Monday, August 04, 2008

We remained in Honfleur a little longer than expected, but we didn't mind exploring the town and all the little shops lining the narrow streets. It's a fairytale town, and very popular with French tourists who love being knee-deep in nostalgia and ice cream. However for us, the wind remained in the Northwest for several days, making passages in that direction slow work. The Vieux Bassin filled up with boats waiting to depart for the west coast of England or over Cherbourg. At one stage we had seven others rafted up to us. This makes it very complicated to leave, as every one must slip lines and drive around the harbour waiting while we get out. In such a small space this can be quite good fun to watch!

Rafted 'in'

Honfleur Vieux Bassin


One of many artist's studios

The old customhouse

We decided to get out into the Avant-Port and tie up to a 24-hour waiting wall near the lock so that we could leave in the early hours without bothering anyone else. It was also nice to be free of the constant stream of people climbing over our foredeck to get ashore. We bought oysters and cooked prawns in the market which were a real treat, and not at all expensive.

Local prawns and oysters

Honfleur from the Avant Port

Our next passage was to be Northwest acoss the Baie de Seine, and around Pointe de Barfleur to Cherbourg. We were waiting for the uncommon Easterly winds that had been forecast for Thursday, July 24th. It was important to keep in mind other ports we could head for if the winds weren't strong enough to get us around the point in time for the west-going tidal stream. It would be pointless trying to sail against the tide if we arrived too late. All the other ports in the Baie de Seine such as Deauville and St Vaast have drying entrances, and are locked, so it's important to note the times when there is enough tide to get in through the lock gates. For this I used Jaime's clever passage planning chart, which allows the skipper to see at a glance, the tides, tidal gates, and tidal streams for all relevant points, hour by hour along the passage. I expected other sailors would laugh at us for going to so much trouble, but one Irishman we met, sailing single-handed, said it was a great idea. Of course, modern computer-assisted navigators don't need such a thing, but for those of us using traditional charts and tidal stream atlases, it is very helpful. The plan was made to depart at 0330 in order to make the start of the ebb tide out of the Chenal Rouen (ie: the mouth of the River Seine). For most of the morning, the passage of around 80 nautical miles took us almost dead downwind, a very uncomfortable way to sail without a spinnaker, so I altered our course by 20 degrees to starboard, which also gave us better speed, and we made it in to Cherbourg almost exactly on time.

Passage Planning

Jaime's Passage Planning Chart

Ships anchored off the Chenal Rouen

Cherbourg marina panorama

Although it has every facility a yachtsman could ever desire, Cherbourg is not so attractive. The Chantereyne marina is a huge commercial venture tucked in between the large Naval port and the ferry and container terminals. The impressive sea walls were built over many years between a number of stone forts to defend the navy against English attacks. A fine statue of Napoleon now stands in front of the Place de la Republique, welcoming British tourists in their droves off ferries and yachts, all looking for discount cases of wine and champagne. We didn't miss the opportunity to stock up on a bottle or two! The fish market in the Carrefour hypermarket again had a mouthwatering display of local seafood. We scoffed more prawns and oysters, and delicious Dorade, not so common at home.

Napoleon now welcomes the British!

Dorade, about to be baked.

On Monday, we made an early start for Alderney, a mere 22 miles which again, needed to be carefully planned due to the incrediblly swift tidal streams which rattle through the Channel Islands. The Alderney race at springs has been seen to fly at over ten knots, although the atlas only lists it at around six. Given the number of outlying islands and rocks, these are not places to get your timings wrong. However, we sailed in to Braye Harbour, on Alderney, without any drama, and took up a visitor mooring buoy before enjoying a late breakfast.

Morning departure from Cherbourg.

Braye, Alderney

The harbour is defined by a huge breakwater, but is open to the northeast, so a daily check on forecasts is essential, and should the wind come from the northern quadrant a heavy swell will set in and all sensible yachtsmen will have already departed! Our intention was to explore the island on foot, but for the first day we hired bikes and taking Lewis in a sling, explored many of the coastal paths. The island is only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles wide, and the coast varies between sandy beaches, tall rocky cliffs, and small secluded bays. Alderney was occupied by the Germans between 1940 and 1945. We explored many of the wartime defences, which range from concrete bunkers and artillery batteries, anti-tank walls, anti-aircraft installations, and older forts on every outlying headland and tidal island which had been converted and reinforced for various military purposes over the centuries. The island was used as a labour camp, and many foreign workers died here. Outside one bunker we met a man who had written a book on the subject who enthusiastically gave us a short lecture and a tour inside.

Memorial to workers of various nations.

Lighthouse on the island's NE corner

Bunker where we received an impromptu lecture

An old part of a fort emerges from the undergrowth

Jaime celebrates life, on a beach!

Lewis, on a bike

There is also abundant seabird life. The nearby island of Burhou, just across the narrow tidal race known as The Swinge, is a puffin and storm petrel breeding ground, and thousands of gannets inhabit several rocks close to the southwest shore. Apparently, if you are patient, you may even come across black rabbits, or the unique blonde hedgehogs.

Gannet colony

Gannets, closer.

A yacht navigates 'The Swinge'

The Sailing Club at Braye is open for two lovely hours every evening and serves a delicious Guernsey bitter. And the fish and chip shop, located just behind, has a permanent queue out the door at dinner time. It's a lovely spot to visit for a few days. St Anne, the main town at the top of the hill is full of little shops and winding lanes, where we stopped at a small museum. Getting Lewis ashore in the dinghy was much easier than we expected, however we resorted to the water taxi later in the evening, just to be on the safe side.

Next stop... Guernsey!