Saturday, July 19, 2008

Brighton to Fécamp and Honfleur

Hello again!

Something most readers will know already, but which I didn't mention last year, was that in Dublin we discovered that we were to have a baby! Lewis was born in May, the same month that I was officially made redundant. So, we now have several exciting new directions to explore which never would have been possible while working a 9 to 5 job. Lady Ayesha was reluctantly put on the market earlier this year but due to the so-called 'credit crunch' we've not had any offers, despite advertising her for less than what I think she is worth. Well, we thought, why waste this great opportunity? Let's go sailing again!

We had sailed briefly in French waters before, but really wanted to see more of the coast, and the Channel Islands. With only a few days before the spring tides necessary to get out of the boatyard there was a lot to get ready. The last jobs were completed including keel maintenance and antifouling, and I got a rigger in at very short notice to replace the standing rigging to comply with the insurer's wishes, despite the old rigging being overspecified, and in perfectly good order.

Restepping the mast at Chichester

I arranged to sail her back to Brighton with a friend. Strong wind warnings had been issued for the South coast, but I suspected these would mostly affect sea areas further west. The sand bar at the entrance to Chichester Harbour can be very rough in onshore winds so we sailed up cautiously at high water to check it was okay before heading out to sea. This was to be a shake-down sail to check everything was working properly after being laid up for winter. The passage to Brighton was uneventful, thankfully, but the strong winds later reached force 7 or 8 while a big low pressure system moved across Ireland heading Northeast. We were stuck in Brighton with waves breaking over the marina wall, and it was another six days before conditions looked favourable for the crossing to France. With a newborn baby onboard, we didn't want to take any chances.

Saturday July 12th arrived and we decided the forecast looked good. Indeed, we experienced perfect sailing conditions, with sunny weather and winds between 10 to 20 knots on the beam all day. We didn't need to tack once, just set the sails and pointed her towards Fécamp. Conveniently, the 64 miles across the channel takes the better part of two tides, so we kept to one compass heading the whole way with the tide taking us first west and then east of our intended course in equal amounts.

Goodbye Brighton

Not much to do but enjoy the sunshine!

We raised the French courtesy flag, mid-channel

Ten hours later, we sailed into Fécamp Avant Port and were directed to a berth by the friendly staff. The visitors pontoon was already crowded with foreign boats from neighbouring countries, gathering for the Bastille Day holiday.

Our new crew member

This was to be a busy weekend in Fécamp, which was hosting a dinghy regatta, a huge motorcycle rally, and the National Day celebrations on July 14th. The streets were filled with the youthful sounds of revving motorcycle engines and the relentless explosions of firecrackers. The city lights were switched off around 11pm and we watched the official firework display light up the sky from the foredeck of the boat. Being an old fishing port there is a good supply of fresh fish available from several markets so we had plenty to choose from. I especially enjoyed the enormous oysters, and plaice filets, and of course a visit to a quayside restaurant would not be complete without a plate of 'Fruits de Mer'. We climbed the hill to look out over the Channel from the chalk cliffs, very similar to the Sussex coast, where there are still wartime gunnery postions, built by the Nazis. We enjoyed being tourists and took a tour of the Benedictine Palace, the home of the famous 'DOM' liqueur, which was hosting a Dali exhibition.

'Fruits de Mer'

Dinghy regatta at Fécamp

The French take their cakes very seriously...

...and their Ice Cream too!

Chalk cliffs above Fécamp

Fécamp from above

We decided our next stop would be the medieval town of Honfleur, a locked port just inside the mouth of the River Seine. The passage would take us across the heavily controlled access channels of Antifer and Le Havre, which receive enormous cargo ships and tankers up to 500,000 tonnes! The charts we had were not detailed enough so I had to buy a French one which indicated the recommended routes for small vessels to pass through the various waiting areas and disengagement zones. Fortunately, there were about a dozen ships waiting to enter, but no traffic in or out as we crossed. A difficult day with regards to tides and timings meant that as we approached the mouth of the Seine we were fighting against the last few hours of the ebb tide, and even with the wind behind us, foresail and motor on, we were barely able to make 3 knots over ground despite the log registering 6 to 7 knots. I was nervous about getting into shallow waters as we were almost at low tide and the almanac recommends a local pilot for those unfamiliar with the shifting sands, but I stayed to the side of the dredged channel and didn't see anything less than 5 metres depth.

The lock leading into Honfleur was interesting, with unusual floating bollards. We weren't very well prepared, and our mooring lines were too short, leading to an embarrassing attempt to tie up, watched by a ferry full of tourists, all documenting our efforts with their cameras. We eventually gave in and tied up to the ferry instead. Once through to the other side and then under a lifting roadbridge we arrived in the Vieux Bassin, a picturesque sheltered harbour, a bit like a town square, overlooked by beautiful old buildings, with restaurants, cafes and galleries all along the cobbled quay. This is probably the least private place we've ever stayed, but great fun. Every time I look out the hatch there is someone taking pictures, but I've enjoyed having coffee and croissants on deck in the morning, watching the waiters setting up the cafe tables and the crowds slowly filling the streets.

Yesterday we climbed to the top of the hill for a view of the town and a visit to the Chapel Notre Dame de Grâce which has little model sailing ships hanging in the air below it's ornately decorated domed ceiling.

Honfleur town centre

Night panorama - click to zoom around!

Today is market day so a bit of shopping for local produce is in order. The weather's a bit damp so we are happy to stay here another day or two. We plan to make perhaps one or two more stops before Cherbourg where we expect to make for Alderney, the closest of the Channel Islands. Lewis seems to be quite content on board. We have strung up a small hammock for him in the cabin, and have a baby car seat which can be lashed down to keep him safe in rough weather. It's so tempting to buy him a little French sailor's outfit, but I've resisted, so far.

1 comment:

Jerry said...

Hello Craig and Jaime,

Great to hear you're all doing so well - I've been reading your stories with great interest and envy. Seems a long time ago we were all in Iceland!

Take care,