Gladlee of Guernsey

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New Year 1989- June 1990

We decided to use the holiday weekend, weather permitting, to take a look at Gillingham Marina.  The forecast seemed fine enough, and on Friday night we moved into the outer harbour, found no room on the truncated visitor’s pontoons and rafted up alongside a Westerly “Oceanmaster” bound for the Boat Show – a huge boat by comparison with ours.  We had to get up at 04.30 to let her off, grabbed another couple of hours sleep and left on the northerly tide in grey early morning light at 07.30.  We waited to get round North Foreland before trying to sail, but off Margate we couldn’t fill either the genoa or the cruising ‘chute in a dying easterly and eventually settled for motor-sailing with the main up.  Thereafter a very straightforward piece of navigation after negotiating the entrance to the Horse Channel at the East Last buoy, and we had the power station at the entrance to the Medway in sight soon after midday – nothing much to see meanwhile except Reculver Towers and the Isle of Sheppey to port and the strange shape of one abandoned anti-aircraft (?) towers in mid-estuary to starboard.  Steering up the Medway was reasonably easy as well, once we had worked out the scale of the chartlets in our “pilot” and the shape of the river – a rather dreary landscape, punctuated by wharves to starboard and the loom of Kingsworth Power Station, until after a couple of long bends we could see the edge of Gillingham on rising ground over the port bow.  The marina identified itself as a rather ugly concrete stockade below the gasworks, but we found the lock open and were able (rather awkwardly in a slight crosswind) to back into a berth just opposite the entrance.  All mod-cons provided, but the town evidently some distance away, so we cooked a good dinner on board.

The return trip next day was equally uneventful – we locked out at 1245 and cleared Garrison Point an hour later, with what amounted to a headwind making sailing unlikely for the whole passage.  By the time we got to the Margate Channel it was dark, and we got too far inshore before identifying SE Margate buoy correctly and adjusting our course.  Visibility was very good, and as we rounded North Foreland the wind on the beam for the first time we could see the  Ramsgate approach channel lights quite clearly.  No problems getting into harbour, except that once again the pontoons were occupied by fishing boats and we had to occupy the fuel berth.  We had a table booked at “Silks” for New Year’s Eve, whither we invited a couple who arrived to raft up outside us with a boat they were delivering to the Boat Show.  A pleasant enough evening, which wound up shortly before 0100 when we trooped off back down to the harbour.  The fishing-boat which had been blocking the space behind us had moved meanwhile, and our new-found friends moved their boat astern of us, knocking the cover off our sternlight with their pulpit in the process (not an impressive performance from a yachtmaster instructor, albeit after a few drinks!)

13th January 1990  Negotiations with Gillingham concluded with the decision to gamble with the weather and arrange to haul “Gladlee” out before the Spring rush (and incidentally before the marina – or rather the lock – virtually closed for a month for dredging and other works).  So it was off to Gillingham again rather sooner than we’d expected, with virtually a repeat performance of our first passage to the Medway.  This time, though, the morning was brighter and the wind was dead on the nose, so we didn’t even think about putting the sails up.  As a result we reached Gillingham in almost exactly the same time (6¾ hours) as we had a fortnight earlier, and after some uncertainty on the lock operator’s part we confirmed that we were expected and took “Gladlee” straight to the hoist.  Some anxious moments then as the slings took the strain and the boat came out of the water – still more as the whole hoist was driven round the corner, with Julie in watchful attendance, to the yard where we left her getting a good scrub with a pressure hose.  A brief call at the marina office and a short walk to the station, where we caught the notorious “Rock n Roll” train down to Ramsgate for a very comfortable night in the Yacht Club’s best bedroom before driving back to London the following day.  (Nigel drove down to Gillingham on the Monday morning to discuss the jobs to be done with the yard – these included anti-fouling, the tight sea-cocks, the stern gland, installing the Navtex we’d bought at the Boat Show and various other odds and ends – the foreman seemed to know what he was at, and “Gladlee” looked happy enough in her temporary home!)  And so to crossed fingers for the weekend of 27th/28th, because if we couldn’t pick her up then we would be dangerously close to our Gibraltar trip starting on 4th February…

28th January 1990   The plan to take “Gladlee” back to Ramsgate hit its first snag when Gillingham Marina informed us that they couldn’t get her back in the water until the Sunday morning.  In any event the weather looked distinctly dodgy with a front promising high winds during Saturday and another depression heading in during the latter part of Sunday.  We scanned the weather charts anxiously, and “marinecall” did exceptionally good business – we concluded eventually that a pronounced ridge between the two “lows” might just give us a few hours in which to scuttle back to home port.  We got an early train from Ramsgate after parking the car, and as we walked down from Gillingham station the sky was bright blue with scattered clouds and the wind still quite brisk.  After settling a substantial account (and hearing disquieting accounts of severe weather in the Estuary) we got “Gladlee” into the water and found the engine battery too low to start her up.  An hour’s intensive charging later we managed to get the engine going (indicator lights u/s, though) and spent the ensuing 1½ hours tidying up the mess and loose ends left by the yard.  Meanwhile the weather still looked fair enough, so at 1400 we headed down river with a following wind gusting F6 and two reefs in the mainsail.  Serious problems ensued when we got the genoa tangled round the forestay: Nigel tried to rotate the gear by hand from the pulpit while Julie kept clear of the shallows, but after ten minutes we had succeeded only in tying the sail so that it wasn’t flogging.  Having decided, perhaps rashly, to press on under mainsail alone we found ourselves in a much lighter wind 15 minutes later, and the genoa came out and in again without the slightest difficulty!  By 15.45 we were off Garrison Point, with brilliant visibility making the Essex coastline look only a mile or two distant.  The sea was calm, and the wind no more than F3, and scarcely believing our luck we headed down the Estuary on the familiar course towards the Spile buoy.  The radio (coastguard broadcasts) was still giving gale and rough seas warnings, but we had scarcely enough wind to fill the main, and apart from one huge cumulonimbus which threatened to flood Essex we enjoyed a glorious sunny evening as we motor-sailed towards Margate.  Again some inexplicable trouble locating the SE Margate buoy (not helped this time by anchored shipping), but the visibility continued astonishingly good – as we passed Margate we could see the loom of the lights of S. Goodwin and Falls LVs 15 miles or so away, as well as that of E. Goodwin a few miles closer.  We passed the Longnose buoy (unlit) close enough to see it, and as we rounded the North Foreland we hit the freshening NW wind.  No problems, though, as we made it to the West Gully pontoons inside six hours from Gillingham marina lock.  By the time we moved into the inner harbour at 23.15 it had blown up substantially but we could be well pleased with the calculated risk we’d taken.

The calm before the storm

Sunset over Essex coastline

February 1990   A quiet month for “Gladlee” – we visited briefly on 3rd to run the engine before our week’s cruise/RYA sailing course with “Scimitar Sailing” from Gibraltar to Tangier, Ceuta and the Costa del Sol, and we were down in Ramsgate again over the weekend of 17th-18th, but didn’t sail in rather fresh winds.  We did order some very neat blocks for the genoa retrieval line, though, which we’d seen on the Corsair in Gibraltar – and a snap shackle and block for the cruising ‘chute (of which more anon!)  Nigel continued to grapple with the never-quite-working-right central heating system, every inspection of which involved emptying the main cockpit locker, alas!  So did the removal of the engine hours meter, which got stuck and evidently couldn’t be repaired – ordered a new one from Lucas Marine.

3rd – 4th March 1990   The forecast for the weekend was for fine weather and a moderate to fresh westerly airstream; with an early afternoon high tide we planned a short trip on Saturday, staying in the outer harbour overnight to get a good long sail on Sunday.  We duly had three hours out on Saturday reaching down to the B-1 buoy and back in a F3/4 without incident.  Dinner at the “Lazy Fox” for the second time was notable for the excellence of the mussels and the vileness of a snail dish which Nigel had for starters and unfortunately didn’t send back quickly enough (see below….) We decided to try and sail round the Goodwins on Sunday, and we duly set off just before 11.00 with three reefs in the main - the wind was gusting F5 but could be expected to be fresher once we got further out to sea.  We had a straightforward sail down to the SE Goodwin with the wind still WSW, and we hove to near the buoy for our usual sandwich lunch, which seemed temporarily to settle Nigel’s acid stomach (snails in uncooked brandy to be avoided in future!)  By the time we got going again the wind had backed to SW and there was no way of making a direct course to S. Goodwin.  We drifted off southwards in a freshening wind, eventually winding up at the CS4 buoy on the edge of the southbound shipping lane.  By this time we were getting a heavy sea on the beam and the wind was gusting F7, so it was a relief to tack into the sea and head back towards S. Goodwin,  “Gladlee” rode the waves very satisfactorily, but the resulting motion brought quite a bit of spray over the bow and also did for Nigel’s dinner and lunch,  while Julie clung tenaciously to the wheel.  By 14.30 we were at the southern edge of the Goodwins and already in the lee of the South Foreland, with much improved conditions.  An hour or so later we were near S. Brake and shaking out the reefs in a comfortable following F3.  A very useful day’s experience all round, with five hours’ sailing on all points and only an hour or so with the engine on.  Despite the odd anxious moment in the worst of the wind and sea, we saw how the boat coped – and indeed how we did – and the result was reassuring.  For the record we completed our “Round the Goodwins” passage from No 4 buoy to the Quern in ±5 hours, running 24 nm by the log in the process.

17th-18th March 1990   Found a message from Bill at the Yacht Club when we looked in for a lunchtime beer on Saturday, and later in the afternoon he bought Neil and Clare and their children down to see us in the outer harbour.  The kids loved the boat (George especially), and we promised them a sail when we could all find a convenient time.  On Sunday we had a fairly gentle outing, beating down Ramsgate Channel into a freshening southerly on a lovely warm and sunny day.  One careless moment’s navigation almost grounded us on Cross Ledge, but otherwise we made it to the Downs and back to the B-2 buoy by lunchtime – a very pleasant picnic hove to on the slack tide.  Back into the marina shortly after 1400 after the usual fast run on the northerly tide, and a pleasant contrast to our previous outing! 

Our berth in the inner harbour, Ramsgate

Jim and Janet on board

31st March – 2nd April 1990   Jim van der Rhoer got in touch after a couple of months’ absence, and Nigel invited him and his new wife Jane to join us on a long weekend’s trip to Calais (urgently necessary with no beer left in stock).  The forecast threatened light winds on the nose on the way over and not much wind at all on the return leg, so we decided to try the outer route in hope that the wind would stay E rather than veering S.  We locked out early (01.00) on Saturday morning and left harbour at 08.30 in good weather and an easterly F3.  It was very pleasant, if hazy, as we turned southwards at the Gull buoy and got the sails up, but the wind shifting steadily southwards, and by the time we got near the edge of the TSS we couldn’t hold our course and had to start the engine.  Visibility continued to get worse,  and we had to keep a sharp look-out for ships suddenly appearing out of the mist.  Nigel’s tidal calculations were apparently not up to their normal standard, and we were tending to drift well south of our planned track, which would have been tiresome without the Decca since we had nothing to get a bearing on.  Soon after 12.45 the wind freshened a bit and backed to ENE, we got the genoa out and were suddenly logging 5-6 knots.  Half an hour later we picked up the West cardinal at the end of the Calais channel, but it was only about then that we could actually see the shoreline.  By 14.00 we were approaching the harbour entrance near the north side of the channel, and we headed away from the harbour to get the sails down.  We were so busy directing our new crew that we failed to keep watch astern, and some very hurried activity followed when we belatedly noticed a very large ferry reversing straight towards us out of the harbour!  The engine started eventually, and we scurried away down tide to the north-east while completing our stowing of the sails.  Back up to the harbour, where Port Control invited u to get in quickly before the next ferry arrived – we waited for one to leave and started to cross the entrance to the starboard side, whereupon a very large-looking “Pride of Canterbury” loomed out of the haze on her way into port and gave us five blasts before tearing past a hundred metres or so to port.  Slightly shaken we went in to the wall near the lock, but the swell was too uncomfortable and we made a very good first of picking up a buoy in the crowded little anchorage.  By 15.40 we were safely tied up inside the “Port de Pleasance”.

Jim and Janet, on the wall at Calais

Over on pontoon berth, Calais

A near disaster the following morning when we walked into town to get a late breakfast and to buy beer – Prisunic turned out to be shut!  After some tramping around trying to find non-existent alternative supermarkets we eventually stumbled on an “off-licence” with all the necessities, which (not surprisingly) seemed to be doing brisk business with visiting Brits.  The usual helpful taxi was summoned to take a full load (96 litres of beer and a case of wine) back to the boat: meanwhile Jim had taken Janet off to the ferry-terminal to catch a boat to Dover, since she had to be back at work on Monday.  As soon as he got back we moved across the dock to a vacant pontoon berth, where we hoped to get shore power.  In the event we didn’t (our cable was too short), but the change of scene was pleasant, and we spent a lovely hot afternoon in shorts and T-shirts fixing up our cockpit table and doing various other odd jobs before a beer at the clubhouse and a decent dinner in town. Early night for a pre-dawn start on Monday.

2nd April 1990   We locked out of “Bassin de l’Ouest” at 04.53 as planned, in the dark, and set our usual course towards the traffic separation scheme.  The wind was light so we motored for the first couple of hours having to alter course once to avoid an anchored Sealink Ferry which was ‘in the way’.  The sun appeared above the horizon just before 06.00 to a brilliant sunrise of bright red, the visibility was tremendous – much better than the trip over.  We put the sails up and sailed for a while in light wind making only 3-4 knots and had some breakfast before taking the wise decision to motor on across the TSS.  The sails came out again as the wind started to increase to a Force 4-5 and we reached the SW Goodwin Buoy at slack tide.  In the lee of the land the wind was lighter so out came the cruising ‘chute which we hoisted thanks to Nigel’s well planned manoeuvres and she flew well off the bow.  The wind unfortunately was dead astern and although we goosewinged the main and ‘chute, the ride was uncomfortable and a gybe always threatening.  The wind increased and before we thought to drop the ‘chute, the gybe happened and we lost control for a bit and the cruising ‘chute ripped down the leach.  Back in control, we resumed our course to Ramsgate with two reefs in the main and a little genoa out as the wind freshened to F 5/6.  We tied up on the pontoons to wait for Customs clearance after another successful trip, especially as we had re-stocked up with beer.  Jim had to go to the ferry terminal to clear immigration (American passport) and then we saw him off in a taxi and had a late fish-n-chip lunch.  The boat was expertly put back in her berth and tidied up, the cruising ‘chute put in for repair (£115!) and then we drove back to London.

7th-8th April 1990   The weekend of Nigel’s 21st+25th birthday dinner at Marchesi’s was a great success.  High winds put paid to any ideas of a trip round the bay, and in any case we had been invited by the RTYC Commodore to lunchtime drinks for new members on the Sunday.  This was chiefly memorable for the sight of the last boat home in the morning’s race, with her spinnaker jammed up the mast and engine failure to boot – some interesting manoeuvres inside the harbour before her crew finally “beached” her by the slip.  Another of the racing boats had had two men overboard, so we didn’t feel too wimpish about not going out!

13th-16th April 1990   A rather frustrating Easter weekend – the mornings were quite pleasant, but the weather deteriorated in the afternoons and we tended to get squally showers with quite heavy gusts of wind (a spectacular hailstorm early on Saturday morning fortunately wasn’t repeated).  We had a brief outing on Saturday afternoon, but the wind was gusting F6 by the time we’d been going an hour and we thought better of the idea.  Sunday repeated the pattern, but we did some useful work on deck in the morning before Bill and Betty turned up at the Club with George and Natalie.  After a few drinks we took Betty’s picnic down to the boat and had a pleasant lunch while showers threatened and passed – G + N obviously dying to see the boat move, but it wasn’t really on, and they had to content themselves with theory again!  We took a fairly early departure on the Monday and had a remarkably easy drive back.

5th-7th May 1990   Oostende was the target for the Bank Holiday weekend, and this posed a new set of navigation problems, given a more northerly passage across the main shipping lanes, the need to negotiate the TSS “spur” of West Hinder and the complex of shallow banks between West Hinder and Oostende – a bit more complicated than in Uncle Bill’s day, when you just headed east from Ramsgate.  Most of the advance plotting went out of the window anyway, because for the first seven hours of the trip we didn’t have enough wind to sail.  Shortly after we left (at 08.45, the log records) we heard from Julie’s squash-playing friend Paul in “Tumble Two”, a Westerly “Centaur” based at Queensborough, who seemed to be near Falls Head, a couple of hours ahead of us.  By 15.00 we had crossed the TSS “spur” south of W. Hinder LV and found a light NE breeze which encouraged us to get the sails up.  “Tumble Two” called up again, apparently right in the middle of the  TSS junction SW of W. Hinder.  An hour later, as we cut down towards Middelkerkebank, we acquired a passenger – swiftly dubbed “Walter” (pigeon!) – who had evidently been on his way somewhere and had either got lost or run out of steam.  “Walter” made himself quite at home, to the extent of going below and eventually finding a comfortable spot for a snooze in the corner of the stern cabin, where he stayed until after we eventually moored up in Oostende.

Meanwhile we’d been in touch with “Tumble Two” again, whose reported position implied a most unlikely swerve up to West Hinder – we agreed to look out for each other in Oostende (and our VHF was acting up anyway).  Shortly before 19.00 we were in sight of Oostende and decided to drop sails – as we did so we heard a rather panic stricken girl on a yacht asking for help from Oostende radio (engine failure).  We eventually caught up with her (“Kudoso”) downtide and downwind from the port entrance, got alongside and set about towing her in.  In the process our starboard foredeck fairlead snapped and a substantial amount of “Kudoso”’s wooden cockpit skirting got ripped out (much whingeing from her skipper meanwhile), but we got her safely into the harbour and on to a raft at the Yacht Club – almost unnoticed our engine alarm had been sounding for an hour, and we were clearly overheating badly as we found ourselves a mooring and went ashore for a belated, excellent and expensive dinner (leaving Walter on guard).


“Walter” pigeon

Oostende on Sunday morning

Next morning we had planned a gentle coast down to Niewpoort for lunch, and on to Calais for the night, but it was obvious that unless we could fix the engine we would by lucky to get out of the harbour.  The two girls from “Kudoso” turned up to ask for our address in case their insurance needed it – not a word of thanks or enquiry about our damage, and we didn’t hear from them again.  We set about working out our engine problem from the handbooks – glycol in the pan, so it had to be the fresh-water cooling system, and after pouring some water into the header tank we located the leak.  The heat exchanger unit had fallen off (one securing bolt had vanished and the other was useless), and the connecting pipe had drained off all the coolant.  No problem, provided we could find replacement bolts on a Sunday morning – and here our luck turned, for the friendly harbourmaster offered us free pick of his odds and ends of nuts and bolts, and we had a pair of suitable bolts within a couple of minutes.  Julie reassembled the system from a crouch in the cockpit locker, we refilled the circuit with fresh water, and the engine ran without a murmur.  With a great feeling of relief and achievement we headed off up the quay, in lovely hot sunshine, for a few beers and a stroll round the inner yacht basin.  (Where, meanwhile, was “Tumble Two”?)  A fishy snack from one of the seafood stalls, and we headed back to catch the south-going tide.  With only a very light wind it looked increasingly like Dunkerque for the night, and as we headed down the coast we heard from “Tumble Two” heading in the same direction (they had overnighted at Niewpoort – Paul subsequently confessed that his crew had steered them towards Niewpoort while he was kipping and that they had gone in under the misapprehension that it was Oostende!)  The engine seemed to be holding up well, but with a ghost of a breeze we tried to sail, first with all the genoa out and then with the cruising ‘chute, until just before 16.00, near the Zuidstroonbank buoy, when the wind finally packed up.  We skirted a forest of flagging sails off Nieuwpoort before negotiating the Passe de Zuydcote, in flat calm, into the Rade de Dunkerque.  “Tumble Two” called up as we approached the harbour entrance – they had just arrived – and we had a pleasant dinner with Paul and his crew at the Yacht Club de la Mer du Nord.  They had to head for home shortly after midnight, but we had the luxury of an 05.30 start!  A quiet night though – the visitors’ pontoon virtually to ourselves.

“Gladlee” in Oostende with the Sandiette LV on the left
– no wonder we didn’t find it in the Channel!!

7th May 1990   The trip back to Ramsgate had little to commend it, but it did at least get better as it went on and, mercifully, the engine gave no trouble at all.  The first five hours or so were thoroughly unpleasant, with wind against tide initially in poor visibility with rain threatening, and then a foul tide because we hadn’t cleared Dunkerque LANBY in time.  Things improved, though, as we entered the TSS – the sky cleared, the wind dropped, and at 12.30 we even got the sails up around 3 miles off the East Goodwin LV.  By the time we reached North Sand Head, though, the wind had more or less died, the predicted SW breeze having stayed obstinately northerly, but between 14.20 and 15.10 the wind had indeed veered from NNE to SW – too late to persuade us to break out the sails again.  We motored in on a beautiful late afternoon to tie up at the new pontoon off the cross-wall, thence, quite tired, to our marina berth at 21.45.  It had been quite an instructive weekend, one way and another.

19th-20th May 1990   A short weekend of maintenance work – it would have been glorious for sailing, but we got our heads down to service the engine and sort out the cooling system.  All went very well, and we refuelled once we’d completed the oil and filter changes.  Back to London on the Sunday morning in time for Julie to win the Ladies’ Open Squash tournament in convincing style.  Very satisfactory altogether.

24th – 25th May 1990   Nigel had the Friday before the second May Bank Holiday off, so we got down to Ramsgate on the Thursday night in an attempt to beat the rush across the Channel – the weekend was the climax of the Dunkirk 50th anniversary celebrations.  A warning of things to come soon after we got on board; a mass of yachts and motor cruisers from three Dutch/Belgian clubs had descended on Ramsgate; the outside pontoons were packed and a long procession came into the marina as soon as the lock opened.  On Friday afternoon we locked out on the end of HW and went straight out instead of waiting for the southerly tide, such was the crowding in the outer harbour.  We had a straightforward sail down to South Sand Head, with a NE F4 pushing us quite fast against the tide, and the crossing was fine until about of the way across the TSS, where predictably the SW tide started taking us down towards Cap Blanc Nez and we were eventually unable to hold a course for Calais.  We had quite a hard slog motoring up to Calais channel, reaching harbour at around 2145.  There we found the basin outside the lock already well populated, with five or six boats on each mooring buoy and not enough water to tie up to the wall.  Fortunately we were able to hook on to a friendly gentleman on the end of a raft (later arrivals weren’t so lucky) while we waited for the lock to open.  Which it did around 2330, revealing an already packed Bassin de l’Ouest inside as the waiting boats charged through.  After one unpleasant encounter with a fellow moored against the S. wall (he had deliberately stowed his boom outboard to try and deter would-be rafters) we settled for a space further up, where a bit of chain hanging from the quay looked as though it might do instead of a ladder.

26th-28th May 1990   The morning’s low tide revealed that the chain hanging down was attached to a very large truck tyre, but we appeared not to have damaged the hull (moral: if there’s an apparently good berth going begging there’s usually a reason why nobody else has taken it).  Even more boats came in on the morning lock opening, resulting in some spectacularly large rafts off the visitor’s pontoons. Expedition to the ‘Mammouth’ hypermarket for the usual beer and wine shop (and we found a solitary toy platypus to add to our previous two), and a nice dinner at the Casino restaurant.  Sunday was a bit of a disaster.  Nigel managed to ram another yacht while ‘stooging’ before the lock opened (no serious damage, fortunately), and having got out in a flood of yachts with a perfect wind for Ramsgate we found we couldn’t unroll the genoa and were reduced to motor-sailing.  The wind died in the late afternoon, frustrating a despairing attempt to hoist the cruising ‘chute, but at least we had a pleasant donkey in to Ramsgate in early evening sunshine.

A very busy Calais – rafts of 14/15 yachts out from the visitor’s pontoon

Looking out over Ramsgate harbour with the convoy of ‘Little Ships’ coming in

Anxiety about the roller reefing gear was soon allayed the next morning, when Julie went up the mast and found a simple problem with the foresail halyard, snagged round the stay because we hadn’t got it up tight enough.  Spirits rose correspondingly, and we got a number of jobs done in the course of a busy day.  The afternoon saw gathering crowds in beautiful sunshine as the convoy of Dunkirk “Little Ships” approached Ramsgate on their return journey, and we went up to the Royal Temple to see them come in to a tremendous reception – the quays and the waterfront esplanades packed with people.  To complete a much better day we had a clear run back to London, somehow avoiding the returning Bank Holiday traffic.  P.S. Forgot to mention – had to anchor in the harbour when we got back from Calais, such was the crush on the waiting pontoons.  The dinghy had its first outing when Nigel rowed ashore to report to Customs, and we had Irish stew from the pressure cooker for dinner.

9th-10th June 1990  The long-awaited start of our first extended cruise in “Gladlee” promised well, with a NE F4 forecast for the first overnight passage to Fécamp.  We left as planned, just before 16.30, in pleasant sunshine, but were disappointed to find virtually no wind once we cleared the harbour.  There followed several hours of uneventful motor-sailing: Julie went off watch as it got dark, by which time we were 5 miles or so S. of Folkestone, and re-emerged to relieve Nigel just after 01.00, off Hastings.  Apart from a few spots of rain it was a reasonably clear night, though we saw virtually nothing of the full moon round which the whole expedition had been planned!  Julie found a bit of wind soon after 03.00 and rested the engine for an hour, but by the time Nigel got up, shortly before dawn, we couldn’t sail comfortably with the wind almost dead astern.  By this time we were S. of Beachy Head, time to alter course to cross the TSS as the tide turned SW again.  We had another hour’s worth of sailing on the way across, but otherwise, apart from the odd ship in the distance, there was nothing much to do until around 10.00, when the tide turned and we decided to bear away to try and sail again.  This was quite successful in terms of morale, if not progress, since the tide took us further back E. than we wanted to go – at 10.00 we were 23-odd miles from Fécamp, and by 13.00 we still had 14 miles to make good.  Eventually we ran out of wind again, started the engine and set off on a SW course to converge with the coast.  Thanks to some coastal mist we had a few anxious moments before we sighted the cliffs 5 miles or so short of Fécamp, but the approach was relatively simple and there was a friendly welcome at the visitor’s pontoon.  We had estimated the distance at 120 miles and expected to take 24 hours over the passage – in the event we had run 120.14 miles by log and taken 23 hours 50 minutes!  Summoned enough strength for a stroll along the promenade and (just) for a fish supper in a brasserie overlooking the sea, then to long-overdue bed, feeling rather pleased with ourselves.

11th June 1990   A pleasant day, if none too warm and still overcast with the persistent “high”.  We strolled round Fécamp in the morning, found a supermarket for food shopping and picnicked on board.  Sight-seeing in the afternoon included the “palace” where Bénédictine is made and commemorated in a quite entertaining museum.  We had some difficulty in finding a bar with a television, where we hoped to catch the second half of the England-Eire World Cup game after dinner, and after an excellent meal on the quayside we set off in the distinctly damp and chilly darkness to find this place again.  Fortunately, a few yards on, we caught sight of a TV in the back of another restaurant and persuaded the management to let us sit in front of it with coffees and liqueurs (guess what?) V. friendly atmosphere – a pleasant first impression of Normandy.

12th June 1990  Wind strength and direction were as steady as they had been for two days – NNE F3/4 – when we left ay 06.30 to catch the fair tide for the Seine Estuary.  Another overcast morning, but a very much better sail, as we were able to keep the wind just aft of the beam.  By the time we passed Étretat we were making good 7-8 knots with the tide, and by 0845 we had crossed the buoyed channel to Port d’Antifer and were heading down towards Cap de la Hève.  An hour later the wind dropped, and on our more southerly course we had the familiar problem of having to gybe and bear away to keep the wind in the sails.  Another hour, though, saw us crossing the Le Havre approach channel (eyeing a couple of ships charging in from seaward rather carefully) and catching some excellent wind as we did so.  Even better, the sun broke through, and we saw blue sky for the first time on the trip – it almost felt warm!  At 11.15 we entered the Chenal de Rouen, at the mouth of the Seine, and started our approach to Honfleur. We soon found ourselves moving at a tremendous pace, with about 3 knots of tide behind us, and we prudently got the sails down well short of the side channel to Honfleur.  By 12.15 we were “stooging” outside the lock into the inner basin of Honfleur, and with our usual impeccable timing we only had to wait ten minutes or so before the bridge lifted and we found ourselves exchanging “hellos” with watching schoolchildren as we emerged into what must be one of the most picturesque yacht harbours anywhere.  The vacant space on the visitors’ pontoon had to be conceded to a couple of large British yachts on charter to Lloyds, but we settled for a perfectly adequate billet outside a friendly Frenchman.  The rest of the day was very idle, except for a stroll round the waterfront, and we settled for a seafood pancake for dinner.  By the midday tide all the other visiting yachts had left, and for a few hours we had the pontoon to ourselves.  The cloud cover scarcely broke all day, but the harbour still managed to look delightfully picturesque.  We went for a long walk down to the Seine and then over the hill behind the town, with a church (and loos!) on top and what must once have been a fine view over to Le Havre, spoilt now by huge industrial complex on the other side of the estuary.  Julie spotted a rabbit in someone’s garden on the way down (and a goldfinch).  Found a very nice harbour butcher and bought meat for dinner on board – Carbonnades flamandes, complete with prunes!  We also visited the little maritime museum in the oldest surviving building in Honfleur (the church of St. Etienne), which dates from the English occupation of the port in the 15th century.  Altogether a delightful place, though it must be terribly crowded in July and August.

“Gladlee” alongside quay at Honfleur

The road by the basin at Honfleur

Having decided on a long haul to St. Valery-La-Hougue the next day (a change of plan on the advice of our neighbour the previous afternoon) we had to leave on the second bridge opening very early in the morning – so we polished off our carbonnades by 20.30 and were in bed (in broad daylight, as usual!) soon afterwards.

14th June 1990   We left as discreetly as possible at 03.25, with hardly a breath of wind.  An hour or so later, as we emerged into the Seine estuary, we heard the dreaded whistle of the engine alarm.  There was a faint wind by this time so we got the sails up and crept out of the channel to investigate the problem.  This time it was easy enough to identify: the fresh water cooling hose at the forward end of the engine had split.  Fortunately it was easy enough to make a makeshift patch with the dinghy repair kit and a bandage of sticky tape, and having refilled the system we were on our way again by 05.45.  It was another overcast day, and by 07.30 we had given up any hope of sailing, so there was really nothing more to do except to keep an eye on our course until we sighted the forts at the approach to St. Vaast soon after 13.00 hours.  The harbour lock was open, and there was plenty of room in the marina, so we had plenty of room to ourselves at the end of a pontoon.  We had a short stroll round the harbour and a beer at the marina bar, but decided to leave serious eating until we’d had a good night’s sleep – so we settled for Julie’s corned beef hash, instead of the famous oysters. Some blue sky around, too: it looked as though the weather might be changing for the better.


Fishing boat in the outer harbour at St. Vaast

“Gladlee” at St Vaast



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