SV Laurin in The Netherlands

SV Laurin in The Netherlands

Monday, 26 August 2019

Saturday 24th to Monday 26th August 2019 - Dunkirk!


With only a relatively short sail from Oostende to Dunkirk there was time for a last run to the bakery to pick up pastries and bread before waving goodbye to the ever hospitable Royal North Sea Yacht Club. It was a largely uneventful motor on a glasslike sea, with the only excitement being a lone sighting of a pilot whale. The kids spent most of the trip hiding down below out of the sun enjoying their electronics, whilst Patrick and I took turns to brave the sun.

On our arrival at Dunkirk the boys immediately recognised the pier from the film Dunkirk and despite us still having some chapters to go in our book, the story of Operation Dynamo was starting to come alive for them. We arrived early afternoon and after a brief rest and lunch we headed into town for groceries on the free bus. On the three previous occasions I have visited Dunkirk we have stayed at the Yacht Club De La Mer Du Nord however this time we were interested in the beaches and 1940 Museum which was much closer to Port Du Grande Large so we decided to give it a go. Late last year all buses in Dunkirk became free and the bus stop was just 5 minutes walk away from the marina. As always in a new location, grocery shopping takes far longer than at home and we were particularly keen to resample some of the treats we had in France 2 years ago. Very quickly we found the Normandy Cider although it took us some time to locate our favourite sausages! Eventually we finished off by adding a good sized tray of prawns to our basket and we were done.

Back to the boat for dinner and a relatively early night.


After a lie in and then a cooked breakfast it was almost noon when we set off for the 1940 Operation Dynamo Museum which was only about 5-10 minutes walk away. 

Once inside we were all engrossed in the exhibits for a good hour or two. Esme, as always, engaged better once she had an audio guide which in this case was provided by a QR code on each information board which she scanned with her Dad's phone then listened to. Oliver was in his element snapping away photos and AJ was intent on completing a booklet the museum had given to the kids. I think AJ and Esme were beginning to grasp the concept that small boats like Laurin (ok I guess not too many sailboats but a similar size) were being asked to join the Dunkirk Effort along with their crew. We talked about how they would feel if Daddy took Laurin to save some soldiers, about how scared they would be for him. We also talked about the fact that at the time there were only Male soldiers and why it would have been unlikely that  Mummy would have gone as well. We talked about why it was important to have small craft to ferry the soldiers to the bigger rescue ships, and thought about how it would feel to be on the beach waiting for help and improvising piers out of trucks. 

Esme checked out how to aim a big gun!

We also talked about the ships that didn't make it home, and how the small ships made such a massive contribution to the safe return of British soldiers.

On the way back Esme and I took a detour into a funky art gallery which happened to be free admission on Sundays. Esme loves this kind of thing and it is a joy to watch her engaging with the exhibits.

After a while we stopped for a drink and were particularly surprised to find clear cola!! It tasted a bit different but very delicious!

Finally at the end Esme enjoyed engaging with some of the activities provided for kids. All in all a nice detour!
When we returned to the boat it was time for an exceptionally late lunch where Cousin Ollie tried "Prawns in their jackets" for the first time. The Gregorys then went to the beach for a swim while Ollie had some quiet time on the boat.

After an even later dinner the rest of the family were finally in bed and I enjoyed a peaceful evening in the cockpit.


An earlier start than normal as we had a lot to fit in. First up a visit to the marina office to extend our stay and Esme makes yet another doggy friend! Next, off to the bus stop into town and then another bus out to the Cemetery where there are WW1 and WW2 war graves as well as a Memorial with the names of those whose bodies were not found. It was a moving place and the kids really seemed to engage with what it represented.

Next up was lunch in town as we didn't really have time to go back to the boat, and then out to Zuydcoote via 2 more buses and a walk down a long hot lane just in time for Low Water. We walked out onto the sands to examine the wreck of the "Crested Eagle", a British Paddle Steamer wrecked at Dunkirk during operation Dynamo.

Oliver with the best combination of long legs and short shorts read out the plaque to us as we all thought about the desperation of the soldiers gathered on this beach nearly 80 years ago.

By the time we returned to Laurin (via the supermarket for more prawns and cider) we were all exhausted and collapsed before showers, dinner and bed.

Earlyish start tomorrow... probably Ramsgate!

Friday, 23 August 2019

Friday 23rd August 2019 - Sun, sea and sand in Oostende

More pastries and fresh bread for breakfast followed by a morning of laundry, jobs and chilling out. Next up was another round of go-karts which were starting to lose their appeal so we limited this session to 30 minutes before heading back to the boat for a late lunch.

The obligatory chocolate shopping was followed by a lovely afternoon at the beach, the boys spending most of their time in the water and Esme choosing to utilise her Dad's civil engineering skills.

It was lovely to see AJ swimming and splashing in the waves again. He loved being in the water during our time away and he must miss it just as much as I miss seeing him happy and free in the water.

Ollie doesn't like the sand too much so appreciated time playing in the water fountains to clean off after spending the afternoon on the beach!

Late back to the boat, the kids showered whilst Patrick and I tidied up and I started to prepare dinner when we heard a shout outside the boat. It was a lovely family we had met 4 years ago in Bradwell when they had only just bought their boat. They had been inspired by our stories of wonderful holidays in Holland with Oostende being our preferred first port of call over the North Sea and this was their second trip across. We invited them on board and swapped stories until our all ready cooking dinner could wait no longer and our guests headed off to trial the delights of the go-karts.

Sadly by the time dinner was finished and packed away it was too late for us all to head out to the beer festival.... maybe next year!

Thursday 22nd August 2019 - Go Karts and Waffles

AJ and Esme joined me for a morning walk to our favourite patisserie where we bought pastries and fresh bread for breakfast, enjoying them in our sunny cockpit along with some extortionately priced freshly squeezed orange juice. Once cleared up we headed out for some Go-Kart action... one of AJ and Esme's favourite things about Oostende and they were keen to share this experience with cousin Ollie.

After finding her old favourite ice cream cart version was now too small, with her feet constantly hitting the brake bar by mistake, Esmé opted for a Kart where you leaned to the side to steer. Where as Ollie and AJ chose ones which seemed to resemble a Harley Davison Trike!
 Patrick and I strolled whilst the kids raced along the seafront. Ollie finally seemed to be really enjoying himself and once the hour was up we headed into the town in search of our old favourite waffle shop. As always it took a crazy amount of time wandering aimlessly round the bustling streets and alleyways to finally find it but it didn't disappoint!

We wandered back to the boat via the market and had some chill out time in the heat of the day before heading back out for some more go-kart action... this time all of them taking Esme's lead and getting the tippy tippy ones!

Then back for dinner in the cockpit followed by a walk along the pier to watch the beautiful sunset!

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Wednesday 21st August 2019 - Ramsgate to Oostende

Last night Ollie told us he'd like to do the early morning watch on the trip from Ramsgate to Oostende. I was particularly impressed that there wasn't a change of heart when I gave him his 4:30am wake up call! By 5am the sky was starting to become a little lighter in the East as we motored out of the harbour, making our way  north of the Goodwin Sands before heading towards the shipping lanes. I think Ollie was starting to understand what makes sailing special for us as we watched the sun rise together.

AJ finally surfaced just as we were approaching the shipping lanes, choosing to mark time for 10 minutes to let 4 big boats pass before we made our way through. We always find it interesting listening to marine traffic on the VHF. Today there had already been reports of suspected illegal immigrants on a dinghy which surprised me a little. We were kind of expecting this during our travels in the Med but not on the English Channel for some reason. I know it's not far but you must be really want to come to the UK if you are prepared to cross on a small rubber dinghy! We found it particularly amusing listening to the larger of the 4 tankers we were waiting for radio another to ask for space so he could overtake a third one.... and the polite response basically telling him to go jump as overtaking vessel should keep clear!

It was even longer still until Esmé stirred, sadly with a tummy ache. With precious little wind the sea state was much calmer than the previous day so we didn't really think it was seasickness, however she slept most of the rest of the day in the cockpit, eventually perking up a little on the final leg up the French/Belgian coast.

Patrick and I took turns in catching up on a little sleep until finally some sea breeze filled in and we were at least able to motor sail the last few hours. It was a gorgeous day and I metaphorically dragged Ollie on deck to experience the joy of sitting on the front of the boat in such beautiful conditions.

AJ took the helm whilst I phoned Simon, The RNSYC harbourmaster, as we entered Oostende harbour just as the Wednesday night race fleet were coming out to play. As we watched the shiny black sails being hoisted by the slick race crews I was taken back to my racing days, competing against Patrick on the River Crouch, and as crew mates racing "Zest" across the Channel to various French Ports. It seems strange that Zest is now owned by Kass Schmitt and will be competing in the 2020 OSTAR.

As we entered the Royal North Sea Yacht Club basin Simon came to show us to our box berth, impressed that we had a long line available for use, whilst we berated ourselves for giving away our passerelle! On all our recent trips here we have been alongside or rafted up so it made a change to be moored stern to again!

The Gregorys were keen to get off the boat and head up to the RNSYC bar whilst Ollie was needing some down time alone after banging his head on Laurin one too many times. After a quick first Duvel we decided to book a table in the restaurant there despite Esme still not feeling 100% and hoped that Ollie would join us.

As always the RNSYC made us very welcome and we all enjoyed a lovely meal (although Esme pretty much ate just bread and chips... but Belgian ones taste so lovely!). Oliver tasted his first mussel and Patrick and I had a couple more beers.... hmmmm maybe 3 Duvels in one night wasn't the best plan but they tasted soooo good!

Not quite ready to hit the sack we headed out in an unsuccessful search for ice cream, but we all enjoyed the walk even if Esme needed a "Daddy Taxi" on the way back.

 Oh... and we spotted a great reason to stay until Saturday!

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Tuesday 20th August 2019 - Burnham to Ramsgate

So Patrick finished work on Friday and travelled down to join us bringing along cousin Oliver. Oliver hasn't been brought up in this sailing, travelling life but was keen to "go abroad" this summer and was particularly excited about the prospect of visiting Dunkirk as he is a real WW2 history buff. After a 1/2 hour delay on the Leeds - Kings Cross train meaning a missed connection they eventually joined us in the Royal Burnham Yacht Club at about 9:30pm where the kids and I were celebrating a weeks dinghy sailing at the Cadet Week Prizegiving. We had all had a busy but fun week and I had found an old sailing friend managing the bar whom I hadn't seen for about 15 years. It was so lovely to see her again and she happily saved some food for the boys which was greatly appreciated.

We spent the next few days making final preparations to Laurin while waiting for a weather window to leave on our summer cruise, whilst still finding time for cinema visits, milkshakes and a trip to Maldon Combined Military Services Museum for the boys and a girlie shopping trip for the girls. Apparently the Museum was a hidden gem and Patrick couldn't believe we hadn't been before.

Finally we had a good weather forecast and we left at the top of the tide at 4am Tuesday morning. We had allowed the kids to stay up late on electronics while Patrick and I got an early night. This would hopefully mean that the kids slept later as the wave forecast was a little more lumpy than we deem comfortable... as a general rule of thumb we want the period in seconds to be at least double the wave height in feet. It was good to be on passage again and Patrick and I enjoyed some child free time watching the sun rise alongside the wind turbines which many dislike but I think are kind of beautiful in their own way.

It wasn't too long before more heads surfaced and after crossing the SW sunk we put some sails up and enjoyed a lovely if a little bumpy sail all the way to Ramsgate, filling up with white diesel to avoid any issues with red in Oostende, and berthing in time for lunch. The guy operating the pump couldn't believe the 120 litres we fit in our tank and Oliver's eyes watered at us spending £180 on fuel!

A couple of nights previously our friend Dan had dropped by and whilst eating his "smelly cheese" and drinking wine he told us that you could now visit the WW2 tunnels in Ramsgate. We were delighted to be in time to make the last guided tour so after a hot dog lunch I booked us in. We all enjoyed some down time and a shower before heading out to explore at about 3pm. First stop was the arcades which had seen us make Ramsgate our first stop on our "Big Adventure". Interestingly this time it didn't hold quite the same appeal and we were soon on our way to the tunnels, however we were pleased to spot at least one Dunkirk "Little Ship" on the way.

We have been reading My Story - Hero at Dunkirk by Vince Cross and  through this had we become aware of the tunnels which Dan had subsequently told us of. During our "Big Adventure" we realised the value of "Living Books" as a means of bringing a topic alive for kids prior to visiting historic sites. We had really enjoyed reading stories of soldiers at the D-Day landings and I hoped to bring Dunkirk to Life for them in the same way. The trip to the Ramsgate tunnels was the icing on the cake.

First up we explored the museum at the entrance to the old railway tunnel at the entrance to the deep shelter tunnels. AJ enjoyed hiding from  bombs in a Morrison Shelter whilst Esme was enthralled by the "old fashioned" telephone being very proud that she "knew how it worked".

We then met our fantastic volunteer guide, Mick, who showed us a short film before making sure our hard hats fitted and starting our tour. A brief history of the rail system into Ramsgate was followed by a hour or so walking through the deep shelter tunnels. The tunnels were designed by designed by Richard Dangar Brimmel and brought to life by "Mad Mayor" Arthur Bloomfield Courtney (ABC) Kempe. They were designed to hold up to 60,000 people and no resident of central Ramsgate was ever more than 5 minutes from an entrance. In the WW1 28 bombs dropped by the Germans caused 28 deaths. During WW2 over 500 bombs dropped on 24th August 1940 resulted in just 31 deaths, a testament to the success of the tunnels.

Towards the end of the tour we were shown a partial reconstruction of "Tunnel Town", an area of the old railway tunnel which was used to house families whose houses had rendered uninhabitable by bombs and had no friends or family able to take them in. Over a period of time these makeshift homes were improved by scavenging anything they could from their bombed out houses, with barbers setting up shop down below as well as musical performances being arranged. In fact at least 2 babies have "Ramsgate Tunnel Town" as their place of birth on their birth certificates.

We finished our long day with a trip to Pizza Express courtesey of Mr Tesco as none of us could face cooking or the cleaning up after. It already seems that Laurin is now destined to be a vehicle not just for adventuring but also for learning, another hidden benefit of our time as liveaboards and home educators!