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RNSA East Coast Yacht lays wreath at Zeebrugge Mole on St George's Day

East Coast - 25 Apr 18 Cruising

Two yachts representing the RNSA East Coast Branch attended the Commemoration of the Zeebrugge Raid 1918, laying a wreath off the Mole on St George's Day, where HMS VINDICTIVE launched the diversionary assault and where HM Submarine C3 blew up the viaduct cutting off German reinforcement of the Mole

HM Submarine C3, an obsolete submarine built in 1906 became famous when, under the command of Lieutenant Douglas Sandford VC it blew up the Mole viaduct as part of the Zeebrugge Raid 1918. Harwich was the Royal Navy's principal submarine base in World War 1 so in planning the RNSA East Coast Programme it seemed appropriate to sail across, and for some of our small boats to be there for the Commemoration of the Zeebrugge Raid.

Apprehension at the possible interference of weather was dismissed when the most stable of high pressure zones arrived and sat over the North Sea in Mid-April, raising temperatures to unprecedented April highs (28 degrees C!). With the assistance of James Simpson and his friend Richard, light southerlies (and a bit of engine assist) took JACQUI-B over on 13/14 April. It is normally exciting at night in the busy approaches to Zebrugge and Antwerp; this night was no exception with a new passing ship popping up every five minutes. Fortunately Richard was a data wizard so we were able to make sense of the cacophony of three minute bearings. After being alongside for a couple of hours of sleep we emerged to find the the Royal Belgian Yacht Club members were beginning to scrub off the 'winter green'. There was an early-bird feeling as the week progressed and yachtsmen and yachtswomen in crumpled shorts scurried about bending on sails, polishing up the varnish and brass,trying to remember everything you did in an (unexpected) high summer.

Even the beach, a broad stretch of sunny sand invited; the summer ritual of a swim before a croissant breakfast became irresistible. Heavens the water was cold! (expletive deleted).The ritual was foreshortened to ten strokes, adding a stroke each day on the dubious logic that it must somehow get warmer. Certainly an excuse for an extra pistolet with lashings of butter and marmalade. Doesn't hot Belgian coffee taste heavenly when you are thawing out?

Mike Morgan who had made an excellent job of gathering intelligence and putting together the RNVR YC \ RNSA programme touched base. We were ready!

John Cooney and Brent Crossland arrived in Cirrus with two cadets from the CURNU (Anna and Francis), just in time for a warm reception and supper at the RBSC Alberta Restaurant. We were a good crowd and Mike Morgan gave us our gentle orders for the weekend's Commemoration Events. Later in the evening we met up with a few of the Senior Rates from HMS SOMERSET in one of the friendly bars in Zeebrugge.

On Saturday, 21st April we watched the formal Zeebrugge Ceremony attended by Princess Anne. The events of 23 April 1918 were recounted with film clips from the British and German archive. A Belgian naval officer commanded the parade with aplomb. A German Band played 'God Save the Queen'. The Royal Marine Band played 'Deutschland uber alles'. After the importance of current alliances had been re-iterated by a number of dignitaries the Belgian Defence Minister expressed gracious thanks for the part the Royal Navy and Royal Marines had played in eventually freeing Belgium.

On Sunday 22nd April in more formal attire we attended a memorial dedication ceremony and moving service at Saint Donaaskerk in Zeebrugge.

On Monday 23rd April, Saint George's Day Terry Corner and the Dover contingent departed early by ferry. The little East Coast flotilla of two boats were the last to leave. As we made our way out to the Mole we felt it right to hoist a large White Ensign up the mainmast while we said thanks to our forbears for their daring and courage at a time when Britain's survival was at stake.We then dropped a wreath beside the Mole (which has become an icon of British naval history).

Both boats romped back across the North Sea with a stiff South Westerly. The approaches to Harwich were busy in the early hours of Tuesday 24 April and Ian Lewis and I in JACQUI-B ducked and weaved past tankers in the Black Deep and VLCs emerging from Harwich. It was reassuring to hear the cool politesse of the Port Controller on Channel 71 as she marshalled tugs and pilot boats and organised the outgoing and incoming traffic into their allotted place with quiet confidence. Made the night watches fly by.


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