A journey to the Middle East; an odyssey with Cronus

by Ollie, 30/10/2013

A goodbye kiss from Alison at Shannon airport was the start of a long travel towards Qatar. 
The plane was bringing me to Holland where the mighty Cronus was waiting. The Cronus is a sturdy and powerful little tugboat of 32 by 13 meters and a crew of six. She is oddly square shaped, even for a tugboat, but that makes her ideal for assisting big dredgers, which is basically all she does.
The Cronus is assigned to one big dredger in particular, the Artemis.
Artemis is to blame for this journey of ours, she has to do some dredging on a big project in Doha, Qatar, and where the Artemis goes the Cronus follows.

After arriving on board from Ireland, we were supposed to set sail from the port of Moerdijk the next day.  But in the dredging world plans rarely get executed smoothly and this trip was no exception. Stuff broke down which needed to be fixed. Our departure was delayed by a day.
The sailing speed of the Artemis is a bit higher than that of the Cronus, which is why we had to depart 3 days ahead of Artemis. This would allow us to arrive in Malta around the same time as the Artemis, but seeing as they didn’t have any delays that schedule got messed up a bit as well.

On Wednesday the 16th of October we finally left Moerdijk behind us though, and after a five hour sail down the river we reached the ‘Paddestoelen’, in English the ‘Mushrooms’. They are two mushroom shaped light towers (granted, you might need a bit of imagination for that one) marking the entrance to the port of Rotterdam, or in our case, the exit out to sea.

The offshore wind made the sea very calm and lulled us to sleep a bit, but as we got further away from the coast, crap started hitting the proverbial fan. And I’m talking a big fecker of a fan here.
From the southern North Sea all the way down to the Strait of Gibraltar we’ve had the elements against us.
In the North Sea and the English Channel the sea was rough and the wind strong, but as soon as we entered the Bay of Biscay the sea got to a whole new level of roughness.
The wind reached force 8 to 9 on the Beaufort scale and the waves reached 5 to 6 meters in height, or 15 to 18 feet, and coming straight at us. The rolling and pitching never stopped and the ship was constantly covered in a cloud of sea spray.
The reason for this lovely weather was a big and very stationary low-pressure area in the middle of the North Atlantic sending lots of swell, wind, rain and lightning our way.
Now I know this may sound strange coming from a surfer, but after a week of being bashed and tossed around I was cursing the sea and willing it to be flat.

As soon as the low-pressure area started moving north-eastwards and we started hoping for a bit fairer weather, it was quickly replaced by a new low-pressure area though. No such luck.

I must admit, the first evening on the North Sea I was a bit sea sick, but fortunately I was grand after that.
Our poor Philippino cook wasn’t so lucky though. I never thought it was possible for a person other than the Hulk to turn green. I do now.
Let’s just say the rest of the crew had been eating a lot of sandwiches for a week.

While we were sailing along the Portuguese coast towards Gibraltar, I had been communicating with the lads at Cabo do Roca lighthouse on our VHF. This lighthouse at Europe’s most westerly tip is also the coast radio station regulating the shipping traffic along the Portuguese coast.
Only a few weeks ago I was walking around the lighthouse with Alison when we went on our surfing trip to Portugal. I didn’t think I would see it again that soon.
Well, actually I didn’t see it because it was pissing rain all day and ominous thunder clouds were blocking the view some what, but I came close enough anyway.

Up until the Strait of Gibraltar our progress had been slow due to the weather, but when we finally reached the Strait the weather turned and we were sheltered from the Atlantic swell. The ship’s speed went up, helped by the current running from the Atlantic through the Strait into the Mediterranean, and her movements were gentle again.
Being this close to land we were also able to make a few phone calls. It was great to hear my love again. We hadn’t had any phone signal since passing Dover.
Big smiles all around the ship, even from the cook.

So far this trip we’ve encountered a good bit of wildlife. We’ve spotted a seal or two, loads of gannets and dolphins and occasionally a Breton fisherman.
Our second day in the Mediterranean we had a few visitors who wouldn’t normally be associated with a maritime environment; about 3 or 4 robins landed on deck and stayed with us for the next couple of days, brightening up the place a bit.

The stretch from Gibraltar to Malta in the Mediterranean has been fairly uneventful. Calm seas and the eastward flowing current meant we were finally gaining a few miles on the Artemis again while she was still affected by the rubbish weather on the Atlantic.
During the day we had lovely sunshine and the nights were beautifully clear with the Milkyway shining bright.

Yesterday morning we arrived at Malta and we are currently berthed in Valletta’s Grand Harbour. We are stopping here for 2 or 3 days to take some fuel and fresh provisions on board, and possibly stretch the legs on a non-moving surface a bit.
Valletta is a beautiful historic town and entering the harbour from sea is quite a sight. Hopefully I’ll get to see a bit more of the town during our stay.

Next stop: Suez Canal.

1 comment:

  1. wel lekker om na al die ruige zeeen in rustig vaar water te zijn en dat je daar in Valetta wat rond kan kijken