Tears streamed as we left Maine, heading back to the airport to get back to Alembic in England. Holding Sadie, and watching Kenny and Jenna grow quickly and smoothly into parents, was an experience that will forever be imprinted on my heart. The three of them make parenting look easy. Sadie never cries, and they seem like a family of puppies, cuddling and nursing, and loving each other.
Clearly we were out of our minds; the young man at the airport, when we asked for our boarding passes, simply said “you’re a bit early”. “How early?” “24 hours”. Oops. We forgot that the departure date was the day before the arrival date! Luckily Ann and Al always welcome us for overnights, allowing us to see them and my parents one more time. Mom and Dad were so eager to greet their first great grandchild, but willing to wait a month.
Arriving back in England just in time for a slew of events helped us get back in the sailing mode. Southampton Boat Show and an OCC dinner provided us with plenty of opportunities to indulge on gear, cruising friends, and food.
After stops in Chichester and Brighton, we made our way across the Channel to Boulogne, France! Full moon departure at 4 am with an approaching sunrise made the early exit simple. Nearly negligible wind added to the simplicity of this trip.
One of our first scenes in France was a motor biker riding with his foot raised to push a bicyclist. This confirmed the cruisers’ characterization “The French will go anywhere in anything” and extended the designation from sailors to road users as well.
Speed is another French specialty, which we experienced the next morning as we navigated through the breakwater. At the bottom of the twenty foot tide, we couldn’t see around the wall. Luckily, our AIS alerted us to a large coast guard vessel speeding right for us. We were prepared to yield for him, as he didn’t seem interested in yielding for us.
We tied up at a marina in Dunkerque where we were greeted by many friendly folks who challenged my language skills. Everyone seems to know zero English, which I appreciate! I find it sad that Americans rarely learn other languages, expecting foreigners to always learn ours. My French shifted into overdrive. They think I can converse fluently, but don’t realize that I only flow smoothly when using my brain’s French dictionary. But then they launch into the official French dictionary, with at least 100 times the vocabulary, and I’m lost. So many “encore, s’il vous plaît” are necessary!
After practicing my French in Dunkerque, we took a train to Paris to visit the Remy-Neris family and see the sights. Marie Emmanuelle, Anne-Constance, and Clémence had spent summers with our family and it was nice to see their families in France finally. The parents of Anne-Constance welcomed us to a fabulous dinner at their home and invited his sister (Marie’s Mom) Sylvie as well so we could all be together. Thank you for your hospitality!
On our second night, Christophe gave us a night tour of Paris; enchanting!
Back to Alembic, we progressed eastward toward Belgium. Our first stop was Nieuwpoort, where we picked up Eugen and Sandra Barton, old friends who live in Germany. Bill had worked with Eugen and their daughter Johanna lived with us for a year in Maine. Here was another opportunity to finally visit our European friends! They sailed, well, really we mostly motored, to Blankenberge with us. This harbor was very close to the home the Bartons were renting for the week.
The sail was uneventful, but the following day was terrific when Eugen and Sandra took us by car to Brussels and to Leuven where Johanna is studying. Spending time with the Bartons was great and the city of Leuven was full of ancient and modern marvels.
Next, we rented a car and explored the Netherlands. We had planned on keeping Alembic there for the winter, and wanted to check it out before we sailed all the way there. Blankenberge was surprisingly quiet, inexpensive, clean, and safe, so we were on the fence about which harbor was best. After a quick tour of the Dutch marina, we were glad we had found Blankenberge.
Reflecting back on our two weeks was dizzying. We had arrived in England, attended a Boat Show and an OCC Dinner, crossed the channel, visited Paris, sailed to Belgium, visited Brussels and Leuven, and toured the Netherlands, both city and marina. For week three, we were planning our next trip, a van through the Alps in Italy and Switzerland! Sometimes I just want to lay around for a day and read a book, or snuggle with Sadie. But for now, we are enjoying our varied experiences here in Europe.