen and unpredictable ways.  For us personally Pipistrelle’s sale truly marked the end of a fascinating and memorable era spanning over a decade, the likes of which we will probably never see again, even post COVID-19.

Pipistrelle’s Journey has been well documented here and in the many blog articles over the past eleven years. Such freedoms to set off, and broadly speaking to choose our destinations are a far cry from today’s restrictions!  Let us hope they are temporary.  We haven’t hung up our sailing togs quite yet.

So it may be ‘Journey’s End’ for the time being, but this isn’t ‘The Last Post’.  We will return, though we may be gone some time.  For now we’re enjoying the memories of life on Pipistrelle.


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Home and Dry

On the current from Newtown we motored next morning towards The Hamble, past familiar ‘landmarks’ – Calshot Spit and Fawley among them, keeping our distance from the Red Funnel ferry.

Our first destination was MDL’s Hamble Point Marina, which as the name suggests is at the mouth of the Hamble River, giving us time to hatch a forward plan.   Retrieving our car from home (where Elaine had left it prior to returning to Amsterdam) was a high priority.  We took a 20 minute dinghy ride to the Elephant Boatyard, tied up on one of their pontoons, walked to nearby Bursledon Station for the train to Southampton, changed there for Basingstoke and took a taxi home.  Then it was back by car to the Elephant, with Bob returning from there by dinghy to Pipistrelle, while Elaine wended her way to the marina by car.  A successful trip, even though it took nearly all day, but we were rewarded with a fantastic afterglow in the sky once the sun had set!

After a few days there, and with the advantage of being mobile, we scouted around for a more convenient berth for Pipistrelle than Hamble Point which we found to be inefficiently run and disappointing.    We finally chose Universal Marina, with its excellent berthing, haul out and storage facilities.

After eleven years, it was now time to put our lovely Wauquiez 48PS on the market to sell her as planned.  We were advised that Universal would provide an attractive location for any would-be purchaser to view Pipistrelle, their rates were reasonable, and the big clear out of 11 years’ worth of ‘we’ll-keep-it-just-in-case-we-need-it’ items and spares started, along with removing the belongings we would keep.  Staggering just how much we had been able to stow.  It seemed as though we would never be ready in time for our broker to take photographs presenting a sparkling-clean and uncluttered interior – a far more challenging task than above decks.   We did it, and there was immediate interest.

With Pipistrelle still in the water, the first viewing mid-October proved promising, and in preparation for a subsequent survey, she was hauled in early November.  Fingers crossed!



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The Channel Crossing

A frequent passage for some, but for us, this was the first time we would ever have crossed the Channel towards the Solent on Pipistrelle, and the first time for ELEVEN years we would be sailing back to home waters.  A momentous occasion indeed.

Leaving La Hougue at 0800 would get us around the Needles early evening if our calculations were correct, giving us a day sail of about 80nm.  In fact conditions were superb – a good breeze on the beam and sunshine.

We had a thoroughly enjoyable sail, making excellent progress all day, and even thought we may be escorted near the Needles, having seen a ship going by the code name ‘HMSQNLZ’ on our AIS!  And it did turn out to be the new aircraft carrier The Queen Elizabeth which had departed Portsmouth earlier in the day (Friday 30th August).

And so, it was with some emotion we approached the Needles Channel, entered the Solent at Hurst Castle with its overfalls at ‘The Narrows’, and finally dropped anchor off Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight at 20.00 to see a glorious sunset.

It is quite amazing to realise that eleven years ago we left the Solent on our epic adventure!  See our blog of June 2008 We’re Finally Away


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Marina Hopping in France – 2nd Leg

What a change from island hopping in the Caribbean or Pacific where anchoring is de rigueur!  This is one of the reasons for making such a point about marinas in these two posts.  Since returning to Europe in 2017, we have taken Pipistrelle alongside more often than in the whole of our circumnavigation – see Marinas and Haulouts!

Back to France and Dieppe.  Well positioned for reaching St. Vaast-la-Hougue on the Cherbourg peninsula, and having done the tidal/current calculations, at lunchtime we slipped our pontoon in Dieppe to head westwards for the overnight passage.  The warm, sunny haze soon turned into F O G!!!    Before it became denser, we hoisted the main and set the staysail to motorsail.  But where to?

(We discovered from other cruisers afterwards that the entire Dieppe port and marina had been closed due to the weather.)

At about 30nm away, Fécamp seemed a reasonable alternative, and having phoned the harbour master mid-afternoon, established that a) there was no fog in the marina and b) there was a berth for us should we need it.  Using the AIS and Radar, we decided to continue through the night, spooky as it was.  The fog lifted at midnight with enough breeze coming up to sail briefly.  It didn’t last.  Much to our relief, there was little marine traffic all night.  We judged the locking in time perfectly and after 97nm finally went alongside our allotted berth in time for breakfast.

Mission accomplished!  This was the one and only marina on our ‘hopping’ trip we were familiar with, having visited frequently on Azrar III, our previous yacht.  Astoundingly, we worked out that we had last sailed here fourteen years ago, almost to the day – in August 2005!  So our goal was to bring Pipistrelle here too and enjoy the delights of this still attractive and busy town, famous for its oyster beds.

Seeing two Wauquiez 48PS of the same build year together was a surprising and rare sight, as was admiring the classic yacht moored on the opposite side of the pontoon.  Her owner, Richard, noticed we were flying the Cruising Association burgee and we started to chat.  It turned out ‘Sybil’ had belonged to his father, Godfrey Judd, erstwhile president of the CA.  See her fascinating history under National Historic Ships.

The two days were busy.  On the off-chance they might be at their apartment in St. Vaast, we put a call in to Paul before the fog descended.  He and Melissa were there, and we spent a very enjoyable time with them over several aperitifs and one long lunch.  Then of course, a visit to Maison Gosselin, the local family run wine merchant, was an absolute must in order to replenish depleted stocks at remarkable prices.  We had fantastic service and they could not have been more helpful.

For an evening stroll we walked out to the La Hougue fortification with its Vauban Tower, the companion being on Ile Tatihou, the island opposite.  Built at the time of Louis XIV to protect the harbour they are now protected by UNESCO and well worth the walk.

Sadly, our time in France was coming to an end and the following evening we slipped our lines to get through the lock and anchor outside before setting off next day, Friday to cross the Channel.

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Marina Hopping in France – 1st Leg

When we slipped our berth in Cadzand and headed out of the marina, it was a sunny, warm morning with little wind but a favourable current towards Nieuwpoort, our planned  overnight destination.  But having crossed the Zeebrugge entrance after just over an hour and Ostend at midday, we were making good progress under the iron headsail.   It seemed a pity to stop, especially as it was sunny, warm and calm, so we pressed on along the coast to France.  Though it would make a long day with some adverse current for the last couple of hours, we made for Calais.  Not the most salubrious of ports or marinas, for one night it was adequate and we were alongside at 20.00 having gilled around waiting for the bridge to open.  We covered 65nm.  The following morning we just about ‘caught’ the 09.30 bridge to exit and cleared Calais port half an hour later after a cross-channel ferry had safely berthed.

So with the first marina ticked off, the question was which one would be next, and on which side of the Channel!  The on board logbook always shows ‘log towards’ a destination.  The continued good weather persuaded us not to cross to the South Coast of England just yet.  Instead we stuck with the original plan to enjoy the coastline of northern France.  Leaving Cap Gris Nez and its lighthouse to port, after a lazy, hazy and hot three hours of motoring, just before lunch we put in to Marina no. 2 – Boulogne-sur-Mer.

Our approach took us past dilapidated ferry terminal buildings to starboard, a forlorn reminder that ferry traffic from Dover and Folkstone stopped when the Channel Tunnel opened in the 90’s.  But the city is still a leading fishing port and a magnet for tourism, with its old town and fortifications.   A leisurely Saturday afternoon and evening saw us exploring and enjoying a superb dinner at the Restaurant Haute Ville in the fortified old town, a good stroll from Pipistrelle.

The significance of The Froggy Bar?  No we didn’t have a nightcap there!  Pipistrelle’s previous owners, Katherine and Stephen originally named the yacht ‘Batrachian’ a type of frog.   So we sent them the photo and very bizarrely, earlier in 2019, they had been in Boulogne and were photographed in front of the self-same bar!  Such a co-incidence.

Early Sunday morning, and time to move on to our next stop, marina no. 4.  Turning to port outside Boulogne, we motorsailed under a cloudless sky towards Dieppe where we were alongside at 18.00 at the Port de Plaisance Jehan Ango after a 55nm run, just in time for sundowners in this quaint picturesque town.



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On Board Again – August 2019

After six weeks at home, Elaine flew on 20th August from Southampton to Amsterdam with Flybe, to be met by Bob at Schipol airport.  The train and tram journey to rejoin Pipistrelle at Scheveningen near the Hague was straightforward as shown on the map below.  Bob and boat had been stuck there for a week due to adverse conditions and was obviously keen to leave as soon as possible.

Fortunately the weather had improved so much so that the sun was shining, and after stepping on board, unpacking, and going for a meal within the marina, we decided we should leave early the following morning and at least begin our onward journey towards France.

Leaving Scheveningen at daybreak, we motor sailed in calm seas the 65nm to Cadzand just short of the border with Belgium, passing a very hazy Hook of Holland, Europoort Rotterdam and deciding there to continue along the coast rather than dodging through the much longer inshore canal route.   This would have been our ‘Plan B’ for wet and windy weather.

We left to sail towards Nieuwpoort, Belgium after a relaxing two night stay.

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Looking back on 2019

Much has happened in our lives on land and sea since the last blog article Inshore in the Netherlands.  Suffice it to say, Elaine did rejoin Pipistrelle in August 2019 as planned!

Events since then conspired against further updates in the autumn or winter, so with Spring 2020 almost here, the following short posts summarise our late summer sailing.

Better late than never!




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Inshore in The Netherlands

From the Frisian island of Norderney in Germany (see The Kiel Canal and Frisian Islands), we sailed to Lauwersoog, a major fishing port and our first visit on Pipistrelle to The Netherlands.

The 57nm passage with a mixture of sailing and motoring, took us south west outside the Frisian islands until we reached the island of Schiermonnikoog (try pronouncing that!?), to then follow the channel to Lauwersoog on the mainland.

We finished up mooring against the long pontoon on the outside of the marina, but still in the harbour, which worked well for us.  There is an excellent visitors’ centre describing the construction of a massive dam to protect the land from flooding, and to enable the land to the south to be drained.  Within this dam there are large sluice gates, allowing the water in the lake to be emptied as necessary.

Traditional Dutch sailing barges arrived in droves, part of a rally we think, all appearing to have paying guests on board.

Just astern of us was a seal rescue boat.   Seals are numerous in the Frisian islands, occasionally being injured by fishing nets and exposed to other dangers.  Once their energy is sapped because of injury, and providing they have made it to a sandbank, they are rescued and taken to a seal recovery unit close to Lauwersoog.  Once recovered, they are brought to the harbour in crates which are placed on a special small ferry, and towed by the rescue boat out to a local sandbank populated by seals, and released.  Paying passengers witness this happy event.  The volunteers were interested to know whether we have the same sort of organisation anywhere in the UK, which we do, at Helford in Cornwall, Hunstanton in Norfolk and Scarborough in Yorkshire.

A fascinating experience before we continued our passage to Harlingen after a break because of inclement weather and wind direction.  Another long 73nm day sail.  We thought we might be able to get to the West Terschelling marina to break the passage, but our arrival coincided with low water, preventing access.  It is a further two hours from this island to Harlingen which is a major ferry port and fishing harbour on the mainland with two yacht marinas providing access to the Dutch inland waterways.

The harbour master directed us to Zuiderhaven, involving waiting for two bridges to open for us, then motoring past many Dutch sailing barges to a small marina but with sufficient room to manoeuvre and find a suitable pontoon to berth against.  We were moored very close to St Michael’s Roman Catholic church dating back to 1881.  Happily, the bells did not start peeling until the sensible hour of 09.00!  It provided a very different back drop to the marina compared to what we have been used to.

Harlingen is very interesting, and we enjoyed exploring the different waterways and marinas as well as celebrating Martin’s birthday with an excellent meal at the Restaurant ‘t Havenmantsje, where the food, service and ambience could not have been better.

After two nights we motored through a narrow channel to the Ijsselmeer, or the Zuider Zee as it used to be known.  Having locked in, we were fascinated to see so many Dutch barges sailing in this inland sea.  The water is shallow, and with our draft, we stayed in the main channels.  The distance was only 20nm, but it took most of the day with the time spent waiting at the lock, and then navigating through the channels.

After one night we moved on to Flevo Marina, Lelystad, to the north of the main town.  An extremely pleasant stop, with excellent facilities and friendly, helpful staff.  This whole area is interesting because the surrounding land is beneath the level of the Ijsselmeer.  It is a strange experience looking down on villages that owe their existence to the creation of this inland sea, bringing to mind the famous story of the little Dutch boy who put his finger in the dyke to stop flooding.

From Lelystad we had a further lock to negotiate, taking us through to the Markermeer, another inland sea, and even shallower than the Ijsselmeer.  We had a strong southwest wind to contend with, and for the last stretch finished up motoring straight into it.  Our destination was Muiderzand Marina, 8nm east of the centre of Amsterdam, so useful for a crew change with good communications to Schiphol airport.

The marina is excellent, protected from the prevailing winds by trees along its western side, helpful staff, good amenities and free new bikes on loan, which made shopping in town easy.  There are also many good walks in the locality.  Martin and Janet left Pipistrelle at this point, and Bob was most grateful for their company, and assistance in so many ways, but especially in helping deliver Pipistrelle from Poland to the Netherlands when Elaine couldn’t be on board.

Also home to lots of bird life, Pipistrelle’s mast attracted many unwanted roosting birds which necessitated an urgent deck clean, followed by hoisting old CDs which are very effective at deterring birds due to the flashing reflections.  Each morning Bob walked past a coot’s nest in an old dinghy, a temporary home to Mum and Dad and two baby chicks that were hatched during the week, a lovely sight.

With the Netherlands being so eco-friendly, a barge delivering a load of seaweed almost every day, prompted the question ‘why seaweed?’.  The answer was that it is used to create paper, and an example of the finished product was duly shown!

Bob had a few days’ wait before Simon and Steve arrived from the UK.  The original plan was for them to help sail Pipistrelle as far as possible along the French coast, but the weather had other ideas.  After provisioning we had a very early start, as the plan was to traverse the North Sea Canal through Amsterdam to Ijmuiden, and then continue on south to Scheveningen, just North West of The Hague.  At 50nm, the trip included transiting an opening bridge and then a lock to the east of Amsterdam, and then another lock at Ijmuiden into the North Sea.


We were delayed at the bridge as it didn’t open until 0900, but the passage through Amsterdam was very interesting, and passed without incident.  Shipping traffic was considerable, similar to the Kiel Canal, and it was very much a matter of keeping as close to the canal bank as possible.  On arrival at Ijmuiden, we decided to continue south to Scheveningen, even though it was hard on the wind, with frequent tacking and motor sailing the last few miles.

We were met at the marina by staff in a rib, and helped into a berth in a strong cross wind.  The forecast for the next week was not good, with strong winds and rain from the south west and south.  As the coast runs in a SWl’y direction for 70nm and having discussed alternative options, Simon and Steve decided to depart the next day, which was disappointing.

As it turned out, it was a further 7 days before the weather relented, and with Elaine on board again we were able to continue our passage.  More of that in the next blog.

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The Kiel Canal and Frisian Islands

Our next stop after Heiligenhafen (see Bornholm Revisited) was the Kiel Canal, or as the the Germans call it, the ‘Nord-Ostsee-Kanal’ which links the Baltic Sea (in German the ‘Ostsee’) at Kiel-Holtenau to the North Sea at Brunsbüttel. The canal was finished in 1895, but later widened and using it instead of going around the Jutland Peninsula of Denmark saves an average of 250 nautical miles.  It also avoids storm-prone seas and having to pass through the Danish Belts.

After the mighty Panama in 2011, and in 2017 the picturesque Caledonian in Scotland, the Kiel would be Pipistrelle’s third canal transit.   Unlike the first two, the Kiel has one lock into the canal, and one lock out again.  But for some vessels it’s too small …

Prior to transiting, Pipistrelle anchored in a lovely sheltered bay off the resort of Möltenort and the crew enjoyed a relaxing dinner at the Haven Hotel overlooking the bay.  It was agreed this option was far preferable to sitting in another marina!

From there it is only 2nm to the canal entrance, and after queuing with several other yachts, we entered the lock.  Once through, we had to cross the waterway at 90 deg to wait for a space on the wooden pontoons the far side to pay the transit fee of about 20 Euros at the kiosk. However, only Maestro credit cards are accepted, which we don’t have!  Frustratingly, we found Maestro to be extremely common in both Germany and Holland.  So there was a mad dash back to Pipistrelle to find cash.

We were finally clear by 10.30, and decided to complete the 52nm passage without stopping, which worked well for us.  Most stop at Rendsburg, but having passed it by midday, we continued.  The breeze was blowing from the southeast but being tree-lined on both sides, the canal was sheltered.  We moored for the night at Brunsbüttel next to a sailing ship called the Grönland which had been built in 1867, and were invited on board together with the crew of an adjoining yacht.  A very enjoyable evening was had by all.

The next morning we locked out into the River Elbe, and sailed on to Cuxhaven.  Coming back to the tidal waters of the North Sea was a sea change indeed from the practically tideless Baltic.  This was brought home by the fact that across the Cuxhaven Marina entrance a strong current was running.  After a 24 hour wait in the marina for adverse winds to pass and for a favourable current to take us out of the Elbe and on to the Frisian Islands, we set off for Norderney.   Made famous by Erskine Childers’  book ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, this was our first visit.  After another long day sail of 66nm, we sailed across the north of Norderney and through a buoyed channel to anchor off the marina, where we arrived by dinghy in time to join Ian Shipway and crew on his Southerly, Going South, for dinner at the marina restaurant.  With their shallow draft and lifting keel, they had taken the standing mast route from Ijmuiden in Holland through to Norderney, something we had wanted to do, but some sections of the canal route are just too shallow for Pipistrelle’s 2.2m draught.

The Frisian Islands are fascinating to see, very low and sandy, making them an extremely popular tourist destination, so frequent fast ferries run to and from the islands.  Numerous channels with ferocious currents flow in and out of the North Sea, and constantly moving sandbanks make for interesting navigation.  Even though we had bought new charts, the buoys were frequently not in their charted position.

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Bornholm Revisited

After Wladyslawowo, Allinge on Bornholm to the northwest made sense as our next destination, due to the weather forecasts and wind direction.  It is also far more attractive than the marinas we had visited on the Polish coast on our way east to Gdynia.  It was an overnight passage involving a distance of 150nm.  We were lucky to arrive at lunchtime the next day, as the harbour and marina was jam packed with boats 8 deep, and in the small marina you could almost cross from one side to the other from boat to boat.  We lay alongside another yacht in the harbour entrance.  So very different from last year.  But this was July and high season, and in 2018 we were there in August after the summer holidays (see blog post Bornholm via Hanö and Simrishamn – August 2018).

On the passage to Allinge we had to motor through thick green algae, considerably worse than we had seen last year, and this resulted in cleaning the main engine filter on arrival.

Our original plan was to sail on to Ystad (Sweden) and Klintholm (Denmark again), but the weather thought otherwise, and we took the opportunity to sail direct to Heiligenhafen, to the east of Fehmarn in Germany, another overnight passage of 160nm.  Yacht Technik were waiting to reinstall the radar scanner, which had been serviced by Raymarine in the UK.  This downtime also provided the chance to visit the massive main marina by dinghy, view some of the local sights and witness yet another glorious sunset.

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