Belgian boaters fulfill their dream to buy a boat and cruise to the Caribbean
A couple of years ago, TransEurope Marinas started issuing burgees to marina members. These were to be awarded to berth-holders who produced the best cruising blog or who visited the greatest number of marina members during the year. The aim, as ever, was to encourage boaters to make use of their boats and explore new cruising grounds. In VNZ Blankenberge, an active sailing club with a vibrant boating community, one cruiser described having made a saving of some 650€ over the course of the season by taking advantage of the membership berthing discount, whilst another in Marina Port Zélande tallied visiting a total of 14 fellow TransEurope Marinas throughout the year.
Cruising blogs can inspire others to travel further afield and discover new sailing destinations, with useful first-hand descriptions of boater experiences and a potted guide to the highlights.
The account below is from sailing couple Lennert and Marieke, also from VNZ Blankenberge, who embarked last autumn on their dream voyage across the Atlantic to the Caribbean, calling on en route at various TransEurope Marinas.
Lennert & Marieke – aboard S/Y Escapade
Introduction – about us
We are Lennert (30) & Marieke (29) from Belgium, and we’ve both been sailing since we were kids. We met and became a couple during our studies at the Antwerp Maritime Academy. After saving up by working abroad in the maritime sector for some years and sailing on the North Sea in our free time, our dream of travelling with our own sailing boat around the Atlantic for 15 months (“to the Caribbean and back”) became a goal that was finally both financially and mentally within reach.
With this trip in mind, we bought a Wauquiez Centurion 42/45ft from 1990, renamed her ‘’Escapade’’ and spent most of our free time over the course of a year prepping for cruising, including mounting solar panels, renewing electrics, installing a second auto pilot, arranging travel and boat insurance, renting out our apartment and selling our car.
Why we’re part of TransEurope
Our home port in Belgium is VNZ Blankenberge, a well sheltered marina with good facilities in the centre of the city of Blankenberge, with very helpful harbour masters and friendly fellow club members, and with direct rail connection to the cities of Bruges, Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp. Lennert practically spent all his weekends and holidays in this marina since a very young age, sailing with his parents, dinghy sailing in the basin and doing local regattas with friends, so choosing which marina to join was a no-brainer when we finally bought our first own yacht in 2016.
VNZ Blankenberge joined the TransEurope network in 2019 and amongst many other members, we’ve benefited from the visitor berthing discounts ever since. Whether or not a marina is part of the TransEurope network definitely plays a role in selecting which marinas we visit during weekend or holiday sails. Before leaving on our big trip, we had already visited TransEurope marinas in Belgium, the Netherlands, France, the UK, Spain and Portugal.
Our trip so far (route) + TransEurope Marinas
Disclaimer: We usually tend to look for spots to anchor wherever allowed, as we are quite self-sufficient in terms of electricity, water and fuel, which is why we skipped a number of TransEurope members on our big trip.
We left Belgium at the beginning of July 2022 and wanted to get to the north of Spain as soon as possible (weather permitting, of course), as we had visited many of the marinas along the Channel before and would be able to visit them again in the future after this trip. We ended up tacking our way to the Isles of Scilly (424nm) where we met up with friends of our sailing club and headed from there across the notorious Bay of Biscay to Cedeira, just east of La Coruna (388nm). We spent a month exploring the Rias and Galician Atlantic islands, staying at Marina Combarro twice for two days in the end of July and the beginning of August, to pick up and drop off visiting friends, explore the town and provision.
Combarro is a cosy touristic old fishing village at the very end of the Ria do Pontevedra. It is a modern harbour with restaurant and terrace at the waterside. It has all the necessary facilities, and a bonus is the view over the water from the bathrooms. Shopping carts are available to boaters and the nearest shop is 5 minutes walking distance. We tend to have the habit not to reserve marinas to keep our plans flexible, so I guess that’s why were told to moor on the inside of the fuelling station pontoon. We did not mind at all as we were able to check out all the dinghy sailing activities from close by, as well as the dolphins which showed up daily. However, we do advise to make a reservation on beforehand in order to guarantee a berth, especially in the high season.
Leaving the beautiful Rias in our wake we continued heading south via the west coast of Spain and Portugal.
Definitely one of the highlights during the trip was visiting the city of Porto where we stayed in Douro Marina at the southern side of the river for a week in the middle of August. Making a reservation is a must as the marina is fully booked during high season and unoccupied private berths cannot be rented out. Upon approaching the marina, the marineros came out by boat, guided us to the assigned berth and kindly assisted by taking our ropes. All necessary facilities as well as 24/7 security is present, the sanitary services are a bit outdated but nevertheless clean. The marina is located next to a charming small old village, where women do their laundry every morning the old-school way in a facility with basins and hang it out to dry along the square. Every night the otherwise calm town comes alive when inhabitants take their bbqs and some tables and chairs out on the streets and offer a very limited amount and variation of meat, fish and drinks in their improvised restaurants. Basic but delicious, cheap, local and fresh, just how we like it.
The marina is about 4km from the Ponte Luis I, the gorgeous pedestrian/subway bridge which brings you to the centre of Porto. The road from the marina to the bridge runs along the river and has a separate footpath for pedestrians. There is plenty animation from ancient tourist boats on the river, the beautiful city of Porto across the river in the background and old port wineries along the road. We always took our folding bikes to cover the distance more quickly and noticed there are electric scooters available just outside of the marina. Uber and Bolt, next to the official taxi services, are available all over the city and there are many big stores such as Decathlon and supermarkets available on the south side of the river. The reception staff booked us a free port tasting at Churchill’s port house, which was interesting and enticed us to buy enough Porto to last the whole trip. The city has so much to offer for anyone who is dedicated enough to go uphill a lot. We met up with another sailboat from our sailing club and had the last ‘goodbye drink’ of many.
When we left the marina, we motored upriver until the bridge that we crossed so many times, just for fun. Although we biked along the river many times, it was very special to sail past the gorgeous city of Porto with our own boat. We spent one more night at the anchorage at the river mouth and were lucky it was neap tide, so the current was not too strong. We continued heading south along the west coast of Portugal until Peniche, from where we crossed to the Madeira archipelago (515nm). (We skipped Lisbon and the Algarve as we had visited those areas before.)
After a pleasant stay in Porto Santo we sailed to Madeira mid September and stayed in Quinta Do Lorde Marina as Madeira does not have many sheltered anchorages with easy access to shore. The marina is located next to an impressive cliff and is part of a resort that was still in construction phase, but we were told it would be operational in 2023. It looked really nice but had an odd vibe as it was almost finished but completely deserted when we were there. It is located at the far east of Madeira, the area is quite deserted but famous for hiking along the cliffs and snorkelling/diving. Next to the marina office and also part of the resort is a restaurant, small shop with basics and ship chandlery as well as a tour boat company. In general, it is very calm in the marina, except for the tour boats sailing in and out of the port. At the resort entrance is a security office controlling the passage at the gate, and a bus stop. The bus ride to Funchal takes about two hours, requires a transfer, and is not for the faint hearted (think big bus, in combination with small, bended and steep roads). The marina office can arrange a rental car to be delivered at the marina for a decent price. One of our fellow sailors had a package delivered to the marina office which they kept safe and secure until pick up. Although more touristic and cloudier than we would prefer, Madeira offered us a great time, we drove around the scenic island (steepest roads we’ve ever driven on), visited the boatyard under the runway, participated in a local food festival and hiked until we could no more in the stunning mountains.
Towards the end of September, we sailed from Madeira to the Canary Islands (271nm). We visited the Canary Islands from East to West and opted to stay in Puerto Calero in Lanzarote as Lanzarote does not have many sheltered anchorages. Puerto Calero is the most southern of the TransEurope Marinas members and is part of the Calero Marinas, a family-run group of protected and comfortable marinas in the Canaries. The marina has a very decent website explaining arrival procedures and services amongst others and allowing to make reservations online. It is required upon arrival to moor along the visitor dock at the entrance of the marina for paperwork before being assigned a berth by the super friendly marineros. As this is a big port (438 berths), we find that to be a good system in order to familiarise ourselves with the port through a map we received and avoid having to walk half an hour around the port for registration afterwards. In the port area, besides the standard sanitary facilities, there are laundry machines available, a small supermarket, bars and restaurants, a boatyard and a car rental office, all along the car-free promenade. We rented a car for most of our time as it was very cheap and the main attractions on Lanzarote are not so easily reachable by public transport. We visited most of Cesar Manrique’s works, the Timanfaya national park, the cactus garden and salt flats. We celebrated Marieke’s 29th birthday in the port with sailing friends (to the point where we were kindly requested by security to tone down our singing and laughter). We found Puerto Calero an ideal base for exploring this moonscape island.
After visiting the Canary Islands we crossed to the Cape Verde Islands in the beginning of November (768nm). From there, we crossed the Atlantic Ocean (1997nm) in December and spent Christmas and New Year in Suriname. Afterwards we headed North exploring the Eastern Caribbean islands until the British Virgin Islands, from where we are currently writing this article.
The plan hereafter is to head to Saint Martin, from where we will cross the Atlantic Ocean in the beginning of May to the Azores (via Bermuda, weather permitting). We will spend about a month on the Azores before heading to the west of Ireland, going north again to Scotland, crossing the Caledonian Canal to the east and finally back to Belgium by the end of September. By then we should have sailed approximately 10.000 nautical miles.
For those interested, you can find more info and pictures of our trip on Instagram “sailing_escapade”.
Future plans sailing-wise
Once back in Belgium we will sell our Escapade, mainly because the cost of having a boat this size is too high for us and we would like to get back into sailing regattas. We dream of doing an offshore regatta in the near future, sailing to Norway and going on another big trip in 10 years with a (sporty) catamaran (and kids).