I’ve always had quite a fondness for working ports and harbours, and how the concrete quays and non-descript marinas are transformed for a few days every year when the port hosts a maritime festival, lifeboat gala day, or traditional boat show.
Railings are decked with bunting; boats cram into the harbour, showing their dressed overall flags; stalls demonstrating traditional maritime crafts, or hawking food and drink line the quaysides; and from somewhere, shanty singers assemble. The air is filled with the scent of Stockholm tar and smoked seafood, and the sound of fiddles and accordions.
Every May, the Belgian coastal resort and port of Ostend celebrates the maritime heritage of the North Sea, hosting traditional and classic sailing vessels from around Europe at the Oostende Voor Anker maritime festival (Ostend at Anchor in English).
The festival takes place each year from a Thursday to a Sunday towards the end of May, depending on the tides, with vessels arriving into port in the preceding days. From class A square riggers to the traditional barges that plied the coastal and inland waterways of Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany, over 150 vessels participate in the festival.
A large part of Oostende Voor Anker celebrates traditional craftsmanship, with a festival village filled with venues to find out more about boat-building and sail making. A variety of stalls also sell local goods and produce, including what every sailor needs, a vast selection of striped Breton shirts. I may even have picked up a souvenir or two as I browsed through.
As well as open ship tours, demonstrations and stalls, the festival also features things like walking theatre performances, musical concerts, food and cookery demonstrations, arts installations, and nautical themed talks.
My festival tips for Oostende Voor Anker
Avoid taking a car if you’re travelling from out of town. Ostend has excellent rail and coach connections to Antwerp, Brussels, and beyond, and the station is close to the festival area. The Belgian Coastal Tram is another travel alternative.
Wear shoes suitable for walking, as it’s likely you’ll do much more than you anticipate! High heels can cause damage to the decking timbers on ships, and you may be asked to remove unsuitable shoes if you take a deck tour.
Pick up a festival guide as soon as you can. It will have an event map and programme of activities to help you plan your day and find your way around.
Bring cash as some vendors won’t accept card payment.
Book your local accommodation early, as the festival is very popular.
I’ve just returned to the UK after several weeks at sea on Blue Clipper, crossing from Norway to England, and on to Portugal, followed up by a few weeks of maintenance work based on the Algarve coast.
Norway is my favourite country and I loved visiting new places on this trip, starting with Bodø, and crossing the Arctic circle as we headed south to Ålesund. I also revisited familiar ground around Haugesund and Karmøy, when we ended up storm-bound in Skudeneshavnfor a week longer than expected.
The voyage was amazing for wildlife encounters; migrating barnacle geese, eider ducks and other birds heading southwards, enormous sea eagles on every island, sharks cruising by on the surface, basking seals, pods of porpoises, dolphins, pilot whales. Sparking bioluminescence mirroring the night’s stars. And as we crossed the Bay of Biscay, a day or so north of Camariñas, two magnificent fin whales broke the surface on our starboard side.
I’ve never really been one for sunshine holidays, so the Algarve has never really been on my travel radar until now. I was really pleased to find that away from resorts (and in the shoulder season) there’s some really beautiful and wild parts of the coast, near Alvor and Sagres, estuaries and saltmarshes filled with birdlife, and even storks roosting on every tower in town. And Portuguese food is pretty good too.
Back in the UK I’ve been fortunate to get a couple of short trips in the time I’ve been back, with a couple of days in the Peak District near Leek, and a few more in Church Stretton to hike in the Shropshire Hills, brush up on my navigation skills, and appreciate the stunning autumn colours.
What I’ve done:
Since returning to Bedfordshire, I’ve joined the weekly parkrun at my nearby country park. It’s been so long since I’ve been running, and I’m still getting over a knee injury, so I’m starting from the beginning again, but I really enjoy the sociability of the runs.
I’ve been developing an idea for a podcast, which I hope to launch next month. So when I get a moment, it’s filled up with working: reading, researching, and writing. Watch this space for more news.
I’ve also pulled out all my hiking gear, waterproof clothing, and sailing oilskins to give them all a proper deep clean, and coating with Nikwax waterproofing treatment ready for winter. I hope the effort will pay off and keep me dry and warm through the months ahead.
Do bears run in these woods?
Parkrun timing chip
My autumn love list:
Book: I’ve been remotely discovering the Scottish islands over the last couple of months, with several of the books I’ve read. But When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire by John MacLeod has been the one that’s lingered longest in my mind. An account of the tragic loss of the ship returning demobbed WWI soldiers and seamen home to the islands for Hogmanay, and the long shadow cast by the worst peacetime maritime loss in British waters.
Podcast: Dan Snow’s History Hit, which does exactly what is says on the tin. Each is a short but deep dive into a specific event or idea from history. With the hundredth anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI in November, my recent interest has been mainly in the episodes covering that period. Which brings me on to…
Film: They Shall Not Grow Old, a documentary film by Peter Jackson that tells the story of WWI from the British point of view, using old film archives and recorded interviews. The moment that the images on screen transition from black and white to colourised 3D footage is simply spine-tingling.
Dressed for the chill
What I’ve loved this autumn
Clothing: Since returning from the Algarve to Bedfordshire, I’ve embraced the chill to get out and make the most of my favourite season. That means warm woollen sweaters, including my favourite knit from Finnisterre, cosy socks, and a new pair of gloves from Rab. I’ve also been able to dig out my flannel pyjamas for enjoying toasty evenings in.
Equipment: With the clock change last month and nights drawing in, I’ve found myself out in the dark often, and my Petzl Tikka+ headtorch has become one of the things I use most. As a lightweight lamp, with a red light, it’s great for moving around a ship at night or going on evening runs, however I think I might look into upgrading to something more powerful for hiking in the dark, like one from LED Lenser.
I’ve also found my Thermos food flask, which is perfect for packing a warming lunch of soup, stew or pasta while I’m out and about. It’s one of my cold weather essentials.
Treats: Autumn always means mince pies. They’re usually available from around the time of my birthday in September, and I buy a selection from the different stores to work out which is my preferred mince pie for the season. I’m still in the testing stage this year, as I’ve been scoffing pastéis de nata in Portugal until recently.
I’m planning on a much quieter few months over the winter, spending time back up in northeast Scotland visiting friends and family. I’m hoping that there will be plenty of time to walk along the coast, and take a few trips into the mountains, around the projects I’ll be working on.
I’m also going to get stuck into the planning for my next big adventure, looking at maps, blog posts, and guides. In May 2019, I’m going to be taking part in the TGO Challenge, a self-supported crossing of Scotland from west to east. Participants choose their own start and finish points, and plan their route between the two. This will be my second attempt at the TGO, so I’ve some unfinished business to deal with, plus it’s the 40th Anniversary of the challenge.
Thanks for following along with These Vagabond Shoes.
You can keep up to date with my travel and adventures (and vague rambling ideas) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Here’s to fair seas and following winds.
I’d love to hear about what you’ve been up to this season, or any plans you have for the season ahead. Let me know in the comments below.
You’ve booked a once-in-a-lifetime voyage on a beautiful sailing ship, and started dreaming about life during the golden age of sail or even rounding the Horn in a force nine. But as your date of departure cruises closer, what do you actually need to pack?
I’ve sailed on a few tall ships; short voyages around western Europe, island hopping in the Pacific, on long ocean crossing passages, and in the Tall Ships races, so from my experience, here are some recommendations to add to your packing list.
How to pack
Space on a sailing ship is limited, so think carefully about what you bring, and how you bring it. Forget stuffing things into a hard-shelled rolling suitcase, there’s usually nowhere to stow it onboard. Instead, pack a collapsible holdall or duffle bag, which can be rolled up when not in use. Waterproof bags aren’t usually necessary, but it might be worth investing in one if you sail on smaller vessels too. I love my Helly Hansen 90L duffel bag. It’s big enough for everything I need, plus things I pick up on the voyage, and being orange, I always find it on the luggage carousel at the airport.
Packing cubes or small lightweight drybags help keep things organised inside your main bag. I have a variety of sizes and colours; it’s not the most coordinated look, but I can easily grab what I need.
What you might need
Each ship is different, and it’s important to keep in touch with the organisation after booking to get the best understanding of the set-up on board. They should all be able to provide you with a kit list to help you prepare.
Some ships provide hammocks for sleeping while others have bunks; most will provide you with the bedding you’ll need, although some smaller boats may ask you to bring a sleeping bag. Most training ships will also have sets of foul weather gear and waterproof boots for you to borrow for your time on board.
All the safety gear essential for your voyage will be provided by the ship.
There’s several things that I always take on my sailing adventures, but things to keep me warm, dry, and comfortable are the first to go in my bag.
Foul weather gear. I have a Helly Hansen sailing jacket and salopettes. Fisherman-style oilskins are great for keeping you dry, but lack the insulation of sailing gear, so you’ll need additional warm layers underneath.
Waterproof boots. Dry, warm feet make life better, without question. Most ships also insist on closed-toe shoes on deck, and sturdy soles are better for climbing in the rigging, so I usually pack a pair of trail shoes too.
Windproof jacket. It’s always a bit cooler at sea, and a lightweight windproof jacket will make watches more comfortable when there’s not quite the need for full foul weather gear.
Hat, scarf, and gloves. Night watches get chilly, especially when you’re not moving around much. A hat and scarf or buff keep out the cold, and are easy to take off again when the sun comes up. I don’t like wearing sailing gloves to handle ropes, but warm gloves make steering more comfortable when its windy.
Sunglasses and sunblock. Sunlight still passes through cloud cover, and it gets reflected back off the water, so you get a much higher exposure than usual. I use factor 30 sunblock minimum, more usually factor 50 (I’m very pale and Scottish), and wear sunglasses most of the time. I also take a stick that I can slip in my pocket to reapply regularly to my lips, nose and ears while I work on deck. Use a cord to secure your glasses, especially if you’re keen to climb in the rigging.
Towel. For shore leave on a deserted island or drying off after a mind-blowing swim hundreds of miles from land. It’s best to leave the fluffy towels at home and find one that’s quick drying and/or lightweight, like my hammam towel.
Headtorch. An important item for moving around the ship on night watches. One with a red light is recommended to preserve night vision.
There’s also a few additional things that can make life on board more comfortable.
Refillable water bottle. The combination of sunlight, wind and salt air is really dehydrating. While at sea you get an idea of the scale of the plastic problem in the world’s oceans, so taking a refillable bottle is just a small step you can make to help.
Sleep mask and earplugs. Sleep is so important, especially if you’re waking up for the midnight to 4am watch. I find that silicon earplugs are more effective than synthetic, blocking out more of the surrounding sound, and a buff does a great job doubling as an eye mask.
Power bank. Not all ships have a 24-hour power supply for charging devices, so a power bank will provide the juice needed to keep your phone, camera, kindle, e-cigarette and so on from running out just when you need them most. An international adapter is essential if the ship’s home port is in a different zone to where you purchased your electronics.
Something to read. A kindle, tablet, or a real book; something to get lost in between the busy periods on board. A book has the added benefit that you can swap it with others in the crew once you finish. Try one of these suggestions.
A journal. I always keep a travel journal, and it’s a wonderful way to record and reflect on your experiences. Write, sketch, and note information from the ships’ log to add to your own memories of the voyage.
Travel insurance. Look for one that specifically covers tall ship or offshore sailing.
A knife. Sailors should always carry a knife (according to a colleague, a sailor without a knife is just a spectator). Just be sure to leave it out of your hand luggage if you have to take a flight to meet your ship.
Things you enjoy. Knitting needles and yarn, a sketchbook, twine for practicing knots, playing cards, binoculars and a wildlife guide. Something to do in your downtime.
For many voyages it’s not a problem to pick things up locally in ports on the way, letting you cut down to just a few essentials in your backpack. On longer passages you may be at sea for a considerable length of time between ports, with little chance to pick up things you might forget, so products need careful consideration.
All but the smallest of ships have showers on board, however the availability of water may be limited on longer voyages by the size of water tanks or the capacity of the water maker. I pack a reusable cleansing cloth and bar soap with my usual toiletries to keep fresh, rather than single-use wipes that result in more waste.
Although washing water can be restricted seawater is abundant, and I love to swim, so a leave-in conditioner spray keeps my hair manageable between washes, protecting it from the salt and sun.
When it comes to sanitary items, it’s important to think carefully about the products you bring. Waste management is an important matter onboard a ship, and nothing should be flushed in the toilets (sanitary waste really should not be flushed at home either). If you use applicator tampons, then they should have non-plastic applicators, which are easier to dispose of, and don’t contribute to plastic waste generated every day.
Comfort moving around the ship is your main priority, so take things you feel good in. It’s always more exposed out at sea, so ensure you pack long-sleeved shirts or sweaters and long trousers, even if you’re heading for a sunshine destination to meet the ship.
Take a set of thermal tights and a long-sleeved top for blue water passages and colder climes. Even in the height of summer it can be chilly around the British and Irish Isles.
Flip flops or sliders are great for below decks, going back and forth between showers and bunks, chilling out in the saloon or bar, and shore visits to the beach. I usually live in my flip flops, but many ships discourage open shoes and bare feet on deck.
If you’re going to be working on the ship, helping out with the repairs and maintenance that keep the vessel going, be sure to pack clothes you don’t mind getting dirty. There’s always a good chance that a job might involve paint, rust treatment, tar or grease. Some ships may also ask you to bring your own safety footwear for this kind of work.
This is what I can’t do without, but is there anything you think I’ve missed?
What do you consider essential for a sailing trip?
Spring has been a transitional time for me over the past few years. My seasonal ranger contract on the Isle of Wight ends, as the overwintering birds I work on start their migration journey to the high Arctic, and I find something new to keep me occupied through the following months.
Where I’ve been:
After packing up my life on the Isle of Wight, and dropping things into storage, I flew out to Bilbao in northern Spain. I’d been selected to join the crew of the sail training tall ship Atyla as a watchleader, spending a couple of months on board as we sailed around Europe.
The first couple of weeks were dedicated to finishing winter maintenance, fitting and testing equipment that had been in storage, and provisioning for our upcoming voyages. We also completed extensive training, familiarisation with systems on board, and how to lead sailing evolutions with trainees, and also in teamwork and leading personal development activities.
Sanding and painting, splicing and whipping, tensioning the rig, caulking the deck; maintenance on a wooden ship is neverending.
Learning happens when you leave your comfort zone. Adventure pushes you to the edge of the danger zone, where the biggest lessons are learned.
Atyla runs coaching for trainees, so alongside working together to sail a ship, they tackle sessions on critical thinking, international collaboration, and environmental responsibility. Despite my initial reticence about taking part*, the coaching sessions were excellent, and it was awesome to witness the transformative effects on our trainees.
*I don’t have emotions.
As well as exploring Bilbao, our voyages took up across the Bay of Biscay (twice), around Brittany, through the channel to Belgium, then around the British and Irish Isles. We attended several maritime festivals, in Ostend and Calais, and a tall ships regatta from Liverpool to Dublin and Bordeaux. The final event was the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux, which ended with one of the most spectacular fireworks displays I’ve ever seen.
Sailing alongside other tall ships is awesome. On shore, you’re too far from the action, or the ships are tied up alongside and has a very different feel, and on board you’re just too close to everything, and perspective is limited. We spent a windless couple of days in the Irish Sea, drifting back and forwards by other vessels, then absolutely rocketed from Waterford, Ireland, across the Celtic Sea and into Biscay, towards Bordeaux.
What I’ve done:
Spring is the start of beach cleaning season, as winter storms have washed extra material up on the coast and people become more willing to spend a couple of hours outdoors picking up litter. With a couple of friends I organised a few small events on the Isle of Wight, filled several sacks with waste, met some brilliant people, and even discovered a new part of the island.
At the end of March I undertook a Day Skipper practical course, spending a week sailing around in the Solent in the pouring rain on a 36′ sailing yacht. I think we had only one dry day, where we spent several hours beating closehauled towards Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, getting nowhere beyond Newtown. But I passed the course, and am now the proud owner of an International Certificate of Competence, the basic level of qualification to charter my own yacht.
Racing cruise ships down the Western Solent. Very little chance of winning.
Chartwork and navigation is key part of the Day Skipper syllabus.
Before departing for Spain, I headed to Bristol for a training weekend with the team from Explorers Connect for an expedition leadership course. The sessions covered the theory of planning and organising an expedition, safety management and risk assessment, provisioning and sourcing equipment. It’s certainly given me plenty to think about for the rest of the year.
And finally, at the end of this season, I had an interview for a very exciting job to work in a place I’ve always wanted to visit. And to match the nature of the job, a very exciting interview process, involving several team building challenges, scenarios and exercises. Ultimately, I wasn’t successful this time, but I left with fantastic feedback from the team, and feel inspired to apply for the same job again in the future. Fingers crossed that next time it will be mine. Until then, I might just keep on messing about on boats.
My Spring Love List
What I read:We, The Drowned by Carsten Jensen. An epic saga centred on the Danish port of Marstal, spanning several generations, two world wars, and circumnavigating the globe. I’ve had the book for ages, and been recommended it by so many people, so finally finding the time to read it has been so satisfying.
What I listened to: Black Hands, a true-crime podcast from New Zealand that delves into the murder of several members of a Dunedin family, and the subsequent trial that rocked the city of Dunedin. Like Serial, but a bit more fush and chups.
Film: A Plastic Ocean. A challenging but essential watch, highlighting the threats to the health of the ocean posed by microplastics. In this year alone every person on the planet will consume 136 kg of single-use plastic. How can a disposable product be made from an indestructible material?
Equipment: I’ve practically lived in my Helly Hansen sailing jacket and salopettes during my Day Skipper course, and to cross the Bay of Biscay. They’ve been pretty indispensable in keeping me warm and dry through wet nightwatches on Atyla.
Treats:Wine! There’s been plenty of good red wine this season; after work with a plate of pintxos in Bilbao, celebrating with the rest of the crew in Liverpool and Dublin, and while watching the most amazing fireworks at the Fête le Vin in Bordeaux. Though this Belgian waffle in Ostend was pretty awesome too.
Thanks for following the voyages of These Vagabond Shoes. I hope some of the things I’ve worked on over the winter are making a difference on the blog, and you enjoy what you find here.
You can also keep up to date with my adventures (or meanderings and rambling thoughts as it’s mainly been recently) on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Let me know in the comments about what you’ve been up to this spring or your plans for the season ahead. I’d love to hear from you.