I knew this was going to be a long day for me and I was not disappointed. Approach started at 3 am in the morning. The whole Strait of Dover has been divided into North to South Shipping lanes to keep the traffic separate. It is together with the Strait of Malacca the busiest water way in the world and hundreds of ships are passing through each day. There is Dover and Gris Nez traffic control who regulate it all and the lanes are suposed to do the rest. When you go north, as we were doing coming from Le Havre, you sail on the French side, keeping the Right hand side of the English Channel (This is another name for Dover Strait). If you sail south you hug the English side.
This means that if you have to go to Dover, then you will have to cross somewhere. The Rules of the Road dictate that you will do this, under a straight angle, so all the ships can see what you are doing. However as there a lot of ships around it can be quite a puzzle. Thus I wanted to be on the bridge, when the time was there. This morning we were quite lucky as there was a nice gap in the south bound traffic. By sailing close behind a big bulk carrier, we managed to pass ahead of two big container ships, just by speeding up for 10 minutes. That is the nice thing of having a fast passenger ship. Unless you are running full out already, you can always give a kick ahead and get out of a hairy situation. That “kick ahead” made us a little bit early and as the pilot was in an eager mood, he was early as well and we entered the port 15 minutes ahead of the planned time.
Dover has two narrows openings that lead into a wider basin. As it was spring tide, the currents running in front of the harbor openings were up to three knots. To compensate for this current you approach the entrance not in a straight line but steer against the current, heading directly for the breakwater wall. By keeping an eye on the way the current is setting, you adjust the ships heading, and bring the bow into the entrance. As soon as the bow is inside the opening, you start loosing the current so you then have to watch the stern of the ship; otherwise it gets set to towards the sea wall. It is a bit unnerving if you have never seen it done before, so it was a good learning experience for the juniors.
For the pilot it was a piece of cake as the Veendam is one of the most maneuverable ships in the world. Inside the basin there is not much room either. The West side is shallow and just of the South side there is a wreck in a position where it is most convenient to turn the ship for docking. It has been there for years, but as the cruise ships are getting bigger, there are now finally plans to have it removed. Dover has a nice terminal, a bit on the small side for the mega liners, but perfect size for the Veendam. We fitted with 30 feet to spare in the main berth.
As I sail with quite a few British Officers on board, it was a busy day on board with lots of family and friends. At the same time Holland America is focusing on the British Market so we had a lot of British travel agents on board for the day as well. Most of guests where on tours to ancient sides in the area, Leeds Castle, Canterbury or Dover Castle itself. The latter having a long and distinguished history from the 11th century. It played a vital role in the Battle of Britain in the Second World War and all these facilities, called Hell fire corner, are open for visitors.
Dover is nominated by white cliffs that tower high above the port and as the sun was shining directly on the cliffs the scenery was very beautiful. On a good day you can see France from here and vice versa, so for the Germans in WWII it must have been very frustrating to see England so close and not being able to get there.
By 4 pm. we sailed as the schedule to Copenhagen is very tight. Departure is a simple affair. Line the bow up towards the opening, give full ahead, and sail out as fast as possible so that the current can not catch the ship. We had to cross the traffic lanes again, as we were going further north, and then most of the evening we were busy with dodging other ships coming from Calais, Dunkerque, Antwerp and Rotterdam. If you want a good area to learn navigating the hard way, try sailing the English Channel. Luckily it was a weekday, so we had only a few sailing boats to contend with. By 10 pm. I really was ready for bed.