Gladlee of Guernsey
August 1991 – September 1991
13th-14th August 1991
We set out back to the mainland shortly before 07.00 in rather murky weather, with rain clouds to the east but the promise of brighter conditions to come. The light wind almost dead astern and we couldn’t get the ‘chute to set properly, so after an hour or so we tried the genoa on the whisker pole. By 11.00, past the Wolf Rock Light, we had lost enough ground to the south to gybe round on to port tack, and with a slightly fresher wind we made reasonable ground towards the coast SE of Land’s End – passing “Jimini Kricket”, our neighbour at Fowey, going the other way (neither he nor the dog saw us). Overhauling us going eastward we also sighted the two maxi yachts in the Fastnet race, making some headway at last after a couple of days drifting in light airs. Round the corner past Mousehole we got a better angle on the wind, and just before 13.00 we were getting sails down in sight of Penzance harbour. Calculations on the tidal graph suggested that we might be pushed to get into the vacant ferry berth before it dried, but Julie decided to give it a go, and in the event there proved to be a good deal more water than the charts suggested. We pumped the dinghy up to get to the steps some 25 yards away, and after a snack lunch disembarked Jeremy to catch a train back to London. Meanwhile various well-meaning folk had leant over to let us know that we were in “The Scillonian”’s berth – we knew she wasn’t due in until after the gate opened into the inner basin, but unfortunately it turned out that the cargo boat from the Scillies, which had passed us on the way in and was anchored off, was due to berth alongside shortly afterwards. So we eventually had to anchor ½ mile off the pier for the best part of three hours, until at 18.15 we followed three French yachts into the sheltered but rather unprepossessing inner basin and rafter alongside a very pleasant and competent French father-and-son crew. There was little to enthuse about in the immediate vicinity of the basin, which yachts share with fishing boats, cargo boats and a small dockyard: the road along the shore towards the station and the lower end of the main shopping street is unattractive and congested. But the HM was friendly and helpful, and an effort had obviously been made to provide some facilities – though the showers were barely adequate and the only water supply was from a very leaky hydrant! The charge of over £8 seemed (not for the first time) a little excessive…
The next day was set aside for a breather, but by the time we had put our accumulated laundry through a machine and restocked the larder there wasn’t a lot of time to spare. We booked for dinner in the restaurant “Admiral Benbow” and put our best clothes on for the occasion, but a poor wine list heralded indifferent starters and a very tired-looking main course apiece – given the not inconsiderable prices demanded we dug in our heels and sent both back, whereupon the manager suggested we “call it a day”. Leaving a restaurant half-way through a meal clutching a half consumed bottle of Chablis was a new experience at least, temper not being improved by failing to get service at the next pub down the hill. We had already decided to push on the following day, but by now we had even less desire to linger!
15th August 1991 - A straightforward passage across Mount’s Bay in hazy sunshine, a mixture of light sailing and motoring until we had rounded the Lizard and reached the Manacles, where the wind freshened and gave us a brisk reach in towards Nare Point. To save time the following morning we decided to anchor in Gillian Creek rather than go all the way in to the Helford River, and we found a space amongst the moorings well inside the northern headland. The turn of tide persuaded us that we were a little too close to the nearest moored boat for comfort, but we took local advice and found better lodgings just off the southern shore. A very peaceful night and for free!
16th August 1991 - We left early the following morning in virtual flat calm and overcast sky. Motoring across Falmouth Bay we started getting regular drops in engine revolutions, which sounded like a cylinder misfiring or a fuel problem. We decided to head on for Polperro anyway (Nigel having decided Polperro was a “must” after reading the description of it in “West Country Cruising”), and after Dodman Point we were able to sail most of the rest of the way – the engine started well enough off Polperro and seemed to run quite satisfactorily as we got the sails down and inched our way in through the narrow entrance, finding (to our surprise and pleasure) that one of the two alongside berths inside the harbour was free. The harbour master happened to be passing as we approached the entrance and shouted directions before disappearing to sea (we didn’t make again for a couple of days!), and this proved a good introduction to the very relaxed atmosphere of Polperro (“probably the most charmingly unexpected village in all England”). Our immediate concern, though, was our engine, and we took immediate advice from Felton Engineering in Brighton – were we low on fuel (no)? water in fuel (unlikely)? Compression or injector (surely not…)? We decided to change the fuel filter (overdue anyway) and the primary filter which came out full of gunge. Everything back in place, but the lift pump seemed not to be delivering fuel when we tried to bleed the system. Eventually, in some despair; we abandoned our efforts to diagnose the fault and went ashore for a pub supper.
17th-19th August 1991 - A call to the nearest Volvo agents, in Looe, the following morning got no reply – it turned out that the annual trawler races were on that afternoon and nobody was at work. Feltons in Brighton suggested that the lift pump must be broken, thanks probably to our running the engine almost dry – we had meanwhile discovered that the tank was practically empty, our fuel consumption having doubled since we started running the engine at nearly full power (as advised to do be Feltons!) We decided to walk over to Looe, partly in the hope of finding someone from the Volvo agents, and we had a fine long hike along the cliff path, then cutting inland (past an improbable herd of deer) down to Looe harbour, where a line of beflagged trawlers made a cheerful sight as their crews celebrated the day’s racing in the fish market. No luck with the Volvo people, but we enjoyed a beer before walking back along the coast path to Polperro and roast lamb on board. We were now stuck until at least Monday, so we made the best of a bad job and had a leisurely Sunday, a beautiful day with the village looking at its prettiest considering the numbers of tourists who visit, it has remained remarkably unspoiled, and the constant traffic of fishing boats in and out carrying visitors on half hour “trips up the coast” didn’t really disturb us at all – indeed after two days there we started to feel like part of the scenery! One boat landed its catch late at night next to us – it seemed a poor return for a lot of painstaking work picking fish out of nets. Clearly there is a firm community feeling about the place, though, and a determination not to let the traditional way of life die out – it is also a beautifully kept and remarkably clean place.
We had a climb up the western cliffs in the early evening, getting a superb view 25-30 miles towards Bolt Head to the east and the Lizard to the west, with Eddystone light clearly visible out to sea. Then a reasonably good dinner at a restaurant in the village – Julie got her promised lobster at last! Initial disappointment on Monday morning – the Volvo agents at Looe could spare nobody to come and see us that day. After some further study of the manual we decided to dismantle the lift pump and go and get advice on how to fix it ourselves. A friendly local gave us a lift into Looe, and half an hour later we were on our way back with a new pump. After one or two minor hitches (and leaks) we had the engine running again by lunchtime – a minor triumph, some useful knowledge gained and a great relief, though nagging doubts about the reliability of this engine remained.
The priority now was to refuel, so we settled for a pleasant sail round to Plymouth and an overnight stop at the Mayflower Marina, before trying to make up time to Dartmouth and eventually the Solent to pick up Simon Morley off the end of his sailing course. The approach up Plymouth Sound was certainly spectacular enough, and it was a pleasant surprise to find the marina set in an inlet flanked by a rather grand military establishment and a magnificent park on the other side of the river. It was nice to get into a shower, too.
20th-23rd August 1991 - We had until lunchtime to do a few jobs before a favourable tide to the dart, so we got our bikes out and cycled to Queen Anne’s Battery to the Volvo dealer to get some washers for the fuel lines. This was a pleasant ride across town and we picked up some food on the way back, and also had a look at various interesting yachts in the marina including “With Integrity”, “Port Pendonnis” and a large 60-80 ft single hander? The washers were changed on the fuel lines and Nigel then attempted to tighten the bolts on the injectors at quite a difficult angle – and suddenly a scream was heard from Nigel – Julie found relief in the fact the scream was more anguish than pain and that Nigel had ‘only’ dislocated his shoulder! The Quick Response Unit was summoned and we were taken to the Navy hospital where they very efficiently manipulated Nigel’s shoulder back. He then slept off the drugs very noisily (snoring) to the amusement of the nurses and doctors.
The weather was deteriorating so we decided to stay in Plymouth and Simon could be fetched by train. We decided to go to the Yealm overnight on Wednesday and duly motored round to find a space on the visitors’ pontoon. Our approach was very unprofessional as we had underestimated the tide and approached from the wrong direction – fortunately three men sprang to our assistance and we were made secure. The shipping forecast predicted strong southerly winds so we decided to leg it back to Plymouth and back to our old berth. On Thursday we set off on bikes again to check on train times to Portsmouth and did a large shop at Sainsbury's. By this time we had discovered the separate shower block in the marina which had five self-contained shower units and one bath. After partaking of these facilities we enjoyed a very good meal in the Bistro. While Nigel took the train to Portsmouth to pick up Simon, Julie busied herself with jobs on board on Friday and the weather was miserable.
24th-26th August 1991 - Having fetched Simon to Plymouth (he endured the unexpected four hour train journey very stoically) we took stock on the Saturday morning and reckoned we had made distinctly the best of a bad job in terms of the week’s setbacks. Given the delay in Polperro we should have had a strenuous three days’ sailing to get to the Solent and in the event we should have had strong easterly winds to contend with into the bargain: as it was we could give Simon a relatively short passage down to Salcombe before crossing directly to Guernsey. So after a large clothes wash in the morning we set out soon after lunch in the lightest of ENE winds and bright sunshine, with Nigel (in an ingenious harness restricting the movement of his right arm) rather enjoying the luxury of not being allowed to do anything but take the helm. An hour or so before sunset we were anchored in Frogmore Lake, in almost exactly the same spot as we had occupied four weeks previously.
Plan A was leave at 0500 the next morning, though the forecast wind looked to be a little too fine on our projected track for comfort. In the event we got up to find a thick enough fog surrounding us to make us think twice about trying to find our way downstream through dozens of anchored yachts – Julie’s hunch that the wind would shift further to the north later persuaded us to go back to bed. When we got up later the fog had cleared (the HM told us later that there had been none at the entrance!), and we spent a pleasant day divided between an abortive expedition to Southpool to find a Sunday paper – but a pleasant walk over the hill, and at least a drink at the pub – a barbecue lunch (first on board) and an excursion in the dinghy for Simon to try his hand managing the outboard. Simon, not for the last time, showed that he was quick to learn and seemed to have a natural aptitude for water – he ended up swimming until practically blue from cold. In case of fog again we moved down to Salcombe in the early evening and rafted up alongside two boats on a buoy near the Marine Hotel, an easy starting-point for the following day’s passage.
We slipped our mooring at 05.40, with the sky beginning to lighten, no trace of fog and a NE F4 once we got out of the bay. We were able to hold our course of 130º quite comfortably while the wind held, but be midday the wind had dropped and visibility was poor enough that we could hear the Channel light vessel’s fog signal well before we saw the LV itself. We motor-sailed for most of the next three hours, by which time the wind had picked up again and Decca placed us on track just under 12 miles out from Platte Fougère at the NW corner of Guernsey. Now making good headway under sail we sighted Guernsey soon after 1630, and with only a small course correction from the 130º we had started on we took in the sails in the Doyle passage shortly afterwards.
The narrow rocky entrance to Beaucette Marina (a converted quarry) looked a bit daunting, but we squeezed through without any trouble and found plenty of room inside. Certainly a spectacular and unusual setting, though we eventually felt that the charges were a bit steep for the limited facilities. We enjoyed our drink in the bar of the restaurant before supper on board and bed….
27th-29th August 1991 - In mid-morning we walked up past rows of greenhouses to the “main” road and flagged down an unscheduled open-top bus, which took us into St. Peter Port. A look at the fairly crowded marina (and the waiting pontoon filling up) persuaded us that we need be in no hurry to visit the town by sea, but we enjoyed a stroll round the main shopping street without discovering much by way of food (it was, of course, Bank Holiday Tuesday). During a call at the rather elegant main Post Office Nigel succeeded in getting through to old family friends Nigel and Pam Browne; and with fingers crossed for tides and anchorage space we arranged to meet Nigel (B) on the beach at Petit Bot (alias Icast) Bay, on the south side of the island, at lunchtime the following day. After a rather nice lunch at a waterfront restaurant we had another look for food, eventually discovering the covered market round the corner – loads of meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and flowers, and we settled for a quiche for supper and a magnificent looking piece of beef for the following night’s dinner. Unfortunately (having no town plan) we missed the old “lanes” are of St. Peter Port, but the central area was pleasant enough without being particularly striking.
Catching the tide was crucial to our getting to the rendezvous the following day, but in the event we made it down the Little Russell, past St. Peter Port, and round Cherbourg Point in plenty of time, though visibility was too poor for us to see much to the east towards Herm or Sark. There was nobody anchored in Petit Bot, so we chose a reasonably shallow sandy spot about 200m. off the cove, and by the time we had dinghy out Nigel Browne was on the beach to meet us. Forgetting the inevitable swell as we beached the dinghy we all got wet feet, but otherwise arrived in good order for a very pleasant quiche and salad lunch at the Brownes’ home just up the road – and some interesting and amusing insights into Guernsey life. With the wind freshening and more forecast we could not stay too long, and by the time we got back to the boat we were getting gusts up to 22 knots and the beginnings of an uncomfortable swell. We moved to the eastern side of the bay to get a little more shelter, but although this kept the worst of the wind off we got a very unpleasant swell on the beam over the high tide, to be repeated in the small hours of the following morning. We ate our excellent beef early enough not to be too disturbed, but we all had a very uncomfortable night as the boat rolled to and fro.
Come the morning the wind showed no sign of dropping, and we had in any case to wait until mid-afternoon for a fair tide to take us down to Jersey – with hindsight we regretted not having set off before we eventually got to sleep a few hours before. We considered going in to the nearby beach for a picnic lunch and a break from the tiresome motion of the boat, but the wind was very gusty and we decided not to risk it. Eventually it was a relief to get well-reefed sails up and to move out of the bay into the rougher open sea – at least we were going somewhere! In the event the run down to Corbière Point was quite straightforward, and with the wind increasing to F6 and gusting over 30 knots we made very good time: Simon declined an invitation to steer, but seemed to find the experience quite exhilarating. Round Corbière, though, we had to turn into the wind, and the final hour’s motor-sail was no fun at all – particularly for Julie at the helm, who got regularly doused with spray while Nigel and Simon cowered behind the hood. With a fair tide, though, St. Helier came up quite quickly, and we were tied up in the very comfortable marina there by shortly after 20.00.
30th August – 1st September 1991 - We were happy enough to have reached Jersey, since delay would have meant trying to rearrange Simon’s flight, but after a good night’s sleep we were cheered even more by a beautiful hot and sunny morning on which to have a first look round St. Helier. As with St. Peter Port nothing particularly caught the eye, but the town’s rather colonial-looking centre (slightly reminiscent of Bridgetown, or Bathurst as was) and the smart pedestrian were very attractive in the brilliant sunshine. Another fine covered market provided us with salmon steaks and shrimps, and we paused for a drink across the road (Nigel’s first and last pint of “Mary Anne”, the local bitter). Soon it was time to get back to the boat and collect Simon’s bag, and we caught a crowded bus out to the airport to see him off. A previously arranged rendezvous with Julie’s pilot cousin Jack worked perfectly, and we had hardly waved Si goodbye than we were greeting Gail, baby Harriet and a number of cats at their home down the road. Jack had taken it for granted that we would stay for a barbecue supper before going with them down to St. Austin to take their Sadler 32 “Tyandaga” across to St Helier, whence they expected to set out the next morning for a weekend’s cruising. A twenty-year gap in their acquaintance didn’t seem to inhibit the cousins at all, and we felt immediately at ease with these very relaxed and likeable people (Harriet was charming as well!) Delicious barbecue, then down to St. Austin once the tide was in, and Jack ferried us very efficiently out to their boat. Harriet, though a seasoned sailor at nineteen weeks old, was a little fretful on the way across, so we did our best to keep her amused while the crew got on with navigating their boat, eventually to drop us off at La Collette yacht basin, just along the harbour from St. Helier Marina. We stopped off for a drink at a very busy St. Helier YC on the way back to our berth.
Saturday started a little slowly, but after topping up the shopping and tracking down a chart of the Îles Chausey and Granville we had a sandwich lunch and then caught the bus up to Gerald Durrell’s famous Jersey Zoo – all too short a time there, in the end, in slightly unsettled weather (even the odd drop of ran!), but we saw enough exotic birds to keep Julie happy and particularly enjoyed the gorillas. The bus route left us completely disorientated, though as it happened we followed part of it on our bikes the next day, but it was a good opportunity to see more of the island.
Julie had decided that we must get the bikes out and cycle over to Gorey, Jersey’s second port, on Sunday: Nigel insisted that we should indulge in breakfast in the café opposite the marina entrance first. Breakfast was excellent, and we duly set off round the coast road on a rather dull day, at first. A slightly disappointing ride, as it turned out, through a ribbon development of seaside hotels and houses, though with some quite dramatic views of the rocks off the SE side of the island. Gorey was worth the effort, though, with its great castle overlooking the drying harbour and a waterfront of small hotels and shops. We couldn’t see any room for a visitor to moor or anchor except on the quay, but the quay did seem to be a possibility in reasonably settled conditions. We took the inland route back to St. Helier, starting with a very steep climb out of Gorey and then joining our bus route of the previous day – pleasantly undulating farmland, then a steep drop down past Victoria College into the town. Time to shower and change before dinner at the Old Courthouse in St. Aubin - a memorable treat of crab and assorted fruits followed by a delicious lobster thermidor. Pissing with rain when we got out, but a brief shower as it turned out (our first rain for three weeks, and we saw none for a fortnight afterwards). Visited Royal Channel Islands YC before dinner, incidentally – fine view over the bay to St. Helier.
2nd-3rd September 1991 - We left St. Helier the following morning in a flat calm, slightly hazy, and had an uneventful four hours motoring down to the Îles Chausey, the “French Channel Islands”. Getting into the main anchorage by lunchtime gave us plenty of mooring buoys to choose from, and we were ashore for a first “explore” soon afterwards, the outboard getting its first exercise since Salcombe. Scenery reminiscent of the Scillies (Tresco and Bryher), but the small settlement spread out on the main island seemed a good deal less neat and tidy than those on Tresco – a couple of guest-house/restaurants on the hill and a few cottages strewn about, some fishing-boats and a small church. Towards the beach to the west was a large and rather mysterious “castle” – a mock-fortified mansion with its gate firmly shut – but otherwise the main island was quite wild, with a few tracks across it, blackberry bushes, wild flowers and birds (Julie spotted wheatears and icterine warblers).
Great views during our early morning walk next morning, too – there are supposed to be 365 separate islets in the group at low water, springs, and it must be a desolate sight in bad weather. We walked up to the headland at the entrance to the sound, where a massive 19th century fort guarded against (presumably) the British – now the casemates in the courtyard are cottages for the local fishermen. We thought about staying another night but decided to take a look at Granville, ten miles or so away on the mainland – so by midday we were getting the sails up off the SE corner of the Îles, having made ourselves enough of an angle to the east to sail in the light ENE wind. We made quite good progress as the wind freshened and backed a little, and Pointe du Roc emerged out of the haze where it was supposed to be shortly after 12.30. We were moored up in Granville marina an hour later. The town not particularly interesting at first sight, but it proved to have quite decent shopping at sea level and an older quarter on the high promontory overlooking the harbour – including a fifteenth century church which was built, or at least started, during a brief English occupation of the port. Decent enough dinner at a restaurant near the marina (Julie’s mussels better than Nigel’s seafood concoction) after a drink with a single-hander in a Dehler 36 from Jersey whom we’d helped get into a neighbouring berth.
4th-5th September 1991 - Like St. Helier and St. Peter Port, Granville’s marina operates on the “sill” system – once the tide is at a certain height the entrance gate starts lowering or rising to keep a minimum depth of water inside. The marina staff led us to believe that we should be able to leave from 12.45 and we invited our new-found friend Lawrence from the Dehler to join us for a quiche-and-salad lunch at midday. Shortly after 12.15 we saw a fairly substantial boat go out over the gate, so we cut lunch as short as we decently could and were setting sail off the Pointe du Roc just before 13.00. For the first hour we sailed in a gentle NE wind, with the minimum of clothing in warm hazy sunshine; then we turned the engine on as the wind died, and ¾ hour later we were putting in a reef as the breeze picked up to F5. We made landfall at the Grande Anquette, at the SE corner of Jersey, soon after 16.00, but we didn’t sight Gorey, our destination, until we were only a couple of miles or so offshore. A slightly wobbly start of the engine gave us a fright as we approached, but we made it into a berth alongside the jetty without any further problems. No sooner had we tied up than Lawrence turned up and took us off to his home down the road for a drink – recently retired lawyer with his wife perhaps needing a little persuading that cruising was a good idea… Very pleasant people and a welcome break for us from drinking on the boat! Back to “Gladlee” a little later than planned to cook soles bought in Granville. We had a relatively quiet day on the Thursday, having postponed our planned afternoon departure for Sark – we shopped in the morning, refuelled in the afternoon and by evening had a French boat rafted alongside us whose skipper immediately recognised us fro Polperro (of all places), though we had no recollection at all of seeing him. Gloriously clear night sky above the beautifully floodlit castle – a bit more swell in the harbour as the wind picked up, but not enough to disturb a good night’s sleep – alarms set for 06.30, alas …
6th-8th September 1991 - Having gambled on an early morning start we were relieved to find only a slight early haze as we prepared to leave. A combination of the wind and our neighbour’s shore line getting tangled up round our transom made for a less than brilliant departure – we left him in a very awkward position – but we got out reasonably on time and motor-sailed up the coast in some quite rough sea until we could set a course for Sark. The tidal streams for the next couple of hours proved to be quite different from those predicted in ATT or our pilot guides, and we had to make several course corrections on the basis of Decca plots (not to mention the sight of the Paternoster rocks too close to our heading for comfort!) We had a good sail up to Sark, though Julie did a great job getting the main down as we came into La Grande Grève with the wind gusting to 28 knots. Mid-morning was clearly a good time to arrive, since a few boats were leaving the preferred anchorage in Havre Gosselin, and after a couple of unsuccessful attempts we managed to position ourselves at a reasonably safe distance from the remaining occupants – the problem being the range of tide, which meant we had almost all of our 50m of chain and warp out – fortunately the weather was set fair. And in the fairest of weather Sark was a delightful discovery – a microcosm of English countryside, with fields, hedgerows along unpaved lanes, assorted livestock, a duck pond, village with parish church, friendly people and only the odd tractor to disturb the peace and quiet, all surrounded by a spectacular coastline of cliffs and bays, with magnificent views to Jersey one way and to Herm and Guernsey the other. Our first afternoon was spent discovering the village, then walking down towards Dixcart Bay for a beer at the hotel bar before returning to the dinghy, down a steep track and steps down the cliff to our lovely anchorage. On Saturday we climbed up to the top again and along to the village for a shop at the very smart and well-stocked stores, then had a lazy afternoon watching the comings and goings of the day trippers from Guernsey – with a busier Sunday to come we took the precaution of upping the anchor and hooking on to a mooring buoy.
Against the sunset we had the astonishing sight of a huge sailing cruise liner going south from Guernsey – we’d read about her some months previously, as the latest (and very expensive) way of getting round the Caribbean in comfort. Our second night at anchor was less comfortable, with more scend in the bay, and helped us decide to head over to St. Peter Port the following afternoon. Sunday morning on the island was particularly pleasant, with the inhabitants out walking to church, and no trippers from the “mainland” – we wandered up to the village and then out towards La Coupée, the narrow neck of land between Sark and Little Sark, getting there just in time to catch the view over La Grand Grève, and towards Dixcart Bay the other side, before hurrying back to catch the French shipping forecast – some vigorous sculling by Julie just got us there in time.
We then had the barbecue out (for only the second time this summer) for sausages, kidneys and bacon followed by flambéed bananas, provoking some envious (we hoped!) comments from one or two of our neighbours. Later we left to motor across to St. Peter Port and into the marina, still not being quite sure whether the persistent E air stream was going to allow us to set out for Cherbourg in the morning (Julie saw a skua on the way). An entertaining encounter with a couple of very experienced catamaran enthusiasts in the yacht club later was reassuring in terms of the notorious Alderney Race, also giving us some distinctly unconventional tips on moorings between Cherbourg and Santander! Several beers later than intended we rolled back to the boat, and our scratch dinner never materialised.
9th September 1991 - With East F2-3 forecast and no prospect of a change in direction we decided to leave at HW the next morning, having calculated that we should get a sufficient push with the last of the tide to get us past Alderney and round Cap de la Hague without risking too much turbulence in the Race – we were on the highest spring tide of the year (coefficient 108), so a little caution seemed in order. By 08.00 we were racing up the Petit Russel with 3-4 knots of tide behind us, and we seemed to be making good enough progress, with 7-odd knots through the water under power, as we left the landmarks north of Guernsey astern. An hour later, though, as we sighted Alderney to port, it was clear that the predicted following tide wasn’t there – it was not until we were in the Race (not identifiable as such in these calm conditions) that we picked up the predicted tide, but by that time we were already an hour or more behind schedule. Come midday we seemed still to be making ground past Cap de la Hague, but half an hour later we had barely moved: in a freshening wind we turned round, set the genoa and headed back towards Alderney. The tide, however, was taking us south faster than we could make ground to the north of the island, so we shortly put the engine on again and hurtled on towards Braye, making good 10-11 knots! Shortly before 16.00 we executed a perfect pick-up of one of the visitors’ buoys inside the wall at Braye, this in a considerable swell and a steady 18-20 knots of wind (“some F2-3!”, commented the duty HM, who had obviously heard the local BBC forecast too), and settled down to wait and see whether the wind was going to moderate by the time the tide turned 3½ hours later. It didn’t, much, but we definitely didn’t fancy a night pitching about in Braye, and the prospect of a possibly rough ride but a comfortable berth in Cherbourg within 3 hours or so seemed distinctly preferable. In the event it wasn’t at all bad, and we reached the outer breakwater at Cherbourg three hours after leaving Braye, and only an hour after dark. Navigating our way across the vast harbour amid a profusion of lights was a little confusing at times, but we were safely inside the marina half an hour later.
10th September 1991 - “Sunshine, slight haze” again the following morning – and a flat calm. With a fair tide and good enough visibility it was easy to pick our way round the shallows and to cut inside the Barfleur Race, passing just off Barfleur lighthouse. The only hazard was a large fishing fleet off the point, though we kept a wary eye open for the tidal rip which can generate a surprising chop in the lightest of winds (we passed through several approaching Cherbourg, and one even this morning). Nearing St. Vaast at ±HW we ventured the short cut, known as “Le Run”, over the oyster beds to the NW of Tatihou Island and reached the marina entrance without ever getting into less than 3.5m. The picture at low water was rather different!!
We picked up an envelope of mail forwarded by Nigel’s mother at the marina office, and in the afternoon we set off on a repeat of our walk out to La Hougue Fort on our previous visit in June 1990 – not quite so much bird-life in evidence, but still a very attractive spot. Decent enough supper ashore at the lesser of the two restaurants on the quayside.
11th-13th September 1991 - St. Vaast had always been a major “waypoint” in our planned itinerary since our brief visit the previous year. Thanks to the delay in the Channel Islands we arrived two days later than we’d intended, but with time in hand and the weather still holding fair we decided to settle down for a few days. It’s a small place where (at least out of season) you start feeling part of the scenery quite quickly and where you pick up what’s going on by just looking around the harbour – we saw a minor drama of a small fishing-boat being towed in by the local lifeboat, only its cabin top and radar showing above the water, having apparently capsized on the bar. A loss of life in an accident in Cherbourg harbour the following day produced an immediate display of tricolours, large and small, at half mast round the harbour. The activity on the fishing-boats and the “charge” out of the lock on every tide was always worth watching and meanwhile we could enjoy cold beers at the small yacht club bar and the shopping at M. Gosselin’s delicatessen (Nigel invested heavily in the house cognac, and we bought beer, tried various red wines and an excellent inexpensive champagne). Our major dinner out, at the restaurant where we’d eaten so well last time, didn’t materialise (it was shut!), but we found a reasonably good substitute round the corner. Julie spent a whole day painstakingly (well, almost!) completing the repainting of the deck – we cleaned the boat and put the laundry bag’s contents through two washes at the launderette. Just like home, St Vaast….
Meanwhile Julie identified a twite, as well as goldfinch and wheatear, on a walk out to Fort la Hougue, and the Restaurant du Port produced the menu mistranslation of the year, offering “Square Fishing-Net Meunière” to its Anglophone customers (it proved to be “carrelet”, or plaice).
14th-16th September 1991 - We left St. Vaast in hazy sunshine (again) and the lightest of easterly breezes – no question of sailing, even if we hadn’t needed to move reasonably fast to catch the lock at Port-en-Bessin. Apart from a sight of the Îles Saint-Marcouf there was nothing to note during the 3½ hour drive: we switched the Autohelm on and did a crossword to pass the time. At Port-en-Bessin we found a Fisher 37 (”Eccentric Lady”) had preceded us from St. Vaast and taken the only free quayside berth, so we rafted up until the crew returned and announced they would be leaving at midnight – swapped places and heard horror story of their (and a smaller Fisher’s) battle to get round Pointe de Barfleur against the wind and the race a day or two previously. Next morning was market day, Sunday, and between the showers we found the duck we’d promised ourselves, and the trimmings for “canard à l’orange”. Having checked that we could stay another night on the quay we got the bikes out and rode the six miles or so up to Bayeux, arriving rather incongruously in the middle of a cycle race round the town centre – found our way to the excellent William the Conqueror Museum and spent the rest of the afternoon learning about the historical background to the famous Tapestry before going to see it in its purpose built gallery. Back to Por-en-Bessin for a well-earned beer before settling down to our duck.
The following morning we got up rather late, to find the boat on the move, a fishing boat needed our berth, and its crew were gently rafting us outside it (no problem, but the sort of thing that doubtless puts most people off the place – not to mention the mains cable that we found draped underneath our stern on its way to a decrepit looking local boat behind us!)
Meanwhile a phone call to Ouistreham established that we were not going to be able to get through the lock into the Caen canal, and the marina, that evening – thanks to the drought, opening times were being severely restricted. So with a westerly wind (for the first time in a month) we left after lunch and managed to sail most of the way along the coast to Ouistreham – in spite of the roller gear seizing initially and threatening to inhibit our first proper bit of sailing for ten days. By the time we altered course for the Rade de Caen (and got the wind on the beam at last) the actually freshening, and Julie had quite a strenuous time getting the main down once we reached the approach channel. Tied up on the waiting pontoon in the approach to the lock – quite comfortable except for the wash from inconsiderate fishing-boats failing to slow down as they came in. Dinner at the café on the square by the lock, after confirming with the lock operator that we should not be able to get through to the marina until 06.00 the following morning.
17th September 1991 - It was still dark when we found a space in Ouistreham marina the following morning, but at least we had a full day to visit Caen – to save time we took the bus instead of Bicycles, but we hoed next time to be able to drive up the canal to the moorings in Caen itself. A city obviously much changed by war damage, with modern shopping streets and a pleasant pedestrian precinct, but happily still able to show off the great castle and the two Abbeys founded by William the Conqueror – too much to see properly in one day, but we managed to cover a fair bit of ground before catching the bus back to Ouistreham.
18th September 1991 - Up at first light again to lock back out, and after a couple of hours’ wait for the tide we set out across the Seine Estuary in the merest breath of a following wind – another long bout of motoring until we rounded Cap d’Antifer, where the wind freshened sufficiently in the early afternoon for us to set the genoa and run down to Fécamp (it was still enough of a dawdle for Julie to catch the first and only mackerel of the year).
19th-20th September 1991 - We spent the next day shopping (beer and wine for the boat and for James Christmas present) and walking up to the sailors’ church on the cliffs, with its moving memorials and relics of Fécamp seafarers, some of whose lives were lost in some surprisingly far-flung places (we also, at last, got to pick some blackberries). Another uneventful drive (E. wind again) the next morning to St. Valéry-en-Caux, where we had a relaxing day before our now customary (and as usual excellent) dinner at the Restaurant du Port.
21st-22nd September 1991 - The wind had swung more southerly by the morning, but frustratingly it had started to drop by the time we left after breakfast. We had originally intended to revisit the Somme Estuary, but with more than expected to do before our departure on the winter’s round-the-world trip (by air!) we settled for an early return to Ramsgate. We sailed for about 20 minutes before the wind gave up on us, but with stronger winds expected from down Channel later we kept the sails up and motored on quite efficiently towards Boulogne roads, but by sunset at 2000 hrs there was still no sign of a better breeze. The wind finally swung SSW and started to freshen as we reached the middle of the TSS two and a half hours later, but by that time we had our sights on catching the lock open at Ramsgate. With a good tide behind us we did so comfortably, and were snugly moored in the inner harbour by 02.00 (French time): slightly disappointing, though, that the end of the cruise had involved so little sailing (of 50 odd hours at sea since leaving Sark we had had the engine on for all but six). Enjoyable though the summer had been we certainly hadn’t had much luck with the wind.
26th September 1991 - The final trip of the year ran true to form – a flat calm for our run round to Faversham Creek to deliver “Gladlee” to her winter home at Iron Wharf Boatyard, where she was hauled out a couple of days later, and we set about offloading sails, clothes, batteries and other kit to be stowed in the loft at Pickwick Road.
Winter 1991/1992 - We spent travelling on an "around the world" air ticket and visited India, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand and America.