Gladlee of Guernsey

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June 1990 - December 1990

15th June 1990   Spent the morning doing a more solid repair on the split hose and refuelling, after a pleasant breakfast on deck (with a couple of pigeons as very persistent guests).  Nothing much to see in the town, except for the celebrated épicerie-cum-delicatessen of M. Gosselin, where we bought the makings of lunch.  In the afternoon, with the sun out at last, we set out for a walk and jog out along the spit to the Fort de la Hougue – lovely views out over the sea, and plenty of bird life to keep Julie happy (including a flotilla of ducklings and a wren or two).  Finally a memorable dinner, with sole and skate following the wonderful local oysters, washed down with Muscadet.

16th June 1990   Left harbour at 0630 with the sun up and enough wind to steer close-hauled for the Isle St. Marcouf, about 10 miles SSE.  The wind died and veered S. soon after 0815, and we donkeyed the last 3 miles or so to join three other yachts off the SW side of the larger of the two islands (actually a large fortified rock).  Both islands are packed with gulls and cormorants, and the noise is deafening.  We had a bit of breakfast and relaxed for a couple of hours, but the wind got up again and it wasn’t that warm, so we thought better of getting the dinghy out to go ashore.  Left at 12.15 on a course for Grandcamp, and the wind conveniently started backing as we started to follow the coast ESE towards Port-en-Bessin.  We only needed one tack offshore to weather Pointe de la Percée, reaching Port-en-Bessin in a comfortable F3 by 15.45.  After a few circuits of the outer harbour the bridge opened for us and we tied up on an empty bit of wall next to shops and restaurants – the lock keeper promptly arrived and moved a large fishing-boat a few yards so that we could lie alongside a ladder.  No charge for the berth, and he did his best to hook us up to shore power later – a very friendly and helpful host.  Two other yachts arrived to berth alongside – elderly English couples, one of whom made a spectacular disorganised hash of their arrival apparently with large float caught somewhere under the propeller shaft.  Stroll ashore for a beer, a pleasant dinner, and the England-Egypt World Cup match on the radio.

Inner harbour at Port-en-Bassin

Fish market at Port-en-Bassin

17th June 1990   We had thought of going to Beauvais, just inland, for the day but it turned out that the bus didn’t run on Sundays.  Spent much of the morning at a very colourful market on the quayside, with a wonderful selection of white fish and shell fish, as well as some gorgeous fruit and veg.  We bought a duck, the fixings for an apple stuffing and fresh peas, crême fraiche, raspberries and cherries.  By lunchtime we had learned from our neighbours that we would have to vacate our berth by midnight in order to let the fishing fleet in, but it looked as though there would be plenty of room on the wall next to the lock, so we went for a long walk along the cliff-top as the clouds thickened to the west.  Julie was delighted to sight a yellowhammer, having remembered for once to bring the binoculars.  Returned to harbour to find our planned space taken over by fishermen, but after consulting our friendly lock-keeper we found space outside a temporary disused fishing-boat in the inner basin.  A couple of heavy showers while we  cooked a splendid dinner with the stuffed duck, cider and cream sauce, Jersey Royal spuds, peas: and raspberries and cream to follow.

18th June 1990   The weather had cleared by morning, and we left harbour soon after 08.00 with a gentle astern breeze – not “Gladlee”’s best conditions, so we motor-sailed as far as the Mulberry harbour at Arromanches into a weak tide.  By the time we were skirting the remains of the harbour (“Port Churchill”) the wind had freshened a bit, and as we bore away on a course for Deauville we set full sail and were logging 6-7 knots by 1130.  With the classic cloud formation of an approaching front behind us we fairly flew across the bay opposite Ouistreham, and by the time we had Deauville/Trouville in sight at 13.00 the wind was gusting 20 knots and we put in a reef on the run with satisfying efficiency.  After a brief heave-to off the Trouville SW buoy to discuss tactics, we decided to go as far inshore as possible and anchor until the tide rose enough to allow us into the approach channel.  We executed this manoeuvre very successfully, getting far enough in to find some shelter from the wind (now F5) and an increasingly choppy sea.  An hour or so later we made contact with the Port Deauville lock, and we were moored up on an almost deserted visitors’ pontoon inside the marina by 16.45.  Rather a bleak scene, with a grey sky, drizzle starting and the brisk wind blowing across an almost deserted marina village, but we braved the weather for a walk along the famous “planches” and a welcome couple of beers at a café beside a Crazy Gulf course.  The season clearly hadn’t started – little sign of life by the beach – but we did find a lovely traditional merry-go-round with a magnificent mechanical organ attached.  Deauville rather elegant with its wooden balconies on grand old hotels and apartments, and the main shopping area was pleasant – probably less so in August.  Excellent inexpensive dinner at a small pub just off the seafront.

19th June 1990   Racehorses were exercising along the beach as Nigel went off to a surprisingly rural Deauville market while Julie got the boat ready.  It was overcast, with a SSW wind gusting F3 by the time we locked out at 0945, but the wind freshened a little as we came into the Seine estuary, and we made good time to the buoyed channel leading to Le Havre.  By this time the wind was dying again and was blowing from more or less dead astern, showers were threatening, but at 12.15 off Cap de la Hève we decided to give the cruising ‘chute another try.  It preformed very well for an hour, until an unexpected wind-shift got the thing irretrievably twisted, and we had to pull the sail in and reset the genoa – just as well, since the wind freshened again shortly afterwards.  Off Port d’Antifer we had a couple of torrential showers and some very peculiar wind, sometimes up to 15 knots, sometimes dead calm and coming from all directions.  By 14.30, still off Antifer, we had a bit of SW wind, but not enough to make much headway, so we got the genoa in and started the engine.  Two hours later the wind was light WNW, and by 18.00, with Fécamp behind us, we had a flat calm – the forecast had been for F4/5!  The weather had brightened up, though, and we were thankful for good visibility, since the entrance to St. Valéry is almost invisible from the SW.  A few moments in the outer harbour before the usual friendly lockkeeper turned up to give us a helpful brochure and police registration forms, then the bridge was raised for us and we were in St. Valéry’s huge and unusual marina, tucked into a narrow valley behind high chalk cliffs to seaward.  Not much life about at first sight, but we found a beer and settled for supper on board.

Inner harbour St. Valéry

Fishing harbour at Dieppe

20th June 1990   Slept well in spite of a party of noisy Young Things showing off to each other on a boat at the other end of our pontoon.  Another fine day: we spent the first part of the morning checking the engine and changing the oil, then went shopping.  Though almost all of St. Valéry is post-war, thanks to the battle fought over it in 1940, the town and harbour area are quite pleasant and the shops quite adequate (odd, though, that both baker’s shops are at the same end of the town square, as far as possible from the marina!)  After lunch stroll up the cliffs to the SW, expecting to find the war memorial for the 51st Highland Division but found the French one instead.  No matter – a fine view along the cliffs to the Somme estuary.  We had an excellent dinner at the rather smart “Restaurant du Port” – more seafood, needless to say!  Keeping a very careful eye on the weather, with a low pressure system building up to the W. of Ireland, but we still hoped to make it to Boulogne the next day.

21st June 1990   The local French coastal forecast wasn’t too bad, but the early UK shipping forecast warned of gales in Dover/Wight/Portland “soon”.  Nigel went out to get bread and return our key (to the excellent shower block), and we cleared St. Valéry harbour at 08.30 in a SW/3 with some cirrostratus building up in an otherwise clear sky.  An hour later the barometer was dropping, the sky was clouding over and the wind freshening: we called up Dieppe to check that the inner harbour was available, and soon afterwards we decided to abandon the passage to Boulogne and head for shelter.  By the time we were hooked on to a very unstable pontoon outside the lock at Dieppe the barometer had fallen two points in two hours, the wind was still building up and rain was threatening.  At 11.30 we moved into the Bassin Duquesne and rafted up outside a Dutch Westerly “Storm” we’d previously seen in Port-en-Bessin.  Four hours later the glass had dropped a further seven points, to 999.5 mb., the wind was gusting 25 knots through our sheltered berth, and it was raining hard.

The rest of the day was rather miserable.  The weather got worse, and we began to speculate about what we should do if we couldn’t get out for a few days.  The ferry to Newhaven was one option, but Dieppe has no facilities for leaving a yacht unattended, so we decided in the end that we should have to sit out the weather and hope it cleared in time for us to get back by Sunday (24th) – fortunately we’d built some slack into the programme.  Spirits rather low, not improved by a damp walk down to the seafront to watch large breakers building up to crash on the beach and against the harbour moles.

22nd June 1990   The morning didn’t look a lot better, with the wind still fresh, a grey sky, the sea still very rough and forecasts suggesting that there might be more low pressure systems on the way from the west.  Nor were we too delighted to hear from our Dutch neighbours that we might have to move to allow the wall to be cleared (fortunately this threat never materialised).  By lunchtime, though, there was a hopeful sign from the barometer, which was up to 1004 mb. – things still didn’t look too good though, and we rang Nigel’s mother to leave contingency messages for our respective offices if we hadn’t checked in by starting time on Monday.  The afternoon saw a dramatic transformation: the sun reappeared, the wind started moderating, and by the time we ventured out for a stroll up to the castle we had a pleasant summer’s day with a considerably less unruly sea.  Spirits rose, and we had a very pleasant afternoon looking round the castle museum and strolling round Dieppe’s very lively pedestrian precinct.  With a lot of good cheap restaurants as well, Dieppe has a lot going for it – if only the facilities for yachts were better.  We selected a quiet restaurant for dinner – our last on this holiday, and very good too – before going back to the boat resolved to set out the next morning if possible.  The Dutch unfortunately decided to leave one tide earlier, so no early bed after all…

23rd-24th June 1990   It was still quite breezy and cloudy as we did some last-minute wine and beer shopping, but the forecasts didn’t look too bad and the barometer was up to 1015 mb., so we decided to go for Ramsgate in one hop.  By the time we got out of the harbour at 11.45 there was still a fairly brisk WSW wind gusting F6, so we put three reefs in when we eventually got the main up (the halyard got caught round the radar reflector again) and found ourselves making 6-7 knots by log, a speed we maintained for the next eleven hours or so.  The sea was fairly lumpy with the steady SW wind, but “Gladlee” did very well on a beam/broad reach, with only the occasional lurch as she was caught by a broadside wave.  By common consent we made no use of the Autohelm, enjoying a fine sail after the worries of the previous two days.  The weather brightened in the middle of the day as the wind moderated a little, and as gusts over 20 knots became less frequent we took one reef out at 16.40.  By this time we were past the Somme estuary and getting good fixes from landmarks on shore 6-8 miles away.  Picked up a pigeon for a while.  By 20.30 we were just S. of Boulogne, and the sky was clouding over again from the west.  Unfortunately we had made too fast a passage to catch the N. going tide at Boulogne, and we had a bit of a struggle in a freshening wind and heavy swell to get up to Cap Gris Nez against the tide.  As we entered the TSS Dover CG helpfully warned us of traffic coming up northwards to port (Big Brother….), and we had to tack twice to keep clear of the approaching lights.  By midnight we were halfway across, with good visibility (Dover harbour, Calais LH and SW Goodwin all clearly in view) and the wind moderating again.  There was relatively little to dodge in the southbound lane, and with the tide pushing us northward we were inside SW Goodwin LV by 02.00 – also in the lee of the shore, and the wind dropped to F3 on the quarter as we headed up towards Ramsgate.  Shaking out the reefs and setting the full genoa didn’t do much for our speed – no matter, except that it suddenly dawned on us that we’d made such good time that we might just catch the lock at Ramsgate.  We hurried to get the sails in and crank the engine up to full revs., and with 2½ knots of tide behind us we did the last 9 miles in a shade over the hour, going straight in to our marina berth with ten minutes to spare.  This last stretch was almost an anti-climax with a relatively calm sea and virtually no wind, but it was enlivened by the VHF – first, a Greek (?) tanker captain giving his lengthy views on the “focking idiot” who had allegedly nearly rammed him in the TSS; then a plaintive Ramsgate fishing boat trying to contact “Rhino” on the wrong channel (“Rhino” subsequently turned out to be the dredger off Ramsgate harbour), with a patient Ramsgate Port Control trying to put him right.  We stayed awake long enough to tidy the deck a bit but were happy to get to bed by 04.30 (03.30 BST), having done 96 miles by log at an average of 6 knots.

Nigel dutifully got up in the morning to telephone Customs, but after a morning’s cleaning ship nobody had appeared to board us so we adjourned to the Yacht Club for lunch before heading for home – happily an easy drive back at the end of a great holiday.

14th/15th July 1990   Leisurely weekend, with a brief outing round HW on the Saturday.  Unusual congestion after the lock opened, with Port Control refusing to let anyone leave until a pair of massive stone barges had got into the outer harbour – half an hour of stooging around, and some short tempers on the VHF!  Watched Red Arrows display at Manston from Pegwell Bay.

21st/22nd July 1990   The Sloss family were overdue for a day’s sailing, having already visited us twice without seeing the boat move off the pontoon.  With a comfortable NNE wind we had an easy beat round N. Foreland and eventually anchored off Botany Bay for a late lunch.  Neil a bit uneasy with the motion, but Clare was delighted to see childhood landmarks from the sea, and the kids soon got over any early qualms and started to enjoy themselves thoroughly.  We got the dinghy out and let the children bounce about in it off the stern for a while, but with the wind freshening a touch we upped anchor just before 16.00 and enjoyed a fast beam reach back to harbour.  A lovely day out with a delightful family – sadly (for George, at least) we had to call off plans for an outing the following day, with a distinctly rough sea and a gusty fresh wind.  Back to London soon after lunch to avoid the traffic.

Julie, Claire, Natalie and George

Julie’s parents with grandsons

4th/5th August 1990  Julie’s parents came down for the weekend, and after a birthday dinner for Nigel’s mother at home the previous evening we drove them down to Ramsgate on Saturday morning.  We had lunch at the pub at Grove Ferry and visited Sandwich and Richborough Castle on a hot and sunny afternoon.  Back to the boat to change for dinner at “Marchesi’s” (food good, as usual, but service too slow for comfort).  The following morning we had a perfect north-westerly F3/4 to take Bernard and Molly  out “round the bay”.  Bernard looked a trifle nervous at times, but Molly unexpectedly enjoyed every minute and took the helm very competently for much of a 2½ hour trip down to the B.1 buoy and back up the Gull Stream.  Another surprisingly easy drive back to London rounded off a highly successful weekend – reassuring, we hoped, for Bernard and Molly (and they even enjoyed themselves!)

11th/12th August 1990   The weather was fine again for Simon Morley’s long-awaited first visit to the boat.  We managed (just) to keep him busy while we waited for the tide on Saturday morning, notably by putting him right up to the masthead in the bosun’s chair.  He enjoyed this hugely, and with some previous dinghy experience he was quick to hoist in which bits of string went where.  Eventually we were able to get under way, and we left harbour just before 14.00 in a freshening WSW F3, tacking towards the Ramsgate Channel.  By 14.30 the wind was gusting over 20 knots, and we reefed “on the run” – with the tide setting against us we weren’t going anywhere (7 miles by log to the B-2 buoy!), but it made for some exhilarating sailing on a lovely day with a relatively calm sea.  We let out the reef again quite quickly, reached across to the Brake and then made over 6½ knots for half an hour as we returned to take the sails in outside the West breakwater.  By this time Simon had got the hang of steering and was thoroughly enjoying himself, the only rival attraction being to tell his family all about it; so after a wash and brush up we set off for a barbeque supper with Robin, Linda and Caroline at their camp-site outside Birchington.  A cheerful evening, and a good nights sleep for everyone afterwards.


Simon Morley at the wheel

Simon and Linda looking nervous?

A navigation lesson for Simon on Sunday morning, while Julie stripped down some more of the woodwork.  We met Rob, Linda and Caroline at the Yacht Club, and after a drink went down to the boat for a picnic lunch.  Simon desperately anxious to be off so that he could show off his newly-acquired expertise, and at 14.45 we left harbour in a light wind and calm sea which kept Linda happy but proved slightly disappointing for Caroline!  To Simon’s delight we set the cruising ‘chute as we ran down towards the B-2 buoy, and Robin was so impressed that he volunteered to be cast adrift in the dinghy to take photographs.  He looked a little less confident as we got the dinghy out and pumped it up, but true to his word he duly climbed down and allowed himself to be cast adrift.  We motored upwind, leaving a forlorn-looking figure in the middle of Pegwell Bay and hoping no passing yacht would raise the alarm - ½ mile or so upwind we reset the ‘chute to allow Rob to take some action shots as we ran down to him.  Once level we retrieved the ‘chute and set the genoa, and Julie steered the boat up to the dinghy in a perfect (and quite unappreciated) ‘man overboard’ approach.  With almost his last frame Rob managed to get his best shot of “Gladlee” under sail (see beginning photo).


Sailing with the Cruising ‘Chute

Carrie on the bow

Having picked Robin up it was time to get back.  Simon had a final ‘go’ at steering and took us into the outer harbour: Caroline finally got to put on a life jacket.  Linda, despite resolutions to the contrary, actually hauled in on a jib sheet.  Once we’d eventually tidied up and the visitor’s had left we found Simon’s washbag in the heads and realised we’d forgotten to get them to sign our visitor’s book – so a final visit to the camp-site before a reasonably easy drive home.  Wonderful luck with weather etc. for our guests so far.

25th – 27th August 1990   We picked Nigel Taylor up on our way through Canterbury on the Friday evening, having signed him up for a Bank Holiday trip to Dunkerque and Calais.  We sat up until 02.00 in order to lock out, and with the usual crowd in the outer harbour we anchored until the tide turned south soon after 07.00.  A pleasant, slightly hazy morning saw only a breath of SW wind, so we settled down to an uneventful few hours motoring across a remarkable uncrowded Channel.  By the time we’d cleared the shipping lanes the wind seemed to pick up a bit, but we abandoned our attempt to sail after 45 minutes or so near the East Dyck buoy.  We arrived at the Dunkerque approach channel just about on track at 14.00, and by 15.00 we were waiting to be allocated a berth, on the waiting pontoon at the Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord.  Another excellent dinner there later on.

The weather was fine on Sunday morning, though the wind didn’t look particularly promising.  We left on the SW going tide at 10.30, and once out to sea we had enough of a NNE wind on the quarter to try the cruising ‘chute, which stayed set for a record 3½ hours while we coasted comfortably down towards Calais (Bill said he’d never had such an easy sail, though he did have the odd lapse of concentration as the ‘chute backed!)  We eventually timed our arrival for the HW lock and bridge opening but unfortunately coincided with two ferry departures and one arrival.  Resigned to wait in the outer harbour we were delighted to hear a French skipper argue (successfully) for an extra bridge opening, so having dodged the ferry traffic we were able to get straight in to the Bassin de l’Ouest after all.  As usual we managed to find a berth on the wall at the far end of the Bassin, but by this time we were running dangerously late for the beer shop at Prisunic.  We were halfway there when Julie had the brilliant idea (brought on by thirst, as much as anything) of sailing on the second tide the following day, so giving ourselves the whole morning for shopping and sparing ourselves an uncomfortably early start.  The plan was adopted immediately, and we settled down to a beer.  Good dinner later. Kindly bought by Bill.

Uncle Bill at the wheel

Sailing down to Calais

We spent most of Monday morning at the Mammouth hypermarket, then took on diesel before a late lunch waiting for the lock to open.  Left harbour at 14.45 to find a perfect WSW wind which kept up a steady 12-15 knots all the way back.  We made a steady 310º or so straight to the E. Goodwin buoy in under 4 hours, and the wind held until we took the sails down at N. Brake.  Engine off at 20.55 after a great day’s sailing – we got up early on Tuesday morning to lock in.

8th – 10th September 1990   The Autumn cruise was originally to have started with a passage to Brighton, thence to St. Vaast and Fécamp, but Julie’s friends in Brighton had to go away for the weekend, so we settled for a first leg direct to Fécamp and a more leisurely start.  As it happened the conditions were almost identical to those on our June trip, with a light NNW wind but even better weather and visibility.  We left at 16.30 and motored until a beautiful sunset three hours later, when the course alteration off Dover allowed us a gentle sail with the wind on the quarter as we dined on deck off Julie’s cottage pie.  An hour and a half later, approaching Dungeness, the wind died and we started the engine again.  Julie took the watch on deck until 02.15, by which time we were south of Hastings in bright moonlight with the wind picking up again.  Nigel set the genoa soon afterwards and enjoyed a lovely sail for the next three hours, making 4-5 knots through calm sea, with brilliant visibility and nice music playing through the aft hatch (the back-scatter of Beachy Head light along the cliffs behind, seen from 5 miles off, was a particularly memorable experience).  An hour before dawn we turned south to cross the shipping lanes, and with the wind almost dead astern we had to motor again.  By 09.30 we were clear of the eastbound lane, and with a two point alteration of course we had perfect conditions for the cruising ‘chute which stayed set as we made almost 30 miles by log over the next six hours in ideal conditions.  Our navigation was a good deal better this time, too, helped by the previous experience and a clear sight of land from over 10 miles out – the wind veered to NE and freshened as we approached the coast, making it difficult to hold our course, but we still ended up only 1½ miles east of Fécamp entrance by the time we’d got the sails down, with the tide just turning to take us back to the harbour.  As before a helpful hand to take our lines on the pontoons, and we repeated our supper of 10th June at the brasserie above the “Viking” restaurant on the seafront (we also confirmed our previous impression that the Muscadet they serve is outstanding – of which more anon).

The harbour at Fécamp

A beautiful sail

After a solid breakfast the next morning we had a good walk up the cliff to the east of the town to have a closer look at the signal station we hear so often on the VHF (sometimes even in the Dover Strait) – lots of blackberry bushes, but the fruit not yet ripe enough for serious picking.  Good beers on a very hot quayside and food shopping after lunch.  We also called in at the chandlers to buy some mackerel hooks and feathers, Julie having (furiously) lost the tackle bought in Ramsgate on Saturday off the end of the line within seconds of her first attempt at fishing on Sunday (an incompetent knot, presumably).  Very adequate dinner at the restaurant which had so kindly allowed us to sit in front of its TV for the England-Ireland match in June.

11th September 1990   Another lovely morning – the tide allowed us a midday start for the run down to St. Valéry-en-Caux, so Julie went off up the cliffs again to look for birds while Nigel actually enjoyed washing the boat down with a high-pressure unbanned hosepipe.  We left at 12.30, and after three tacks in the first hour we made St. Valéry with only one further short seaward tack in under three hours of pleasantly paced reaching.  An empty visitors’ pontoon was waiting for us, and we had plenty of time for a stroll up to the cliff top on the east side of the town, where we found the memorial to the 51st Highland Division as well as a rather hideous construction celebrating the first (non-stop?) flight from New York to Paris.  Also a colourful array (not too brilliantly photographed) of stunt kites.  Nigel had meanwhile telephoned our favourite Muscadet château in the hope that they might supply a wine shop or supermarket on our route – sadly they didn’t but the lady of the house seemed chuffed that we had enjoyed their wine so much and promised to supply us when we were in France for a longer stay.  Another excellent and elegantly produced dinner at the ‘Restaurant du Port’, definitely worth the overnight stop.

Stunt kites at St. Valéry

First catch of mackerel

12th September 1990   We had planned to leave at 0630 but the rather gleeful lock-keeper soon put us right: the lock opens only an hour on HW at night, out of season.  So the alarm was set for 05.00, and by 06.00 and slack tide we were well out to sea in reasonable visibility – the Points D’Ailly light, ten miles or so off, was quite clear in spite of some patchy coastal mist.  With a light easterly wind we didn’t bother with the sails until we were near the Penly 1 buoy at about 10.00.  Having made a good distance eastwards we had hoped to be able to hold a NE course to the Somme Estuary, but the wind perversely backed, and we were forced to tack with the tide running more or less foul.  For the next 1½ hours or so we beat up and down making no real headway at all, but with the sun getting warmer and a flat calm it was a very pleasant interlude.  Our relatively slow speed also allowed Julie to try out her fishing line again, this time with considerable success – five respectable-sized mackerel, which we eventually grilled for lunch, accompanied by stewed mushrooms and apple juice (for some extraordinary reason we didn’t have any white wine on board).


The channel we had to follow from ATSO buoy to St Valéry sur Somme

Meanwhile we had to make some more ground in order to reach the Somme channel entrance in good time, so we started up the engine and turned over the watch to the Autohelm while we enjoyed our fish.  By the time we’d finished the wind had come round to N. by E. and was starting to freshen, so we got the sails up again and were soon making 5 knots close-hauled on the port tack towards where we thought the ATSO buoy was, this being the N. cardinal at the entrance to the Somme estuary – chart and pilot book had different ideas but as it happened we had laid a course directly to it and arrived ½ hour ahead of schedule (HW-2).  We hove to off the buoy while we studied the first sets of channel markers through binoculars.  Almanacs, pilot book and chart all had dire warnings about the dangers posed by the shifting sands of the Somme Estuary, the importance of timing the approach correctly and the extra risks posed by onshore winds or bad visibility.  Fortunately our only problem was to follow the channel, and with the sun behind us and only a slight remaining haze we set off reasonably confidently.  We weren’t at all prepared, though (with only a small-scale chart of the estuary) for the twists and turns of the channel after the first two pairs of buoys.  We had a few anxious moments as the course developed into something of a slalom at times, sometimes leaving us none too clear where the next ‘gate’ was.  After a little over an hour, though, we could see the trees along the promenade at St. Valéry in the distance as we approached the training wall leading into the last stretch of channel – it had struck us very quickly that getting out again in early morning fog could be quite hair-raising, so Nigel was taking notes and timings on our course between buoys while Julie steered and kept a watchful eye on the depth sounder.  Just before 18.00 we rounded the corner into the harbour of St Valéry and were surprised to find a sizeable marina, with a couple of friendly staff to see us into a berth and a brand-new club-house and shower block – much better facilities than we’d been led to expect.  We settled for a quick stroll into the town’s main shopping street to get a few essentials from the small supermarket, then G. + T.’s on deck as the sun set (accompanied by some very noisy ducks) and a scratch supper.  A very satisfying day all round.

13th September 1990  St. Valéry-sur-Somme is principally noted for having been the starting-point for William of Normandy’s invasion of England in 1066, which suggests that there was rather more water in the Somme Estuary than there is now!  Certainly it was quite interesting to look out over the mud-flats at low tide, with quite a few buoys in the distance evidently high and dry, and only a few yards’ width of the main channel covered with water.  As the morning mist cleared Le Crotoy appeared on the other side of the estuary, and eventually Le Hourdel to the west, but the sheer featurelessness of the intervening marshes was curiously the most interesting aspect of the view.  We had a long walk in the morning along the channel to the edge of St. Valéry, where the ground was too muddy for us to continue behind the training wall, then up the hill to the ‘sailors’ church’ and down through the town itself – very attractive and well-kept, with the remains of mediaeval walls and a massive church overlooking the marshes.  Julie was a bit disappointed not to see more interesting bird-life (only a couple of swans amidst the enormous flocks of gulls), but otherwise it was a thoroughly enjoyable stroll, finishing back on the waterfront for a late lunch of ‘moules frites’. Back to the boat for some more woodwork (Julie) and an abortive attempt (Nigel) to get some better photos – then an adequate if ordinary dinner at a hotel-restaurant along the road.

The marina at St Valéry sur Somme

Nigel with the estuary in the background

14th September 1990   We were greatly relieved to find no serious mist about as early as 07.00, and an hour later we set off in a flat calm to negotiate our way out of the estuary again.  With the yacht club’s chart, and the benefit of our experience on the way in, this proved relatively easy; and by 1000 we had cleared the ATSO buoy and a fleet of fishing boats, and were heading northwards close-hauled in a north-easterly F3.  The day became steadily brighter, and the wind held up well, to the point that we took in some of the genoa for ¾ hour as we passed Pointe du Haut Blanc.  By 14.00 we were off the Canche estuary, at which point the wind backed enough to force us to take the genoa in and give ourselves a fright as the battery scarcely turned the engine over (damp terminals, probably).  The wind veered again an hour later, but it died enough to give us only a couple of knots headway against the tide – when it freshened again we were being pushed too far offshore, so we eventually gave up and settled for motoring against the tide until we crawled up to Boulogne harbour entrance at 17.30.  No problem finding a vacant berth in the yacht harbour, but the surroundings, even without the notorious industrial smoke, were extraordinarily dreary on what had become a rather grey evening. Our long-anticipated first visit to Boulogne was an instant anti-climax, in that we both took an instant dislike to the place – an unbelievably ugly inner port area, with prefab buildings on one side confronting jerry-built blocks of flats on the other, giving on to a noisy, traffic-ridden and architecturally nondescript down-town area, riddled with nasty fast-food joints and bars full of day-tripping Brits.  Something of a culture-shock after St. Valéry (or even Calais), but with nothing to eat on board we eventually settled for dinner at a quiet-looking restaurant not too far from the quay, a perfectly adequate meal marred only by the vociferous refusal of the patron’s grandson to eat his supper.  A reasonable comfortable night after the 23.00 ferry arrival, the wash of the propellers creating an extraordinary aeration of the water which sounded like a leaky soda-water bottle from below decks.

Early morning at St. Valéry

Boulogne yacht harbour

15th September 1990   After an early-morning foray to the nearest supermarket we discovered the Saturday morning market in the Place Dalton, a spectacular collection of fruits, vegetables and cheese, in particular, which began to explain why Boulogne is such a popular destination (the shops on the way weren’t bad either).  Low tide in the harbour uncovered stacks of abandoned supermarket trolleys presumably the legacy of the English invader, while we enjoyed the hospitality of the yacht-cum-fishing club bar – a prefab like everything else, but providing rather better facilities (including good showers) than the pilot book had led us to expect.  After a snack lunch we walked up through the lower town again, lured by the promise of ”spectacular views” over the town and harbour area from the old walls – in the event the views were remarkably dull, the walls infested with large groups of noisy schoolchildren and few perspectives inside the old town worth more than a brief moment to admire (the cathedral has the odd unusual feature, but it really doesn’t add up to much).  After a couple of raids on ‘Prisunic’ for basic supplies of beer and cognac, we sallied forth again for the final celebration dinner out, at a restaurant we’d spotted earlier in a corner of the market square.  It turned out to be almost exclusively full of Brits, but a distinctly drunken table behind us fortunately paid up and left before we ordered, and we ended up comparing notes with a friendly couple alongside, who assured us that this was the best place to be in.  We ate extremely well off lobster/turbot and scallops/sole, concluding that to appreciate Boulogne you had to know where to go and to be uninterested in anything much except getting drunk on the cheap beer or eating seafood at roughly half the price you’d pay in the UK.  We reckoned we could do just as well in Calais, with less traffic on sea or land to disturb us (and at even less expense).


Boulogne street scene

Ferries and shipping in the TSS. 

16th September 1990   We left Boulogne just before 08.30, a little later than planned in order to avoid a couple of ferry departures.  A rather dull morning, and such wind as there was soon veered astern of us – we hoisted the main more for stability than in any great hope of sailing. There was quite a lot of shipping about, and we had to alter course a couple of times to dodge freighters in the TSS, but otherwise it was a very uneventful crossing.  We only had a neap tide, but with a little cheating on our heading across the lanes we were carried comfortably up to S. Foreland by 12.30, with no less than five ferries in sight behind us.  By this time the wind had died altogether, and we made nearly 8 knots over the ground with the tide, in a flat calm all the way to the Quern.  A bit of an anti-climax as we tied up on the Crosswall pontoons only six hours after leaving Boulogne, but we’d been lucky with the weather for the rest of the week, so no real complaints!

October-November 1990   Four weekends in Ramsgate brought scarcely any sailing: not that the weather was that bad most of the time, but it was sufficiently unpredictable to make venturing out a bit of a lottery.  Plans to visit Dover foundered on a near gale on the weekend of 7th/8th October, while a fortnight later we locked out on a clear Friday night with the same idea in mind, anchored off the crosswall and woke up to find visibility down to 30m. – it didn’t clear until the afternoon, and on the Sunday an easterly wind was pushing waves over the harbour wall.  We did manage a brief excursion on 3rd November, making a very fast circuit of the B2 buoy in a NW gusting to 25 knots or so and a roughish chop in Pegwell Bay – good to give ourselves and the sails an airing, but with the wind freshening we didn’t feel inclined to linger.  A fortnight after that a forecast F8 failed to materialise, and we might have had a good morning’s sail on the Sunday had we been up in time to look at the weather!  As it was we got quite a bit of work done on the boat, finishing the cleaning of the white surfaces on the deck, installing our new bulkhead lights, tightening up the stern gland packing and designing our CD and cassette storage area.  With most of the obvious niggles on board sorted out (though engine starting is still a touch-and-go business) we can get on with planning for longer-term living on board.

30th November – 2nd December 1990  We had a long-standing date to take Julie’s squash-playing friend Lesley and boy-friend Terry across to Calais, having picked out a weekend when we could get over on Friday night and back on Sunday.  In the event we all decided to take the Friday off and set out on the afternoon tide, weather permitting. The mid-week forecast looked good, suggesting that we might get a beam reach both ways but threatening very light winds on the way across.  By Thursday night we were promised NNE F3-4, possibly F5 later off Calais, but that seemed a reasonable bet for the time of year, so we set off for Ramsgate and locked out on Friday morning in good conditions to await our guests.  Lesley and Terry turned up on cue, and we left harbour at around 1400 hours.  Outside we found about 20 knots of wind dead astern as we ran rather uncomfortably down to SW Goodwin (“Gladlee” does not like a following wind on main and genoa, but we decided not to bother with the ‘chute!)  The weather was fine, with a glorious sunset over Dover as we came round on a fine reach to make ground uptide before entering the shipping lanes.  As we headed further offshore we found ourselves in a freshening wind gusting up to 28 knots and a substantial sea on the port beam, and by 1700 it was dark.  With a couple of reefs in, “Gladlee” handled very well and was logging 6+ knots, but an hour later in mid-channel the going was quite rough and Lesley was apologetically heaving over the side of the cockpit – it was her first experience of sailing……   So it went on, as we held a steady course and made good speed, but with all aboard enjoying the experience less and less.  As we neared the Ridens (the shallows outside the Calais approach channel) we narrowly avoided being run down from behind by a coastal freighter which either hadn’t seen us or didn’t know his Collision Regulations, but as we emerged into the relative calm of the Calais approaches we caught the start of the N. going tide and were getting the main down in the outer harbour shortly after 2000.  With our usual impeccable timing we had only a few minutes to ‘stooge’ before the bridge opened and we could tie up on the wall in the Bassin de l’Ouest.  Terry, who had bravely survived the crossing without throwing up, leapt gratefully on to terra firma, while Lesley retreated to the forepeak for a lie-down.  Against all expectations, though, Julie’s cottage pie found ravenous custom sometime after 23.00, and there was even some talk of the return crossing….

Leslie and Terry on board

A cold channel crossing

We had a normal Calais Saturday, the visit to “Mammouth” being unusual only for Terry’s half-mile walk to get there from the bus stop (didn’t like walking!) and the unprecedented crowd of pre-Christmas shoppers (of whom about three-quarters seemed to be Brits over for the beer).  Meanwhile we had tentatively agreed that it shouldn’t be rough on the way back (though unfortunately the forecast was for a NW wind instead of the SW we’d hoped for), and Lesley eventually gritted her teeth and decided to chance it.  They bought us as excellent dinner at “Gin Fizz”, which we thought extremely generous in the circumstances!

In the event we had a routine crossing by the “outer” route round the Goodwins, though unfortunately having to motor-sail the whole five hours into a chilly wind – our guests, with a little help from “Stugeron” had a reasonably comfortable ride and said they’d come again (despite nearly losing a bottle of Grand Marnier!)  P.S. Forgot to mention encounter with N.Z. family on “Tin Fin”, refitting their boat in Calais after sailing it all the way from Japan and eventually up through the French canals – and asking our advice on the best way to cross the Dover Strait!



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