Monday-Friday. May 13-17, 2019
Favorable winds from the north encouraged us to leave our adopted Dutch country and head down the southern part of the North Sea. As opposed to doing one long overnight passage we decided to do daily hops of 40 to 60 miles, landing us in a new port each night.
Covering miles only during daylight made it a heck of lot easier for coastal sailing. If sailing at night, I’d rather be out in the middle of the ocean: when you see a light, there’s no question it’s attached to a ship, oil platform, or UFO. When you’re near the coast it could be an onshore beacon, street light, reef, or even a low-flying airplane (which occurred in 2004 sailing by Boston’s Logan Airport…).
As our AIS shows, we were amidst a lot of ships,
some requiring a close watch, the ship named CAUSEWAY being one of them. According to the CPA (‘Closest Point of Approach’) of 0.0 miles, if neither of our courses changed in the next 3.7 miles, we’d see a bold ‘Collision warning!’ flashing on the screen.
By the second day we’d established a routine of rising, checking the wind forecast, reviewing the currents and tides as well as shipping lanes* then heading out of the harbor to follow the coastline south and west.
* To facilitate commercial traffic while lessening the chances of collision with pleasure boats the authorities have established shipping channels, typically a lane in each direction with a TSS (Traffic Separation Scheme) in between. To accomplish the fastest crossing of these lanes, we need to do so at a ninety-degree angle. And, trust me, when crossing the lanes extending out of Rotterdam, the busiest port in Europe, we wanted to be on the other side of them as quickly as possible. You can see the solid line of ships heading south in one of the AIS photos above.
With only a few, all-weather ports (many man-made) along this stretch of the coast we based our selection of marinas on their ability to accommodate our 2-meter (6’ 6″) draft and the ease of entering and exiting the harbor (strong currents can play havoc when docking and undocking). For three mornings we exchanged one port for another: Scheveningen (Netherlands) for Zeebrugge (Belgium) – the teal blue dot is where we docked;
Zeebrugge for Dunkirk (France)–the green is where JUANONA was,
and Dunkirk for Boulogne Sur Mer (France), not to be confused with Bologna, Italy…
It got to the point where I’d wake up and try to remember the previous port’s layout by visualizing the dock, and the toilet-shower facilities.
A ritual we carry out at sea is exchanging one country’s courtesy flag (flown on one of our spreaders) for another’s. In this case it was our Dutch flag
Having covered a fair bit of miles in three days and seeing the favorable forecast of northerly winds continuing for a few more days we decided to stop for 36 hours in Boulonge, a port other cruisers had recommended.
Being one of the few American boats around we managed to attract the attention of the French law enforcement. Four officials boarded the boat upon our arrival in Boulogne, and for an hour they perused our paperwork trying to decide if we needed to pay V.A.T. on JUANONA.*
* Just to give you a quick synopsis of issues facing foreign boaters in European waters, we would have to pay a 20% Value Added Tax (basically a sales tax) on Juanona if she had been in the European Union for more than 18 months. The only way to avoid this tax is by taking her to a non-EU port (which is why we always touched the coast of Norway prior to returning to an EU country).
On top of this is a restriction on foreigners themselves in Schengen countries (currently, all EU and Scandinavian countries except for the UK). If you’re not a Schengen resident, then you’re only allowed three months within those countries; and, once you’re reached that limit, you have to leave and not return for three months.
These regulations mean your boat is allowed for 18 months and yourself, three. You can see how tricky of a dance this is if you plan to cruise these European waters.
By obtaining temporary Dutch residency in the Netherlands, Max and I are considered Schengen residents. And, thanks to the advice of fellow cruisers, Gus and Helen Wilson, we were able to temporarily import JUANONA into the EU. Due to those two actions we’ve protected ourselves and JUANONA from the EU and Schengen restrictions.
However, the French customs officers weren’t familiar with the Dutch paperwork stating we had temporarily imported JUANONA into the EU, thus the hour sitting in our cockpit trying to decipher another country’s government form.
It all ended well with their providing us a French document approving our temporary import. Since 2014 we’ve been boarded five times by custom officials: twice by the Brits, once by Germans, once by the Dutch, and now by the French. And, we were hailed over VHF by the Norwegians.
As the French Customs officials were leaving I realized I had actually seen them as we made our way south. Fortunately they didn’t board us then as it would not have been fun maneuvering, especially for an hour…
Like most European cities and towns we visit, Boulogne’s history includes centuries of different occupants who desired this strategic port. Situated at the mouth of the Liane River, the Romans called it Gesoiacum. Later it became known as Bonoia and switched hands often: Normans destroyed it in 882; it was rebuilt in 912 and became a desirable harbor for the Burgundian Dukes, then French kings beginnng with Louis XI in 1477; England got hold of it in 1544 after a two-month siege and ruled for a short while before it reverted back to France in 1550 via the Treaty of Boulogne. Napoleon used this as his headquarters when planning to invade England (but didn’t); and, the British used it in WWI; the Germans overtook this port in the 1940 Battle of Boulogne just a few weeks before Operation Dynamo (evacuation of Dunkirk); finally, the city was liberated in 1944.
We explored the upper city or ‘old city’, which features preserved buildings from earlier times including the fortified gate.
Max, in search of an MDT (Max Disaster Tour), read two reviews saying there’s ‘a must-see’ crypt under the Basilica of Notre Dame de Boulogne.
I joined him for the above ground walk-around but, having read in a guidebook that the crypt was ‘imminently skippable’, I opted out of paying the 5 euro fee to visit below ground.
Considering Max found me down the street within 15 minutes of his MDT, I think the LONELY PLANET guide book provided a more accurate description of that site…
But, the real highlight of Boulogne was a modern building perched above the beach: a fabulous aquarium.
With a 2018 expansion the Nausicaá became the largest aquarium in Europe. Its mission not only focuses on raising awareness of the marine environment but also encourages action to improve global management of this vital resource. This French National Sea Centre is now a UNESCO site due to its promoting of healthy oceans and seas.
The design of the new Nausicaá replicates a manta ray, although my photo of it as we’re leaving the harbor doesn’t provide the aerial view to show it as such…
The admittance fee of 25 euros each gave us pause, but a second look at recent reviews convinced us to take the plunge. And, we are very glad we did.
We weren’t the only ones anticipating a fun day of exploring the mysteries our oceans.
In spite of kid mobs, who always seem to carry their own peculiar smells and exuberant noise levels,
the displays handled crowds well with easy-to-follow signage creating a smooth flow of people throughout the exhibits.
Imagine oceanography, marine biology, and environmental studies combined into one semester of school. That’s what it felt like when peering in the tanks and reading the signage.
The mission of Nausicaá focuses primarily on the relationship between mankind and the sea; and, in each area the aquarium presented the effects of climate change and its disastrous consequences,
while acknowledging those without a political voice or monetary resources are the ones paying the price caused by those with that power.
Yet, as opposed to being totally depressed by the way we’re destroying our world, Nausicaá offers hope in the forms of activism, both on the parts of individuals as well as organizations. For example, a partnership between The Environmental Advisory Company and the Four Seasons Hotels has funded the Reefscapes Programme (at the end of 2011 160,000 cuttings were transplanted onto 200 coral structures).
To encourage visitors’ participation in these efforts, the aquarium provided websites as well as coin drops so visitors could donate to various causes, which we did for one (Andrea, this was for you :).
It was difficult to avoid being caught in a hypnoptic trance gazing at tanks populated by ballooning jellyfish…
and swirling highways of fish,
with the pièce de résistance being the soaring ray.
All with New Age music (which you can’t hear in my clips) enhancing the otherworldliness in front of us.
We had seen a similar exhibit but on a much smaller scale at the Ozeaneum in Straslund, Germany last year. There, the focus was on a specific body of water, the Baltic Sea, versus Nausicaá’s global coverage. Both are stellar examples of using entertaining displays to teach those of all ages about our watery world.
From simple explanations of tides…
and displays on oil rigs…
to communing with marine life,
we found ourselves stopping at almost every display, only skipping those geared towards young children, with one exception as seen in the top photo of this post…
The exhibits did include flora and fauna associated with the water but not necessarily in it. One being the stick insect hiding in this photo.
This aquarium would be worth seeing just to surround yourself with fantastical marine life. In one of the largest tanks in Europe we became encased in blue,
with smaller tanks showcasing otherworldly critters, both bizarre
After three house of meandering through exhiibits of above and below the oceans, we reluctantly left.
I find it easy to be overwhelmed by the richness of information available in sites such as these. If we were going to be here for any length of time, I would get a season pass and peruse one small section at a time. Or, simply sit and watch a world swim by.
When leaving the next day it seemed so appropriate that Nausicaá was one of the last landmarks we saw exiting the harbor. A reminder of the precious resource on which we sail as we continue cruising…